Posted By Aaron Marcelli on September 27, 2011
I have received a small amount of feedback on my book. There were two instances in particular where someone wrote me to disagree with something I said in the book. I want to use this post and the next to further address these issues.
The first has to do with the nature and place of repentance. Someone wrote me a message on facebook after reading my book and pointed to a section of chapter four in which I state repentance is not necessary for salvation. The person who wrote me on this went on to say that we cannot turn toward God and salvation until we have turned away from self and sin. They said that what I wrote was dangerous and misleading. That’s why I want to talk about it in more detail here.
I realize that stating repentance is not necessary for salvation is certainly bold and perhaps I should have more accurately wrote that repentance is not required at the moment of salvation, though I do not believe my original statement to be unbiblical either. In clarifying the definition of repentance (page 66) I address the meaning of the original Old and New Testament words translated into our English word repentance. Any proper definition of these words portrays them as acts, works or deeds to be done on our part.
Repent means to turn. A more expanded translation would be to feel such regret and sorrow that you change your mind and turn to a different set of actions. It is something we must do. It’s an act. It’s a work. It is work! It does not happen immediately or easily. So when people say that the first step in salvation in repentance, they are saying that salvation is based upon a work you do. This is completely inaccurate!
Such understanding for the term repentance is common in contemporary and traditional churches alike. In the conservative, Baptist church I grew up in I heard the pastor preach something along the lines of, “you don’t have to make yourself clean before you come to God. You come to God as you are and He will make you clean.” To me, that is the exact point I was making in the book! To say repentance is an essential for becoming a Christian is to say you must have already turned from your sin and be acting like a Christian to become one. That would be a works-based salvation.
I believe the misunderstanding comes from a confusion over terms. Certainly if you are actively running from God you are not in the position to become a Christian. At some point you must at least be open to Him and want salvation. Acknowledging that need is confession. Making the conscious decision to work toward a changed life and do things differently than you did before is something completely different; that’s repentance. (By the way, the entire second chapter of my book is spend noting the differences between confession and repentance)
You see, repentance is work. And it’s hard work at that. The Message Bible sometimes translates repentance as “life change.” Perhaps the hardest thing to do as humans is change. That’s why I believe God desires to, through the Holy Spirit, help believers in repentance. The Holy Spirit comes into the life of a believer at salvation and is then able to lead and guide them through a time of life change to become more like Jesus. Saying repentance must come before salvation leaves non-Christians on their own to do this difficult work on their own as they try and become good enough to be saved.
Another common misunderstanding here is that repentance is not a one-time act. It’s not something we do on the front end to be accepted by God and then we’re done with it. Because repentance is a turn or change in our actions, away from self and toward God, it is needed over and over again throughout our entire lives. We consistently sin against God. We continually turn our back on Him and the desires He has for us. Each one of those times requires some degree and form of repentance. Sometimes this means a long, drawn out, public repentance that is worked out over time for a ministry leader who has had a major failure in their life. Often it is a quick realization of the wrong we have done and an immediate action to end that sin and pursue something better. Either way, repentance is work. And it’s most successfully done with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
For more on this, I would encourage you to check out this book!