Repentance: What Does the Bible Say? – By Dr. Curtis Hutson
A third faulty idea about repentance is that it is reformation. Nearly all the religions of the world teach the idea that man must do something or be something in order to be saved. Some say you must join a particular church. If you don’t belong to their particular group, then you cannot be saved. Others teach you must be baptized in water that the water actually washes away sin. Others teach you must be baptized in a certain way and by a certain preacher. Still others teach you must behave in a certain manner. They will often say, “If you don’t straighten up, you are going to Hell!” Others teach that you must make certain resolutions or promises in order to be saved, and if you don’t live up to those resolutions, then you are lost. If we could only understand the clear plan of salvation, it would surely help to clear up a lot of confusion.
Salvation is a gift and there is nothing we can do or be in order to earn it. All you can do with a gift is receive it. John 1:12 says, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”
My beloved predecessor Dr. John R. Rice, used to say, “If you go to Hell, you pay your own way; but you go to Heaven on a free pass.” He was certainly right. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Salvation is a gift.
Reformation is good in its place, but when you make reformation repentance and a prerequisite for salvation, then it is wicked and evil. Salvation is of God, not of man. John 1:13 says, “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” The expression, “not of blood,” simply means that salvation is not inherited through the bloodline. No one is saved because his mother or father is a Christian. “…nor of the will of the flesh” means that there is nothing the flesh can do to earn salvation, including reformation. “…nor of the will of man” means there is nothing man can do to save himself. “…but of God” means that nothing of man enters into salvation.
If that be true, then man’s behavior-good or bad-has nothing to do with obtaining salvation. Titus 3:5 says, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us….” Ephesians 2:8, 9 tells us, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” It is impossible to mix grace and works. Salvation is either by grace or works; it cannot be a combination of the two.
Notice the words of Romans 11:6, “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.”
Reformation as an instrument of salvation is absolutely futile, and repentance is not reformation. Reformation is an effort on the part of the individual to establish his own righteousness, and the Bible clearly teaches that we are not saved by our own righteousness but by the imputed righteousness of God. Look at Romans 10:1-4:
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”
If we could reform and establish our own righteousness, that would not be sufficient. Says Isaiah 64:6 regarding our righteousnesses, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags….” The best we can do is like filthy rags in the sight of a holy God. The only righteousness God accepts is His own, which is imputed to us the moment we trust Christ as Saviour.
What a blessed promise is Romans 4:5, “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
Repentance is not reformation. No one will ever go to Hell who has put his trust in Jesus Christ, but many will end up in torment who have trusted their own righteousness and reformation. Matthew 7:22, 23 says:
“Many will say to me in that day Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
The people referred to in these verses are trusting their own works, their own righteousness, for salvation, when they ought to be trusting Jesus Christ completely.
A fourth faulty idea about repentance is that it is penance. Dr. Harry Ironside said:
“Penance is not repentance. Penance is the effort in some way to atone for wrong done. This man can never do, nor does God, in His Word, lay it down as a condition for salvation that one first seek to make up to either God or his fellows for evil committed…. On the contrary, the call was to repent, but between repentance and doing penance there is a vast difference.”
Penance is a sacrament of the Roman Catholic Church involving the confession of sin and submission to penalties imposed, followed by absolution by the priest.
There is a penalty for sin, but God has only one such penalty and that is death. Ezekiel 18:4 reads, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death!” And James 1:15 tells us, “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”
God’s penalty for sin is death, and this death is described in the Bible as the second death, the lake of fire – Revelation 20:14 says, “Death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” No amount of penance will pay for our sins.
The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ paid for our sins two thousand years ago. First Peter 3:18 says, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God…. “The word “once” here does not mean once upon a time but once for all. The payment for sin was made once for all two thousand years ago when Jesus died on the cross for our sins. The Bible states in I Peter 2:24, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree….” God imposed the penalty for our sins before Adam and Eve committed the first sin in the garden. In Genesis 2:17 He said, “….in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” And the penalty imposed by God before the fall was paid in full by Jesus Christ on the cross two thousand years ago. All that’s left for us to do is accept what Jesus has done and trust Him completely for salvation.
Oh, why must we complicate the matter and confuse unbelievers as to how to be saved! “What must I do to be saved?” asked the Philippian jailor in Acts 16:30, and Paul replied in verse 31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
Repentance is not penance.