THE PLACE OF REPENTANCE
BEING IN FAITH AND SALVATION
How then is man saved? The Gospel of John tells us clearly that it is by faith. The books of Romans and Galatians also tell us clearly that it is by faith. Galatians tells us that it is only by faith. In the whole New Testament, there are only these three books that deal with the question of salvation. All three books tell us that salvation is by faith only and is not of the law. Repentance does not come into consideration. What place then does repentance hold? If we read the Bible, we will find out that repentance is never detached from faith. Repentance is never separated from faith. This does not mean that one is saved by faith and repentance. Repentance is included in faith and is included in salvation already. When a man believes in the Lord Jesus, the element of repentance is included there already. If one says that he is saved, then his salvation includes repentance. Repentance is never detached from faith. It is always included in salvation.
Now, let us consider if repentance is a condition. In the New Testament, by the time of the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit had come and the full gospel was preached. The book of Acts seems to show us that repentance is a condition for salvation. Many have misunderstood the matter because they have not seen the place of repentance. No doubt, the Old Testament speaks of the teaching of repentance also. Jonah preached to the men of Nineveh that unless they repented, God would destroy them (Jonah 1:1-2). They repented, put on sackcloth, sat in ashes, and fasted. This was for their past deeds. The putting on of the sackcloth and the sitting in ashes were not for future behavior. If they were for future acts, what did sackcloth and ashes have to do with it? Repentance is to feel sorry for and to condemn one’s past behavior. One puts on sackcloth and sits in ashes because he realizes that he is wrong before God. Formerly, he thought he was living. Now, he knows that he was dead. Hence, he mourns for his past wrongdoings. This is repentance. This was what Jonah preached. Before the gospel of the Lord Jesus came, we did not see salvation by faith. What we had then was only repentance for past deeds.
Later, John the Baptist came. He did not preach faith. He only preached repentance, that is, a repentance for past actions and past wrongdoings. In Matthew 3:8, he said one very good thing: "Produce then fruit worthy of your repentance." He also said that "he who has two tunics, let him share with the one who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise" (Luke 3:11). We have to realize that this is not repentance. Rather, this is the fruit of repentance. Repentance is for the past, and the fruit of repentance is for the future. At John’s time, the complete gospel was not yet preached, and the light of the truth was not fully revealed. In order to lead men to God, he had to bring them to a different view of the past.
Following this, the Lord Jesus Himself came. The Gospel of John is different from the other three Gospels. The first three Gospels talk about what the Lord Jesus did in time. The Gospel of John talks about what He does in eternity. Every reader of the Bible knows that the Gospel of John does not talk about things in time. Rather, it talks about things of eternity. It begins with "the beginning" and ends with the receiving of eternal life (1:1; 20:22). The first of the three books speaks of the Son of David, the Son of Abraham (Matt. 1:1). It shows us the Christ in time. John tells us about the Christ in eternity (3:13). The first three books are transitional. Hence, they talk about repentance. But why did the Lord talk about repentance also (Matt. 4:17)? It was because the kingdom of the heavens had drawn near. Because the kingdom has drawn near, we have to repent. But in the Gospel of John, after the full gospel has been preached, there is no more mention of repentance. In Acts, some verses also say that salvation must be by faith. Acts 16:31 says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household." However, in a few places in Acts, repentance is mentioned by itself; there is no mention of faith. This is why some believers misunderstand repentance as a condition for salvation.
(Gospel of God, The (2 volume set), Chapter 11, by Watchman Nee)