True, Biblical Repentance
Left to ourselves, we won’t repent; really, we can’t repent without the Spirit. Jesus said, “When [the Holy Spirit] comes, He will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:10). Actually, there is a sense in which repentance is the work of the Trinity. God the Father gives the Holy Spirit to energize repentance in us, which, in turn, empowers us to follow Jesus. Since repentance is the work of God in us, no one can boast about repentance or take credit for repenting or think they are “holy than thou” because of their repentance. God receives all the praise for one sinner who repents.
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The Apostle Paul teaches us about repentance in 2 Corinthians 7:10 when he writes, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Paul teaches us in this verse that godly grief produces repentance that leads to salvation and worldly grief does not. Aldous Huxley, an agnostic who often ridiculed Christianity, understood this fake, worldly grief that masquerades as repentance. Huxley vividly described it as “rolling in the muck,” which he recognized was “a most undesirable sentiment.” Unfortunately, these words of Huxley demonstrate that he understood repentance better than some Christians today.
It’s important to notice that Paul teaches us that repentance leads to salvation in 2 Corinthians 7:10. Did you notice that? He states that “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation” (emphasis ours). Pay careful attention to these words. If the case that repentance is an essential element of the gospel wasn’t already strong enough, these words only serve to put it beyond the shadow of a doubt. In fact, they make it crystal clear that a person cannot be saved if they do not repent of sin.
Like two sides of the same coin, repentance and belief go together. They are the first steps of following Jesus. While we can distinguish between these two elements, we shouldn’t sever or separate repentance from belief in our minds. (This is one of the reasons we’re addressing both of these elements in one chapter—to reinforce this point!) You can’t repent and not believe. Likewise, you can’t believe if you don’t repent.
As we transition from a discussion of repentance to a consideration of belief, we need to acknowledge how the two are intricately intertwined. As we repent of our sin, there is a clear sense in Scripture that we’re turning away from our sin and turning toward Christ—to believe in him. When Jesus called people to “repent and believe in the gospel,” that is what he meant. In other words, you can’t do one of them without the other. Keep this connection in mind as we continue to unpack the nature of the gospel in weeks to come.
3. From the Foreword of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1932).