Question: Is repentance a requirement for forgiveness, or a result/fruit of forgiveness? Which of the two comes first before the other: repentance from our sins or forgiveness from God?
Answer: The answer to this question hinges on what the word “repentance” means in the Bible. When most people think of repentance, they think of someone who has shown evidence in their life of acting differently, kind of like doing good works. But repentance is not a “good work” per se. It is actually a mindset. Several passages separate good works from repentance, identifying them as different things (Matt. 3:8; Acts 26:20). When someone repents, it is a change of mind. They were formerly pursuing sin and self-gratification, but they have changed the direction of their life. Their new desire is to pursue God and His will. Repentance isn’t a specific set of words that someone says. Anyone can say, “I’m sorry for my sins,” but someone who truly repents will deeply mean these words, hate their sin, and love their Savior. The Bible clearly teaches that the faith in God that leads to repentance will always be evidenced by good works (Jas. 2:17). These good works are then the result/fruit of repentance and they are how we as people can know if someone has genuinely become a follower of Christ (Matt. 7:20; John 13:35).
So where does forgiveness fit in? In his great sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter says to the crowds, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). It is very clear in this statement that the repentance comes first and the forgiveness is a result of that repentance. Peter wasn’t calling these people to perform good deeds. He was calling them to change their minds and call on Christ for His forgiveness recognizing that they desperately needed it. He was calling them to realize that their old way of life was over and that they would need to begin a new life. He was calling them to repent.
So repentance is a requirement of forgiveness. It is necessary to have a change of heart that will receive God’s gift. If you’re interested in studying this further, I would recommend reading about the ordo salutis. It is Latin for the “order of salvation”. There are a few different perspectives on what all takes place when a person becomes a Christian (calling, regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, etc.) and both the logical and chronological progression of these things.