Calvin: Repentance Is A Fruit Of Faith

Even though we have taught in part how faith possesses Christ, and how through it we enjoy his benefits, this would still remain obscure if we did not add an explanation of the effects we feel. With good reason, the sum of the gospel is held to consist in repentance and forgiveness of sins [Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31]. Any discussion of faith, therefore, that omitted these two topics would be barren and mutilated and well-nigh useless. Now, both repentance and forgiveness of sins—that is, newness of life and free reconciliation—are conferred on us by Christ, and both are attained by us through faith. As a consequence, reason and the order of teaching demand that I begin to discuss both at this point. However, our immediate transition will be from faith to repentance. For when this topic is rightly understood it will better appear how man is justified by faith alone, and simple pardon; nevertheless actual holiness of life, so to speak, is not separated from free imputation of righteousness. Now it ought to be a fact beyond controversy that repentance not only constantly follows faith, but is also born of faith. For since pardon and forgiveness are offered through the preaching of the gospel in order that the sinner, freed from the tyranny of Satan, the yoke of sin, and the miserable bondage of vices, may cross over into the Kingdom of God, surely no one can embrace the grace of the gospel without betaking himself from the errors of his past life into the right way, and applying his whole effort to the practice of repentance. There are some, however, who suppose that repentance precedes faith, rather than flows from it, or is produced by it as fruit from a tree. Such persons have never known the power of repentance, and are moved to feel this way by an unduly slight argument.

John Calvin | Institutes 3.3.1 (1559) Battles edition



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  1. Dr. Clark,

    I agree with this quote and with your emphasis. I have a follow-up question, though.

    I compared this article with what Sinclair Ferguson has to say. See here:

    Ferguson (following Murray) does not say that repentance precedes faith. He essentially says that saving faith is repentant faith. If that is case, we have to say that we are justified by “repentant faith”. In that case, we still introduce works into faith, wouldn’t we?

    Please let me know your thoughts.

    • Venkatesh,

      I’m a firm believer in the traditional Reformed order of the application of redemption. Mr Murray wanted to revise the order in light of his revision of the doctrine of union with Christ.

      It seems to me better to say that it is the regenerate who believe, and the believer who repents. The unbeliever doesn’t repent.

      True faith is repentant but let’s not confuse the order of teaching (e.g., “repent and believe”) with the order of the application of salvation.

  2. Just a correction: I should have said, “Ferguson (following Murray) does not say that faith precedes repentance…”

    Thank you for your reply.

    • This discussion really goes to the ordo salutis and union with Christ. Mr Murray wanted to revise the doctrine of union. I’m affirming what I understand to be the traditional Reformed doctrine of mystical union with Christ, i.e., that we are regenerated, it is the regenerated who are given faith, it is believers who are mystically united to Christ through the Spirit. On the view that we are mystically united to Christ at regeneration, the traditional ordo is set aside.

      For more on this see these resources.

  3. It seems to me that saying, saving faith is a repentant faith, is very confusing, as though repentance and other fruits of the Spirit are part of the faith through which we are saved. We are saved through faith alone, not by faith and it’s fruits. Although a person who is saved through faith will produce fruits of the Spirit, those fruits do not contribute to salvation. This is the insidious error that turns the gospel of salvation by grace alone into a return to the covenant of works, so we look to our works rather than to what Christ alone has done. It actually rejects Him as the perfect Savior. See Heidelberg Catechism question and answer 30. Christ is either the perfect Savior, or no Savior.
    “Either Jesus is not the perfect Savior, or those who accept this Savor in true faith, have in Him all they need for their salvation.”

    • Saving faith is a repentant faith (as opposed to impenitent) but it is not saving because it is repentant. Repentance is a fruit but fruit does not make faith saving. Christ, the object of true faith, makes it saving.

  4. The Calvin quote is, one of many from the Institutes, suitable for framing. This same point is repeated by Colquhoun in his little paper back on “Repentance” where he observes that the order of the two is the fork in the road between evangelical and legal repentance. I vaguely remember that the Marrow which preceded him also argues the same. We glory in this truth in “Rock of Ages”, when we sing “nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling”! Thank you Dr. Clark for refreshing our remembrance in this liberating truth of the Gospel.

  5. Thanks for this!
    Like Venkatesh alludes to, there does seem to be a lot of people who claim the Reformed mantle, who arent FV, yet will twist things like the whole ‘repentant’ or ‘obedient’ faith. They follow MacArthur’s LS approach. I recall a few years ago running into fairly well known preacher who was speaking on faith saying obedience was a part of faith.He didn’t distinguish at all. Thankfully he was challenged by the audience, but largely through experience and anecdotes.
    Recently, I was heartened to have helped at a camp for children where there was a lesson on repentance and faith and it was emphasized that faith comes before and Christ will then help you to forsake sin.

  6. Thanks Dr Clark for putting up this good & edifying Law & Gospel Distinction
    article, look forward to reading parts 2 & 3.

    The Law/Gospel Distinction is a nuanced doctrine which each & everyone of
    us will spend a lifetime continuing to grow in understanding & discernment.

    There will remain disagreements on such things as whether or not Gospel
    Imperatives are Law or Gospel, and the like, and we will not all agree on every
    texts or passage of Scripture, whilst this should be done in a brotherly manner,
    there should be room to charitably disagree with a brothers interpretation of
    certain passages.

    As such I would like to say that I disagree on the portion which says
    ” LS teachers accurately caution people from a 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 deception.”
    as I think that this verse is purely a Law verse, and a 1st use of the Law at that,
    sure when we are regenerated there is a change, but we are not saved because
    of that, any failure of the Christian in observing the Law does not & will not
    Condemn him, that would be to make Christ & the Cross of none effect,
    God forbid, but because God requires perfect obedience from us, which we
    cannot render, the Law doth not & cannot Condemn us but bids us to go to
    the Cross, where we have an advocate with the Father, to confess our sins
    and receive Forgiveness.LS Teachers would have you believe that because
    they confuse the Law and Gospel, and don’t know the difference between
    the Gospel in the strict & narrow sense and the broad & general sense which
    they conflate.

    That verse if taken woodenly would disqualify us all from Salvation, the Lord
    Jesus excepted,because we have all sinned in one or another like fashion, the
    Law demands Perfect Obedience, at all times, for Believers & Unbelievers alike.

    What the verse is
    saying is “that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?” (virtually
    listing all the 10 Commandments), we are Unrighteous by the Law and need a
    Righteousness which is greater than the Law! the Righteousness which is
    greater than the Law is the Righteousness of Faith in Christ, that’s why verse 11
    says ” but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, ” to be Justified is to
    be declared Righteous.

    I know of a believer who…

    was backslidden & Disobedient to God
    Disobedient to His Parents
    Was knowingly Engaged/Married to an Unbeliever & Divorced
    was a Killer & Thief
    committed Arson
    was a Vandal
    a Liar
    an Angry & Vengeful man
    and a Fornicator
    a Jailbird
    & died by committing Mass Murder Suicide

    According to the Lordship Salvation interpretation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10,
    such a man could not have possibly been a saved, but…

    this mans name is Samson,

    and Paul writing in Hebrews 11:32, declares that he is a Saved Hero of the Faith!

    • My apologies Dr Clark,
      I Seem to have posted this in the wrong article!
      supposed to have been the
      My Pilgrimage From “Lordship” to Law/Gospel (part 1)

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