Repentance from dead works and faith toward God are listed in Hebrews 6:1 as part of the foundation that ultimately leads to perfection and eternal life. Jesus Christ set an important pattern in His preaching when He regularly called on hearers to "repent, and believe" (Mark 1:15). The apostle Paul also preached "repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21).
Jesus pointed out the importance of repentance when He twice stated that "unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3, 5). God requires that everyone repent (Acts 17:30; 2 Peter 3:9). In the first recorded sermon in the New Testament Church, Peter told the people to "repent" (Acts 2:38).
We are to repent of sin, which is the transgression of God's law (1 John 3:4, KJV). Repentance goes beyond being sorry or showing remorse for one's past actions (2 Corinthians 7:8-11). True repentance involves recognition of our nature and its opposition to God (Romans 8:7). It requires a change, a complete and thorough turnaround in one's life, a change from sinning to ceasing from sin—from disobeying God's law to obeying it.
We are to stop going the way of the world and turn to God's way instead (Isaiah 55:7-8; Acts 26:20; Romans 12:2). Repentance is full surrender and willing obedience, based on the knowledge of how God wants us to live. (See the chapter titled God's Law and Sin.)
Repentance begins with our crying out to God for forgiveness of our sins and our accepting Jesus Christ as personal Savior. It is not a decision based on emotion only, though emotion is certainly an important part (Acts 2:37), but a decision to sincerely obey God through faith in Jesus Christ. Christ's righteousness becomes ours through faith in and from Him (Philippians 3:8-9; Romans 8:1-4).
This faith is a deep belief and trusting confidence (Hebrews 11:1). And we can't come to God without it: "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (verse 6). Such faith will lead to obeying God. It not only trusts in initial forgiveness of sin, but it recognizes that God will help the faithful to remain faithful.
Repentance through faith is not simply compliance with a system of religion or a set of rules. Confidence in God and His ways will lead one to act in accordance with His will and to manifest works of righteousness (James 2:17-26). True godly repentance is not something that a person can work up by himself. It is a gift from God (2 Timothy 2:25; Acts 11:18). It is one of the many good things our Heavenly Father gives us (James 1:17). He leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
Repentance is a major part of the conversion process. As Peter continued in that first sermon, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). So repentance precedes baptism—the latter being an outward sign of our commitment to leave our old ways behind and embark on a new life, cleansed through Christ.
Then, after repentance and baptism, God's Spirit is given to a person through the laying on of hands by a duly ordained servant of God (Acts 8:14-18; 2 Timothy 1:6; Hebrews 6:1-2). (See the chapter titled Water Baptism and the Laying on of Hands.) The Holy Spirit thereafter helps us to honor our commitment of repentance, leading us to actually live God's way (Romans 8:14). We then have the love of God motivating us to keep God's laws (1 John 5:3). True Christians have the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9) and strive to live as Christ lived (1 John 2:6).
Repentance involves both sorrow and joy. Repentance leads to a joyful and eternal relationship with our loving God, our Creator and giver of life. Repentance focuses our vision on the love and mercy of God and the forgiveness of sin made possible by the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Repentance is necessary for putting off the "old man," our former character, and becoming a part of the family of God (Ephesians 4:20-24).
And again, this is a response of faith. In Mark 1:15, quoted in part earlier, Jesus specifically called for people to "repent, and believe in the gospel"—referring to the good news of the Kingdom of God (verse 14). The expectation of being a part of God's Kingdom is certainly reason to rejoice—and it motivates those who take it to heart to do God's will.
Soon after godly repentance, one should, as we've seen, be baptized so that all past sins are blotted out (Romans 3:25), thereupon receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-38). Afterward comes a life led by God's Spirit, growing in grace and knowledge, bearing fruit and being perfected in holiness and righteousness (2 Peter 3:18; Matthew 13:23; 2 Corinthians 7:1).
One important result of having the Holy Spirit within us is the development of faith (Galatians 5:22-23; 1 Corinthians 12:4, 9). "The faith of the Son of God" is what we now live by (Galatians 2:20, KJV). Indeed, the just (those who are justified or made right with God) live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38).
Repentance, we need to realize, must be ongoing. It is not a one-time action in the life of the believer. A converted person must continue to battle sin in his or her life (1 John 1:8-10; 2:1). Vestiges of human nature remain for the rest of our lives, warring against our minds and leading to sin (Romans 7:17, 20-21).
A spiritually converted person ultimately desires to please and obey God. The love of God poured into that person's heart by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) seeks to follow the perfect way of God, but the weakness of the flesh often impedes this inward desire (Romans 7:12-25).
God does not condemn the believer (Romans 8:1) as long as he or she continues with God in the ongoing process of repenting and overcoming sin (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). Only if repentance permanently ceases is there no longer forgiveness. (Again, see the chapter titled God's Law and Sin.)
The converted person continues through repentance and faith to rely on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to cover his or her sins in this lifelong process of overcoming. And through the miraculous help of Christ living in him or her through the Holy Spirit, the Christian is able to grow in God's way of life, increasingly walking by faith in obedience to God's law of love (Galatians 2:20; Philippians 4:13; Colossians 1:29).