Billy Graham insists that a new life in Christ must be a changed life:
- As I approached my 95th birthday, I was burdened to write a book that addressed the epidemic of "easy believism." There is a mindset today that if people believe in God and do good works they are going to Heaven. But there are many questions that must be answered. There are two basic needs that all people have: the need for hope and the need for salvation. It should not be surprising if people believe easily in a God who makes no demands, but this is not the God of the Bible. Satan has cleverly misled people by whispering that they can believe in Jesus Christ without being changed, but this is the Devil's lie. To those who say you can have Christ without giving anything up, Satan is deceiving you.
The Christian life must be characterized by a changed life. It is not optional:
- The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:4)
- “You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:14)
- “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:2)
- "Then they [who didn’t visit me in prison] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matthew 25:46; Also, many others - Matthew 5:20; Hebrews 12:14; James 2:18-24…)
However, many other verses assert that faith/belief is enough! Requiring any more than faith denies the central tenant of salvation – that it is a “free gift, not of works, lest any should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9)! But doesn’t this deny the various verses that insist that repentance – not just faith - is necessary to be saved:
· "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
· “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you--even Jesus.” (Acts 3:19-20)
- Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Cor. 7:10)
While the great majority of verses assert that faith is the key for salvation, many other verses cite repentance. Is this a contradiction? Not if faith and repentance are essentially the same thing – opposite sides of the same coin! They certainly seem to be so! When we turn to God in faith, inherent in this same turn is a turn away from our former life (repentance). We cannot turn to God without turning from something. Embracing the new life in faith entails a rejection (repentance) of the old life of sin. They also both entail the very same change of heart.
Let’s try to illustrate the inseparability of faith and repentance in another way. If someone says to me:
- Pastor, I really believe in Jesus and want to be baptized. However, I am having an extra-marital affair and I refuse to repent of it.
I would have to answer:
- If you refuse to repent, then you don’t trust in Christ. If you did trust Christ, you would follow Him. Your faith is like the Devil’s faith. He too believes in Jesus, but His faith isn’t a saving faith (James 2:19). A saving faith is one that turns to Jesus, entrusting our lives into His hands. If I baptized you, extending to you the right hand of fellowship, I would then have to withdraw it to bring church disciplinary charges against you and eventually to expel you, if you still aren’t repentant. Don’t you see that a refusal to repent and faith are in contradiction to one another?
A real faith must entail a real willingness to follow Jesus! Of course, none of us come close to sinlessness in this life. However, this is not essential, because we can be in right standing with our Savior without sinlessness. He gives us the assurance that if we confess our sins – and of course this entails a willingness to repent – we are given the assurance that our Savior will forgive and cleanse us of all of our moral filth (1 John 1:9). However, forgiveness depends on confession/repentance – the very thing that this adulterer is unwilling to do!
The necessity of repentance is also taught by the verses that cite repentance as a prerequisite for salvation without any mention of faith:
· He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:46-47)
· Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. (Acts 3:19)
· In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30)
This suggests that faith and repentance are so inseparable that these terms can be used interchangeably! Other verses point to the equivalency of faith and repentance in another way. Both are given as a gift from God. This fact further suggests that they are merely opposite sides of the same coin:
· Acts 5:31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.
· Acts 11:18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life."
· And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim. 2:24-25)
If repentance is a gift, then it is not a meritorious work and not a basis for boasting. This is supported by the distinction between repentance and the works that arise out of a changed, repentant heart. Paul made this distinction:
- “First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20)
“Deeds” and “repentance” are not synonymous. Instead, deeds are the result of repentance. In the same way, faith and deeds are also distinguishable. While faith and repentance represent a change of heart, deeds represent the fruit arising from this changed heart. Therefore, because faith/repentance are together a gift of a renewed heart, they should not become the basis for boasting and arrogance.
Consequently, when we expel the unrepentant from the church, we are warning them that, without repentance, their sins are still “bound” (Mat. 16:16-19; Mat 18: 17-18; John 20:21-23) – their salvation is, at best, in question. This is a graphic reminder that repentance must accompany a true faith. If it doesn’t, that “faith” becomes questionable.