by Bob Wilkin
I heard it when I was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ. I heard it in some of my classes at Dallas Theological Seminary. I’ve heard it a lot in the three decades since I graduated from seminary.
It is often said that repentance is the flip side of faith. Imagine that there is a coin and the front side is faith and the back side is repentance. In this illustration you need the entire coin, front and back, in order to be born again. Repentance plus faith are said to be co-conditions of regeneration.
But wait? Where do we read in the Bible that repentance is the flip side of faith? We do not. There is not a single verse anywhere which says that.
Where in the Bible do we read that there are two conditions of the new birth, repentance and faith, not one, faith? Nowhere. As Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary famously loved to say, there are over 150 places in the Bible which teach that the one and only condition of regeneration is faith in Christ.
What I find amazingly inconsistent is the preacher who says, “Justification is by faith alone!” and then within a sentence or two he says, “So if you turn from your sins and believe in Christ you will be justified.” They don’t seem to recognize that the just contradicted themselves. Nor, in many cases, do their listeners. We’ve heard for so long that justification is by faith alone and justification is by faith plus repentance that many of us have come to accept that as reasonable.
The purpose of John’s Gospel is to lead his unbelieving readers to faith in Christ that they would have everlasting life as John 20:30-31 shows. Yet the words repent and repentance are not used even once in John’s Gospel. The Lord Jesus began His ministry calling Israel to repent in light of the nearness of the kingdom (Matt 4:17). He often taught on repentance. Yet the Apostle John never cites any of His repentance teaching. Why? Because Jesus’ repentance teaching was not about what one must do to have everlasting life. He taught that repentance was a condition for escaping temporal judgment. And He taught that the national repentance of Israel was a condition of Him ushering in the kingdom. But the Lord taught that the sole condition of the new birth is faith in Him, as John 3:16 and a host of other passages in John clearly show (e.g., 4:10-14; 5:24, 39-40; 6:35, 37, 39-40, 47; 11:25-27).
In his letter to the Galatians Paul defended justification by faith alone apart from works (Gal 2:16; 3:6-14; 5:4). He repeatedly indicated that the sole condition of justification is faith in Christ. Guess how many times Paul mentioned repent and repentance in Galatians. Zero. Not once in his defense of his gospel did Paul even mention repentance.
If justification is by faith alone, then it is by faith alone. If justification is by faith plus repentance, then it is not by faith alone. That is obvious.
Repentance is one thing and faith is something else. They are not joined. It is possible to repent and yet not believe. Witness the many atheists in AA who haven’t had a drink in years. It is possible to believe and not to repent. Witness the sad reports of pastors of Bible-believing churches who are found to have been involved in long-term affairs. It is possible to repent and later to believe. Witness Cornelius in Acts 10. It is possible to believe, walk in fellowship with the Lord for years, and then fall away and later repent. Witness the prodigal son of Luke 15.
The next time you hear someone say that repentance is the flip side of faith, I hope you will realize that what he is saying is patently false.