Note: All Scripture quotations found in this article are from the text of the Authorized King James Version of the Bible.
In this article, we will review the two kinds of repentance. There is a difference between repentance for the saved and repentance for the lost. I apologize in advance because this will be a very repetitive lesson. However, this was done to make the subject matter more clear and memorable.
The lost person cannot be saved by turning from each of his individual sins. A born again child of God, on the other hand, is the one who should obey that type of repentance to maintain close fellowship with his heavenly Father. Salvation is by faith alone, so repenting of certain sins cannot be included in salvation because salvation is not of works.
The truth is, the people that preach that a person has to repent of sins to be saved are mostly concentrating on the physical sins that can be seen, but what about the internal sins like a lustful heart, envy, hatred, covetous, gossiping and etc? Most lost people have not read the Bible extensively, so they are not even aware of all the sins man could commit in his heart. When we first got saved, not one of us fully repented of every sin. Turning away from tobacco and alcohol is not part of salvation. That is work-based salvation. Do not get me wrong; sins should be repented of, but it is not part of salvation.
Ephesians 2:8 "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast."
Salvation repentance is not about repenting of sins (plural), but it is about repenting of sin (singular). We find out which sin to repent of to be saved in John 16. The sin is unbelief in Jesus Christ. To be saved, one must turn from the sin of unbelief and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation. A person gets righteousness by trusting Jesus Christ, not repenting of individual sins or any other works. Notice in verse 9, the sin of verse 8 is defined in the below passage.
John 16:7 "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. 8 And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 Of sin, because they believe not on me; 10 Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; 11 Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged."
The first time that "repent" is mentioned in the Bible is in Genesis 6. In this chapter it means "a change of mind", not to repent of individual sins. God repents (changes His mind) of making man because of the wickedness of man, then drowns them all out, besides Noah and his family. So according to the law of first mention and by Bible definition, repentance is not "quitting sin", rather it is a change of mind.
Genesis 6:5 "And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart."
Also in Exodus 13:17, repent means to "change one's mind". Again in Exodus 31:12, Moses pleads with God to "repent/change His mind" about destroying the people. Later on, God does change His mind about the evil He was going to do to the people because of Moses' prayer. There is power in prayer.
Exodus 13:17 "And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt:"
Exodus 32:12 "Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever. 14 And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people."
Salvation repentance is defined in Acts 20:21. The repentance here could not mean repent of sin because it says "repentance TOWARDS God", which means to turn toward God and believe on Jesus Christ by faith.
Acts 20:21 "Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ."
The heresy of preaching that repenting of sins is part of salvation is even popular in Baptist circles. Some preachers, just to get results when the altar call is made, will say that if someone is doing a certain sin or has not repented of a certain sin, then they are not truly saved. Salvation is to those who believe, not to those who work by doing or not doing something. It is Satanic to tell someone he is not saved because of his lack of giving up sin.
Romans 4:5 "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."
Paul said that people who preach this type of gospel are accursed. If you believe you are saved because YOU repented of certain sins in your life, then you should stop trusting in your works, realize you are a sinner and trust Jesus Christ alone to save you. If you are telling people that they need to repent of sins to be saved, then you need to quit preaching your work-based false doctrine.
Galatians 1:9 "As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed."
Again, I am not against preaching against sins. I believe people should hear that type of preaching constantly (saved or lost), but when it comes to salvation, repenting of sins is not the Gospel. The Gospel is that you are a sinner in unbelief and you need to trust what the Saviour did for you (death, burial, resurrection)—not YOUR works.
Galatians 3:1 "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? 2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are ye so foolish?.."
No person has any business going up to a sinner and saying that if they are willing to quit drinking or smoking or lying or anything else then they can get saved. No lost person has the power to repent of anything. They might by their own will, but they need to be saved first. After salvation, the saved person has the Holy Spirit in him to help him turn from sins that hurt his walk with God, not before.
This brings me to my last point, which is repentance for saved sinners. A person who is saved needs to repent of sins daily. There is a heresy today taught among Hyper Dispensationalists that says that saved people do not have to repent because all our sins are forgiven.
It is true doctrinally that all the saved person's past, present and future sins are under the Blood; but we still have to maintain daily fellowship with God. Like our father on earth, we will always be his son, but we have to maintain good fellowship with him. As children of God, we should repent and confess our sins to our Father to stay close to God. Revelation 2, 3 and 2 Corinthians 12:20-21 records God telling Christians to repent of certain sins.
Even though we are saved by grace alone, we should still live for God because He died for us. Our work and repentance after salvation shows our love for God, but it does not save us or keep us saved.
Romans 6:1 "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?"
In 1 Corinthians 11:28-32, it tells Christians that they should examine and judge themselves before partaking of the Lord's Supper. Paul says that if we do not judge our sins then the Lord will chasten us.
1 Corinthians 11:28 "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. 30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world."
The next passage includes key verses about the Christian repenting and confessing sins in order to live a joyful Christian life. The context shows that the verses (specifically verses 6 and 7) are not speaking about salvation, but rather fellowship. Verse 9 shows us that we need to repent to have close fellowship and to be used by God. If we do not confess our sins daily then we will become callous towards God and His righteousness and our fellowship with Him will subsequently fall apart.
1 John 1:6 "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."
To conclude, repentance for the lost and saved person is different. The lost person should repent—as in turning to God and believing on Jesus Christ for salvation. The saved person should repent and confess of sins daily to keep good fellowship with God, and because they have to appear at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10-11). A saved person cannot go to Hell, but he can lose rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ for living in sin and not repenting. If you are saved, then you are "standing" in Christ, but you still have to work on your "state" with God. If you are lost, then repenting of certain sins cannot help you work your way to Heaven because salvation is not of works. Turn to God from your unbelief, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; then the Holy Spirit will help you turn from sins AFTER salvation, not before. The love of God will help us live for God and repent of sins after we get saved.
2 Corinthians 5:14 "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: 15 And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again."