What is our proper response to the Gospel? It’s simple really, we are to repent and believe. And in Evangelical circles we tend to place a huge emphasis on the moment at which we first repented and believed. I remember one Bible study I did in high school encouraging me to “pray the prayer” (i.e. sinner’s prayer) again in case I couldn’t remember the first time I did it. Then I was to record the date in my Bible so that anytime I struggled with assurance of my salvation, all I had to do was open it back up to that date and know that I had indeed “prayed the prayer”.
Not that I’m necessarily against the sinner’s prayer. But here’s my question, is this really the best way to know you’re saved? In addition to that, how many of us know people who supposedly prayed the sinner’s prayer, but then show NO evidences of grace in their lives whatsoever and use that one time “prayer” as a license to live however they want? After all, they’ll tell you, once saved always saved, right?
Well, I would like to offer a counter to this entire approach. And to do this, I want us to take a look at Mark 1:14-15, which reads
“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come’ He said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the gospel.”
There’s a lot we could say about this short passage, but for the sake of brevity there’s two words I really want us to key in on. Not surprisingly, they are repent and believe. Now when we first look at these words, it feels like a short, one time command doesn’t it? Sort of like when mom use to yell, “CLEAN YOUR ROOM!” The idea being, do it now and complete the job quickly or you’re going to be in big trouble.
Now that element is certainly present here. Our response to the Gospel should be immediate. But there’s more to it than that. In the original Greek, both of these words are stated in what is called the Present Active Imperative form. Ok great, what in the world does that mean?
Well the imperative was commonly used in Greek when the speaker was giving someone a command. And when stated in the present tense, it carried the idea of calling for an on-going course of action. In other words, the present tense in Greek was used to issue a progressive or continual action rather than a one time, completed action. So if we translated this passage very literally it would read… You all be repenting and believing the Gospel! In other words, Jesus is not calling for a one time action, but rather, an action that is to occur continually. So our lives should be marked by repenting and believing, repenting and believing, repenting and believing, etc. If Jesus had meant that this was a one time decision He could have easily used the aorist form of the imperative whose purpose is to give that sense. But instead He used the present, or progressive, form.
Our lives should be marked by repenting and believing…
Ok, so how do we tie all this together? I think the best way would be to say that the most reliable assurance you have for your salvation is not remembering the one day you repented and believed some years ago, but if today you are still continually turning from your sin (repentance) and trusting in the finished work of Jesus for your salvation (believing). On the other side of the coin, those who are no longer repenting and believing in Jesus betray the fact that they have never repented and believed in the first place. Repenting and believing in the gospel is a choice that has a definite beginning, but carries on throughout our lifetime.
I would love to hear from you on this one! Is this an area where you’ve struggled? If so, how do you regain your assurance? And, how would you confront someone who thinks they’re saved because of a prayer they prayed “x” amount of years ago, but lives contrary to the Gospel?