Are you a Christian who has never repented? Did someone (erroneously) tell you that it was not necessary to repent before becoming a Christian, that all you needed to do was “believe”? If so, please read on. The following is an excerpt from the book The Spirit-Filled Believers’s Handbook, which was written by the late bible teacher Derek Prince.
The New Testament is unanimous on this one point: True repentance must always go before true faith. Without true repentance there can never be true faith.
The call to repentance begins at the very introduction to the New Testament with the ministry of John the Baptist.
The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight.”
John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:3-4).
John the Baptist’s call to repentance was a necessary preparation for the revelation of the Messiah to Israel. Until Israel had been called back to God in repentance, their long-awaited Messiah could not be revealed among them.
A little further on we read the first message that Christ Himself preached after John had prepared the way before Him.
Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel…and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1: 14-15).
The first commandment that ever fell from the lips of Christ was not to believe but to repent. First repent, then believe.
After His death and resurrection, when Christ commissioned His apostles to go out to all nations with the gospel, once again the first word in His message was “repentance.”
Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).
Here again it is repentance first, and after that, remission of sins.
Shortly after the resurrection, the apostles, through their spokesman Peter, began to fulfill this commission of Christ. After the Holy Spirit’s coming on the day of Pentecost, the convicted (but still unconverted) multitude asked: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). To this inquiry there came an immediate and definite answer.
Then Peter said to them, “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).
Here again it is repentance first; after that, baptism and remission of sins.
When Paul spoke to the elders of the church at Ephesus, he outlined the gospel message which he had preached to them.
I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:20-21).
The order of Paul’s message is the same: first repentance, then faith.
Finally, as we have already seen in Hebrews 6:1 -2, the order of the basic foundation doctrines of the Christian faith is first repentance from dead works, then faith, baptisms and so on.
Without exception, throughout the entire New Testament, repentance is the first response to the gospel that God demands. Nothing else can come before it, and nothing else can take its place.
True repentance must always precede true faith. Without such repentance, faith alone is an empty profession. This is one reason why the experience of so many Christians today is so unstable and insecure. They are seeking to build without the first of the great foundation doctrines. They are professing faith but they have never practiced true repentance. As a result, the faith which they profess procures for them neither the favor of God nor the respect of the world.
In many places today the simplification of the gospel message has been taken one step too far. The message often preached today is “Only believe.” But that is not the message of Christ. Christ and His apostles preached “Repent and believe.” Any preacher who leaves out the call to repentance is misleading sinners and misrepresenting God. For Paul tells us that it is God Himself who “commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). That is the general edict of God to the entire human race: “All men everywhere must repent”
In Hebrews 6:1 repentance is defined as “repentance from dead works”; in Acts 20:21 it is defined as “repentance toward God.” This means that, in the act of repentance, we tum away from our dead works and face toward God, ready to hear and obey His next command.
The phrase “dead works” includes all acts and activities that are not based upon repentance and faith. It includes even the acts and activities of religion- even of professing Christianity – if they are not built on this basis. It is in this sense that Isaiah cries out:
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags (Is. 64:6).
There is no reference here to acts of open sin and wickedness. Even those acts which are done in the name of religion and morality, if they are not based on repentance and faith, are not acceptable to God. Charity, prayers, church attendance, every kind of religious rite and ordinance – if they are not based on repentance and faith- are merely “dead works” and “filthy rags”!
There is one other fact about scriptural repentance which must be emphasized. True repentance begins with God and not with man. It originates not in the will of man but in the free and sovereign grace of God. Apart from the working of God’s grace and the moving of God’s Spirit, man left to himself is incapable of repentance. For this reason the psalmist cries out for restoration.
Restore us, O God … and we shall be saved! (Ps. 80:3,7).
The word translated “restore us” means literally “cause us to tum back.” Jeremiah uses the same word in Lamentations 5:21.
Turn us back to You, 0 Lord, and we will be restored.
Unless God first moves man toward Himself, man cannot of his own unaided will tum to God and be saved. The first move is always made by God.
In the New Testament Christ expressed the same truth.
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him (John 6:44).
The supreme crisis of every human life comes at the moment of the Spirit’s drawing to repentance. Accepted, this drawing leads us to saving faith and eternal life; rejected, it leaves the sinner to continue on his way to the grave and the unending darkness of an eternity apart from God. The Scripture makes it plain that even in this life it is possible for a man to pass “the place of repentance”- to come to a point where the Spirit of God will never again draw him to repentance, and where all hope is lost even before he enters the portals of eternity.
It is fitting to close this study with the words of Christ in Luke 13:3 (which are also repeated in verse 5).
Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.
Christ was speaking of men who died in the very act of performing a religious rite; that is, a company of Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their own sacrifices. While carrying out their sacrifices in the temple, these men had been executed by order of the Roman governor, and their blood had been mingled on the temple floor with that of their sacrifices.
Yet Christ tells us that these men perished; they went to a lost eternity. Even their religious act of sacrifice in the temple could not save their souls, because it was not based on true repentance.
The same is true of the religious ceremonies of many professing Christians today. None of these religious activities is any substitute for true repentance. Without such repentance, Christ Himself said, “… you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).