Monday, December 20, 2010

A Resource Tip About E-sword

I wanted to take a break today from the type of articles I’ve been posting and just post a tip about the E-sword program, in case anyone reading this blog isn’t aware of the program and its features. E-sword is a free Bible study program with purchasable add-on translations, commentaries and dictionaries. Even with just the free tools, though, it is a very helpful program and the best one I know of that you can download for free. When I was doing translation work, I had a couple of fancier programs available to me, but they were only for people working directly in Bible translation, so I don’t have access to them anymore. Even though E-sword may not be as fancy, it has some great features. I know there are also some good study tools available online, but I like being able to use the tools whether I am online or not, and being able to save notes to my computer.

Basically, E-sword has one window for Bibles, one for commentaries or your own notes, and one for dictionaries. Within the Bible window you can toggle between translations, put up to four translations parallel with each other, or compare one verse between all of them. Included in the free resources is the KJV with Strong’s numbers. Clicking on the Strong’s number takes you immediately to the entry for the word in Strong’s or in Thayer’s Lexicon, which is also a free resource. You can perform searches based on words, phrases, or the Strong’s numbers. For those who know some Greek, there are also a few different Greek texts available for free, including a Majority Text (Robinson Pierpont) with Strong’s numbers on all the words. There are also free translations available in several other languages besides English.

I have really enjoyed all these features, but have especially appreciated the study notes tab in the commentary window, which allows me to make notes on any verse and keeps them linked to that verse. There is also a topic notes tab that allows you to make notes on a topic, rather than the notes being linked to one verse. Most of the articles I have posted on this blog have been written in the topic notes feature, which has allowed my to type my notes in one window, while looking at the scriptures in another window.

Adding a purchasable Bible translation, like the NKJV or NIV, costs between $15 and $20 per translation, and there are also commentaries like the Bible Knowledge Commentary or J. Vernon McGee’s “Through the Bible” notes available for purchase, and some dictionaries like Vine’s. The neat thing about the commentaries is that they stay linked with whatever verse you click on in the Bible window.

E-sword has been a big help to me in my Bible study, and I thought I should pass on the tip for anyone else who might not be aware of it. If you are interested in downloading it, go to and then go to the “downloads” bar. You first have to download the basic program, then you can download each feature that you want to use. The free ones download immediately, and the purchasable ones take you to another site where you can buy them and then download them. Maybe everyone already knew about this, but I hope it’s a help to someone.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Gospel and Justification

Hi all,what follows are some notes I put together to send to Diane as we were discussing whether the gospel of the kingdom and the gospel refer to two different things, and whether the word "gospel" is used to refer to the preaching of eternal life/justification. Specifically, we were discussing the use of the terms in Acts and the gospels. It is basically a follow-up to what I have previously written on the gospel and the gospel of the kingdom, with a little bit more about what has led me to my conclusions. I thought maybe it would be profitable to put it on the blog for anyone else out there who is interested in the discussion. So, for any who are interested, here it is-

I have put together the following notes to discuss two questions: First, does the word “gospel” include justification truths, or only truths for Christian growth? I understand that the word gospel does not only refer to justification, but it is my contention that it is a broad term which does include truths about justification. Second, is the Gospel of the Kingdom different than the gospel? Does it refer only to the national reception of the kingdom by Israel, or to a broad spectrum of truths about the kingdom, including individual entrance by faith?

Following are some cases where I believe it is clear that the word “gospel” is being used to refer to justification.
- Ephesians 1:13- “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise…” Even if the word "trusted" is taken out of this verse, as it is not in the Greek, it clearly refers to a chain of events in which the Ephesians heard the "gospel of their salvation," believed in Christ, and were sealed with the Holy Spirit. So, in this case, the gospel has to at least include the initial justification truths which they heard. I realize the word gospel does not appear alone here, but in the phrase, "gospel of your salvation." Still, it seems like a clear example of euangelion (the noun for gospel) being used to refer to justification truths. I also recognize that "salvation" could theoretically not be referring to justification in this context, but since the response to the hearing is believing and being sealed with the Spirit, it seems clear that it is referring to justification.

- Galatians 1:8-9- Paul uses the word "gospel" here and elsewhere in the book to refer to the message which he had taught and was trying to defend. In the context (see especially 2:16), it is clear that the primary truth he was writing to defend was the truth of justification by faith in Jesus.

- 1 Corinthians 4:15- ...for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
- This seems to clearly label the truths which led to the Corinthians believers being born again as "the gospel."

So, though Paul obviously used the word gospel in a much broader sense than only to refer to truths leading to justification, it seems clear to me that he did use the word to include the teaching of justification by faith.

Now, what about the book of Acts?
- In Acts, Luke mostly uses the verb form, euangelizo, rather than the noun. In the book of Luke, he only used the verb, never the noun. The verb is often translated simply as "preached" in English, but it is a closely related word and should be considered. As far as the noun goes, in Acts 15:7, Luke records Peter using the noun form "gospel" to refer back to the message which he preached to Cornelius and his family. This was a justification message, and the context in Acts 15 is also dealing with the Gentiles being justified by faith alone. So, here is at least one place where Luke used the noun to refer to justification truths. Of course, we know that Luke was a disciple of Paul, so it is to be expected that he would use terminology with the same meanings as his mentor, and it seems clear to me that Paul used the word broadly, to include either justification or sanctification truths, or both, depending on the context.

If we expand our look at the book of Acts to include the verb form, there are also some cases where it seems to clearly refer to preaching justification/eternal life through faith in Jesus. For example:
- Acts 5:42- "They did not cease teaching and preaching (euangelizo) Jesus as the Christ." Preaching Jesus as the Christ biblically has to mean telling people the good news (gospel) that He is the one who gives eternal life to all who believe in Him.
- Acts 8:35- "Philip...preached (euangelizo) Jesus to him." This preaching resulted in the Ethiopian eunuch believing in Jesus and being baptized., so again, must refer to preaching justification by faith.

So, here is my chain of logic: Paul used the word gospel to include either or both justification and sanctification truths. Luke, a disciple of Paul, also used it that way, at least when he wrote the book of Acts. When Luke used either the noun or verb form of the word in Acts, he gave no indication that it meant something different than the verb had meant in his first book. So, this implies to me that among the churches, the word "gospel" was a known term that didn't need explanation, and was used to include both justification and sanctification truths. Therefore it would have been understood that way in verses like Luke 20:1, where it says that Jesus "preached the gospel" in the temple.

Gospel in the synoptics-
Though there are no verses in the synoptics which clearly use the word gospel to refer to justification, there are a few places, even in Matthew and Mark, where it seems to be used more broadly than what dispensationalists have thought of as the gospel of the kingdom.

- Matthew 26:13 and Mark 14:9 both say "wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her." The fact that Jesus said "this gospel," seems to imply that the same "gospel" His disciples had heard Him preach would be preached worldwide. Therefore, even Matthew seems to be using the word here in a broader sense than simply "the kingdom is available to Israel if they repent and believe in the Messiah." He is referring to the story of Jesus being told worldwide.

- Mark 16:15- Jesus commissioned the disciples to "preach the gospel" in the whole world. Again, worldwide proclamation implies a message broader than simply that the kingdom was available to Israel. And we know that what the apostles did in response to this commission was to preach the whole story about Jesus, starting with justification by faith in Him.

- If you test the hypothesis that the word "gospel" only refers to sanctification truths, or that in the synoptics it only refers to the good news that the kingdom was available to Israel as a nation, there are many places that don't seem to fit. On the other hand, if you test the hypothesis that "the gospel" refers to the whole story of Jesus, with one or another aspect of it sometimes more to the forefront, I believe it fits in every case.

What about "the gospel of the kingdom," specifically?
First of all, in the book of Acts, preaching the kingdom and preaching about Jesus seem to be used interchangeably, or at least in the same context, which indicates to me that terminology such as "the gospel of the kingdom," (though it is not specifically used in Acts) or "preaching the kingdom" were being used in a broad sense. For example:
- Acts 8:12- Philip "preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ," resulting in people believing and being baptized. The word "preached" here is euangelizo, so this could be translated as "preached the good news of the things concerning the kingdom of God and of the name of Jesus Christ." Admittedly, this could have been two different things he was preaching about, but even so, at least part of what Philip was proclaiming to non-Jewish (Samaritan) people in an initial message which resulted in faith was referred to as "things concerning the kingdom of God." This is very similar terminology to "gospel of the kingdom" being used by a writer of one of the synoptic gospels, in a way that is probably much more broad than simply referring to the nation of Israel potentially receiving the kingdom, since it was being preached to non-Jews in what we would call an “evangelistic” message.

- Acts 19:8- Paul's preaching in the synagogue for three months is called "reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God." The context is Paul preaching to unsaved people (Jews and some Gentiles), many of whom became hardened and "did not believe," so it seems like this terminology must be broad enough to cover truths regarding individual entrance into God's kingdom (and justification) by faith in Christ.

- Acts 20:25-
Paul here refers to his ministry among the Ephesians as "preaching the kingdom of God." If preaching the kingdom in the gospels referred only to announcing the national aspects of the kingdom to Israel, it would seem strange for Paul to then use the same terminology to refer to his teaching to the church in this dispensation. If, however, this term is broad enough to also cover individual entrance into the kingdom (like John chapter 3) and rewards in the kingdom, then it would make sense for Paul's teaching to be called "preaching the kingdom of God."

- Acts 28:23- In Paul's preaching to the Jews in Rome, testifying of the kingdom of God and persuading them concerning Jesus seem to be parallel thoughts.

I realize that the specific phrase "gospel of the kingdom" is not used in any of these cases, but I believe they do show that teaching about the kingdom was seen in a broad sense that would have included not only the national aspects of the kingdom, but also individual entrance by faith and individual reward based on faithfulness. If terminology like this was being used that broadly in the book of Acts, it seems likely that it was also being used broadly by the writers of the gospels, who were writing for the church.

The Parable of the Sower-
- As I said before, this was the clincher for me. Restating what I said previously in my brief article, in Matthew 13:19, Jesus is recorded as saying that the seed sown represents "the word of the kingdom." Then in Luke 8:12, Jesus says that the seed which falls by the wayside represents those who hear the word, but the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. So, by comparing these two records of the one parable, we can see that Jesus Himself indicated that "the word of the kingdom" included truths which could be believed resulting in salvation. The whole context of the seed springing up also indicates that this "salvation" refers to justification. So this indicates to me that preaching the kingdom included, but was obviously not limited to, information about how someone could enter the kingdom by being born again.

The other argument I made in my article, which I do think bears some weight, is the fact that we know from the gospel of John that Jesus did preach the message of eternal life broadly throughout Israel. We know that, first of all because some of the recorded instances in John were given in public messages, and secondly because throughout the book of John we see that many people believed in Jesus, even when the specific message that was preached to them is not recorded. So, when Jesus traveled around teaching, He must have taught about eternal life and/or justification by faith in Him. That is the only way people could have believed in Him in the biblical sense. Therefore, when the synoptic gospels say that He went around "preaching the gospel of the kingdom," it either has to refer to only part of what Jesus went around preaching, in which case the synoptic gospels would be virtually ignoring the fact that Jesus taught about eternal life, or it has to be a broad enough term to cover the message of eternal life as well and other truths. I think the other uses of similar terminology which I have pointed out make it clear that the second option was actually the case.

If my conclusions are correct, I think it helps make more sense of the synoptic gospels, because it would mean that they at least make broad reference to Jesus preaching eternal life. With my previous understanding, I had to assume that Matthew, Mark and Luke chose to virtually ignore that aspect of Jesus’ teaching. It also makes sense of the fact that Jesus indicated that the “gospel of the kingdom” will be preached in all the world during the tribulation (Matthew 24:14). This would seem strange if the terminology only referred to the national aspects of the kingdom, but not if it was a broad term which included any preaching about the kingdom.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Making a decision for Jesus

I was thinking the other day about the common thinking among evangelical Christians that when we talk to unsaved people about the Lord, we need to push for a decision or provide them with an opportunity to respond to the gospel. Actually, I think that’s true, but in a different way than most people think.

The other day I met a man named David who was standing outside the grocery store asking for money or food. After I helped him with a little food (whether that’s a good or bad thing, I’ll let you judge), I started talking with him about his situation and about the Lord. What I found was that, while he agreed that there probably is a God, he didn’t see how he could trust someone he couldn’t see. When I was done talking to him, I did push him a little to make a decision, but it wasn’t to decide to believe in Jesus. Rather I gave him a book of John and a “The Best News You’ll Ever Hear” tract, and asked him to read them with an open mind to see what God has to say about the free gift of eternal life.

Since everyone who has so far read this blog and made comments already shares my same basic beliefs, I realize that I am “preaching to the choir” here, but I thought my conversation with David was a good example of the futility of trying to make someone decide to believe. How can a person who is not sure there is a trustworthy God decide to believe that the Bible is His infallible word and that He truly offers eternal life through faith in His Son? It is through exposure to truth and considering it with an open mind that people find themselves believing something. A person believes in Jesus when he becomes convinced that His offer of eternal life to all who believe is true and reliable.

While a person cannot make himself believe in Jesus or in anything else, God in His word does have strong things to say against those who reject Jesus in spite of the evidence. John 3:36, for example, says that the wrath of God abides on the person who does not believe the Son. “Does not believe” in this verse is one Greek word, apeitheo, and is better translated “disbelieves” or “rejects.” Throughout the book of John and the other gospels, Jesus repeatedly rebukes the Pharisees because of their refusal to believe. So it seems that, while a person cannot choose to believe something they are not convinced of, they can choose not to believe because they refuse to even consider the evidence. On the positive side, they can decide to weigh the evidence with an open mind, and that is the type of decision I believe we should ask people to make. If a person does show interest, but is not yet convinced of the truth of Jesus’ claims, I believe that inviting them to study the word further together is also a good type of decision to push for. If a person does decide to study the issue out and weigh the evidence, then God can use His word in that person’s heart to draw them to faith in Christ.

I would welcome any of your thoughts as well on the types of decisions we should or should not ask unsaved people to make.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

An Old Man Who Changed His Mind (A Little)

Okay, maybe one more post for now about repentance, and then perhaps we’ll move on to another topic. I don’t have much of a plan for where we go after this. This will be a shorter post and anecdotal, but it is something I have thought about a lot in connection with how much a person must or must not change his mind in order to believe in Jesus.

In our ministry in Papua New Guinea, one couple we worked with was an old, frail couple named Dua and Agnes who were nearly on their deathbeds. Their lives consisted of moving outside into the sun when the weather was nice, going inside into their little hut which they shared with some pigs when it was raining or the sun was too bright, and waiting for their family to bring them food. We used to go and visit with them, take them some food, and teach them from the Bible.

Dua and Agnes had been well steeped in animistic Catholicism and put all their hope of heaven in the Catholic system. But as I taught them, one thing that kept coming up from Dua, the husband, was that when he was a young man he had stolen a pig and had never gotten caught or paid any compensation for it, and he was worried that maybe that sin would send him to hell.

As I taught Dua, I taught a lot about how we as fallen people are helpless sinners and are unable to keep God’s laws or do anything to save ourselves. But when I would ask him about being a sinner, it always seemed to come back to that stolen pig. I don’t know how much Dua ever grasped the depth of his sinfulness outside of that one sin, but to the best of my knowledge he did understand that Jesus had paid for his sins and that Jesus alone would freely save him. And to the best of my knowledge, Dua did believe in Jesus as the One who would indeed save him and give him eternal life.

Now, the reason I have thought a lot about Dua in regard to repentance is that I have heard people who believe that repentance refers to a change of mind say that a person must understand that he is a helpless sinner before he can truly believe in Jesus. Many would say that a person could not truly believe in Jesus if he was only scared about the consequences of one particular sin, rather than seeing himself as a sinner completely beyond remedy. There was a time when I would have agreed with them. But now I realize that it must either be true or not true that a person can entrust his eternal destiny to Jesus and be secure.

I understand that God’s law was intended to point out sin and that God desires that all of us would understand the depth of our sin and thus the depth of His mercy. I also understand that a deep awareness of sin often leads people to faith in Christ. At the same time, I saw in Dua an example of a person whose understanding of such an important biblical theme was very limited, and yet who, as far as I could tell, believed that Jesus would give him eternal life. As I think about Dua, it makes me wonder, how much do any of us truly understand the depths of our sinfulness? When can we ever say our minds have been changed enough?

The fact remains that no matter how much more a person needs to understand about himself, about his sin, about Jesus and about his relationship with God, Jesus told us “whoever believes in Me, has eternal life.” That is the promise of our Lord, and we can take that to the bank.

Just some thoughts to ponder in connection with thinking about repentance as a change of mind. Any thoughts?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Repentance as a Change of Mind

Many people who believe that eternal life is received by faith alone in Christ alone will also say that repentance is necessary for salvation. They harmonize these two views by saying that repentance simply means a change of mind and is basically synonymous with faith. This is based on the fact that the Greek word metanoia is constructed of the words "after" and "mind." So, those who hold that view agree with proponents of Lordship Salvation that repentance is necessary for eternal salvation, but disagree with them regarding the definition of repentance. Though I for several years held to this position, over time it has become obvious to me that there are some serious problems with this view, and that it is more biblically consistent to see repentance as involving turning from sin, but as not being a requirement for eternal salvation.

Weaknesses of the "Change of Mind" Position
One easily apparent weakness of the position that "repent" simply means to change one's mind is the fact that there are many uses of the word in the New Testament which either refer to or strongly imply a change in actions. This is important, because words in languages are defined by their usage, not simply by the parts by which they are made up. So once it is granted that repentance is a requirement for receiving eternal life, it is very difficult to maintain the idea that good works are not a part of the equation, at least as an "inevitable result" of repentance. Here I will give just a few examples.

In Luke 17:3, Jesus spoke of forgiving a brother who has sinned against you if he repents. It seems clear that the brother being spoken of here doesn't simply change his mind about his behavior and continue in it, but actually turns away from what he has done, at least for a time. In Acts 26:20, Paul is recorded as saying that he taught people that they needed to "repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance." So if Paul is here summarizing his teaching of how to have eternal life, then not only did he fail to mention faith, but good works seem to play an integral part, at least in showing the reality of repentance. In 2 Cor. 12:21, speaking to believers, Paul talked about his fear of having to deal with those who had not repented of the sins which they were practicing. Again in this context, it is clear that more than a change of mind is in view. Paul wanted the believers in Corinth to stop practicing those sins, and knew he would have to deal harshly with them if they had not. Revelation 9:20-21, speaking of unbelievers during the tribulation period, says that they would not repent of their idolatry and other sins. Again, the point is not simply that they would not change their minds and recognize that they were sinners, but that they were determined to persist in those sins.

In addition to the problem that there are several passages in which repentance clearly refers to abandoning some kind of sinful behavior, there is the problem that biblical Greek dictionaries nearly always refer to repentance as in some way involving turning from sin. For example, Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says, "this change of mind involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God." Louw and Nida's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines repent as "to change one's way of life as the result of a complete change of thought and attitude with regard to sin and righteousness." Other lexicons are similar. While it is possible that all the Greek scholars involved in these works were misguided by their theology, it still makes it difficult to maintain or promote a position which requires that every Greek dictionary is wrong, not to mention every English Bible translation since the English word repent, used in every major translation, also carries the idea of turning from sins.

The other major weakness in the change of mind position is also a weakness in the view that repentance as a turning from sin is necessary in order to receive eternal life, and that is the fact that John, the one book of the New Testament which was written to lead unbelievers to faith in Christ, does not mention repentance at all. Nor is repentance mentioned in the book of Galatians, which was written to defend the true gospel, or in Ephesians, or in any section of Romans which deals with justification. Surely if repentance, no matter which way it is defined, was a necessary part of receiving eternal life, it would have been mentioned in the one book of the New Testament which was specifically written to bring people to faith in Christ, and would have been present in the apostle Paul's discussions of justification.

Problems With the Implications of the "Change of Mind" Position
Initially, when I started to study out the issue of repentance and whether it refers to more than a change of mind, I was focussed only on the usage of the word in scripture and which definition fit the data better. However, over time, I began to realize that there were logical problems with the change of mind view which I had not previously seen. One of these issues is that it introduces subjectivity into the reception of eternal life. Most of the references to repentance, if they are referring to a change of mind, do not specify what people must change their minds about. So how could anyone know if he had adequately changed his mind about the right things? If the word "repent" was understood to mean "turn from your sins," then it would make sense that it would often appear in scripture without any further clarification. But if it meant "change your mind," then people would need to know exactly what they needed to change their minds about.

The other thing I realized about defining repentance as a change of mind and seeing it as a prerequisite for eternal life is that it actually presents two requirements for eternal life, rather than the single requirement of believing in Jesus which is presented so clearly in the book of John and in the epistles. When I held to the change of mind view, I would have said that repentance and faith were basically synonymous, but at the same time I would have said that unless a person had adequately changed his mind about God's holiness, his own complete sinfulness, and the identity of Christ, he would not be saved. That means that I was viewing these changes of mind as prerequisites to saving faith, and faith and prerequisites to faith cannot be the same thing.

When repentance is viewed as a change of mind, it is often said that it is synonymous with faith, but it is difficult to see how changing one's mind about sin, for example, and believing in Jesus Christ for eternal life can mean the same thing. If we make a change of mind about sin into propositions, it might look something like this, "I used to think that any wrong I had done was not a big deal. Now I have changed my mind and know that my sins are offensive to God and have cut me off from Him." While this kind of thinking certainly should prepare a person to believe in Christ, it should be easy to see that it is not the same as believing in Him, and therefore cannot be synonymous with faith. Also, it is quite possible for someone to have this kind of change of mind about sin without believing in Jesus for eternal life. This then becomes two requirements for salvation.

Even if repentance is defined specifically as a change of mind about Christ, rather than about sin or self, it is difficult to see how it is synonymous with faith. A person who has changed his mind about Christ might say, "I used to believe that Jesus was just a great teacher, but now I have changed my mind and believe that He is God." Again, this might prepare a person to believe in Christ for eternal life, but is not the same thing as believing. Many people believe that Jesus is God without believing in Him in the biblical sense of believing in Him for eternal life. Thus they have "changed their minds" about Him, but have not believed. If one can do one without the other, they cannot be synonymous.

So how many requirements for eternal life are there? Is it enough for a person to believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life or eternal salvation, or must he first meet certain prerequisites by changing his mind about God's holiness, his own inability, the offensiveness of sin, and the identity of Christ? Again, these areas may be psychological prerequisites for most people, but that is different than presenting them as biblical prerequisites to faith and then trying to say that they aren't really an additional requirement besides faith.

Most unsaved people have at least one major issue about which they will need to change their minds in order to believe in Jesus. Some have many issues. But I do not believe that these changes of mind leading up to faith are what the Bible refers to when it says "repent." In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were never called on by the prophets to change their minds, but they were often called on to turn from their evil ways in order to turn aside God's temporal judgment. In the same way, in the New Testament, Jews and Gentiles, believers and unbelievers are in different contexts called on to "repent," or turn from their sins, but this is a different issue than "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." The changes of mind which might need to take place in order to lead someone to faith in Christ will take place as they are exposed to truth, if they are open to it, but this is a different issue than repentance.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Hi again, here is a fairly long article I wrote a while back to try to put in one place my understanding of repentance and how it fits in the different parts of the New Testament. I realize to most of you it will sound very familiar, since it is based a lot on what Zane Hodges wrote on the same subject. I didn't go into very much here about why I changed my mind about my previous belief that repentance refers only to a change of mind and is basically synonymous with faith. If there is interest in that, maybe I will write something about that next, we'll see. Read this when you have time and let me know what you think:

One of the greatest causes of confusion about eternal salvation is the misunderstanding about how repentance relates to it. What exactly is repentance and how is it related to salvation? Is a person saved by faith alone or by faith and repentance? Are faith and repentance essentially the same thing or are they different?
The Bible states clearly in many places that people are saved simply by faith in Jesus Christ. So, if repentance speaks of turning from sin, as most scholars agree that it does, it cannot be a condition for eternal salvation. If it was, then all the passages which speak of being saved by believing in Jesus would be dishonest or at least inadequate, and the statements that salvation is received as a free gift, without works, would lose all meaning. Though some have gotten around this difficulty by saying that repentance only refers to a change of mind and is basically synonymous with faith, this definition of repentance is difficult to maintain in many of the usages of the word in the New Testament.

Repentance Defined
The Greek word which is translated "repent" is metanoeo, which is constructed from the words "after" and "mind." It signifies a change of mind, but as all biblical Greek dictionaries point out, its range of meaning carries more than simply the idea of changing one's mind, but also signifies an inward change or a turning from something. This is clear in verses like Rev. 9:21, where it says that people did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. Clearly the emphasis there is not simply that people wouldn't change their minds, but also that they would not turn away from doing those sins.
There are a few places in scripture where the word repent is used to refer to turning from something other than sin or specific sins (Heb. 6:1, Heb. 12:17), but in almost all cases the idea of turning from sin fits the context well. However, none of these cases are in places which are clearly talking about eternal salvation. It is extremely significant that the gospel of John, which was expressly written to lead people to believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life (John 20:30-31), does not use either the noun metanoia or the verb metanoeo even once. The apostle John was apparently an apostle of John the Baptist and certainly heard both him and the Lord Jesus preach repentance. He also used the word frequently in the book of Revelation, so it is clear that he understood the word and considered repentance important, but the fact that he did not mention it at all when speaking of eternal life leads to the logical conclusion that he did not consider it a prerequisite for eternal life.
Not only did the apostle John not mention repentance in connection with eternal salvation, the apostle Paul only used the noun or verb forms of the word five times in all of his epistles, and never in a section dealing with justification. The letter to the Galatians, written to defend the true gospel against false teaching, does not contain even one reference to repentance. The letter to the Ephesians, likewise, contains no reference to repentance. In the letter to the Romans, which is the most fully-developed written record of what Paul taught, the word repentance only occurs once, and that in chapter 2 (Rom. 2:4), where Paul is talking about the principles of God's judgment, not about justification. This also leads us to the clear conclusion that repentance cannot be a condition for justification. Justification and eternal life are received simultaneously through faith in Christ alone.
If repentance does normally signify turning from sins, and it is not a requirement for eternal life, what then does it accomplish? For a believer who is walking in sin, repentance restores him to fellowship with God and prevents God from having to bring discipline into his life. For an unbeliever, repentance may also prevent God's judgment in his life and should put him in a place where he is ready to listen to the message of eternal life through faith in Christ. In the following sections, we will look briefly at the significance of repentance in the gospels, the book of Acts, the epistles, and Revelation.

Repentance in the Gospels
Both John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus preached repentance to the nation of Israel. In Mark 1:15, Jesus is recorded as saying, "Repent, and believe in the gospel." The gospel of which Jesus was speaking in this context, was the good news that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matt. 4:17). The people of Israel needed to turn from their sins, including the sins of indifference and self-righteousness, because the long-awaited time when God would send His chosen King to rule on earth had come. In these verses, and in many places in the synoptic gospels where repentance is mentioned, the focus is not on eternal salvation, but on the need for the people of Israel to be prepared to receive their King. Throughout the synoptic gospels it is clear that both repentance and faith on a national scale were prerequisite to Israel receiving the expected kingdom. Certainly the kind of spiritual "waking up" involved in repentance could and should have lead people to listen to the good news of eternal life through faith in Jesus the Messiah, but it was not the repentance in and of itself that brought eternal life.
When John the Baptist preached "a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (Mark 1:4), it was within this context of preparing the nation of Israel to receive her King. As stated above, the nation of Israel needed to turn from their sins in order to be ready to receive the kingdom. Repentance would bring forgiveness, and baptism was a sign of that repentance. The context, however, should lead us to view this forgiveness not as the entrance to eternal salvation, but as the temporal forgiveness needed by an Israelite who was out of covenant with God. John was a prophet much like those in the Old Testament, and the message he preached was much like ones we can read throughout the Old Testament. For example, in Isaiah 1:16-18, God spoke through Isaiah and told the people to cease to do evil and learn to do good, with the result that though their sins were like scarlet, they would be white as snow. In Jeremaiah 36:3, the Lord said that if Judah would turn from their evil ways, He would forgive their sins. This forgiveness spoken of in the Old Testament was obviously not an entrance into eternal salvation by faith. It was a temporal forgiveness which averted God's temporal wrath, and it was tied to repentance, or turning away from sin. The forgiveness John preached was essentially the same.
In Mark 2:17, when Jesus said "I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance," He was answering the question of why He associated with sinners. If part of His purpose was to prepare Israel for the kingdom by preaching repentance, as mentioned in Mark 1:15, it should have been obvious that He would associate with sinners, because it is not the righteous, but sinners, who need to repent. Jesus was not of course saying that the Pharisees who were challenging Him were righteous, but simply that because of His purpose, it should have been obvious that He would associate with sinners.
The Lord Jesus came to earth to die as a sacrifice for our sins and to offer eternal life through faith in Him, but He also came in fulfillment of the promises to Israel and offered the long-awaited kingdom to them. This offer of the kingdom is largely in focus in the synoptic gospels, which explains the frequent mention of repentance in those gospels. As previously mentioned, the gospel of John, which focuses primarily on the Lord's offer of eternal life, rather than on the offer of the kingdom to Israel, does not mention repentance at all.

Repentance in the book of Acts
As in the synoptic gospels, the idea of repentance occurs fairly frequently in the book of Acts. Sometimes Israel is being called on to repent of their sin of rejecting Jesus, and other times Gentiles are referred to as repenting or needing to repent.
Probably the most well-known verse in the book of Acts dealing with repentance is Acts 2:38, where Peter tells the crowd at Pentecost, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." The clearest way to take this verse is that the hearers were being told that in order to be forgiven and to receive the Holy Spirit as the previous believers had, they needed to repent and be baptized. This is obviously a different message than "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved," but the reason is that a different kind of forgiveness is in view. When those listening to Peter were cut to the heart and said in verse 37, "What shall we do?" it is clear that they had come to believe that Jesus was indeed who He claimed to be, the promised Savior and giver of eternal life. So as far as receiving eternal salvation, most of those who accepted what Peter was saying probably believed and received eternal life at that time, before Peter told them to repent and be baptized.
The reason the people asked what they should do is that they realized the horror of what they had done in rejecting the Son of God and having Him crucified. No doubt they also recognized the judgment that would come on the nation from God for doing that. That explains their question and Peter's answer, as well as why it says in verse 40 that Peter was exhorting them to be saved "from that perverse generation." That generation of Israel would be punished by God for their rejection of Jesus, but if a person wanted to be forgiven (put in a place of harmony with God)and saved out of that generation so that he would not be punished with it, he needed to turn from his sin of rejecting Jesus and publicly show that through baptism. As with John's baptism in the gospels, the issue here seems to be temporal rather than eternal forgiveness. Once again Israelites who were out of fellowship with God were being called on to return to fellowship through repentance and in this case baptism. For that generation of Israel, it seems that this was also the requirement for receiving the Holy Spirit. When Gentiles were saved, God gave the Holy Spirit at the moment of faith in Christ, and that pattern continues throughout the New Testament, but it seems that the generation of Israel that publicly denied Christ and cried "Crucify Him!" was required by God to publicly confess Him through baptism before receiving the Holy Spirit.
In Acts chapter 10, the story is recorded of Peter taking the gospel to Cornelius, a Roman centurion who believed in the God of Israel. Cornelius had already repented of the idolatry of his native culture and was worshipping the God of Israel as well as he knew how, but he received justification and eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ, after Peter preached to him. Later, when Peter went back to Jerusalem and reported what had happened, those who listened concluded that God had granted the Gentiles "repentance to life" (Acts 11:18). This verse is often taken as saying that repentance is a requirement for receiving eternal life, but it need not be taken in that way. It is significant that when the angel appeared to Cornelius, as recorded in chapter 10, he told Cornelius that because God had heard his prayer and remembered his alms, he was to send to Peter for a message (Acts 10:31). Then when Peter came, he said that he now knew that God accepts people of any nation who fear Him and work righteousness (Acts 10:34). Peter was apparently sent specifically to Cornelius because he was repentant and was seeking the truth. God "accepted" the sincerity of Cornelius' repentance and insured that he heard the saving message by sending Peter to him. So repentance did lead to life for Cornelius, not because he was eternally saved when he repented, but because repentance put him in a position where he was ready to hear the good news about Jesus.
Another well-known verse from the book of Acts which deals with repentance is Acts 17:30, where Paul said that God now commands all men everywhere to repent. This is set in the context of Paul's sermon at the Areopagus in Athens, a message primarily about the existence of the true God and the foolishness of idolatry. So, in the context, repentance has to do with turning from idolatry to seek the true God. In the past, God had been patient with the sin of idolatry, probably in the sense of not quickly sending temporal judgment against idolaters, but now that God the Son had come to earth as the Savior, God commanded all people to repent, or turn from the worship of idols. As in the case of Cornelius above, repenting of idolatry would prepare people to hear the good news about Jesus and believe in Him, but eternal life would not be given because of repentance, but because of faith in Christ.
One final verse verse which we will look at from the book of Acts is Acts 20:21. In this verse, Paul summarized his teaching as "testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." As with the other verses we have looked at from the book of Acts, there is nothing in this verse to indicate that Paul taught repentance as a requirement for the reception of eternal life. Paul did preach repentance. Sometimes he preached it to unbelievers who were not ready to receive the good news of eternal life through Jesus Christ, but more often he preached it to those who were already believers, teaching an attitude of turning from sins to God. This message of repentance toward God was part of Paul's message of discipleship. It is a parallel thought to the Great Commission in Matt. 28:19-20, where Jesus did not tell His disciples simply to preach about eternal life through Him, but to make disciples. People receive eternal life through faith alone, but disciples are made, in part, by teaching repentance.

Repentance in the Epistles
As was mentioned previously, the Pauline epistles contain only five references to repentance, either as a noun or a verb. In none of these cases is eternal salvation in view, and in some of the occurences, it is immediately clear that believers are being referred to. For example, in 2 Cor. 7:9-10 Paul talks about his letter making the Corinthians sorry, which led to repentance. He then states that godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation. Some people have taken this as a general principle relating to eternal salvation, but this is clearly not the case. First of all, the context has to do with people who are already believers having a godly sorrow which led to repentance. Secondly, if it was dealing with eternal salvation, it would be saying that unsaved people have to have "godly sorrow" before they can be saved, which doesn't make sense at all. Godly sorrow in believers produces repentance, which leads to salvation from the destructive and deadly effects of sin.
In the general epistles, repentance is referred to only four times. One of these four occurrences, 2 Peter 3:9, is often thought of as tying repentance to eternal salvation because it contrasts repentance with perishing. As with other occurences of repentance, however, it is not necessary to take the verse in that way. There is no compelling reason not to understand "perish" as referring to physical death. The principle throughout scripture is that when man's sinfulness is ripe, God will judge it, but He is reluctant to do so because He does not want people to die prematurely. He always gives time for people to turn from their sins and thus ward off coming judgment. As He waited in the time of Noah before sending the flood (Gen. 6:3) and told Abraham He would not destroy the Canaanites until the sin of the Amorites was complete (Gen. 15:16), now too He is holding off the end-time judgments to give people a chance to repent. Compare this with Ezekiel 18:32, where it clearly states that God desires people to turn from their sins in order to preserve their lives. When God begins His end-time judgments against sinful men, referred to in the context of 2 Peter, there will be widespread death and destruction. God's patience in holding off this judgment has given many generations of people a chance to repent. The result of that repentance is a prolonged physical life, with the corresponding opportunity to believe in the Lord Jesus and receive eternal life.

Repentance in Revelation
Though the apostle John did not use either the noun or verb form of the word repent even once in the gospel of John, the verb occurs 11 times in the book of Revelation. Seven of these occurences are in the letters to the churches and clearly refer to believers needing to turn from their sinful ways. The remainder of the occurences have to do with unbelievers during the Great Tribulation, who even in the face of God's judgments, refused to turn from their sinful ways and glorify God. For example Rev. 9:20-21 says that those who survived the plagues of the four horsemen would not repent of their idolatry and their other sinful practices. Again it is clear that none of these verses have to do with the reception of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.

Repentance is an important topic which is spoken of many times in both the Old and New Testaments. God desires that all people, whether saved or unsaved, turn away from their sinful ways and pursue harmony with Him. Of course, for the unsaved, this does not directly result in eternal salvation, but should put them in a position where they are receptive to the good news of eternal life through Jesus. For believers, repentance from sin is essential in maintaining fellowship with God as our Father. We should not downplay the importance of repentance, but we should also not confuse it with faith in Jesus Christ, which is the only condition for receiving eternal life.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Gospel of the Kingdom

Well, I guess it's time for the next post, about the gospel of the Kingdom. It seems to logically follow the last post, about what "the gospel" means. After I had studied out the issues related to the use of the word "gospel" in the New Testament, and concluded that it was used in a broader sense than I had thought, it occured to me that perhaps my understanding of "the gospel of the kingdom" was wrong as well, or at least too limited. I was encouraged by what I found when I spent some time looking at this, and hope you will be too. Give this little article a read and let me know what you think.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

Throughout the synoptic gospels, frequent mention is made of the Lord Jesus and the apostles either preaching the gospel of the kingdom of heaven (or of the kingdom of God) or simply "preaching the kingdom of God." In dispensational circles, this has often been taken to refer only to the good news that the long-promised kingdom of heaven (Daniel 2:44) was available to the nation of Israel, and as having no reference to individual entrance into the kingdom through faith in Christ. There are certainly biblical reasons, however, to conclude that the gospel of the kingdom was a broad term which included not only the good news that the King had come and that therefore the kingdom was available to Israel as a nation, but also included the truth of individual entrance into the kingdom by faith in Christ.

One place where this is clearly seen is in Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus in John chapter three. Jesus made it very clear to Nicodemus that only by being born again can one enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3,5) and that this second birth is received through faith in Jesus (John 3:16). The question we need to ask ourselves is, was Nicodemus the only person with whom Jesus shared this information, or does His conversation with Nicodemus provide us with a sample of part of what Jesus taught regarding the kingdom? For example, when it says in Matt. 4:23 that Jesus went all about Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, are we to assume that Jesus neglected to tell the people of Galilee what He told Nicodemus, that is, how they could individually be a part of that kingdom? I think not. It certainly would not have been very good news to the people of Galilee to know that there was a kingdom of righteousness coming in which they had no sure way of participating. While it is clear that the focus of the gospel of John is on the narrower issue of how a person receives eternal life, and the focus of the synoptic gospels is more on discipleship truths related to the coming kingdom, the good news that was told to Nicodemus, which relates to entrance into the kingdom, was certainly a part of "the gospel of the kingdom."

Another place where it becomes clear that the gospel of the kingdom included the truth of individual entrance into the kingdom or of individual salvation is in a comparison of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 and Luke 8. In Matt. 13:19, Jesus is recorded as saying that the seed represents "the word of the kingdom." Then in Luke 8:12, Jesus says that the seed which falls by the wayside represents those who hear the word, but the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. So, by comparing these two records of the one parable, we can see that Jesus Himself indicated that "the word of the kingdom" included truths which could be believed resulting in salvation. Surely these truths must have been those related to salvation by God's grace through faith in His Son.

From the book of John, we also know that the Lord Jesus did not limit His teaching about receiving eternal life through faith in Him to private conversations with individuals like Nicodemus or the woman at the well. That is, He did not publicly preach only a non-personal gospel of the kingdom and only privately teach about eternal life. Both John 5:24 and John 6:47 occur in the midst of public sermons or debates. The point of this is that if we confine our understanding of the gospel of the kingdom to simply the truth that the kingdom was available to Israel, then when we read the synoptic gospels it sounds like that is all that Jesus went around preaching. If, however, we see the gospel of the kingdom as a broad title for all that Jesus taught, it includes the truth of eternal life through faith in Him and indicates that this was taught throughout the land of Israel. Certainly it seems reasonable to think that the message of eternal life and of individual entrance into the kingdom through faith in Christ was taught by our Lord on more than the few occasions that it was recorded in the book of John. In fact, this must be the case, because the book of John itself in several places other than those few occasions refers to people believing in Jesus (for example John 2:23, 4:53, 7:31), which in John results in being made children of God (John 1:12), so in order for those in the crowds to have believed in Jesus in the biblical sense, they must have been taught by Him or by His disciples that He freely offered eternal life and entrance into God's kingdom to those who would believe in Him.

It seems clear that Jesus didn't go around teaching two unrelated messages. He preached good news about the kingdom, which included individual salvation truth (how to enter the kingdom), discipleship truth (how to live now as subjects of the coming kingdom), and truth about the national aspects of the kingdom. In the gospel of John, His preaching is not referred to as "the gospel of the kingdom" for the same reason that it is not referred to as "the gospel" at all. Both "the gospel" and "the gospel of the kingdom" are broader terms than what John focussed on, though both include the idea of salvation by grace through faith.

If this conclusion about the content of the gospel of the kindom is correct, it may also help to explain why the synoptic gospels make very few references to the reception of eternal salvation through faith in Christ. If the synoptic gospels were written primarily to believers about discipleship truths, and if the terms "preaching the kingdom" and "the gospel of the kingdom" were understood at that time to include the saving message, then the references in the synoptic gospels to Jesus and His disciples preaching the kingdom would have served as a sufficient reminder to those audiences that the same saving message which they had heard had been preached throughout Israel during the Lord's earthly ministry.

Of course, in the synoptic gospels, we see repentance and not only faith tied together with the gospel of the kingdom (Mark 1:14-15), but that is not surprising if we see the gospel of the kingdom as a broad term which includes both national and individual truths related to the kingdom and includes both salvation and discipleship truths. Individuals could be assured of entrance into God's kingdom through faith in Christ, and in fact became "sons of the kingdom" in the present (Matt. 13:38), though the kingdom had not yet come. Through following Christ, they could be assured of reward in the kingdom (Matt. 16:24-27). As a nation, however, Israel would only have Christ ruling over them as king if they repented (Matt. 4:17, Acts 3:19-20). This was true both during the Lord's earthly ministry and after He returned to heaven, as is indicated in the verses in Acts. So, the need for national repentance on the part of Israel was part of the gospel of the kingdom, or at least was linked with it, but was not how an individual became of citizen of the kingdom.

One final thought about the gospel of the kingdom relates to its future proclamation. Speaking of the tribulation period, Jesus said that the gospel of the kingdom would first be preached to all nations, and then the end would come (Matt. 24:14). What we have seen in the previous verses should inform our view of what the message is that will be preached worldwide in the tribulation period as well. Certainly it will not only be a general message that God will soon be sending a king to defeat the antichrist and rule over the earth, but also that that king is Jesus Christ, the One who died and rose again and who offers eternal life to all who believe in Him. It seems clear from a comparison of the gospels that the "gospel of the kingdom" preached in Jesus' time included the message of eternal life through faith in Him, therefore it is reasonable to conclude that when Jesus refers to the "gospel of the kingdom" being preached in the tribulation period, it also will include that message.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Preaching the Gospel, Believing in Christ

Well, I guess it's time for my first real post. This is an article I wrote as a result of studying the use of the word "gospel" in the New Testament. It became very clear to me, especially when I considered the places where the verb form of the word occurs, that "gospel" is not used technically of a certain few propositions about Jesus which an unsaved person must believe in order to be saved, but rather of the entire scope of good news about Jesus. This shouldn't be a surprise, since Mark referred to the whole book he wrote as "the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ," but since it was different than what I had been taught, I was surprised by what I found. So, this article summarizes the view I ended up with. I hope this can be helpful, even to people who are not involved in the "promise only" gospel debate. All of us as Christians can benefit by a careful study of how terms are used in the New Testament.

Preaching the Gospel, Believing in Christ
In looking at the area of sharing the gospel, or good news, with the lost, two questions are vital to answer. One is, what is the gospel? The other is, what must a sinner believe in order to receive eternal life? In brief, the gospel is the message about Jesus which we preach (whether to unbelievers or believers, though I am speaking specifically about preaching it to unbelievers). The response which God requires from sinners is that they believe in Jesus Christ, or put their trust in Him alone to save them. Both of these elements are seen clearly in Ephesians 1:13, where Paul says, "In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation." They heard the good news about how God provided salvation for them through Christ, and in response they trusted in Christ alone and were saved.

The Gospel
The word translated "gospel" in our English Bibles simply means good news, and is used in a variety of contexts. In the gospels it is mostly used of the "gospel of the kingdom," which was a broad term encompassing the good news that the promised King had come, the good news about how to enter His kingdom by faith, and many other teachings about the kingdom. In the rest of the New Testament the noun form euangelion, "good news," and the verb form euangelizo, "preach good news," are also used broadly about different aspects of the good news concerning Jesus. Sometimes the word gospel is used specifically about Christ's death and resurrection, by which He purchased salvation for all who would believe in Him (1Cor. 15:3-8), and sometimes it includes other aspects such as the fact that Jesus is going to judge the world (Rom. 2:16). Sometimes it is used more generally referring to all of the good news about Jesus Christ by which people are not only eternally saved, but also by which they grow and are established. This is apparent, for instance, in Rom. 1:15, where Paul declared his desire to "preach the gospel" to the believers in Rome, and in Rom. 16:25 where he said that God was able to establish them according to, or by, his gospel.
Because preaching the gospel is a broad term which means proclaiming the good news about Jesus, we may notice as we read through the Bible different aspects of the good news being emphasized at different times. For instance, Paul told the Corinthians that the gospel he had preached to them was that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures, and that He was seen by certain witnesses, including Paul himself (1Cor. 15:3-8). When we read Paul's evangelistic message in Pisidian Antioch, however, recorded in Acts 13:16-41, we don't see exactly the same elements. In that sermon, as recorded under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we see mention made of Jesus' death, burial, ressurection, and the fact that He was seen by witnesses, but not specifically that His death was "for our sins." Does this mean that Paul did not preach the gospel in Pisidian Antioch? No. He preached the good news about Jesus, including the fact that "through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses (Acts 13:38-39)." Certainly those who believed in Christ at that time were later taught much more about Him, but what they heard in that initial sermon and that which they heard later could all be referred to as the gospel which was preached to them.
Another example we could look at of preaching the gospel in the New Testament is Peter's message to Cornelius and his family in Acts 10:34-43. Later, in Acts 15:7, Peter looks back on that occasion and specifically refers to the message he presented there as "the gospel." In that message, Peter, like Paul in Acts 13, told of Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and appearance to witnesses, but as in Paul's message in Pisidian Antioch, he did not specify that Jesus' death was in the place of sinners or "for sins." He also included some other elements in his message, such as the fact that Jesus had gone around doing miracles (Acts 10:38), and that God had appointed Him the Judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42). Then he taught that "whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins (Acts 10:43)." He wasn't finished with his message, but at that point Cornelius and those with him did believe in Christ for eternal salvation and were saved.
Throughout the New Testament, it is consistent to say that preaching the gospel means telling the good news about Jesus Christ. Different aspects of the good news may be included and emphasized, though when the good news was preached to the unsaved, it always included the element of salvation coming by faith alone in Christ alone. When a person hears about the Lord Jesus Christ and believes in Him alone to save him and give him eternal life, he is saved.

Believing in Jesus
The gospel is the good news about Jesus which we tell people. The response by which people receive eternal salvation is believing in Jesus Christ for the free gift which He offers. Throughout the New Testament, where the object of faith is stated, the object is almost always specified as being Jesus Christ Himself. This is true whether we look in the book of John, where we see "that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16)," or the book of Romans, where we see that the righteousness which God offers is "through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:22)." Believing in Jesus Christ means believing, or trusting, in Him alone to save us and to give us eternal life as He has offered.
As we preach about Jesus, we should give as much information as we can about why we need a Savior, who Jesus Christ is and how He provided salvation by His death for sins on the cross. One good way to do this might be to read or study through the book of John with someone and address each of these issues as it comes up. With less time available, individual verses addressing these areas could be used. The end goal is that the listener will be convinced of the Lord Jesus' ability to provide eternal life to all who believe in Him for it and to place their confidence in Him. We preach the gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ, to bring people to saving faith, which is confidence or trust in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Intro/My Theological Journey

My name is Ken White. I am 39 years old and live in Bakersfield, California. For the past 13 years, my family and I have been missionaries in Papua New Guinea, where I did Bible translation and church-planting. We currently are back in the United States and are trying to begin a Free Grace church, or rather a multiplying, Free Grace church-planting movement, by starting Bible studies in our home. We hope to start the first one this Sunday.

I have held a Free Grace view of the gospel for many years. When I was in high school, our youth pastor got me well-grounded in a Lordship Salvation view of the gospel and of saving faith. At that point it never made me doubt my own salvation, but it did make me doubt the salvation of many around me, who didn’t seem to have much of a commitment to following Jesus.

With my Lordship Salvation perspective, I set off to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, where I intended to train to be a missionary. Some of my professors there espoused Lordship Salvation and some did not, but one of those who did not changed my life by assigning us to read Balancing the Christian Life by Charles Ryrie. In that book was one chapter about whether Jesus must be Lord of one’s life in order to be one’s Savior, and it really rocked my thinking and made me realize that maybe I was wrong in my views. Through that book and subsequent study of the Bible, I came to be convinced that salvation was truly a free gift, received simply by faith in Christ, and that faith really means believing, and nothing more complex than that.

After one year at Moody, my wife and I were married back in California and lived there for a year. After that, we went into missionary training with the organization with which we were to work. During the time of our missionary training, another major milestone in my theological journey came about when I discovered that there were biblically sound ways to interpret scripture that were neither Calvinist (not even 4 or 3 point Calvinist), nor Arminian. I remain a committed “non-Calvinist” to this day, which may or may not enter into future blog entries.

The final two issues (at least to this point) which have really defined my perspective on soteriology have been the discussions about the content of saving faith and about repentance . As far as the content of saving faith, through the years and throughout my ministry in PNG, I always communicated to people the idea that “if you believe that Jesus died for your sins on the cross and rose again, you will be saved.” Over time, though, I began to have doubts about saying things that way. For one thing, I always realized that I didn’t really mean exactly that. I knew that a person could believe that Jesus paid for all his sins on the cross and rose again, and yet think he had to do good works in order to get to heaven. So I knew there was a missing element in the way I was presenting things. The other thing that bothered me about the way I expressed things was that it didn’t seem to be well-supported scripturally. In my view, faith in what Jesus did on the cross was the core element in saving faith, and yet I knew that the many references to believing in Jesus in the book of John, which occurred before His death, couldn’t mean that. Also, in the couple of recorded evangelistic sermons in the book of Acts, the element of believing “that Jesus died for your sins” seemed to be missing. So I wondered why God hadn’t made things more clear.

Then on my last home assignment, or “furlough,” from the mission field, I attended a conference put on by the Grace Evangelical Society and heard Zane Hodges speak. In the question and answer time which followed his session, he expressed the idea that the content of saving faith has not changed between the time when Jesus offered living water to the Samaritan woman at the well and now. He expressed the idea that a person receives eternal life when he believes in Jesus for it. I had actually read such things before, but had never processed it until then. I realized that Zane’s view made sense with the biblical data. It wasn’t until later, though, that I realized there was a lot of controversy about this view.

Because of the controversy surrounding the view that saving faith could be as simple as believing in Jesus for eternal life, I spent a long time wrestling with the issue, studying it out, and reading everything I could find by those opposed to the view. I realized that if I became firmly settled on a “promise only” view of the gospel, I might not be able to continue to work with the organization with which I was working. The end result of all that wrestling, praying and studying was that I became firmly convinced that Jesus offers eternal life to all who believe in Him for it. In order to get to that point, I had to question many of the underlying positions, for example: Was the gospel of John the sole book of the New Testament written with the purpose of evangelism? Is the gospel of John adequate for evangelism? Does the word “gospel” refer to a certain set of propositions which must be believed about Jesus, or to a broader good news? If there are certain minimums a person must believe to be saved, where are they listed? I will talk about things I discovered in these areas in later posts.

Finally, I rethought my position on repentance. I had long believed that repent meant only “change your mind,” that it was a requirement for eternal life, and that the context determined what a person must change his mind about. Because this post has already gotten far to long, I will not right now go into the inconsistencies which I found in this view, but will simply say that a careful study of every occurrence of the words “repent” and “repentance” led me to the view, also espoused by Zane Hodges, that repentance refers to a decision to turn from sin, but that it is a separate issue from the reception of eternal life. Repentance turns aside God’s temporal punishment and should prepare an unsaved person to believe in Jesus, but it is not the same as faith nor a prerequisite to faith.

Because of these changes in my views, I did have to quit working with the mission organization I was working with, and that is why my family and I have returned to the U.S. It has been hard to leave the life and the ministry we have known, but I cannot be sorry, because the things I have learned have made the Bible make so much more sense to me, and I believe they will make it easier for me to share the truth with others also.

I’m sorry this post has gotten so outrageously long, but I thought it would be good to give a little background before I started making other posts. I don’t know how many people will actually read this blog, but hopefully down the road, God will bring people along who will be benefited by what I have to share and by the discussion which (I hope) will follow.