In his work, The Doctrine of Repentance, Puritan Thomas Watson opens with an epistle to the reader in which he writes, “The two great graces essential to a saint in this life are faith and repentance. These are the two wings by which he flies to heaven.”
Daniel shows the place of repentance and faith in relation to salvation in Daniel 9. Indeed, by God’s great grace and mercy, repentance and faith in Christ are the means to eternal soaring.
Daniel 9 is largely a prayer from Daniel on behalf of his people. Based on Daniel’s prayer, the people of Israel rebelled against God and disobeyed him because of a lack of repentance and faith. “As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the LORD our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth” (Dan. 9:13).
Repentance and faith, along with a reliance on the truth of God’s word is what leads to obedience. In fact, faith in God’s forgiveness expresses itself in obedience to God. Steinmann writes, “The person who has received God’s forgiveness wants to live the way God’s Word teaches us humans to live. Saving faith in God manifests itself in good works prescribed in the Scriptures” (Daniel, 426).
Obedience to God flows naturally from a heart that repents and trusts Christ. A life that is void of obedience is one that also lacks true repentance and saving faith. So, Daniel cries out what Paul would later declare, that salvation comes by grace through faith, and not by works of the law. And at the same time, this salvation expresses itself in works of obedience. Obedience is the fruit of trust in God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness in Christ. It is never the basis.
In Daniel’s prayer, he admits that Israel had fallen under God’s judgment due to their rejection of God’s mercy and forgiveness. It was a rejection of grace that led to both sin and subsequent judgment.
Daniel then requests God to save his people once again; to forgive his rebellious people for their iniquities (Dan. 9:16). He does this on the basis of the redemptive act of delivering Israel from the hand of Egypt by parting the Red Sea (Dan. 9:15). The act of God in saving Israel from the mightiest army in the world is a perfect example of the way God saves. There is no participation on the part of the people. They do nothing. He does everything. Daniel’s prayer is a demonstration of full reliance on God’s grace and power to forgive. Forgiveness then comes not by the works of Daniel or Israel, but by the grace and will of God.
As Paul would later write to Rome,
What shall we say then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works (Rom. 9:30-32).
Righteousness is credited to sinners by faith in the Christ who became sin for them (2 Cor. 5:21). It is not a product of a life of attempts at obeying God. Obedience doesn’t produce righteousness. Credited righteousness by grace through faith produces obedience.
Daniel teaches us that we fall into sin, rebellion, and disobedience when we fail to repent of our sin, trust God’s forgiveness in Christ, and listen to the word of God (Dan. 9:13). When we pray, we should ask God to save our lost family and friends not because they are worthy and not based on their good deeds or ours, but solely because God’s glory deserves to be praised by all people!
“For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name” (Dan. 9:18-19).
Steinmann sums up the matter well:
God hears the repentant sinner’s prayer because of the merit and atonement of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. God keeps his promises most vividly in the ministry of Christ, who fulfilled them all (2 Cor. 1:20). God has redeemed his people through the work of Christ. Through faith alone in Christ alone, believers are credited with his own divine righteousness (Ibid., 427).
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.