Faith and Repentance
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” Mark 1:14-15
Excerpt from Faith and Repentance:
"Here repentance and faith belong together. They denote two aspects in conversion that are equally essential to it. Thus, either term implies the presence of the other because each reality (repentance or faith) is the sine qua non of the other.
In grammatical terms, then, the words repent and believe both function as a synecdoche—the figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole. Thus, repentance implies faith and faith implies repentance. One cannot exist without the other.
But which comes first, logically? Is it repentance? Is it faith? Or does neither have an absolute priority? There has been prolonged debates in Reformed thought about this. Each of three possible answers has had advocates:
First, W. G. T. Shedd insisted that faith must precede repentance in the order of nature: “Though faith and repentance are inseparable and simultaneous, yet in the order of nature, faith precedes repentance” (Dogmatic Theology, 2.536). Shedd argued this on the grounds that the motivating power for repentance lies in faith’s grasp of the mercy of God. If repentance were to precede faith, both repentance and faith would be legal in character, and they would become prerequisites for grace.
Second, Louis Berkhof appears to have taken the reverse position: “There is no doubt that, logically, repentance and the knowledge of sin precede the faith that yields to Christ in trusting love” (Systematic Theology, p. 492).
Third, John Murray insisted that this issue raises
an unnecessary question and the insistence that one is prior to the other is futile. There is no priority. The faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance … saving faith is permeated with repentance and repentance is permeated with saving faith. (Redemption—Accomplished and Applied, p. 113).This is, surely, the more biblical perspective. We cannot separate turning from sin in repentance and coming to Christ in faith. They describe the same person in the same action, but from different perspectives. In one instance (repentance), the person is viewed in relation to sin; in the other (faith), the person is viewed in relation to the Lord Jesus. But the individual who trusts in Christ simultaneously turns away from sin. In believing he repents and in repenting believes. Perhaps R. L. Dabney expressed it best when he insisted that repentance and faith are “twin” graces (perhaps we might say “conjoined twins”).
But having said this, we have by no means said everything there is to say. Entwined within any theology of conversion lies a psychology of conversion. In any particular individual, at the level of consciousness, a sense of either repentance or trust may predominate. What is unified theologically may be diverse psychologically. Thus, an individual deeply convicted of the guilt and bondage of sin may experience turning from it (repentance) as the dominant note in his or her conversion. Others (whose experience of conviction deepens after their conversion) may have a dominant sense of the wonder of Christ’s love, with less agony of soul at the psychological level. Here the individual is more conscious of trusting in Christ than of repentance from sin. But in true conversion, neither can exist without the other.
Yes, repentance and faith are two essential elements in conversion. They constitute twin graces that can never be separated. As John Calvin well reminds us, this is true not only of the beginning but of the whole of our Christian lives. We are believing penitents and penitent believers all the way to glory."
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