Turning to Jesus! Faith and Repentence

A Vacation Bible School Curriculum by Barry McWilliams
an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America

In Mark 1:15, Jesus announces the Gospel as the Good News and calls for us to respond in Repentance and Faith.

The "Good News" is that Jesus has come to save men and women from their sins which have brought upon them the curse and judgment of God. Jesus accomplished this by offering Himself as their substitute, dying on the cross in their place. This Salvation he offers as a free gift, received entirely apart from human works or merit. All Jesus asks is that we receive this salvation offered to us with believing and repentant hearts.

The essential starting place for anyone who would be Christ's disciple is to be converted or born again. (Jn 3:3). This involves both God's work in Christ, securing salvation and planting the seeds of regeneration in our hearts, and our response in repentance and faith. The gospel Jesus preached was "the Kingdom of God is near - repent and believe the good news." (Mark 1:14,15)

Today there tends to be an emphasis mostly on Faith. Repentance is thought to be the gloomy remorseful sorrow that we experience when we realize we are sinners and must turn to Jesus for help. Coming to faith in Jesus brings the joy of salvation and brings that sorrow to an end.

In the Bible, however, repentance is much more than grief. Just as we must continue to have faith in Jesus on a day by day basis, we continue to exercise repentance on a day by day basis as well.

What is "Faith"?

"Faith" comes from the root concept of "belief". It is believing God and His Word. It is trusting in what Jesus did for our salvation. It is more that the simple acceptance of statements or facts as being true. It is depending upon them as a matter of living or dying.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism states "Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation, as He is offered to us in the Gospel." A popular Children's catechism says "What is it to believe or have faith in Christ? To trust in Christ alone for salvation."

What is "Repentance"?

Repentance comes from a Greek word meaning "to change one's mind". It is much more than feeling sorry about what has happened or regretful about circumstances and their outcome. The key element is the concept of change, of turning completely around. It involves both a "turning from" and a "turning to". In the Bible it means to "be converted"; to undergo a radical change of heart and life, a complete turnabout of life.

The Shorter Catechism says "Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience."

The change of mind and heart comes as we move from a state of rebellion against God and the "idolization" of our selves (Rom 1:21ff; 3:10-19, 23). We agree with God in His assessment of us - we are sinners in thought, word and deed - under His wrath and curse. No longer do we seek to justify ourselves, excuse our sins, or try to merit salvation. Rather we comprehend the awful truth about ourselves - that we are spiritually dead in our trespasses and sin - and the wages of sin is death, and after that will come judgment. (Eph 2:1-3; James 1:15; Rom 6:23; Hebr 9:27).

True repentance is not putting on "sackcloth and ashes", a negative preoccupation with ourselves. However to turn from sin and live for Christ, we must see our sin for what it is and how it affects our thinking and actions and this can be done most clearly as Christ bears it to the cross - God's response to our sin is such that he couldn't spare his own Son. (Rom 8:32)

Repentance includes Confession - the acknowledging of our sinfulness to God and our admission to Him that apart from Christ we are unable to please God. It includes knowing God's forgiveness, we can turn away from sin when we know our sinfulness no longer keeps us from God. And true repentance leads to new obedience. We are turning to newness of life, living now as God would have us to live.

True repentance can only come at the foot of the cross. It is inseparable from faith for this reason. Repentance is admitting that we are as God sees us, and He knows every secret within our hearts (Psa 139, Matt 6:4, 6). Faith embraces the Savior he offers for our salvation.

Only as we realize what our sin is before God, will we experience true godly sorrow for our sins (Cf 2 Cor 7:8-11) Worldly "sorrow" regrets the consequences, feels remorse that "I'm guilty" - it leads to death. If we dwell on our sins rather than viewing them in the shade of the cross - we would be driven to despair and hopelessness. But godly "sorrow" leads to repentance and salvation - we see ourselves as we are and hate our sin, humbling ourselves before God. True repentance is being honest with ourselves and with God without fear - because we trust God has dealt with that sin on the cross. (Rom 8:1ff)

Repentance and Faith go together!

Actually, repentance is an inseparable part of faith. There cannot be one without, or apart from the other. It has been suggested that they are like the two sides of one coin.

"For by grace, we are saved through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast, for we are God's worksmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance that we should do." Eph 2:8-10; "God exalted Jesus to His own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins...We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him." Acts 5:39.

All through the Scriptures we find the way to God is repentance and faith. They are the result of the renewing work of the Holy Spirit making our hearts alive. The Bible teaches us that only God can enable a sinner, in slavery to sin and spiritually dead, to turn from that sin. God gives them the faith they need to believe and have life. True faith and repentance comes from God (Eph 2:8-10). Our repentance and faith is a response to what God has done, the first "cries of life" following "a new birth" as God's Spirit works within (Jn 3:3-8). God alone can make us alive. (Eph 2:4-5) When He does, we can and will respond to Him and the Gospel in repentance and faith (Rom 10:8-13; Acts 2:38,39; Acts 16:27-33).

The saving work of Christ and the calling of the Spirit (Jn 16:7-15) are essential aspects of salvation. Our coming to God in repentance and faith is also essential. The promises of Salvation in Christ are for those who hear and believe (Jn 14:6; 3:16; 5:24) and have turned from their sins (James 5:4-10; Matt 5:3-6).

"God in His wisdom gives the gift of forgiveness and salvation only to those who trust Him. As long as a person still has confidence in his ability to make himself acceptable to God, he will continue trusting in himself. He will not yield his will to God. But when he admits that there is nothing he can do but trust God to give him forgiveness in Christ, he has come to a point of yielding his will. That is why anyone who is a child of God will want to do God's will. That is why the process of repentance leads to a person's giving up the chief idols of his life. As long as his affections are set on his selfish idols he is not teachable. He cannot grow as a disciple. Growth occurs by faith." Wilson, With Christ in the School of Disciple Building, p. 80

A person accepts a message when he acts on it. Either a man submits to the summons of God or he chooses this world with its temporal riches and honor, bound to rust and decay. Jesus calls us to turn away from this world and trust Him. Unbelief is a sin that keeps us from God. To avoid unbelief we must turn away from that sin and turn to God. We must trust His Word and act on it in obedience to God.

The Bible teaches that Christ saves through faith; not that a person's faith saves through Christ. It is what he has done on the cross that matters. Faith doesn't somehow make us worthy of his favor. A repentant heart acknowledges that we are not worthy of his grace, that even our faith is weak, and depends on him. (See Lesson 4 - "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief".)

When we follow Jesus, we are called upon to leave all else. Repentance involves identifying and turning from our priorities and interests and committing ourselves completely to God's instead. By faith, we are to take up His cross, even if it means giving up all we have. This needs to be done every day.

Review Questions:

  1. Write out simple definitions of faith and repentance. Can you one or two illustrations of each suitable for children?
  2. What is God's part in Faith and Repentance? What is ours? If salvation is God's work, why must we repent and believe?
  3. How is faith and repentance an ongoing part of a believer's life?
  4. What are some wrong views of faith? Of repentance?
  5. In the light of your reading of of the Gospel of Mark: how does it teach us about repentance and faith?
  6. Looking over our Theme: "When I follow Jesus, I must turn away from sin"" and the daily sub-themes: What aspects of repentance and faith are being taught each day?

© 1989 Barry McWilliams and Mission Church Fellowship,
Hypertext Version © 1996 Barry McWilliams
This Curriculum may be downloaded, copied and used by churches and other Christian organizations without charge with permission from Barry McWilliams.
Contact Barry McWilliams at eldrbarry@eldrbarry.net