Articles, Tracts and Letters

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Saving Faith and Repentance

by Rev. Brian Garrard

In a second article in this brief series Mr. Garrard looks at the nature of these vital gifts of God and especially their place in the application of redemption. He stresses the need to maintain the balance of the Biblical position.

This article was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 17, January-March 2000.

"Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." – Acts 20:21.

A N area of theological difficulty can be that of Saving Faith and its relationship to Repentance. In our handling of these doctrines, we need great care. On the one side, the gospel of 'Easy Believism' can be preached, with its similarities to Sandemanism [1] . While, at the other extreme, a legalistic gospel may be proclaimed, which stresses repentance (as well as faith) but in such a way as to make them appear works carried out by the sinner. But we are not saved by works, but by grace and that through faith.


Saving Faith

(i) It is a grace. The Confession of Faith is very clear, where it speaks of "the grace of faith" and then later adds that it is "the work of the Spirit of Christ in their (the elect's) hearts." [2]

(ii) This faith enables the elect "to believe to the saving of their souls." [3] Upon the testimony of God's Word, we believe ourselves to be sinners, subject to the righteous judgment of God. As a consequence, we are brought to trust in Christ as our only salvation and righteousness.

(iii) The constituent parts or acts of Saving Faith, are an accepting, receiving and resting upon Christ as our complete and whole salvation. [4] That faith is a grace can be seen in the following Scriptures. Ephesians 2:8: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." The apostle speaks of the 'gift of God'. He does not mean grace, but instead, faith. Not our faith or works. Rather, we are saved through the instrumentality of the grace of faith.

2 Corinthians 4:13 speaks of the "same Spirit of faith"; while in Ephesians 1:19, the apostle writes about the "exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power." Galatians 2:20 also makes the same point: "...the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me."

Faith is then a grace that we are called upon to exercise. Note the emphasis upon faith in the New Testament. For example: in John Chapter three, the Lord stresses faith alone in himself three times, while John the Baptist emphasises it once.


Its meaning from the Greek is: to think differently; to reconsider and change one's mind and motivation.

(i) Like faith, it is a gift of God, "an evangelical grace." [5] This is seen in Acts 11:18, which includes the phrase at the end: "Then hath God also to the gentiles granted repentance unto life." See also Zechariah 12:10, where the Lord speaks through the prophet and says: "I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications." He then adds, that after seeing the Crucified One, "they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him...." All of this is the language of repentance.

(ii) The Holy Spirit works in the heart of the elect sinner and using the Word of God produces a sense of guilt and conviction of sin. This guilt will be expressed in a measure of sorrow and mourning over sin.

(iii) Such grief and even hatred of sin, will lead the sinner to turn from it to God and a holy life. [6] (See for example, Ezek. 18:30,31; Psa. 51:4; 2 Cor. 7:11).


(i) We are not saved through our repentance, as if it were some prior requirement laid upon us by God. Should this be the case, then repentance would become a work of ours, gaining us salvation through our own efforts. We are not to rest in repentance, as if it would provide satisfaction for sin or be the cause of our forgiveness. [7]

(ii) We are justified by God's free grace, received through the instrumentality of the grace of faith. Romans 3:24 states: "Justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (See also Eph. 1:17). Calvin rightly says: "Now both repentance and forgiveness of sins are conferred on us by Christ." [8]

(iii) Even so, repentance is necessary for sinners, for no-one can expect pardon until they exhibit this grace. [9] Note also the emphasis upon it in both testaments of scripture.

(iv) Faith must ever be the leading grace and from this, repentance flows. Thomas Boston put it this way: "Our love to God follows upon, and is a fruit of remission of sin; but our repentance proceeds from love to God, and so in order of nature is posterior thereto: Ergo, Repentance follows remission of sin." [10]

He is more emphatic earlier on when he says: "Repentance is a fruit of faith" [11] and then becomes even more specific, when he argues that repentance is a work of sanctifying grace. [12] We exercise faith in Christ and then the work of sanctification begins, with repentance being the natural outflowing.

(v) Such repentance will not just be general, but will cover named and known sins and must continue throughout our lives. It will cease at death, when the work of sanctification shall be complete in us.


(i) Care must be taken to avoid making the way of salvation too easy. Such is the case in many quarters today. An easy gospel has inherent in it the evils of antinomianism. [13]

(ii) On the other hand, as we have said already, we can run to the other extreme (because of present errors) and fall into a legalistic strain, representing repentance as a prior requirement in order to be saved. Hence, some feel they have not repented enough for Christ to receive them. This is a deplorable state of affairs, as some poor souls stay locked up in this frame of mind for many years and never know the joy of full pardon or assurance of salvation.

(iii) More precision is required in what we believe. This is especially true of how preachers present the gospel. Faith and repentance must ever be set before the people as graces and gifts of God, not works conducted by the sinner.

(iv) Let none misunderstand. Faith and repentance must be preached. Only believing, repenting souls will ever enter heaven. Yet, faith needs to be highlighted as the leading grace from which repentance follows.

"To thee I lift my soul:
O Lord, I trust in thee:
My God, let me not be asham'd,
nor foes triumph o'er me.


Thy tender mercies, Lord,
I pray thee to remember,
And loving-kindnesses; for they
have been of old for ever."

– Psalm 25:1-2,6, Metrical Version.


[1] The Glasite/Sandemanian churches' emphasis upon faith as a mere intellectual assent to the Gospel. Stress is laid upon intellectual belief to the detriment of the emotional side of the Gospel, the action of the will in trusting and obeying Christ and perhaps to the neglect of repentance.

[2] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 14.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] WCF, Ch.15.

[6] See Hodge, A.A., Outlines of Theology, under 'Repentance'; Shorter Catechism Q.87; Larger Catechism Q.76; WCF, Ch.15.

[7] WCF, Ch.15:iii.

[8] Calvin, J., Institutes, III.iii.1.

[9] WCF, Ch.15:iii.

[10] Boston, T., Works (Roberts edition), Vol.6, p.80.

[11] Ibid., p.78.

[12] Ibid., p.82. See also p.77.

[13] The word comes from the Greek, anti, which is, 'against', and nomos, meaning 'law'. Hence, 'against law'. This is the doctrine that the Moral Law is not binding upon Christians. There is also a tendency to widen the expression to include those who reject any idea of Law or Gospel constraints. For them, they become subjective, claiming that they are led of the Holy Spirit.