As we were going through our class on the WCF and catechisms, our professor commented on chapter XV of the confession. He said there were those during the time of the Westminster divines and the writing of the WCF that would preach the positive side of salvation, of faith in Christ, but not the negative, repentance. This chapter in the confession emphasizes the need to continually preach repentance, and not just faith. That was a problem then, and it is a serious problem of our day as well. Below is a brief paper I wrote on the need for ongoing repentance.
Faith and repentance are inseparably connected by the Lord Jesus Christ in Scripture (Mk. 1:15). They are like two sides of the same coin. It would be concerning, then, if ministers of the Word and parishioners pitted faith against repentance. My concern is that this has happened, and I would like to refute this sentiment particularly as it is expressed in the following form: For the believer, faith in Christ is all that is needed for sanctification.
It is simply not true that faith in Christ is all that the believer needs in order to grow as a believer. Some preach this, though they would not put it in these words. They preach that the believer needs to remember his justification, the indicatives of Scripture, and to recall them in order to advance in holiness. How is it that they disparage repentance? They do so by also saying that when a believer feels guilty for his sins, he should rid himself of that guilt by drawing from the gospel. That is to say, the key to overcoming guilt and remaining sin is not repentance, not turning from your sin, but by remembering your forgiven status in Christ, and that alone.
This is a subtle distortion, but a dangerous one. Pastors would do well to remember 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In context it is clear that the one who should confess sin is the believer, not only the unbeliever. Confession of sin requires a denouncing of it, a turning from it, and this is the essence of repentance. It follows then that confession of sin, or repentance, is an ongoing act of the believer just as faith in Christ as Lord and Savior ought to be.
The danger in neglecting repentance or attempting to replace repentance with faith is that believers will never continually turn from sin and confess them to God. Guilt due to sinning is something that can be healthy for believers, even a conviction from the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:8). Some object and say that guilt is always bad and demonstrates a lack of faith in the salvation won by Christ. This may be true in part, but even when it is repentance must accompany faith because faith and repentance are inseparable. In fact, because they are inseparable, faith without repentance is not true faith, and repentance without faith is not true repentance. Both are needed for the sanctification of the believer.
If believers are to be like Christ, they must make a regular confession of their sins. This is plainly seen when brief reflection is given to the nature of our salvation and what Scripture says. Since sin remains in the believer, only repentance and faith, working together, can eradicate it, because repentance and faith are the means by which the believer was united to Christ in the first place.