Do I have to “repent of my sins” to be saved?
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
“. . . Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, . . .” Acts 16:30-31
In over 150 places the Bible presents faith in Christ as the sole condition for receiving salvation. For example in response to the question “what must I do to saved?” the apostle Paul replied “. . . Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Acts 16:30-31
Often however, people are told that in addition to believing in what Christ did for their sins, that they must also do something about their sins. That is, they must also “repent of their sins” “to be saved.” (By this they mean that a person must “turn from [all] their sins”, or at least be “willing to turn from their sins.” “to be saved.”) Is this true?, or is this an unbiblical addition to faith in Christ?
What does “repent” in the New Testament mean?
The Greek word translated “repent” in the New Testament is the word Metanoeo. Metanoeo is derived from two Greek words, meta which means afterand noeo, which means to think. “Repent” and its noun form “repentance” in the New Testament Greek mean “to think differently”, or to “change the mind”. See for example Hebrews 12:17 where Esau was unable to change the mind of his father about his blessing despite seeking it carefully with tears.
“For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.”
No set object in the Greek word itself.
If someone came up to you and told you “to think differently,” you would probably reply “about what?” There is no set object in the phrase “to think differently”, context has to be provided as to what you are “to think differently” about. Likewise, the word “repent” in the New Testament has no set object. It does not always refer to sin. What the subject is “to think differently” about can only be determined by carefully studying the context of the passage. Only then can the object of repentance in a particular passage be determined.
“Turn” a different Greek word.
Not only does repent have no set object, the Greek word for ‘turn’ is a completely different word (epistrepho), then the Greek words translated “repent” and “repentance“).
Word meanings change over time.
The meaning of words can change over time. This is what has happened with the word “repent”. The King James Translators certainly did not think that the word “repent” necessarily referred to “turning from sin” since they translated many Old Testament passages as God being the one who repented!
Phrase “repent of sins” not found anywhere in the New Testament.
Surprising to most people, the phrase “repent of sins” in any form is not found anywhere in the New Testament. This can be verified by a concordance. (At least one recent “translation” tries to add it, but with no support from the Greek).
What about salvation passages?
Most salvation passages do not even use the word “repent”.
In the limited number of possible New Testament salvation passages that the word “repent” is found, the object of repentance is never sin. Instead, in these passages the contexts involve thinking differently about Jesus Christ, or what God is like. Compare for example Acts 3:12-19 with Acts 13:16-39. Both of these passages are addressed to “men of Israel” yet only those who had previous wrong thinking about Jesus Christ [they did not believe that he was the Messiah] were told to “repent” (to think differently). The other “men of Israel” who didn’t have previous wrong thinking about Jesus Christ were only told to “believe” (Acts13:39). If repent meant to “turn from sin” or “turn from all sins” and was necessary for salvation, then both groups should have been told to “repent.”
Acts 17:30 is a verse from which usually only a small portion is quoted to try to convince people that they must “turn from all their sins to be saved”. However, a look at the context shows that it is referring to thinking differently about the nature of God. “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent [ to think differently]:”
Luke 13:3 is a verse commonly used to try to teach that a person must “repent of their sins” “to be saved” (even though the words “of your sins” are not found there). Look though at the verses before and after it.
“…Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things” 13:2
“Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? 13:4
This passage was addressed to a specific people who had wrong thinking (note the words “Suppose ye” and “think ye”). They thought (wrongly) that people who perished in tragedies were worse sinners than people who did not. Jesus was not telling these people to “repent of their sins,” but instead to think differently (metanoeo) and see themselves as sinners too.
The Gospel of John, the books of Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians
The Gospel of John (the Gospel with the express purpose of leading people to salvation -John 20:31.) uses the word “believe” 98 times, yet does not use the words “repent” or “repentance” even once!
Likewise, the book of Galatians (written to defend the gospel of grace) does not use the words “repent” or “repentance” one single time. Neither does the book of Ephesians.
The apostle Paul in Chapters 3 to 5 in the book of Romans gives the most detailed theological treatment of salvation by grace. There is no mention of “repenting of sins” or “turning from sins for salvation” in this passage, yet the words “believe” and “faith” are used repeatedly. The books of John, Romans, Galatians and Ephesians are considered to be the books most focused on salvation, yet the Greek word usually translated repent is only found one single time in all these books put together!
Why “repentance of sins” is not involved in salvation by grace.
Grace means unmerited favor, or undeserved mercy. It is God saving us where we are at, just as we are, dead in sins.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)” Ephesians 2:4-5 [Note the condition we are in when we are saved “dead in sins,”]
The Bible says that salvation is by grace through faith: “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.” Ephesians 2:8-9. Salvation by grace is “not of works“. Turning from sin is a work: “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way. . . ” (Jonah 3:10)., so it turning from sins could not be a part of salvation by grace.
Faith alone in Christ alone
In Over 150 places the Bible presents faith in Christ as the sole condition for receiving salvation. Not only that, but adding “repentance of sins” as a requirement for salvation would actually contradict the passages in Romans and other places that state that salvation is received completely by faith.
“Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath sent forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, . . . ” Romans 3:22-25
[note: “all them that believe”, not “all them that repent of their sins and believe”]
“To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” Acts 10:43
“And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” Acts 13:39.
What Christ did about our sins was sufficient.
If we say that we have to do something about our sins to be saved in addition to what Christ did about our sins, then we are saying that what Christ did about our sins was not enough. “The issue in salvation is not what man must do about his sin, but what Christ has already done about man’s sin.” Dr. Charles Bing
The Bible the sole authority.
Often times people quote “famous” preachers, religious publications, or confessions, as “proof” that repent means to “turn from sin” and that a person must “repent of their sins” “to be saved.” (These sources assume that the word “repent” always has sin as its object). These sources are neither infallible, nor inspired. The Bible alone must be authority for all doctrinal matters.
The Lord Jesus Christ is God and has been eternally. Jesus paid for all of our sins (past, present, and future.) on the cross. He did this for all people (Heb. 2:9) . The issue in salvation is not what we must do about our sins, but what Christ has already done for our sins on the cross. Believe on him alone for your salvation. Eternal life is a free gift, and you will never perish.
“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8
“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Romans 4:5
“Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe . . .” Romans 3:22
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” John 6:47