Faith and Repentance
“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other” (Luke 18:14a).
In our study of justification, we have repeatedly noted that sinners are declared righteous in God’s sight through faith alone. Because faith is essential to our salvation, we will spend some more time this week examining the nature of true faith.
Previously, we've sen that genuine faith, the faith that justifies us, includes three aspects. Notitia refers to the content of our faith. However, not only must we have knowledge of the content of the Christian religion, we also must believe it to be true. That aspect is known as assensus. Finally, fiducia, or personal trust in the Lord Jesus, is necessary for a person to have the kind of faith that justifies.
Today we will look at repentance and its relationship to true faith. You may remember that opponents of the doctrine of justification by faith alone have accused its proponents of encouraging people to think that they can merely assent to the Gospel, live a life of sin, and still be justified. We will see, however, that such is a false characterization of the doctrine.
Along with the apostles, the Protestant Reformers knew that the biblical understanding of justification would meet such objections. This is one reason why Luther, Calvin, and the other magisterial Reformers were always careful to emphasize the importance of repentance in conjunction with faith. In doing so, they echo the many places in the New Testament where repentance and faith are both enumerated as necessary for salvation (for example, Acts 2:38).
Faith and repentance can be distinguished for the sake of instruction. However, they can never be separated. Indeed, if faith is the utter reliance upon Christ alone for salvation one cannot have true faith unless he turns away from sin in heartfelt sorrow. Without repentance, a person really hopes in his own “goodness” and in the fleeting pleasures of sin instead of God’s provision in Christ.
Today’s passage shows us that true faith is a repentant faith. The Pharisee trusted in his own righteousness, having only a bogus trust in God. But the tax collector who had true sorrow for his sin was justified because he was relying on the mercy of God alone to save him.
Repentance is not something that is only a part of our lives when we first come to Christ. Jesus tells us in the Lord’s Prayer that it is to be a daily practice (Matt. 6:12). When we go before the Lord, we must express sorrow for our sins and again confess our absolute dependence upon Him alone for salvation. Spend some time in prayer today focusing on repenting for your sin. Ask God to help you forgive sins committed against you, and thank Him again for His redemption.
Passages for Further Study
Ps. 7:12 Isa. 1:27 Matt. 4:17 Luke 15:7 2 Cor. 7:9–10