Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
-- Feeding Jesus' sheep
-- Equipping His servants
-- Proclaiming His Gospel

Do Sinners Need to Repent?

By Dennis Pollock



In the early days of our ministry, we struggled financially much of the time. However, we were blessed with a supporter who seemed to love us and our ministry and donated freely to help us in our various missions. He donated many thousands of dollars and made it possible for Benedicta to travel with me on every mission and play a very active role in Spirit of Grace Ministries, which continues to this day. But one day I was alarmed when I received an email from this man, complaining about another ministry he supported. He was upset that the leader of that ministry told unbelievers that to be saved, they needed to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus.


Somehow, he was totally against the idea of telling sinners to repent, and he seemed to be asking me, in a roundabout fashion, if this is what I preached and believed – that sinners needed to repent and turn from their sins while putting their faith in Jesus. Since he did not come right out and ask me, I left it alone and replied in a general sort of way. But through a couple of additional emails, he kept pushing me and it was clear he would not be satisfied until I told him exactly what I thought about urging sinners to repent. It was clear I could not skirt the issue any longer, and I replied to him that I did indeed urge sinners to repent and believe in Jesus and gave him a few Scriptures to back my beliefs.


As I feared, that was the end of this man's support of our ministry. After replying to me and sharing his feelings, I never heard from him again, nor did we receive another dollar of support from him. It was scary, knowing that our largest single (human) benefactor was now gone, but I took comfort in the knowledge that God was our true source of support and that He had not forsaken us. And as it turned out, we never missed a beat, and God added new supporters to our ranks to take his place.


Today, I want to discuss the idea of repentance as it pertains to salvation. Here's the issue. When you are presenting Christ to an unbeliever or a group of unbelievers, it is necessary or proper to encourage them to repent from sin and a wicked lifestyle. Or should we simply tell people to believe in Jesus and ask them to pray a "sinner's prayer" with us, asking Jesus into their hearts, without any discussion of turning away from sin? Is forsaking wickedness a part of salvation? Is a lifestyle change relevant or irrelevant to the new birth experience?


Repentance Haters


There is a sizeable group of Bible-believing Christians who hate the idea of repentance in connection with salvation. They are so committed to the "only believe" concept that it seems blasphemous for us to even mention the need to repent when we are talking with sinners.


Of course, there is a major problem with this view. The word repentance is all over the New Testament.

When John the Baptist preached in Israel, he told his listeners, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" and told the Pharisees and Sadducees to "bear fruits worthy of repentance," in other words, demonstrate real repentance by a change of behavior. When Jesus began His ministry, His message was the same as John's. He preached: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." When Jesus sent His twelve disciples to preach all over Israel, the Bible says: "So they went out and preached that people should repent."


After Jesus' resurrection, Jesus told His disciples: "Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." (Luke 24:47). Peter must have been listening very closely, because after preaching to the large crowds that gathered on the Day of Pentecost, they asked him what they should do, and he answered: "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38).


The people who push the salvation-without-transformation gospel instinctively do not like the word "repent" and they avoid it as much as they can. But many of them know that this word and this concept are all through the New Testament, and if you challenge them on it, they will give you a quick Greek lesson, telling you that the Greek word for repentance is metanoia, which means to change one's mind. They suggest that to tell people to repent is simply telling them to change their minds about Jesus. They were not believers before; now they are believers – therefore they have repented – they have changed their minds about Jesus. And this has nothing to do with turning away from wicked works or sinful behavior.


Change Your Mind & Your Morals


They are correct that repentance means to change one's mind, but they are dead wrong to insist that this has nothing to do with a lifestyle change. There are numerous Scriptures where repentance is linked with a change of behavior. In the Book of Revelation Jesus speaks of a woman in the church at Thyatira, who was leading some of the men of the church into sexual immorality. Jesus sternly declares "And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed, I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds." (Revelation 2:21-22). He is not saying, "She and her lovers need to change their minds and start believing in Me." They were attending church, so they were surely "believers" in the loosest sense of the term. They identified as Christians. The repentance Jesus was calling for was that these folks needed to "repent of their deeds." They needed to change their minds about the immoral lifestyle they were living and turn away from their sins.


The apostle Paul is the hero of these folks who hate the very idea of turning away from sin. They love to quote what he said about justification by faith and salvation through believing in Jesus. They quote Paul all the time, and in fact, they even dare to suggest that the words of Jesus are meaningless for Pauline, grace Christians of today. They see themselves as true disciples of Paul, as "only believers," the true champions of grace.


But Paul, their great hero, could get quite fierce about the necessity of repentance and change. In the Book of Acts, toward the end of his life, he summed up his evangelistic ministry with these words: "(I) declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance." Paul insisted that those wanting to become Christians must repent (change their minds), and turn to God, and turning, by definition, means to change direction. And they must do "works befitting repentance." Suppose you say, "I want to go to heaven, I want to be forgiven, so I will pray the sinner's prayer, but I have no intention whatsoever of actually changing my life. I will still have sex with as many people as I want, as often as I want, steal from my company, and tell lies all day long. But praise God, I know that I am justified by faith; I am a blood-bought believer."


Is Christ a "Minister of Sin?"


How do you think Paul would have reacted? We don't have to wonder about this. He would have said exactly what he said to the Galatians "But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not!" (Galatians 2:17). Or perhaps he would have said, as he wrote to the Romans: "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1-2). The idea of going about sinning wildly and constantly while shouting, "Grace, grace, grace" is absurd. Paul wrote this to the Corinthians: "For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted..." (2 Corinthians 7:10). Notice the phrase "repentance leading to salvation." Repentance springing from "godly sorrow" is the forerunner and the companion of salvation by faith in Jesus. Where one is, you always find the other. To repent and to believe in Jesus Christ are part of the same package. They are two sides of the same coin.


And there is nothing wrong with explaining this to sinners from the beginning, telling them that if their faith is real and genuine, if it is truly God-empowered faith, it will always result in a new way of life, where godly living is both the goal and the fruit. Or, to use Paul's words, to tell people to "repent, turn to God (through Jesus) and to do works that befit repentance."




For a full listing of all articles, written and audio, go to our Devo Catalog Page.



        For inspirational devos, bios of Christian leaders, free downloads, and the latest SOGM news:
Sign up to receive E-newsletter

Your donations are needed and greatly appreciated!



Just for you!

Missions Outreach

A major part of Spirit of Grace Ministries is our ministry in the great continent of Africa. There is a tremendous harvest going on in the world these days, and we are privileged to be a part of it. Above is a brief music video featuring video clips and pics from our recent mission in Nigeria in Oct/Nov, 2019.

Audio Devo: "Why is there suffering?"

People have debated this question for millennia. And we cannot speak concerning specific individual questions of suffering, but the Bible clearly speaks as to why suffering has always been a part of the human experience.