By Ken Yates
When I was in the military, there was a phrase that we used time and time again. If we were explaining a concept to another person, especially if that person was new to the military, we would say we needed to “keep it simple, stupid.” We called it the KISS principle. The point was that sometimes we describe things in a way that is too complicated.
The same thing can be said about theological concepts. One of those concepts is repentance. In the Free Grace movement, we make it clear that if we define repentance as being sorry for your sins, this is not a requirement for receiving eternal life. The Gospel of John, the only book in the NT whose purpose is to tell unbelievers how to receive eternal life, never mentions repentance.
When we discuss the issue, we usually go down many different paths. We talk about the root meanings of the word repentance. We look at how it is used in different contexts. We talk about how it is used in reference to the Jews and how it is used when addressing believers. We study how it was used in secular writings and in other times. We want to know how the noun and verb were used in the OT.
But I want to keep it simple. If repentance means to be sorry for one’s sins, is that necessary to receive eternal life? Does this involve tears? If so, how sorry do I have to feel about my sins before I can be saved? How many tears do I have to shed? Through the years many people have told me that they do not think they were saved because when they thought they were saved, they did not feel sorry enough for their sins. But now, they are really sorry about them.
Is that how it works? Of course not. Recently I read a short article in a magazine published by Dallas Theological Seminary. It was an article the founder of the seminary, Lewis Sperry Chafer, wrote many years ago. The title of the article is “Belief.” The point is that all a person needs to do to receive eternal life is believe in what God has promised about giving us eternal life through His Son Jesus Christ. Any other addition, including feeling sorry for your sins, is an addition to the gospel.
Chafer briefly addresses the idea that one must feel sorry for his sins and cry over them. But Chafer does not get into great theological discussions of context or Greek. He keeps it simple by asking two simple questions: “Shall I have to soften God with my tears? Must I persuade Him with my pleading?”
I found this simple point so refreshing. Does the unbeliever have to butter up God by crying about his sins before he can be saved from hell? Does the unbeliever have to beg to God that he is truly remorseful over his past life before he can receive eternal life?
Is that the picture of God we find in the NT? Is God reluctant to give eternal life to people, and so we have to show Him that we really understand how undeserving we are of His grace by wailing and gnashing our teeth before God over our pitiful estate?
That is what we are saying when we tell people that repentance is a requirement for eternal life and that repentance means to feel sorry for your sins. I long for the day when I will never have to hear that kind of gospel proclaimed again. Lewis Sperry Chafer died over 65 years ago. He dealt with the same things we have to deal with today. Evangelists and preachers of his day told people they had to weep and feel sorry for their sins. He said that was not the case. The only requirement is to believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life. In other words, Chafer exhorted us to “keep it simple, stupid.”
Ken Yates is the pastor of Little River Baptist Church in Jenkinsville, SC. He teaches at Bible institutes all over the world on behalf of GES.