The Christian life, by its very nature and definition, represents something quite different from the way we previously lived. In contrast to being dead in sins and trespasses, it is a new life. While it is of lifelong and even eternal length, it has a certain point of beginning. “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step,” said the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu. And so it is with the Christian life. The first step of the Christian life is called conversion. It is the act of turning from one’s sin in repentance and turning to Christ in faith.
The picture of repentance from sin is found in both the Old and New Testaments.
Ezekiel 33:7-11 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,” declares the Lord GOD. “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. Therefore, repent and live.” Later on we read in Ezekiel prophesy a warning to the wicked to turn from his wickedness.”
Although in Ephesians 5:14 is not directly stated, Paul uses different imagery but basically is the same idea: “Awake sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Furthermore, in Acts we find Peter promoting a change in direction of life: “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).
The Components of Conversion
Conversion is a single unit yet has two distinguishable but inseparable characteristics: repentance and faith. Repentance is the unbeliever’s turning away from sin, and faith is his or her turning toward Christ.
Faith is fundamental and crucial in Christian dogma and conduct. It was the one thing which was in particular Christ acknowledged as the supreme virtue. The Syrophoenician woman mentioned in Matthew 15 had perseverance; the centurion in Matthew 8, humility; the blind man in Mark 10, earnestness. But what Christ saw and rewarded in each of these cases was faith. Faith is the foundation of Peter’s spiritual temple (2 Pet 1:5–7); and first in Paul’s trinity of graces (1 Cor 13:13). In faith all the other graces find their source.
Faith is the first and foremost divine requirement placed on man. The writer of Hebrew says in Hebrews 11:6 “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Also John the apostle in John 6:29 he says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”
Furthermore, faith is the Hallmark of a Christian. Christians are called believers in the Bible, not reenters or converts. In Acts 5:14 “All the more believers in the Lord were added.” The apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 4:12 says, “Show yourself an example of those who believe.”
We will start by defining all the Hebrew and Greek terms that have the concept of faith.
The group of Hebrew words that is translated faith is ‘aman, ‘emnunah. ‘aman has the idea of being firm, established, sure. In the hiphil it means to believe. ‘emunah means faithfulness, faith; “A trust that is steadfast.” The bible say in Genesis 15:6 “Abraham believed (‘aman) in the Lord.” We also read in Habakkuk 2:4 “The just shall be saved by his faith (‘emunah).”
Another word used in the Old Testament that is translated to trust, lean upon is Batach. This emphasizes the reliance aspect of faith, especially when followed by the prepositions beth (in) or ‘al (upon). In Psalm 13:5 “I have trusted in Your lovingkindness…” Psalm 25:2 “O my God, in You I trust.” Also we read in Psalm 26:1 “…And I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.” The phrase of trusting “without wavering” carries the idea of steadfastness.
The other word that carries the idea of faith in the Old Testament is chasah. Chasah means to trust, take refuge, i.e. to put trust in (God), confide or hope in (God, figuratively). Psalm 7:1 reads “O Lord my God, in You I have taken refuge.” The “fear of the Lord” which is linked to wisdom, keeping the commandments, etc., is an Old Testament reference to faith.
The Greek concept of faith uses the noun Pistis, which mean basically faith. Paul in Romans 1:17 “But the righteous man shall live by faith (pistis).” The counterpart form of the verb is pisteuo, which is translated “faith,” “trust,” “believe.” Jesus rebuked the people for their materialistic motivation and their lack of spiritual perception and then they said to Him in John 6:28-29 “Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”
Therefore, we would define saving faith as the knowledge of, assent to, and unreserved trust in the accomplished redemption of Christ as revealed in the Scriptures. “In a strict and special sense of the word, faith means a belief in things not seen which is based on testimony.” (Charles Hodge)
The Elements of Faith
There are three components of faith: the intellectual aspect, the emotional aspect, and the volitional aspect.
Faith has a cognitive aspect. There must be something to be believed. There must be an apprehension of truth. Hebrew 11:3 reads “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God.” There must be content of faith. Faith cannot operate in a vacuum; it must have knowledge upon which to meet. The Bible maintains that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17), that men must “receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thess 2:10). Furthermore, the Bible tell us that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Heb 11:6). The intellectual side of faith can be seen in texts that speak of believing “that…”; i.e., a belief concerning some facts (John 8:24; 11:42; 14:11; 16:27; 20:31; Rom 10:9; 1 Thess 4:14; 1 John 5:1, 5). In this feature of saving faith “lies the importance of doctrine respecting Christ. The doctrine defines Christ’s identity, the identity in terms of which we entrust ourselves to him. Doctrine consists in propositions of truth.”
The second aspect of the components of faith is the assent; the emotional aspect of saving faith; and the affirmation of truth. The truth that was understood in the intellectual aspect must be accepted as indeed is a factually true. It must pass to the stage of one’s conviction or a whole-hearted assent that the truth applies to the person himself. In Matthew 9:28 Jesus asked the blind men, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said, “Yes, Lord.” i.e. they comprehended His power and accepted it as being capable of operating in them. Also we read in Matthew 8:13 about the centurion who was concerned about his servant. He accepted Jesus as true. So Jesus said to him, “Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.” “Without this element faith becomes simply mysticism, for to place one’s trust in what one has heard or read about but does not believe to be true is simply an “existential leap” into the abyss of absurdity.”
The third and last aspect of saving faith is the trust; the volitional aspect; the appropriation of truth. In this confidence aspect, knowledge has gone from acceptance or approval and from acceptance or approval to surrender and reliance. As Robert Reymond says about this element, “as the sinner cognitively, affectively, and volitionally transfers all reliance for pardon, righteousness, and cleansing away from himself and his own resources in complete and total abandonment to Christ, whom he joyfully receives and upon whom alone rests entirely for his salvation.” This third element is essential that faith should include. Because this is the most characteristic aspect of faith, and to fall short of trust is to fail to exercise saving faith. The object of this trust is Christ Himself as revealed in the Word. It is Christ who saves not faith itself, and faith is the vehicle of attachment to His finished work of redemption. We read in Scripture “Trust (batach) in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5). The “heart” is the seat of the will or volition, the control center of the person. To trust with all your heart is to trust with your whole being, a complete commitment.
Saving faith is a gift from God ultimately. While it is the sinner who believes, his faith does not originate with him. The capacity and ability to believe come from God (Phil 1:29; 2 Pet 1:3).
The importance given to the doctrine of repentance in the Scriptures can hardly be overestimated. The glorified Christ placed beyond all doubt that repentance is to be a part of gospel proclamation, when he declared on the evening of his resurrection from the dead: “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47). John the Baptist as well began his public ministry, as did Jesus also, with the call to repentance upon his lips (Matt 3:1-2, 8, 11; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3, 8; Acts 13:24; 19:4; cf. Matt 4:17).
When Jesus sent forth the twelve and the seventy messengers to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of heaven throughout Galilee, He commanded them to preach “that people should repent” (Mark 6:12).
First and foremost in the preaching of the apostles was the doctrine of repentance: Peter (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22); Paul (Acts 17:30; 20:21; 26:20). The author of Hebrews indicates that “repentance from dead works” is a first principle of the doctrine of Christ (Heb 6:1).
The burden of the heart of God, and His command to all humanity everywhere, is that they should repent (2 Pet. 3:9; Acts 17:30).
Certainly, failure on the part of man to listen to God’s command to repentance means that he shall absolutely perish (Luke 13:3, 5).
Does the doctrine of repentance find such an important place in the preaching and teaching of today? Has the need for repentance diminished? Has God lessened or changed the terms of admission into His kingdom?
The basic Old Testament terms that is used is Nacham from “to draw a deep breath,” an expression of deep feeling of either relief or sorrow. Therefore the meaning is to repent, to regret. “It is often used of God to indicate a change or possible change in his plans: Genesis 6:6-7; Exodus 32:12, 14; Deuteronomy 32:36; Judges 2:18. But this word is also used to describe sorrow for sin in human beings: Judges 21:6, 15; Job 42:6; Jeremiah 8:6; 31:19.”
Much more commonly used for repentance is the other Old Testament word, shub. This word means to turn back, to go in the opposite direction. It highlights the fact that repentance means a change of direction, from the wrong way to the right way (from sin 1 Kings 8:35; from evil, Job 36:10; from transgression, Isa. 59:20). In a positive way shub means turning to the Lord: Psalm 51:13; Isaiah 10:21; Jeremiah 4:1; Hosea 14:1; Amos 4:8; Malachi 3:7.
The two main New Testament words for repentance are metanoia and epistrepho. The verb corresponding to metanoia is metanoeo; it is the common Septuagint rendering of nicham.Epistrepho, however, is the common Septuagint translation of shub. Although we cannot draw hard and fast lines, generally metanoia seems to emphasize the inner change involved in repentance, whereas epistrepho stresses the change in one’s outward life which implements and gives expression to the inward change.
Therefore, the definition of repentance is a change of mind away from sin and toward God. It is not merely a change of opinion. It is a change of view, feeling, and purpose respecting God, sin, and the sinner himself. These are all the workings of the mind, not just brain cells or glands. Repentance is the first phase of conversion or turning to God.
R. Kearsley states it this way: “[Repentance] describes a radical change in the individual’s disposition, for the change of mind concerns his judgment upon himself and his sin together with an evaluation of God’s demands upon him. The transformation implied, therefore, is not a matter merely of mental judgment, but of new religious and moral attitudes (a turning to God, 1 Thess 1:9) and of new behavior (Acts 26:20…” Ryrie, on the other hand, seemingly restricts repentance to a cerebral activity, saying, “The only kind of repentance that saves is a change of mind about Jesus Christ—to an acceptance of the fact that He is God (Deity, Lord).”
Millard J. Erickson defines repentance saying, “Repentance is godly sorrow for one’s sinn together with a resolution to turn from it.” It is important to notes the two aspects of the definition Erickson give us. In on side repentance is a change of mind away from sin. The apostle John writes in Revelation 9:21 “and they did not repent of (ek) their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.” The writer of Hebrews write in Hebrews 6:1 “…Repentance from dead works…” In the other side repentance also means a change of mind toward God. The apostle Paul was talking to the elders of Ephesus that when he was in Ephesus he “solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Paul also said to the church in Corinth that he rejoiced over the Corinthians, “not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance…for the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor 7:9-10).
It is important to note that mere sorrow for one’s actions, or even deep remorse over one’s actions, does not make up genuine repentance unless it is accompanied by a sincere decision to forsake sin that is being committed against God (cf. Ex. 9:27; Num. 22:34; Joshua 7:20; 1 Sam. 15:24; Matt 27:4; Heb. 12:17).
It is equally important to say that we cannot say that someone has to actually live that changed life over a period of time before repentance can be genuine, or else repentance would be turned into a kind of obedience that we could do to merit salvation for ourselves. However, genuine repentance will result in a changed life. Indeed, a genuine repentant person will start at once to live a changed life, and we can call that changed life the fruit of repentance.
The Elements of Repentance
There is basically threefold idea involved in true repentance.
First, true repentance has to touch the intellect. Repentance includes knowledge of sin, a change of view. This is recognition and apprehension of what sin really is and what it means. King David prayer of confession and repentance he said, “I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3). Again in Revelation 9:21 “They did not repent of their murders…” Matthew 21:29 “He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.” The word here used for “repent” means to change one’s mind, thought, purpose, views regarding a matter; it is to change your mind about something. This change is well illustrated in the action of the prodigal son, and of the publican in the well—known story of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 15 and 18). Thus, when Peter, on the day of Pentecost, called upon the Jews to repent (Acts 2:14–40), he virtually called upon them to change their minds and their views regarding Christ. They had considered Christ to be a mere man, a blasphemer, an impostor. The events of the few preceding days had proven to them that He was none other than the righteous Son of God, their Savior and the Savior of the world. The result of their repentance or change of mind would be that they would receive Jesus Christ as their long promised Messiah.
Second, true repentance would also involve a touching of the emotions. It includes a genuine regret or sorrow for sin, a change of feeling or attitude. Paul in 2 Corinthians 7:9 says, “I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.” The context (vv. 7–11) shows what a large part the feelings played in true gospel repentance. We have to also compare the attitude of the rich young ruler who “became very sad for he was extremely rich” but did not repent (Luke 18:23). Moreover, in Matthew 11:21 the sorrow aspect or regret factor in repentance is seen in the common biblical phrase “repent in dust and ashes.”
Third, true repentance would involve a touching of the will and disposition. This includes a desire to seek pardon, the volitional aspect, a change of purpose.
This involves the use of the will. It is a determination to abandon disobedience and to surrender the will to Christ; an intention to abandon sin. John MacArthur says, “It is a redirection of the human will, a purposeful decision to forsake all unrighteousness and pursue righteousness instead.”
Repentance in this aspect is an “inward turning from sin and a disposition to seek pardon and cleansing.” This is followed by the fruits or evidence of repentance. We read in Job 42:6 “I repent in dust and ashes.” David’s prayer of repentance: “Create in me a clean heart.” Peter in Acts 2:38 says, “Repent and be baptized…for the forgiveness of sins.” We also read about Paul that he preached “Repent…performing deeds appropriate to repentance.” Moreover, in Matthew 3:8 we read, “Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with your repentance.”
Repentance, like faith, is properly the act of the sinner. However, the true or ultimate origin is not man. Repentance is also a gift of God by an operation of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim 2:24-25). It is an act man under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit The prophet Zachariah said that God will pour out on Israel in the end times “the Spirit of grace and supplication” and then they will mourn in repentant prayer for forgiveness (Zech 12:10). The sinner repents, not God.
The Relationship between Repentance, Faith and Conversion
We read in Scriptures that repentance is associated with both faith and conversion. Paul said to the elders in Ephesus that he was testifying to both Jews and Greeks of “Repentance toward god and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). We see in this verse the relationship between repentance and faith. We further see that repentance has some relation to conversion. Peter in Acts 3:19 says, “Therefore repent and return” (converted; NKJV).
Furthermore, it is important to notes that repentance is put before faith when both are mentioned together. In Matthew 21:32 concerning people’s attitude toward John the Baptist, they “did not even feel remorse [metamelomi] afterward so as to believe him.” In Mark 1:15 it reads “Repent and believe the gospel.” Also in Hebrews 6:1 “Not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.”
However, sometimes faith stands alone in verses like (John 3:16; Acts 16:31), and sometimes repentance stands alone (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 11:18; Rom 2:4; Heb 6:6; 2 Pet 3:9).
Ryrie says repentance in his definition, a change of mind about Jesus is simply faith; faith is a synonym for that kind of repentance. In other word, that repentance and faith are not separate entities or separate aspects of the act of the soul when the sinner comes to Christ and salvation.
However, in cases like the preceding two points where faith or repentance stands alone, it is better to understand them as a part for the whole. That is faith in those tests includes repentance, confession, conversion, etc., and repentance in those texts includes faith and all the rest.
In conclusion, it is evident that faith and repentance are the two aspects of conversion. Repentance is the change of mind with a disposition to seek pardon aspect, and faith is the seeking pardon through trust aspect, and both comprise the turning (conversion) of the person from sin to God and salvation.
John Murray says concerning faith and repentance that there is no priority. “The faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance.”
Morton Smith, Systematic Theology, 2 vols. (Taylors, South Carolina: Greenville Seminary Press, 1994), 2:444.
 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, abridged ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: James Clark, 1960), 440.
A quotation quoted by Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith in one volume, (Nashville, TE: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 728, from John Murry, “faith,” in Collected Writings of John Murray, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1977), 2:258.
Ibid. Robert L. Reymond, 728.
Ibid. Robert Reymond, 728-29.
For a full decision about the use of the Hebrew and Greek terms to further define this aspect I recommend reading Robert L. Reymond, Systematic Theology, pp.728-29.
Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved by Grace, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1989), 123.
R. Kearsley, “Repentance” in the New Dictionary of Theology, eds. David F. Wright, Sinclair B. Ferguson, and J. I. Packer, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 580.
Charles Ryrie, So Great Salvation, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 96.
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1983), 950.
John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988), 163.
Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology, (Valley Forge, PA: Judson, 1907), 833.
Those who repent are considered believers: Acts2:38-47 [esp. vv. 38, 44]; see also Acts 11:17-18.
Ibid. Charles Ryrie, So great Salvation, 100.
John Murry, Redemption-Accomplished and Applied, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1955), 113.