Repent or Perish

by Mike Ratliff

27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. 29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke (5:27-32 ESV)

I had someone ask me not long ago how our salvation could be totally by Grace alone through faith alone, totally God’s work alone if it involved our repentance. My response to him was that the repentance part was our response to our Lord’s call, ἀκολούθει μοι, “Follow me.” However, the washing of regeneration, the gift of faith had been given as part of this effectual call. That is why we turned as Levi did, leaving everything, rising, and following our Lord. There are two calls of the gospel, the general call and the effectual call. The general call goes to everyone so there is no excuse. The effectual call, as the one above to Levi, which the Pharisees and the scribes objected to, always leads to repentance and goes only to God’s elect. 

1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 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? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5 ESV)

5 οὐχί, λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀλλ᾿ ἐὰν μὴ μετανοήσητε, πάντες ὁμοίως ἀπολεῖσθε. (Luke 13:5 GNT)

5 Not (οὐχι) ́, I say (λέγω) to you (ὑμῖν), but (ἀλλ᾿) except (ἐὰν μὴ) you might change mind (μετανοήσητε), all (πάντες) likewise (ὁμοίως) you will destroy (ἀπολεῖσθε.) (Luke 13:5 word-for-word translation from Greek to English)

Think of what our Lord was telling these people. If people cannot μετανοήσητε or repent then they will be lost. Who can repent? No one can do it. No one can keep the Law of God. In this passage, our Lord makes it very clear that all men are lost in their sins from birth. There are no exceptions. Some Galileans had been captured in the Temple as they were making sacrifices. They were probably wanted for being zealots. In any case, Pilate had them killed. To the Jews, this was blasphemous, but it also marked these men as particularly bad sinners. Jesus’ point is that, yes, they were sinners, but so were the ones telling him the story. They were guilty before God because of their sin. Those people who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them were no worse sinners than them either. All people need a Saviour, an advocate before God unless they can repent and totally keep the Law of God. Who has kept the Law of God? Only one, Jesus Christ perfectly kept the Law of God. This is why He is the perfect sacrifice of God as our propitiation. He took our place as God poured out His wrath on our sin.

Now, this salvation is redemption of God’s elect. Who are they? I do not know. They are the ones that God calls and they believe the gospel and are saved as Levi was. Have you heard the gospel and believed that Jesus died on the Cross for your sins and that there is absolutely nothing you could do to save your self? If this is true then have you turned from trying to save yourself to Christ for salvation?

This last part is that repentance, which is only possible by those being called by God. Those who do this are changed forever. They are new creations. They are no longer slaves to sin. They are not perfect, but they are now in the Kingdom of God and are in God’s family by His grace through the faith He has given them.

When our Lord says. “Repent, follow me,” then be assured, the Holy Spirit is there giving the elect all they need to do what is commanded. Those who followed Him before His crucifixion were saved by believing in Him to save them from their sins just as all of us since His crucifixion believe in His finished work.

My Brethren, before my understanding of the sovereignty of God in salvation became more clear as I studied these things, passages such as this one seems so out of place in light of the gentle, all loving, kind, Jesus being sold by the churches I was part of. A good friend sent me the following excerpt from Phil Johnson, Executive Director of GTY.

My trek from Arminianism to Calvinism took more than ten years. Every time one of my arguments against Calvinist doctrines would fall, I would be forced to embrace some doctrine that I had heretofore been desperately trying to argue against.

But I never had any sense of defeat. It was more like I was resolving nagging conflicts in my own mind. Because I kept discovering that the truths at the heart of Calvinism truly are the doctrines of grace—principles that I had always affirmed: God is sovereign, Christ died for me, God loved me before I loved Him, He sought me and drew me and initiated my reconciliation while I was still His enemy. Those are allbiblical truths, and I believed them even when I was a gung-ho Arminian.

So embracing Calvinism was natural—and inevitable—because all I was doing was ridding my mind of wrong ideas and faulty assumptions about human free will and other notions like that, which are not even taught in the Bible—so that I could wholeheartedly affirm what I really believed anyway: That God is God, and He does all His good pleasure, and no one can make Him do otherwise, and He is in control and in charge no matter how much noise evildoers try to make.

And not only is He in charge, He is working all things out for my good and His glory.

That’s Calvinism. And if you believe those things, you have affirmed the heart of Calvinist doctrine, even if you call yourself an Arminian. Those are the basic truths of Calvinism, and if you already believe those things, you are functioning with Calvinist presuppositions.

There’s more. If you are an authentic Christian, you know in your heart of hearts that you weren’t born again because you were morally superior to your unbelieving neighbors. You were worthy of God’s wrath just like them (Ephesians 2:1-3). According to Ephesians 2:4-6, it was God who quickened you and showed you a special mercy—and that is why you are a believer. You already know that in your heart. You don’t really believe you summoned faith and came to Christ in your own power and by your own unaided free will. You don’t actually believe you are morally superior to unbelievers. You therefore must see, somewhere in your soul, that God has given you special grace that He has not shown everyone.

You also believe God is absolutely sovereign over all things. I know you do, because you lean on the promise of Romans 8:28. And that promise would mean nothing if God were not in control of every detail of everything that happens. If He is not in control of all things, how could He work all things together for good?

Furthermore, you pray for the lost, which means in your heart, you believe God is sovereign over their salvation. If you didn’t really believe He was sovereign in saving sinners, you’d quit praying for the lost and start doing everything you could to buttonhole people into the kingdom by hook or by crook, instead. But you know that would be folly.

And you pray about other things, too, don’t you? You pray that God will change this person’s heart, or alter the circumstances of that problem. That’s pure Calvinism. When we go to God in prayer, we’re expressing faith in His sovereignty over the circumstances of our lives.

You believe God operates sovereignly in the administration of all His providence. You say things like, “If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (James 4:15)—because you believe that God works all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11), and nothing happens apart from his will.

Nothing is more biblical than these doctrines that are commonly labeled Calvinism. In a way, it is a shame they have been given an extrabiblical name. Because these truths are the very essence of what Scripture teaches. – Phil Johnson

My Brethren, let’s stop playing games with the gospel. This is not about who is right or who is wrong. It is not about who has the right proof texts or who is the best debaters or whatever. It is about none of that. Nor is it about religiosity. Go back to the top of this post and reread Luke 5:27-32. Jesus came to a publican, a sinner, named Levi where he was and simply said, “follow me”, ἀκολούθει μοι, and Levi did because the Holy Spirit was right there working in his heart. I could have quoted Ephesians 2:1-10 and Titus 3:5 to back that up, and if you doubt what I have shared here then I suggest that you do that by clicking those links. In any case, the point is this, God is sovereign over all things and that includes our salvation.

Soli Deo Gloria!

14 thoughts on “Repent or Perish

  1. Dear Mike,
    Grace and peace in Christ. Thanks for the post. “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,…” 2 Timothy 2:24&25. Notice is says “God may perhaps”. We are to continue speaking God’s word the Truth in love, but it our Sovereign God that determines the outcome.
    Pressing towards the Prize, Charisse


  2. Amen!
    I have had it said to me, well, if God is Sovereign and election is true then I can just sit back and wait for the Rapture. I do not need to be a witness, or live a holy life.
    No, no, no.
    It is true that God does know who will be saved, but we do not!
    Our main call, until He comes, is to “occupy” and be obedient to the leading of the Spirit in all matters of life. Whether that be to witness face to face with our neighbors, or to live a Godly, holy life in front of them, or even whether or not to buy a cup of coffee, etc.
    Dying daily to our flesh, our wants, desires, dreams and submitting joyfully to His will. That is true victory!


  3. Even repentance is not a work of our own. As you read the following scripture versus from 2 Corinthians 7

    5For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn— fighting without and fear within. 6But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. 8For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.

    10For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. 12So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. 13Therefore we are comforted.
    In Christ,


  4. Hi Mike,
    Yesterday afternoon my husband and I listened to Phil Johnson’s sermon on calvinism from a 2007 Shepherds’ Conference. He spoke on the fact that we love because He first loved us and how that one scripture teaches salvation is all of God. Great timing Mike!
    Amen to your article. Repentance is also a gift from the Lord.
    Have a blessed Lord’s Day.


  5. I have had people tell me that. “repentance” was a work and because I believed the Bible taught that a Christian would repent, I was believing in a “works salvation”……….. UGH!!! I have to agree in part tho’ …it is a work…….a work of the Holy Spirit in us, just like you said, “Jesus came to a publican, a sinner, named Levi where he was and simply said, “follow me”, ἀκολούθει μοι, and Levi did because the Holy Spirit was right there working in his heart.” Acts 11:17&18 says, ” Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ *; what was I, that I could withstand God? 18 When they heard these things, they held their peace , and glorified God, saying , Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”
    “GOD GAVE THEM THE LIKE GIFT UNTO US”, ” GOD ALSO to the Gentiles GRANTED REPENTANCE” Repentance is given of God, Belief is given of God, Salvation is given of God. THOSE “Works” will be present IF The Holy Spirit is present!!! Praise the Lord Jesus Christ…the true gospel still goes forth and people are STILL being GRANTED REPENTANCE. PRAISE THE LORD I WAS ONE TO WHOM REPENTANCE WAS GRANTED!!!


  6. Hi Dear bro. Great post 😀

    Repentance is a ‘strange’ thing. Depending on what you learned about the Gospel and how it was presented to you, affects your initial understanding and response to what sin is.

    I remember at age 14 after having ‘given my life to the Lord’ as I was told that was what was required by God of me, and ask forgiveness of my sin, I had no idea what that meant -I had no idea what my sin even was – not for many, many years. At age 14, I just knew that I needed God but did not really feel any need for repentance at all. What I was taught for years was sin was my lying, stealing, etc and to my young age, I did not do much of that anyway, so why was it so bad? Those are just the results of a sinful nature in a wrong standing with God.

    I was almost 38 before I was truly shown my sin in a way that I understood the horror of it and how much God hates it. Repentance is something that only God reveals to you ,for you to see yourself as He sees you in that wrong standing with Him, of being independent of Him in every aspect of your life. He has to let us see it and experience this to the uttermost for it to take root and have the most effective response in us.

    When I was shown, I was truly devastated as I thought I was an ok, good girl, and it had me almost debilitated for a week. I cried at first in shame and disbelief that such a Holy God would even call me by name, but then it gradually turned to tears of joy as the Lord began to cleanse it all away and I saw that I could no longer hold anything back from Him ever again.

    I honestly believe and understand that the longer we walk and the more we grow in Him, the more our sin will bother us and the deeper our repentance will become. If it does not, we are moving into deep spiritual trouble indeed. In the beginning we understand as babes and will very possibly repent as babes, (in my case anyway), but like we need meat and not milk to grow, a similar thing applies to our repentance – it works in a direct proportion to our growth, surrender, submission and cleaving to Jesus, for Himself as we learn to die to self more and more as we go after Him.

    Paul Washer tells it like this :-

    As with all the recent posts you have written, God is at the source of repentance – happening/taking place/being brought about/being allowed.

    Praise His Name! 😀

    Bless you


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