During one of my high school classes, we studied etiquette. My teacher always repeated the phrase “don’t divorce the salt and pepper.” Apparently, when someone asks for the salt, you are supposed to pass the pepper too. To do otherwise is considered rude (who knew?).
It reminds me of what happens simultaneously at conversion: repentance and faith. Repentance means to turn around. Faith means to completely depend upon. At conversion, we repent (turn) from our sin, and at the same time, we turn to Christ in faith.
What if a person repents of sin but does not trust Christ by faith? Remember, the Pharisees detested sin, but did not place faith in Christ. Such repentance without faith could be a form of legalism.
Conversely, faith without repentance also falls short. In fact, one might argue that faith without repentance is not faith at all. Can you imagine someone saying, “Jesus I trust you, but I won’t let go of my self-sufficiency and pride”? I believe that would be a contradictory statement. The rich young ruler was very interested in eternal life until Jesus challenged him to sell everything and give to the poor. Sadly, the young man couldn’t repent of his idol: wealth.
Therefore, when we present the gospel, we must not divorce the repentance and faith! When, you might ask, does this happen?
1) When a person is caught in their sin and wants to confess. This person is eager to repent. It can be tempting to avoid addressing faith in Christ for fear that it might create a hitch in their desire to repent. However, what good is repentance without faith? To clear the conscience apart from salvation in Christ creates a false hope.
2) When a person asks how to be saved. In this case it may be tempting to talk only about Christ’s forgiveness and grace while ignoring the topic of repentance for fear of offending the person. However, what good is it to talk about forgiveness if you never address the sin that separates the person from God?
Of course there are more situation that may cause temptation to speak about either faith or repentance exclusively at the expense of the other. We must, however, present the call to faith and repentance together.