Should believers repent?

So, does a believer need to repent?  In many churches the call to repentance is repeated every Sunday, no matter who is present.  Believers and pagans alike are warned of the consequences of sin and called to repent of their evil works.  But does a believer need to repent?

There’s so much to say about this.  It is no wonder that many believers lack assurance of their salvation.  If they hear the call to repentance every week, they can only assume that they either are not really saved or that they have somehow lost their salvation during the previous week.  If they are conscientious, they probably respond to the call each Sunday and hope that this time it will stick.  But, because they have been conditioned to think that any sin will endanger their salvation and because they continue to struggle against the flesh patterns in their lives, they never find the peace and rest Jesus offers. 

But does a believer have to continually repent in order to stay saved?  Certainly not!  Jesus saves and Jesus alone.  Our salvation is based on his actions, not ours.  I can’t initiate my salvation and I can’t maintain it.  Salvation is a fact based on a relationship with God through Jesus.  Sin may not be consistent with that relationship or the life that comes from it, but neither is it able to nullify that relationship and life. 

On the other hand, it is important for a believer to understand that he no longer has to sin in order to meet his needs.  In fact, sin causes all kinds of problems that the Lord would have us avoid.  He loves us and He hates sin because sin hurts us.  It usually also hurts others, and the Lord wants us to reflect His heart to others.  So a continual “change of thinking” is important for a believer.  Because the flesh is a learned and long-practiced system, we have to unlearn it in order for our daily lives to consistently reflect the love and holiness of God.  The Christian life is necessarily a life of introspection.  The serious believer opens his life to the Spirit and asks the Spirit to reveal wrong thinking and the actions that come from it.

So, we have a problem.  If we preach repentance to believers, they will almost certainly lack assurance simply because they will assume we are talking about getting saved.  Yet, the Scriptures continually call believers to new thinking, the thinking that is consistent with the mind of Christ.  My suggestion, and practice, is to use the word, repentance, for a call to salvation and to call believers to “walk with Jesus.”  I believe that those who seek to draw near to their Lord will know what actions and attitudes are inconsistent with a relationship with Him.  Because the Spirit is active in their lives, the call for change will be spoken into their lives.

Does a believer have to repent?  No, not by my definition.  But a believer should cultivate new thinking, a rejection of the flesh patterns of his life and an open heart to the leading of the Spirit.

Thoughts?  Questions?


Filed under Freedom, grace, Grace definition, Legalism, Relationship

7 responses to “Should believers repent?

  1. Sue

    You know what? You are really challenging my thinking…and that’s a good thing!

    Having been brought up in a works-based religion, it has been hard to shed that conditioned thinking that we need to do something in order to please God and assure our salvation. Nowadays, have the repentance message given on a regular basis just seems to reinforce it.


    I think God has directed me to you for a reason and I am open and willing to learn!

    I have thoughts in answer to you (on the other post). I will gather them together and email them to you, rather than posting here.

    God bless,

  2. Jan

    After considering myself to be a born again Christian for over 50 years, and also a pastor’s wife (fundamental church) for 30+ years, I am finding that my thinking has also been undergoing some changes in the last several years.

    Even this morning as I was reading the Word, a fleeting thought raced through my mind…am I truly saved. What is with this??? I had not had this thought for a long time, but here it came.

    Since my husband and I are now under pastoral authority, rather than being in that capacity ourselves, we have been receiving wonderful GRACE teaching that was not so much a part of the typical teaching for me in the fundamental circles I grew up with.

    As far as commenting on this article, I would like to ask this…

    God says if we CONFESS our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

    Please correct me here if I have skewed thinking, but I am thinking that not only does this apply to the unbeliever to salvation, but also to the believer to a restored/abiding relationship with God.

    IF this is accurate, then I would think that God does not require Christians to “repent”, but rather “confess” and agree with Him when we have sinned. I also understand that a component of repentance is a turning away from sin, which I guess would apply to both believer and unbeliever. At the same time, I would also expect that a confession of sin would also mean a turning away from it.

    Well, a whole lot of rambling here, yet I hope that my thoughts are making some sense. This is my first post, and I very much enjoy getting these email messages.

    Please feel free to share your comments with me.


    • Jan, I just have time for a quick reply. Your question is excellent and I am going to write on it over the next couple of days. Let me know what you think.

    • Jan,
      I stepped out of ministry (not really voluntarily) for about four years. In spite of the trauma and the introspection, it was great! I learned a lot about church and about myself.

      Pastors and their families are particularly susceptible to the performance spirituality I talk about. The people judge us on the basis of what they see us do and we judge ourselves in much the same way. We believe that we have the most important job in the universe and only perfect obedience and doctrine will be enough. Never mind that both are impossible. We still must have them. In fact, we live with the sense that we should resign if we ever accept anything less of ourselves.

      Then Jesus tells us that He loves us, even us as pastors, and that He has done everything we need “for life and godliness.” Like cool water on a miserably hot day, like the comforting voice of an old friend, like scratching an itch—it feels so good. Then, when we look to the Scriptures to see if this could be true, that it’s all about Him and not about what we do, we begin to see it everywhere. How could we not have seen it before? Well, what matters is that we see it now!

      Good to have you here. I hope it was okay for me to talk about the confession thing as a blog post. I know that many of us have been taught that and I haven’t dealt with it until now.



  3. I appreciate the distinction you’ve made. I come from a “reformed” background, with a heavy emphasis on the Puritans. I’ve been taught for years that the torment of Romans 7 is an integral part of the Christian life, always grieving over sin, always repenting, always clinging to the cross, always wondering whether I’ve really been saved and how on earth I could be if I wasn’t already…..which always left me a bit confused as to how that life was to co-exist with the freedom, joy, and triumph of Romans 8.

    I’m now contemplating the notion that Romans 7 is actually Paul’s description of his life as a Pharisee – a legalist – loving the law yet being destroyed by it. Being rather legalistic by nature, I identified with the Romans 7 experience and so welcomed the teaching that is a necessary part of Christianity. Now what I think I was experiencing was the torments of legalistic thinking. Now I’m seeking to move on….to Romans 8.

  4. Laurie,
    Sounds like I need another post. Romans seven is confusing. I really appreciate these comments and questions. They make me think.
    It is amazing to see Scripture open up with the message of God’s love, isn’t it? It’s everywhere!

    • I’ll look forward to that. As I said, I’m only contemplating this, and as you said, Romans 7 is confusing. I know it has a few historical interpretations. I don’t think it’s simple or even clear cut. One thing that has really stood out for me in my latest readings of Romans is the strong emphasis in the letter on the relationship of Jews & Gentiles, the law and grace (and the resulting confusion of the relationship of the Law with the Church, and more particularly with Gentile Christians).

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