In part 1 of this blog, I discussed two authorsi who identify as Free Grace and who suggest that church history shows that repentance has been widely understood as a change of mind or heartii.
In part 2 of this blog, I am considering five of the fifty-one quotes the authors favorably cite. The authors do not point out that half of those quotations concern a change of mind concerning one’s sins.
I showed in part 1 that a change of mind concerning one’s sins is not the same as the traditional change-of-mind view of repentance, which is about changing one’s mind about Christ, not his sins. I also pointed out that the authors do not seem to notice that many of the quotes they provide teach that a decision to change one’s behavior is required to be born again.
First quote. One of the early church fathers was the Shepherd of Hermas (circa AD 140). The authors favorably give this citation: “These are they that heard the word, and would be baptized unto the name of the Lord. Then, when they call to their remembrance the purity of the truth, they change their minds [metanoeō], and go back again after their evil desires” (Vision 3, Chapter 7, Lightfoot translation, italics added). That sounds like works salvation because the problem here is someone returning to his evil desires and evil actions.iii
Second quote. In 1646 Edward Fisher wrote, “the word repent, in the original, signifies a change of our minds from false waies [ways] to the right, and of our hearts from evil to good…” (The Marrow of Modern Divinity, italics added). That too is antithetical to the Free Grace position since the issue is a need to turn from evil to good behavior. While that book was essentially advocating a Free Grace position (see this journal article by Makidon), that quotation does not indicate that advocacy.
Third quote. Cremer’s Lexicon of 1892 said, “Repentance [is] the faculty of moral reflection” (italics added). Works salvation is once again suggested since the issue here is moral reflection, not belief in Christ.
Fourth quote. The authors cite the 1903 Weymouth New Testament (WNT) by Richard Francis Weymouth. They indicate that his translation of Luke 3:8 reads, “‘Live lives which shall prove your change of heart.’ This is the proper order, first change your minds and hearts (repent), and then as a result of your repentance, ‘let your lives prove your change of heart’” (italics added). All of the italicized words are not found in the WNT, though the authors indicate that they are. It actually reads, “Live lives which shall prove your change of heart; and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our forefather,’ for I tell you that God can raise up descendants for Abraham from these stones.” The point is that Weymouth believed that repentance is a decision to change your lifestyle. That is not Free Grace theology.
Fifth quote. The authors cite J. Dwight Pentecost as writing in 1965, “From the Word of God, we discover that the word translated ‘repent’ means ‘a change of mind.’ It means, literally, ‘a turning about’; not so much a physical turning about as a mental turning around, a change of course, a change of direction, a change of attitude” (Things Which Become Sound Doctrine,iv italics added). While Pentecost is often associated with Free Grace Theology, that quote is at best confusing and at worst a reflection of soft Lordship Salvation.
The authors whose articles I am responding to did not directly say that repentance is a change of mind or heart concerning sin. However, why would they provide many quotes that say that repentance is a change of mind or heart concerning sin if they did not agree with that view?
The answer to the question posed in the title is a qualified yes. Repentance has a mental component. Repentance is turning from sinful behavior, which presupposes a decision to turn (Jonah 3:10; Matt 12:41). If one does not actually turn from his sins, then he has not repented. In that sense, repentance is more than a change of mind. It includes that. But it is more. It is not a synonym for faith.
Finally, we know what Biblical repentance is by studying the Bible, not by studying church history. The Free Grace position is not the historic position of the church. It is not surprising, therefore, that a survey of church history, even a selective survey that is simply looking for the phrase change of mind, would show that most held that repentance is turning from sins and that it is a condition of everlasting life.
Repentance is not a condition of everlasting life since the sole condition is faith in Christ (John 3:16; Rom 4:4-5; Eph 2:8-9) and since repentance is not found in John’s Gospel, the only evangelistic book in the Bible (John 20:30-31). Repentance is a way in which one who is rebelling against God can escape his deadly lifestyle and thereby enjoy fullness of life and avoid premature death (Ezekiel 18; Luke 15).
i The articles are by Jonathan Perrault, with introductions by Charlie Bing. See here for the first part and here for the second part.
ii They never explain the difference between a change of mind and a change of heart. Nor do they explain why these are two different ways to be born again. Seemingly if they are different, then both would be required. If they are the same, there is no need to mention the change of heart. Dictionary.cambridge.org says that change of heart means “you change your opinion or the way you feel about something.” Their first five synonyms are: “180, about-face, about-turn, back away, back out.” Freedictionary.com gives these examples of the expression: “At the last minute, she had a change of heart about selling it. It had been in her family for generations. The government’s change of heart on debt relief for the poorest countries is very good news.” The expression normally refers to a decision to change one’s actions. Possibly I’ll address the change-of-heart view of repentance in a future blog. It does not strike me as being consistent with Free Grace Theology.
iii The Shepherd of Hermas taught baptismal regeneration and repentance as the means to regain salvation after committing a mortal sin. However, he only allowed for repentance once. Hence many people put off confession and penance until they were on their death beds.
iv The authors did not provide the page number. I found it was on p. 62.