In our permissive age, it is not surprising to find this permissive heresy taking hold of many of our churches. It goes like this:
- Since Christ has forgiven us past, present and future (Heb. 10:14), this means that we don’t have to repent of our sins once we’re saved.
This heresy certainly has the semblance of truth. That’s what makes it so tenacious and destructive. It’s true that we are forgiven permanently in Christ. The New Covenant promises us that He will never again bring our sins to bear against us (Heb. 8:12; Jer. 31:31-34). Therefore, we no longer have to worry about condemned (Romans 8:1).
Well, doesn’t this mean that we can continue to sin unrepentantly once we are saved? No! Scripture warns us in so many ways that that we cannot continue in sin:
- If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. (Hebrews 10:26-27)
This is a description of someone who practices sin as a lifestyle. Such a person should not be encouraged that they are saved simply in view of their profession of faith. This would amount to a false and misleading encouragement:
- This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)
John is emphatic. Salvation – the purification “from all sin” – is accompanied by a changed life, not a refusal to repent and a rejection of the light.
Elsewhere, John claims that:
- No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:6)
If we make sin into an unrepentant lifestyle, we have no connection to the One we profess. Repentance and confession are key. We all struggle with sin. However, if we sincerely confess, he will forgive and cleanse us (1 John 1:8-10) more than 70 x 7 times. However, if we refuse to repent, we should have no expectation of forgiveness.
However, these verses seem to suggest that we can loose our salvation if we refuse to repent. However, if salvation is truly a free gift – and it is - it’s a done deal, isn’t it? But if it is a gift and a done-deal, why then the warnings against continuing in sin? God won’t retract His gift of salvation, will He? No, He won’t (Romans 8:38-39). How then can we reconcile the truth that we are unsaved if we refuse to repent with the truth that salvation is an absolutely free gift not requiring our good deeds?
These ideas can be reconciled once we understand the meaning of faith and our new life in the Spirit. If we believe in Jesus, we will do what He tells us to do, as John assures us:
- We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. (1 John 5:18)
If He lives within us, we can’t unrepentantly continue in sin. If we continue in this manner, it means that He is not living in us, and we must cry out for His forgiveness.
Similarly, if we claim that we trust our doctor but refuse to take the pills that he says that we must take, we don’t really trust him. If we truly trust him, we’ll do what he tells us to do. This pertains even more so to our relationship with our Savior. If we trust Him, we will repent!
Yes, we are forgiven by Christ past, present and future, but Hebrews warns us that if we fail to hold onto our faith/repentance to the end, we never really had them:
- Hebrews 3:6: But Christ is faithful as a son over God's house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.
- Hebrews 3:14: We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.
We only “share in Christ” if we “hold firmly till the end.” If we truly have the Biblical gift of faith, we will continue in faithfulness. If we refuse to repent, it means that we never had it and His Spirit never resided within us. Therefore, it’s not a question of loosing salvation but recognizing that we never had it.
Those who refuse to repent are kidding themselves about their salvation. And those who are preaching this way preach a false hope. Instead, they must preach repentance.
Faith and repentance are truly inseparable. You, therefore, can’t have faith without repentance, and you can’t have repentance without faith. If faith means turning to the new life in Christ, then repentance means turning away from the old life. It’s only one turn from the old to the new – opposite sides of the same coin.
Because faith and repentance are almost interchangeable, we often find the promise of salvation depends on faith, but also repentance. Therefore, in many offers of salvation, faith isn’t mentioned. Mentioning repentance is clearly enough:
· In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30; 2:38; 3:19: 8:22)
Also, as faith is granted as a gift (Eph. 2:8-9), we find the exact same thing regarding repentance (2 Tim. 2:24-25; Acts 5:31; 11:18). This again strongly suggests that the two are inseparable – part of each other. Therefore, we can’t claim to have faith and not repentance.
Jesus even warned that if we refuse to repent, we refuse Him. Repentance is the way to open the door to Him:
· Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Rev. 3:19-20; 2:5, 16, 21; 3:3; Luke 13:2-5)
Nevertheless, we trust that those who have His seed will repent. If we refuse to repent, we also refuse to have faith and reject salvation. This doesn’t mean that we will always repent of our many sins. We are unaware of some of them. However, if we know that we are in sin or are in active denial that our adulterous affair is a sin, then we have no reason to expect that we are forgiven.
To demonstrate the absurdity of this idea that I can be forgiven while refusing to repent, let’s imagine a new believer who goes to the pastor wanting baptism:
· Pastor, I believe everything in the Bible, but I must tell you that I refuse to give up my adulterous affirm. This woman is just too important to me. Nevertheless, I want to be baptized and to join the church.
The pastor must say “no!” How could he extend the right hand of fellowship to this “believer” and then immediately start church-discipline proceedings to retract that hand from him, if he remains unrepentant! This is absurd. The pastor must tell the adulterer that he must first repent before he can be received as a brother.
If this new believer had instead stated, “Pastor, I believe and therefore want to leave this woman, but I don’t know if I can summon the strength,” this would be a different matter. There are some sins that we continue to struggle against for our entire lives. However, also in this instance, the pastor should withhold baptism even if this man is truly a believer.
Faith and repentance cannot be separated. Any who claim that they believe but refuse to repent are simply deluding themselves.