The Gospel Response
When we have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ—that he is both fully God and fully man; that God is righteous Creator King but we have sinned against him and in our sin we are separated from him and condemned justly—we are responsible for responding to the gospel. Mark 1:14-15 sums it up nicely:
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
In Jesus’ own words, we must “repent and believe in the gospel” because “the kingdom of God is at hand.” For us to enter the kingdom of God, we must respond to his gospel properly—we must repent and believe. But belief and repentance are not works; rather they are both from God. In Jesus’ own words, we read that
“unless one is born again (or from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. … Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:3-6, 18)
When Peter preaches to Cornelius and his household in Acts 10, he testifies that the Old Testament bear witness that all who believe in Jesus “receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (v. 43). And while Peter was saying this and the verses prior to it, “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” (v. 44). The Holy Spirit fell immediately before the moment of belief. Greg Gilbert helpfully and succinctly writes about the necessity of (grace-given) faith and repentance for salvation:
To have faith in Jesus is, at its core, to believe that he really is who he says he is—the crucified and risen King who has conquered death and sin, and who has the power to save. Now how could a person believe all that, trust in it, and rely on it, and yet at the same time say, “But I don’t acknowledge that you are King over me”? That doesn’t make any sense. Faith in Christ carries in itself a renunciation of that rival power that King Jesus conquered—sin. And where that renunciation of sin is not present, neither is genuine faith in the One who defeated it. (What Is The Gospel?, p. 80)
Our response to the gospel (both faith and repentance) are grace-given and continual. Faith and repentance are not a one-time decision; rather, they are God-given graces that will continuously characterize us throughout the rest of our lives after we have for the first time believed “that he is who he says he is.” Ephesians 2:8-10 is a wonderful summation of the truth and character of the true gospel response:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We are saved “by grace through faith … not a result of works.” Faith then—and also repentance, which is the flip side of the coin of faith—is not a work that we do on our own, but the God-given cry of a newborn in the kingdom of God. Faith and repentance, however, are not one-time occurrences. Whenever we sin, we are to repent (1 John 1:9). We are to continue believing in Jesus throughout our lives—we are a new creation and should walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5). In Romans 12:1-2, Paul puts it this way:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is god and acceptable and perfect.
Here again, we come to our need of discerning “the will of God,” which we must know Scripture to do. For us to stir up continual faith and repentance in ourselves, then, let us ever meditate on and pray about Scripture as the psalmist does throughout Psalm 119.