The Good News of God's grace calls for a response.
Jesus proclaimed, "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Gospel" (Mark 1:15).
Both repentance and faith issue from grace and are essential to salvation.
However, they differ in this respect:
faith in Christ is the sole condition for entering the Kingdom of God, while
repentance is the condition for saving faith.
Turning from Sin
Repentance means a change of mind and purpose. It is a strong word, implying moral action and resolution of amendment affecting one's total personality.
Knowing the impending doom awaiting sinners, whether they be notorious felons or respectable religious gentry, Jesus made clear: "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:2-3). His words echo a refrain that reverberates through the Bible (e. g., Ezekiel 18:30, Joel 2:13; Matthew 3:2; Mark 6:12; Acts 17:30; Revelation 2:5). There was a note of urgency in His voice, for the day of mercy was coming to an end (Matthew 5:24-26; 22:1, 25: 1-13; Luke 13: 16-24).
Akin to repentance is the idea of conversion meaning to turn around and go in a new direction. Without this change of heart, or as Jesus said, "Unless you turn and become like children," no one can "enter the Kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).
So, let us see how it unfolds:
Conviction of Truth
The Holy Spirit initiates the process by making persons aware of the Gospel. So darkened is the mind of worldlings that apart from His illumination we could not discern the depths of our depravity, much less the unmerited mercies of God (1 Corinthians 2:4, 14, 1 Thessalonians 1:5).
Even the fact that we can comprehend the Gospel evidences divine grace (Acts 5:31; 11:8; Romans 2:4).
The primary means by which the Spirit brings this conviction is the living Word of God, "sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit . . . discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).
Though the Bible is the most authoritative source of truth, the Spirit can bring conviction through any number of other means (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Often He speaks through the counsel of Christian loved ones or friends or through reading a book, seeing a display of power in nature, or meditating on some providence of deliverance. Usually these varied influences accumulate over a period of time, one experience building on another. As the awareness of need dawns on the consciousness, one begins to feel a discomforting awareness of spiritual truth.
The way it manifests itself will be different with every person. For some, like the prodigal who took his father's inheritance and went away to a far country to spend "all he had in reckless living," conversion came in the realization of a wasted life and "squandered" for happiness. when he realized what a fool he had been and that he was "no longer worthy to be called" his father's son, he wanted to go home (Luke 15:11-20).
Others may feel the pangs of conviction, like the publican who saw himself condemned by the moral law of God. Contrasted to the self-righteous Pharisee, who prided himself on his good behavior, the tax collector knew all too well he had woefully fallen short of God's holiness. So great was the anguish of his soul that he "would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat on his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (Luke 18:9-14).
To Saul of Tarsus, conviction began in seeing the faith of devout Christians he was persecuting. It came to a head on the Damascus Road when suddenly he was confronted by the living Christ in a blinding vision (Acts 9:1-9, 22:3-11; 26:1-18). The reality of the encounter awakened in him a history of misdirected zeal, and he knew that his whole concept of earning God's favor was wrong. The enormity of his error, sincere as he was, he would never forget.
However slow, and eventful conviction develops, it comes to fruition finally at the cross. There the Spirit brings one to see eternal love disclosed in Christ, bearing in His body God's judgment on our sin. More than a historical fact, it becomes a very personal awesome realization that Jesus died for me.
[Editor's comment: Dr. Robert E. Coleman, my former professor of Evangelism at Asbury Theological Seminary, has granted permission for me to quote from his book, The Heart of the Gospel--the Theology behind the Master Plan of Evangelism. It was printed by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan. These direct quotes are printed on pages 154 and 155. Dr. Coleman has agreed to be a Contributing Writer for Hugh's News. He resides in Wilmore, KY, the home of Asbury University and Asbury Theological Seminary.
I had the privilege to attend Asbury College for one year, 1956-1957, following three years of active duty in the United States Marine Corps. After graduating from Furman University in 1960 (having studied the Bible at Holmes Bible College for three years--1957-1960) and marrying Melvine Stewart on August 13, 1960, we moved to Wilmore, KY where I attended and graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary in 1963 with the Master of Divinity degree. Melvine taught third grade in Versailles our first year, and then in the Wilmore Elementary School. We lived in the basement apartment at the home of Joe and Joann Fletcher. Without Melvine I would never have made it.]