L. W. has been bothered about the issue of repentance and salvation:
I have been seeking and studying a lot as my confusion over the gospel has been taking a huge toll on me in every way.
I am deeply confused about repentance. It seems it is required for all people.
John the Baptist and Jesus preached it. If there should be no confusion about whether someone should turn at least first in his mind/heart from sins and then be saved, why preach it?
Likewise, if someone has no desire to turn, is he not a hypocrite asking or believing for forgiveness and salvation?
If we need to see our sin and know our judgment as per the role of the Holy Spirit, then it should create in us a primed heart desiring to change, correct? It makes no sense to say I am a sinner, but I don’t want to stop. I’ll just trust Jesus, and then He comes in and changes me against my will?
I don’t mean to sound confrontational. I am just truly wrestling with it. Losing tremendous sleep and my health hasn’t been well.
I want to trust and believe the right truth, but the confusion is so deep.
I am so sorry for her confusion. It is a confusion shared by literally millions of people.
I count six different questions.
The general answer is exceedingly simple. The promise of everlasting life is to “whoever believes in Him” (John 3:16). That’s it. There is no other condition. Unless repentance is a synonym for faith, and it is not, then it is not required to have irrevocable salvation.
There is no requirement of moral reform in order to be born again.
Justification is by faith alone (Rom 3:21-31; 4:1-8). There is no additional step.
Let’s now consider L. W.’s six questions.
First, is repentance required of all people? Yes. Acts 17:30. But it is not required to be born again.
Second, why did the Lord and John the Baptist preach repentance if it was not required to be born again? Because they were calling the entire nation to repent so that the kingdom would come for that generation. The kingdom did not come then, because the nation did not repent and believe in the Messiah. There are two conditions for the kingdom to come.
Third, is it hypocritical to believe in Jesus for everlasting life when I haven’t decided to turn from my sins and live for Him? No. Believing in Jesus for everlasting life means I’m convinced He guarantees that to all who simply believe in Him. Therefore, there is no hypocrisy if an unbeliever believes in Jesus. No commitment to moral reform is required.
Fourth, does the Holy Spirit move unbelievers toward faith in Christ and moral reform? Yes, on both counts (John 16:7-11; Acts 10:1-4; 17:27). But believing is required to be born again, and moral reform is needed to please God. Two different conditions and results.
Fifth, does it make sense to be mired in sin and yet not want to change? No. But sin is addictive. Many people hate their lives, but often it takes multiple times in rehab to turn. Sometimes they die of an overdose before rehab works. But going to rehab is not required to be born again. Remember, God “justifies the ungodly” (Rom 4:5).1
Sixth, does God transform our lives against our will? No. Believers still have free will. God does move us toward righteousness via the convicting work of the Spirit and the power of God’s Word, assuming we are sitting under sound Bible teaching.
L. W., maybe an illustration will help.
A college student named Joe wants to join the Young Republicans group on campus. There is one requirement for joining. Joe merely needs to answer this one question affirmatively: “Are you a Republican between the ages of 18-40?” (See here.) Let’s say Joe is immature and irresponsible. He can join. What if he swears a lot? He can join. What if he is living with a girl that he isn’t married to? He can join. Now the Republican party wants Joe to become mature and responsible. It wants him to clean up his language and marry his live-in girlfriend. But it does not require moral reform to join. In fact, it hopes that by joining, he will become a better person.
The same is true with becoming part of the family of God. There is no moral reform requirement. You simply have to believe in Jesus for the irrevocable salvation that He promises. But once we come to faith, then God wants you to grow. His Spirit is working in us to cause us to grow. He sends believers in our lives to help us grow. But whether we grow much or little or not at all, we are born again if and when we believe in Jesus for everlasting life.
For more on repentance see here for a journal article I wrote on the subject. You might also wish to get a copy of my book Turn and Live: The Power of Repentance.
1 In addition, Cornelius in Acts 10 is an example of an unbeliever who already had undergone moral reform. Being a man of prayer and alms giving did not save him. He had to believe in Christ for that (Acts 10:34-48; 11:14). Some unbelievers are living godlier lives than some believers.