By Dr. Fred Lybrand
Repentance has been a sticky issue and has been around as a major conversation piece since the Reformation. I know, because ‘my view’ (which I found out I share with Dr. Elliot Johnson of Dallas Theological Seminary) has been labeled an error by those involved in the Marrow of Divinity Controversy way back in the 1600s! Of course, no need to get excited, every view on the planet and throughout history is an error to someone or some group.
So, the issue of concern here — is repentance necessary to get saved (as in from-hell-to-heaven)? If it is necessary, then is it a part of saving faith? These are the essential questions. There are many views, often being represented as repentance meaning the necessary turning from all known sin (and interest in future sin, usually) to ‘believe’ in Christ. In this regard, some purveyors of salvation make repentance as much of a part of faith as they do works (see http://www.backtofaith.com).
I have a bit of an uncommon solution, and I’d like your thoughts on the matter. Here are the two parts of my thinking—
1. Repentance is a precursor to faith, but is not a part of faith.
2. Repentance is not causally connected to faith.
Of course, I mean ‘saving faith’ here; the kind that delivers the faith-in-Christ-alone soul from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of the Son of His love (Col 1:12-13).
When I say it is a precursor, I mean that repentance is necessary-but-prior to faith alone in Christ alone. In a similar way to hearing the Word is repentance’s role in the process (Romans 10:17). Said differently, one must hear before he believes…so too, one must repent before he believes. I really don’t want to exhaust the references in a blog post, but I will make a simple observation. Repent and Believe are different words…that’s a clue! People are always attempting to merge these things, but they don’t need merging they need sequencing. John Calvin saw repentance as FOLLOWING faith in Christ (a little publicized fact). I believe the Bible is clear, but only if you rightly understand repentance to mean “a change of mind.” Of course, each context dictates the nature of the ‘change’—sometimes it is a change of mind about sin, but sometimes it is a change of mind about the object of our faith. Zane Hodges proposed it was a change toward God, but that is just a theological imposition. Hermeneutically, all we can do is take the ‘change’ element and look to the context to understand repent-from-what-thing (?). Simply put, we turn from whatever we have been trusting (self, works, or our admiration for Gandhi *see Rob Bell*), and turn to trust in Christ and His finished work on our behalf. If one does not turn from a failing object of faith, then one cannot put faith in the right object (Christ alone). Sorry.
That repentance is not connected to faith should be obvious, but it is not, of course. To prove this we only need to show that the excluded middle (as it were) is being ignored. Here’s what I mean— If one is saved only by faith in Christ, then we can know that if one is unsaved he does not have faith in Christ. Like “love and marriage,” you can’t have one without the other. Right?
Well, repentance does NOT work that way. People can repent with great conviction and fervor, but it means nothing without faith alone in Christ alone. Otherwise, what could Hebrews 6:1 possibly mean when it denigrates “repentance from dead works?”
Try it this way:
Just because you repent, why does that meant you have believed?
If you can repent without belief, then you can’t be sure that you have believed just because you have repented.
This really is the crux (pardon the allusion) of the problem! People are actually putting their faith in their repentance (so called), instead of in the Savior. The reason they do that is that they have wrongly co-mingled faith and repentance.
Far better to keep the ideas separate just as the words are different. I encourage you to call people to repent when you share the gospel…but call them to repent from the misguided objects of faith which obscure their vision of the no-addition-needed Savior. Repentance is before Faith, just as hearing is before repentance. It is in this way that we can maintain Faith-Alone-In-Christ-Alone.
Please share your thoughts!
By Dr. Fred Lybrand