As Paul is explaining justification by faith in Romans, he still expects people to repent. He asks, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4, ESV)? So what is repentance?
One of the best ways to define repentance is to see its New Testament usage. John the Baptist commanded, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8a, ESV). The fruits of repentance are evidenced in his answers to various groups. They are sharing food and clothing, not collecting more tax than authorized, not abusing authority, and not giving false testimony (Luke 3:10-14). In 2 Corinthians Paul teaches, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10, ESV). Grief alone is not enough as seen in the life of Judas (see Matthew 27:3-5). One author has well defined repentance as “an act of the soul which takes place between ‘godly sorrow,’ on one side, and the ‘fruits meet for repentance,’ on the other.”1 Repentance is a change of mind that leads to changed behavior.
Further, repentance is linked with salvation.
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Luke 13:3, ESV
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38, ESV
Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out… Acts 3:19, ESV
See also passages like Acts 11:18, Acts 17:30, and Acts 26:18-20.
For some saying repentance is necessary for salvation is troubling. For example Zane Hodges states, “Faith alone (not repentance and faith) is the sole condition for justification and eternal life.”2 Yet his statement doesn’t square with the evidence of the above passages.
Faith/trust is the means to salvation as opposed to merit/works. As a means it is also a condition, but that doesn’t exclude the possibility of other conditions being revealed that are consistent with trust. Repentance obviously is consistent with trust. In fact, how can I say that I trust Jesus and God and follow their way, if I haven’t changed my mind yet about the sin in my life? We need to take Jesus’ words seriously—repent or perish!
1H.W. Everest, “Repentance—Its Nature, Conditions and Necessity,” The Old Faith Restated, I:170
2Absolutely Free!, p. 144