Monday, September 17, 2007

Repentance Toward God and Faith Toward Our Lord Jesus Christ?

By Bob Wilkin

When Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders in Miletus, he reminded them what he taught publicly and from house to house: “testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Is Paul saying that repentance toward God is a condition of eternal life?

No, he is not.

Let’s make a few observations:

1. Paul doesn’t say what the person who repented received.
2. Paul doesn’t say what the person who believed received.
3. The repentance was directed toward God the Father. (Literally the Greek word order is “that which is toward God, repentance.”)
4. The faith was directed toward the Lord Jesus Christ. (Literally the Greek word of is “and faith which is toward our Lord Jesus.”)
5. In Greek repentance and faith are immediately joined with no words in between (“metonoian kai pistin,” repentance and faith).
6. God the Father is not the Lord Jesus Christ.
7. The repentance is directed to one member of the Trinity while faith is directed toward a different member of the Trinity.
8. This verse is addressed to Theophilus, a believer who already knows the saving message.
9. This passage is not evangelistic. Paul was speaking here not only to believers, but to mature believers, the elders of the church of Ephesus.
10. The calls to repentance and faith were part of Paul’s commitment to preach “the whole counsel of God” (20:27). Paul is not narrowly recounting only what he told unbelievers so that they might have eternal life. He is summarizing his ministry to believers and unbelievers.

These observations (combined with the study of the rest of the Bible) lead to several interpretations:

1. Paul is here emphasizing two major aspects of his preaching ministry, repentance and faith.
2. Paul called both Jews and Gentiles to turn from their sins (repentance) in order to escape the deadly consequences of sin in this life.
3. Paul called both Jews and Gentiles to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be born again.
4. Paul did not mix these messages. He never told anyone that if they simply believed in the Lord Jesus that they would escape the deadly consequences of sinful behavior. Nor did he ever tell anyone that if they repented they would be born again.

The change-of-mind view of repentance, which I advocated in my doctoral dissertation, does not explain this passage or other texts in the NT using metanoia and metanoew. Let’s say that we think that repentance is a change of mind about ourselves, recognizing that we are sinners and that our works cannot bring us eternal life. If that were the case, then Paul wouldn’t speak of repentance, which is changing one’s mind, directed toward God. He would speak of repentance, which is changing one’s mind, directed toward ourselves. But the repentance Paul preached was directed not at us and our works, but was directed at God the Father.

People must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be born again. They do not need to change their thinking about God the Father in order to have everlasting life.

If repentance means a decision to turn from one’s sins, it is easy to see how this is directed toward God. The Ninevites repented toward God the Father and He withheld the destruction of Nineveh and its inhabitants (John 3:5-10; compare Matt 12:41).
My Dad was an alcoholic. I urged him to stop drinking. While I didn’t use the word repentance, I was in reality calling my Dad to repentance toward God.

I never told my Dad that if he repented of his sins he would have eternal life. But I often told him that if he simply believed in the Lord Jesus Christ he would have everlasting life.

I preached both messages to my Dad.

Today I preach both messages in my public ministry as well. I call believers and unbelievers to repent of their sins and I call unbelievers to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

7 comments:

David Bell said...

Great post. I think your view of repentance maintains the freeness of salvation without falling into the root fallacy trap.

I do think, however, that “repentance” can INCLUDE the turning from unbelief. It seems to me that is probably the case in Luke’s version of the Great Commission in Luke 24:47. It might even be included in the passage you just discussed, in which case Paul would be saying something like, “repentance toward God and especially faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

It also seems to me that repentance means PRIMARILY turning from unbelief in Acts 17:30 where Paul tells the Athenians to repent from their belief in other gods. Verse 34 says that some joined him and believed.

Thanks for promoting the message of salvation by grace.

David

bobwilkin said...

Luke 24:47 IMO refers to turning from sins. The Lord says "that repentance and remission of sins should be preached...to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem." That is what we see in Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 20:21; etc. The remission of sins in Luke 24:47 is not a reference to positional forgiveness (as in Col 2:13-14), but to experiential or fellowship forgiveness (as in 1 John 1:9). For the person out of fellowship with God repentance, not confession, is the condition for fellowship forgivenss (Acts 15:11-32). BTW, Acts 17:34 is not parallel to verse 30. That some did come to faith in Christ shows that Luke has certainly not given us Paul's entire sermon. Acts is not evangelistic and hence Luke gives us sketchy details of the evangelistic messages of the apostles.

WebQuest said...

You Said: "Today I preach both messages in my public ministry as well. I call believers and unbelievers to repent of their sins and I call unbelievers to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ."

This sounds like the Lordship message I hear preached today. "Repent of your sins and trust in Christ".

Sure you dont say it this way in regards to salvation but if you mention the two (repent and trust) to a non believer you must realize that they will relate the two, confuse the two right?

Telling them "to turn from their sins, but hey that doesnt save you", then to tell them "to trust in Christ because that alone saves you" sounds not only a bit confusing for someone who is lost but also sounds almost exactly like Lordship Salvation, no?

Grace Evangelical Society said...

HI Webquest,

You are correct that the potential for confusion exists if you give unbelievers both messages. However, it is clear that in both the OT and NT God commanded unbelievers to repent of their sins and to believe in the Messiah (NT Lord Jesus) for everlasting life. For example, both John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus began their ministries with "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt 3:2; 4:17).

IMO we must resist the impulse to do what we think is right and must instead do what God tells us to do. If God tells us to proclaim both messages, then we should.

BTW, if you have kids, I assume you give them both messages and they aren't confused. Kids know that if they break the rules they will be disciplined and if their attitude is not repentant, then more time out will come. Yet those same kids can and do grasp the Grace message when and if their parents and Sunday School teachers clearly proclaim it to them. The same is true in school. Students know the difference between the teacher's love, which hopefully is a given, and their approval, which must be earned.

I hope this helps.

Warmly,

Bob Wilkin

WebQuest said...

Bob,

You said above: "However, it is clear that in both the OT and NT God commanded unbelievers to repent of their sins and to believe in the Messiah (NT Lord Jesus) for everlasting life."

The way that reads is that we have to both repent and believe for eternal life.

Im assuming you dont mean it that way...

Daniel Indradjaja said...

Hi Bob,

I just found out about your blog. I'm a 'secret' follower of GES and I especially like your writings. I was a DTS student from 1996-2000. I was there when you had your debate with Dr. Bock. Now, I'm a pastor in Perth, Australia. I always go to the Faithalone website to get inspired whenever I feel like I'm less of a follower when I fail. I have a blog but I'm not a good writer. So I need to fess up that I "plagiarised" some of your writings in my blog. Shame on me. I will give proper reference next time.

Anyway, keep up the good work. I have lots of questions to ask you but let's leave that till next time. God bless.

Trent said...

WebQuest, Bob does not hold to Repentance being nessecary for eternal life. You can read much of what he has said in other places on this website covering that topic as well as books he has written. Faith Alone in Christ Alone!

However, that does not mean that some people will not repent prior to trusting in Christ for eternal life.