When we call people to salvation in the Lord Jesus, if we are being most biblical, we call people to repent and believe. Both of those terms are used time and time again to depict how a person comes to salvation. The two are not separate things.
We know in general what believing in Jesus looks like. But what does repentance look like? WE have pictures in the Bible. IN fact, we see the Lord give us a picture of repentance at the end of the book of Hosea.
God, speaking particularly to Israel, has called them out for their sinful unfaithfulness to him. But in the final chapter of this prophecy, he calls them to repent.
1 Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
2 Take with you words
and return to the Lord;
say to him,
“Take away all iniquity;
accept what is good,
and we will pay with bulls
the vows of our lips.
3 Assyria shall not save us;
we will not ride on horses;
and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’
to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy.”
The word for return here in verse 1 is a repentance word. It literally means to turn back or return, to turn from one thing or direction to another. The word could speak of a person walking in one direction and making a turn. Or it could mean a person turning back from evil and toward righteousness. Obviously, in this context, God is calling Israel to a spiritual change of direction.
In verse 1, we see that returning involves a turning from their iniquity toward the Lord their God. They are to stop chasing after their sin and start (or start again) seeking after the Lord.
In verse 2, God tells them what they should be saying: Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. This is the people going to God, seeking forgiveness for their past wrongs and promising to obey the commands they have been previously disobeying. They are saying they have been wrong in the past, but, from now on, they will return to being under his lordship.
In verse 3, the people are to say to God that they will no longer run to foreign nations for their deliverance. Instead, they will trust in him. They will not trust in their own prowess on the battlefield, mounting themselves on horses, but will trust in the Lord’s protection. It is a turning from self-reliance to reliance on God. It is the kind of thing that God had commanded Israel to do, to trust in him instead of the pagan nations around them, but they were refusing to do.
At the end of verse 3, the people were to say, “And we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands.” The nation had fought against God by looking at their own inventions, the crafting of idols, and declaring things they put together to be their deities. Repentance would mean that they stop seeing false things as divine, and they would only call God the one true God. And in this repentance the people would find grace.
In truth, what Israel needed to do is very much the same for us today. A person who repents of sin to turn to Christ in faith must turn from self-reliance. We must stop thinking that we are in charge of our lives. WE must stop thinking that we can rely on sinful things to take care of ourselves. We must determine that we desire to follow and obey the Lord. And we must stop calling divine that which is not God. Repentance involves surrendering to the Lord, turning from self and all other evils, and fully turning toward the God who made us. Repentance involves bowing before the throne of God and declaring him our Master.
Part of that repentance is belief, faith. It requires repentance for a person to believe the truth about Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh who came to earth. Jesus lived a perfect life. Jesus died a sacrificial death. Jesus rose from the grave. Jesus forgives all who come to him in faith. There is no religious action or ceremony that contributes to our salvation. No act earns us God’s favor. Only the one who comes to Jesus, repenting, empty-handed, relying on him and him alone will be saved. This requires a repenting belief in Jesus apart from works. And this is how we can say that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And this is how we can say that a person must repent and believe to be saved.