Repentance, the missing link

I want to tackle an uncomfortable subject that affects us all. No one on the planet at any time in recorded history is exempt from its ramifications. From a Christian perspective, even though there is an ever-growing army of people and denominations that argue it is not contingent on being a Christian or a new believer in Christ Jesus, there is enough evidence in the Bible to substantiate its primacy in the Christian life. It is more than primarily important, it is contingent. It is even more than just a contingency or primarily important, it is imperative. It is an imperative and integral part of what it means to become a Christian and to be a Christian but it is not something Christians do as an act of their own will, it is something that God does within us who are true believers at every moment of every day. It is something we do consciously and unconsciously as the Holy Spirit does the work of sanctification in our lives. Easton’s Bible dictionary says:

Sanctification Involves more than a mere moral reformation of character, brought about by the power of the truth: it is the work of the Holy Spirit bringing the whole nature more and more under the influences of the new gracious principles implanted in the soul in regeneration. In other words, sanctification is the carrying on to perfection the work began in regeneration, (My emphasis added) and it extends to the whole man (Rom_6:13; 2Co_4:6; Col_3:10; 1Jn_4:7; 1Co_6:19). It is the special office of the Holy Spirit in the plan of redemption to carry on this work (1Co_6:11; 2Th_2:13).

Faith is instrumental in securing sanctification, inasmuch as it

(1.) secures union to Christ (Gal_2:20), and

(2.) brings the believer into living contact with the truth, whereby he is led to yield obedience “to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come.”

Note that here Easton’s Bible dictionary mentions the term regeneration which means literally means new birth or a restitution of all things Mat 19:28 ,   a change of heart Tit_3:5, passing from death into new life 1Jn_3:14  more commonly known being born again; and renewal of the mind Rom_12:2

To this, nearly all of Christendom will be shouting Amen and Halleluiah preach that truth brother! Yes it is the truth because through regeneration by the Holy Spirit we are given faith to believe and they will quote in Chorus Eph 2:8  For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; Eph 2:9  not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  To which I also agree.

From every conservative Evangelical and fundamentalist pulpit around the world, we hear what is probably the most commonly heard verse from the Bible Acts 16:31″Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” It would be remiss of me not to mention the most well-known quoted verse of the Bible; John 3:16 Joh 3:16  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

By and large, this is the main emphasis of nearly all modern evangelistic preaching across most denominations that hold to the bible is the inerrant word of God, that is the truth, and that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation and forgiveness by the one and only true God. To which we all say once more, Amen. Belief in Christ brings forgiveness, regeneration and sanctification, right?

If this is true why did I entitle this article repentance, the missing link?  Apart from everything above being true, repentance, as a prerequisite to faith, belief and sanctification is being left out in the majority of the churches preaching today. Yes, you heard me right; it is the missing primary, integral, imperative ingredient that many have rationalised away as peripheral to the doctrines of regeneration, salvation and sanctification.

The most common charge levelled at me and other reformed Calvinists who still hold to repentance as the prerequisite for faith and belief is that we are teaching a works salvation. No, we are not! None of us has ever said that repentance is the work of man, none of us has ever claimed that we, by our own human efforts, must repent before God can forgive us and then it is faith alone or whatever variant one would like to accuse us of; it is a false accusation. Those who accuse us of this make the counterclaim that repentance is not necessary for salvation and yet Easton’s Bible dictionary defines repentance in three ways in scripture (note the scripture proofs in the following citations)

(1.) The verb metamelomai is used of a change of mind, such as to produce regret or even remorse on account of sin, but not necessarily a change of heart. This word is used with reference to the repentance of Judas (Mat_27:3).

(2.) Metanoeo, meaning to change one’s mind and purpose, as the result of after knowledge.

(3.) This verb, with the cognate noun metanoia, is used of true repentance, a change of mind and purpose and life, to which remission of sin is promised.

It goes onto explain

Evangelical repentance consists of (1) a true sense of one’s own guilt and sinfulness; (2) an apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ; (3) an actual hatred of sin (Psa_119:128; Job_42:5, Job_42:6; 2Co_7:10) and turning from it to God; and (4) a persistent endeavour after a holy life in a walking with God in the way of his commandments.

The true penitent is conscious of guilt (Psa_51:4, Psa_51:9), of pollution (Psa_51:5, Psa_51:7, Psa_51:10), and of helplessness (Psa_51:11; Psa_109:21, Psa_109:22). Thus he apprehends himself to be just what God has always seen him to be and declares him to be. But repentance comprehends not only such a sense of sin, but also an apprehension of mercy, without which there can be no true repentance (Psa_51:1; Psa_130:4).

The International Bible Encyclopaedia says

The most prominent element in the psychology of repentance is the voluntary, or volitional. This aspect of the penitent’s experience is expressed in the Old Testament by “turn”, or “return,” and in the New Testament by “repent” or “turn.” The words employed in the Hebrew and Greek place chief emphasis on the will, the change of mind, or of purpose, because a complete and sincere turning to God involves both the apprehension of the nature of sin and the consciousness of personal guilt (Jer_25:5; Mar_1:15; Act_2:38; 2Co_7:9, 2Co_7:10).

It goes on further below to say

Repentance is only a condition of salvation and not its meritorious ground. The motives for repentance are chiefly found in the goodness of God, in divine love, in the pleading desire to have sinners saved, in the inevitable consequences of sin, in the universal demands of the gospel, and in the hope of spiritual life and membership in the kingdom of heaven (Eze_33:11; Mar_1:15; Luk_13:1-5; Joh_3:16; Act_17:30; Rom_2:4; 1Ti_2:4)

Repentance is not the work of the will of man it is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not my intention here to go into a long drawn out defence of the Calvinist perspectives on this issue or what part the will plays. It should suffice to say that Repentance is a priori (self-evident) part of salvation that all should agree on, but we don’t, and it appears the gap between the two parties is ever widening.

Mentioned above Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines repentance as regret that does not result in spiritual change, repentance that results in a change of mind and purpose but is not spiritual, or true repentance that results in a change of life, purpose and life where remission of sins is promised. Only this last one is true repentance

Of the first two one could also say that one repents because they regret getting caught but there is no change of mind or that it does cause change because people truly regret how their actions caused themselves and others pain and suffering. The thing is, however, neither of these results in regeneration and spiritual rebirth.

I want to labour the second point because this is where traditional Christianity separates into two distinctive camps known as Lordship salvation and no Lordship salvation. Traditional Lordship salvation teaches that repentance is necessary because with repentance comes an awareness of sin, acknowledgement and turning away from sin to live a holy life. It cannot be emphasised strongly enough that this is the work of the Holy Spirit. Repentance is not meritorious on part of mankind; it is not something God sees us do and decides it’s enough for us to get into heaven. That is men trying to win God’s favour by good works.

Repentance is based on the atoning work of Jesus Christ, not the efforts of men that can in any way be merited to us. All of our works and thoughts including our desire to repent are the work of the Holy Spirit; none of it can be merited to our favour. We change because God convicts us of our sins so that when we do change it proves God is at work in our hearts

If it sounds like I am repeating myself it’s because I am for the no Lordship salvation camps benefit. The mere mention of repentance to them means it’s time to clock out and start repeating the mantra faith alone, grace alone Zec 4:6  Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts. This is exactly the point the Lordship Salvation camp have been making all along, everything and all of it is by God’s Spirit none of it is by anything we can do.

Ironically the no Lordship salvation camp are at strains to point out that man’s will is free that man can choose to be obedient or not. In saying this however they also say that simply trusting in the name of Jesus does not imply that one will go on to live a holy life; all that matters is that one has asked Jesus into their life and if they do nothing else they are still saved even though there is no conviction of sin or desire to change; just get your ticket punched and you’re in!

Where does the Bible say this? I challenge any no Lordship advocate to bring me that verse and the context that it comes from that teaches this idea; it does not! Any no Lordship advocate that can live half their lives claiming faith in Christ with no evidence of the fruit of the spirit or conviction of sin is fooling themselves. If there is no opening of one’s eyes to their own sinful fallen state before God then either the Gospel they heard is defective or it is not the gospel at all. Every minister and patron of this heresy needs to ask themselves how certain they are of their own salvation and of those they have taught this lie.

Some of my own friends will be saying to me in the next few weeks that I am causing division and dissension in the camp or that I am causing them or others to question their faith, GOOD! The bible says

Php 2:12  So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; why would the Apostle Paul say this if there is no obligation to live a holy life? Earlier in this chapter, Paul says Php 2:3  Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; Php 2:4  do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Php 2:5  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, Php 2:6  who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, Php 2:7  but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Php 2:8  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Php 2:9  For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,

Why does Paul use Christ as an example of how we should live if we are under no obligation to do so? Their answer is that we are no longer under the law. Simple question: what does the law do? Answer: it shows us our sin. Question: Can we keep the law? Answer: No Christ fulfilled the law for us. Question: did Christ do away with the law? Answer: No Christ came to fulfil the law not do away with it. Question: If Christ came to fulfil the law why then should we follow it if the law can’t save us? Answer Mat 5:48  “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 1Pe 1:14  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance,

1Pe 1:15  but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 1Pe 1:16  because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”

The list of question and answers could go on forever. The point is that although the law cannot save us we are still morally obligated to obey it otherwise there would no point of Paul saying: 1Co 6:9  Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 1Co 6:10  nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.   Why would Paul say this? Answer: Because the heart of the sinner is unrepentant.

The unrepentant sinner can ask Jesus into his heart as many times as he wants and say he is now saved by faith but without evidence that God has regenerated their hearts it means nothing 1Jn 1:10  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. See Also 1Jn 2:4  The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 1Jn 2:5  but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 1Jn 2:6  the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. 

Part of the problem is how the No-Lordship camp uses the Greek word for repentance. The No Lordship camp emphasises the Greek terms Metanoeo and metanoia. Simply put metanoia refers to true repentance and saving faith while Metanoeo does not. The No Lordship camp insists on the term Metanoeo (change of mind) or wrongly interprets metanoia as the meaning change of mind. In either case, they are wrong.

To many, it may seem like we are splitting hairs or arguing semantics. No, we are talking about the difference between life and death, not just physical life and death; spiritual life and death. We are talking about eternal life versus eternal punishment. We need to get this right.

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