Friday, April 10, 2009

What is repentance?

The following is from

Question: "What is repentance and is it necessary for salvation?"

Many understand the term “repentance” to mean “turning from sin.” This is not the Biblical definition of repentance. In the Bible, the word “repent” means to "change your mind." The Bible also tells us that true repentance will result in a change of actions (Luke 3:8-14; Acts 3:19). Acts 26:20 declares, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” The full Biblical definition of repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action.

What, then, is the connection between repentance and salvation? The Book of Acts seems to especially focus on repentance in regards to salvation (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 11:18; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20). To repent, in relation to salvation, is to change your mind in regards to Jesus Christ. In Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2), he concludes with a call for the people to repent (Acts 2:38). Repent from what? Peter is calling the people who rejected Jesus (Acts 2:36) to change their minds about Him, to recognize that He is indeed “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Peter is calling the people to change their minds from rejection of Christ as the Messiah, to faith in Him as both Messiah and Savior.

Repentance and faith can be understood as “two sides of the same coin.” It is impossible to place your faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior without first changing your mind about who He is and what He has done. Whether it is repentance from willful rejection, or repentance from ignorance or disinterest – it is a change of mind. Biblical repentance, in relation to salvation, is changing your mind from rejection of Christ, to faith in Christ.

It is crucially important that we understand repentance is not a work we do to earn salvation. No one can repent and come to God unless God pulls that person to Him (John 6:44). Acts 5:31 and 11:18 indicate that repentance is something God gives – it is only possible because of His grace. No one can repent unless God grants repentance. All of salvation, including repentance and faith, is a result of God's drawing us, opening our eyes, and changing our hearts. God's longsuffering leads us to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), as does His kindness (Romans 2:4).

While repentance is not a work that earns salvation, repentance unto salvation does result in works. It is impossible to truly and fully change your mind without that causing a change in action. In the Bible, repentance results in a change in behavior. That is why John the Baptist called people to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). A person who has truly repented from rejection of Christ to faith in Christ will give evidence of a changed life (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 5:19-23; James 2:14-26). Repentance, properly defined, is necessary for salvation. Biblical repentance is changing your mind about Jesus Christ and turning to God in faith for salvation (Acts 3:19). Turning from sin is not the definition of repentance, but it is one of the results of genuine, faith-based repentance towards the Lord Jesus Christ.

A friend e-mailed me the above photo, along with the link


Greg said...

Hi, Jeff! Interestingly, it seems Pastor Laurie's definition of repentance seems to be "to turn from your sins." I don't want to complicate the gospel by trying to differentiate between the "changing your mind" and "turning from your sin" aspects of repentance. The point is still the same: it's an integral aspect of salvation.

Regarding the requirement of repentance, Jesus said it best, when He said, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." That's one of my favorite scriptures. He did not say, "When I save you from eternal damnation, ye shall repent."

One thing that I thought your post made an excellent point of is that faith in God results in action (repentance and a turning from sin, in this case). This is something my wife's brother, who is quite a bit younger than us) took a hold of before I did. The insufficient message of "believe only, and thou shalt be saved" is preached all too often, these days. And that, of course, is always countered by, "but you can't get to Heaven on works, either" No, but the works will naturally follow, as your true faith in Jesus takes hold of you. A lack of works demonstrates an insufficiency of faith.

Good post!

Jeff said...

Thanks, Greg.

Excellent comment, and I fully agree! Good points!

Anonymous said...

To an extent, the argument seems to be over semantics. When you “change your mind” about Jesus Christ, you naturally, “turn from sin.” That being said, the truly important part is the “changing your mind about” or “turning to” Jesus Christ. That’s why John 3:16 says, “…whosoever believeth in Him…,” not, “…whosoever changeth their evil ways….”

Jeff said...

Thanks very much, PCGuyIV.
Good points.

Jeff said...

Just some general thoughts, not directed to anyone in particular:

It seems to me that legalism and works-salvation are at one extreme, while 'easy-believism' and false converts are at the other extreme. We cannot work our way into Heaven, but at the same time, good works are the evidence that true regeneration has occurred. For example, Larry Flynt of "Hustler" magazine at one time claimed that he had been born again, yet his works have, as far as I know, never attested to that, and in fact have been a complete contradiction of that. Faith without works is dead (James 2:20). In Larry Flynt's case, as far as I can tell, his faith is apparently 'dead;' in other words, his 'faith' is nothing more than false claim. "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?" (James 2:14) Many people claim to be a Christian, but their works and actions prove otherwise. Similarly, some have 'prayed a salvation prayer' at some point (or were baptized, etc.), but their lives were never actually changed. They were never truly transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and therefore, they never truly became a child of God. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
(2 Corinthians 5:17)

An unsaved person who claims to have faith may truly believe that. He may really believe in the God of the Bible. But intellectual assent to certain doctrines does not mean that he is saved. "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder." (James 2:19)

"Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works."
(Titus 2:14)

"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."
(Ephesians 2:10)

Jeff said...

My point about Larry Flynt was that, as far as I can tell, there was never any true repentance, because he continued with the magazine, even after his claimed profession of faith (i.e., claiming that he had been 'born again').

satire and theology said...

Persons are saved by election (Romans 8:28-30, Ephesians 1:4-12) and regeneration (John 20:22-23, Acts 2) in Christ through his atoning and resurrection work, and do not necessarily repent of every single sin in life, but a sign of regeneration and belief from a person should be general repentance of sin. I can grant that people can struggle with sin for many years, but those in Christ should understand that works for God should follow faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10, James 2).

Jeff said...

satire and theology,

Good summary. Thanks, Russ.

Greg said...

Well said, Jeff. Salvation needs to be explained that way... because it still bothers me that "believe only" salvation was preached to me when I was a teenager. I know I wasn't ready for Jesus, at the time, but I depended mostly on what people told me, instead of searching it in the Bible, for myself. I found the experience to be void of any supernatural power and the fellowship meetings boring, beyond all reason. I thought, "If all there is to being religious is going to church, attending a bunch of boring meetings, and MORE homework, I don't need it."

But true salvation is not like that. It's a genuine miracle that God Himself performs in your very heart, and the repercussions ripple throughout every aspect of your life. I quit swearing on the spot. I actually ENJOYED reading the Bible (KJV, no less!). I developed a loathing for all immorality and a genuine love for people (even those who didn't like me). And I got the assurance that there's Someone looking out for me and Who's preparing a place for me. :)

Greg said...

"...and do not necessarily repent of every single sin in life..."

While it's impossible for us to explicitly repent of every sin we've ever committed, to willfully and knowingly refuse to turn from even one sin, means we love that sin more than Jesus, and we cannot enter into Heaven.

Murder can send you to Death Row, whether you killed one man or 20.

Jeff said...


But true salvation is not like that. It's a genuine miracle that God Himself performs in your very heart, and the repercussions ripple throughout every aspect of your life.

Amen! That, too, is well-said!

I saw a former friend of a family member at a gym years ago, and he told me that he had been walking with the Lord for about a year now. However, he was a male stripper! And when I told him that I gave up weighttraining and karate when I got saved, because they were 'gods' to me, he laughed and thought that was ridiculous and stupid! I was totally confused, and could not understand how he could be like that and still claim that he was "walking with the Lord," until I started studying "The Way of the Master" materials, which talk about false converts. Now, we cannot see into a person's heart, but Scripture does tell us that we will know them by their fruit.

Praying a 'salvation prayer' is not a 'magic spell' that, in and of itself, has the power to turn a person into a Christian.

Baptism doesn't save a person. If water saved a person, everyone who ever stood in the rain or took a bath would be saved.

Going to church doesn't save a person. Going into a church doesn't make a person a Christian any more than going into a garage makes them a car.

Believing merely in the existence of Jesus or of God doesn't save a person. You have to know Him personally.

Every person who is truly born again/regenerated, has had a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ, and has been spiritually transformed by that encounter. In addition, God the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, now lives/dwells/resides in every saved believer.

It's not merely an intellectual assent/agreement/decision to convert to another religion. An actual legal transaction between that person and God takes place. In addition, a new nature is miraculously created by God within that person. Plus, that person's sins are, in God's eyes, traded off (paid for in full by Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross), and, in their place, God credits (positionally) the righteousness and holiness of Christ Jesus to that person's account. That person is now seen by God as 'not guilty.'

(BTW, I gave up weighttraining and karate when I got saved, including giving away my martial arts books and weights, but the Lord allowed me to get back into them later, though they never again had priority in my life, and were only now casual hobbies, rather than the #1 things in my life. In other words, I threw out the 'gods' in my life, and Yahweh God, in His mercy, allowed me to have them back, once I loved Him more than them. He doesn't want to take away our pleasure; rather, He wants us to love Him more than anything or anyone else.)

satire and theology said...

"...and do not necessarily repent of every single sin in life..."

'While it's impossible for us to explicitly repent of every sin we've ever committed, to willfully and knowinglyrefuse to turn from even one sin, means we love that sin more than Jesus, and we cannot enter into Heaven.

Murder can send you to Death Row, whether you killed one man or 20.'

We would all be damned in our nature for just wishing to murder if circumstances would allow us to avoid justice and punishment.

Greg, I do not think we always repent of every sin we know about. We are not saved by repentance but through the regenerating work of Christ in his atoning and resurrection work which leads to repentance. I will be kindly blunt:), this is often a classic evangelical error. We are told to repent in Scripture as we need this to be right with God and God uses this as conviction of the Holy Spirit in the initial regeneration process I reason, and in continual santification.

1 Corinthians 3: 15 and likely Hebrews 6 discuss saved persons that have their temporal works burned up, and do not come to repentance is all areas, certainly in Hebrews. 2 Peter 3, although a disputed passage (...for any to perish but for all to come to repentance) has Peter appearing to write to those in the church and so it is reasonable to assume that some saved do enter paradise while not in a completely repentant state and yet are still covered under the atoning work.

I do not doubt they believe and have repented in general terms at some point in their life but may perish (Apollumi: bodily destruction) in a state of unrepentant sin. In light of total depravity not yet completely eliminated, logic allows us to reason that many Christians die knowingly sinning.

If a Christian regenerated pastor has a unrepentant affair with his secretary and is killed in a car accident on his way home, is he damned? Hardly. To say so is to make the serious error of putting too much emphasis on human free will in salvation.

This is what is so good about a Reformed/Biblical understanding of salvation as we ARE NOT saved by own free will, and that includes our ability to repent of every sin known. We are regenerated by God and simultaneously believe and in general terms, even as sinners, repent.

Greg said...

Well said, Jeff!

Now, Russ, I don't want to get into a debate with you, especially here. You've pointed out several Reformist beliefs that are on a slippery slope toward excusing sin. We've gotten into this topic before, and while I believe that you and many fellow Reformists are very sincere, I believe the Bible sets a far higher bar.

satire and theology said...

'Now, Russ, I don't want to get into a debate with you, especially here. You've pointed out several Reformist beliefs that are on a slippery slope toward excusing sin. We've gotten into this topic before, and while I believe that you and many fellow Reformists are very sincere, I believe the Bible sets a far higher bar.'

Thanks Greg, and before I further comment I would like to state that you are a dear Christian brother and blog link.

There is no slippery slope in my Reformed theology. Sin is countered by a dependence on God and a call to God in repentance for holiness.

You make an assertion and did not deal with my points that countered yours.

But okay, there is no further debate.

You have admitted to me in previous posts on thekingpin68 that some of it is basically beyond your education and fair enough. Certainly some of your education, formal and otherwise, is beyond mine.

But, therefore you should be willing to be more flexible in your theological and related views and become more educated and develop stronger opinions as you learn more when you can (in this busy world).

If one pays close attention to what I have written here and on my blogs, NOT ONE THING I have written ever excuses sin or would lead to that taking place.

All sin must be covered under the work of Christ. That is solid Reformed doctrine.

Look at my article against and titled Annihilation on satire and theology in archives.

In spirit form after death I reason we will not sin in Paradise. We will not sin when resurrected. We will have repented of our sins at both points.

We are presently told not to sin and to seek the Lord in his Spirit and repent. This is a Reformed view.

The Reformed bar is higher than that of free will evangelical and associated, in my opinion. Even if persons could repent of all of the sins they knew about, they would still be condemned by the sins they did not know about, as the nature is still corrupted and resulting actions remain at least somewhat tainted in this life.

In strict terms, persons are not going to be saved because they repented or damned because they did not repent of all known sins. They are damned by not being covered by Christ's atoning work which leads to repentance, although we see in Scripture (Rom. 7, 1 John 1-2) that Christians do sin even as regenerated and therefore need to repent continually. Human repentance is never the vehicle that saves someone, as the human will cannot add to or cause salvation. I pointed out verses already which seem to indicate that some believers are not fully repentant and therefore lack works. 2 Cor. 5: 10 indicates a judgment for right and wrong done in Christ. This is hardly a sign of resurrected believers that necessarily fully repented of all known sins in this temporal life.

God standards are so high Greg, and human beings so corrupt, God elects his chosen (Eph 1. and Rom. 8) and as Eph. 2 point out persons are saved by grace through faith for good works. Eph. 2: 8-10 NASB.

8For (U)by grace you have been saved (V)through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is (W)the gift of God;

9(X)not as a result of works, so that (Y)no one may boast.

10For we are His workmanship, (Z)created in (AA)Christ Jesus for (AB)good works, which God (AC)prepared beforehand so that we would (AD)walk in them

The call to repentance is a vehicle to lead some in regeneration and to lead believers in sanctification in salvation.

Libertarian freewill views have been soundly discredited in this posting of Jeff in comments, and on my blogs Biblically, theologically, and philosophically as much as you are a solid Christian and you and I agree on many points as brothers in Christ.

Thanks my friend, but I need to take a stand here.

Rather than attempt to debate me (I agree you are wise to avoid this...and yes I am still learning myself!), I reason you need to read some Reformed theology with an open mind.

Here is a list of books. I am going through Bavinck and Frame for my revisions and they are quite helpful. And by the way, in my undergraduate degree at a Mennonite college I was primarily taught Arminian, free will theology for over four years.

I have also studied major free will thinkers (Augustine, Lewis, Plantinga, Pinnock) for my MPhil and PhD theses.

CALVIN, JOHN (1543)(1996) The Bondage and Liberation of the Will, Translated by G.I. Davies, Grand Rapids, Baker Book House.

BAVINCK, HERMAN (1918)(2006) Reformed Dogmatics Volume 2: God and Creation, John Bolt (gen.ed.), Translated by John Vriend, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids.

BAVINCK, HERMAN (1918)(2006) Reformed Dogmatics Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, John Bolt (gen.ed.), Translated by John Vriend, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids.

ERICKSON, MILLARD (1994) Christian Theology, Grand Rapids, Baker Book House.

FRAME, JOHN M. (2002) The Doctrine of God, P and R Publishing, Phillipsburg, New Jersey.

Also, please look through these articles, even if you have already.


Free Will

Great Googly Moogly! said...

I can understand why Reformed Doctrine in general (and Calvinism in particular) have a bad rap: most people get their information about these ideologies from uninformed or simply hostile sources. It seems that every time I discuss some aspect of Reformed Doctrine with someone who doesn't hold to it, I find that the source of antagonism toward it is do not to Biblical exegesis but a personal dislike due to faulty information.

Of course Reformed Doctrine has various formations (Reformed Baptist, Presbyterian, Southern Baptists' of the "Founders" organization, etc.), but the fundamentals are the same solid foundation that are almost always misunderstood or flatly denied by those hostile to it due to wrong presuppositions based on the teachings of those who simply don't understand it or want to hold on to some form of synergistic soteriology. Whew! That was a long sentence! But I didn't know when or where to stop! :-)

My parents were steeped in arminian Southern Baptist doctrine that didn't even teach another way of looking at the Bible and therefore they thought I was simply a heretic when I mentioned any one of the "five-points". That's okay...they love Jesus and I didn't want to be a stumbling block to them. I attempted on a number of occasions to explain the Doctrines of Grace but they never really wanted to understand what I was talking about. They ended up believing that I was a Christian...just wrong about a lot of things! :-)

It hurts me when Christians "leaders" and church pastors deny the flock the opportunity to know Reformed theology in truth. I remember many "sermons" by Falwell and his type that simply call Reformed theology (and Calvinism in particular) a heresy and tell the flock not to entertain it at all. And when they attempt to interact at all with Reformed doctrine, they simply build straw-men and knock them down...and the flock thinks Reformed doctrine has been soundly defeated and should be avoided at all costs. How sad.

Now, I'm not a card-carrying Calvinist. I think some of the doctrines attributed to him and his brand of Reformed theology are more philosophical than Biblical (the 3-part break down of the Law, for example); but I'm not ashamed to be called a Calvinist or a "Reformed" believer properly understood. In my estimation, Reformed theology has a much better grasp of the Biblical material and the purpose of God in salvation than any other formal theological system. And it starts with a proper, Biblical understanding of the nature of God and Man.

I love my non-Reformed Brethren. As long as a person doesn't knowingly try to add "works" to salvation (no matter how sincere he is), he/she is my Brother/Sister and I will honor him/her as such.


satire and theology said...

'Russ, I saw your reply on your own blog, so I wanted to make a few comments. For the sake of closure (wishful thinking?), I will post this reply on both Jeff's blog, as well as yours.'

Sure, thanks Greg.

'First of all, I always enjoy a good debate, especially with one who also enjoys it and does not take disagreement personally. I think you are one such person, and even though I sometimes disagree, I always respect and appreciate your opinions.'


'Second, I want to explain my much earlier comment about my theological expertise. I have little formal theological training, aside from a few required college courses, but I have been independently studying the Bible for over 10 years now. I do not want to debate you NOT because I feel insecure in the Biblical foundation for my beliefs, but that I am unfamiliar with the arguments and terminology commonly used by theologians. I don't know if it's just my luck to only debate Reformed theologians, but they especially love to use complicated terms and frequently refer to works by other theologians.

'I feel insecure in the Biblical foundation for my beliefs, but that I am unfamiliar with the arguments and terminology commonly used by theologians.'


'They are usually unable to bring down their arguments to the level of one who has a deep understanding of the Bible, but not the Reformist terminology. We're just incompatible debaters.'

I reason you have not grappled with Biblical and theological issues deep enough, based on your writing, therefore you have difficulty with these writers, in general terms.

'Lastly, my opinions of Reformed/Calvinist beliefs have been formed solely from discussions with those who believe this way. I have read very little on the subject, so my bias is mainly derived from comparing their arguments with the Bible.'

Yes, that is incomplete.

'Again, I am shooting for the highest bar possible, and Reformists (as well as most denominations) are resigned to settle for less.

You have absolutely not demonstrated that Greg, and again you merely make an assertion.

I have demonstrated from Scripture and theology that you are likely incorrect.

Your supposed higher bar is the theological error of libertarian free will theology in regard to salvation.

'I am a firm believer in the power of the Holy Spirit and know that if God wants me to overcome ANY sin, then THROUGH HIM, I can. And there is not one scripture that has ever been found to shake this belief.'

You can overcome any sin with God's help in God's will, but it does not state in Scripture that believers will be sinless in this temporal life.

Again, I advise you to seriously study more my friend.

In Christ,