Question 29: How can we be saved?
Answer: Only by faith in Jesus Christ and in his substitutionary atoning death on the cross; so even though we are guilty of having disobeyed God and are still inclined to all evil, nevertheless, God, without any merit of our own but only by pure grace, imputes to us the perfect righteousness of Christ when we repent and believe in him.
Conversion to Christ involves repentance and faith, inseparable actions of turning away from the lordship of one (sin) to the lordship of the other (Christ). But it is important not to get confused about how to present the gospel. When we tell people to repent and believe, we should guard against coming across in this manner: “Once you have repented sufficiently of your sins, you can then come to Christ.” Do you see how that way of putting it makes it seem as though coming to Christ in faith is something for which we must qualify ourselves by our own actions first? Putting repentance far out ahead of faith can lead to a gospel of self-justification and a Christ who is not willing to receive sinners, but only those who have done their part first.
But the glory of the gospel is that we hold out Christ to sinners and invite them to come to him in faith, bringing their sins with them so that he can address those sins. Yes, repentance is absolutely necessary. You cannot continue to hold on to sin as your master and pretend that you are trusting in Christ to deliver you. But neither should you imagine that the only way Christ will accept you is if you figure out on your own first how to get rid of your sins. The connection between repentance and faith is so tight that we cannot really imagine one occurring without the other. So hold out Christ to sinners and proclaim to them the good news that Christ receives sinners so that he may forgive them and free them from sin’s mastery.
Suggested passage for family or personal reading: Luke 7:36-50. What is the relationship of this sinful woman’s love for Jesus and the forgiveness of her sins? What does this passage teach us about how we must come to Jesus?