by Ronald R. Shea, Th.M., J.D.
What Is Saving Repentance
If you have not read the prior sections, I highly recommend you read them first.
WHAT SAVING REPENTANCE IS NOT:
1. Saving repentance is not being sorry for your sins.
2. Saving repentance is not turning from your sins or reforming your life.
3. Saving repentance is not the willingness to turn your life over to God so that He can direct your path.
Saving repentance has absolutely nothing to do with regretting your sins or resolving to turn from them.
God is willing to save you just the way you are.
The Bible says:
While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
WHAT SAVING REPENTANCE IS:
Metanoia simply means “a change of mind.” When used in the context of eternal salvation, repentance is a change of mind about Jesus Christ, and His eternal divinity, His atoning death, His victorious resurrection, and His offer of eternal salvation by faith alone, apart from the works of the law.
On page 19 of The Gospel Booklet, the content of saving faith is summarized as follows:
I. Man’s Need:
i) Man is sinful, and his sins separate him from a Holy God.
i) God will declare a lost sinner “Not Guilty” of all his sins, past, present, and future; and
ii) God offers a perishing man the gift of eternal life.
III. The Requirement:
III (a) The Object of Saving Faith:
III (b) (The content of Saving Faith):
i) That Jesus is the eternal creator God;
ii) That Jesus death paid in full for our sins;
iii) That Jesus rose again from the dead; and
iv) That Jesus offer of salvation is a gift apart from any work of man.
If someone denies, or does not understand his need for salvation, he must repent. He must recognize his lost condition before his Creator, and the salvation offered by his Creator.
If someone denies that Jesus is the one true God, he must repent. He must recognize that Jesus is not simply an exalted created being, or a god of a great pantheon of Gods, but the eternal Creator God.
If someone believes that his relationship with God can be restored through any work of man, he must repent, and recognize that Jesus has paid the sin debt through His death on the cross, and that it is through Jesus alone that salvation can be found.
It should come as no great surprise, therefore, that, in the context of salvation, we see the object of repentance directed to some of these very elements.
The Object of Repentance: Looking at the Context
The easiest way to identify the object of repentance is when it is specifically cited: “repent from XYZ.”
Oftentimes though, the object of repentance is not stated this explicitly. Remembering that repentance is “to change one’s mind,” if the object of repentance is not specifically stated, the second contextual marker you should look for to identify the object of repentance is what a lost man is said to “believe,” or “suppose” or “understand” or “think” or “regard.” This identifies the object of repentance (the belief about which the lost sinner must “change his mind“).
If neither of these two features are available to identify the object of repentance, one should be a little less than dogmatic in identifying the object of repentance. However, the overall context should be considered, and the conclusion drawn therefrom must be consistent with the rest of Scripture.
Not surprisingly, in passages calling for repentance in conjunction with eternal salvation, we find the object of repentance either specifically identified, or, inferentially identified by what the lost persons “believe,” as being the same elements we see a lost man is called to believe unto salvation. He is called to repent from beliefs inconsistent with saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Repentance Concerning the Deity of Jesus
Jesus is God incarnate, and His divinity is part of the saving message (Matthew 16:16-18; John 8:23-24; 11:25-27; 20:31; Acts 16:30-31; 1st John 5:13). A doctrine or belief that denies the undiminished divinity of Jesus Christ is therefore incompatible with saving faith. Such heretical doctrines include, but are not limited to, polytheism, in which Jesus is just one of many gods, pantheism, in which everyone and everything is part of god, and radical evolutionary philosophy wherein there is no creator whatsoever . . . only a powerful being who stumbled across a pre-existing universe and proclaimed himself the sovereign over it.
It is obvious that one cannot believe that Jesus is God if one holds a bankrupt understanding of who God is.
Therefore we see that those who hold a bankrupt understanding of God are told to repent (change their mind) about their understanding of God as part of their conversion process. In contexts that appear related to salvation or conversion, we see the word “repent” directed to a change in mind about the nature of God.
In Acts 17, Paul preaches on Mars Hill to a group of Greek philosophers, Bohemians, New-Ager’s and unemployed dilatants. Paul takes note of the numerous altars to the numerous Greek gods, as well as the altar to “The Unknown God.”
Recalling that Jesus’ divinity is part of the saving message, we should naturally expect Paul to say something about their polytheism, which is ultimately a denial of the undiminished divinity of Jesus Christ.
Repentance and the Divinity of Jesus
“Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” Acts 17:29-31
Four questions need be asked of the above passage:
- Is the context of this passage soteriological? (Dealing with eternal salvation). The answer is unquestionably yes. Paul is not instructing these Athenians on the selection of deacons and elders in the local church. He is addressing lost men about their most urgent need, their need for eternal salvation through Jesus Christ. In the above passage, Paul teaches that God will judge the world in righteousness by the man (Jesus) whom He (God the Father) hath ordained. To fail to regard this passage as soteriological is just plain nonsense.
- Is repentance presented as a requirement for eternal salvation? The answer is unquestionably yes. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent. Simply put, repentance is not an option.
- Is the object and/or content of repentance disclosed? Yes. The Greek word is “metanoeo” (change one’s mind). And in the verse immediately preceding the use of the word repent, Paul states, “we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.” To “ought not think” is virtually synonymous with the meaning of “repent” (to change one’s mind). And the belief or doctrine that men “ought not think” is that God is simply some silly gold, silver or stone idol fashioned by the hands of mortal man.
- Is the soteriological message derived from this passage consistent with the soteriology of other parts of Scripture? Again, the answer is Yes. The divinity of Jesus is repeated over and over as part of the saving message. And divinity must be defined! One cannot say “I believe Jesus is God,” and then turn around and point to a statue of gold or silver and say that it is god. Such a belief reduces to mere rhetoric any affirmation of Jesus’ divinity.
The Gospel of John, which is written that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, begins by providing a basic sine-qua-non of Jesus divinity. He is eternal–“In the beginning”, He is the Creator — “all things were made by Him, and without him was not made anything that was made”, and He is personal — “In him was life.” Here, Paul draws on the same notion, recognizing that one cannot believe Jesus is the eternal God if one holds a corrupt understanding of God. If one believes that the Godhead is like unto gold, sliver, stone, or graven art, he must repent.
A similar theme redounds in Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians:
“For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (epistrepsate from root strepho). 1st Thessalonians 1:9
In view of the above, the doctrinal statement of Clear Gospel Campaign includes the following carefully crafted statement about the Gospel message:
We regard the belief that we are all children of God in an equal sense with Jesus as effectively reducing a profession of Jesus’ divinity to meaninglessness. We therefore believe that a true saving faith in Jesus as the unique Son of God is not evident in a profession of faith that is tainted by the new age belief in the divinity of mankind.
We regard the belief that Jesus is one of many such gods as incompatible with the believe that He is the eternal God. We observe that Scripture records polytheistic converts as turning from their idols (1st Thessalonians 1:9) in their conversion to Christ. We believe that a true saving faith in Jesus as the unique Son of God is not evident in a profession of faith that is tainted by the belief that Jesus was one of many equivalent Gods.
Cosmological and Biological evolution
We freely acknowledge that as stars use up their nuclear fuel, that they progressively change in composition from hydrogen to heavier elements, and that the universe grows in entropy daily as a result. We further acknowledge that mutations occur in most living creatures, including man, and that in the case of a virus, simple mutations may even increase their survivability. We believe that these observable phenomena are consistent with the witness of Scripture (Hebrews 1:10-12; Romans 8:22), and that these entropic phenomena offer no support to the evolutionary theory.
In view of this clarification, we believe that a fundamental definition of God is set forth in John 1:1-3. We believe that the most fundamental understanding of God therefore must include an affirmation that He is eternal (“in the beginning”), that He is the Creator (“all things were made by Him”), and that He personal, and not simply a “force” (“in Him was life”). We believe that to adopt a cosmological evolutionary view of the universe as a self creating entity, or a biological evolutionary view that mankind “evolved” from some “pre-biotic soup” of chemicals afloat in the sea or atmosphere, is incompatible with believing there even is a Creator God, and therefore, is incompatible with believing that Jesus is God at all. Although we reject as unbiblical and unscientific the belief in “theistic evolution,” we do not hold that a perfect understanding of God’s activity in creation is necessary for salvation. Without defining a specific point at which the erosion of faith in God’s activity as the Creator falls below that of a saving profession of faith, we hold that a true saving faith in Jesus Christ God is not evident in a profession of faith that has reduced the meaning of “God” to a powerful being that stumbled upon a pre-existing universe. God is not and explorer who discovered the world. He is the Creator of the world. Accordingly, we hold that a true saving faith the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not evident in a profession of faith tainted by a radical evolutionary view of man or the universe.
To this end, Clear Gospel Campaign affirms that a defense of the Creatorship of God is intrinsically bound to the defense of the divinity of Jesus, and therefore, to the message of salvation.
MORE TO COME