Salvation versus Discipleship – Part 3: Role of Repentance
This is Part 3 of a five-part series on the topic of Salvation versus Discipleship. Part 3 will focus on the role of repentance in salvation versus that of discipleship. Salvation and discipleship are not the same and how well we understand the differences will affect how well we understand the Gospel. Let’s get into it.
Recap of Parts 1 and 2:
First a quick recap. In Part 1, we showed how having a correct understanding of salvation and discipleship is critical for correctly understanding and communicating the Gospel. Some people, for example, because they don’t understand these differences, take verses that have to do with discipleship, which occurs after a person is saved, and mistakenly apply them out of context to salvation, thinking that those things a disciple of Jesus is commanded to do are things that a person must do to get saved or to stay saved. The result is a distorted, unbiblical, works-based view of the Gospel of salvation.
In the five parts of this series, we’ll go through 12 key differences between salvation and discipleship.
In Part 1, we looked at the first 5 foundational differences.
Then in Part 2, we looked at the Rewards of salvation versus the rewards of discipleship.
The remaining parts of this series include:
Part 3: The Role of Repentance in Salvation Versus Discipleship
Part 4: The Sureness of Salvation Versus Discipleship
Part 5: Timeline View of Salvation Versus Discipleship
So let’s dive into Part 3: The Role of Repentance in Salvation Versus Discipleship. Repentance is extremely important and essential for every Christian. God places a very high value on repentance.
Repentance Is Important To God
Because Judgment Day Is Coming
“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now
commands all men everywhere to repent,
because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained.”
Acts 17:30 NKJV
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but
that all should come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up..“
2 Peter 3:9-10 NKJV
And from the earliest days of His ministry:
Jesus Preached Repentance
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say,
for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.“
But what does the word, “Repent,’ mean?
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “Repent” means “To turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life.” So basically, according to them, “repent” means:
“Repent of Sin”
To turn from all sin, putting a stop to sin in our lives, so that God will forgive us of our sins and save us
That’s correct, right?
WRONG! Totally wrong. Whoever wrote this did not understand biblical repentance…AT ALL!
Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of churches teach. That’s what the Lordship Salvation movement teaches. But it’s wrong.
So, what is the biblical definition of “repent?” In the Old Testament, two Hebrew words were used that were translated into the English word, “repent.” And then in the New Testament, one Greek word was used. Here they are:
“Nacham” – means “to turn around” or “to change the mind”
“Sub” – means “turn,” “return,” “seek,” “restore”
“Metanoia” – means “to change the mind”
From these original Hebrew and Greek words, we can see that “repentance” has two elements:
(1) A change of mind about something
(2) A turning or a change in direction
So a more correct biblical definition would then be:
a change of mind about something,
that results in a change in direction
Notice that repentance is more than just feeling sorry or guilty about something. It involves a change in thought that causes action, a change in direction, moving away from one position to a better one.
2 Corinthians 7:10 says,
“For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10
So, a feeling of sorrow by itself is NOT repentance! That’s worldly sorrow. That only leads to shame and death. Judas was an example of this. Judas felt great sorrow and guilt after he betrayed Jesus. But that wasn’t repentance. He just felt shame and guilt to the point where he hung himself. That’s the “sorrow of the world worketh death.”
True repentance, on the other hand, involves Godly sorrow that leads action, to salvation and life. It changes things for the better. True repentance requires a change of mind regarding how you think about something, that then leads to a turning, a restoration or a change in direction!
So feeling sorry for sin, crying to God about sin, begging forgiveness, making promises to God to do better – all these things are not repentance. Changing your mind about how you regard sin which then causes you to turn away from it, is true repentance. There’s a change in mind that results in action, movement, that brings life.
In the King James Bible, the word “Repent” occurs 105 times – 45 times in the Old Testament and 60 times in the New Testament. So repentance is an extremely important topic to God.
What About Mankind Repenting?
First, what does the Bible say that we are to repent of? God’s Word says that there are two things for which we need to repent.
The number one thing that we need to repent of is:
Or, more specifically, our unbelief. We need to have a change of mind about what we believe, turning from unbelief in Jesus to believing in Jesus and trusting Him alone to save us. It is Jesus saying, “repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
This repenting from unbelief to belief in Jesus results in a change of direction, turning from idolatry to having saving faith in Jesus. Idolatry can come in many forms, such as an atheist who trusts in self, humanity or science; or a religious person who trust in any number of false “gods,” religious systems or, worse yet, someone who things they are saved just because they attend church. Basically, idolatry is trusting in anything that’s not Jesus.
Repenting of unbelief to belief in Jesus for salvation involves two things: (1) Recognition of our sinful condition before God, and (2) Placing our trust in Jesus for salvation. Notice I did not say, “Repenting of sins.” That comes later and I’ll show you where in a minute.
But repenting from unbelief to belief in Jesus is the number one thing that we are to repent of. So, first and foremost, we must repent of our Beliefs, if they are not centered in Jesus.
Then there’s a second thing that God calls on mankind to repent of:
This involves changing our mind about how we view our sin and seeing sin as God see it: utterly reprehensible. This “repenting of sins” involves a change of direction: turning from sin, both in thought and deed, to holiness in thought and deed. It it God’s calling to us, “Be ye holy; for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:16
Our BELIEFS and our BEHAVIOR make up the entire human experience. And God calls on mankind to repent of both, to have a change of mind about our beliefs and our behavior that leads us into the saving truth of Jesus and holiness in our conduct.
We see these two areas of repentance, beliefs and behavior, first in the Old Testament:
“Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.” Ezekiel 14:6
“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.” Ezekiel 18:30
From this, we see that God’s motivation for having us repent is for our own welfare, “so iniquity shall not be your ruin.”
Then we see God’s call to repent of both our beliefs and our behavior repeated in the New Testament:
Jesus: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” Mark 1:15
Paul: “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Acts 20:21
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Acts 2:38
Notice in this last verse from Acts that Peter did not say, “Repent of your sins.” Peter was preaching on the Day of Pentecost and he had just told the people that they were guilty of crucifying their Messiah. Then we see their response:
“Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Acts 2:37
And so Peter told them to repent. He wasn’t telling them to repent of all their personal sins. This whole conversation was about them not believing in Jesus, resulting in them crucifying their Lord. It was about their unbelief. Peter was specifically telling them to repent of their unbelief and believe in Jesus.
Paul: “And lest, when I come again…I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed.” 2 Corinthians 12:21
Paul to Simon: “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” Acts 8:22
“And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. ” Revelation 2:21-22
And then sometimes in the New Testament, we see the word repentance referring to BOTH repentance of beliefs and behavior:
BOTH BELIEFS AND BEHAVIOR
Jesus: “And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand..” Matthew 3:2
This is a more generalized call to repentance by Jesus that could include both repentance of beliefs and behavior.
“And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: (REPENTANCE OF BELIEF)
Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts..” Revelation 9:20-21 (REPENTANCE OF BEHAVIOR)
And interestingly, we see repentance in the New Testament referred to as a gift from God, not just something we are to do ourselves.
“Repentance” is also a Gift From God
“Him (Jesus) hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” Acts 5:31
“When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” Acts 11:18
“…if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;” 2 Timothy 2:25
So we see that repentance is also a gift from God. Which brings up an interesting question: What is God’s role is our repentance?
To answer that, we have to understand the work of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament describes the Holy Spirit’s work this way:
The NT Work of the Holy Spirit
- Saves us by causing us to be spiritually born again – John 3:5-6
- Seals us and abides with us forever – John 14:16-17, Ephesians 4:30
- Adopts us into God’s family – Romans 8:14-16
- Gives us access to the Father – Ephesians 2:18
- Makes us the very temple of God – 1 Corinthians 6:19
- Sanctifies us (sets us apart unto holiness) to obey Christ – 1 Peter 1:2
- Teaches us and reminds us – John 14:26, 1 Corinthians 2:9-16
- Leads us and guides us into all truth – Romans 8:14, John 16:13-15
- Helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us – Romans 8:26
- Helps us to not fulfill the lust of the flesh– Galatians 5:16-25
- Enables us to fulfill the righteous requirement of the law – Romans 8:4
- Teaches us to abide in Jesus – 1 John 2:20, 27
- Gives us spiritual gifts – 1 Corinthians 12
- Testifies to us about Jesus – John 15:26
- Convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment – John 16:7-8
- Speaks to the world through us – Matthew 10:18-20, 2 Peter 1:20-21
- Empowers us – Acts 1:8,
- Enables us to defeat the enemy – Matthew 12:28, Ephesians 6:17
- Gives us boldness to proclaim the Gospel – Luke 4:18-19, Acts 4:31
- Enables us to pray – Jude 1:20
- Gives us freedom – 2 Corinthians 3:17
- Unites us into one Body with Christ – 1 Corinthians 12:13
- Fills us with all joy, peace and hope – Romans 15:13
- Comforts us – John 14:16
My point is this:
It is the
Work of the Holy Spirit In Us
That Enables Us To
Repent and Turn From Sin
That is because God’s remedy for sin is this:
“Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” Galatians 5:15
We put a stop to sin, not by trying harder to do good, bearing down, making promises to God to never sin again, or struggling in our own efforts. People tried repenting of sins over and over again in the Old Testament and continually failed, hence their need for continual animal sacrifices.
No, God’s remedy for sin is to walk in the Spirit. God never intended us to fight this battle of sin alone. He wants us to rely on Him, abiding in Jesus and trusting in the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and enable us to do what we could never do before and what we could never do all by ourselves, which is obey God.
To put this another way:
For Someone To Repent and Turn From Their Sins
The Indwelling Holy Spirit
Have you ever made a promise to God that you would never do a particular sin again? Good luck with that. You will fail, because you’re battling sin in your own strength. Instead, learn what it means to walk in the Spirit, by abiding in Christ and in His Word. Then you will not carry out the sins of the flesh.
This has tremendous meaning for sharing the Gospel, for this means:
An Unsaved Person
Repent and Turn From Their Sins
They Are Saved;
They Have The Holy Spirit
It is the Holy Spirit indwelling a believer that gives us the ability to turn from sin. But that doesn’t happen until AFTER salvation. Turning from sin requires the Holy Spirit, and so it is a work that occurs during discipleship, not a requirement for salvation. This means, in sharing the Gospel:
Tell An Unbeliever That They Must
Repent and Turn From Their Sins
To Be Saved
That Happens AFTER Salvation!
That Is the Life-long Process of Sanctification
Turning from sin happens in discipleship, AFTER salvation. It is not a requirement FOR salvation. Salvation is based entirely on the PROMISE of God, not our our own works of obedience.
As far as salvation versus discipleship is concerned:
Salvation: Repent of Beliefs
“Repent of unbelief to belief in Jesus”
Discipleship: Repent of Behaviors
“Repent of sins and turn from sin to holiness”
So let’s prove that theory, that repenting of sins happens AFTER salvation. We’ll look at Jesus, Peter and John.
To the immoral woman at the well: “Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the GIFT of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have GIVEN thee living water.” John 4:10
Notice that Jesus DID NOT say to her: “You must repent of your sins.” Here was a woman who was on her fifth husband, and the man she was living with was not even her husband. This woman was sexually immoral. And yet, Jesus did not even mention the word, “repent.” That’s because repentance from sins, the turning from sins, her behavior, occurs AFTER salvation. She first needed to repent of her unbelief. So Jesus did not address her behavioral sins at all. He entirely focused on her sin of unbelief. He called salvation a “GIFT” and He revealed Himself as the answer to her problem. Jesus said that all she had to do to receive this gift was ask, which means she would also first have to believe.
About the adulteress: “And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment…And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”
Luke 7:37-38, 50
Here we have a sinful woman coming to Jesus and Jesus does not even once mention the word, “repent,” in relation to her sinful behavior. The woman had not fixed her sin problem when she came to Jesus, but as evidenced by her tears, she had become acutely aware of her sinful condition before God. And so she believed in Jesus as One who could save her. Her first repentance was to repent of her unbelief by believing in Jesus. She only repented of her beliefs, to which Jesus replied, “Thy faith hath saved thee.” Repentance of her behavior and her turning from sin would happen AFTER salvation, AFTER the Holy Spirit indwelt her, enabling her to do what she could not do before salvation, which was to obey God.
Jesus Speaking To the Pharisees: “For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.” Matthew 21:32
Jesus was not speaking to them about repenting of their personal sins, but of their sin of unbelief.
The only type of repentance Jesus spoke of necessary
for an unsaved person to be saved was to repent from
unbelief to belief.
“Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ FOR the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost..” Acts 2:37-38
I mentioned this verse earlier. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter told the crowd that they had crucified their Messiah. When they then asked what they should do, he told them to repent. He wasn’t speaking to them about repenting of their personal sins and telling them to clean up their lives, getting rid of sinful behavior. He was telling them to repent of their unbelief. He told them to repent (i.e. believe in Jesus) FOR the remission of sins, NOT to repent OF their behavioral sins. Peter did not even address this issue of them needing to repent and turn from sinful behavior. That’s because repenting from behavior occurs after salvation, as part of discipleship. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in us to sanctify us.
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that ANY should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
Peter was writing to the church, but this verse is referencing God’s attitude toward UNSAVED mankind, that God is not willing that ANY should perish, but all come to repentance. What repentance keeps us from perishing? Repenting from unbelief to belief in Jesus. A person can repent of behavioral sins their entire life and still be lost if they haven’t repented of their unbelief and believe in Jesus. In fact, if it were possible for an unsaved person to repent of their behavioral sins by themselves, without the Holy Spirit, then they would not need Jesus. No, an unsaved person can only do two things:
- Recognize their sinful, lost condition
- Repent from unbelief to belief in Jesus to be saved
And then, right after saying this, Peter addresses behavioral sins. Notice now that he is not referring to ANY man, but specifically speaking to the church, those already saved, the BELOVED:
“Wherefore, BELOVED, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless.” 2 Peter 3:14
After salvation, as part of our discipleship, God wants us to be without spot, blameless, to live holy lives. We do this by repenting of our sins and allowing the Holy Spirit in us to transform us to be like Jesus.
“Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God…” 1 John 4:2
“Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” 1 John 5:5
John is writing to the church, but in these verses he’s specifically speaking about salvation. And his message is this:
Repenting of UNBELIEF to BELIEF in Jesus!
We become over-comers, overcoming the world, by repenting from unbelief to belief in Jesus.
“And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.” 1 John 2:25
John reminds the Church that
SALVATION Is based on the PROMISE of God
(Not on our repenting and turning from personal sins, which happens AFTER salvation as part of SANCTIFICATION)
Then John addresses the church directly, speaking to those already saved:
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.. 1 John 1:8-10
He is telling the church, not unbelievers, that we need to confess our sins, which is another way of saying that we need to repent of our sinful behavior. But even there, notice that it is God who will “cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It is not our work of cleaning up our lives that cleanses us. If it were, then we would have reason to boast before God. Instead, God deserves ALL the glory.
God enables us to turn from sins through His indwelling Holy Spirit. It is the process of discipleship called, “Sanctification,” which means, “to be set apart unto holiness,” and that involves repentance, changing your mind about your sinful behavior in a way that results in a change in direction, toward that of holiness.
So the point of all this is this:
There Are Two Principles of Repentance
- Belief: Repenting of Unbelief
Occurs for the UNSAVED in order to get saved.
“Repenting from unbelief to belief in Jesus”
OCCURS AT SALVATION (1-time repentance)
Behavior: Repenting of Personal Sins
Occurs AFTER salvation where the Holy Spirit works inside the believer to transform him or her to be like Jesus.
“Repenting from sins to holiness.”
OCCURS DURING SANCTIFICATION or DISCIPLESHIP (daily repentance)
Romans 12:1 talks about how we should offer our selves as “living sacrifices.” And in Galatians 2:20, Paul says that it is not longer I who live but “Christ liveth in me.” Both of these verses are talking about a daily cleansing of our lives, repenting from sins and walking in the Spirit unto holiness. This type of repentance of behavior is for believers.
We can express these two principles in a timeline view:
So if you notice on this, we have on the left-hand side, Salvation, which is believing in Jesus as Savior. And on the right-hand side we have Discipleship, which is living for Jesus as Lord. In the middle is where people make a decision to believe in Jesus and are spiritually born. All their sins are forgiven and they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It is on the left-hand Salvation side that the only repentance a person can do is to repent of their unbelief. They cannot repent of sins until the Holy Spirit is in them, on the right-hand side. On the left-hand side, they can be aware of their sins and we need to talk to people to make them aware of their sinful condition. And they can feel grief and remorse over the sin in their lives. But they can’t turn from it. They can’t save themselves. They can only repent of their unbelief.
But then the good news is that God helps us. Once we are spiritually born and the Holy Spirit is in us, then, as part of discipleship – living for Jesus as Lord, becoming a Spirit-filled Christian – that we learn to repent of our sins, turning away from sin and walking in holiness, becoming living-sacrifices for Jesus.
So what does this mean in terms of sharing the Gospel? Simply this:
Tell An Unbeliever That They MUST
Repent of Their Sins
And Turn From Them
To Be Saved
That would be taking something that happens only in discipleship, AFTER salvation, and trying to apply it TO salvation. This would be telling someone to do the impossible, for it is totally impossible for an unsaved person who does not yet have the Holy Spirit in them, to turn from their sins. That is not the Gospel. But some Christians and churches make it the Gospel, because they don’t understand the difference between salvation and discipleship or the work of the Holy Spirit. They simply take a verse like 1 John 1:9, where John tells THE CHURCH, those already saved, that they need to confess their sins, and apply it way out of context to the unsaved.
For those of you who know you are saved: Did you repent of ALL your sins and turn from sin BEFORE you were saved? No. It doesn’t work that way.
When you tell an unbeliever that they must repent and turn from their sins to be saved, all you are doing is putting a great wall between them and God, a wall that’s impossible for them to get through. The only thing that’s going to do is lead them into despair or further unbelief.
Does God want an unsaved person to repent and turn from their sins? Absolutely! But that’s not going to happen without the Holy Spirit being inside of them. So when witnessing to the lost, don’t put that wall there. Don’t put that barrier there that says you must repent and turn from all your sins to be saved. That will happen AFTER they are saved.
As Christians, we need to realize that the lost CANNOT save themselves. They cannot repent of their sins and turn from them before they are saved because they do not yet have the Holy Spirit. Confessing sins and turning from sins is for the church, not the lost. Save the lost first. Then God will work inside each of them to help them turn from sin.
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9
John wrote that to the CHURCH, NOT the unsaved. So don’t quote this as a requirement for salvation! The unsaved can only REPENT from their UNBELIEF to BELIEVING in Jesus. So we need to help them:
- Recognize their lost condition (sinfulness before God)
- Believe in Jesus
We need to GET THEM SAVED FIRST!
And then, AFTER salvation, God’s Holy Spirit in them will help them get rid of sin. That is the process of SANCTIFICATION. That happens in DISCIPLESHIP.
So, as far as salvation and discipleship are concerned, the role of repentance is to
- SALVATION: Repent of UNBELIEF to BELIEF in Jesus
- DISCIPLESHIP: Repent of sinful behavior leading us toward holiness
So, that concludes part 3. We now have two sections left in this series:
Part 4: Sureness of Salvation Versus Discipleship
Part 5: Timeline View of Salvation Versus Discipleship
We already looked at a small piece of the timeline in this lesson, but we’ll develop it more in Part 5.
Finally, I do this in all my videos, if you are not 100% sure that you are saved, that if you died today, God would welcome you into heaven, I urge you to make your commitment to Jesus secure right now. Here’s a prayer for salvation that you can pray. But keep in mind that a prayer does not save you. You are saved only when you place your trust in Jesus alone, believing in your heart that He died to pay your debt of sin to God and that He rose from the dead to show you the eternal life that He offers. This prayer, then, is just a way of formalizing that decision, putting a stake in the ground, saying that you are trusting in Him and never going back. If that’s what you would like to do, please pray with me:
“Lord, I have sinned and I need you to save me. I believe that Your Son Jesus died on the cross to pay for my sins and that He rose from the dead to show us the new eternal life You have for us. I believe solely in Jesus to save me, that He paid my debt of sin 100%. Please forgive my sins and save me now, Lord, according to your promises. In Jesus Name.”
If you prayed that prayer and meant it from your heart, know right now that you are eternally saved.