We normally associate the term “subscription” with signing up to receive certain periodicals, journals, and/or magazines to which we’ve “subscribed.” In religious or ecclesiastical parlance, however, the terms “subscription” or “subscribe” when tied to a doctrinal creed or confession refers to one’s affirmation of, agreement with, and commitment to a fixed body of doctrines or articles of faith that are officially representative of a church’s or denomination’s beliefs. It’s worth noting that the term “creed” derives from the Latin credo, meaning, “I believe.” The issue of subscription is important for churches or ecclesiastical bodies that are self-consciously “confessional,” especially as it relates to the level of commitment these institutions expect of their officers and teachers. Continue reading “Confessional Subscription: Its Terms and Types”
The tensions were high. In June of 1922, the Northern Baptist Convention convened under the theme, “Agreed to Differ, but Resolved to Love.” One might dispute whether the resolution was successfully carried out. But no one will debate that they “agreed to differ.” The tensions were high. Continue reading “The Validity & Value of Confessions”
I love systematic theology. In fact, I have a whole bookshelf dedicated to systematic theology. Some of my favorites are De Doctrina Christiana by Augustine and Peter Lombard’s Sentences. I can hardly resist them. Aquinas, Barth, Bavinck, Berkhof, Brakel, Brown, Dabney, Dagg, Erickson, Frame, Gill, Hodge, Horton, Turretin, Reymond, Vos, Warfield, and the like fill my selves. And, with my love for systematic theology, I am excited to add Greg Nichols’ set to my collection.
With so many systematic theologies, one may wonder why there is a need for a new one. One could argue that Nichols has something unique to offer as a Reformed Baptist. This is true. Since Reformed Baptists have so few representatives in the systematic theology department, we can be thankful for the release of this new multi-volume set.
Yet, I would argue that there is something even more unique about Nichols’ systematic theology—it’s a systematic theology and a topical Bible in one. I don’t know of anything else like it.
Of all my systematic theologies, I love Calvin’s Institutes the most. However, moving forward in my day-to-day studies and sermon preparation I can see myself referencing Nichols’ Systematic Theology as much, if not more, than any of the others. The reason it will never be too far out of reach is because it provides an exhaustive catalog of verses that are systematically arranged.
The value of these Scriptural references are not merely that they are so easy accessible, for we have Nave’s Topical Bible for that. Rather, the value is that they show the reader that Scripture alone is the authority of systematic theology. Nichols subjugates every branch (loci) of theology to the full Biblical witness (and not just two or three isolated proof texts). What does the Bible say about the nature of God? What does the Bible say about creation, providence, and sin? We simply cannot answer these questions by going to a single chapter of a single book of the Bible. Rather, we must search Genesis to Revelation to uncover God’s complete answer to these questions. And Nichols has spent years doing just that, and, now, with the release of these books, we have all his vast research of the Scriptures at our finger tips. For instance, page 59, on The Scope of Divine Providence, Nichols neatly gathers the important verses on the meticulous government of God over every little detail of history:
Scripture stresses that God’s preservation of reality and government of history are meticulous. His providence includes even the minutest creature and even the most seemingly insignificant event in nature and in the lives of men. He personally counts the hairs on every head and controls the flight of every bird. Truly, such mental capacity and capability to accomplish things are incomprehensible. Consider a sample of the biblical witness to the scope of divine providence. I simply tabulate these ten passages in the order of their occurrence in Scripture:
- God governs every illness and death: Deut. 32:39: See now that I, even I, am he: And there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal; And there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
- God governs every rejection of good advice by lost men: 1 Sam. 2:24-25: Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: you make Jehovah’s people to transgress. If one man sin against another, God shall judge him; but if a man sin against Jehovah, who shall entreat for him? Notwithstanding, they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because Jehovah was minded to slay them; 2 Sam. 17:14: And Absalom and all the men of Israel said: The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel. For Jehovah had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that Jehovah might bring evil upon Absalom.
- God governs chance, every random event: 1 Kings 22:28, 34: And Micaiah said, If you return at all in peace, the Lord has not spoken by me. And he said, Hearken, O people, every one of you . . . And a certain man drew a bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness; Prov. 16:33: The lot is cast into the lap; But the whole disposing thereof is of Jehovah
- God governs every household event and childbirth: Ps. 127:1-3: Except Jehovah build the house, they labor in vain that build it: Except Jehovah keep the city, the watchman wakes but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to take rest late, to eat the bread of toil; For so he gives unto his beloved sleep. Lo, children are a heritage of Jehovah; and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
- God governs every romance and marriage: Prov. 19:14: House and riches are an inheritance from fathers; But a prudent wife is from Jehovah.
- God governs every war and conflict: Prov. 21:31: The horse is prepared against the day of battle; but victory is of Jehovah.
- God governs every race and competition: Eccles. 9:11: I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all.
- God governs the appointment of every government official: Dan. 4:32: until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever he will.
- God governs every event in the inanimate universe: Matt. 5:45: that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.
- God governs the salvation or damnation of every person: Rom. 9:16-19: So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that has mercy. For the scripture says unto Pharaoh: For this very purpose did I raise you up, that I might show in you my power, and that my name might be published abroad in all the earth. So then he has mercy on whom he will, and whom he will be hardens. You will say then unto me: Why does he still find fault? For who withstands his will?
But this is more than just a Scripture reference tool that is systematically arranged, it is a true systematic theology that is based on Biblical exegesis. It is vital that our theology be derived and governed by the exegesis of Scripture, and by the exegesis of Scripture alone. Sadly, some systematics are more influenced by Greek philosophy than by God’s Word. It is abundantly evident, however, that Nichols has no interest in syncretizing Athens with Jerusalem. In fact, according to Nichols, “We must subject every pronouncement of dogmatic theology to the scrutiny of Scripture…Scripture is the final judge of man’s dogma. The final question is always, ‘What say the Scriptures?’” (257). Natural and speculative theology do not lead man to the Trinitarian God of the Bible, nor even to a cohesive system of thought. Aristotle is of no help when it comes to understanding special revelation. We should interpret natural revelation through the lens of special revelation, and not the other way around. Thus, without the assistance of natural and speculative theology, Nichols shows how the truths contained within the canon of Scripture are sufficient in themselves to bring us to a cohesive system of thought and a full understanding of all the branches of theology. Like John Calvin, Nichols believes that divine revelation can by systematized without the help of natural theology.
For these reasons, not to mention how easy it is to use and to quickly reference, I highly treasure Nichols’ systematic theology.
But what I have said up to this point is true for every volume of Nichols’ systematic theology. In regards to volume two in particular, if you want to know what the Bible says about man, then I highly recommend you getting this volume—The Doctrine of Man. Volume two of Nichols’ systematic theology is as exhaustive and clear a treatment of this important question as you will find.
Nichols divides the doctrine of man into five subheadings: (1.) Formation of the Original Creation, (2.) Conservation of the Original Creation, (3.) Culmination of the Original Creation, (4.) Devastation of the Original Creation, (5.) Benevolence to the Ruined Original Creation.
What is unique is that Nichols treats creation and providence within this volume—and this makes sense, seeing that man is the culmination of creation and the special interest of divine providence. Within these subheadings, everything from marriage and earthly governments, to the Sabbath is given its due attention. It is fun opening a book that makes you excited about reading the first chapters while placing an equal eagerness on reading to the end.
My favorite section is Nichols’ treatment of Man’s Psychosomatic Constitution (pages 98-102). Nichols explains the four major positions, such as (1.) ontological dualism, (2.) trichotomy, (3.) holism, and (4.) duality in unity. He not only provides us with a chart to help distinguish the different views from each other, but he also explains the origin, basic beliefs, and ethical consequences of each view. Nichols concludes that duality in unity is the biblical view:
Scripture teaches that human nature displays diversity, cohesion, and unity. Man’s constitution is psychosomatic. It consists of two distinct entities, body and soul, which are separable in death. Yet it possesses organic unity, not radical dichotomy. I use, “duality in unity,” to express this diversity, cohesion, and unity. Thus, the other three views contain a mixture of truth and error. Greek dualism captures the truth that man’s constitution consists of two diverse elements, a material entity called body and non-material entity called soul or spirit. Trichotomy captures the truth that cohesive power unites these two elements. Holism captures the truth that man’s constitution is a unit, an organic whole. At creation God established an intricate bond that, in the absence of sin, would never have dissolved. Thus, if we reject any of these truths, or press one to an extreme at the expense of the others, we will fall from the razor’s edge of truth into error.
Though Nichols holds to a slightly different covenantal framework than me, I, nevertheless, profited from reading his position on the covenants and how they function in God’s plan of redemption. Nichols is wise in placing the doctrines of the covenants in his treatment of the doctrine of man, for it is impossible to understand the nature, purpose, and fall of man independently of God’s covenantal framework.
With this said, Nichols’ treatment of sin and the fall of man is also helpful. He does not shy away from addressing the difficult question on how man’s volitional freedom corresponds with God’s sovereignty (pages 277-281). Nichols does not seek to resolve the tension, but delicately upholds both truths without compromise:
When a sovereign God controls sinners, he controls, not wooden dummies, but free moral agents. Scripture asserts unambiguously the sovereignty of God over fallen men: “The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord, and he turns it whithersoever he will” (Prov. 21:1). Free agency does not cancel God’s sovereignty. God predestines, controls, and determines everything that happens in this world, including everything that fallen men do: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Again, Isaiah is very bold: “Ho, Assyrian, rod of mine anger, the rod in whose hand is my indignation … Shall the axe boast itself against him that hews therewith? … Howbeit, he means not so, but it is in his heart to destroy and to cut off people not a few.” (Isa. 10:7). Therefore, God says that when he has purged the Israelites with him, he will judge him. God held him accountable for his actions even though he was the instrument of God’s chastening judgment. He did God’s purpose even though he wasn’t aware he was doing it. He’s not a puppet: “Howbeit he means not so.” Nevertheless, God accomplished his purposes through him: “Ho, Assyrian, rod of mine anger.” The only plausible meaning of this text is that sinful man is a free moral agent accountable to a sovereign God.
Here is one of the great mysteries of Scripture, a great stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to the pride of fallen man. Somehow, an omnipotent God controls fallen men who ultimately act upon their own free moral choices.
Much more could be said about volume 2 of Nichols’ Systematic Theology, but I hope what little I have said will spur you to get your own copy. I am certain that you will be thankful that you did, as it has definitely been beneficial for me.
May we all stop and ponder for a moment about the story of the gospel as we prepare ourselves for Christmas. I am amazed that God Almighty would sendus such a wonderful gift while we were His enemies and deserving of His wrath.
My friend, Tom Nettles, sent me this poem, which prompted me to just that—stop and reflect on the true meaning and reason for Christmas.
A Christmas Greeting
And New Year’s Wish
A Baby down from heaven came,
Hiding rebels to reclaim.
Took our flesh,
Took our sin.
Jesus was his name.
From virgin mother, humble birth
Frightening all the kings of earth;
Angels sang with mirth.
Untouched by sin, he lived his life
Tested sore, and pressed by strife.
Wrath he bore,
Ours the blame;
Grace through him is rife.
So now he intercedes above
Lion of strength, yet mercy’s dove.
“Come to me.”
“Trust my blood.”
And know redemptive love.
May Christmas truth protect your year,
Quiet your soul, and dry your tear.
Guilt be Gone!
Death be still!
Life can have no fear.
Note: As I have noted in the past two posts (here and here), back in 2015 I posted a a teaching outline entitled The Doctrine of Conversion: Understanding Faith and Repentance, and this three part series is basically an expansion and reworking of that outline. Again, however, rather than take the old one down, I thought I would simply post these others and allow the blog’s readers the option of choosing which approach they find most helpful.
Over the past couple of weeks we have examined the Biblical teaching concerning saving faith and repentance, which is to say that we have been talking about the doctrine of conversion. We will finish our brief study of this doctrine with this post.
We get the name for this doctrine from the Latin term conversio, which has led to the English terms used to translate a couple of key New Testament Greek terms. Here are a few examples from the King James Version:
KJV Matthew 13:15 For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted [ἐπιστρέφω, epistréphō], and I should heal them.
KJV Matthew 18:2-3 Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, 3 and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted [στρέφω, stréphō] and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
KJV Acts 3:19 Repent [μετανοέω, metanoéō] ye therefore, and be converted [ἐπιστρέφω, epistréphō], that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord ….
One of these passages uses the Greek verb stréphō, which literally means to “turn, [or] turn around” (UBS Greek Lexicon #5649, BibleWorks). The other two passages use the Greek verb epistréphō, which literally means to “turn back, return; turn to [or] turn around” (UBS Greek Lexicon #2511, BibleWorks). Most modern versions translate these words with one of these basic meanings in these passages, but, as we have seen going back as far as the King James Version, the words are sometimes translated, when used in the passive voice, as be converted because in such contexts they clearly have to do with the spiritual change that takes place when we repent of our sins and trust in Christ as our Lord and Savior. This has given rise, then, to our speaking of the doctrine of conversion, a doctrine which could also be referred to as the doctrine of savingly turning from sin to God.
As I pointed out last week, citing the example of Charles Ryrie, there has been a misunderstanding of the doctrine of conversion for some time now among many who would call themselves Evangelical Christians, with attempts to redefine either faith or repentance, or both. There have also been attempts to separate repentance from faith and even to say that repentance has nothing to do with saving faith. Teachers of such a view abound, and they can be very winsome and sound quite orthodox in some of their assertions. Notice, for example, the way in which one popular advocate of such thinking, Zane Hodges, speaks of faith and repentance with regard to conversion:
Faith alone (not repentance and faith) is the sole condition for justification and eternal life. (Absolutely Free, p. 144)
There can be no compromise on this point if we wish to preserve and to proclaim the biblical truth of sola fide [meaning “faith alone”]. To make repentance a condition for eternal salvation is nothing less than a regression toward Roman Catholic dogma. (Ibid. , p. 145)
This sounds quite Biblical and orthodox when you first hear it, doesn’t it? After all, don’t we all want to preserve the true Gospel that salvation is by grace through faith alone? Of course we do! But the problem with Hodges’ view is that it avoids the possibility that a Biblical understanding of faith presupposes and even includes repentance and that, therefore, when the Apostles taught the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, they had in mind a repentant faith. In my view, this is precisely what the Apostles meant when they spoke of trusting in Christ for salvation. As Robert Culver has astutely observed:
There are two aspects of the act of the sinner in spiritual conversion for salvation – as in every form of conversion, or turning about. It may with propriety be said there are two aspects of one act – one is a negative aspect of turning away and the other the positive aspect of turning toward. The first is named repentance and the second faith. (Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical, p. 701)
Thus, as I have already pointed out, we have actually already been studying the doctrine of conversion over the past couple of weeks as we examined the Bible’s teaching of faith and repentance. Today, however, we will look more closely at the Biblical teaching regarding the relationship between saving faith and repentance as the two complementary aspects of conversion. We will then see how faith and repentance continue throughout the Christian life.
I. Faith and Repentance Are Inseparable Aspects of Conversion
Since we are currently speaking of faith and repentance with respect to the doctrine of conversion, we are of course speaking of initial faith and repentance in Christ rather than the ongoing need to believe and repent in the Christian life. At this point, then, we will focus our attention on those passages which speak of faith and repentance in the context of conversion rather than of the Christian life subsequent to conversion. In the process we will see that, although it is true that faith and repentance are not always mentioned together in Scripture, they are nevertheless two inseparable aspects of conversion and that the mention of one always presupposes and implies the other. Let’s take a look at the basic ways in which Scripture refers to faith and repentance when addressing conversion, and I think you will see what I mean.
First, sometimes only faith is explicitly mentioned as necessary in coming to Christ for salvation. There are many examples of this, but we will briefly consider only three.
NKJ John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
John speaks of faith – of whoever believes – but he does not explicitly mention repentance. As a matter of fact, repentance is never explicitly mentioned in the Gospel of John at all, a fact that has led some to wrongly assume that repentance is not necessary for salvation after all. But such teachers commit the word-concept fallacy, assuming that because a particular word is not used, then the concept denoted by the word is absent as well. Anyone familiar with the Gospel of John, however, knows that the concept of repentance runs throughout the teaching of Jesus contained in the book. To suggest that John saw repentance as unnecessary for salvation because the Greek terms which explicitly refer to repentance are not there is no more valid than to argue that Jesus did not believe in the grace of God because He never used the Greek term which explicitly refers to grace.
As John MacArthur has observed, “It is true that John does not use the word repentance, but as we have observed elsewhere, our Lord also did not use the word grace. One suspects no-lordship theologians would recoil from any suggestion that the doctrine of grace was missing from Jesus’ teaching” (https://www.gty.org/library/articles/A238/Repentance-in-the-Gospel-of-John).
Besides, as we saw last week, and as we will see again later in this teaching, our Lord Jesus taught the necessity of both repentance and faith, and He commanded His disciples to do the same, so there is no possible way that John would have disagreed. For now, however, let’s consider a couple of additional passages in which only faith is explicitly mentioned. The next one comes from Luke’s account of the imprisonment of Paul and Silas in Philippi:
NKJ Acts 16:26-31 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” 29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” [In addition to what he had apparently heard from them, recall also vs. 17] 31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
We do not know precisely what truths Paul and Silas had been singing about, nor what they might have said to the Philippian jailer prior to this point, not to mention what he might have heard of their previous teaching. However, we must understand the jailer’s expressed desire to be saved as a desire to be saved from his sins, for Paul clearly did not see the need to make this plain to him. In other words, the man must already have been repentant, which is why Paul had only to stress the need to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” for salvation.
NKJ Romans 10:9 … that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
Here again Paul does not explicitly mention repentance, but, when one considers the entirety of the Epistle to the Romans, it quickly becomes evident that Paul definitely does not mean to deny the importance of repentance when he mentions only faith here.
Second, sometimes only repentance is explicitly mentioned as necessary in coming to Christ for salvation. We shall again consider just three examples, all of which come from the Book of Acts. The first example comes from Luke’s account of Peter’s preaching at Pentecost, where we will come in at the end of his sermon:
NKJ Acts 2:36-38 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Peter obviously saw that these people already believed what he had been saying and that he did not, then, need to tell them to believe. He therefore had only to stress the need for repentance.
The next example comes from the preaching of Peter as well, this time from when he preached in Solomon’s Portico after having healed the lame man at the temple gate:
NKJ Acts 3:19 Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord ….
The last example comes from the preaching of Paul at the Areopagus:
NKJ Acts 17:29-31 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. 30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.
How is it that the Apostles could thus preach repentance when proclaiming the Gospel if repentance isn’t somehow essential? And why do these same Apostles sometimes demand faith and sometimes demand repentance if they do not see them as connected and even in some sense interchangeable? That they are so connected will become clear as we consider the next point.
Third, sometimes faith and repentance are mentioned together as necessary in coming to Christ for salvation. Again we shall consider three examples, the first of which comes from the description of Jesus’ preaching ministry in the Gospel of Mark:
NKJ Mark 1:14-15 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Jesus clearly sees repentance and faith as two aspects of a proper response to the Gospel message. We are not surprised, then, to find the same idea in Paul’s charge to the elders at Ephesus:
NKJ Acts 20:17-21 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; 20 how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The author of Hebrews also connects repentance and faith as foundational and as therefore being among the “elementary principles of Christ”:
NKJ Hebrews 6:1-2 Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
Thus we see that faith and repentance are really ‘two sides of the same coin.’ You cannot have one without the other, and when you assert one – at least in the same way that the Bible asserts it – you presuppose and imply the other. As Phil Johnson has put it, repentance is turning from sin, and faith is turning to Christ, but it is one turn from sin to Christ (Q&A session at the 2013 Springfield Bible Conference). And, I would add, this turn we commonly call conversion.
Wayne Grudem also summarizes this relationship well when he writes that:
Scripture puts repentance and faith together as different aspects of the one act of coming to Christ for salvation. It is not that a person first turns from sin and next trusts in Christ, or first trusts in Christ and then turns from sin, but rather that both occur at the same time. When we turn to Christ for salvation from our sins, we are simultaneously turning away from the sins that we are asking Christ to save us from. If that were not true our turning to Christ for salvation from sin could hardly be a genuine turning to him or trusting in him. (Systematic Theology, p. 713)
Thus, when we accurately proclaim that people are sinners deserving of God’s wrath and punishment and hell, and when we accurately proclaim that they must trust in Christ to save them from their sins, then people will not trust in Him without repenting, and they will not repent without trusting in Him.
This is no doubt why the Apostles didn’t always see the need to stress both faith and repentance in the same way and in every instance. In a situation in which people had already recognized their sins before God and were clearly repentant, all that needed to be stressed was faith in Christ. And where people clearly believed the message about who Christ is as Lord and Savior, all that needed to be stressed was repentance from sin when coming to Him for salvation.
But before we finish our brief Biblical survey today, we must also understand that neither faith nor repentance cease after we are converted. This leads us to our second major heading
II. Faith and Repentance Continue Throughout the Christian Life
As we have seen, faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin, and we cannot have one without the other. In addition, although we must speak of a single act of repentant faith when we are discussing conversion, both faith and repentance must be ongoing in the life of every believer.
First, it is clear that repentance must continue in the Christian life. As Martin Luther aptly stated in the first of his famous Ninety-Five Theses, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said ‘Repent,’ willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance” (https://www.monergism.com/95-theses-martin-luther).
This may be understood, for example, from the way that Jesus taught us to pray, in which He assumed we would need to repent every day:
NKJ Matthew 6:9-13 In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. 13 And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
We saw another example last week, when we saw how Paul had called the Corinthian Christians to repentance and later rejoiced that they had repented:
NKJ 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance [μετάνοια, metánoia]. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance [μετάνοια, metánoia] leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.
The Lord Jesus could also call Christians to repentance, such as when He challenged the church at Laodicea to repent:
NKJ Revelation 3:19-20 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
These examples should be sufficient to demonstrate the fact that repentance must continue in the lives of Christians as they continue to battle sin.
Second, it is clear that faith must continue in the Christian life. The apostle Paul set an example for us when he spoke of his life in Christ as a life of faith:
NKJ Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
Paul also taught the necessity of persevering in faith:
NKJ Colossians 1:21-23 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight– 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
The author of Hebrews teaches that persevering faith is a characteristic of those who have become true partakers of Christ:
NKJ Hebrews 3:14 For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end ….
This means that we must continue to trust Christ to the end, doesn’t it? And this is theme to which the author will return later in the same book:
NKJ Hebrews 10:35-39 Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: 37 “For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. 38 Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” 39 But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.
These examples should be sufficient to demonstrate the fact that, like repentance, faith must continue in our lives as we await the return of our Lord or until we die, whichever comes first.
We must therefore agree with the assessment found in Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Biblical Truth, in a section entitled “Gifts That Keep On Giving”:
As a divine gift, then, repentant faith that saves can never be transient or temporary. It has an abiding quality that guarantees it will endure to the end, so that repentance and faith characterize the lifestyle of the true Christian. (John MacArthur & Richard Mayhue, General Editors, pp. 595-596)
For those of us who have repented and trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and savior, let us then offer to God all our gratitude and praise for His work in us, and let us give Him the glory for the great things He has done in us, through us, and for us, for He alone could have done them. We should be greatly encouraged by what He has done, and we should be filled with the same confidence about which the Apostle Paul spoke when he described himself as “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
For those who have not yet repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, you should recognize that you have been blessed by Him today to hear the truth of His Word and to receive this additional opportunity to respond in repentance and faith.
Note: As I have noted in the previous post on saving faith, back in 2015 I posted a a teaching outline entitled The Doctrine of Conversion: Understanding Faith and Repentance, and the three part series I am continuing today is basically an expansion and reworking of that outline. However, as also previously noted, rather than take the old one down, I thought I would simply post these others and allow the blog’s readers the option of choosing which approach they find most helpful.
There has been an increasing attack upon the teaching that repentance from sin is necessary for salvation. For example, there are some who agree that repentance is properly understood as a turning from sin, but they would argue that such a turning from sin is not a necessary aspect of conversion, and they simply eliminate repentance as a part of Gospel preaching altogether (an example of such a teacher will be given in next week’s post). Yet there are others who redefine repentance so as to eliminate turning from sin as a necessary component of repentance. Charles Ryrie represented that latter point of view when he wrote in his Basic Theology that:
… unsaved people can repent unto salvation. This saving repentance has to involve a change of mind about Jesus Christ so that whatever a person thought of Him before, he changes his mind and trusts Him to be his Savior. That is the only kind or content of repentance that saves (Acts 2:38; 17:30; 2 Pet. 3:9). However, saving repentance may be preceded by a repentance concerning sin (which activates an individual’s sense of need for forgiveness) or a repentance toward God (which alerts him to the fact that he has offended a holy God and therefore needs a way to appease Him). (Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, e-Sword, italics mine)
By redefining repentance in this way, so that it doesn’t require the concept of turning from sin (even if this may sometimes occur), such teachers actually deny that repentance from sin is essential for salvation. Today we shall see that such views are in direct opposition Scripture. We shall see that 1) repentance is turning from sin to follow Christ, 2) repentance is necessary to salvation, and 3) repentance is a gift of God.
I. Repentance Is Turning From Sin to Follow Christ
Here it is important to consider examples from both the Old and New Testaments, since the New Testament Greek terminology is heavily influenced by the Old Testament Hebrew terminology, and since the Scriptural concept of repentance has been under such attack these days.
Examples from the Old Testament
As we look at examples from the Old Testament, it is quite easy to see what the true nature of repentance is, namely that it involves sorrow for and turning from sin. We will begin with an example from the Book of Job:
NKJ Job 42:5-6 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; 6 therefore I despise myself, and repent [נחם, nāḥam] in dust and ashes.
The Hebrew verb nāḥam means “1. to regret: a) to become remorseful… b) to regret something [Job 42:6 is listed here] … 2. to be sorry, come to regret something …” (HALOT #6096, BibleWorks). and the use of this word to describe Job’s repentance clearly indicates that sorrow for his sin led him to turn from it.
The Prophets also regularly speak even more plainly of turning from sin in order to follow the LORD. We will begin with an example from the Book of Isaiah:
NKJ Isaiah 55:7 Let the wicked forsake [עָזַב, āzaḇ, leave] his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return [שׁוּב, shûv] to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
The Hebrew verb shûv here means “to turn around” or “repent” (HALOT #9407, BibleWorks). It is the most common word used to denote repentance in the Old Testament, as we shall see in the following examples as well:
NKJ Jeremiah 8:6 I listened and heard, but they do not speak aright. No man repented [נחם, nāḥam] of his wickedness, saying, “What have I done?” Everyone turned [שׁוּב, shûv] to his own course, as the horse rushes into the battle.
NKJ Ezekiel 33:11 Say to them: “As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn [שׁוּב, shûv] from his way and live. Turn [שׁוּב, shûv], turn [שׁוּב, shûv] from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?”
NKJ Joel 2:12-13 “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return [שׁוּב, shûv] to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return [שׁוּב, shûv] to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.
As pointed out above, these passages demonstrate that repentance involves a sorrow for and a turning from sin. But they also show us that repentance has both a negative and a positive aspect. It involves both turning from sin and turning to God in faith.
Examples from the New Testament
We will see in the following passages that the New Testament concept of repentance is the same as in the Old Testament. We will begin with an example from the Gospel of Luke:
NKJ Luke 3:8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance [μετάνοια, metánoia], and do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Here John the Baptist used the Greek noun metánoia, which means “repentance, change of heart, turning from one’s sins, change of way” (UBS Greek Lexicon #3986, BibleWorks). He insisted that, where true repentance has occurred, a changed life will result. There will be “fruits.” Clearly, then, John believed that repentance meant forsaking one’s former sins, just as the LORD had declared through the prophet Isaiah, as we saw earlier.
Paul’s use of the word metánoia in his second epistle to the Corinthian church lays great stress on the idea of sorrow for sin that leads to turning away from it:
NKJ 2 Corinthians 7:8-10 For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. 9 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance [μετάνοια, metánoia]. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance [μετάνοια, metánoia] leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.
Here Paul is describing the heartfelt repentance of the Corinthian church, who had finally exercised discipline upon one of their brothers who had been guilty of sexual immorality with his father’s wife (see 1 Cor. 5:1-13). The church had been tolerating such behavior, but, after Paul wrote to challenge them about the issue, they did the right thing and dealt with the issue. Paul describes their proper response in this passage, commending them for their “godly sorrow” for their sins which had led them to repentance. There can be no doubt in this context that Paul uses the noun metánoia to indicate a turning from sin.
Having thus gotten a grip on the meaning of the Greek noun metánoia, we may now turn our attention briefly to the related verb metanoéō. Here one example should suffice:
NKJ Acts 3:19 Repent [μετανοέω, metanoéō] therefore and be converted [ἐπιστρέφω, epistréphō], that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.
The Greek verb metanoéō means “repent, have a change of heart, turn from one’s sins, change one’s ways” (UBS Greek Lexicon # 3985, BibleWorks). The Greek verb epistréphō , used here in conjunction with metanoéō, essentially means to “turn back, return; turn to [or] turn around” (UBS Greek Lexicon #2511, BibleWorks). Note the similarity in meaning of these terms to the Hebrew shûv in the Old Testament. These words are being used in the same way to indicate the same idea, turning from sin and turning to God in faith.
Given such Scriptural evidence, we can see that Wayne Grudem defines the concept well when he writes that “Repentance is a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ” (Systematic Theology, p. 713).
II. Repentance Is Essential for Salvation
Consider, first of all, the Gospel preaching of our Lord Jesus:
NKJ Mark 1:14-15 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent [μετανοέω, metanoéō], and believe in the gospel.”
Jesus clearly saw repentance as an essential aspect of His Gospel preaching, didn’t He? No wonder, then, that He also charged His followers to preach repentance as an essential aspect of their Gospel ministry as well:
NKJ Luke 24:46-47 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance [μετάνοια, metánoia] and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
We may see in the example of the apostle Paul that the early Church was faithful in fulfilling Jesus’ command to preach repentance to all nations. Consider first his preaching at the Areopagus:
NKJ Acts 17:29-31 “Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. 30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent [μετανοέω, metanoéō], 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
Consider also Paul’s charge to the elders at Ephesus:
NKJ Acts 20:17-21 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; 20 how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance [μετάνοια, metánoia] toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul clearly taught not just that faith in Christ was a necessary aspect of gospel preaching, but that repentance from sin was necessary as well.
We must therefore agree with the assessment found in Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Biblical Truth:
Scripture is unmistakably clear: repentance is not an optional element but is an essential component of the true gospel. Those who insist that it is possible to savingly trust in Christ without repenting of sin – to believe in Jesus as Savior but not submit to Him as Lord – find themselves in direct contradiction to the gospel according to Jesus and the apostles. (John MacArthur & Richard Mayhue, General Editors, pp. 595-596)
Yet we must not think that we are able to repent in our own strength any more than we are able to believe in our own strength, which brings us to our third and final point.
III. Repentance Is a Gift From God
Las week we saw that saving faith is a gift of God, so we should not be surprised that repentance from sin, which is also essential to salvation, is a gift of God as well. We shall briefly consider three passages which teach this concept. The first comes from the defense of Peter before the Sanhedrin:
NKJ Acts 5:31 Him [the Lord Jesus] God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give [δίδωμι, dídōmi] repentance [μετάνοια, metánoia] to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
Our next example comes from the reaction of the Christians in Jerusalem to the news that Cornelius and his household had come to faith in Christ:
NKJ Acts 11:18 When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted [δίδωμι, dídōmi] to the Gentiles repentance [μετάνοια, metánoia] to life.”
Our final example comes from Paul’s pastoral instruction to Timothy:
NKJ 2 Timothy 2:24-25 … And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant [δίδωμι, dídōmi] them repentance [μετάνοια, metánoia], so that they may know the truth.
These passages make it quite clear that repentance is a gift from God, don’t they? As John MacArthur aptly states, “All true repentance is produced by God’s sovereign grace (Eph. 2:7), and without such grace human effort to change is futile (cf. Jer. 13:23) (MacArthur Bible Commentary, e-Sword).
Sadly, however, many do not see that they turn repentance into a mere work of man when they deny that it is a gift from God and thus the work of God in man. And it is sad as well that so many today think that they defend the true Gospel when they deny that this essential work of God in man has no place in a man’s conversion.
If you have not yet repented of your sins and trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then I urge you to do so today. For God has shown His kindness to you by giving you more time to repent, as the Apostle Paul says to sinners:
NKJ Romans 2:1-4 Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. 3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance [μετάνοια, metánoia]?
The apostle Peter also speaks about how the longsuffering of God leads us to repentance:
NKJ 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance [μετάνοια, metánoia].
The Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross in our place, taking God’s punishment for our sins upon Himself, and He rose from the dead, conquering both sin and death on our behalf. Afterward, He ascended to Heaven from whence He reigns as Lord and Savior, offering the free gift f forgiveness and everlasting life to all who trust in Him. In His patience, He is giving you time to accept His sincere offer of salvation. Will you turn from your sins today and trust in the Lord Jesus to save you from your sins?
Note: Back in 2015 I posted a a teaching outline entitled The Doctrine of Conversion: Understanding Faith and Repentance, and the three part series beginning with this post is basically an expansion and reworking of that outline. However, rather than take the old one down, I thought I would simply post these others and allow the blog’s readers the option of choosing which approach they find most helpful.
One of the many disturbing aspects of the recent election of our new president was the manner in which he sought the support of Evangelical Christians by claiming to be a Christian himself, despite the fact that this claim was rooted in a complete misunderstanding of the Gospel and a heretical understanding of faith. After all, not only did he claim that he never saw any need to seek forgiveness for his sins, but he also repeatedly bragged about having sat under the teaching of the late Norman Vincent Peale, whom he clearly regards as a great teacher.
Yet Norman Vincent Peale was a heretical teacher who did much to undermine the Christian faith, especially through his false teaching about the nature of faith, which he regarded as virtually equivalent to “positive thinking.” In fact, he wrote a famous bestseller entitled The Power of Positive Thinking, in which he claimed that, “When you expect the best, you release a magnetic force in your mind which by a law of attraction tends to bring the best to you.”
Tim Challies has done a good job of summarizing some of the false teaching of Peale, a portion of which is as follows:
Norman Vincent Peale popularized what came to be known as positive thinking. He took existing ideas from Christian Science and other inspirations, gave them a biblical veneer, integrated them with psychology, and packaged them for the masses, spreading his message through The Power of Positive Thinking and his other works. His foremost contribution to the world was this notion that thoughts are causative, that our thoughts can change our lives, our health, our destiny. Readers were thrilled with this notion that if they believed it, they could have it, or be it, or do it ….
None of this would be remarkable, except that he taught it as a minister who claimed to be a Christian. Yet as a Christian minister he denied that God was a being, saying “Who is God? Some theological being? He is so much greater than theology. God is vitality. God is life. God is energy. As you breathe God in, as you visualize His energy, you will be reenergized!” (Plus: The Magazine of Positive Thinking). As a Christian minister he told Phil Donahue, “It’s not necessary to be born again. You have your way to God, I have mine. I found eternal peace in a Shinto shrine … I’ve been to Shinto shrines and God is everywhere. … Christ is one of the ways! God is everywhere.” He denied the very heart of the Christian faith and replaced it with his doctrine of positive thinking. (“The False Teachers: Norman Vincent Peale,” http://www.challies.com/articles/the-false-teachers-norman-vincent-peale)
No wonder Peale could write:
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy. But with sound self-confidence you can succeed. A sense of inferiority and inadequacy interferes with the attainment of your hopes, but self-confidence leads to self-realization and successful achievement. (The Power of Positive Thinking, https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/1121350-the-power-of-positive-thinking)
We should not be surprised, then, that our President thinks he can claim to be a Christian and yet see no need to repent of sins or seek forgiveness from God. He has apparently learned his view of Christian faith from Norman Vincent Peale, and it is a false, heretical view.
In a similar way, the false prosperity gospel turns faith into our ability to create what we want through convincing ourselves we will have it and then speaking this belief into existence. No wonder our President has also gravitated to Paula White, one of the primary preachers of the false prosperity gospel.
How different, however, is the view of an orthodox Christian, such as Geerhardus Vos, who has written that, “In all believing, there is a letting go of ourselves and resting in another. In conversion, faith – of which the seed was given in regeneration – turns to God to rest in His testimony” (Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, p. 58).
This highlights one of the major problems with the heretical views of positive thinking and the prosperity gospel, both of which make faith a trust in our own ability to change our own thinking and speaking about the world rather than a trust in God. It is basically trust in ourselves rather than in someone outside ourselves who is truly worthy of our trust, and who has most especially revealed Himself through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Hence Wayne Grudem has aptly written that, “Saving faith is trust in Christ as a living person for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life with God” (Systematic Theology, p. 710). As we examine some of the Scriptural teaching concerning saving faith, we shall see that this definition is correct.
I. Saving Faith Is a Personal Trust in Christ
Robert Peterson summarizes well the traditional Protestant understanding of saving faith in this regard:
Traditional Protestant theology has identified three aspects of true faith: knowledge (notitia), assent (assensus), and trust (fiducia).
A certain amount of knowledge is essential to true faith – the basics of the Gospel. However, having this knowledge does not insure salvation. [See, for example, Romans 1:32.]
Assent means accepting the knowledge of the Gospel as true; it means saying ‘yes’ to it. One could have notitia [knowledge] and assensus [assent] and still not be saved. [See, for example, John 3:1-15; Acts 26:27-28.]
Trust (fiducia) in Christ as Savior is also necessary for true faith. This involves confidence that his saving work saves me. (Christ and Salvation Syllabus, p. 108)
That such distinctions are grounded in Scripture will become plain as we proceed. For now we will simply recall that this is why the Apostle James challenges the notion that bare knowledge of facts about God is enough:
NKJ James 2:19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe– and tremble!
Thus, faith is more than mere intellectual assent to facts about God, and saving faith in Christ is more than mere intellectual assent to facts about Christ.
Also, beyond the obvious fact that Scripture reveals our Lord Jesus as a person who makes promises to us and is to be trusted as such, there are several lines of Scriptural evidence that emphasize this fact.
First, Scripture speaks in a special way of believing in Christ.
NKJ John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Wayne Grudem is helpful in explaining the sense of the Greek phrase employed by John and commonly used in the New Testament:
John 3:16 tells us that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Here John uses a surprising phrase when he does not simply say, ‘whoever believes him’ (that is, believes that what he says is true and able to be trusted), but rather, “whoever believes in him.” The Greek phrase pisteuo eis auton could also be translated “believe into him” with the sense of trust or confidence that goes into and rests in Jesus as a person. Leon Morris can say, “Faith, for John, is an activity which takes men right out of themselves and makes them one with Christ.” He understands the Greek phrase pisteuo eis to be a significant indication that New Testament faith is not just intellectual assent but includes a “moral element of personal trust.” Such an expression was rare or perhaps nonexistent in the secular Greek found outside the New Testament, but it was well suited to express the personal trust in Christ that is involved in saving faith. (Systematic Theology, p. 711)
Thus the language itself was adapted to convey this distinctly Christian view of faith.
Second, Scripture speaks of believing in Christ as receiving Him.
We find an example of this in the Gospel of John:
NKJ John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name ….
John parallels receiving Jesus with believing in Him. This refers to a personal acceptance of Christ into one’s life, not merely an an intellectual knowledge of, or assent to, facts about Him.
Third, Scripture speaks of believing in Christ as coming to Him.
We shall briefly consider several examples of the way our Lord Jesus spoke of faith in this way:
NKJ Matthew 11:28-30 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
NKJ John 6:35 And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”
NKJ John 7:37-38 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
Just as John had paralleled receiving Jesus with believing in him, even so Jesus Himself paralleled coming to Him with believing in Him. They are two ways of saying essentially the same thing. In this way our Lord Jesus refers to believing as a personal encounter with Him, not simply an intellectual assent to facts about Him. It could not be any clearer, then, that Scripture teaches that saving faith is a personal trust in Christ to save us. But this entails our second point.
II. Saving Faith Is Relinquishing Trust in Ourselves
As Robert Reymond has observed:
With a glorious monotonous regularity Paul pits faith off over against all law-keeping as its diametrical opposite as to referent. Whereas the latter relies on the human effort of the law-keeper looking to himself to render satisfaction before God, the former repudiates and looks entirely away from all human effort to the cross work of Jesus Christ, who alone by his sacrificial death rendered satisfaction before God for men. (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, p. 732)
Let’s take time to briefly consider this “glorious monotonous regularity” in the teaching of Paul. For example:
NKJ Romans 3:20-24 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus ….
NKJ Romans 3:28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.
NKJ Romans 4:5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness ….
NKJ Galatians 2:16 … knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
NKJ Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
NKJ Philippians 3:8-9 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith ….
Scripture could not be any clearer in teaching that saving faith means relinquishing trust in ourselves and trusting wholly in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
As we have already seen, the heresies of positive thinking and the prosperity gospel both end up turning faith into a work by which we trust in our own ability to shape reality for ourselves rather than turning away from ourselves and trusting wholly in God. Such an understanding of faith can never coincide with saving faith in Christ, no matter how much the purveyors of such views claim to be Christian.
But, the truth is that none of us would having saving faith in Christ at all aside from the grace of God, and this leads to our third and final point.
III. Saving Faith is a Gift of God
This concept was taught by our Lord Jesus in a passage dealing with concept of election:
NKJ John 6:65 And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”
Recall that earlier in the context Jesus used the terminology of coming to Him as equivalent to believing in Him, as we saw in our earlier examination of verse 35. So, when Jesus says here that no one can come to Him unless it has been granted to him by the Father, he means that no one can believe in Him unless it has been granted to him by the Father.
Luke teaches the same concept in the Book of Acts:
NKJ Acts 13:48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
As Anthony Hoekema has correctly argued, “the faith of those Gentiles who believed was a fruit of divine election and therefore clearly a gift of God” (Saved By Grace, p. 143).
The Apostle Paul also taught this concept:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 12:3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
Paul clearly has in mind not merely a mouthing of the words ‘Jesus is Lord,’ but rather a genuine statement of faith in Jesus as Lord, when he asserts that “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” This faith is seen, then, to be a product of the Spirit’s working and thus a gift of God.
NKJ Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God ….
The Apostle John also teaches this concept:
ESV 1 John 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whomever has been born of him.
Anthony Hoekema is again helpful in his discussion of this verse:
The Apostle John tells us, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been begotten by God” (1 John 5:1, JB). The word rendered “has been begotten” (gegennetai) is in the perfect tense in the Greek, a tense which describes past action with abiding result. Everyone who has faith, John is therefore saying, reveals that he or she has been begotten or born of God and is still in that regenerate state. Since God is the sole author of regeneration, and since only regenerated persons can believe, we see again that faith is a gift of God. (Saved By Grace, p. 145)
Sadly, many do not see that they turn faith itself into a work of man when they deny that it is a gift from God and thus the work of God in man.
This brings us to end of our brief study of saving faith, but I think I have sufficiently demonstrated that saving faith is a personal trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, which involves relinquishing all trust in ourselves, and it is not something we can contrive in any case, for it is a gift of God. We must resist, then, any false notion of faith that puts man at the center, no matter how famous, popular, or powerful the people are who do so.