There are those who would have you believe that trust in Christ is all that is needed when it comes to the foundational element in starting a relationship with God. Furthermore, if anything is added to this basic formula the Gospel message will become corrupted. Consider the following:
In the same way [as first-century legalism], the most telling modern assaults on the integrity of the Gospel do not deny the cruciality of faith in Christ. On the contrary, they insist on it. But to faith are added other conditions, or provisos, by which the essential nature of the Gospel is radically transformed. Often, in fact, a distinction is drawn between the kind of faith which saves and the kind which does not. But the kind of faith which does save is always seen to be the kind that results in some form of overt obedience. By this means, the obedience itself becomes at least an implicit part of the transaction between man and God. “Saving” faith has thus been subtly redefined in terms of its fruits. In the process, the unconditional freeness of the Gospel offer is seriously, if not fatally, compromised.
Zane C. Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege (Dallas: Redención Viva, 1981), 4.
If this statement is true, it would seem that adding the condition or expectation of repentance from sin is really to be guilty of adding to the Gospel. Is this true? Is repentance required for salvation?
Yes. Consider the following:
“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 5:32).
“Go and learn what this means, “‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13).
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead”
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
“The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory” (Rev. 16:8-9).
Think about it. The very nature of trusting in something is to not trust in something else. This is abundantly true when it comes to the recognition of an activity or a state of mind (whether good works, a good life, a religious activity, etc.) that holds no value in rescuing me from a Holy God. Therefore, when a person comes to the knowledge of their desperate spiritual condition they must repent (a change of mind) of how they have been living, thinking, and believing. If a person does not turn to Christ, then they may “repent” but they truly don’t remedy their sinful condition. A person can repent of how they have been living and seek to “turn over a new leaf” but, at best, it is a moral improvement that will gain him or her nothing in the eyes of a Holy God. So, if a person does not (at some fixed point in time) have a change of mind (repent) from trusting in something or someone to trusting in Christ alone, that person cannot rightly be called a Christian.
Is this something new to our Church? Not at all. Consider what Puritan Thomas Vincent’s explanation of The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1674) involves regarding repentance:
Q. When doth the soul rest upon him for salvation?
A. The soul doth rest upon Christ for salvation when, being convinced of its lost condition by reason of sin, and its own inability, together with all creatures’ insufficiency, to recover it out of this estate, and having a discovery and persuasion of Christ’s ability and willingness to save, it doth let go all hold on the creatures, and renounce its own righteousness, and so lay hold on Christ, rely upon him, and put confidence in him, and in him alone, for salvation.
Q. What is repentance unto life?
A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience.
Q. Wherein doth repentance unto life consist?
A. Repentance unto life doth chiefly consist in two things—1. In turning from sin, and forsaking it. “Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions: so iniquity shall not be your ruin.”—Ezek. xviii. 30. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whose confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy.”—Prov. xxviii. 13. 2. In turning unto God. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”—Isa. lv. 7.
Q. What is that turning from sin which is part of true repentance?
A. The turning from sin which is a part of true repentance, doth consist in two things—1. In a turning from all gross sins, in regard of our course and conversation. 2. In a turning from all other sins, in regard of our hearts and affections.
Q. Do such as truly repent of sin never return again unto the practice of the same sins which they have repented of?
A. 1. Such as have truly repented of sin do never return unto the practice of it, so as to live in a course of sin, as they did before; and where any, after repentance, do return unto a course of sin, it is an evident sign that their repentance was not of the right kind. 2. Some have truly repented of their sins, although they may be overtaken and surprised by temptations, so as to fall into the commission of the same sins which they have repented of, yet they do not lie in them, but get up again, and with bitter grief bewail them, and return again unto the Lord.
Repentance and trust in Christ is like two sides of the same coin – to have one is to have the other. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is, at best, simply wrong or, at worst, a false teacher to be avoided altogether.