Romans 3:19-20, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” 2nd Timothy 2:25-26, “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.”
There is not a more hotly debated subject today than repentance for salvation. This past week a man (one of my web visitors) shared a copy of a disciplinary letter he received from his church's pastors. The man had spoken out about the heresy of Calvinism (ala, Lordship Salvation) being taught from the pulpit by his pastor. Consequently, they excommunicated him. I comforted my hurting brother in Christ by reminding him that Jesus was also “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).
“Lordship” salvation is the false teaching that faith in the GOOD NEWS (Gospel) of Jesus Christ is not enough to be saved; but in addition, a person must turn away from their sinful behavior, surrender all to Christ as absolute “Lord” and follow Jesus no matter what the cost. So if a person professes faith in Christ, but their life hasn't outwardly changed, they are said to be unsaved because they have never repented. Proponents of Lordship Salvation teach that a person cannot claim immediate salvation; but rather, we must watch their life to see if their behavior changes over time to prove the reality of their faith. This is the Devil's lie of Calvinism! This is what many religious cults teach (e.g., Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, et cetera).
The reason why so many people get God's simple plan of salvation wrong is because they don't understand the purpose of repentance. It is vital that you understand that the only purpose of repentance is the “acknowledging of the truth” (2nd Timothy 2:25b). God's law was intended to show humanity our SINNERSHIP. Galatians 3:24-26, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” The Old testament law (God's Commandments) show mankind our utter inability to merit eternal life. A person must know what they are being saved from to be saved, and that is the purpose of repentance. Sin is the reason why we need to be saved. So repentance is the admission that we are a guilty sinner in God's sight.
The Law shows us that we cannot earn our way to Heaven, because we have ALL fallen short of perfectly obeying God's Commandments (Romans 3:23). We've all broken the Ten Commandments!!! Therefore, none of us are righteous. Our best goodness is filth to God according to Isiah 64:6, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” That is why we need a Savior! Jesus lived a perfect life. He perfectly kept all of God's Commandments, never breaking even one of them. Jesus was sinless on earth! That is why John the Baptist could say with absolute certainty in John 1:29b, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”
People who are living in denial of the sin in their life won't come to the light of the truth of the Gospel, lest their evil deeds should be reproved (spoken negative against by God). Unsaved sinners run away from God, because they know what they are doing is wrong, but are in denial. This is exactly what the Bible teaches in 2nd Timothy 2:25-26, “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” Do you see? Lost sinners oppose themselves, refusing to acknowledge their SINNERSHIP. Ah, but the repentant person acknowledges (admits) THE TRUTH that he or she is a guilty sinner.
This is why we often hear homosexuals attempting to justify their sins. They are in denial. They have not repented toward God yet. The Bible teaches that anyone who denies their sins is calling God a liar and is not saved. 1st John 1:10, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” Repentance is when a person accepts the TRUTH that they are a guilty sinner! It is that simple. Repentance is solely a matter of the heart, and has nothing to do with works. Repentance is realizing that you have sinned against a holy God, so that you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved (Acts 16:30-31).
So if you understand that the purpose of repentance is simply to facilitate (make possible) believing, then you won't go astray thinking that repentance means turning away from a lifestyle of sinning. Many preachers fail to understand that we are saved by faith alone. If a separate act of repentance were required to be saved, then faith could not be sufficient. Galatians 3:26, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” So obviously faith includes repentance. It is impossible for a man to have faith in Christ, but not have repentance. Such a case has never happened in history, not one time!
Many people misunderstand what repentance is not. Let's define some terms shall we:
- penitence = sorrow for sins
- penance = making a mend for sin
- reformation = turning away from sin
- repentance = a change of mind
When a preacher tells you that to be saved you must grieve over your sins, be sorry, commit to do better in the future, or turn away from a lifestyle of sinning, he is preaching another gospel. None of those things constitute repentance! You may do all those things and never be saved at all! Proof of this is found in Matthew 27:3-4, “Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.”
Judas felt remorse. The word “repented” here is a different Greek word than is used for repentance unto salvation in the Bible. As used here, the word means that Judas felt bad afterwards. Judas was sorry that he got caught, he didn't experience true repentance toward God. Judas felt sorrow (penitence). He tried to return the thirty pieces of silver (penance). He had turned away from his sins (reformation). Yet Judas went out in shame and hung himself, and is now burning in Hell for all eternity without hope, because he didn't have faith in Christ. So we see a perfect example here in the Bible of a man who went through all the emotional feelings of guilty, shame and a desire to do better, turning away from his sins, yet still was not saved. I love this helpful quote from Pastor Charles Spurgeon:
“Repentance will not make you see Christ; but to see Christ will give you repentance. You may not make a Christ out of your repentance, but you must look for repentance to Christ. The Holy Ghost, by turning us to Christ, turns us from sin. Look away, then, from the effect to the cause, from your own repenting to the Lord Jesus, who is exalted on high to give repentance.” —Pastor Charles Spurgeon; “All Of Grace,” Chapter 11 - “Alas! I Can Do Nothing”
Spurgeon is right! We don't see Christ because we repent of our sins. We don't believe on Christ because we first turned away from our sinning. This is the junk theology that we hear so much today from the heretical Lordship Salvation crowd (e.g., Bob Jones University, John MacArthur, Marty Herron, Harvest Baptist Church on Guam, Ray Comfort, Sam Horn, et cetera). They all teach that you must turn away from your sins in order to be saved. That is not God's simple plan of salvation. It is very difficult for people to turn away from lifelong sinful bad habits. God does not require that to receive His free gift of eternal life.
The truth is that we repent (change our mind toward God - Acts 20:21) because we see Christ in His holiness and believe (completely rest) in Him for salvation. Repentance means acknowledging THE TRUTH that we are a guilty sinner, believing the Gospel to be saved. We have changed our mind. We are now trusting Jesus to save us instead of attempting to work our own way into Heaven. That is all repentance is, nothing more. Beware of preachers who make repentance some big scary thing! In fact, God doesn't even mention repentance in the Gospel of John, which proves that it is not something separate from believing to be saved. The man who believes has repented, and the man who repents has believed.
Anytime that you hear a preacher speaking of repentance as something different, or more, that you must do than simply BELIEVE ON THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, he is preaching another gospel. Acts 16:30-31, “And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” The Apostle Paul didn't tell the Roman jailer to repent, did he? But isn't repentance necessary to be saved? Yes, of course, but it is automatic. When a man changes his mind toward God, believing the Gospel to be saved, he has repented. It is that simple friend.