Let’s turn back to Rom 10, the home of many Plan of Salvation proof texts, and take a fresh look –
(Rom 10:9-17 ESV) 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Notice the impact of verses 14-15. In context, Paul is discussing the nature of mission work. People cannot be saved without someone being sent to preach the word because faith comes from hearing the word preached. It’s common sense. And this is the closest we come to the Plan of Salvation in a single passage, but Paul here says nothing of baptism or even repentance. Just hear, believe, confess, be saved.
But “faith” itself includes the idea of repentance, because it includes faithfulness. To believe in Jesus is not the same as merely believing Jesus. Rather, Christian faith is faith that is loyal and faithful to its object.
Well, let me be a bit more precise here. We use “repent” as “leave behind your life of sin.” But that’s not how the word is always used —
(Act 20:18-21 ESV) 18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(Act 26:19-20 ESV) 19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.
Notice that repentance is “repent and turn to God” and “repentance toward God.” I think we repent by turning toward God, and I think we turn toward God by having faith in Jesus. But, of course, faith in Jesus includes faithfulness to Jesus as Lord.
As stated in Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 289,
The [grammatical] evidence suggests that, in Luke’s usage, saving faith includes repentance. In those texts which speak simply of faith, a “theological shorthand” seems to be employed: Luke envisions repentance as the inceptive act of which the entirety may be called pistis. Thus, for Luke, conversion is not a two-step process, but one step, faith – but the kind of faith that includes repentance. This, of course, fits well with the frequent idiom of first subset of second for impersonal TSKS constructions.
(emphasis in original). It makes sense for Paul to call on Jews to “repent” even if they were moral followers of the Torah. It wasn’t so much that they needed to repent of sin but that they needed to turn toward God by following his Son in faith. Hence, Acts 2:38 should be interpreted, not as presenting a distinct step in the Plan, but as commanding faith in Jesus —
(Act 2:36-38 ESV) 36 “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In v. 36, Peter presents Jesus as “Lord” and “Christ,” the two central truth claims of Christian faith. Not all those present had participated in his crucifixion, but all had failed to recognize him as the true Lord and Messiah. Therefore, as they’d rejected God in the flesh, they’d rejected God himself — and had to repent, that is, turn toward God by having faith in Jesus.
This interpretation explains why “faith” is not expressly found in Acts 2:38 and why repentance is. “Repent” can certainly be used of turning from a particular sin or sin in general, but it’s also used of turning toward God through faith in Jesus. And as we see in Josephus and in Acts 20:21, “repent” and “faith” can be used together to refer to turning toward God through faith in Jesus. Compare Mark 1:15 and Acts 19:4.
You see, for a non-Christian, merely leaving sin without turning toward God through Jesus has no value. True repentance requires faith. The promise of faithfulness and loyalty found in “faith” combined with belief in who Jesus is and his promises is the only repentance that counts for anything. Repentance, therefore, is not a separate step from faith. Faith, indeed, requires repentance to be faith. James would agree.
Hear, believe, repent, confess
I have to tell a story on myself. As you might have guessed, I’ve been a smart aleck all my life. In about the 4th grade, my Sunday school teacher taught us the Five Steps. She went through all five with appropriate proof texts, having us each haltingly read the text for each step. She asked, “Any question?”
I responded, “What’s next? Once we’re baptized are well all done? Do we get to go to heaven? What about the rest of our lives?”
She was stumped. She said she’d speak with the preacher and get back with us. The next week, there were Six Steps. She added,
Live faithfully unto death (Rev 2:10).
And so I asked, “How good do we have to be to be ‘faithful’?” And this, again, gave the teacher pause. She explained that God has a book of life that records our good deeds and bad deeds and he’d judge us based us on how we lived.
And so I asked, “How many good deeds are required?”
Now, this wasn’t deep theology. I was worried. I’m the third child with two older sisters. To me, “good deeds” meant helping little old ladies across the street — which my grandmother absolutely refused to let me do — and bad deeds meant making my sisters miserable. So the numbers looked insurmountable, something like 0 to 1,000,000. I was a master at making my sisters miserable, and I couldn’t find a single old lady to help across the street. I couldn’t even persuade myself that heaven was enough of a reward to justify having to make up my own bed!
That’s the religion I was taught as a child. Yes, faith is a step, but it’s only one step of thousands — maybe millions — of essential good deeds. “Grace” is what Baptists believed.
But now we see that the Plan of Salvation is reduced to faith + baptism, because “faith” necessarily includes believing (in the acceptance of a truth claim sense), confessing (how else would we know you have faith?), and repentance (faithfulness).
And as much as we’d like to jump straight to baptism, we really have to notice that “faith” is not just how we get into the church. It’s also how we stay in the church.
(Rom 1:17 NIV) For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
What would be the point of being saved by faith at the moment of baptism and then saved by works for the rest of my life? If works wouldn’t get me in, what would make me think that works would keep me in?
(Rom 5:1 ESV) Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Rom 3:21-25 ESV) 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
Notice that 5:1 says “have been” (implying that it’s still true), not “had been” (once was true but no longer is). Notice that in 3:24 “are justified” is present tense, implying continuous action.
Now, this is key because it explains how so many NT writers can say that all with faith are saved. Paul himself says in the passage quoted above –
(Rom 10:10-11 ESV) 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
And this is in one of the main Plan of Salvation proof texts! Paul could hardly be clearer in saying over and over and over that faith is enough to save!
And this fits. “Faithful” unto death means true the faith that saved us in the first place. The rules don’t change. We grow in faith, but Jesus stilll saves us through faith.
Now, if you read the comments, many object because they see obedience as essential, but, of course, the idea of faithfulness includes obedience. As does repentance. And Jesus demands faithfulness (or repentance or obedience).
Now, this point inevitably raises two closely related points. The first is obedience. Don’t we have to “obey” to go to heaven? The second is closely connected: Don’t we have to be baptized?