January 19, 2018

Repentance in the Presentation of the Gospel

Dr. John Mincy

There are few topics that evoke as much emotion among Baptist pastors as REPENTANCE. As in most controversial cases, there are two opposing viewpoints that are trying to be protected. Some are trying to protect the position that the Gospel should not be presented as “easy-believism,” and, therefore, argue that much emphasis should be placed on turning from sins (repentance) in the presentation of the Gospel. Others emphasize that God never meant for salvation to be hard, so to put too much emphasis on turning from sins (repentance) is to make “repentance” a WORK and thus adds to the Gospel.

Both of these concerns are valid, and certainly no one wants to present a false view of the Gospel. Part of our problem is superimposing our ideas over the Biblical text and coming up with the interpretations that we are looking for. It seems that, as long as I can remember, there have been heated discussions on this issue. It was first brought to my attention when people were often getting “saved again” at a Baptist church nearby. When individuals were struggling with sins in their lives, they were told that it was due to the fact that they had not truly repented of those sins and therefore had not been genuinely saved.

In the New Testament, John the Baptist bursts on the scene preaching repentance, and every one seems to know what he is talking about. The Old Testament has many references to repentance; these provide the backdrop for what I call “sanctification-repentance,” dealing with God’s relationship to His covenant people. These passages help us as Christians to realize our responsibility to keep on repenting of sins that the Holy Spirit points out to us through the Word. Verses in Luke 17:3, II Corinthians 12:21, and Revelation 2:5 are New Testament examples of “sanctification-repentance.” The Old Testament saints, “like Christians, being covenant people, are privileged to return to God on the grounds of their covenant by repentance.”[1] For the most part, the preaching of John and Jesus was directed to a covenant people and was, therefore, calling them back to God to prepare for His coming Kingdom.

We really need to look at the post-Pentecost preaching to understand what our message of repentance should be today, especially those messages to Gentiles. The two books that we most often use in witnessing, John and Romans, lack any reference to repentance, except Romans 2:4 which is in a passage that has traditionally been interpreted as referring to the Jewish moral man.[2]

John and Paul, as well as the rest of the New Testament preachers, most often mention faith in Christ as the only prerequisite for salvation. Does this mean that they did not require repentance? No, I believe that they included “justification-repentance” in their faith-only proclamation of the Gospel.

‘Justification-repentance” is what needs to be preached to the unsaved, followed by “sanctification-repentance” to Christians. True faith must include “justification-repentance.” The best definition for “justification-repentance is given in Hebrews 6:1. “Repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God.” ‘Justification-repentance” is that act of my will, by God’s grace, to change my mind about the foundation of my standing with God. I turn from every thing I have ever trusted for a proper standing before God and trust 100% by faith in the finished work of Christ for my righteous standing before the Father. It is a total rejection of my sinful state, “a turning from sin to holiness, from a state of sin to a holy state (emphasis mine)”.[3] Geerhardes Vos writes of the difference between Christian and non Christian repentance: “To the non Christian mind, repentance took place from one act to another, or from one source of action to another only. The cause of this difference is found in the lack on the pagan side [of a] comprehensive conception of sin. Where ‘sin’ in its comprehensive sense is not known, then real repentance cannot develop, even as a conception.”[4] Some have distinguished the two kinds of repentance as that which deals with sin (“justification-repentance”) and that which deals with sins (“sanctification-repentance”). Unavoidably and in varying degrees the recognition of ourselves as sinners involves the admission of sins. Part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to “reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). John explains the sin as being disbelief, not trusting in Christ. The sinner is also convinced of the lack of needed righteousness and the fact that judgment day will come. Belief in Christ takes care of all three.

What are some good “justification-repentance” verses? “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). “But now [God] commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30). “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). “And then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20).[5] “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God” (Hebrews 6:1). The Lord is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (I Pet. 3:9).

The concepts of “justification-repentance” (emphasis on deciding to turn from my own self-righteousness which is the dead work of my sin nature) and “sanctification-repentance” (emphasis on turning from sins that disturb my fellowship with God) help me to clarify the Gospel message.[6] To the sinner we need to explain the wages of sin and sins, but the main message is that the sinner has no righteousness of his own and is totally incapable of producing any. He must turn from himself, and by grace through faith in Christ’s finished work, call unto God for salvation.

John Mincy was a church planter in Singapore and California and is now pastor emeritus of Heritage Baptist Church in Antioch, California.

  1. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Salvation (Findlay, Ohio: Dunham Publishing Company, 1917), p. 48. See also Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament Volume 2, Ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archerjr., and Bruce K. Waltke (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), entry number 2340. []
  2. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Grace (Findlay, Ohio: Dunham Publishing Company, 1922), pp. 17-18. []
  3. Charles Hodge, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1963), p. 182. []
  4. Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology Old and New Testaments, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1948), p.424. []
  5. This verse uses metanoeo and epistrepho. Epistrepho is the preferred word for repentance in the Septuagint. See Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume, Ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985), p. 641. []
  6. Ecumenical evangelists can “preach hard” against sins (and they often do), but they will not preach “justification repentance” and urge sacramentalists to turn from their “dead works” (baptism, sacraments, church membership) and rest 100% in the finished work of Christ. They, thereby, compromise the Gospel. []

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