Q. What part does repentance have in becoming saved? We often read we must just ask for forgiveness and believe in Jesus.
A. This is confusing to many because somewhere along the way the word “repent” was re-defined to mean “change your behavior.” But the Greek word translated “repent” in the New Testament really means “change your mind.” It’s used mostly in the gospels and the first part of the Book of Acts when either Jesus or the disciples/apostles were urging their Jewish listeners to repent and be saved.
Because their audience had been taught that keeping the Law was the way to salvation, they needed to change their minds and realize they needed a Savior. This is what Jesus was teaching in Matt. 5:20 when He said unless their righteousness surpassed that of the Pharisees they would certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The Pharisees had devoted their lives to keeping even the smallest details of the Law, and Jesus was saying this was not sufficient for salvation. It was going to take an even greater righteousness than that.
Later, Paul wrote that God had made known a righteousness apart from the Law that comes through faith in Jesus to all who believe, and this righteousness would be sufficient to save us (Romans 3:21-24). This is the righteousness Jesus had been talking about.
Gentiles didn’t need to change their minds about saving themselves through the Law, they needed to change their minds about their behavior and recognize that it was sinful. This is true of unbelievers today as well. Before anyone can be saved, they need to come to the realization that they’re sinners and believe that Jesus died and rose again so their sins could be forgiven. This is what the phrase “repent and be saved” means.
Therefore, when we’ve asked Jesus to be our savior, the repenting has been done.