Shawn had put a notice in our partner’s newsletter that I have started work on a book on repentance and salvation. Actually I’m only on Chapter 5 of 16. It will probably be six months or more before it is done, I think. Here is the email question:
I am looking forward to your book on repentance. In the meantime could you help me with a couple of issues I have on this topic?
My first issue is that Joseph Dillow in Final Destiny appears to view repentance differently than what Zane Hodges and yourself believe. And you are all Free-Grace believers. So how can someone such as myself decipher on who is right?
Also as far as the true definitions of repentance (Greek meanings) I don’t have the ability to know what is correct. So I will give an observation that I have made and then ask you a question.
I do see that the Gospel of John doesn’t mention repentance even implicitly and John’s purpose is to show you how to get Eternal Life. That is very clear. So I have been studying every instance of repentance in the NT.
Ninety-nine percent of the time the context has to do with a change in direction (works), not a change of mind. One percent of the time repentance seems to be synonymous with believing; and those instances are all in the book of Acts. Even the context seems to be in believing.
So I have drawn the only conclusion I can with these seemingly contradictions. I believe that repentance is a condition for eternal life only if repentance is synonymous with believing; but not if it means a change of life. Can you shed some light on my problem, please? Thanks Bob.
I think the layperson’s comment and question show he is quite astute. I agree with his conclusion. If repentance is on rare occasion a condition for everlasting life, then in those contexts repentance is a synonym for believing. But the normal use of repentance is a call to turn from one’s sinful ways and to turn to God.
However, I go a step further. I no longer believe, though I did when I wrote my dissertation in 1985, that there are any Biblical texts which identify repentance as a condition of everlasting life. Not one. See this journal article by me for an explanation of why I changed my mind about repentance.
Repentance in the NT is always turning from sins. Note these texts:
“Repent therefore of this your wickedness” (Acts 8:22).
“I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality” (Rev 2:21).
“…unless they repent of their [immoral] deeds” (Rev 2:22).
“But the rest of mankind…did not repent of the [idolatrous] works of their hands” (Rev 9:20).
“And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts” (Rev 9:21).
“They…did not repent of their deeds” (Rev 16:11).
I will now give one-sentence summary explanations of the ten Biblical texts which seem to suggest that repentance is a condition for everlasting life:
- Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand (Matt 3:2; 4:17).
In order for the kingdom of heaven to come for the first-century generation of Jews, they corporately had to 1) repent and 2) believe in Messiah Jesus; individual regeneration is by faith alone; but the corporate deliverance of the nation of Israel requires both faith in Christ and a nation in fellowship with God.
2. Repent and Believe the Gospel (Mark 1:14-15).
The good news that the kingdom had drawn near (Mark 1:14) should lead the nation 1) to believe it and 2) to turn from their sinful ways; once that happened the nation would come to faith in Christ as well (John 5:39-40).
3. Unless You Repent You Will All Likewise Perish (Luke 13:3, 5).
Just as Jews physically died under Pilate and when a tower fell, likewise many Jews (over one million) would die in AD 70 if the nation did not repent during the ministry of Jesus and His Apostles.
4. If One Goes to Them from the Dead, They’ll Repent (Luke 16:19-31).
The rich man thought that the way to escape the torment he was in would be to repent; he was wrong; Abraham made clear the issue is believing in the promised Messiah.
5. Repentance and Forgiveness Shall Be Preached (Luke 24:47).
The Apostles did preach the need to repent to gain forgiveness (cf. Acts 2:38); but not in order to gain everlasting life, which is by faith alone.
6. Repent and You’ll Receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
The audience came to faith under Peter’s preaching (Acts 2:36-37) and gained everlasting life; but they had not yet received the Spirit or been forgiven; they needed to repent and be baptized for those things to occur.
7. God Has Granted the Gentiles Repentance to Life (Acts 11:18).
It is not certain what Peter’s friends meant; they might mean that the Gentiles must have previously repented since repentance leads to eternal life (though is not a condition of it); they might mean that repentance leads to extended physical life; for Peter’s view see Acts 15:7-11.
8. Godly Sorrow Produces Repentance to Salvation (2 Cor 7:10).
Paul is telling born-again people that the repentance of believers leads to deliverance from temporal judgment in this life; Paul is not talking about salvation of unbelievers from eternal condemnation here.
9. Turning to God from Idols (1 Thess 1:9).
Paul is simply saying what is reported concerning the Thessalonian believers; they turned to God from idols; he does not say or imply that this turning is a condition of everlasting life; the sole condition is faith in Christ.
10. God Wishes None to Perish But for All to Repent (2 Pet 3:9).
The context in 2 Pet 1:1-9 concerns the coming Rapture and Tribulation during which billions will die; the reason why “the promise of His coming” hasn’t been fulfilled is because God doesn’t want anyone to die prematurely; repentance around the world forestalls the Rapture and Tribulation.
Repentance is turning from sins. The result of turning from sins is a lessening or removal of temporal judgment (compare Jonah 3:5-10; Matt 12:41). Anyone who rebels against God, believer or unbeliever, must repent in order to escape the deadly consequences of his sin (cf. Luke 15:11-32). When an unbeliever repents it normally makes him more open to the Word of God and the promise of life. But in order to be born again, the only condition is to believe in Christ. Many things can lead to faith in Christ (church attendance, Bible reading, personal prayer, the prayers of others, repentance, etc.). However, none of those things is a condition of everlasting life. Faith in Christ is the sole condition as can easily be seen in Scripture. See this recent blog by me for 100+ faith-alone verses.