Recently one of the readers of our blog asked me to respond to a Spring 2013 Journal article from The Master’s Seminary Journal. The article was by Dr. David Croteau and was entitled, “Repentance Found? The Concept of Repentance in the Fourth Gospel.”
Croteau holds to Lordship Salvation and the necessity of turning from one’s sins to be born again (see, for example, pp. 97, 114, 121). He admits that neither the verb, to repent (metanoein), nor the noun (metanoia), occur in John’s Gospel. But he argues that the concept is present and that John’s Gospel teaches that one must repent to have everlasting life.
In order to establish that the concept is present, Croteau must clearly define repentance. He suggests, based on Matt 12:41 and Jonah 3:5-10, that repentance is believing in the Lord and turning from one’s sins (pp. 101-102). He is half right.
Actually, Jonah 3:5-10 shows that repentance was the result of the Ninevites believing Jonah’s cry, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). The very next verse says, “The people of Nineveh believed God…” As a result of believing what God’s prophet said, they “proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them” (Jonah 3:5bc). That is explained in verse 10, which says, “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way…” Repentance is not believing and turning from sins. It is specifically turning from sins.
Now it should be easy to see if there are any calls to turn from one’s sins in John’s Gospel. However, keep in mind that even if there are, that would not show that repentance is a condition of everlasting life. One would need to find a passage in John’s Gospel which says that one must turn from his sins to have everlasting life. Croteau’s seven suggested examples all fail.
Here are the seven examples Croteau suggests where John’s Gospel teaches that turning from sins is a condition of everlasting life (p. 121):
- John’s paraphrase of Isa 6:10 in John 12:40.
- Jesus’ call to sin no more in John 5:14 and 8:11.
- The light and darkness motif in John 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5.
- The uplifted bronze serpent in Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-15.
- Being born again from above in John 3:3-5.
- Belief identified as obeying God in John 3:36.
- Belief explained as abiding in the Vine in John 15:1-5.
I plan to write a journal article responding to these points in detail. But for now, each of the seven points can be shown to be deficient.
First, the three verses before John 12:40 make it clear that the issue in John 12:40 is failure to believe, not failure to turn from sins. In John 12:37-38a, John tells us that “although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled.” Then in verse 38b he quotes Isaiah 53:1, “Lord who has believed our report?” In verse 39 John again speaks of unbelief: “Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again…” The quote of Isa 6:10 which follows says that God kept them from understanding and turning to the Lord. The turning in Isa 6:10 is a reference to believing, as verses 37-39 clearly show.
Second, the calls in John 5:14 and 8:11 not to repeat a particular sin is not a call to repentance. In Scripture repentance is always turning from one’s sins. See Jonah 3:10. If an alcoholic, to use one of Croteau’s examples (p. 97), stopped committing adultery, which is what John 8:11 is about, but continued getting drunk each day, then would he have repented? According to Croteau, no. Croteau says that the alcoholic must stop getting drunk to be born again (p. 97). One must turn from all sins in order to repent. That is Croteau’s position and that is what Scripture teaches. But in both John 5 and John 8 the Lord was commanding a man and a woman not to repeat one particular sin that led to their calamity lest something worse happen.
However, even if you disagree and think that the concept of repentance is present in these two passages, neither context is evangelistic. The context in both cases concerns illness and physical death, not the gaining of everlasting life.
Third, the light and darkness motif in John is a call for believers in Christ to come into the light and openly confess their faith in Him. They were not to be secret believers like Nicodemus (cf. John 3:1-2; 7:50; 19:39).
Fourth, the uplifted serpent of Numbers 21 is used in John 3:14-15 to refer to believing in Jesus, not turning from sins: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Fifth, being born again from above is gained by believing in Jesus as the Lord clearly says in John 3:14-18. Being born again from above is not a reference to turning from one’s sins.
Sixth, John the Baptist’s words in John 3:36 clearly show that the condition of everlasting life is believing in Jesus, not turning from sins. The word apeitho in the phrase, “he who does not obey the Son shall not see life…” (NASB) can mean to disobey or, in this context, to disbelieve (NKJV translation). In any case, since the Father commands all to believe in His Son, disbelief is the ultimate act of disobedience. That has zero to do with turning from sins.
Seventh, the abiding concept in John 15:1-5 and in John’s first epistle refers to believers remaining faithful to Christ in their experience. The issue is not turning from sins. Abiding is the way to remain in fellowship with God.
Four of Croteau’s seven supposed examples (1, 4, 5, 6) directly say that believing, not turning from sins, is in view. Two of his other examples (3, 7) refer to calls to believers to confess Christ and to abide in Him and His word. Only one of his seven examples (2) even remotely is related to repentance. But even there, it is not a call to turn from sins. It is a call not to repeat one specific sin. And the issue is temporal judgment, not eternal condemnation.
Anyone reading John’s Gospel prayerfully and with an open mind will see that it is indeed the Gospel of Belief. Scores of times in John’s Gospel the Lord says that one who believes in Him has everlasting life, shall not come into judgment, shall not hunger, shall not thirst, shall never die, and shall not perish. Not once does He ever say, “he who repents has eternal life” or “he who turns from his sins has everlasting life.”
I urge Croteau and everyone to prayerfully read John’s Gospel again. There is joy and certainty of one’s eternal destiny to the one who simply believes.