Without repentance, there is no salvation. Paul in 2 Corinthians 7:10 tells us:
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
Accompanying repentance, one who experiences this 180 degree turning, or change of mind (Greek: metanoia), should first have Godly grief. Why? Because this kind of grief is an understanding and acknowledgment of one’s sins. We must have that awareness as the underlying condition in order to repent. It is then only through that repentance that salvation is even possible. True repentance is the key to a legitimate born-again experience, which leads to a true relationship with Christ.
There are many today who don’t believe in sin. They consider men as basically good. If they take the “Good Person Test” and are asked if they think they’ll go to heaven, they often say, “I hope so.” Why? “Because I’m a good person.” The idea of sin has never really entered their minds or been properly taught to them.
Worse are those with New Age thinking that is based on karma and reincarnation. People in this camp don’t believe that sin separates them from God because they are God(!); it’s simply that their awareness must be awakened to that fact. Thus, they must evolve through many lifetimes so as to reach that ultimate stage of consciousness.
This is in direct contrast to what John the Baptist preached as the forerunner of Jesus Christ. He wasted no words in declaring that people were all sinful and subject to God’s coming wrath. He told them there was only one way out in Luke 3:8:
“Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”
John was speaking to the children of Israel, but his words are as relevant for us today. For the Israelites, they thought that simply because they were descendants of Abraham, this was enough for their salvation and to come into the presence of God. John corrected them of that false notion. Similarly, with the common thinking of being good or being on the wheel of karma that we have no need of repentance because there’s another way to heaven, John’s words declare the truth of the matter.
However, what John said had a condition associated with it. First, to be repentant, someone had to experience Godly grief. Secondly, for true repentance in a person’s life, they had to show the fruits of that repentance. If these conditional aspects weren’t present, neither was repentance as far as John was concerned. As we saw above, Paul took this a step further in that repentance was a necessary condition for salvation itself.
The people asked John for examples of the fruits of repentance. He was happy to oblige. Among those examples are sharing what we have with others, not cheating someone, and not extorting from someone or lying about them. Essentially, John was giving an abbreviated version of the Ten Commandments, which Jesus then boiled down to two: Love God; love your neighbor as yourself. True repentance leads to these actions.
All too often today is the practice of leading someone in a prayer of salvation. The thinking is that once someone repeats that prayer, they’re saved. Boom! Mission accomplished; notch on the belt; move on to the next sinner.
Perhaps we might want to pause and examine that practice. Many years ago, Ray Comfort, the noted evangelist with Way of the Master, pastored a church. Many people came forward for altar calls to be saved. The problem Ray noted was that they would tell him they had repeated this exercise for salvation numerous times, having responded to altar calls over many years when they were seven, twelve, sixteen, etc. Discerning a problem, Ray examined their confession of faith and realized that none of these had ever experienced true repentance. Thus, they weren’t actually saved, and as a result, felt they needed to repeat the process. Upon learning this key fact, Ray was able to minister in such a way that repentance of one’s sins became the cornerstone of real faith. His teaching of this called Hell’s Best Kept Secret has helped many people to gain legitimate salvation and to enable others to help many with their struggles so that they might be truly born-again.
John the Baptist was on to something. God gave him the necessary tools to prepare the way for the Lord. We would do well to adopt John’s approach just as Ray Comfort did. Let’s make sure that when we witness, we stress the problem with sin and the absolute necessity of Godly repentance from that. Even when someone confesses faith in this manner, perhaps we should subsequently observe their lives. Do they exhibit the fruits of repentance? If not, it may be that their confession wasn’t heartfelt and true.
We cannot judge the faith or salvation of other people, but we can certainly watch how they live. If we discern a potential problem, doesn’t Scripture encourage us to warn them and thus pull them from the fire?