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Which comes first: Repent or Believe? Updated September 2013

Related articles: Born of the Spirit: Exploring the differences between spirit, soul, heart and mind || Deception: Why does God allow it? || Are you born again? || False warnings about False teachers

Why is this question important? Because if there is any significance in following the correct order to salvation, which I think there more than likely is, then getting the order wrong whilst being convinced you have it right, will no doubt put you in a false sense of comfort concerning eternal life.

Note how Jesus does not say to those who fall short of salvation, 'you do not know me'. Instead, He says, I do not know you (Matthew 7:21-23). Being intimately known by Christ, therefore, is absolutely vital to our salvation. Whether or not we have been a Christian for 50 years, or a Pastor or Priest who has gone through seminary, a keen student having understood the biblical customs and traditions as well as ways to interpret writings, having been a street kitchen worker serving the poor or a devoted church-goer having known the Old and New Testaments and every Hebrew and Greek word contained it it. Though these things are good, as far as it pertains to salvation, they are not the issue. As such, this question about being known by Christ is central to the Christian faith for it determines one's salvation.

Click here for related topics: Hyper Calvinism, Free Grace Theology.


How then are we known by Him? Check this out for yourself but my understanding is that being intimately known by God requires us to have been birthed by Him. It is the same 'known' as Jesus is known by the Father (refer John 10:38). Jesus proceeded from the Father and is thus known by Him. It follows that when we, on account of faith in Jesus' resurrection from the dead, have proceeded from God as well we will be known by Him also.

Repentance and Faith - which one comes first? - though seldom addressed from the pulpit, it is a big deal. I note that some within Christianity generally believes that faith comes before repentance. Largely this understanding is based on applying intricate literary techniques such as Hermeneutics and/or Hebrew/Greek word studies in deducing a correct order. As for me, I read the Bible mostly plainly. I do look at the Hebrew/Greek for original meaning but I do not believe that one should apply a human logic (Hermeneutics) to a work (the Bible) that was authored by the Holy Spirit so as to explain what He was trying to say when He had the biblical books penned. I believe God sent the Holy Spirit to be our own, personal Interpreter of Scripture - the Bible says so in explicit terms (refer 1 John 2:27).

Further, we must clearly distinguish between mental assent and faith. The latter (faith) trusts fully in God. The former (mental ascent) merely acknowledges Him as real or alive or in charge. Nevertheless, let us agree that you cannot come to either repentance or faith without acknowledging Him as being in charge (mentally assent). However, trust in God (faith) and acknowledging Him as real (mental ascent) are not the same things. Therefore, the question is asked; whilst acknowledging the need to acknowledge God as 'in charge' before either faith or repentance can happen, what following comes first - repentance or faith?

I will argue that there cannot be true faith (trust) without repentance (laying down your will in sorrow for having preferred your own ungodly will all your life). Opponents of this view suggest that following mental ascent, by God's sole decree, a person moves on to true faith, which leads to repentance. I will attempt to show from the Bible that this is error. In addition and whilst I can expect no other to summarily believe it - for it holds purely subjective perception - I know from personal experience that there can indeed be no true faith without first repenting because trying to do it this way several times produced no new person in me whatsoever (2 Corinthians 5:17).

God sent John the Baptist to preach repentance so that people may believe in the Christ. John's ministry was almost exclusively a baptism unto repentance. As such, John came to prepare people for the Kingdom of God (refer John 1) so that they may receive Him - Jesus - as Lord (God). Thus, repentance comes before sincere faith in Christ. It is the biblical model. It involves 'laying down' your own will before 'taking up' God's will for your life. You cannot take up God's will in everyday life without first laying down your own inasmuch as you cannot pick up one cup before first putting down another.

Recognising the essence of the debate, however, the question thus really revolves around man's free will, or perceived lack thereof. The debate looks like this: If man has indeed received a free will then, by applying his will, he may accommodate God's approach/calling/initiative (John 6:44-45) as and when that happens, which will lead him to humble himself in acknowledgement of his indebtedness towards God so as to receive Him as Lord and Saviour. Having received Him as Lord and Saviour believers then confess their sins as and when they are committed so as to be cleansed by Him (1 John 1:9). If, on the other hand, man has not received a free will, then it is argued that God will have initiated a person's calling (John 6:44-45) and then gifted faith in his heart, which led him to acknowledge his indebtedness towards God and, through a process over time, lay down his sins one by one (1 John 1:9). If this latter case is true, therefore, then it means that God saves a person whether he wants it or not.

Thus, what comes first - repentance or faith?

In John 3, Jesus states that it is up to the will of a person to believe. Thus, man has free will to choose to believe, or not. Acts 17 says God wants all men to repent. Thus, since not all has repented it clearly is not up to God's will to force this to happen. Hebrews 6:1-4 says repentance comes before faith and baptism. Acts 19 says the order is repent and believe. Thus, overwhelmingly, the evidence is repent from wanting to pursue your own will and the deeds done according to it, and then believe (trust in, adhere to, obey) Christ.

The idea that man has a free will suggests:
1). God initiates salvation by calling someone (John 6:44-45).
2). Such a person may respond appropriately by submitting their will to the Lord's will in repentance. By 'vacating your own will' through repentance it allows God's will to take precedence in your life.
3) Now, by believing (trusting, adhering, obeying God's will) your are spiritually regenerated. Thus, your spirit is born anew (or from above) by the Holy Spirit (John 3:3, 3:6).

Thus, whilst God initiates the process it takes man's cooperative will to be born again.

From analysing Deuteronomy 26-30, some say God circumsizes the heart (brings repentance) because it is said there that Man cannot do it himself. Thus, it is said that repentance is something that God initiates and carries through to completion: Man has no part in deciding it.

Proponents of this view suggest that if God calls a person they will without fail get saved. Thus, their will does not come into play. They have no choice in cooperating. Their will is overridden. But this view does not allow for Acts 17 where it says that God wants all men to be saved (whilst clearly all men are not being saved - thus, it implies His sovereign will is not being carried out), and it does not allow for John 3:18 where the just reward for unbelief is said to be eternal condemnation, thus implying that the fact that some refuse to believe is God's will. Again, this does not tie up with Acts 17.

Accordingly, the idea that man's will is overridden by God seems not to be substantiated.

Further, it is clear from Adam's sin that he acted outside of God's will. Otherwise, this means that it was God's will that he (Adam) sinned, which does not explain why then God meted out such punishment or judgement for Adam and Eve's sin. It's like saying, God wanted them to sin so that He could punish them, thus making Him someone inconsistent with a loving nature, which is a preposterous thought.

Therefore, if God did not override Adam's will in stopping him from sinning, on what basis does He now suddenly override people's will in order to get them saved? Further, did God override Alexander the Coppersmith's will to do Paul "a great deal of harm" (2 Timothy 4:14), having to be handed over to Satan for the salvation of his soul (1 Timothy 1:19-20), thus implying that God does His people harm? I think not. This approach smacks of an over-emphasis of Calvinistic thinking, which seemingly suggests that God elected only a few to be saved.

Whilst Romans and Ephesians do talk about predestination the term could easily be explained by God electing certain roles to be filled within His sovereign master plan, whilst individuals fill those roles based on the decisions they make (compare Judas' role in this way would have been reserved for that disciple who least pursued God in true devotion). Therefore, 'predestining' them to salvation or predestining them to condemnation, as the case may be, still depends on the decisions a person makes. Whilst this view has not been explored much it holds no less validity than the notion that God has elected some for salvation and some for eternal damnation.

Yes, Romans 9 says, 'what if God made some for noble purposes and some for ignoble purpose', but it does not say, 'God made some individuals by name so that they may be condemned without exercising choice'. It says that God is sovereign - no-one will dictate to Him: thus, 'if it comes to it, He hardens whom He wants to and has mercy on whom He wants to - God is dictated to by no-one'. Whilst the Bible says that 'God has even made the wicked for the day of destruction' (Proverbs 16:4) the 'fulfilling a role offered to anyone' explanation above can easily be applied to it as well.

Jesus tells the story of the sower, why? To illustrate how the Kingdom of God comes. The one whose heart is not hard or weak or distracted by cares and worries and the deceitfulness of riches can receive God's word and on it's account produce the fruit the Father is looking for (refer Mark 4). This goes to show that the ball is squarely in the court of the individual to remove hardness, weakness and other distractions so as for the word to produce fruit according to God's liking. For this reason Jesus says, he who has ears to hear let him hear (Mark 4:23), thus again showing that if anyone has received (from God) the ability to understand let them (apply themselves in order to) understand God's word and receive it.

Clearly, there is not a forcing of any person's will. As such, there can be no such thing as mankind being forced to cooperate with God in being saved, as has been suggested by thise who oppose the free will doctrine.

In the end, I believe God calls us. We get to humble ourselves and respond to His calling (or not). This is called repentance as we hand over our own fleshly will. In faith we trust Him to act in our best interest all the time. As such, God births a new spirit in us which makes us "born again", which makes us to be "in Him".

Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:9): Whoever, is born of God does not take back his/her own sinful will and lives according to it, for if they do it is not possible to be birthed afresh a second time: For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame (Hebrews 6:4-6).

The start of the process is repentance.

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Please consult the Bible and test what is written here. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom in this area. Keep that which is good and reject that which is not Scriptual. Should you come to a different understanding than I please let me know - perhaps I can learn from you.

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