Chapter 20: Conversion: Repentance and Faith

When the change wrought in regeneration begins to manifest itself in the conscious life, we speak of conversion.

1. Conversion in General. The Bible does not always speak of conversion in the same sense. The conversion we have in mind here may be defined as that act of God whereby He causes the regenerated, in their conscious life, to turn to Him in faith and repentance. From this definition it already appears that God is the author of conversion. This is clearly taught in Scripture, Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25. The new life of regeneration does not of itself issue in a conscious change of life, but only through a special operation of the Holy Spirit. (John 6:44; Philippians 2:13)  But while in regeneration God only works and man is passive, in conversion man is called upon to cooperate. (Isaiah 55:7; Jeremiah 18:11; Acts 2:38; 17:30) But even so man can only work with the power which God imparts to him. Like regeneration conversion too consists in a momentary change, and is not a process like sanctification; but in distinction from regeneration it is a change in the conscious rather than in the unconscious life of man. While conversion is necessary in the case of all adults (Ezekiel 33:11; Matthew 18:3), it need not appear in the life of each one of them as a sharply marked crisis. The Bible mentions instances of conversion, such as Naaman 2 Kings 5:15; Manasseh 2 Chronicles 33:12, 13; Zacchaeus Luke 19:8, 9; the eunuch Acts 8:38; Cornelius Acts 10:44; Paul Acts 9:5; Lydia Acts 16:14 and so on. Besides this it also speaks of a national conversion, as in Jonah 3:10, a temporary conversion, which includes no change of heart (Matthew 13:20, 21; 1 Timothy 1:19, 20; 2 Timothy 4:10; Hebrews 6:4-6), and a repeated conversion. (Luke 22:32; Revelation 2:5, 16, 21, 22; 3:8, 19)  This is not a repetition of conversion in the strict sense of the word, which does not admit of repetition, but a revived activity of the new life after it has suffered eclipse. Conversion comprises two elements, the one negative and the other positive, namely repentance and faith, which call for separate discussion.

2. Repentance, the Negative Element of Conversion. Repentance looks to the past, and may be defined as that change wrought in the conscious life of the sinner by which he turns away from sin. It includes three elements, namely,

(a) an intellectual element, in which the past life is viewed as a life of sin, involving personal guilt, defilement, and helplessness;

(b) an emotional element, a sense of sorrow for sin as committed against a holy and just God; and

(c) an element of the will, consisting in a change of purpose, an inward turning from sin and a disposition to seek pardon and cleansing. (Romans 3:20; 2 Corinthians 7:9, 10; Romans 2:4)

It is wrought in man primarily by the law of God. Roman Catholics have an external conception of repentance. According to them it comprises a sorrow, not for inborn sin, but for personal transgressions, which may merely result from the fear of eternal punishment; a confession made to the priest, who can forgive sin; and a measure of satisfaction by external deeds of penance, such as fastings, scourgings, pilgrimages, and so on. The Bible, on the other hand, views repentance wholly as an inward act, an act of real sorrow on account of sin, and does not confuse this with the change of life in which it results.

3. Faith, the Positive Element of Conversion. In distinction from repentance, faith has a forward look.

a. Different kinds of faith. The Bible does not always speak of faith in the same sense.

It refers to a historical faith, consisting in an intellectual acceptance of the truth of Scripture without any real moral or spiritual response. Such a faith does not take the truth seriously and shows no real interest in it. (Acts 26:27, 28; James 2:19)

It also speaks of a temporal faith, which embraces the truths of religion with some promptings of conscience and a stirring of the affections, but is not rooted in a regenerated heart. It is called temporal faith (Matthew 13:20, 21), because it has no abiding character and fails to maintain itself in days of trial and persecution. see also Hebrews 6:4-6; 1 Timothy 1:19, 20; 1 John 2:19

Moreover, it makes mention of a miraculous faith, that is a person’s conviction that a miracle will be performed by him or in his behalf. (Matthew 8:11-13; 17:20; Mark 16:17, 18; John 11:22, 40; Acts 14:9)  This faith may or may not be accompanied with saving faith.

Finally, it not only names, but stresses the necessity of, saving faith. This has its seat in the heart and is rooted in the regenerated life. Its seed is implanted in regeneration and gradually blossoms into an active faith. It may be defined as a positive conation, wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit, as to the truth of the gospel, and a hearty reliance on the promises of God in Christ.

b. The elements of faith. We distinguish three elements in true saving faith.

(1) An intellectual element. There is a positive recognition of the truth revealed in the Word of God, a spiritual insight which finds response in the heart of the sinner. It is an absolutely certain knowledge, based on the promises of God. While it need not be comprehensive, it should be sufficient to give the believer some idea of the fundamental truths of the gospel.

(2) An emotional element (assent). This is not mentioned separately by the Heidelberg Catechism, because it is virtually included in the knowledge of saving faith. It is characteristic of this knowledge that it carries with it a strong conviction of the importance of its object, and this is assent. The truth grips the soul.

(3) An element of the will (trust). This is the crowning element of saving faith. It is a personal trust in Christ as Savior and Lord, which includes a surrender of the soul as guilty and defiled to Christ, and a reliance on Him as the source of pardon and spiritual life.

In the last analysis the object of saving faith is Jesus Christ and the promise of salvation in Him. (John 3:16, 18, 36; 6:40; Acts 10:43; Romans 3:22; Galatians 2:16)  This faith is not of human origin, but is a gift of God. (1 Corinthians 12:8, 9; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 2:8)  But its exercise is a human activity, to which the children of God are repeatedly exhorted. (Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 2:5; Colossians 1:23; 1 Timothy 1:5; 6:11)

c. The assurance of faith. Methodists maintain that he who believes is at once sure that he is a child of God, but that this does not mean that he is also certain of ultimate salvation, since he may fall from grace. The correct view is that true faith including, as it does, trust in God, naturally carries with it a sense of safety and security, though this may vary in degree. This assurance is not the permanent conscious possession of the believer, He does not ever live the full-orbed life of faith, and as a result is not always conscious of his spiritual riches. He may be swayed by doubts and uncertainties, and is therefore urged to cultivate assurance, 2 Corinthians 13:5; Hebrews 6:11; 2 Peter 1:10; 1 John 3:19. It can be cultivated by prayer, by meditating on the promises of God, and by the development of a truly Christian life.


To memorize

Passages showing:

a. That God is the author of conversion:

When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance [that leads] to life.” (Acts 11:18)

…with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, (2 Timothy 2:25)

b. That man co-operates in conversion:

Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:7)

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, (Acts 17:30)

c. The necessity of conversion:

“Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:11)

….and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)

d. Historical faith:

“King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.”  Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” (Acts 26:27-28)

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (James 2:19)

e. temporal faith:

“The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;  yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. (Matthew 13:20-21)

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19)

f. Miraculous faith:

And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. (Matthew 17:20)

This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze on him and had seen that he had faith to be made well, (10) said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he leaped up and began to walk. (Acts 14:9-10)

g. Christ as the object of easing faith:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

“For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)

h. The necessity of cultivating assurance:

And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, (Hebrews 6:11)

Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; (2 Peter 1:10)


For Further Study:


a. What kind of repentance is mentioned in Matthew 27:3; 2 Corinthians 7:10b.

Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, (Matthew 27:3)

For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)


b. Can you name biblical persons in whose lives conversion in the sense of an outstanding crisis could hardly be expected? Cf.

Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, (Jeremiah 1:4)

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. (Luke 1:5)

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; (2 Timothy 3:16)


c. Can you name some of the great words of assurance found in the Bible? Cf. Hebrews 3:17, 18; 2 Corinthians 4:16 — 5:1; 2 Timothy 1:12.

And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?  And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? (Hebrews 3:17-18)

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. (17) For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (2 Corinthians 5:1)

For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. (2 Timothy 1:12)


Questions for Review:

1. In how many different senses does the Bible speak of conversion?
2. How do temporary and repeated conversion differ?
8. What is true conversions? What elements does it include?
4. What elements are included in repentance?
5. How do the Roman Catholics conceive of repentance?
6. How does conversion differ from regeneration?
7. Who is the author of conversion? Does man co-operate in it?
8. Is conversion as a sharp crisis always necessary?
9. Of how many different kinds of faith does the Bible speak?
10. What is characteristic of historical, temporal, and miraculous faith?
11. How does temporal faith differ from saving faith?
12. What elements are included in faith? How much knowledge is needed?
13. What is the crowning element of saving faith?
14. Who is the object of saving faith?
15. Does the Christian always have the assurance of salvation?
16. How can he cultivate this assurance?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top