In his book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (pp. 71-72), J. I. Packer, writes, “It is not enough to believe that only through Christ and His death are sinners justified and accepted, and that one’s own record is sufficient to bring down God’s condemning sentence twenty times over, and that, apart from Christ one has no hope. Knowledge of the gospel, and orthodox belief of it, is no substitute for repentance . . . . The repentance that Christ requires of His people consists in a settled refusal to set any limit to the claims which He may make on their lives . . . . He did not desire to make disciples under false pretenses . . . . In our own presentation of Christ’s gospel, therefore, we need to lay a similar stress on the cost of following Christ, and make sinners face it soberly before we urge them to respond to the message of free forgiveness. In common honesty, we must not conceal the fact that free forgiveness in one sense will cost everything; or else our evangelizing becomes a sort of confidence trick. And, where there is no clear knowledge, and hence no realistic recognition of the real claims that Christ makes, there can be no repentance, and therefore, no salvation.” (Italics mine.)
Frankly I find this view of the gospel appalling. It is gibberish to speak of a free gift which costs us everything. It is absurd to suggest that we should show an unbeliever all of the things which believers are commanded to do and not to do in Scripture and then have them promise to do the former and not to do the latter from now on faithfully. Such a gospel is not a free gift. It is an earned wage. Romans 4:1ff. and approximately 150 other passages which condition eternal salvation upon faith alone in Christ alone contradict such a view. If that is the gospel, no one will be in the kingdom with God other than unfallen angels. Certainly no man would ever get in. Who has ever lived a perfect life other than Jesus?
I spent a year and a half studying and writing a dissertation on this very subject of repentance and salvation. My conclusions are as follows.
First, nowhere do the Scriptures condition obtaining eternal salvation on our turning from our sins.
Second, “repentance” is actually a mistranslation of the Greek term metanoia. A better translation would be “a change of mind.”
Third, the Bible speaks of three things which people need to change their minds about in order to be saved: oneself, Jesus Christ, and idols. One must see himself as a sinner and not self-righteous. One must see Jesus Christ as his Sinbearer and his only hope of eternal salvation. And, those who trust in idols to give them eternal life (more of a problem in the first century world than it is today) must stop trusting their eternal destiny on idols and instead place all of their trust upon Jesus Christ. (N.B. Many around the world today trust in charms, amulets, magic, and astrology to give them safety, peace, and guidance here and now only. If people aren’t looking to such things to give them eternal salvation, they do not need to change their minds about such thinking to be saved from hell as Acts 19:1-20 indicates. It is particularly important to recognize this since magic and superstition is rampant in the world today.)
May we clearly share with people what saving “repentance” is (i.e., a change of perspective) and what it is not (i.e., turning from sins). This is crucial if we are to make the gospel clear and keep good news and grace in it.