The following question came today via email from a friend:
I know that you (and presumably everyone at GES) do not believe that repentance is “necessary” for salvation. I have several of Zane Hodges’ books on free grace, and he appears to hold this view mainly based on his understanding of the Biblical meaning of repentance (in spite of a number of passages that “appear” to say the opposite).
My question is this: Below is a quote from C. S. Lewis about repentance that he wrote in a chapter of Mere Christianity. Could you either (1) give a close analysis of his essay in an article in Grace in Focus, or (2) write such an analysis just for me? What exactly in Lewis’ essay (as quoted below) do you disagree with, and why? (The quote is taken from the most recent C. S. Lewis Institute Reflections newsletter.
In a chapter of Mere Christianity titled “The Perfect Penitent,” C.S. Lewis discusses what Christians mean by the word “repentance:
Now what was the sort of “hole” man had got himself into? He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself. In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realising that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor —- that is the only way out of a “hole.” This process of surrender – this movement full speed astern —- is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death…
Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, is not something God demands of you before He will take you back and which He could let you off of if He chose: it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like. If you ask God to take you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back. It cannot happen. Very well, then, we must go through with it. But the same badness which makes us need it, makes us unable to do it. Can we do it if God helps us? Yes, but what do we mean when we talk of God helping us? We mean God putting into us a bit of Himself, so to speak. He lends us a little of His reasoning powers and that is how we think: He puts a little of His love into us and that is how we love one another. When you teach a child writing, you hold its hand while it forms the letters: that is, it forms the letters because you are forming them. We love and reason because God loves and reasons and holds our hand while we do it.
C. S. Lewis was such a great writer. What he says there is what all Lordship Salvation people say. In order to be born again one must surrender, submit, commit, determine to live for Christ, abandon the old life, etc. But Lewis says it in such a way that it sounds different than when we see the same sentiment expressed by MacArthur, Grudem, Boice, Chan, Platt, Washer, Comfort, etc. It sounds more reasonable, less confrontational, less legalistic.
Did you notice that Lewis does not cite a single Scripture in that citation?
Some Free Grace people hold to the change of mind view of repentance, which I advocated in my doctoral dissertation at DTS in 1985. (I repented of that view in 1998. See this article explaining my change.) According to that view, repentance is said to be a condition for everlasting life in about a dozen NT passages, but repentance in those passages is just a synonym for believing in Jesus.
Other Free Grace people, though not within GES, hold that repentance is a condition of everlasting life and that it is a change of heart, mind, and will, regret for sin, and a desire to live a new life. In my opinion that view is inconsistent with the Free Grace position (and even inconsistent from the writings of the people who hold that).
Within GES some hold to the change of mind view of repentance and others, like myself, are convinced that repentance is turning from one’s sins, but it is not a condition of everlasting life.
Here is my explanation of why what C. S. Lewis says is wrong, though eloquent:
The Lord Jesus said that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, has everlasting life, shall not come into judgment, has passed from death into life, will never die spiritually, will never hunger, will never thirst, and will never be cast out (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:35, 27, 39, 47; 11:26). Surrender and turning from one’s sins is not believing in Him. Of course, surrender and turning from one’s sins might lead to a person believing in Jesus. But the only condition for everlasting life is believing in Jesus. Many good works can lead to faith in Christ (church attendance, prayer, Bible study, giving, fasting, etc.). Repentance is one such good work (compare Jonah 3:5; Matt 12:41). But no good work is a condition of everlasting life. The sole condition is faith in Christ. It is possible to believe in Jesus without repenting, without fasting, without praying, without attending church or a Bible study. Remember Nicodemus, the woman at the well, Saul of Tarsus, and the Philippian jailer?i
The purpose of repentance is to escape temporal judgment (Matt 12:41; Luke 15:11-24; 2 Pet 3:9). So it is good for unbelievers or believers to repent. But God doesn’t promise to give eternal life to those who repent. He promises to give everlasting life to those who believe in His Son.
Sadly, it is possible to surrender, turn from our sins, and commit oneself to obey God, and yet not believe in Jesus for everlasting life. If a person thinks he is doing good works in order to gain everlasting life, then he is not believing in Jesus for that life. One must find his eternal salvation solely in his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If he mixes in good works, even well-intentioned good works, then he is not yet born again.
i Yet Lydia came to faith in Christ while at a prayer meeting. The Jews of Berea came to faith in Christ after they searched the OT Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. The prayers and alms giving of Cornelius resulted in God sending an angel to tell him to send for Peter who told him what he must do to be saved.