Thursday, June 17, 2010

Faith, repentance, preparationism, Spurgeon

We find it awkward sometimes to express the absolute necessity of repentance. I work at this very topic, at length, in the manuscript of my upcoming book. The issue is this: do we have to repent, to get saved?

Some would say "Well duh, of course we do."

To that, others would reply "So then, someone who is a slave of sin and dead to God has to go over all his sins — which he loves and in which he walks — and decide he doesn't want to do them anymore; THEN he turns to Christ; THEN he believes; THEN he is regenerated and gets saved? How is that not synergism? How is that not works-righteousness? How are we not saving ourselves?"

Is that what we want to say? Do we want the people to whom we tell the Gospel to stay away from Jesus, looking within themselves, working to convince themselves that they really do hate sin, and that they really do want to break with it, so that they can then — after that, after killing sin within themselves by themselves — and only then come to Jesus?

Enter Spurgeon, with his 6/13 am Morning and Evening reflection on Revelation 22:17, quoted as “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Spurgeon makes this plea (emphasis added):
Jesus says, “take freely.” He wants no payment or preparation. He seeks no recommendation from our virtuous emotions. If you have no good feelings, if you be but willing, you are invited; therefore come! You have no belief and no repentance,—come to him, and he will give them to you. Come just as you are, and take “Freely,” without money and without price. 
I think Spurgeon is absolutely right. A lot more could be said (and I do, in the book), but this hits at the heart of it. At bottom, we're not trying to get people to repent, per se, or to claim to have faith, per se. We're trying to get people to Jesus.

"Whoa," you say. "They can't get there without repentance and faith."

Totally agree. But take a look at what Spurgeon says. He never denies the necessity of repentance and faith. But he addresses the hesitating person, and says in effect, "You don't feel faith in yourself? You don't feel repentance in yourself? Don't let that stop you. Come to Jesus. Bring those lacks to Him. Go to Him, He's what you need."

The reprobate person with neither faith nor repentance will snort, and stay where he is.

But what if one does come? To "come," as Spurgeon says, he must see his need of Jesus. He must see that he can't stay where he is. He must see Jesus as being who he needs. He must have confidence (faith) that Jesus alone can give those things. And, in coming to Jesus, he must turn from where he is presently.

And what is that but faith and repentance?


Terry Rayburn said...


Exactly! Good'n.

What you're saying may sound picky, but it's really part and parcel of the gospel of grace.

Curious if you agree that it's error when the typical gospel tract which ends with 3 (or however many) steps to salvation begins with, "First turn from your sin (repent)"?

Doesn't that imply that a sinner must first clean up his life ("works") before he becomes a believer?

Of course, if the new birth technically precedes faith (which is what I believe the Bible teaches) then the regenerated person not only will repent and believe, but he can't NOT repent and believe (Irresistable Grace).

DJP said...

Yeah, it's sticky.

Faith that isn't repenting-of-sin faith is not saving faith. But I don't conceive of repentance of sin as a box to check before coming to Christ. If I can do that without Christ, why do I need Him? Just to pay for past sins? Hel-lo JWism and RCism.

A lost sinner needs to turn to Christ. To turn to Christ, he must necessarily turn from sin. But he can't, and he won't — until God regenerates him. Then he can and he will; in fact, he must.

Like regeneration and justification (in this one regard), repentance and faith can be distinguished, but not parted. That is, they are not the same thing — but they are inseparable. Show me a man who regrets his sin but is not embracing Christ, I'll show you an (almost certainly) unsaved man. Likewise show me a man talking big talk about Christ but still embracing sin, and I'll again show you an (almost certainly) unsaved man.

I think it's Biblical to say "You must repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ," if we mean what I think the apostles mean. The unregenerate would scoff it off anyway. The regenerate would respond like the wastrel amid the pigs, like Lazarus in the tomb — "Yes! Gladly! Why would I stay here?"

It's the enumeration in your example that bothers me.

Clear enough?

Terry Rayburn said...

It's the phrase "turn from your sin" that I think has wrong implications.

In plain language "turn from your sin" implies "not sinning anymore".

This drives the questions, "If turning from my sin (with its implication of 'not sinning') is required for salvation, WHAT DEGREE of turning from my sin is required? Total 100%? 90%? A 50% reduction?"

James himself, after all, said that breaking one command was like breaking them all (which is why we need the Savior).

Repentance would more accurately be something like, "Change your mind (the core root meaning, of course) about your sin -- recognize that it is evil, a violation of God's Holy standards, and therefore that you are against it -- and change your mind about Jesus Christ -- recognize Him as Lord and Savior, who died for your sins, was buried and rose again from the dead."

This "mind" change about sin will, of course, RESULT in one's life indeed changing, to a degree variable by their understanding of God's Word and their walking by His Spirit.

But the life change itself ("works) is not the repentance.

Tyler Wallick said...

Liked the post Dan. I like posts that make me logically and systematically think through. Spurgeon summed it up perfectly. This definitely was a blessing for me today. Thanks.

beaconlight said...

Thanks for this article. I've been reading about this very topic in 'The Marrow of Modern Divinity'. It's a thought-provoking and challenging book. I highly recommend it.
My first thought when confronted with repentance as a fruit and not a root of our salvation was to immediately wonder if simply preaching Christ is enough. I know in Reformed circles the preaching of the law and gospel is emphasized, but is preaching law at all necessary. Why not simply present Christ and bid people to come and freely drink in the water of life? If it is he who grants repentance why present the law to bring him to repentance?

I've pondered this for awhile and believe that we preach repentance for the same reason we preach faith. They are both necessary for salvation. Hearing the law preached puts us in a position of realizing our need for a savior to deliver us, but it cannot of itself produce the repentance needed to be redeemed. Is this sound theology?
Sorry for the rambling thoughts. I'm still trying to clarify all this in my mind.

MSC said...

I am reminded of an excellent book by Stephen Smallman entitled "Spiritual Birthline: Understanding How we Experience the New Birth." We have a tendency to define conversion expereinces with a tight set of parameters that are more influenced by Finney's legacy than perhaps the NT. How many believers do you meet who cannot identify when they first believed? All they know is that at one time they did not believe and now they do.

SandMan said...

I really needed to read this today. Thank you. Going away to chew some more. Really, thanks.

Jay said...

Good post. I need to read more Spurgeon. And you, too, whenever your book gets published.

DJP said...

Jay, news coming on that front soon, I hope.


Rachael Starke said...

This is great reminder for post-conversion as well. There are times when I'm intellectually aware of my sin, and yet (to my shame) I see that my heart doesn't want to repent of it, or believe that Jesus has the power to free me of it. I need His help in my repentance and faith then too.

Great word.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

Your post immediately made me think of Romans 2:4. It is His kindness that leads us to repentance. There were many who followed Jesus, but were unwilling to forsake their sin and have faith in Him to save them. God, in His gentle and kind way, allowed everyone access to Jesus--to be face to face with God without being struck dead for their unholiness. Some recognized their sinfulness for what it was, and they had repentant saving faith. (And Jesus told them, "Go and sin no more.")

Terry's comments made me think of 1 John 2:1-6.
I think repentance is more than just a changing of mind about sin. I think a believer continues to have faith and continues to repent of sin even after they are saved, as the Lord continues to be faithful to complete His work in us. Perhaps at the beginning there are majorly obvious sins a person immediately knows they must turn from. As our mind is being transformed and renewed by His word, we continue to see areas of our life that need to conform to it, to walk as Jesus walked. But I think He changes our mind, not we.

"Show me a man who regrets his sin but is not embracing Christ, I'll show you an (almost certainly) unsaved man. Likewise show me a man talking big talk about Christ but still embracing sin, and I'll again show you an (almost certainly) unsaved man."


Here's my nutshell version:
Faith without repentance is all in your head. (hypocricy)
Repentance without faith is all in your hands. (dead works)

Robert said...


I would say that turning from your sin is a continual action and that as long as we are continually turning from sin and not living in a lifestyle of it (as a wholely unrepentant sinner does), then you are OK. Not that we should not all be striving to do better and asking God to search our hearts for sin.


Thanks for the article. I always think of Acts when Peter preached to the people in Jerusalem and told them they had killed the Messiah. They then responded "What are we to do?" That shows they were humbled (somewhat at the very least) and saw their need for salvation. Then Peter told them to repent and be baptized. So there you have repentance and obedience laid out after they humble themselves and recognize their need for the salvation from Jesus. Of course, even the ability to repent comes from God and has been predetermined, but this is how it happens. And it all starts with the Gospel being preached.

I really see this (Peter in Acts 2) as the best example of evangelism this side of Jesus. And it clearly shows what Paul emphasizes in Romans about people not knowing unless they hear the Word and that people have to preach the Word for salvation to spread to the world. Only because that is the method that God has chosen and He is working through His people.

Sorry if I got a bit off-track.. I just got caught up in the thought of true evangelism and how God works through us ordinary people who are so undeserving of any of the grace He shows us.

Paula Bolyard said...

Hmmm...think, think, think....

DJP said, "But what if one does come? To "come," as Spurgeon says, he must see his need of Jesus. He must see that he can't stay where he is. He must see Jesus as being who he needs.

It seems to me that seeing your need is the seed of repentance - it's where repentance begins. If it stops there and never blooms, then you're in danger of being the seed planted on the rocky soil.

Barbara said...

I was trying to leave a comment on this earlier today and the whole thing vanished as I was typing it. I really hate it when that happens.

This is exactly what happened to me. And it wasn't even a specific turning from sin per se, it was a complete giving up of myself altogether - frightening as it was to do that, but I had gotten to a point that I know He brought me to, where I had had my fist in His face and He brought it down, opened my eyes to see the futility of everything I'd ever tried to do for myself, apparently I have no idea what I need because everything I've chased after has eluded me or failed me, and You're the One with the wisdom and power to create the world and keep it together all these years, so You must know what You're doing (that was NOT of me, I am telling you) until I found myself driving from one job to the next, tearfully looking up toward the roof of my little Mustang on upward toward heaven, giving up of myself entirely and falling onto God for Him to do with me as He saw fit, and my own words and heart surprised me: "I'm done. It's Your call."

It was from there that He brought me to pray to be submitted to His will, to want His way, to know Him in truth, and He took me deeper into His word and in His perfect Providence, I happened to find a little book on a little shelf in a Christian bookstore by a man named Charles Spurgeon, and it was entitled, "All of Grace" and it came with a CD of the first five chapters and on the way home I listened to the meatiest gospel I had ever heard in my life. And as I read and prayed every night, one night I got to the throne room of Ezekiel 1 and it was there that the Holy Spirit showed me who He is and what I am, and if not for His mercy I think I would have died. But in the darkness of my blinded vision from all the tears and the nausea from seeing inside my heart, as I agreed with my own damnation, there the cross came into view. And the glory of God and His love shed abroad in my heart so tangibly that I like to say that I have stood with John Bunyan on Clear Hill and looked through the telescope and I have seen in the distance the gates of the Celestial City. Sometimes it floors me completely, what a miracle that is - He SAVED me! He saved ME! He broke my uplifted arm and caused me to see His face! He saved me!Oh happy day when Jesus washed my sins away! HE saved me!

Gov98 said...

The more I deal with this general issue, the greater sense of frusteration I have.

As far as it depends on me, I'm called on to Repent and Believe, if I don't...I go to hell. If I do, Christ promises that he'll forgive and cleanse. At the same time, once I come to Christ, it's absurd as I get into the Word to think that I'm remotely deserving to claim any credit for anything I've done.

It reminds me of Revelation4:8-11. Even if, there was some aspect of free will personal choice, I would be obligated to give up any credit for that to the savior.

9And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, 10the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11“Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

So, ultimately God gets all the credit. And you know what, he's richly deserves it!

CR said...

Terry: Curious if you agree that it's error when the typical gospel tract which ends with 3 (or however many) steps to salvation begins with, "First turn from your sin (repent)"?

Terry, it really depends on what the person thinks repentance. When we see signs of the media selectively portraying fringe groups with signs of repenence, the average person might might think repentence from homosexuality or abortion. Well, it's true that a believer must repent of these things.

But when God is saving someone what happens to that person. Repentance means to think again (think again about who God is and who we are) and to change your mind (about who God is and who we are). This repentance must proceed and will proceed from regeneration.

DJP said...

Barbara, thank you so much for that heartfelt word.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Spurgeon was the Brian McLaren of his day.


Good post!