Christians have debated this question for many years, but only a small percentage of Christians have an accurate understanding of the place of repentance in the Christian life. Even Billy Graham has waffled on this question and is unable to explain the work of repentance, which should follow salvation by grace. Must a Christian repent of his sins in order to be saved spiritually? The Biblical answer to this question is simple, but the explanation is very complex for those Christians with a superficial understanding of the Bible. The simple answer is no, repentance is not a condition for spirit salvation, but it is a condition for soul salvation. Spirit and soul are not the same!
The Christian must first understand the difference between God’s Covenant of Grace, which pertains to spirit salvation, and God’s Covenant of Works, which pertains to soul salvation. Both covenants are addressed in the following passage of Scripture:
Covenant of Grace:
(Eph 2:8-9 NASB) For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; (9) not as a result of works, that no one should boast.
Covenant of Works:
(Eph 2:10 NASB) For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Covenant of Grace:
Verses 8 & 9 cover the covenant of grace. Please note that works are not involved, and that even the faith comes from God. These two verses address spirit salvation from God. God the Holy Spirit regenerates the person’s spirit, convicts him of his sinful state and causes him to believe in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. The believer does nothing for this salvation. He hears the gospel of grace and simply believes it because of the faith given him by God. This is the point at which the believer receives the imputed righteousness of Christ. Repentance plays no part in this salvation by grace. It is very significant that the gospel of John was written so that people would believe in Jesus for spirit salvation, and the gospel of John does not contain the words repent or repentance.
(John 20:31 KJV) (a) But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; (b) and that believing ye might have life through his name.
Spirit salvation is effected by the simple belief “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”, as confirmed in (a) above. This means that the person believes that Jesus is the anointed one—the Son of God—who died as a substitute for the believer. Upon belief in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit indwells, or comes to live inside the Christian. This is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is so misunderstood and abused by the endtime church of Laodicea. Every Christian is baptized by the Holy Spirit upon belief in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. This completes spirit salvation via the Covenant of Grace, which is all a work of God and not man. Spirit salvation takes away the guilt of sin.
Covenant of Works:
As soon as the Holy Spirit indwells the believer, the Holy Spirit begins to convict the Christian about his sins, which come from his flesh or sin nature. The born-again Christian has a new spirit nature that is totally obedient to the Holy Spirit living inside him. The new spirit nature listens to the Holy Spirit and begins to work on the mind of the believer. The mind is part of the soul, and has not been renewed at the point of spirit salvation. In fact, the entire soul is still in a fallen state at the point of spirit salvation. The soul includes the mind, the will, the emotions, and the intellect.
The renewing of the mind plays a primary part in the process of soul salvation. The Christian begins to feel remorse, contrition or self-reproach for his sinful behavior. The Christian should understand that these feelings of remorse cannot take place until a person’s spirit has been quickened or made alive by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit has become active in the believer. This is why repentance and baptism are part of the Covenant of Works and not the Covenant of Grace. The salvation of the soul pertains to the Covenant of Works and not the Covenant of Grace. Soul salvation is little understood by most Christians, and this is primarily responsible for the misunderstanding about repentance.
Soul salvation pertains to the “life” and is effected “through his name” as confirmed in John 20:31(b) shown above. “Through his name” means that a Christian lives his life in the power and authority of Jesus Christ. A Christian can live his life in the power and authority of the flesh nature, or he can live it in the power and authority of Jesus Christ. A Christian’s life may perish at the Judgment Seat of Christ, or it may come through the judgment by fire and result in reward. The Christian who lives a wasted life in the power of the flesh nature will see his life go up in smoke at the Judgment Seat of Christ. The Christian who lives his life in the power and authority (i.e., name) of Jesus Christ will see his life come through the testing fire and receive “glory, honor and immortality”.
A pastor friend once stated “I hope that when the rapture takes place that there will not be much change in me after the rapture.” This is the essence of soul salvation. The Christian who walks in the spirit has put off the old man and has put on the new man. He has repented or died to self, and is walking in the spirit. The Christian who walks in the flesh has not repented, or has fallen away from the faith. The old man has not been crucified, and he is walking in the flesh.
Repentance and baptism pertain to discipleship or faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Repentance involves turning from sin. Repentance goes hand in hand with baptism, which portrays dying to the old nature and living in accordance with the new nature. God’s command to believers is repent and be baptized. Repentance and baptism are required for making a public commitment to die to the old nature and to live according to the new nature. This is a work—a difficult work—that requires determination, tenacity and fortitude. This is why repentance comes under the Covenant of Works and soul salvation, and not the Covenant of Grace.
Repentance is something that every Christian should do in obedience to God, but many do not make the commitment, or they do not follow through with the commitment. Repentance pertains to the Christian life and one’s success in living the Christian life. The success of a Christian’s repentance and baptism (i.e., death of self) will be judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ. The Christian who has been successful in his life will pass through the judgment fire unscathed, but the Christian who has not been successful in his life of repentance will suffer loss. He will see his life’s work perish in the judgment fire of the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Summary: Repentance is not required for spirit salvation, but it is required for soul salvation. Repentance does not pertain to the Covenant of Grace, but it does pertain to the Covenant of Works. Repentance is not required for entrance into heaven, but it is required for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Repentance does not pertain to the gospel of grace, but it does pertain to the gospel of the kingdom. The gospel of grace says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” The gospel of the kingdom says “Repent and be baptized for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.