Terms of Salvation


What Does a Person Need to Do to be Saved?




Is a Person Saved by Repentance?

Is Repentance Necessary for Salvation?


"I tell you, Nay: but, except [unless] ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3,5).


"But now [God] commandeth [commands] all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30).

Repentance is essential for salvation.  If a person does not repent, he will perish (Luke 13:3,5).  God has commanded all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).  Repentance is absolutely necessary.  "It is as dogmatically stated as language can declare, that repentance is essential to salvation and that none could be saved apart from repentance" (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. III, p. 373).


Repentance is not a requirement of salvation in addition to faith.  "Faith and repentance are indissolubly linked together" (Ironside).    "Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21).  Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin.  There are many passages which mention faith as the sole condition of salvation (Luke 8:12; John 1:12; 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; 20:31; Acts 16:31; 10:43; Rom. 3:28; 4:5; 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 1:21; Gal. 2:16; 3:26; Eph. 2:8-9; etc. ).   There are other passages which mention repentance as the sole condition of salvation (Luke 13:3,5; Acts 3:19; 17:30; 2 Pet. 3:9).  This is not a contradiction at all.  Some passages mention both terms (Acts 20:21; Mark 1:15).  The mention of one term implies the other.  The person who has truly repented has truly believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.  The person who has truly believed on the Lord Jesus Christ has truly repented.   "So intimately are the two [faith and repentance] 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.  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" (Harry Ironside, Except Ye Repent, p. 16).


There is much controversy with regard to the subject of repentance.  The main problem is that of definition.  The believer must make sure that He agrees with God's definition of the term.


One verse that helps in our understanding of repentance is Job 42:4. Job said, "Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." According to this verse, to repent is to abhor oneself, to discover how vile we are (see Job 40:4), to discover our utter wretchedness and sinfulness.


Many define repentance as a "turning from sin."   Certainly the sinner must do an about face when it comes to his attitude towards sin.  He must see sin as God sees it.  He must understand how despicable sin is in the sight of a holy God.  He needs to understand the plague of his own heart (Jer. 17:9).  Sin is so terrible that God's only solution was to send His beloved Son to be the sin bearer and to be made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21).  There needs to be a desire on the part of the sinner to be set free from his sins, and an understanding that Jesus Christ is the only One who can make this possible.  However, the sinner has no power to turn from his sins.  Just as a leopard cannot change his spots, just as a person  cannot change the color of his skin, so also the person accustomed to doing evil cannot do good (Jer. 13:23).


Pastor Kelly Sensenig explained it this way in correspondence with this author:


The “change of mind” of repentance is interwoven with an inward turning to God and desire to turn away from works (legalism) and to turn away from any kind of false gospel. It involves a general desire be delivered from sin, and a turning away from anything that keeps a person from placing faith alone in Christ (Rev. 9:20-21; 16:9). However, the idea that a person must in practice “turn away from sin” or “give up sin” and seek reformation, or make promises to God prior to salvation, is certainly not Biblical repentance. How many sins must they turn away from and for how long? What if they forgot to turn away from a sin which they did not know was a sin? Were they then saved? This is the dilemma of Lordship Salvation. Again, there is a vast difference between the root of repentance which takes place in the heart (an inward turning) and the fruit of repentance which comes after salvation (Matt. 3:8; 21:29).


Dr. John Van Gelderan explained why it can be confusing to tell sinners they need to turn from sin:

Jesus said, “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31–32). Sick people do not turn from their sickness to a physician. If they could turn from sickness, they would no longer need a physician. Rather, sick people turn to a physician for deliverance from their sickness. Similarly, sinners cannot turn from their sin(s) to Christ. If they could, they would not need a Savior. Sinners must turn to Christ, the Great Physician, for deliverance from their sin and its consequence.


This clarification does not imply that sin should be downplayed. It must be addressed. But the purpose for doing so must be kept clear. Sin must be recognized as the problem, but not sinning is not the solution—Jesus is. Christ must be recognized as the solution. This combination of understanding leads to repentance, which in salvation is turning to Christ for deliverance from sin and its consequence.  Repent and Believe, Part 8: Confusing Terminology: “Turn from Sin”


Often people confuse repentance with the fruits of repentance.  They define repentance as a change of life rather than a change of mind.  An inward change will produce an outward change, but we must not confuse the root with the fruits (compare Matthew 3:8 which speaks of the fruits of repentance).


REPENTANCE involves a CHANGE OF MIND.  The word "REPENT" means "to completely CHANGE your MIND about something." When a person REPENTS he must first admit that he was THINKING WRONGLY and then he must CHANGE his whole way of THINKING so that he begins to THINK RIGHTLY (to think as GOD THINKS and to see things JUST AS GOD SEES THINGS).


The Greek word for REPENTANCE is METANOIA (met-an-oy-ah) which is made up of two parts:


Thus REPENTANCE means a "change of mind." That the word "repentance" means "a change of mind" is clearly illustrated in Matthew 21:28-29--"A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work today in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not, but afterward he repented and went."  This word is similar to another Greek word (which is also an English word). This is the word METAMORPHOSIS. This word is also made up of two parts:


            Metamorphosis means a CHANGE OF FORM.


God has created an insect, the butterfly, that beautifully illustrates (pictures) the word "metamorphosis." The butterfly was once a worm-like CATERPILLAR. What a CHANGE has taken place! What a TRANSFORMATION! What went into the COCOON looks completely DIFFERENT from what came out!!

So, METAMORPHOSIS involves the complete TRANSFORMATION of the body, and METANOIA involves the complete TRANSFORMATION of the mind.


This change of mind is more than a mere intellectual change or a mere mental affirmation.  It is deeper than that.  This change is effected by the Spirit of God in the very heart of the person, in the very depths of his soul.  The person's whole being is affected by this new outlook.  It involves a different attitude about God, sin and self.  The sinner must see himself as God sees him.  Isaiah had a clear vision of God and His holiness, and thus had a clear vision of himself:  "Woe is me! For I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5).


The change of thinking involved with repentance relates especially to sin.   Consider Luke 5:29-32:  "And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.  I came not to call the righteous (self-righteous), but sinners to repentance."


All men are sick with sin (Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:10-12; 3:23) but the Pharisees and scribes did not recognize their own sinfulness.  They were self-righteous.  They were not actually righteous, but they thought they were.  They saw themselves as righteous.  The Lord's point was simple:  No one will go to a physician unless he realizes how sick he is.  No one will to to the Saviour unless he realizes how sinful he is.  The same point is made in Luke 15:1-7.  The implication in both Luke 5 and Luke 15 is that repentance involves a recognition of one's own sinfulness.  The person who considers himself as righteous has not repented and the Saviour of sinners cannot help that person. 


Another example of repentance is found in the parable of the prodigal son.  The term "repent" is not used (though it is used in the first two parables of Luke 15) but the idea is certainly found in Luke 15:17.  The wayward son "came to himself."   He changed his mind.  He recognized the foolish and sinful way in which he had been living.  He went to the father. He did not change his life. He came in rags and in his filth. The father is the one who clothed him and fed him. He came to himself and said, "I am unworthy." He simply came to his father. He came in his poverty.  He came in his sin.  He came just as he was.  He did not even change his clothes or take a bath.  However, his inner attitude had totally changed.


Repentance also involves a change of mind concerning false objects of trust in which the sinner once put his confidence.  If a sinner is trusting in his own good works or his religious observances or his law keeping ability or anything else, then there needs to be a complete change of mind to realize that none of these things can save him. Instead all his confidence must be in Christ and Christ alone.  "It is asserted that repentance, which is  change of mind, enters of necessity into the very act of believing on Christ, since one cannot turn to Christ from other objects of confidence without that change of mind" (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. III, p. 378). 


When you repent you will think differently and possess a different attitude about God, Jesus Christ, salvation, your own life of sin, and need for salvation.  You will reconsider your ways of faulty reasoning and sinful living and realize that these things offend God's truth and holiness and must be released from your life and forsaken.  Repentance speaks of a reversal of a person's attitudes and convictions.  It speaks of an inward turning from what a person used to believe or think about God, Jesus Christ and themselves.  To repent is to alter one's way of looking at life; it is to take God's point of view instead of one's own....Repentance is when a person changes their thinking about whatever is keeping them from expressing faith in Christ.  [Pastor Kelly Sensenig, Except Ye Repent, p. 3].


Like the prodigal son, repentance is when the sinner says, "I'm totally bankrupt; I hate the way I have lived; I've wallowed in my sin and have been a fool.  I'm going to go to my Father."


Some of the best help in understanding repentance comes from Harry Ironside, especially as seen in the first chapter of his book, Except Ye Repent.  Consider the following quotations:


Harry Ironside on Repentance


"Repentance is the sinner’s recognition of and acknowledgment of his lost estate" (Except Ye Repent, p. 11).


"Literally [repentance] means "a change of mind. It actually implies a complete reversal of one’s inward attitude. To repent is to change one’s attitude toward self, toward sin, toward God, toward Christ....So to face these tremendous facts is to change one’s mind completely, so that the pleasure lover sees and confesses the folly of his empty life; the self-indulgent learns to hate the passions that express the corruption of his nature; the self-righteous sees himself a condemned sinner in the eyes of a holy God; the man who has been hiding from God seeks to find a hiding place in Him; the Christ-rejector realizes and owns his need of a Redeemer, and so believes unto life and salvation" (Except Ye Repent, pages 15-16).


"No one was ever saved in any dispensation excepting by grace. Neither sacrificial observances, nor ritual service, nor works of law ever had any part in justifying the ungodly. Nor were any sinners ever saved by grace until they repented. Repentance is not opposed to grace; it is the recognition of the need of grace. ‘They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick’" (Except Ye Repent, p. 10).


"There is no saving merit in owning my true condition. There is no healing in acknowledging the nature of my illness. And repentance, as we have seen, is just this very thing" (Except Ye Repent, p. 12).


"[Repentance] is not doing anything" (Except Ye Repent, p. 14).


"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 [a part of Biblical] repentance"  (Except Ye Repent, p. 16).


QUESTION 67: I understand that you teach that repentance is a prerequisite to salvation, that is, that a man has to show a certain amount of sorrow for sin before God will cooperate with him and save him. Is this your position?

ANSWER: It certainly is not. In the first place, repentance is not mere penitence or sorrow for sin. Repentance is simply a man's recognition of his own true condition before God. No man would desire to come to the Saviour unless he realized his need of a Saviour. The realization of this need and the acknowledgment of it is, in the truest sense, the work of repentance. Thus men repent and through believing the Gospel are eternally saved. We who are saved, however, have done more repenting since we were converted than we did before.

Is repentance the first or the second step in salvation?

Repentance is not a "step" at all, yet there is no salvation without repentance. But repentance is a changed attitude on the part of man. This is what takes place when he believes the Word of Truth as to his lost condition and need of a Saviour. Thus faith and repentance are indissolubly linked together. [H.A. Ironside, What's the Answer? 362 Bible Questions Answered, pp. 36, 76.]


The following is taken from Harry Ironside's book Full Assurance.  Under the section "Difficulties Which Hinder Full Assurance" the following question is asked and then answered:   How may I be sure that I have repented enough?

Very often the real difficulty arises from a misapprehension of the meaning of repentance. There is no salvation without repentance, but it is important to see exactly what is meant by this term. It should not be confused with penitence, which is sorrow for sin; nor with penance, which is an effort to make some satisfaction for sin; nor yet with reformation, which is turning from sin. Repentance is a change of attitude toward sin, toward self, and toward God. The original word (in the Greek Testament) literally means "a change of mind." This is not a mere intellectual change of viewpoint, however, but a complete reversal of attitude [a complete change of thinking about my sin and God's gracious provision].

Now test yourself in this way. You once lived in sin and loved it. Do you now desire deliverance from it? You were once self-confident and trusting in your own fancied goodness. Do you now judge yourself as a sinner before God? You once sought to hide from God and rebelled against His authority. Do you now look up to Him, desiring to know Him, and to yield yourself to Him? If you can honestly say yes to these questions, you have repented. Your attitude is altogether different to what it once was.

You confess you are a sinner, unable to cleanse your own soul, and you are willing to be saved in God’s way. This is repentance. And remember, it is not the amount of repentance that counts: it is the fact that you turn from self to God [in your mind and in your thinking] that puts you in the place where His grace avails through Jesus Christ.

Strictly speaking, not one of us has ever repented enough. None of us has realized the enormity of our guilt as God sees it. But when we judge ourselves and trust the Saviour whom He has provided, we are saved through His merits. As recipients of His lovingkindness, repentance will be deepened and will continue day by day, as we learn more and more of His infinite worth and our own unworthiness.

From Full Assurance by H. A. Ironside, pages 89-90.


The following is from Ironside's commentary on Luke:   "Repentance is just the sick man’s acknowledgment of his illness. It is simply the sinner recognizing his guilt and confessing his need of deliverance....(repentance) is judging oneself in the presence of God; turning right about-face, turning to God with a sincere, earnest desire to be completely delivered from sin. And when a man takes that attitude toward God and puts his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he finds salvation" (Luke, pp. 253-254).



Thus to Ironside, repentance is simply the sick man acknowledging his illness; the sinner recognizing his need. It is a man realizing his utter bankruptcy before God, judging himself as a hell-deserving, lost, corrupt sinner before God.   A person cannot be saved apart from this kind of acknowledgment of his sinful, lost condition before God.


C. H. Mackintosh, a godly Plymouth Brethren writer, also has defined repentance:


C. H. Mackintosh on Repentance


[The repentant man] feels his need of God. Here lies the grand moral secret of the whole matter. To apprehend this is to grasp the full truth on the great question of repentance. A God of love desires to make His way to the sinner’s heart, but there is no room for Him so long as that heart is hard and impenitent. But when the sinner is brought to the end of himself, when he sees himself a helpless, hopeless wreck, when he sees the utter emptiness, hollowness and vanity of all earthly things; when like the prodigal he comes to himself and feels [recognizes] the depth and reality of his need, then there is room in his heart for God. . .

Have your eyes been opened to see your true condition before God? Have you taken your true place before God as utterly lost? . . .

A penitent heart is an object of profoundest interest to the mind of God, because that heart is morally [and mentally] prepared to receive what God delights to bestow, namely, "remission [forgiveness] of sins"—yea, all the fullness of divine love. . . The fullness of God ever waits on an empty vessel. If I am full of myself, full of my own fancied goodness, my own morality, my own righteousness, I have no room [no need] for God, no room [no need] for Christ.

C. H. Mackintosh, Miscellaneous Writings, "The Great Commission."


Repentance involves the moral judgment of ourselves under the action of the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the discovery of our utter sinfulness, guilt and ruin, our hopeless bankruptcy, our undone condition. It expresses itself in these glowing words of Isaiah, “Woe is me; I am undone,” and in that touching utterance of Peter, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Repentance is an abiding necessity for the sinner, and the deeper it is the better. It is the ploughshare entering the soul and turning up the fallow ground. The ploughshare is not the seed, but the deeper the furrow, the stronger the root. We delight in a deep work of repentance in the soul. We fear there is far too little of it in what is called revival work. Men are so anxious to simplify the gospel and make salvation easy, that they fail to press upon the sinner's conscience the claims of truth and righteousness.

No doubt salvation is as free as the grace of God can make it. Moreover, it is all of God from first to last. God is its source, Christ its channel, the Holy Spirit its power of application and enjoyment. All this is blessedly true, but we must never forget that man is a responsible being, a guilty sinner commanded to repent and turn to God. It is not that repentance has any saving virtue in it. As well might we assert that the feelings of a drowning man could save him from drowning or that a man could make a fortune by a deed of bankruptcy filed against him. Salvation is wholly of grace; it is of the Lord in its every stage and every aspect. We cannot be too emphatic in the statement of all this, but at the same time we must remember that our blessed Lord and His apostles constantly urged upon men, both Jews and Gentiles, the solemn duty of repentance.   [See





For another study on Repentance, see Repentance and Conversion.




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