by Mike Ratliff
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31 ESV)
Today’s gospel, that is, the gospel that is prevalently adhered to by most of the visible Church, is one constructed around the goal of persuading people to make a ‘decision for Christ.’ The entire process is one of appealing to either one’s desire for a better life here and now or their fear of hell. Invitations are designed to entice people to “come forward” by “priming the pump” as several people move towards the front when it begins. Then those folks who are persuaded are led to pray a prayer “accepting Jesus” into their lives or hearts. There is no mention of the Lordship of Christ. There is no mention of repentance. Is this the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ?
A close study of our Lord’s own sermons will quickly reveal that He did indeed command those who were called to enter the Kingdom to repent.
Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles– the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:12-17 ESV)
I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32 ESV)
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3-5 ESV)
Repentance was the message our Lord preached. This was the message that the Apostles preached. This was the message that the Reformers preached. This was the message that the Puritans preached. This was the message that George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley preached. When did this change? When did the biblical doctrine of repentance come under attack and become diluted by Easy-Believism? In 1937, Dr. H.A. Ironside wrote, “The doctrine of repentance is the missing note in many otherwise and fundamentally sound circles today.”1 Dr. Ironside wrote that those doing the diluting decried “the necessity of repentance lest it seem to invalidate the freedom of grace.”2
My brethren, this is antinomianism done in the name of preserving “the freedom of grace.” While that sounds quite noble and even biblical, it is actually a deliberate ignoring of our Lord’s command to repent. To get around this contradiction, for that is what it is, those who teach no-Lordship salvation teach that repentance was called for prior to the cross. It is another age they say. Is it? Let us look at what repentance really is.
The Greek word for “repentance” is “μετανοιας” or “metánoia.” It means, “A change or alteration of mind (Hebrews 12:17). Repentance, change or mind from evil to good or from worse to better (Matthew 3:11; 9:13 Textus Receptus; Acts 20:21).“3 “Metánoia” is a compound word made up of “meta”, “after” and “noeõ,” to understand.” “Metánoia” literally means “afterthought” or “change of mind.” A survey of “metánoia”in the New Testament reveals that it “always speaks of change of purpose, and specifically a turning from sin.”4 Our Lord Jesus’ use of “metánoia” was as a call for a definitive turning from evil then a turning to God for salvation. This is a radical conversion. It is a transformation of our very nature from the natural man to the new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17.) More often than not, when I think of repentance, the Lord brings to my mind the following passages.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)
For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, (1 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV)
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7 ESV)
Biblical salvation is by grace through faith alone, apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9). We also see that genuine salvation is succinctly marked by a radical repentance unto a new life. This repentance is the product of regeneration which washes the believer unto salvation. It is impossible to separate belief from repentance in the Bible. Those whom God draws to Himself, regenerates, justifies and sanctifies will believe and repent prior to being declared righteous as the Father imputes Christ’s righteousness to their account.
What is so tragic in “today’s gospel,” is the removal of repentance and submitting to Christ as Lord as part of the “general call.” This leads people to believe they are saved if they pray a sinner’s prayer and are baptized. They are actually counseled to not be concerned about “making Christ Lord” of their life because that is not part of salvation. Repentance is seen as simply “a change of of mind or attitude concerning either God, Christ, dead works or sin..”5 However, as we saw above, biblical repentance is far more than simply a “change of mind or attitude.” It is a product of becoming a New Creation through the washing of regeneration.
I was listening to John MacArthur on the radio this morning as I drove to work. He was speaking about this very thing. He quoted one of the leaders of the No-Lordship movement as saying, “If repentance is a requirement for salvation then the actual number of genuine believers is very small.” This was spoken in defense of the No-Lordship position stating that this couldn’t be God’s will since this would limit the size of the Church. I do understand their concern believing that this radical repentance must be a human work, but as we have seen, it isn’t. It is what happens in the heart of real believers who are regenerated by God. This genuine repentance produces real fruit.
The fruit of genuine repentance always begins with a complete surrender of the will to the “Kurios,” Lord as His “doulos,” slaves. This will always create a change in behavior, which is the new life in Christ. Can you see the mighty hand of God in this miracle? When our Lord called for “metánoia,” the Jews He was preaching to had no problem understanding what He was saying. “They realized He was calling them to admit their sin and turn from it, to be converted, to turn around, to forsake their sin and selfishness and follow Him instead.”6 We have seen clearly that this is all done by the grace of God. It is not a “work” done by the unregenerate.
What we must never forget is that many respond quickly to “today’s gospel,” but they quickly prove their disingenuousness by not showing the fruit of repentance. Just because someone comes forward, prays the prayer and is baptized does not mean they are saved and their total lack of fruit in their life shows they have never really repented. Those who are genuine turn their backs on sin, unbelief, and disobedience. They draw near unto Christ with a faith that obeys Him as Lord. Genuine salvation manifests itself in true repentance, which causes the believer to walk in righteousness.
Never forget that being part of church is not the fruit we are talking about. Church attendance and any thing that people do that we would call religiosity are not fruits of repentance.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:13-23 ESV)
Those being cast away from the Lord in this passage were convinced that they were believers. Some are preachers and theologians. However, they are not genuine because even though they called Jesus Christ “Kurios,” they were not really His “doulos.” No, instead, they believed a false gospel that saves no one.
Soli Deo Gloria!
1H.A. Ironside, Except Ye Repent (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1937)p. 7.
2Ibid., p. 11.
3Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study New Tesament (Chattanooga:AMG Publishers, 1991) p. 936.
4W.E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Old Tappen, NJ: Revell, 1981), 3:280.
5G. Michael Cocoris, Lordship Salvation-Is it Biblical? (Dallas: Redención Viva, 1983), p. 12.
6John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus (Panorama City:Word of Grace, 1988), p.165.