On May 18 of this year, Greg Laurie posted a blog entitled “Close, But Not Close Enough.” You can read his blog here. A reader of our blog asked what I thought of Laurie’s blog.
Laurie cites three passages in his article. The main passage he cites is 2 Cor 7:9-10: “Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry [by the earlier letter], but that your sorrow lead to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” That is a passage discussing the repentance of the believers in Corinth. Laurie thinks that the reference to salvation in 2 Cor 7:10 deals with salvation of unbelievers from eternal condemnation.
He also cites in passing, with no discussion, Acts 3:19 and Acts 17:30. Acts 3:19 is a re-offer of the kingdom to the nation of Israel. It is not a verse dealing with what one must do to be born again. See this 1998 article by Dave Anderson, “The National Repentance of Israel” (where he discusses Acts 3:19) and Lanny Tanton’s 1990 article on Acts 2:38, in which he discusses Acts 3:19, for fuller explanations.
Acts 17:30 is part of Paul’s pre-evangelistic message to the Athenian philosophers. Yes, God calls on all men everywhere to repent. But the issue in this verse is not what one must do to have everlasting life. See the above mentioned article by Dave Anderson on the national repentance of Israel and another 1998 article he wrote entitled “Repentance Is for All Men,” for more details.
Laurie concludes his blog saying, “The recognition of personal sin is always at the base of repentance. But to only do that can be useless at best and dangerous at worst. Recognizing personal sin without taking action can be self-deceiving, because it makes us think that mere acknowledgement of sin is all that is necessary.”
So what is necessary to be born again according to Laurie? In the penultimate paragraph he says people must actually “turn from known sin.” Why only from “known sin”? Laurie does not say. Most young people today do not think that premarital sex or taking drugs or getting drunk are sin. Many do not think that jealousy, envy, and outbursts of anger are sin.
Most people who hold Laurie’s basic view say that one must turn from all sin, known and unknown. They think it is the job of the evangelist to instruct the person on the big sins and to get the person to turn from those and to get him to tell God that he is turning from all his sins, even ones of which he is not yet aware.
The problem with Laurie’s approach—aside from the fact that it is clearly a made-up approach (if turning from sins is required, then turning from all sins is required, not just turning from some), is that it is based on misinterpretation of Scripture. None of the three verses he cites says anything about needing to turn from one’s sins to be born again. None of those contexts are evangelistic.
Laurie does not mention that there are over 100 passages in the Bible which say that the one and only condition of everlasting life is believing in Jesus. He does not even indicate if faith in Christ is required. Is the only condition turning from one’s known sins? What about commitment? Does a person need to commit to serve Christ the rest of his life to be saved? We are not told. What about actual obedience? Is a person required to persevere in good works until death? Laurie does not say. He does say that turning from known sins is “one of the primary conditions of being forgiven.” He says another primary condition is that “yes, you must ask Jesus to come into your heart.” What are the other “primary conditions”? What are the “secondary conditions” (if there are primary conditions, there must be secondary ones as well)? Laurie does not answer these questions.
Now Laurie could harmonize his view with John 3:16 and its related passages if he said that the sole condition of everlasting life is faith in Christ and that repentance is a change of mind about Christ. But he does not take the change-of-mind view. He sees repentance as actually turning from known sins. A willingness to turn will not do. Close, but not enough. A decision to turn will not do either. Close, but not enough. One must actually turn from all known sins. Surely that is a big list even for the postmodern youth of today.
What about 2 Cor 7:10?
I pulled three commentaries on 2 Corinthians off my shelf. All three are by men who are not Free Grace proponents.
Colin Kruse does not discuss what salvation means in his 1987 Tyndale Commentary. In his 2015 Tyndale Commentary he takes salvation as referring to regeneration but he defines repentance as “a change of mind and a willingness to change behavior” (p. 192) and he says “repentance itself is not the cause of salvation” (p. 192). Not exactly clear. But radically different from what Laurie is saying.
Charles Hodge in his 1859 commentary reprinted as part of the Thornapple Commentaries in 1980 says, “repentance itself is a turning from sin to holiness, from a state of sin to a holy state. It is a real change of heart…It is not the ground of our salvation; but it is a part of it and a necessary condition of it. Those who repent are saved; the impenitent perish. Repentance is therefore unto salvation” (pp. 182-83).
P. E. Hughes takes a different view. He suggests that the repentance of the believers in Corinth “was in itself a sure indication that they were, as they professed to be, genuine Christians, and not dissemblers” (NICNT, p. 272). He points out that “the Apostle is not commending repentance as though it were the grounds of salvation—which would amount to a most un-Pauline doctrine of justification by works” (p. 272). He thinks Paul was talking about himself when he said that their repentance “brought no regret.” In other words, Paul was pleased by their response to his previous letter.
All three say that salvation in 2 Cor 7:10 refers to deliverance from eternal condition. Yet all three say that repentance is not the cause or ground of salvation. Frankly, these explanations are not very clear. But they are all far clearer than what Laurie says.
Then I looked at what Dwight Hunt had to say in The Grace New Testament Commentary, Volume 2. Hunt wrote, “While many take salvation as a reference to regeneration, that does not fit the context. Paul is writing of the repentance of people already born again. Salvation here refers to deliverance from the deadly consequences of unrepentant sin, not only in this life, but also before the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. Luke 15:11-24)” (p. 795). That is similar to what Hughes said. But, I think it is clearer.
As Hughes says, Paul did not teach justification by works. Unfortunately, many today do. Laurie is surely well-intentioned. But he is inadvertently teaching justification by works.
Greg Laurie’s explanation of what is required to be born again is not even close.