Q: “Is there a difference between being saved by faith and saved by repentance? I mean, can a person be saved by faith without repentance, or are both necessary for salvation?”
A: There is only one way to be saved and it involves both repentance and faith. Jesus was clear in Luke 13:3, 5, “Repent or perish,” and the Apostle Peter stated in 2 Peter 3:9, that God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” The Apostle Paul was clear, “For by grace are we saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). There are two types of repentance, one leads to salvation and the other is that of worldly remorse that turns into self-pity, and leads to destruction (2 Corinthians 7:10). Godly repentance that leads to salvation is actually a response of faith.
Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). God’s Word is clear, man must repent, turn from his wicked ways, and face a righteous God in order to seek His forgiveness for sin and receive salvation for the soul by receiving God’s sole provision that addresses the great offense of sin: Jesus Christ. However, the action of repentance is an action of faith responding to the great revelation of God’s grace. It is for this reason salvation is truly a gift of God at every level. Man in and of himself has no genuine faith. A measure of it is given by the Lord as man chooses to simply believe that a matter is true because God said so in His Word (Romans 12:3).
The faith to believe is a choice of man, not the work of man. It is the response of man in light of the conviction of the Holy Spirit that will produce a true conversion to that which is right and true (Matthew 18:2-4; John 16:7-13). Repentance is a type of conversion because it changes a man’s mind and causes him to turn from his former ways in order to be converted to a new, different way. You cannot be converted without true repentance, but you can display a type of repentance and still not be converted to something (Hebrews 12:16-17). True conversion comes out of brokenness over sin (repentance), and involves a complete transformation of the mind or attitude towards a matter in order to walk in it (Romans 12:1-2; Philippians 2:5).
The problem is that people are blinded to their need to repent and be reconciled back to God (2 Corinthians 4:1-6). Unless the fallow ground of their hearts has been first prepared by the Spirit to see such a truth, they are not prepared to repent. However, if the heart has been plowed up, usually with challenging circumstances, it can now be pricked by the sharp sword of the Word, which will awaken the conscience to bring indictments to allow the person to see the hopelessness of his or her plight (Hebrews 4:12).
And, what does the Bible say: that in Adam we are all dead in sin and sin separates each us from God and the life He has ordained for us. Since we are all in a fallen condition we are not only dead in sin but we are all guilty of committing sin, falling short of the glory of God, and the wages of those sins is death, and eternal separation from God. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth of His Word in not in us (Romans 3:10, 23; 5:12; 6:23; 1 John 1:8, 10). This clearly is the bad news. Mankind abiding under the judgment of the very wrath of God, but the good news is we can flee His wrath, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). (See also Matthew 3:7; John 3:36; Romans 1:18; and Ephesians 5:6)
Remember, God’s Word is the seed and once the word is dropped into a soul whose fallow ground has been broken up and prepared by the Spirit, it deposits a measure of faith with it (Matthew 13:1-23). It is upon hearing the Gospel that the Holy Spirit can take the message of the Word and convict man of his sin and his need for salvation, causing the measure of faith within the heart to take root as man is convicted in his heart and turns in repentance towards God to believe the message, and in doing so receive His grace through the gift of eternal life.
To emphasize repentance in the wrong light will leave a person condemned, to present faith in a heretical manner will make it reprobate, and to take away the harsh reality of sin and man’s need to truly repent and choose the way of faith is to frustrate God’s grace and cheapen it (Galatians 2:21). Man preaches repentance so that faith can take root and a person can receive God’s grace.
All great evangelistic meetings will begin with bringing forth the reality of sin and its consequences in order to plow up the heart and stir the conscience. Once conviction of sin causes a desperate person to turn from destructive ways in repentance towards the only hope of salvation as a means to flee the wrath to come, faith connects that person to the answer as he or she believes the good news and receives it in the heart as being so.
Redemption has been completed, the Gospel commissioned, grace offered, repentance called for, the way of faith a choice, and salvation the gift of God. Salvation is simple but powerful; complete and not divided by different messages and causes, and free, but requires the action of turning (repentance) and the assimilation of believing (faith).
We have the Word of God to explain salvation by connecting all the dots, but we must have the conviction and desperation to turn to face the light, the ears of faith to hear, the eyes of hope to see, and the heart to receive. Salvation is not an intellectual exercise but it is a revelation of what Jesus did on the cross for each of us that is received in the heart by faith as being so. The Apostle Paul made this statement in Romans 10:10, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”