There has been a debate on another blog concerning Lordship salvation, which led to the owner of that blog stating if we preach repentance, we are preaching salvation by works. I found this whole issue somewhat disturbing, so I searched the scriptures to see what God says. We find in Luke 24:47 this command, “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Also this, from Acts 17:30, ‘And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent’.
The confusion seems to stem from the meaning of repentance. Blueletterbible.org gives this definition of repent - to change one's mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one's past sins- along with this added ‘footnote’ - "Repentance (metanoia, 'change of mind') involves a turning with contrition from sin to God; the repentant sinner is in the proper condition to accept the divine forgiveness." (F. F. Bruce. The Acts of the Apostles [Greek Text Commentary], London: Tyndale, 1952, p. 97.)
Matthew Henry has this commentary on Luke 24:47, ‘The great gospel duty of repentance must be pressed upon the children of men. Repentance for sin must be preached in Christ’s name, and by his authority, v. 47. All men every where must be called and commanded to repent, Acts 17:30. "Go, and tell all people that the God that made them, and the Lord that bought them, expects and requires that, immediately upon this notice given, they turn from the worship of the gods that they have made to the worship of the God that made them; and not only so, but from serving the interests of the world and the flesh; they must turn to the service of God in Christ, must mortify all sinful habits, and forsake all sinful practices. Their hearts and lives must be changed, and they must be universally renewed and reformed. The great gospel privilege of the remission of sins must be proposed to all, and assured to all that repent, and believe the gospel. "Go, tell a guilty world, that stands convicted and condemned at God’s bar, that an act of indemnity has passed the royal assent, which all that repent and believe shall have the benefit of, and not only be pardoned, but preferred by. Tell them that there is hope concerning them.’’
So repentance is commanded in scripture by God, all are commanded to ‘repent and believe in the Gospel’. Repentance is a change of mind, a coming to the realization of what we truly are…sinners, and desiring to flee from our sins. When we see ourselves as we truly are, sinners with no hope apart from the grace and mercy of God, we no longer desire the sins we once loved. So, repentance is indeed a change of mind which, ultimately leads to a change in the way we live, a forsaking or turning from sin. To change your mind about your sins will inevitably lead to a forsaking of sin.
Is repentance a work we are even humanly capable of doing? 2 Timothy 2:25 answers this question, ‘in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth’. Those who do repent do so because God has, through His Spirit and the preaching of His word, brought the guilty sinner under conviction. He opens their understanding and reveals truth to them. When the guilty see, by His grace, just how sinful they are, they are prompted by His Spirit to call out to the One who saves. Repentance is like every other aspect of salvation, it is wrought by God. God is the one who brings us to repentance, He re-births us, He gifts us with faith to believe, He sanctifies, He justifies, He is the One who saves His people to the uttermost. He does it all.
So, back to the original question, if we preach ‘repent and believe in the Gospel’, are we preaching a ‘salvation by works’? NO! What we are preaching is commanded in scripture. There is nothing we can do that would save us; repenting, being born again, having faith, being regenerated and continually sanctified are all a magnificent work of a powerful God. Those who are saved are truly a miracle of God. The power of God is what saves and changes lost sinners into born again believers, His grace and mercy are what brings us to His Son, His Spirit is the one who convicts and teaches. The triune God is all we need as we fall upon the mercy of a Great and Awesome God.
The Gospel is a message of hope. Before lost sinners can embrace this good news, this message of hope, they must first understand why this message is such good news. I.O.W., they must hear the bad news first; the fact that we are sinners and need to forsake sin and embrace the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. We have no hope apart from Jesus, who loves us so much He died for us. He reconciles us to the Father through His finished work on the cross. The message of the cross is not good news if a lost, rebellious sinner does not first see his/her own crimes against God. Sin and the forsaking of it must be preached before the good news of forgiveness in Christ can be understood. To turn from sin and turn to the Lord Jesus is the message of hope every lost sinner needs to hear. May we go forth and boldly proclaim this good news, may the Spirit of God fill our hearts and minds, may we all profess this glorious Gospel while there is yet time.
"Afresh, precious, precious Jesus, I resign this body to You, for doing or suffering, for living or dying. Will You accept it? Will You use me for Your glory more than heretofore, that You may have some little return for all the benefits You have done to me? Oh, do grant this request; my heart longs for it, my spirit pleads for it; and "if You will, You can." You know the hot temptation of which I am the subject. Bring Your glory out of it, and keep me from the evil, and it shall be well." - Ruth Bryan