This question was posed to me this week by a dear brother:

“In Mark 1:15 it says “repent and believe the gospel.” My question is, after the heart is converted by the grace of God, does a man repent and then believe, believe which leads to repentance, repent and believe simultaneously, or it doesn’t matter? I know both aspects of repentance and believing are irreducible minimums in true salvation, but can we conclude from scripture if one comes before the other?”

My reply:

It is a great question really to make us think more deeply about such an important matter.

It seems that the New Testament would say that, while the call of the gospel sets the order as repentance and then faith (‘repent and believe’), it seems that the two are not necessarily always seen in that order in the New Testament, the reason being that they are joined graces which happen in a sinner’s heart as Christ is drawing and saving them.

Someone said (I forget who) that repentance and faith are like Siamese twins- they are joined together, but are distinct and different graces; I think it was Calvin who said that repentance is believing repentance and faith is repentant faith.

Any time a sinner is being drawn by the Holy Spirit to the Saviour, when he or she comes to Christ, they are obviously turning away from sin at the exact time that they are trusting the Lord; so repentance and faith in conversion really happen at the same time; a person is having a repentant heart and attitude as he is coming to trust Christ.

The Holy Spirit regenerates, then and only then, will repentance and faith result; no repentance happens that does not contained saving faith and no saving faith is occurring unless there is repentance is involved.

These two aspects of salvation (repentance and faith) are primarily viewed by the term ‘conversion’; they are both saving graces given by God to the sinner simultaneously. But either one can evidence itself outwardly in the sinner’s response first– what I mean is that one person evidences deep repentance and yet faith may not outwardly seem to be present very much; then another person may be greatly rejoicing in and embracing Christ in a way that is strong, yet repentance is not the main reality being outwardly shown; but its there none the less.

I think the question of their order (which comes first?) has more to do with the call of the gospel (the preached message); the apostles and Jesus put repentance first; Jesus did, John Baptist did, Paul did and Peter did. New Testament preaching consistently said, “Repent and believe.” Paul said to the jailer in Acts 16, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” But he was seeing in the jailer a man who was already evidencing repentance, thus his primary directive was faith, pointing him to Christ.

The essence of what I am saying is that a sinner cannot truly repent without at the same time experiencing saving faith, and likewise, any true faith in Christ has within it a repentant attitude and heart. That is a simple answer but I hope it helps.

John Murray’s book, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, is excellent on this subject, as is Sinclair Ferguson’s The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction; both books are well worth the read.

Let me know if you desire to talk more about the above subject.

– Mack

  1. September 20, 2014

    Thank You SO much for this post. I’m in a kind of “Seek” mode right now and it’s VERY hard to find Sound Biblical thoughts and teachings. You’ve explained this particular conundrum very well in an understandable way. Thank you again.

  2. May 11, 2016

    Thanks for trying to explain this . Will only want to add to , that might help – and that is that the word ‘believe’ can be understood also to mean Trust or even ‘Know”…if it is by The Gift of The Faith of God which is in Christ Jesus that one has received, that thus enables one to Understand what it is they are to turn toward , that which is of The Knowledge of God. No one can come to The Son unless the Father Enables them (sum total including That Faith) is in Essence how one Comes to Know to turn (repent) toward Him. The one thing that is not mention is being Forgiven though also. Will not even attempt to elucidate how it all goes about but could speak from personal experience that one cannot know Jesus is LORD but by the Holy Spirit and the Import of that provides for seeing what one’s Need actually is to begin with. (assuming that is the case). Granted, suspect that a vast majority of ‘believers’ believe only or seemingly only by ‘self-intention’…it’s a huge can of worms which any one venture into the realm of ‘Christian theology’ and various schools of thought might quickly find themselves drowning in disagreements (eg. ‘Arianism vs. ‘so-called an nearly always misunderstood ‘Calvinism’). There was for me as a FACT various levels to what we might call ‘repentance’…just depends on the situation and a persons ‘sensitivities’. e.g…there were 10 lepers that were healed..1 went back to Jesus who recognized his authority and that it was through him..that could be a form of repentance as well…”Deny yourself (repentance),,take up your cross..and follow Me” might well be another. The only point wanting to be made is the ‘risk’ of over-simplification and saying: “change your mind”..that can’t possibly be true, for ‘ The mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind of the flesh is hostile to God: It does not submit to God’s Law, nor can it do so.’… how can ‘the mind of the flesh’ repent by it’s own ‘free will’? Even if it ‘chose’ to do so it would still be self will..I think the ‘calvinist’ argument in that sense then is that if it were by our own will..then we are our own saviour ultimately…I ‘believed JEsus was the Son of God and never did not believe that’..but it in reality was believing ABOUT it but not Knowing that as a FACT by Revelation…such a revelation will totally change ‘All Things” and turns everything on its head…and granted, we cannot make ourselves have a Revelation of God any more than we can step out side and make ourselves wet from a rain storm on a sunny day.

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