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Topic: The Gospel

The Difference Between Faith and Repentance

by Darrel Cline

We have been asking What is the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ? (207) In a related article (217) we looked at the twin issues of repentance. We saw that they are summarized in the phrase humble confidence or confident humility. To repent means to reject self-confidence and to embrace confidence in God as Helper. But as we look at that, it sounds more like faith than repentance. What is the difference between faith and repentance?

When Jesus came preaching the Gospel, He said Repent and believe in the Gospel (Mark 1:15). What did He expect His hearers to do?

If we are correct in using John's wilderness metaphor to explain repentance (filling in the valleys of despair by bringing down the mountains of pride--building a level highway for God in our hearts), what is the difference between repentance and faith?

In a nutshell, repentance tells us which attitudes to turn away from (the conceit of self-confidence, and the despair of thinking God doesn't care and will not help), whereas faith tells us what to turn toward. In other words, repentance focuses on the problems of self-confidence and despair, but faith fills in the content of the truth. Repentance looks at what we have used in the past to deal with the problems of life: either self-dependence and the resulting pride of accomplishment; or despair and the resulting failures in accomplishment. Faith, on the other hand, looks at the promises of God.

In reality, repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. The coin is the attitude we take toward God. On the one side we have a description of the kinds of attitudes we are to reject (repentance), and on the other we have the content of the confidence we are to embrace (faith).

So, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the content of the truth we are to embrace after we have rejected our former way of living life. At the root of every life is an attitude. At the root of every impenitent life is the attitude of independence from God either because we do not think we need Him (pride), or because we do not think He will help us (despair). Both are lies. But without rejecting both, we cannot believe in the Gospel, because it clearly says that we cannot live by pride or despair and also believe the Truth.

There are twin truths in the Gospel. One is that we are insufficient for the task God has given us. The other is that God is willing to enable us to become what we cannot be apart from Him. The cross of Christ tells us both. If we were able to be what we are supposed to be, Jesus died in vain. On the other hand, if God is unwilling to enable us, Jesus didn't die at all. The cross tells us the truth. We are sinfully incompetent, but God loves us enough to forgive and impart a new competence.

However, He only does this for people who are willing to repent. So, we are to repent and then believe in the Gospel of the Cross of Jesus Christ.

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This is article #218.
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