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Is repentance a ‘good work’?

G.L. from the US asks:

Hey y’all! I’m a big fan of CMI. I read your articles, watch your videos, and have listened to some podcast. You put out good information on life and the Source of it! I appreciate your commitment to scripture.


I do however have one area in question for you. I was reading what you believe “Good News” article and came across this statement:

“He calls upon all to turn away from their sinful ways and trust in what Christ has done for us. We can do nothing to remove our guilt before God (Romans 3:23).”

Can you explain what you mean “turn away from their sinful ways” and scripture to back it up in the context of salvation, please? Is turning from sin a good work we have to do for salvation?

When I’ve read passages talking on salvation from condemnation the Bible uses “faith,” “believe,” “trust,” and “receive” (all meaning the same thing.) This can be seen in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Ephesians 2:8-9, Genesis 15:6/ Romans 4:3, and John 3:15-17. The book of John in particular consistently says: believe, receive eternal life.

I’m in no way wanting to come across as a jerk. My home church and current church both emphasize clarity in the Gospel so I have been taught the importance of it.

Thank you for your time reading this email. I look forward to read your response.

Lita Sanders, CMI-US, responds:

What a wonderful opportunity to reflect on salvation! Thank you for your question.

Both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, part of going from a broken relationship with God into a right relationship is rejecting sinful behaviours that break our relationship with God. For instance, when Solomon was dedicating the Temple, part of his prayer was:

“When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin, when you afflict them, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel, when you teach them the good way in which they should walk, and grant rain upon your land, which you have given to your people as an inheritance.” (1 Kings 8:35–36).

In fact, part of what made Israel and Judah’s sins so bad was that they refused to turn away from their sins:

Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets. But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God.” (2 Kings 17:13–14).

God desires us to do this, because He would rather forgive us than judge us. For instance, God told Jeremiah:

Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word. It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds (Jeremiah 26:2–3).

God forgave even some of the most wicked kings in the Bible when they repented, Ahab in Israel (1 Kings 21:27–29) and Manasseh in Judah (2 Chronicles 33:18–19). And the entire wicked city of Nineveh, a particularly notable enemy of Israel, was spared judgment when they repented, much to Jonah’s chagrin. In fact, Jonah’s reluctance to go was because he knew how forgiving God was; he didn’t want them to have the chance to repent!

When John the Baptist proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom, repentance was a key part of the message (Matthew 3:2, 8), and Jesus’ preaching also had repentance as a key element (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15). In fact, Jesus even said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). Of course, as believers we know that even people who believe they are righteous are sinners in need of repentance and God’s forgiveness.

The apostles after Jesus’ death and resurrection preached the exact same message of repentance and belief in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; 17:30).

Even believers whose sins are forgiven need to repent when we sin, and we know we are forgiven freely when we ask God for forgiveness (Revelation 2:5, 16; 3:3, 19).

It is important to understand that God is able to forgive us when we repent because Jesus has paid the price for our sins in His death on the cross. So forgiveness is free for us, but was very costly to God!

Now, to answer your question, “Is repentance a good work we have to do for salvation?” No! Repentance is something that is enabled by God’s Spirit, so a repentant heart is evidence of God’s work in the heart of the sinner, and not something which we can take credit for.

I hope these few thoughts help.

Published: 22 May 2021

Helpful Resources

From Creation to Salvation
by Lita Cosner Sanders
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How Did We Get Our Bible?
by Lita Cosner, Gary Bates
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