Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 16, 1954

Repentance And Faith

Ralph Edmunson, Plano, Texas

In debates and in sermons I have heard preachers use the following bit of reasoning to prove baptism is necessary to salvation: "Every place in the scriptures where baptism and salvation are mentioned together, it is always baptism first and salvation after." In other words, we bank on the order of mention on this particular subject to show that Christ placed baptism before salvation. I believe that we are eminently correct in this. However, the point of this article is to study a seeming inconsistency in our reasoning on another subject, equally as important.

When the subjects of baptism and the remission of sins comes up in debate, sooner or later repentance will be introduced. The proponents of faith only are asked if repentance is necessary to salvation and they reply that it is. Thus it is correctly concluded that salvation is not by faith ONLY if repentance is included. The opposition comes back with the factual statement that every place in the scriptures where repentance and faith are mentioned together, repentance is without exception mentioned first. So, they conclude that repentance comes before faith. I never have been able to understand how they could call that an argument worth considering, for the simple reason that no matter where repentance is placed, whether before or after faith, it is something in addition to faith, and therefore salvation is not by faith only. But that is not the subject of this article. I am writing on this seeming inconsistency of my brethren.

In talking about the relation between baptism and salvation, we rely on, as part of our argument, the order of mention in the scriptures. But, when the opposition uses the same logic on faith and repentance, we say that the order of mention is not always the order of occurrence. When the reasoning is on our side we accept it; when it is seemingly on the other side, we reject it. Where is our consistency here? This switch of positions has always puzzled me, especially when there was nothing to gain or lose either way. The false doctrine of faith only can be refuted without having to go into this inconsistent position.

But, we point out, it is impossible for a man to repent before he believes. To the opponent this is just assumption and opinion pure and simple, for he can read what Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people in Matthew 21:32, "For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not; but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him." Here Jesus plainly puts repentance as a prerequisite to faith. "Repented ....that ye might believe."

But we are further informed that this repentance and faith were not toward the same person; that it is "repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 20:21.) Wonderful reasoning! Who has denied it? But what has all that to do with the debates on the order of faith and repentance? Everything and nothing. It has absolutely nothing to do with refuting the faith only advocates. And it has everything to do with the scriptural order of faith and repentance. An alien sinner back in the first century, and one in the twentieth century both must approach the subject of repentance in precisely the same way. The alien in the first century did not repent toward Christ, but toward God. The alien in the twentieth is no different. He repented toward God, not toward Christ. For the alien sinner, repentance has always been, and always will be, toward God; the faith, then, is in Christ.

On the other hand, the backsliding Christian must repent toward Christ. He must repent of his wickedness of disobeying the laws of Christ. (Acts 8:19-24.) The alien repents toward God, and the fallen Christian toward Christ.

I think that it can be demonstrated that a man can repent before he believes, and is a necessity sometimes. In the book "You Are A Christian Now," by James D. Bales, is a passage that I think worthy of our study. On page 29, he writes, "The following groups will profit little by a study of the Bible, until they have a change of heart and of mind." What is repentance but a change of mind? Brother Bales says they must repent (have a change of mind) before they can study the Bible to any degree of profit.

"(b) Those who: Study man's traditions as if they were God's word.

"(c) Study God's word as if it were man's word.

"(f) Study for literary criticism rather than for the message."

"If you are determined to maintain such positions as:

"(b) There is no God . . . . you will find that these prejudices, lusts, and fixed ideas block the entrance of the word of God into your mind."

I think that Brother Bales was correct in those ideas. It takes repentance toward God to even start us on our way to studying the Bible from which faith comes.