The Rev. Louis B. Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation (2 Cor 7:10a). If then God gave the same gift to them (Gentiles) as he gave to us (Peter and the Jews) when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I (Peter) that I could stand in God’s way? When they (the Jews) heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:17-18).
Repentance is a change of mind that includes much more than thinking in a different way. It causes us to change every aspect of our lives informed by our minds. The penitent one changes the way he thinks and makes decisions. His motivations to serve himself are changed. An essential doctrine of the Christian faith is that genuine repentance means to turn away from sin.
The repentance that leads to salvation is always coupled in the Bible with faith. Here’s why. Repentance is to turn away from evil, and faith is to turn to Jesus, the Son of God. The Apostle Paul said that Christians are to count themselves dead to sin (turning from) and alive to God in Christ Jesus (turning to) (Romans 6:11).
If genuine repentance leads to salvation, then it is reasonable to ask, “Why doesn’t everyone (or, at least all those who hear this truth) repent?” The obvious answer is that some choose not to repent. But this answer only raises another question. Why do some choose to repent and others do not?
This same question could be asked about believing. Why do some choose to believe and others do not? The Bible answers both questions the same. Repentance and faith are both gifts from God! One could also say that repentance and faith are two sides of the same God-given gift.
The Jews in Jerusalem who had believed the gospel heard Peter’s testimony concerning Gentile believers, that God has granted to the Gentiles repentance that leads to life. In other words, God gave the gift of repentance not only to Jewish believers but also to Gentile believers.
I have gone to this depth at the risk of repetition to emphasize the biblical answer as to why some repent and believe. As stated above, the answer is: Both repentance and faith (believing) are gifts from God. They are given to those whom God converts from a sinner to a saint. Repentance and faith are given and received at conversion.
Just as saving faith has three parts: knowledge, agreement, and trust, so also repentance has three parts: acknowledgment of sin, sorrow over sin, and turning from sin. When we believe, we look to a certain body of information: The fundamentals of the Christian faith. Also, we agree or assent to the truth of that body of information. Finally, saving faith requires trust. That is, we rely upon the truth of what we know and affirm, living our lives by this faith (see Hebrews 11).
Now concerning repentance, the Bible teaches that the sinner acknowledges his sin which leads to godly sorrow, but acknowledgement and sorrow are not adequate for true repentance. There must necessarily follow a turning away from sin.
There is a moment, appointed by God, when He calls and regenerates a sinner, converting him and giving him the gifts of repentance and faith. From that moment, the Christian strives to live penitently and faithfully.
God’s promise of heaven is for everyone who repents of his sin and believes in Jesus as He is offered in the gospel! Further, on the believer’s way home to heaven, the Spirit of God continues to sanctify him. The Holy Spirit works in the believer, prompting a life of faith and repentance. Drawing from a line in an Indiana Jones movie, “only the penitent man will pass (survive)”.
By God’s grace and mercy alone, He gives the gifts of repentance and faith, without which there is no good news. As we come face-to-face with our own sinfulness, being grieved by it and committing to turn from it, God causes a light to shine in our hearts to see the beauty of Christ and run to Him. I can’t emphasize this truth enough. After the gifts of repentance and faith are received , they continue to be expressed throughout the life of the believer. They truly are the gifts that keep on giving, and it’s all by God’s grace!