Repentance is a Major Element of the Gospel and Must Always Be Preached, Including Its Description
Updated: Jan 28
Many don’t preach on repentance at all. Some merely mention the word, more in line with a drive by shooting. It’s not enough to just say the word. It must be described and defined. It is absolutely crucial and what we see in Scripture when the gospel is preached. The Bible is very clear that there is no salvation without true repentance (Mk 1:15; Lk. 13:1-9; Ac 3:19; 17:30; 26:20). Repentance is a critical component of the gospel (see Lk 24:44-48; Ac 20:21, 24). Gospel preaching should be focused on repentance and what it entails, as seen with John the Baptist (Mk 1:1-4; Lk 3:3-16), with God the Son (Matt 4:17), with the apostles as commissioned by Christ (Mk 6:12), and commanded for all His servants (Lk 24:47-48; Ac 17:30).
But this is often not the case when we hear the gospel/salvation preached. To just tell people to “repent” or to be born again is not preaching repentance or the gospel. This is superficial. Other errors associated with repentance include describing it as a mere acknowledgment of being a sinner. That is not repentance. Turning from unbelief is not repentance. A change of mind is not repentance. It’s also not enough to just say, ‘repent of your sins,’ even though we do repent of our sins, without preaching what that actually means and without preaching against specific sins. We must describe and explain what repentance means, what it means to repent of our sins, and the Bible does tell us this.
This is fighting spiritual warfare (Eph 6) and bringing people to a true knowledge of God and fear of Him (Pr 1:20-31; 2:1-5). We must work the soil of the soul, and break up the fallow ground, and not sow among thorns or rocks (Jer 4:3; Hos 10:12). Specific sins, the world, self, must be preached against, to bring conviction, which is the Biblical pattern. Those who don’t preach the whole counsel of God have no business being behind a pulpit. I would say upwards of 90% of professing Christians (among “evangelicals” and Baptist’s) today are unconverted; a major cause is the false repentant-less and Lord-less gospel being preached, while the false revivalism-type sanctification keeps them lost.
Repentance relates to God. The sinner sees himself and his sins as a Holy God views them in light of His Perfect Law, then turns from himself to Him, from idols to Him, and from his sins to Him. By faith we turn from the old life for a new one, one that was about us and what we wanted to one that is about Him and what He wants. It involves godly sorrow wrought in a broken and poor and contrite heart/spirit produced by the fear of God, and it’s from sin in general and specific sins; it’s a wholesale turning from self, stuff and sin, from all idols. The true gospel is the gospel of self abandonment. There is a lot to repentance, much more than is typically taught.
We see these truths in what Jesus taught in Matt 10:32-39; 16:24-26; Lk 9:23-26, 57-62; Mk 8:34-38; Jn 12:24-26. These passages are not obscure. They are axiomatic. They are not different or separate from the gospel or from the normal teaching of Jesus; they are the gospel of Christ. They are also seen throughout Scripture in all the salvation testimonies, including the thief on the cross (Lk 23:39-43).
Consider Mk 8:34-38, where Jesus said,
“Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (v 34).
Jesus is talking about salvation here. To come after Jesus, to follow Jesus, you can't keep going your way. You've got to turn from your way, deny yourself, and follow Him. If you keep going your way, you're not believing in Jesus Christ. You're believing in yourself, trusting in yourself. You say, if I don't want to go to Hell, I can't keep going my way, I've got to turn to follow Jesus Christ, believing in Him, and not myself.
The next verse says,
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.”
After "follow me," this is the second most common or repeated thing that Jesus says in the gospels. To save your life, you've got to lose your life. You have to die to yourself (Jn 12:24-25). You can't hang on to your life and receive the life that Jesus wants to give you. Giving up your life is to repent. You are turning from your way to his way. The word "life" is the word “psuche,” which is elsewhere translated, "soul." For the Lord to cleanse your soul, you must give up your soul. If you give up your soul, He will restore it (Ps 23:3) or convert your soul that has been ruined by sin. You can't keep going your way, you've got to go His way, follow Him, giving up your life for His life.
Jesus goes on to say in the next two verses,
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Losing your soul is going to Hell. In Hell, there is no more opportunity for your soul to be restored or cleansed of sin. It's too late. There are various components here, interrelated. Their sin and love of the world and mammon, which condemns them, they must repent of that, which is their way. Those are one and the same. There is an authority issue here too. They are rebellious, wanting to do what they want, and going their way. They have to turn from that.
Rom 10:9-10, 13 and Phil 2:10-11 brings in Christ’s Lordship. Lordship, repentance, and faith dovetail, and it is very simple. If you are lord of your own life, you keep going your own way, and you don't repent. If you truly believe in the Jesus of the Bible (hence the importance of preaching everything about Jesus in the Bible, preaching the whole counsel of God), then you believe He is Lord and Christ, and you give up your own way for His way. If you do, He will save you.
Those are His terms. This is consistent with every other place on salvation in the Bible. Sadly, most preaching today is anemic and not enough to bring lost sinners to conversion. Thus the Holy Spirit is not able to do His work as He desires (Jn 16:7-11; 1 Cor 1:21). It doesn’t weed out the tares among the wheat in the churches. People aren’t being tested and tried of their false security, because they are not hearing the whole truth.
To have our names in the book of life we must repent, and that means a lot more than what people are being told. When we look at preaching of the people in the Bible, including the Lord Jesus, that is to be our standard and pattern, not what someone else is preaching. To not preach pointedly against peoples sins (actually detailing sins), and against love of self/world/money, which ought to bring a fear of the Lord and lead to true saving repentance, and then not preaching what repentance involves is not preaching the true gospel.
The true gospel is the gospel of self-denial, self-death and self-abandonment. It’s not complicated. It’s exactly what Jesus and His apostles preached.
Repentance involves all three faculties of man: intellectual (Pr 1:29; 2:1-5; Jer 8:6; Rom 3:11), emotional (Ez 9:6; Ps 34:18; Ezk 6:9; 9:4 Jon 3:8; 2 Cor 7:10) and volitional—the will (Is 55:6-7; Ezk 18:30; 1 Th 1:9; Ac 14:15; Matt 13:44-46). It’s the last one that is the critical element of repentance, it’s the will of man that rejects and hates the truth and light (Jn 3:19-21). That is what we see in Rom 1, lost sinners holding the truth in unrighteousness.
In the NT repentance is described and translated by four Greek words (while three different words in the OT), which are illustrated by all the following:
turning (the change of action wrought from a change of will), from general sin (Is 55:6-7; 1 Th 1:9; Ac 26:20) and from all known specific sins/idols (Ezk 18:20-23, 28-32; Rev 9:20-21; 16:11);
turning from our stuff, material, riches—which is idolatry and covetousness (Mk. 10:21; 8:36-37; Lk. 9:25; 18:22; Ac. 14:15; 1 Th. 1:9);
turning from the world (Phil 3:8-11; Matt 6:24; Jam 4:4; 1 Jn 2:15-17);
turning from our people, from loved ones, which is idolatry before God (Matt 10:34-37; Lk 14:26);
turning from self, denying and dying to self (Mk 8:34; Jn 12:24-25);
losing our life for Christ and the gospels sake (Matt 10:39; Lk 9:24; 14:26; Mk 8:35; Jn 12:25);
taking up the cross (Matt 10:38; Mk 8:34; 10:21; Lk 9:23; 14:27);
turning from false religion (2 Cor 6:14-18; Heb 6:1; Jn 4:23-24) with a desire to make things right with God (Lk 19:5-10; 2 Cor 7:10-11);
counting the cost (Lk 14:28-32; 10:21; Matt 13:44, 45-46);
forsaking all (Lk 9:57-62; 14:26-33);
turning with contrition and compunction from going our way to God’s way with the desire, intention and motivation to serve and obey Him in holiness and righteousness (Ex 8:1; Is 55:7; Mk 10:21; Lk 15:17-21; 18:22; Rom 2:1-4; I Th 1:9),
Thus we turn from sin, from self, from stuff, from people, (the latter two being sinful idolatry), and receive Jesus as Lord, which means to surrender to the King (Mk 10:21; Lk 14:25-35; 19:12-27; 23:40-43; Ac 9:3-6; 10:36; Rom 10:3, 9-13). All this is indeed the simplicity of Christ (2 Cor 11:3), since this is what Jesus is teaching and commands us to teach. To corrupt repentance and everything it entails or not preach it; is to corrupt the simplicity of Christ and preach “another gospel” which comes about because of the subtilty of Satan (2 Cor 11:3-4). Repentance is not a work—it’s demanded for salvation, and the very foundation of salvation (link). The Bible says it and then it has nothing that contradicts it. Love rejoiceth in the truth.
But this is just one part of the equation. In repentance you must turn to God (I Th 1:9-10; Ac 20:21) for in repentance alone there is no merit. You don’t earn God’s favour or become inherently righteous when you repent. It is the blood of Christ, not your repentance, that is the ground of forgiveness; repentant faith is simply the means through which salvation is received. Only those wretched, ungodly, poor, blind, and naked sinners who come to the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in humbleness and contrition with nothing but repentance and faith receive mercy.
Jesus said, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” (Lk 13:5).