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.