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What is Faith?

by Guy Richard
One of the statements I have found myself repeating most frequently over the last fifteen years
of ministry is J.I. Packers insightful comment that half-truths masquerading as whole truths
are whole lies. Packers observation is a beautiful reminder that half-truths are just that: halftruths. When they are presented as though there is nothing more to say, the result is that the
truth is compromised. To say that Jesus is one hundred percent human is true. But it is only
half the story. Jesus is also one hundred percent divine. If we focus only on Jesus humanity
and never say anything about His divinity, we are guilty of presenting a half-truth as though it
were the whole truth, and we thus commit a whole lie.
My fear is that many of us in the church today may be dangerously close to violating this
precept in our preaching of the gospel. There is no question that the call of the gospel is to
believe in Jesus Christ, which is why our preaching must regularly call people to faith. But if
our preaching stops there without ever calling people to repentance, it is dangerously close to
presenting a half-truth as though it were the whole truth. Repentance and faith are inseparable.
They are two sides of the same coin. Faith is the positive side of turning to Christ, and
repentance is the negative side of turning away from sin. It is impossible to turn to Christ and
to turn to sin, just as it is impossible to travel in two different directions at the same time. By
definition, traveling east means not traveling west, and turning to Christ correspondingly
means not turning to sin. Faith and repentance necessarily go together.
We can see this inseparable link between faith and repentance in several passages in Scripture.
InActs 2:38, for instance, Peter responds to those who have been cut to the heart and who
have asked, Brothers, what shall we do? by telling them to repent and be baptized in the
name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. He does not tell them to believe and be
baptized, as Paul does in virtually identical circumstances with the Philippian jailer in Acts
16:30-34, but to repent and be baptized. The reason seems clear, especially when we take
Peter and Paul together: faith and repentance are inseparable. It is impossible to repent and
not believe, and it is impossible to believe and not repent.
We see this again in Luke 24:47, when Jesus tells His disciples that they are to proclaim a
gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins, and in Acts 3:19, when one of those disciples
heeds His words and actually calls his listeners to repent that your sins may be blotted out.
In both cases, we are again told that the call of the gospel is not simply believe, and you will be
forgiven but repent, and you will be forgiven. The reason is that faith and repentance go
hand in hand.

Mark makes this connection even more explicit in his account of the life of Christ. In 1:14-15,
Mark records Jesus as proclaiming a gospel that overtly calls people to repent and believe.
For Jesus, faith and repentance obviously go together. The gospel calls us to both.
This is not to deny the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Jesus is not adding anything to
faith but, rather, defining what faith actually looks like. Justifying faith is not a bare or naked
faith, so to speak, but a repentant faiththat is, a faith that is always accompanied by
repentance. To be sure, it is possible for genuine faith to be impenitent for a season. The
example of David remaining unrepentant for a time after his sin with Bathsheba demonstrates
this (2 Sam. 11-12). But an impenitent spirit cannot last forever. Christians may not be
repentant immediately, but they will be repentant eventually. God will see to that, just as He
did with David, because faith and repentance necessarily go together. Where one is, there the
other will be also.
The same gospel that calls us to faith also calls us to repentance. If we focus only on the call to
faith, we are focusing only on one side of the coin and ignoring the fact that there is another
side. To draw a parallel with one of Jesus most famous teachings, proclaiming faith but not
repentance is like teaching people to render to Caesar the things that are Caesars without
ever mentioning that they are also to render to God the things that are Gods (Matt. 22:21).
We are dangerously close to presenting a half-truth as though it were the whole truth and, thus,
of committing a whole lie.