Even the most gifted Bible teachers can sometimes preach a confusing saving message.
For example, I’m sure most readers of this blog are familiar with Dr. J. Vernon McGee’s Thru the Bible commentary. I’ve been reading through his comments on Luke’s Gospel and found his remarks on Luke 3:8 to be confusing.
“John’s message was one of repentance. That is not exactly our message today, although repentance is included in faith,” McGee explained. What is repentance? “You can’t turn to God without turning from something. (When you turn to anything, you turn from something else.) When you turn to God, you turn from sin—and that is repentance” (McGee, “Luke,” Thru the Bible, p. 258).
So, for McGee, repentance seems to be a change of behavior—a turning from sin to God. I do not think McGee means that to be a strictly mental turn, but a turn in behavior.
But he also says that “repentance is included in faith.” If repentance is included in faith, and repentance is a change in behavior, is McGee redefining faith to include a change of behavior?
His next comments make things even blurrier:
Repentance is a part of saving faith. Repentance is not the message of the hour; we preach the grace of God, but if you have been a recipient of God’s grace and have turned to Him, you are going to have to turn from your sins. If you do not turn from your sins, you have not really turned to God. Repentance is involved in salvation, but today God’s message is, “…Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (McGee, “Luke,” Thru the Bible, p. 258).
Again, McGee suggests that repentance is a change of behavior (i.e., turning from sins to God). Also, he says if you have not turned from your sins, you have not turned to God. Moreover, repentance is “part of saving faith.” But if it is part of saving faith, and faith is the condition of salvation, doesn’t that make changing your behavior a condition of salvation? In which case, is McGee promoting a “back-loaded gospel”? It looks that way to me. At least, in these comments.
Of course, McGee may be inconsistent. We all have inconsistencies in our theology. For example, elsewhere in his Thru the Bible series, McGee is clear that salvation is by faith apart from works. For example, commenting on Rom 4:5 he says, “Faith is the only condition. God accepts faith in lieu of works. There is no merit in faith, but it is the only way of receiving that which God freely offers” (Thru the Bible, p. 671). That is clear. We are saved ny faith apart from works.
Moreover, later in life, McGee openly came out against Lordship Salvation (see here). Apparently, however, his commentaries do not always reflect that theology consistently.
So what is the correct role for repentance? Frankly, everyone should repent of his sins, turn from them, and turn to God. Sin is destructive and produces death, and you need to repent to avoid the deadly consequences of sin. But that is not what it means to believe, nor is that a co-condition with faith for everlasting salvation. Repentance is one thing, and believing is another.
McGee should have left it at this: “today God’s message is, ‘…Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.’”