Friday, February 10, 2017

"What must I do to be saved?" -- Repentance, Faith, Conversion

‘What happens then, in a true conversion, is that faith comes to life in the mind as the reality of the truths about Christ (whether they have been read or heard) begin to take life and to felt.  (Acts 2:36; 16:14b; Romans 7:7b-10; 10:17; 1 Cor.15:1-5ff.; 2 Thess.2:13)

‘In some shape or form, these truths center on:

·       God’s holiness and love (Ex.20:1-21; Jn.3:16-21, 36; Rom.1:18ff.; 3:9-26; 11:22; Eph.2:1-10)

·       Christ’s self-giving for us and in our place, on the Cross (Isa.53; Matt.20:28; Rom. 4:25; 5:1-11; 2 Cor.5:21; Eph.1:7; 1 Pet.1:18-19

·       His triumph over sin, death and the devil, (Rom.5:20-21; Rom.6:1-14; 1 Cor.15:54-57; Col.1:19; 2:13; 2 Tim.1:10; Heb.2:14-15)

·       And our sense of corruption, guilt, misery and despair. (Ps.51:5; Isa.1:5-6; Jer.17:9; Rom.3:10-18; 7:14-24; 8:7; Eph.2:12; Titus 3:3)

‘Then we hear the words of grace in the Gospel.  Emotions may well be stirred, for although the perception of spiritual reality is not itself emotional, distress, fear, shame, and hopeful joy are at different times the result of coming to realize the truth of the Gospel.  (Ps.32:1-5; Isa.6:5; 12;  Luke 18:13; Acts 2:37; 16:34; Rom.6:21; 1 Thess.1:6; 1 Pet.1:8-9)

‘Faith, beginning as this knowledge (this real understanding of the truths of the Christian faith)  (Acts 11:13-14; Ro.10:13-17; Col.1:5-6; 2 Tim.1:11; Titus 1:1; Jas.1:18; 1 Pet.1:23-25; 2 Pet.1:3ff.) blossoms into assent in which the will is now engaged; (Acts 2:37; 8:36-38; Ro.1:5; 6:17; 1 Thess.1:9-10) assent issues into heartfelt trust…. (Jn.3:16; Acts 16:31; Rom.1:16-17; 3:22; Rom.10:6-17; Eph.2:8-9; Col.1:4; 1 Jn.5:4-5,10) and from this trust flows real repentance and the turning from sin to Christ.’  (Lk.19:8-9; 24:27; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 26:20; Rom.6:17-23; Eph.2:10; Gal.5:6; Eph.4:17-32; 1 Thess.1:3; Heb.4:14-16; 12:2; Jas.2:14-26; 2 Pet.1:5)

"However this relationship [with God, through Christ] is initiated -- quietly or dramatically, over a long or over a short period of time -- it inaugurates a life devoted to serving God.

"Conversion is not an isolated event but is related to the entire life of faith that follows from it. It is the moment of birth into a new life. It is like a doorway into a room. A person is born to live, not to linger on the edge of the womb in a time limbo. A person opens a door not for the pleasure of standing forever on the threshold but to enter the room. The evangelical world has strangely perverted this truth.

"Evangelicals often make the test of spiritual life one's willingness to testify about the moment of birth. Describing one's sensations in passing through the doorway is considered proof that one is in the room! This shifts the focus from where it ought to be -- the evidence of the Spirit's renewing work in producing a God-centered life, a God-fearing heart, and God-honoring character and witness -- and places it on a person's autobiographical account of the conversion crisis.

"The only real proof of conversion is an obedient and fruitful life."

-- David Wells, "Turning to God"

(cp. Matt. 7:21-23; 28:18-19; John 8:31; Acts 20:21; 26:20; Rom. 6:4,17ff.; Eph. 4:17-24; 5:5-6; 1 Thess. 1:9; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Pet. 1:2,22; 2 Pet. 1:5-11; 1 Jn. 2:3-6)

Continuing the theme of the necessity for real repentance (change of mind/change of allegiance that leads toward changed way of living).

n  cp. Jesus re: the repentance of the people of Nineveh  (Mt.12:41, cp. Jnh.3:5; 

n  Acts 2:38; 3:19; 20:21; 26:20

Cp. Rom.6:17; Eph.4:17-5:7


This is consistently the perspective of evangelical, Bible-believing Christians of all denominations.  The idea that you could have Jesus ‘as Savior’ without submitting to him ‘as Lord’ is very much a minority viewpoint, popping up every now and then in the history of the church, but consistently contradicted and refuted by the overwhelming consensus of Christian theologians and teachers.

Repentance (metanoia), acc. to “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament” (Kittel):

“…radical conversion, a transformation of nature, a definitive turning from evil, a resolute turning to God in total obedience (Mk.1:15; Mt.4:17; 18:3)….  This conversion is once for all.  There can be no going back, only advance in responsible movement along the way now taken.  It affects the whole man, first and basically the center of personal life, then logically his conduct at all times and in all situation, his thoughts, words and acts (Mt. 12:33ff. par; 23:26; Mk.7:15 par.).

The whole proclamation of Jesus…is a proclamation of unconditional turning to God, of unconditional turning from all that is against God, not merely that which is downright evil, but that which in a given case makes total turning to God impossible….

"It is addressed to all without distinction and presented with unmitigated severity in order to indicate the only way of salvation there is.

“Repentance calls  for total surrender, total commitment to the will of God….  It embraces the whole walk of the new man who is claimed by the divine lordship.  It carries with it the founding of a new personal relation of man to God….  It awakens joyous obedience for a life according to God’s will.”


“Conversion can be spoken of as a single act of turning, just as consuming several dishes and drinks can be spoken of as a single act of dining.” 

n  cp. a ‘progressive dinner’

According to David Wells, “…conversion, our turning to God, is better understood if we view it as a complex [that is, many-faceted] process.

“The process involves thinking and re-thinking, doubting and overcoming doubts and objections, soul-searching and self-admonition, struggle against feelings of guilt and shame, and concern as to what a realistic following of Christ might mean, whether or not [the process] culminates in a personal crisis that will afterward be remembered as ‘the hour I first believed.’  Sometimes, of course, it does….” 

The truth of the Word/the Gospel, and it’s presentation, is the ‘objective’ side of conversion.

“The subjective means of conversion is what the sinner is called upon to do in repenting, believing, and acting upon the promised forgiveness in Christ.  It is all that God accomplishes within the person to enable him or her to overcome the pressures of unbelief, to begin centering upon the invisible and eternal realities of God despite the contention of a multitude of distractions, to struggle for self-denial against inbred self-assertion.  In short, it is all that moves us from being unbelievers to becoming believers.”

“Evangelical faith…is knowledge of, assent to, and trust in Christ and God’s promise of grace through him.  Evangelical repentance is turning from sin, now recognized as ruinous, to a new life of following Christ in righteousness, now embraced as the only hope of life.”
       -- contrast Zacchaeus and the rich young ruler

How much knowledge of the Gospel is necessary?  The answer is a functional one: as much as it takes to bring us to true faith and repentance, as described, recognizing that sometimes the Holy Spirit uses what seems to us to be a very small amount.

D.A. Carson Regarding Repentance:  "There is no alternative to repentance, no other way to experience the blessing of the Lord.  The nature of repentance in Scripture precludes the nonsense of partial repentance or contingent repentance.  Genuine repentance does not turn from one sin while safeguarding others; partial repentance is as incongruous as partial pregnancy.  Loyalty to God in selective areas is no longer loyalty.  To repent of disloyalty in select areas while preferring disloyalty in others is no repentance at all.  God does not ask us to give up this or that idol while permitting us to nurture several others; he demands, rather, that we abandon idolatry itself and return to the God against whom we have 'so greatly revolted.' For God is more than able to defend his people...."  (DA Carson on Isaiah 31).

TDNT again:

“Conversion applies to all people, demanding a complete commitment that seeks forgiveness in full trust and surrender.  Faith is its positive aspect (cp. Mk.1:15).  It is God’s gift, but as such a binding requirement.  By the baptism of the Spirit Jesus imparts the divine power that creates those who are subject to the divine rule, i.e., converted people.  In all its severity, then the message is one of joy.  ‘Repentance’ is not law, but gospel.

“In the apostolic kerygma conversion is a total requirement.  The disciples preach it in Mk. 6:12 and are directed to summon people to it in Lk.24:47.  ‘Repentance is at the heart of their message in Acts (5:31; 8:22; 11:18, etc.

“It is a basic article in Heb. 6:1.  Peter’s sermon connects it with baptism (Acts 2:38).  It is a turning from evil to God (8:22; 20:21).  It is both a divine gift and a human task (5:31:2:38)…..Its basis is Christ’s saving work (5:31).  The Spirit effects it (11:18).  Faith goes with it (26:18).  The imminent end gives urgency to its proclamation (Re..2:5,16; 3:3).  The goal is remission of sins (Acts 3:19) and final salvation (11:18).

Billy Graham (from “Peace with God”):

“If repentance could be described in one word, I would use the word renounce.  ‘Renounce what?’ you ask.  The answer can also be given in one word – ‘sin.’…

“Not only are we told that we must renounce the principle of sin but we are also to renounce sins – plural.  We are to renounce the world, the flesh and the Devil.  There can be no bargaining, compromise or hesitation.  Christ demands absolute renunciation…..

“…repentance and faith go hand in hand.  You cannot have genuine repentance without saving faith and you cannot have saving faith without repentance….

“…[To repent] means a great deal more than just regretting and feeling sorry about sin.  The Biblical word repent means ‘to change, to turn.’  It is a word of power and action.  It is a word that signifies a complete revolution in the individual. 

“When the Bible calls upon us to repent of sin, it means that we should turn away from sin, that we should do an about-face and walk in the opposite direction from sin and all that it implies….

“….True repentance means ‘to change, to turn away from, to go in a new direction.’  To be sorry is not enough in repentance….

“….repentance cannot take place unless first there is a movement of the Holy Spirit in the heart and mind….”

“….There must be a determination to forsake sin – to change one’s attitudes toward self, toward sin, and God; to change one’s feelings; to change one’s will, disposition and purpose.

“Only the Spirit of God can give you the determination necessary for true repentance….

“There is not one verse of Scripture that indicates you can be a Christian and live any kind of a life you want to.  When Christ enters into the human heart, He demands that He be Lord and Master.  He demands complete surrender….

“…He must have first place in everything you do or think or say, for when you truly repent you turn toward God in everything.

“We have the warning of Christ that He will not receive us into His kingdom until we are ready to give up all, until we are ready to turn from all sin in our lives.  Don’t try to do it part way.  Don’t say, ‘I’ll give up some of my sins and hang on to some others.  I’ll live part of my life for Jesus and part for my own desires.’”

“God demands a total change, a total surrender.”

                                                                                    (“Peace with God, pp. 100-107)

Scriptural warrant:   2 Chron.7:14; Isa.59:20; Ezek.18:30ff.; Matt.5:29ff.; 12:41, (cp. Jnh.3:5ff.); Matt. 19:16ff.; 22:37ff.; 28:18ff.; Lk.3:8; 13:1-8; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 11:18; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20; Rom.6:17 (and the entire chapter); 2 Cor.7:1, 10; Eph.4:17ff.; 1 Jn.2:3;  1 Thess. 1:9f.; Rom. 1:5; 16:26

All the passages that talk about getting ride of “all” vice, or doing “everything” for God’s glory or to please Him, etc. (cp. “whatever you do…”)

Positively:  Matt.22:37ff.; Rom. 6; Col.1:10, et

"…now God commands all people everywhere to repent.  For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice….”  (Acts 17:30-31)

“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep his commandments.  The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar….”  1 John 2:3

“…We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?....But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves of sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.  You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”  Rom. 6:17-18

John Stott, from his book, “Christian Basics”

[He is describing the ‘ABC’s of becoming a Christian, and says first there is something to Admit: that we are sinners, then there is something to Believe: that Jesus Christ is the Savior we need, and then….] ‘C stands for something to Consider, namely that Jesus Christ wants to be our Lord as well as our Savior.  He is in fact ‘our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ (e.g., 2 Pet. 3:18), and we have no liberty to cut him in two, responding to one half and rejecting the other.  He offers us salvation (forgiveness and the liberating power of the Spirit); he demands our thoughtful and total allegiance.”

“For when Jesus is truly Lord, he directs our lives and we gladly obey him.  Indeed, we bring every part of our lives under his lordship – our home and family, our sexuality and marriage, our job or unemployment, our money and possessions, our ambitions and recreations.”

Charles Spurgeon:   “Another proof of the conquest of a soul for Christ will be found in a real change of life.  If the man does not live differently from what he did before, both in private and in public, then his repentance needs to be repented of, and his conversion is a fiction.

“Not only action and language, but spirit and temper/attitude must be changed….

'…Remaining under the power of any known sin is a mark of our being the servants of sin, for ‘you are servants of the one you obey’ [Rom.6].

“Idle are the boasts of a man who harbors within himself the love of any transgression.  He may feel what he likes, and believe what he likes, but he is still in the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity while a single sin rules his heart and life.

“True regeneration implants a hatred of all evil; and where one sin is delighted in, the evidence is fatal to a sound hope…..[that is, the hope that such a person is genuinely saved”].

David Wells, “Turning to God”

“Conversion is the process whereby we turn from our sin in repentance and turn to God through faith in the finished work of Christ upon the cross for us.”  p. 10

“The creative, regenerative work of God produces an overwhelming desire to turn from sin and conveys the ability to believe in Christ….” (21)

“True conversion is not an isolated experience but one that is related to a life of discipleship.  It is the point in time and experience at which we enter into such a  life.  Discipleship belongs to and should follow from conversion the way that natural life belongs to and should follow from live birth….  And just as there is no discipleship without conversion, so there is no conversion without an ensuing life of discipleship that involves growth in moral maturity, a deepening faith, and loving service.”  (25)

“Christianity without conversion is no longer Christian, because conversion means turning to God.  It involves forsaking sin, with its self-deifying attitudes and self-serving conduct, and turning to Christ, whose death on the cross is the basis for God’s offer of mercy and forgiveness.  Jesus was judged in our place so that God could extend his righteousness to us.  Conversion occurs when we turn from our waywardness and accept Christ’s death on our behalf.”  (27)

“Conversion encompasses both our behavior and what we are in Christ.  It primarily refers to repudiating sin and trusting in Christ, but this action does not stand alone.  We repent and believe [so] that our sins might be forgiven and [so] that we might be given a new nature by the Holy Spirit to enable us to start living a life of obedience and service to Christ.”  (28)

“The difference in our conversion stories lies not in what God has done for us in Christ but in our process of turning to him.  A child raised in a Christian home may find conversion so natural that he or she cannot pinpoint when this change occurred.  For others, however, the transition is difficult, conversion is dramatic….”  (28)

New Bible Dictionary (J.D. Douglas, ed.) regarding “Repentance”:

 “Repentance consists in a radical transformation of thought, attitude, outlook and direction….repentance is a turning from sin unto God and His service.

“Repentance is a revolution in that which is most determinative in human personality and is the reflex in consciousness of the radical change wrought by the Holy Spirit in regeneration.

“It is a mistake, however, to underrate the place of grief and hatred for sin and turning from it unto God….”

“The necessity of repentance as a condition of salvation is clearly inscribed on the biblical witness….

“…there is no salvation without repentance.  This does not interfere with the complementary truth that we are saved through faith.  Faith alone is the instrument of justification.  But justification is not the whole of salvation, and faith is not the only condition…..

“Faith is directed to Christ for salvation from sin unto holiness and life.  But this involves hatred of sin and turning from it.  Repentance is turning from sin unto God.  But this implies the apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ.” 

Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology”, in the section on Conversion (Faith and Repentance)

“We may define repentance as follows:  Repentance is a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ.

“This definition indicates that repentance is something that can occur at a specific point in time, and is not equivalent to a demonstration of change in a person’s pattern of life.

“Repentance, like faith, is an intellectual understanding (that sin is wrong), and emotional approval of the teachings of Scripture regarding sin (a sorrow for sin and a hatred of it), and a personal decision to turn from it (a renouncing of sin and a decision of the will to forsake it and lead a life of obedience to Christ instead).

“We cannot say that someone has to actually live a changed life over a period of time before repentance can be genuine, or else repentance would be turned into a kind of obedience that we could do to merit salvation for ourselves.

“Of course, genuine repentance will result in a changed life, and we can call that changed life the fruit of repentance.  But we should never attempt to require that there be a period of time in which a person actually lives a changed life before we give assurance of forgiveness. 

“Repentance is something that occurs in the heart and involves the whole person in a decision to turn from sin.”  (713)

“When we realize that genuine saving faith must be accompanied by genuine repentance for sin, it helps us to understand why some preaching of the gospel has such inadequate results today.  …[A] watered-down version of the gospel does not ask for a wholehearted commitment to Christ – commitment to Christ, if genuine, must include a commitment to turn from sin. 

“Preaching the need for faith without repentance is preaching only half a gospel.  It will result in many people being deceived, thinking that they have heard the Christian gospel and tried it, but nothing has happened.  They might even say something like, ‘I accepted Christ as Savior over and over again and it never worked.’   Yet they never really did receive Christ as Savior, for he comes to us in his majesty and invites us to receive him as he is – the one who deserves to be, and demands to be, absolute Lord of our lives as well.”  (717)

Spurgeon sermon:  “…if we would be servants of God, we must be believers in his Son Jesus Christ. Come and trust Jesus Christ, and you are saved. When you are truly saved, you are to be saved from all hesitation about obedience to God—so saved, that henceforth God's law is your rule. Then, with that holy law imperative upon you, you will go forth into the world, and say, "It is not mine to ask what others will do. It is not mine to shape my course by them, not mine to enquire what will bring me most profit, what will bring me most honor. It is mine to look up to thee, my God, and ask, what wouldest thou have me to do? I will do it at all costs."


by J.I. Packer

.... I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. ACTS 26:20
The New Testament word for repentance means changing one’s mind so that one’s views, values, goals, and ways are changed and one’s whole life is lived differently. The change is radical, both inwardly and outwardly; mind and judgment, will and affections, behavior and life-style, motives and purposes, are all involved. Repenting means starting to live a new life.

The call to repent was the first and fundamental summons in the preaching of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2), Jesus (Matt. 4:17), the Twelve (Mark 6:12), Peter at Pentecost (Acts 2:38), Paul to the Gentiles (Acts 17:30; 26:20), and the glorified Christ to five of the seven churches in Asia (Rev. 2:5, 16, 22; 3:3, 19). It was part of Jesus’ summary of the gospel that was to be taken to the world (Luke 24:47). It corresponds to the constant summons of the Old Testament prophets to Israel to return to the God from whom they had strayed (e.g., Jer. 23:22; 25:4-5; Zech. 1:3-6). Repentance is always set forth as the path to remission of sins and restoration to God’s favor, impenitence as the road to ruin (e.g., Luke 13:1-8).

Repentance is a fruit of faith, which is itself a fruit of regeneration. But in actual life, repentance is inseparable from faith, being the negative aspect (faith is the positive aspect) of turning to Christ as Lord and Savior. The idea that there can be saving faith without repentance, and that one can be justified by embracing Christ as Savior while refusing him as Lord, is a destructive delusion. True faith acknowledges Christ as what he truly is, our God-appointed king as well as our God-given priest, and true trust in him as Savior will express itself in submission to him as Lord also. To refuse this is to seek justification through an impenitent faith, which is no faith.

In repentance, says the Westminster Confession, a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature, and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of his mercy in Christ to such as are penitent; so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavoring to walk with him in all ways of his commandments. (XV.2)

This statement highlights the fact that incomplete repentance, sometimes called “attrition” (remorse, self-reproach, and sorrow for sin generated by fear of punishment, without any wish or resolve to forsake sinning) is insufficient. True repentance is “contrition,” as modeled by David in Psalm 51, having at its heart a serious purpose of sinning no more but of living henceforth a life that will show one’s repentance to be full and real (Luke 3:8; Acts 26:20). Repenting of any vice means going in the opposite direction, to practice the virtues most directly opposed to it.


Baptist Catechism:
88.  What does God require of us, that wwe may escape His wrath and curse due to us for sin?  Answer:  …God requires of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life…”

90.  What is repentance unto life?
Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.  [Acts 11:18; Acts 2:37-38; Joel 2:12-13; Jer. 31:18; Ps. 119:59]  “The[Westminster] Shorter Catechism:  A Modest Revision for Baptists Today”