On the topic of true converts versus false converts, George Whitefield once said:
“There are so many stony ground hearers who recieve the Word with joy, that I have determined to suspend my judgement till I know the tree by it’s fruits. I cannot believe they are converts until I see fruit brought back; it will never do a sincere soul harm.”
And CH Spurgeon warned:
“Sometimes we are inclined to think that a very great portion of modern revivalism has been more a curse than a blessing, because it has led thousands to a kind of peace before they have known their misery; restoring the prodigal to the Father’s house, and never making him say, “Father, I have sinned.” It very often happens that the converts that are born in excitement die when the excitement is over.”
True repentance was the fruit/evidence of regeneration in the believer’s life for the first four of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, which kick-started the Reformation:
- Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
- This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.
- Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.
- The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
There are many fruits of the Holy Spirit’s work in the regenerated believer, but Jesus Christ has told us that repentance must be THE key fruit in their life, as evidence that they are truly born again, and not decieving themselves and others:
Jesus’ message to his listeners was, “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). If faith is turning to Jesus and relying on him for salvation, repentance is the flip side of that coin. It is turning away from sin, hating it, and resolving by God’s strength to forsake it, even as we turn to him in faith. So Peter told the on-looking crowd, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19 NIV). And Paul tells everyone “that they should repent and turn to God” (Acts 26:20).
Repentance is not just an optional plug in to the Christian life. It is absolutely crucial to it, marking out those who have been saved by God from those who have not.
I have known many people who have said something like, “Yes, I’ve accepted Jesus as Savior, so I’m a Christian. But I’m just not ready to accept him as Lord yet. I have some things to work through.” In other words, they claimed that they could have faith in Jesus and be saved, and yet not repent of sin.
If we understand repentance rightly, we’ll see that the idea that you can accept Jesus as Savior but not Lord is nonsense. For one thing, it just doesn’t do justice to what Scripture says about repentance and its connection with salvation. For example, Jesus warned, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). The apostles, when they heard Peter’s story about the conversion of Cornelius, praised God for granting to the Gentiles “repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18), and Paul speaks of “repentance that leads to salvation” in 2 Corinthians 7:10.
Moreover, to have faith in Jesus is, at its core, to believe that he is who he really says he is—the crucified and risen King who had 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.
It is as Jesus said in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” To put one’s faith in King Jesus is to renounce his enemies.
—Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel (Crossway, 2010), 79–80.