One question that arises after reading and hearing so many different things on the internet and in various Christian churches is this: what is the repentance that God requires to enter the Kingdom, and what is required in order to stay in God’s Kingdom? What will it take to enter God’s Kingdom? How holy do you have to be?
Here it is possible to fall into one of two extremes. The first extreme would be legalism. In this scenario, the answer would go something like this: “To enter the Kingdom, you have to repent of everything that is wrong in your life. You have to repent of X, Y and Z sins. Otherwise, your conversion is not genuine.” This approach would not be in harmony with the following verse in the Book of Romans:
Rom 4:5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,
When we first come to Christ, we are generally not godly people trying to do the right thing. But even if we were trying to be right by our own efforts, those acts of self-righteousness were still as an unclean thing before God. In coming to Christ we had to stop relying on our self effort and start trusting in Christ’s work.
At the same time, the Holy Spirit is at work convicting us of sin, righteousness and judgement. Some degree of repentance MUST be experienced at the time of genuine conversion, or it is not genuine. However, it is not up to us to say in someone’s case whether their repentance was sufficient. The real issue, I will state, is IF SOMEONE IS GENUINELY TURNING TO JESUS CHRIST, AND WILLING TO CONFESS HIM AS LORD. It is not how well they perceive Jesus, but whether they turn to move towards Him.
The other extreme then is the extreme of Antinomianism. This view would say that as long as you believe in Jesus as your substitute, you don’t need any further change of mind to be right with God. Jesus has paid for you and you are free, with no conditions or strings attached!
This view seems to discount what Jesus and the apostles taught everywhere they went – that men should REPENT.
It also tends to be associated with the “Once Saved Always Saved” idea that makes people feel secure with God IN THEIR SINS.
The Answer as I see it
Justification can begin with very little repentance if measured by consciousness of sin and guilt, but there must be one essential element of repentance present – which is A GENUINE TURNING TOWARDS THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Without this change of heart concerning one’s relationship and attitude towards Jesus Christ, it is not possible to be truly “born again”.
It does help if people are deeply convicted of sin BEFORE they put their trust in Christ, because then the foundation of revelation is deeper, and people are more likely to go on with the Lord. In some cases, people start off with a very shallow understanding of what they must turn from, and who they are turning to. But as time goes on, if there is a genuine turning to the Lord as a source of instruction, light will shine and the decision to follow Christ will either be confirmed or denied.
People who follow revivalists of the past like Finney and Wesley want to say that a lot of present day gospel preaching is false because it is not preparing people with heartfelt sorrow over sin before presenting the Savior. While there is value in this approach if hearers will tolerate it, the really important thing is that people are eventually made to understand that they must surrender their lives to Christ if they expect to be accepted by God. A person who begins with the Lord but KEEPS ON SINNING DELIBERATELY will end up in HELL, according to Hebrews 10:26-39.
So no one can really be secure in their sin. Jesus is our only security, and we must cling to Him, pursue Him and respond to Him in order to enter God’s Eternal Kingdom. It is no good to begin in the way of righteousness but afterwards to turn back to follow the world, the flesh or the devil.
Let us avoid both the extremes of antinomianism AND legalism, and urge people to pursue a genuine walk with the Savior through the power and life of the Holy Spirit. Let us prove that we love God by saying “No” to the devil’s offers and the world’s enticements. Amen.