Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Do you have to repent to be saved, or simply believe in Christ? Are you familiar with the “Lordship controversy”? My Pastor says that repentance does not play a part in Salvation. He says that people who believe that repentance is part of salvation are being “legalistic.” What are you thoughts?
HELP- I don’t know what to believe!


I’ve never met two people who explain or define the issues of salvation, repentance, belief in the exact same way. The issues, concepts and Scriptures are many and deep. Personal experience skews our perceptions and interpretations. In that light, I offer NO definitive answers or opinions; only my own personal thoughts on the issues and an honest summary of my own belief.

On the one hand we have the “Lordship” folks who say that repentance is “necessary” for salvation (in the sense that it is repentance is always present in genuine belief) and for that they are labeled “works-oriented” or “legalistic”. At the other end of the spectrum we have the “simply believe” people who get labeled “easy believers” and “Gospel light”. In the middle we have those who believe that repentance and obedience (and sometimes Baptism) are a part of salvation but salvation can be lost or given up via willful sin.

The primary concern of the “Lordship” crowd is that Christianity is full of people who profess Christ but do not “take up their cross” (Matt 10.38). They talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. They claim Christ, but don’t serve Him. They claim holiness but live like the world. They claim heaven but do not serve Heaven’s King. They have a “form” of the Gospel, but deny its power to change lives (2Tim 3.5).

Those are legitimate arguments. The Bible clearly warns of lukewarmness (Rev 3.16), false Christians (Matt 13) and those who claim the Lord, but are unknown by Him (Luke 13.27).

John MacArthur, the most well known proponent of the Lordship issue, does NOT teach that repentance saves. He teaches that repentance will always be present in true salvation. In light of the Gospel, what is there to argue about that point?

The argument of the “belief only” crowd is that adding anything to salvation other than belief in Jesus is making salvation something that is “earned” by some effort. This argument is made about the Lordship arguments, and it is levied at those who say that baptism is essential to salvation.

The “you can lose your salvation” Christians think that “eternal security” Christians believe you can “accept Christ” and then live however you want.

The biggest problem with all of that, is that every side paints the very worst picture of the other sides in order to prove their own point.

  • The Lordship folks do not believe that repentance saves and that you earn your salvation by being repentant and obedient.
  • The “simply believe” group does not believe that you just “accept Christ” in any old casual meaningless way, go out and live however you want, and don’t worry, you’ll end up in heaven
  • The “you can lose your salvation” Christians don’t believe that a person loses their salvation and is on their way to hell each and every time they commit a sin; they believe that willful, longterm, unrepented of sin will cost you salvation.

At this point, I’m not arguing for or against any of these positions, but want to simply point out how we distort and exaggerate each other’s beliefs in order to prop up our own.

In the same way that John MacArthur does not teach that repentance actually saves, most who preach the essential nature of baptism don’t preach that “baptism saves”. They believe that obedience to the command of Baptism must, and will always, be present in any true salvation; and in that sense, Baptism is essential.

I contend that in the same way the Lordship argument states that repentance and obedience will always be present in true salvation – you could argue the same thing about Baptism. Baptism is clearly commanded, it is an act of obedience demonstrating our repentance… and yet my Lordship friends would recoil at the idea that Baptism is “essential” in the same manner they would readily defend that repentance and obedience is.

Again, it’s not that repentance, obedience or Baptism actually SAVES, but that they are all present in true salvation, and therefore in a sense part of salvation, or essential to salvation.

There are solid arguments for all sides and the fact is God did NOT make these issues BLACK AND WHITE, PLAIN AND SIMPLE OR CRYSTAL CLEAR. If He did, good and honest men wouldn’t still be debating them. I would venture to say that there are many, many of you reading this who are just like me: if God would have said “A-B-C; 1-2-3; X-Y-Z” – we would accept it without question or hesitation. But He didn’t choose to give it to us like baby food. It’s grown up food that has to be cooked, prepared, chewed, tasted, swallowed and digested.

So why don’t we all be a little less quick to dismiss honest, sincere and God-fearing people as false teachers and heretics, and seek the truth in love, praying that God will give us wisdom as we ask for it? There are enought REAL heretics and false teachers for us to deal with, without bickering with each other. It is said that Christians are the only humans that still eat their own. How sadly true.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

Our arguments and attempt to systematize God complicates the simple.

Does the Bible say believe? Then believe. Does it say confess? Then confess. Does it say to repent and obey? Then do it. Does it command us to be baptized, assemble and give? Do it.

Just do what God says to do. That is the beautiful simplicity of the Gospel. Tell others about sin, hell and Jesus. Give them God’s Word and tell them to learn it and obey it.

The Gospel is infinitely deep in its application and meaning; but extraordinarily simply in its requirements. The controversies in fundamental churches today (Lordship salvation, baptism, Calvinism), in my opinion, distort the simplicity of the Gospel with regards to repentance, baptism and free will (among other things).

The simple message of the Gospel is to believe that your sins have condemned you, and Jesus Christ, the Son of God is the only answer.

A TRUE belief of that, not just an intellectual acknowledgement, will OF COURSE be accompanied by contrition (sorrow for your sin), and a desire to turn from evil (repentance) and a willful decision to be obedient to your Savior and Master (baptism, good works, Communion, the assembling of the Saints, giving, etc). Conversion without a changed life was an utterly foreign concept to Jesus, the early church and the Biblical authors.

The overall message of Scripture in its totality CLEARLY does not leave the impression that any person who simply has mental acknowledgment of Christ being a real person is automatically saved. It didn’t save the demons or Judas or the other thief. Everyone agrees we are to believe something MORE than the basic fact that Jesus existed.

So what are we “believing”? What constitutes a belief that results in salvation? That Jesus was the Son of God? That He was raised from the dead? That He was eternal? Virgin born? Creator? Master? Lord? Prince? Conqueror?

What do you pick and choose? The Bible talks about all these things. We seemed to believe we are FORCED to declare what EXACTLY, to the letter, constitutes a saving experience… so what exactly are we to believe about Christ? Can you believe He was raised from the dead, but not believe He was God? Might point is, that when you insist on quantifying and systematizing salvation, you might be biting off more than God ever required for you to chew.

It is very dangerous and causes MUCH division to pull one (or a few) verses from the Bible and declare it to be the totality of salvation concerns. You must take the OVERALL message of the Scripture, taking into account the reasons, symbology, purpose and results of God’s entire plan for man, His entire history with humankind; the past, present and future of His dealing with us. We cannot lay our heads on our pet verses, consider them alone without the rest of the Bible, and then declare our doctrines based on our predetermined opinions.

You don’t think that can happen? Consider these common arguments:

  • Acts 2.38 – this verse proves that repentance and baptism save you.
  • Roman 10:9 – this verse proves that confession and belief save you.
  • Romans 10:10 – this verse proves that confession alone saves you.
  • 1 Thess 4:14 – this verse proves that you only have to believe that Jesus died and rose in order to be saved.
  • Eph 2:8-9 – this verse proves that only faith is required for salvation
  • 2 Cor 7:10 – this verse proves that only Godly sorrow and repentance is necessary to be saved
  • Acts 3:19 – it is plain from this verse that repentance is what saves you
  • 1Pet 3:21 – this verse proves beyond doubt that Baptism is what saves you

See what I mean? I can “prove” whatever I want about salvation by plucking a verse(s) from the rest of the Bible and declaring, “SEE THERE! That verse plainly says what I am saying.”

When properly considering doctrine, you MUST consider the entire Bible and not only the actual text but also themes, examples, symbology, overarching concepts….

Now you may think that I am contradicting myself about making the simple Gospel more complex but I’m not. The MORE you consider the entire Bible with all of its parts and threads and subjects and concepts the MORE the beautiful, simple, saving, Gospel of Christ comes into crystal clear focus.

Men, in their sincere attempts to systematize, categorize and standardize God’s Word tend to ELEVATE THEIR CONCLUSIONS to be equal with plain Scripture.

It has come to where we MUST decide if we are Calvinists or Arminians; if the point of salvation is at the moment of baptism or the moment of belief; if it is possible to lose your salvation or if you are once saved always saved; if Jesus must be Lord or if you simply have to believe in Him.

We get so caught up in choosing sides and developing systematic theologies that we blur, distort and confuse the simple Gospel message…

I’m a sinner bound for hell. Jesus Christ the Son of God died to save me. I must trust in Christ, place my faith in God, turn from my sins and obey God with all my heart. That is the simple facts of what God commands of me if I am to receive eternal life on HIS TERMS. I don’t know exactly when my spirit was regenerated, when I was sealed with the Holy Spirit, when I was adopted into God’s family, when I my sins were imputed to Jesus and His righteousness was credited to me. I don’t know when all that supernatural miracle occurred. I just did what God said to do, and place my faith and trust in Him to keep His word.

What does God very plainly tell me to do? Believe in Jesus. Confess Him. Repent. Be baptized. Live a holy life. Serve Him. Love Him. Obey Him.

So that’s what I will do. And salvation will be mine.

That IS the message of salvation. Throw out all the theological debate, systematic arguments, logic of men and denominational squabbles and you are left with that simple message.

Doctrine IS important. Theology is important. True theology illuminates and enhances the simple Gospel rather than causing contention, division and argument.

It SCARES me to think it might come true, but what the Church needs is a good healthy dose of persecution to burn away all the nonsense and bickering and reduce Christianity back to it’s basics:

Those who take up their cross and follow Christ; and those who choose not to.

Well, that’s more than plenty to have every side mad at me. I can hear the “unsubscribe page” just clicking away.

My opinion in summary: Salvation is the result of genuine faith and belief; genuine faith and belief are always accompanied by repentance and obedience; repentance involves turning from sin and making Jesus Lord over all in your life; obedience involves the commandment of Baptism as well as holy living, giving, assembly, etc.

Belief and repentance are like two sides of coin. One isn’t complete without the other. You can’t remove one without destroying the other. It’s hard to see both together because they are fused together in the middle. You can only see from a human perspective the “heads” or “tails” side… no both at the same time.

Belief and repentance are like two oars on a boat. If you remove one, you only row in circles. They balance each other out.

True belief is the “saving element”, if we must be forced to identify one. But true belief cannot exist without repentance any more than a coin can have one side.

In the sense that you will force me to say that “always accompanied” (as in “true belief is always accompanied by repentance”) is tantamount to saying “essential” then I plead guilty. For everyone else who understands my point, accept my conviction that genuine faith and belief alone are what saves a person – but belief and faith in Christ cannot be genuine or result in salvation if devoid of repentance and obedience.