Repent and Believe: Rescuing the Simple Gospel from Foggy Religious Phrases

If you have ever traveled to another country, you are immediately confronted with words you are unfamiliar with. Even if you speak the same language, the thought of a “washroom” in Canada or the “loo” in England can throw even the best American English speaker for a spin. Every culture has insider language whether it’s a catch phrase, slang, or some other terminology.

As youth workers in the church, we also have insider language when it comes to the idea of a gospel response. Sometimes, like finding a place to go to the bathroom in a world filled with washrooms and loos, the language we use in describing the gospel can block the clarity of the most important truth there is. This blocking of the truth hurts those outside the walls of the church who have never heard this terminology, and also those inside the church who have heard these terms yet don’t fully comprehend their meaning.

As youth workers, the failure to clearly communicate truth keeps us from connecting with those students who don’t have a relationship with Christ, while also negatively reaffirming the Christian subculture with insider language. We are simply reinforcing the insider mentality that fails to engage both churched students and the lost with the gospel of grace.

When we think of this foggy language surrounding the gospel, two common phrases come to mind. The first is “ask Jesus into your heart.” To someone outside of Christianity, it sounds like you are asking them to believe that the Jesus – who lived, died, and was resurrected 2,000 years ago – comes to physically live within the blood-pumping muscle in the center of their chest. Let’s step back a moment and realize how vague or confusing this might sound.

This unclear language not only confuses those outside of the church, but it also leads those inside the church to use a phrase that is challenging to communicate to others. This phrase can form another barrier to students being able to articulate their own story to a world that so clearly needs the gospel of grace.

The second insider phrase is “got saved.” This term is also used in things like lifeguard training at the local pool. Those who cannot swim and find themselves drowning in a body of water need to be saved. Though this phrase is not as confusing as the first, in terms of Christianity it raises the immediate question of “saved from what?”

While these phrases are fine to use as long as their meanings are clearly communicated (rather than merely assumed), the Biblical portrayal of a response to Jesus presents a much clearer picture.

When we come to the Scriptures, the call for a response to the gospel is simply to “repent and believe.” At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Mark’s gospel account, Jesus lays out this simple call saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem defines conversion as “our willing response to the gospel call, in which we sincerely repent of sins and place our trust in Christ for salvation.” This is a single motion of turning from our sin and what used to define us, while surrendering to Jesus and His work in and through us.

When it comes to communicating this important truth to our students, we can define the terms ‘repent’ and ‘believe’ as the following:

Repent: to realize and confess that your life (all of our lives) are saturated with sin, and by God’s grace to be awakened to your need for Him to change you.

Believe: to place the full weight of your life on Jesus’ work on your behalf through His life, death, and resurrection and to submit your life to Him

These truths can be illustrated by a GPS. If you have ever driven with a questionable GPS, you have experienced repentance and belief. As the GPS told you to turn the wrong way down a one-way street, you quickly realized the error of your ways and made a correction to the direction you were meant to go.

Though the image of a GPS clearly represents the simple gospel response of repenting and believing, it also serves as a great metaphor for a life of walking in grace. At the beginning of his 95 Theses, Martin Luther reminded the church, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” Repentence is not a one-time thing, but a daily, hourly confession of our sins and our need for a Savior. Let us clearly teach students to live a life of repentance and faith as they walk with Jesus marked by clarity and understanding of the terms that we use to frame that lifestyle.

When it comes to presenting the simple gospel response, let us not make the view foggy but simply call those to respond in a single (and also continual) motion of repentance and belief.

Ben Birdsong is a church and para-church student ministry veteran and currently serves as the Minister of Missions at Christ Church in Birmingham, Alabama. He is also an adjunct professor teaching children, youth, and family ministries at Birmingham Theological Seminary. Ben also helps churches with custom curriculum through Your Youth Ministry Curriculum and authors with book projects through Birdsong Innovations. Ben has bachelor’s degrees in Marketing and Human Resource Management from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a Master of Divinity degree from Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School, and a Doctor of Ministry in Ministry to Emerging Generations from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. As an author, Ben has written the devotional books Words from the Cross: 7 Statements that Will Transform Your Life, journeying through Jesus’ final moments before His death, and James: Everyday Faith. He is also a monthly contributor for parenting and family ministry content for Birmingham Christian Family magazine. Ben also wrote the John study and a portion of the Psalm study for Rooted Reservoir. Ben is married to Liz. He enjoys reading, writing, watching movies, and blogging at

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