(Since this has been an issue on my blog and Facebook, this is an appropriate re-post, I hope.)
Last night I went to pick up Zach, my three-year-old, from his class at church. When I dropped him off, the sign-in sheet asked, “Any special instructions?” I hesitated, then left it blank. I suppose this was a mistake. When I went to get him, I lifted him up and sat him on my hip only to quickly find out that at some point in the night, he had failed to display his potty usage abilities. The smell was terrible and I was embarrassed.
All of my kids have gone through this stage. Right when we think the training is over, they revert back a couple months later. When it happened with Katelynn, the doctor told us that we had to just let her do it. He told us she would be both annoyed and embarrassed by the feeling and smell. This would be enough to make her stop. Sure enough, that is what happened. Same thing with Kylee. Same thing with Will. They would have an accident and come in crying due to the uncomfortable feeling and smell. They recognized it and wanted it to change, even though they were not sure how to take care of the problem. But I don’t know what is going on with Zach. He just does not seem to care. It has been over a month and nothing has changed. It is like he does not recognize that there is urine all over him and the smell, somehow, does not bother him. He can go all day with wet pants and not think twice.
Where am I going with this? I’m getting there.
Pop Quiz: What does one have to do to be saved?
1. Repent (i.e., turn from/give up/cease) of sins and trust in Jesus Christ.
2. Repent (i.e., feel sorry for) of sins and trust in Jesus Christ.
3. Repent (i.e., change the way you think about) of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ.
4. Repent (i.e., change your mind) of their former rejection of Christ and trust him.
Most people would be willing to say repentance is necessary for salvation so long as it is properly qualified. There is a big debate that exists around this issue. In modern day Evangelical theology, it is called the “Lordship Salvation Debate.”
Those who hold to the Lordship position are concerned with the “easy-believism” that permeates our Christian culture today. Belief with minimal commitment. Trust without repentance. The mind without the will. Christ without a cost. In essence, they’re concerned about salvation without a life changed by the Gospel. We might term this “nominal Christianity.” Everyone believes they are saved due to simple intellectual assent to the facts of the Gospel. But no one has Christ as the Lord of their lives. For advocates of Lordship Salvation, the Holy Spirit not only brings about trust, but commitment as well. This commitment will be evident in change in lifestyle and passion.
Those who hold to Free-Grace believe that while “nominal Christianity” is a problem, a compromise to the simplicity of the Gospel is not the solution. For Free-Grace advocates, the Lordship position adds human effort to the Gospel, thereby compromising the gift of grace (not unlike Roman Catholics do). Repentance, for the Free-Grace position, is a change of mind about who Christ is, our own self-sufficiency, and our attitude toward sin. However, this does not mean that we are required to make a commitment or “turn from” our sin. This would be a work which would make grace no longer grace. More than this, it would be a work an unsaved person does not have the ability to do.
While there is a wide spectrum of belief bridging these two positions (and I am not necessarily suggesting that you make an either/or distinction here or attempt to put yourself in one “camp” or the other), the key difference exists in one’s view of repentance. What does it mean to repent?
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
I believe the Bible teaches that repentance is a part of faith. Among the many passages which speak directly to this, we find Matt.9:13; Luke 3:3; Luke 5:32; Luke 24:47; Acts 11:18; Acts 20:21; Rom. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:25; 2 Pet. 3:9. But I also believe repentance is difficult to define. The Greek word for repentance, metanoia, is taken from the Greek meta, “to change,” and noos, “mind or thinking.” As with anything, the context, both Biblical and theological, can help us determine more accurately the meaning of Biblical repentance.
While the Gospel of John does not use the word, I believe we can see repentance as an assumed part of the faith about which John speaks. Repentance is the other side of the coin of belief. If one is to trust Christ, this assumes that they are changing or “turning from” something else. All would agree that biblical faith requires a turning from our previous belief about Christ. This requires a change of mind which would certainly qualify as repentance. We have changed our minds about who Christ is. Not only this, we turn from an attitude of self-reliance to one of Christ-reliance. We no longer believe we are self-sufficient to stand before God. This would also involve a change of thinking or mind. Finally, we would all agree that this turning from self-reliance implies a recognition of our sinful condition. At this point, we call upon the Lord for mercy.
So far so good?
However, the issue comes when we begin to add requirements involving a change of life to repentance. Do we add to the list above a “turning from” individual sins? More specifically, do we add a demonstration of the “fruits of repentance,” involving cessation of at least some sins? John the Baptist condemned the religious leaders of the day for demonstrating false repentance. He calls on them to bring forth the “fruit of repentance” (Matt. 3:8). It seems reasonable to assume that the “fruit of repentance” includes a changed life, a real commitment, and a cessation from that which brought about the need for repentance. Shouldn’t our calls for repentance be the same? Shouldn’t we say that our repentance involves a “turning from” our sin as well?
I think we need to be very careful here. I do believe that such a requirement is getting the cart before the horse and ends up in a place not so different from any other works-based salvation. “Turning from” our sin can be interpreted as a work unless heavily qualified. We believe the Gospel message has no relation to works. Paul says that God saved us “not by deeds done in righteousness, but by his mercy” (Titus 3:5). He also tells us that, “If it is by grace [an undeserved gift], it is no longer of works. Otherwise, grace is no longer grace” (Rom. 11:6). Finally, he says that, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, not of yourselves, it is a gift of God. It is not of works, least any man should boast” (Eph.2:8-9). Any addition of works adds an element of self-reliance which is the very antinomy of the Gospel message. Once we begin to define faith as involving a type of repentance that is full of commitment and an unqualified turning away from our sins, we have, in my opinion, added the idea of works to the Gospel. While this might feel as if it prevents nominal and passive Christianity, it destroys a key essence of our message.
It is important to note at this point that I am not against preaching repentance that goes beyond “feeling sorry for” sin. Let me attempt to explain using the story I began with (and please forgive the crassness of this illustration, but I think it works).
Zach has a new saying that he has become fond of. All of these three-year-old phrases are priceless, and are among the things that make me want to freeze time and keep my kids just the way they are. Every time he does something wrong, he immediately says, “Sorry.” It is his new favorite word. However, it has become so overused that some of my other kids have begun to call him on his sincerity. Sometime when I was not there they responded to his “sorry” with, “Sorry is not enough.” Now, every time he does something wrong he says, “Sorry. Sorry is enough, right?”
Now, back to the urine. Every time Zach has an “accident” and we find out, he says “Sorry. Sorry is enough.” Then he goes his merry way. But sorry is not enough. Zach is only sorry because he got caught. There is no true remorse. He is not wrestling with the issue. His conscience remains unaffected. He does not even recognize the smell and uncomfortable feeling. You see, as I said before, my other children had accidents months after they were trained as well. Yet their accidents eventually produced true sorrow. They hated the smell and the feeling of urine on their clothes. Their “accidents” were legitimate and eventually remedied due to their true remorse.
The smell of urine is not unlike the conviction brought about by the Holy Spirit. The ability to recognize and hate sin is not unlike the ability to recognize and hate having your clothes soaked in urine. When a person comes to Christ, they smell their own stench of sin for the first time. However, they truly don’t know what to do about it but call out for help. Repentance for sin may or may not produce immediate change or commitment. It is simply a dramatic recognition of the problem and our inability to remedy it. We come before God soaked in our urine and ask for mercy.
God immediately grants mercy in all cases because there is a true sorrow and hatred for sinfulness (repentance). Our attitude has changed with regard to sin. Our nostrils, for the first time, are just beginning to be able, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to recognize our stench and we don’t know what to do about. We call on God to help us.
This does not mean that we no longer smell. It does not mean that we present before him our clean clothes. It does not mean that we turn from our sins (if by this we mean that we stop sinning). That is impossible. We call on God to forgive us for our stench. Implied in that call is the first seed of what will be an ever-growing desire to smell no more.
God immediately gives us the clothes of Christ to wear. Before God, we are clean. But practically speaking, we are still soaked with urine. “While we were still sinning, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). After this, some people clean up faster than others. Some of us learn to tolerate the stench once again. Some of us clean up our pants, but not our shirt. This is called “sanctification.” It is the lifelong process of smelling less and less like urine.
In the end, this is what repentance is: Recognizing you smell like urine, hating the smell, realizing you cannot do anything about it, and calling on God for mercy.
Luke 18:10-14 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Two urine soaked men went to church to pray. The first one said, “Lord, thank you that I don’t smell like others. Most of the time I make it to the bathroom and have no accidents. Normally, I make it through the night.” The second was scared to enter the church due to the shame of his smell. He stood outside and said, “Lord, have mercy on me. I stink.” I tell you, Christ said, the one who recognized the smell he had went home smelling bad, yet clean.