What is Biblical Repentance?

by David J. Stewart | January 2009 | Updated July 2017

Baptism and Repentance

There is a great misunderstanding about "repentance."  Such verses as Mark 1:4 confuse many people because they do not take into account the rest of the Bible.  Mark 1:4 reads, "John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins."  By itself, this verse seems like It is teaching Baptismal Regeneration, but it certainly is NOT. 

This verse is referenced in Acts 11:16, "Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost."  And a few verses later in Acts 11:21 we read, "And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord."  This is Biblical repentance... turning to the Lord.  Please note that NO mention of baptism is found in Acts 11 other than the one reference to John the Baptist in verse 16. 

Clearly, baptism was not required for their salvation in Acts 16, just is it has never been required.  John preached the same Gospel of Jesus Christ as we preach today — salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).


Repentance Unto Life

Again, Biblical repentance is simply TURNING UNTO THE LORD.  Acts 11:18 reads, "When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life."   Notice that the Bible does NOT call this a repentance from sins.  The "baptism of repentance" in Mark 1:4 is clearly not referring to water baptism; but to the "baptism of repentance."  This is the repentance unto life which can only be found in Christ Jesus. 

The Word of God does NOT teach that we must give up our sins to be saved.  If this were true, then no one could be saved because we are all sinners incapable of ceasing from sin.  Even the best of Christians still commit sin!  Believers shouldn't commit any sins; but the fact of the matter is that we all do.  So how can you tell an unsaved person to give up their sins to be saved? 

As I mentioned, there is a woeful misunderstanding about repentance circulating in our churches today.  Again, Acts 11:21 states, "And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord."  Biblical repentance is TURNING to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.  It is a change of mind.  Mark 1:15 proclaims, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel."  Notice here that repentance led to believing the gospel — NO mention is made about making a commitment to God or forsaking sins. 

So do believers have a license to sin?  I am saying that a believer's Christian walk has absolutely nothing to do with his salvation.  Lordship Salvationists have a problem with this because they have added works to simple faith in Christ.

Here is the best quote that I've ever heard on repentance, by Dr. Harry A. Ironside (1876-1951):

“Which comes first, repentance or faith? In Scripture we read, 'Repent ye, and believe the gospel.' Yet we find true believers exhorted to 'repent, and do the first works.' So intimately are the two related that you cannot have one without the other. The man who believes God repents; the repentant soul puts his trust in the Lord when the Gospel is revealed to him. Theologians may wrangle over this, but the fact is, no man repents until the Holy Spirit produces repentance in his soul through the truth. No man believes the Gospel and rests in it for his own salvation until he has judged himself as a needy sinner before God. And this is repentance.” (Except Ye Repent, p. 16)

The Gospel of John mentions the word “believe” or “believed” 85-times, without ever mentioning the word “repent” even once. This is clear evidence that faith and repentance are inseparable; and that by believing on Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, one has also repented. Repentance is acknowledging one's sinnership—admitting that I am as dirty and guilty a sinner as God hath declared me to be in His Word. The Law of God was given “that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Romans 3:19).

“All things truly wicked start from innocence.” ―Ernest Hemingway, Author

Pastor's Jack Hyles, Bob Gray Sr. & Harry Ironside Are 100% Correct On Repentance

Pastor Hyles accurately states...

“Repentance is not some little silly, 'I'm sorry.' Repentance is not simply a fear of God. Repentance is not a monk fasting and afflicting his body in a monastery. Repentance is not remorse because of sin's consequences. Repentance is not penance performed before the pope as you kiss his toe... Repentance is not being sorry for what I've done wrong. It is not confessing one's sins to a priest. It is not just conviction of sin. It is not the signing of a pledge of abstinence. Repentance is that thing when you come before God and see yourself as you are, and see Him as he is, and say with Isaiah 'Woe is me, for I am unclean!'” —Pastor Jack Hyles (1926-2001), a quote from the timeless MP3 sermon, THE GOODNESS OF GOD LEADETH TO REPENTANCE!

Listen to what Pastor Harry Ironside (1876-1951) correctly states about repentance in chapter 16 of his book, EXCEPT YE REPENT . . .

“In all that I have written I have failed completely to express what was surging up in my soul if I have given anyone the impression that I think of repentance as something meritorious which must be produced in man by self-effort ere he is fit to come to God for salvation.”

SOURCE: Dr. Harry Ironside, a quote from chapter 16, THE PREACHING THAT PRODUCES REPENTANCE, from his timeless classic book, EXCEPT YE REPENT.

I agree 100%! The entire concept of Lordship Salvation is based in human effort. Most of our evangelical churches today have bought into the lie that it's not enough to believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be saved. The Gospel is that Jesus Christ DIED, was BURIED and RESURRECTED from the dead three days later (1st Corinthians 15:1-4). If you receive Christ's sacrifice on the cross as full payment for your sins, then you are saved. But don't I have to repent? Yes, of course! Biblical repentance is “a change of mind” that causes a person to believe the Gospel. Repentance is NOT a desire to stop sinning. Repentance is realizing that you are a SINNER and need the Savior, and so you believe the Gospel and are saved. Repentance is changing your mind about whatever was previously hindering you from completely resting in Christ for salvation.

In the following passage of Scripture, the mention of Sodom and Gomorrha might mislead someone to conclude that “repentance” is from sins, but by simply reading the surrounding context of the passage, we learn in Mark 6:6 that repentance is from “UNBELIEF”:

Mark 6:6 and 11-12, “And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching. ... And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city. And they went out, and preached that men should repent.”

Pastor Bob Gray Sr. at the Longview Baptist Temple church in Texas correctly preaches . . .

“Repentance means to change your mind—change your mind—change your mind about how you want to get to Heaven to what God says you've got to do to get to Heaven. If you've got to repent of all your sins, you're still headed for Hell tonight.” —Pastor Bob Gray Sr., a quote from the awesome MP3 sermon, Why You Should Be A Part Of A Growing Church

Will Jesus Christ Say to You in Eternity, “I Never Knew You!”?

In his excellent book, “I NEVER KNEW YOU,” Michael Patrick Bowen states . . .

“You can live for Christ, you can love Christ, you can serve Him with all your might, time, talent and wealth. You can pray to Him, read your Bible, get water-baptized, join a church, witness to people, and do every wonderful work contained within the realm of Christianity, but if you fail to trust Jesus Christ alone for your salvation, He will 'dump' you.”

SOURCE: I NEVER KNEW YOU (.pdf), by Michael P. Bowen; by Barbour Books, © 2009; page 77.

Beware of the false teaching in most churches today, even many Baptist churches, which says that you have to forsake sinful living to get saved, commit your life to Christ and surrender fully to Christ's Lordship. Satan loves to corrupt the gospel by either requiring good works to be saved, or by subtracting bad works to be saved. Whether good or bad, both are DEAD WORKS! (Hebrews 6:1).

Michael Patrick Bowen correctly explains Biblical repentance...

“Repent, as Christ meant it to be in terms of salvation, means to change your mind from trusting in what you can do for God to trusting only in what He can do for you.”

SOURCE: Michael Patrick Bowen, a quote from the awesome book, “I NEVER NEW YOU” (Page 114)

It is wrong to teach that a person must repent first, and then believe second; that is a false doctrine. The Bible teaches that the man who believes on Jesus has also repented. They happen simultaneously. One who has turned to Jesus for salvation has also turned his back against sin. This is Biblical salvation, evidenced by the plain words of John 20:31,But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” You don't turn from your sins to trust Jesus; you turn to Jesus to be forgiven of your sins. Amen!

Jesus died, was buried and is risen (1st Corinthians 15:1-4). This is the Gospel. Jesus' grave is empty. We have a hope (John 16:33). Christ died, that's history; Christ died for me, that's salvation. If you repent toward God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ to be forgiven of your sins, then you ARE saved (Romans10:13). Please listen to the excellent MP3 sermon by Pastor Jack Hyles, titled, “THE GOODNESS OF GOD LEADETH TO REPENTANCE!

The Gospel is not making a commitment to the Lord, nor is the Gospel amending one's sinful ways and forsaking bad habits. The Gospel is not accepting Jesus into one's heart, nor is it receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior. The Gospel is not praying a prayer, nor is it inviting Jesus into your life to stay. The Gospel is Jesus' DEATH, BURIAL and RESURRECTION according to 1st Corinthians 15:1-4. Beware of false prophets who come in sheep's clothing preaching ANOTHER GOSPEL, ANOTHER JESUS and ANOTHER SPIRIT (2nd Corinthians 11:3-4).

“THE Gospel needs only to be preached in the power of the Holy Spirit to hold its own against every imitation and substitute that the mind of the natural man energized by Satan can devise. —Pastor Harry Ironside, from his sermon, “ANOTHER GOSPEL.”

Repentance from Sins

There are only a few references in the Bible where the word "repentance" is used with sin.  The Bible usually speaks of "the remission of sins," but never commands anyone to repent from sins to be saved.  Search the Bible and you will find that "repentance" is almost always mentioned with salvation, but it never tells us that forsaking sins is the way to be saved. 

In Acts 8:22, Simon (a new believer) had said something wrong and Peter sharply rebuked him... "Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee."  Simon ignorantly thought he could buy the power of the Holy Spirit.  Witches are used to buying all sorts of demonic paraphernalia in order to practice their works of darkness.  No doubt, Simon sincerely thought God's power was for sale.  He was a new convert and needed to be taught the Truth of God's Word.  My point here is that Simon was already a believer.  So the word "repent" in this Scripture is used in an entirely different context than in other Scriptures which speak of salvation.  There is a repentance unto salvation, and then there is another repentance of one's sins AFTER salvation (as we saw with Simon). 

The only thing that we need to repent of to be saved is our unbelief.  Do we have to realize our sinful condition to be saved?  Of course, yes!  But there is not one verse in the entire Bible which requires a person to forsake sin to be saved.  Nor does the Bible give anyone a license to sin.  Every time Jesus forgave someone and healed them, it was AFTERWARDS that He said... go and sin no more.  John 5:14, "Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee."  Thus, we don't give up our sins to become a Christian; no, rather, we forsake our sins because we are a Christian.  There are no prerequisites or conditions for salvation.  God will save any guilty sinner who trusts upon Jesus Christ for salvation.

I do NOT believe it is inappropriate to apply the parable of the prodigal son to the unsaved who need to come back to their Creator, but technically the Parable is about a believer, a "son."  The parable about the prodigal son applies to the wayward believer who is in need of repentance from sins.  The repentance unto salvation is a ONE-TIME repentance, but the repentance from sins has no limit.  Christians are people, and people are sinners.  Just as a man cannot be UNBORN physically, neither can he be unborn spiritually.  If saved, always saved!  For anyone to teach otherwise is to add works to faith alone and corrupt "the simplicity that is in Christ" (2nd Corinthians 11:3,4). 

Once a person is saved, they begin to grow in grace by feeding on the Truth of God's Word (1st Peter 2:2).  As a believer grows in the Truth, he or she realizes that there are changes in their life that need to be made.  God's Holy Spirit works in that person's heart.  Thus, we begin to see the FRUIT of genuine repentance.  A changed life is the FRUIT of genuine repentance; and NOT a prerequisite to salvation or a part of the ROOT of saving-faith.  Proponents of Lordship Salvation place the cart before the horse and have it all backwards.  The change comes as a result of true repentance; not as a means to it.

In Mark 1:4, John the Baptist speaks of "...repentance for the remission of sins"; NOT "repentance of sins."  Acts 20:21 reads... "Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ."  Notice that Biblical repentance is TOWARD God In Acts 11:21 we read, "And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord."  This is Biblical repentance... turning to the Lord. To turn towards Jesus Christ in faith for salvation is to turn one's back against sin, even though the person may not be willing to forsake sin at the time of salvation.  It is ludicrous for anyone to teach that a lost sinner must give up their sins to be saved.  As we saw with Lot and Samson in the Old Testament, not all believers live for God.

In the Gospel of John, the word "believe" is mentioned 85-times; but the word "repent" is never mentioned even once.  This clearly evidences that the sinner who believes on the Lord for salvation has also repented.  Repentance and faith are inseparable.  You can't turn to the Savior for forgiveness of sins without turning your back against sin (not the literal forsaking of the act of sin; but a realization of one's having violated God's holy Law and deserved punishment in Hellfire).

Why There's A Hell (MP3 sermon by Pastor Danny Castle)

Consider the following quote by the mighty man of God, Dr. Harry Ironside (1876-1951)...

“Repentance is the recognition of my sinnership — the owning before God that I am as vile as He has declared me to be in His holy Word.”

SOURCE: Except Ye Repent, by Dr. Harry Ironside, chapter 3

This is vastly different than actually ceasing from one's sin to be saved, which is a false gospel.  Pastor Ironside is correct — repentance is simply realizing that one is a guilty, dirty, rotten, hopeless sinner in God's eyes.  This is why we need a Savior.  Thankfully, Jesus paid the price with His own literal precious blood (1st Peter 1:18,19; Hebrews 9:12).
 

Here's the Biblical Truth About Repentance

By comparing Scripture with Scripture, we learn the truth in Romans 3:19, which states, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” The purpose of the Ten Commandments (i.e., God's law) was not for man to perfectly keep them and merit eternal life, because that is humanly IMPOSSIBLE (Romans 3:20). The purpose of God's Law was to be used as a measuring stick, by which when men compare themselves to a holy God, they see their sinful condition and declare their guilt. This is what Romans 3:19 teaches! Thus, Biblical repentance is seeing one's self as a guilty sinner in the eyes of a holy God. And then the law points us to Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:24-26), Who is THE END OF THE LAW to them that believe (Romans 10:3-4). Men repent to believe, they do not repent and believe.

May I say, Mr. Spurgeon was only a flawed man, and he did in fact teach the heresy of Lordship Salvation at times (although it wasn't referred to as “Lordship Salvation” at the time). The Holy Bible is our only authority, not Spurgeon, nor any other man or woman. It is a preacher's human nature to make bold and extreme statements while he is preaching, to prove his point. Thus, it may be that a preacher will often seem to contradict himself in his own preaching. Spurgeon's preaching evidences this fact. For example, the following quote by Mr. Spurgeon would seem to contradict his previous statement I just shared with you...

“You must not expect that you will be perfect in 'repentance' before you are saved. No Christian can be perfect. 'Repentance' is a grace. Some people preach it as a condition of salvation. Condition of nonsense! There are no conditions of salvation. God gives the salvation himself...” —Pastor Charles Spurgeon

SOURCE: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0044.htm (Charles Spurgeon, from a sermon titled, REPENTANCE UNTO LIFE, preached at the New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, on September 23, 1855)

You'll never heard Evangelist Ray Comfort nor Pastor John MacArthur quote the preceding statement by Charles Spurgeon. Ray Comfort doesn't even comment on Romans 4:5-6 about the doctrine of IMPUTATION in his popular The Evidence Bible. Who would ignore such an amazing and important truth??? The reason why is obvious when you understand that Mr. Comfort teaches Lordship Salvation, and denies the eternal security of the believer. Literally, Ray Comfort believes that no professed believer who continues in sin has God's assurance of eternal life. That is utter satanic heresy!

Please listen to the excellent MP3 sermon by Pastor Ralph Yankee Arnold titled, “Is Repentance Necessary For Salvation?

When you truly get saved, you can write your name, date, time and the place, in the back of your Bible, and rest 100% confident forever that you are God's child. You've been born-again, saved certain and permanently! You have God's solemn promise of eternal life if you've believed the Gospel (1st Corinthians 1:21; Titus 1:2; Romans 10:13; John 3:16). Beware of anyone (like Evangelist Paul Washer) who teaches that you cannot write your name, date, time and place in your Bible, recording when you were saved. To teach otherwise is to turn salvation into a process conditional upon human effort, instead of having faith solely in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I've been hearing this satanic Calvinist garbage taught on Pacific Garden Mission's radio show UNSHACKLED.

There is an epidemic in our evangelical churches today of TWO PLAN'S OF SALVATION. One says you just admit that you are a sinner and believe the Gospel, which is Biblical. The other says that you cannot just believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ and write your name, date, time and place that you were saved in your Bible; but rather, you must turn away from a sinful lifestyle, commit your life to serve Christ, confess Him before men, forsake the world and be changed to be saved (or as validation that you are really saved). The latter is damnable heresy, another Gospel, and a false plan of salvation!!! It is shocking to me that most churches these days have no problem with these two ideologies circulating in our churches. Moody Ministries is one such organization. They idolize heretic John MacArthur, who is an admitted 5-point Calvinist! Calvinism And Grace Are Not Compatible (excellent, by Pastor Yankee Arnold).

The Horrible Representation Of Evangelist Alexander Marshall

The Change Comes AFTER a Person is Saved, NOT before

The internet is plagued with heretics who are teaching that a person must forsake their sinful lifestyle to be saved. 2nd Corinthians 5:17 reads, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Please notice that a man does NOT become a “new creature” until AFTER he is in Christ (saved). The change comes after a person is saved, NOT before, but AFTER. It is the indwelling Holy Spirit that changes a man, and not repentance from sins (which is really self-reformation). Salvation comes through childlike faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, nothing may be added. Once a man becomes a new creature in Christ, only then can he begin to change.

Please understand that we are saved by submitting to GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS through faith in Christ, and not in any way by our effort to improve, clean up or Philippians 3:9, “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” God will not save anyone who is trying to be saved, He will only save those who are trusting to be saved.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever
believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
—John 3:16


The Hypocrisy of the Critics of Eternal Security

“In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God,
and that obey not THE GOSPEL of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
—2nd Thessalonians 1:8

You don't find happiness looking for it, you stumble over it on the road to duty.

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