Our response to God is a hot issue and will continue to be so. Just recently, Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, a ministry to help gays leave the gay lifestyle, inadvertently raised the issue of the necessity of repentance for salvation. He claimed that unrepentant gays are fellow brothers in Christ and will therefore go to heaven:
- Is there condemnation for those who are in Christ? There is not! There are people out there living a gay Christian life, an active Christian life. God is the one who called them and has their heart and they are in relationship with Him. And do I believe they will be in heaven with me? I do!
This statement affirms that forgiveness and salvation – and they are inseparable – do not require repentance, but simply a profession of faith. However, this raises an important question: “Is a faith that lacks a willingness to repent truly a saving faith?”
It seems that faith includes the idea of repentance. Here is one type of evidence in support of this. We find that the two terms are often used interchangeably. In His final commission to His Apostles, Jesus instructed them to preach “repentance”:
· And repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:47)
Although virtually all Christians acknowledge that faith is necessary for salvation – and Jesus is clearly preaching salvation in this context – it is curious that Jesus made no mention of faith, something He often did (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:29; 8:24). However, this problem is easily resolved if we understand that preaching repentance is virtually the same as preaching faith.
In the Hebrew Bible, we often find admonitions to “turn to God.” They also entail a turning from sin. There is no conflict here because only one “turn” is viewed. This is because when we turn to God, we turn from sin – our old lives – at the same time:
· "Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:30-32)
Certainly, this repenting, this turning from sin, also represents a turning to God. Clearly, there can be no salvation without a turning to God, a trusting in Him.
We find a call to salvation with “repent” as the requirement in many places. Peter called for repentance without mentioning faith:
· "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
· “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you--even Jesus.” (Acts 3:19-20)
Is repentance a substitute for faith, a second requirement? It couldn’t be! According to dispensational theologian Lewis Sperry Chafer, there are approximately 150 New Testament verses stipulating faith (or belief) alone as our necessary response to the offer of salvation. Why then no mention of repentance? Simply because faith includes repentance! However, Chafer denies this association:
- Scripture is violated and the whole doctrine of grace confused when salvation is made to depend on anything other than believing. The divine message is not “believe and pray”…”believe and repent”…If they were as essential to salvation as believing they would never be omitted from any passage wherein the way to be saved is stated. (Major Bible Themes, 187).
However, Chafer doesn’t entertain the possibility that turning to God in faith might also necessarily involve the turning away from sin – repentance. Why else would the NT preach repentance without a mention of faith!
Nevertheless, I appreciate Chafer’s desire to defend the purity of the Gospel – salvation by grace through faith alone. But what if repentance is just another aspect of faith? And perhaps we have understood repentance wrongly, regarding it as a meritorious work of obedience.
Repentance is not a good deed! In his defense before King Agrippa, Paul distinguishes repentance from the “deeds” of repentance:
- “First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20)
As faith produces the fruit of deeds, so does repentance. It stands to reason that if we trust in Jesus, we’ll do as He tells us to do. If we refuse to do these things, then it is obvious that we don’t trust in Him. Likewise, Paul points out that repentance – a change of heart about sin - produces deeds. However, it is distinct from deeds as faith is also distinct.
The union between faith and repentance can be noted in another way. Both are given as gifts. Paul claimed that both faith and salvation are free gifts from God:
- For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephes. 2:8-9; also see Rom. 12:3; Phil. 1:29; Acts; 13:48; 16:14; 18:27)
If we find that repentance also is a gift, then there is no danger of considering it a meritorious deed, thereby undermining the purity of the Gospel. And this is just what we find:
- Those who oppose him he [the mature Christian] must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:25-26; also see Acts 5:31; 11:18)
Nevertheless, many resist the idea that repentance is inseparable from faith – opposite sides of the same coin – and salvation. Dispensationalist theologian, Charles Ryrie, asks the rhetorical question:
- Does one have to make Christ Lord of his life [or be repentant] or be willing to do so in order to be saved? (Basic Theology, 390)
This is just another way of asking, “Is repentance from sin necessary for salvation?” For Ryrie, the answer is “no!” He then contrasts his position with those of Arthur Pink:
- “No one can receive Christ as his Savior, while he rejects Him as Lord!”
And James Boice:
- “Is faith minus commitment a true biblical faith?”…“No!”
Against these two theologians, Ryrie argues that “The Bible furnishes some clear examples of people who were saved but who lacked commitment” – repentance. He then cites the example of “righteous” Lot:
- And if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)—(2 Peter 2:7-8)
To support his case, Ryrie argues that Lot was uncommitted and unrepentant. Although it is true that Lot had compromised himself by living in Sodom, it is quite a stretch to conclude that he was entirely uncommitted and unrepentant.
Ryrie also argues that Jesus never required commitment and repentance from the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:10). However, there was a lot He didn’t tell her about Himself. This doesn’t mean that the Trinity or the Cross weren’t essential truths. Besides, we can argue that His insistence that the Father be “worshipped in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24) also entailed repentance.
There are many verses that can be cited against Ryrie’s salvation-without-commitment- and-repentance:
· The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:4)
· You are my friends if you do what I command. (John 15:14)
· He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (John 15:2)
· "Then they [who didn’t visit me in prison] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matthew 25:46)
· Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)
The writer of Hebrews uses the negative example of the “profane person” Esau to illustrate the nature of holiness. He sought God’s blessing “diligently with tears.” However, “he was rejected” by God because he lacked that one essential element – repentance (Heb. 12:17). Salvation requires holiness, and holiness requires repentance!
In addition to this, there are many verses that explicitly cite repentance as a necessary condition for salvation. In consecrating the Jerusalem Temple, King Solomon specified repentance as a condition for forgiveness and restoration:
- "When your people Israel have been defeated by an enemy because they have sinned against you, and when they turn back to you and confess your name, praying and making supplication to you in this temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them back to the land you gave to their fathers.” (1 Kings 8:33-34; also see Jer. 24:7; Ezek. 18:30-32; Mal 3:7; Isaiah 1:27; 59:20)
There are also many NT verses that cite repentance as a requirement of salvation. In his final meeting with the Ephesian elders, Paul asserted that turning to God in faith entailed repentance:
- I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. (Acts 20:21)
Even more explicitly, Paul stated:
- Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Cor. 7:10)
Paul makes no mention here of “faith,” because repentance – a requirement of salvation – is inseparable from faith. Peter clearly believed the same way. Simon the magician demonstrated that he lacked faith by thinking that he could purchase the gift of God. Peter therefore warned:
- Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. (Acts 8:22)
In the Book of Revelation, Jesus informs five churches that that they must repent if they are to be saved. For instance, He promises the church at Laodicea:
- 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; also see Rev. 2:5; 16; 22; 3:3)
They were naked and Jesus told them how they could obtain “white garments” of salvation by means of repentance. Salvation was the issue. There can be little doubt of this. The church at Sardis had been encouraged that if they did repent, “I will never blot out his name from the book of life” (Rev. 3:5).
Telling people that they need not repent in order to be saved might be comforting, but it is a false and temporary comfort. Jesus warns the church at Ephesus that if they didn’t repent, He would remove their lampstand. However, if they did repent, they would “eat at the tree of life” (Rev. 2:7). This should be foremost in our thinking.
We shouldn’t underestimate the force of the temptation that Alan Chambers experienced. It is just too easy to overlook the need to repent when others insist that you regard them as brethren in Christ, and then treat you like a hero after you compromise.