COMMON ASSAULTS ON THE GOSPEL (Part 1)
“BELIEVE AND REPENT OF YOUR SINS” (Pt. 1)
By assaults we are talking about additions to the message of FAITH ALONE IN CHRIST ALONE. All believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are responsible to be His representatives. We are ambassadors of Christ who are to give testimony to the person and work of the Savior.
Even though household evangelism still seems to be the most effective method, other methods are used effectively. When it comes to the message, there is only one message (or Gospel) that we may proclaim and remain faithful to the Bible. Unfortunately, confusion abounds with respect to the content and presentation of the good news of God’s grace in the person and work of Christ.
Our message is the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the message of salvation through His person and work. That sounds simple enough, but it is not nearly as simple as it sounds. The simple message, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved,” has been assaulted from early on. Since the message is crucial to salvation, since anathema is pronounced on those who misrepresent it or change it (Gal. 1:6-9), we need to know the message. If we are to be true to the Bible and to the grace of our Lord, we need to be able to share the Gospel clearly and avoid the distortions.
Outside the doctrines related to the Person and work of Christ, there is no truth more far-reaching in its implications and no fact more to be defended than that salvation in all its limitless magnitude is secured, so far as human responsibility is concerned, by believing on Christ as Savior. To this one requirement no other obligation may be added without violence to the Scriptures and total disruption of the essential doctrine of salvation by grace alone. Only ignorance or reprehensible inattention to the structure of a right Soteriology will attempt to intrude some form of human works with its supposed merit into that which, if done at all, must, by the very nature of the case, be wrought by God alone and on the principle of sovereign grace.1 (Emphasis mine)
From the early days of the church, the church has faced the problem of those who wanted to add to the message. In Acts 15:1 we read these words: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Verse 5 tells us that these were men from the sect of the Pharisees who had believed. They were members of the church and so, from within its own ranks, a controversy broke out concerning the exact nature and content of the message of the Gospel.
The Gospel by nature is a God-centered, grace-centered message which offers salvation as a free gift, a gift without cost, through faith in God’s work through His Son rather than by man’s work or works whether religious or moral (1 Cor. 1:30; John 4:10; Acts 8:20; Rom. 11:6; 15:15-18; Rev. 21:6). The nature of the message, the condition of man (dead in sin and born spiritually blind [Eph. 2:1; 1 Cor. 2:14; John 9:39]), and the activity of Satan (2 Cor. 4:4; John 8:43-45) make this a difficult message to accept. Man naturally thinks he must add something to his salvation for it to be bonafide.
As a result, certain accusations are often leveled against faith alone in Christ alone: it is sometimes called “cheap grace” or “easy believism.” But this is nonsense. The claim of “easy believism” so often aimed at those who preach “faith alone in Christ alone” is a misnomer. Simple faith is not easy for mankind who wants to add something to the work of God. Furthermore, salvation in Christ is free, but it’s not cheap. It cost God the death of His Son, the Lord Jesus.
This study will be devoted to some of the more common ways the Gospel is being assaulted or perverted, very often by well-meaning and sincere people. This is no new problem. As mentioned above, it was a problem in the early church starting in Acts 15 and it has been a problem throughout the history of the church. When I was in Seminary in the mid-sixties, one of my professors, Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, taught a brief series on this in the church where my wife and I were attending in Dallas, Texas. It was an issue then, it is still a serious issue today, and it will continue to be an issue until the Lord returns.
While the debate over the issue of “faith alone in Christ alone” is not new, it has recently been brought to the forefront by the writings and preaching of John MacArthur, especially by his book entitled The Gospel According to Jesus in which he attacked the writings of: Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary; Dr. Charles Ryrie, author of The Ryrie Study Bible and a number of other books including Basic Theology and the book, So Great Salvation, which was written as an answer to MacArthur’s book setting forth a clear presentation of the free salvation position; and Zane Hodges, former professor at Dallas, who is a strong proponent of the free grace salvation position and author of Absolutely Free and The Gospel Under Siege. Other well-known proponents of the Lordship Salvation position are Dr. J. I. Packer, well known for his books, Knowing God, and Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, and Dr. James Boice, author of Foundations of the Christian Faith.
While MacArthur’s books and preaching have created a furor of controversy with a number of debates resulting, it has had a good result in that it has caused the church to more clearly study and define issues and passages that are fuzzy to many people, and to defend the faith against these errors of evangelism or common assaults on the pure Gospel of God’s grace which is faith alone in Christ alone.
“Believe and Repent of Your Sins”
In this assault, repentance is conceived as a separate act and is consistently added to believing as a human requirement for salvation. In other words, rather than seeing repentance as a synonym for believing, one is saved by repenting (which in this view means a turning from sin) and by believing (putting one’s trust in Christ).
Few issues are of more vital interest to those who believe in heaven and hell than the question of what man must do to gain entrance into heaven. Answers to this question nearly always include a reference to repentance. Throughout church history nearly every theologian has taught that repentance is essential for salvation from hell. However, several disparate understandings of repentance have been advocated.2
Ø In the NASB, some form of the word (repent, repentant, repented, repentance, etc.) is found 73 times with 56 of these occurring in the New Testament.
Ø In the ASB, some form of the word occurs 103 times with 61 in the New Testament.
Ø In the KJV, some form of the word occurs 112 times with 66 in the New Testament.
Ø In the NIV, some form of the word occurs 74 times with 55 in the New Testament.
Ø In the New KJV, some form of the word occurs 72 times with 58 in the New Testament.
Ø In the RSV, some form of the word occurs 99 times with 59 in the New Testament.
Ø In the New RSV, some form of the word occurs 72 times with 57 in the New Testament.
Clearly, repentance is a prominent concept of Scripture, but it is obvious from the difference in the above numbers that the words of the original are not always translated in the same way by the translators of the different versions because some of the translators didn’t believe our English word “repent” always conveyed the right idea. Why? Because of the misconceptions about this word. In fact, because of our preconditioned ideas about this word, very often “repent” is not the best translation at all.
The issue facing us is what exactly does it mean to repent? And related to this are other important questions and issues. What are we to repent of and for? Does it mean to feel sorry for something? Does it mean to feel sorrow for sin? Does it convey a resolve to turn from sin? Ryrie writes:
Since many consider sorrow for sin and repentance to be equivalent, the question could be worded, What is the place of repentance in relation to salvation? Must repentance precede faith? Is it a part of faith or a synonym for it? Can one be saved without repenting?3
Many, if not most, terms have basic or generic meanings that must be understood within their context. In other words, the context is vital to a proper understanding of most words. Within the context most terms make immediate sense. Without the context you either misunderstand what is meant or you are left wondering. Two common English words we use regularly will illustrate the point. If we say someone opened the trunk, we could mean the trunk of a car, an elephant’s trunk, the trunk of a man’s body, a tree trunk, or something you store things in. Or if we say, someone walked on the bed, it could mean the flower bed, a bed of leaves, the bed we sleep in. The ingredient needed to make the meaning of the word clear is the CONTEXT. The following are two scriptural illustrations:
The Word “salvation” is the Greek, soteria and soterion. The basic, unaffected meaning of the word salvation is “to rescue” or “to save, deliver.” But we must ask a further question about this basic meaning if we are to understand its meaning in a particular context: To be rescued from what? In Philippians 1:19 Paul uses the word “salvation,” soteria, to mean rescue from his confinement in Rome. Except for the KJV, most versions translate this word “deliverance.” In that text salvation does not mean rescue from eternal damnation but deliverance from his present confinement in Rome. But, of course, in other contexts salvation does refer to being rescued from eternal condemnation [Acts 4:12] (Ryrie, p. 92).
Compare also Luke 1:71 referring to deliverance from Gentile domination, and Acts 7:25 referring to rescue from Egypt. Acts 13:47 by the context refers to salvation from sin and the gift of eternal life.
Concerning the word “Redeem,” Ryrie writes:
What does it mean to redeem? It means “to buy or purchase something.” To purchase what, one must ask, in order to tailor this generic meaning to its use in a particular passage? In Matthew 13:44 a man redeems a field; that is, he buys it. This use has no relation to the redemption our Lord made on the cross, though the same word is used of the payment He made for sin when He died (2 Pet. 2:1). The basic meaning remains the same – to purchase – whether the word refers to paying the price for a field or for sin.4
Compare also Matthew 14:15 (buying food); 21:12 (buying in the temple); 1 Corinthians 6:20; and 7:23, (Christ’s purchasing our redemption or salvation on the cross).
The basic meanings of these words remain the same, to save whether from a physical disaster or from eternal judgment; or to purchase whether to pay a price for a field, buy something in the market, or to pay the price for our sin. It’s the context, however, which makes the difference as to the exact meaning.
Obviously, the same principle must be applied to the word repentance. The first question is, what is the basic meaning for the word repentance as it is used in the New Testament? For many people, repentance carries with it two ideas: (a) sorrow for sin, and, based on that, (b) turning from sin and going in a different direction.
These two ideas, sorrow for sin and turning from sin, are then added to believing in Christ; or it is explained that this is what faith in Christ means. In other words, you must feel sorry for your sins, turn from your sins, and trust in Christ for salvation. Then, added to all this is often a fourth – there must be a willingness to continue to turn from sin or you cannot be saved or you are not really saved. ¢
In the next edition of the Grace Family Journal, we will continue this study on the issue of repentance in salvation. Hampton will cover The Meaning of Repentance in the New Testament and The Use of the Concept of Repentance in the New Testament. There are a total of five assaults that will eventually be covered in this series:
· Believe and Repent of Your Sins
· Believe Plus Make Christ Lord
· Believe and Be Baptized
· Believe and Confess Christ Publicly
· Believe and Do Good Works
1 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 3, (Kregel Publications), p. 371.
4 Ibid., p. 92.
Copyright ©1997, 1998, 1999 Biblical Studies Press. This material is provided for personal study or for use in preparation of sermons, Sunday school classes, or other oral communication. This material may be quoted in written form but give credit where credit is due (author’s name and web site address: www.bible.org). It may not be reprinted for commercial publication. It may be copied or reprinted for distribution as long as it is given away and no charge is made for copies, shipping or handling.