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Question 66

Q: I have a couple of questions about repentance that trouble me.

What is the biblical definition of repentance? Do you have to repent to be saved? And if you turn from your sin in order to be saved, doesn’t that mean that works are a part of salvation?

Asked by: Lorenzo

A: Lorenzo, you know that in asking this question you’ve kind of jumped into a hornet’s nest because there’s some disagreement in the evangelical community about this.

So let me try to shed some light on it.

First of all, the word “repentance” in its most basic form means to change your mind. Now some people say that based on that, salvation is nothing more than changing your mind about Jesus. You receive Him as your Savior. You change your mind as to who He is. But it seems to me that in this case, the word “repentance” actually goes deeper than that; it means more than simply changing your mind, it almost seems to be changing your direction. Somebody has defined it as turning away from as much as you know about your sin and turning to as much as you know of God.

Well a couple of comments about that. First, when you get saved, there’s a sense in which you have to turn from your sin to Christ. I don’t know how else to explain it, except that repentance is a change of mind where by we were going in one direction and now we turn to Christ. Like it says in 1 Thessalonians, the people “turned to Christ from idols.” And in the very same way, we turn to Christ, and we leave our idols behind. This becomes a very natural explanation for what repentance is.

But I do need to caution you, that if you continue to tell people that becoming saved means that Christ has to be Lord of your life, that’s where we get into some difficulty. Why? Well, because some people may not be in a position where they can make Christ the Lord of their life. They turn from their sin in their helplessness to Christ, however there may be some things in their life they may not, at that point, be able to totally give up. So what we need to do is to present Christ, hold Him up, urge people to believe on Him, despite their weaknesses, despite their misgivings, to receive the free gift of salvation. We come to Christ as we are, but He loves us too much to leave us the way we were. 

Well Lorenzo, I hope that I’ve shed some light on this. I hope that my comments were not confusing. So, I need to simply summarize and say that repentance is turning away from sin to Christ, and that it’s not a matter of works being smuggled into the Gospel. The Gospel assures us that eternal life is free. But, in the process we recognize that the business of making Christ Lord of our lives, is something that takes the rest of our life to do. Hope this helps, and above all if there are those who are reading this who’ve never trusted Christ as Savior, now is the time to do it.

Note: for questions regarding salvation, please see our Knowing Jesus section where there is more information and a video by Pastor Lutzer.

Scripture references

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