Saving repentence about the work of Christ – 7

Repentance and Salvation 

by Ron Shea

Part 7

Saving repentance about the work of Christ

No thanks!  I don’t need any of that to get saved!


  • Water Baptism
  • Going to Church
  • Living a good life
  • Obeying the Ten Commandments
  • Loving your neighbor
  • Sacraments
  • Religion

Repentance from Sin:

ps 119-130Although the phrase “repent of your sins,” never occurs in the Bible, it is certainly not unbiblical to do so.

If you take two points from this discussion of repentance, they are this:

Sin is not the automatic or intrinsic object of repentance,

and in verses dealing with eternal salvation, sin is never even the implied object of repentance.

But one can repent of their sins…

For example, Jonah was commanded to “go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.”  (Jonah 1:2)  The wickedness of the Ninevites was widely known to the surrounding peoples.  To demoralize their enemies in war, they skinned men alive and left them to die as an example to others.  When they repented over their “wickedness,” God spared the city.  However, that “repentance from sin” had nothing to do with personal salvation.  It had to do with whether or not God would destroy the city for is “wickedness” (verse 2).  The same is true today.

One who drinks and drives need not repent of his sins to receive God’s gift of salvation, but he does need to do so to preserve his temporal life here on earth!  If such a person does not repent he will surely die.  Repentance from sin is essential for Christian growth and sound Christian living.

But the Scriptures never remotely suggest that repentance from sin is a requirement for eternal redemption through Jesus Christ.  God grants us eternal life freely through the blood of his Son.

► Repentance from sin has been necessary for certain nations to avoid his temporal judgment.

► Repentance from sin may be a way for an individual to avoid God’s discipline.

► Repentance from sin is certainly necessary to avoid the natural consequences of sin.  If one who “drinks and drives” does not repent of their sins, they will surely regret it one day.  They are driving to disaster.  This is true whether the are saved or lost.  Driving and drinking don’t mix.

Finally, repentance from sin is certainly necessary if we hope to hear the words of commendation “well done good and faithful servant” by our Creator.

Nevertheless, Scripture never presents repentance from sin as a requisite of God for securing the benefit of eternal salvation, which is the gift of God.

A number of years ago, I saw a comedic skit on TV about two pot-smoking surfers whojohn 15-13 heard God’s voice and became “born again.”

They were interviewed by a popular talk show host, who asked them: “Well, what did God say to you?”

One of the surfers replied:  “God said: ‘You are 10 meters from the pier.  Please maintain a 50 meter distance’.”

The incredulous talk show host stared into the camera.  Finally, he collected his thoughts and responded, “Well, what makes you think that was God?  Couldn’t it have been a life guard?”

The first surfer defensively replied, “Well, if that’s what you want to believe, that’s your privilege.  But we happen to believe it was God.”

The second surfer quickly added: “Besides, the surf was pounding and the wind was blowing, and the sea was churning.  How were we supposed to hear the life guard over all that noise?”

Emboldened, the first surfer said, “Yeah, that’s right!”

Utterly stupefied, the talk show host responded, “Well, haven’t you ever heard of a bull horn?”

To which the frustrated surfer replied with equal incredulity, “Why would God need a bull horn?”

Throughout the following examination of all of every occurrence of “repent” in the King James Bible, there are two heretical doctrines that are repeatedly examined.

► The first is the common heretical belief that “sin” is somehow the intrinsic or automatic object of repentance, and that “repentance from sin” is a condition for eternal salvation.    Saving repentance is akin to believing on Jesus alone for salvation.  If someone refuses to believe that they are a sinner in need of salvation, then they obviously cannot believe that Jesus died for their sins.  To this extent, and this extent alone, one must repent of their sins to be saved.  They must acknowledge that they are a sinner in need of a Saviour.  But they are never required to turn from their sins, to promise or resolve to turn from their sins, or to pretend to have some profound remorse over their sins to receive God’s FREE gift of eternal salvation.  This is simply unknown to Scripture.  It is an invention of sinful man who insists that morality can save him.

On the other extreme is the less common, but growing belief that repentance is never presented as a requirement for salvation.  The logic usually goes something like this:  “The gospel of John says it was written that men may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that believing, they might have life in His name.  But John never uses any form of the word repentance.  Therefore, repentance is not a requirement for salvation.”

Unfortunately, the logic of this argument hinges on the presupposition that “repent” means “to turn from your sins.” It is like asking “why would God need a bull horn?”

The Gospel of John

john 6-47It is readily acknowledged that no form of the word “repent” occurs in the Gospel of John.  It is further acknowledged that John never requires one to “turn from their sins” to be saved.

But that is not what the word repent means.  John’s requirement for salvation is that one believe that Jesus is the “Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  And the very act of going from a state of unbelief to belief is, by definition, repenting.  Unfortunately, this logic seems lost on those who deny any soteriological usage of “repentance” in the New Testament.

Wrong Repentance

Once someone believes that “repentance” means “turning from sin,” arguing with these people is like arguing with a tomato can.  You might as well try to convince a pot-smoking surfer that they did not hear the voice of God when they were surfing.

Matthew 3

1          In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,

2          And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

3          For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

4          And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.

5          Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,

6          And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

7          But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

8          Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

9          And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

10        And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

11        I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

12        Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Repentance in Matthew 3:2

And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.


Subject called to repentance:

John the Baptist’s audience


Object of that repentance:

In five more verses, by verses 7-9, John the Baptist is clearly telling the scribes and Pharisees to repent of their religiosity.  However, it would be improper to read this object back into the context and apply it to John’s audience in general.  When a preacher preaches to the masses, every person there has his own unique issues to which the message can be applied.  It is very clear that John’s words to the Pharisees and Sadducees were directed exclusively to them in light of their own religious experiences and beliefs.  We know that John’s ministry was to declare Jesus.  There are basically two possible interpretations to the object of repentance in this verse:  a)  the object is unstated, or b)  the object of repentance is identical to the purpose of repentance . . . “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The people of Judaea were called to change their mind from complacency to expectation, for the Messiah..for he was in their midst.

Consequence of that repentance:

The consequence is not stated immediately.  However, the overall context of the ten verses from Matthew 3:2-12 (discussed in the next two entries as well) demonstrates that eternal salvation is clearly the primary consequence of repentance in this ten verse passage of Matthew.  Other consequences, such as fellowship with God, are possible, but are not stated within the general context.

Repentance in Matthew 3:8


7          Who warned thee to flee from the wrath to come?

8          Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

9          And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father:  for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

Subject who is called to repentance:

Pharisees and Sadducees

Object of that repentance:                       

Their belief that their Jewish heritage as Abraham’s descendents was a significant factor in their escaping the wrath of God on judgment day.

Consequence of that repentance:                

By truly repenting, they would avoiding the “wrath to come.”  These men held their confidence for eternal life in that they were descendants of Abraham.  As such, they faced eternal damnation.  If they hoped to avoid God’s judgment, they needed to change their confidence from a religion-based-salvation (“We have Abraham to our father,”) to a messianic based hope of eternal redemption.  Unfortunately, from John’s reaction, it is clear that they simply saw the rite of baptism by John as yet one more thing they could do to gain favor with God.  Verses 10-12 clarify that the “wrath to come” is not simply “temporal judgment” on the nation of Israel.  The reference to “unquenchable fire” in vs. 12 is plainly hell.  The interplay between “good fruit” and “bad fruit,” between “wheat” and “chaff” and between baptism “by the Holy Spirit” and baptism “unquenchable fire” is a delineation between the saved and the lost.  Any other interpretation is strained at best.  John tells the Pharisees to bring forth fruit, and tells his audience that trees that bring forth bad fruit are case into fire . . . unquenchable fire.

Repentance in Matthew 3:11

10        And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

11        I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

12        Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.


Subject being called to repentance:

Those who were baptized by John the Baptist.

Object from which they are to repent:

Not stated, nor even implied by the context.

Consequence of that repentance:

The passage segregates two groups of men, “wheat” and “chaff.”  One is baptized by the Holy Ghost, and gathered into the barn. The other group is burned up with unquenchable fire.  The context strongly suggests, that repentance is related to which of these two fates awaited the hearers of John’s message.

Repentance in Matthew 4:17


16        The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.

17        From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Subject Called to Repentance:

Those who heard Jesus preach.

Object from which they are to repent:

Not explicitly stated, however, implicit from the context would be to change your mind from the “business as usual” mindset.  The kingdom is at hand.  Be ready to receive your king.

Consequence of that repentance:

Not stated.

ALL matt 11-28-30

Repentance in Matthew 9:13


1          And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city.

2          And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.

3          And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth.

4          And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?

5          For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?

6          But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.

*      *      *

12        But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.

13        But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Subject(s) called to repentance:


Object of that repentance:

The object of repentance is not expressly stated.  Since repentance means “a change of mind,” we can only inferentially determine the object of repentance by identifying, in the context, the concepts or propositions about which men must change their mind.  The best contextual indicator is the occurrence of the word “belief” or “suppose” or “regard.”  Here, Jesus healed the palsied man “in order that” (for the purpose that, “hina” in Greek) you might believe that the Son of man has power to forgive sins.”  To have such a purpose means that some of those present did not already appreciate and believe that Jesus had the power to forgive sin.  To believe this would be to change their mind about who Jesus was, and the divine prerogatives he held. Jesus, as the forgiver of sins, is object of repentance.  Repentance here is synonymous with faith in Jesus as the one who can forgive sins.

Consequence of that repentance:

Forgiveness of sin.


There is a distinction between the experience of entering a once-for-all relationship with Christ, and the process of abiding in, and/or restoring fellowship with him.  A marriage is an easy analogy to appreciate.  One can be legally married, but not in fellowship with their partner.  Marriage is a legal state.  Fellowship is a relational state.  One must first be justified by God before they can experience relational forgiveness.  Justification (Gk. dikaio%u014D) is the declaration by a subject that an object is “all right.”  When God is declaring one justified, this term is always in reference to eternal salvation, not simply fellowship.  In the passage above, however, the term used in verse 2 is from the root verb aphieimei.  This term is generally translated “forgive.”  The noun form, apheisis, is often translated “forgiveness” or “remission.”  Because 1st John 1:9 clearly uses “aphei” (from the root aphieimei, forgive) in a sense of fellowship, many Christians hastily conclude that the word aphieimei is always directed to fellowship, rather than eternal salvation.  Virtually all words, however, have a “field of meaning.”  And when the general meaning of a term is known, it must be the context that defines the exact nuances of the term.  To insist, on the basis of 1st John 1:9, that the word “forgive” always refers to momentary fellowship and not eternal salvation is as silly as concluding that the term “fruit” must always refer to “love, joy, peace, patience, etc.” on the basis of Paul’s use of the term fruit in Ephesians 5:9.  Words have a “field of meaning.”  It was not until His public ministry was over in the upper room discourse in the Gospel of John that Jesus focused on the believer’s moment-by-moment of fellowship with God.  His public ministry was to present Himself as the servant king who was to lay down His life for His sheep.  In the ninth chapter of Matthew under examination herein, it is readily apparent to the casual observer that, when Jesus publicly proclaims to the palsied man “your sins are forgiven,” He is proclaiming something more significant than momentary fellowship with God.  It is transparently obvious that the use of the term “forgive” in verses 2, 5 and 6 of Matthew 9 that Jesus is addressing something equivalent to justification.  Jesus is not simply putting this man in fellowship with God, He is proclaiming the eternal forgiveness of this man’s sins.  In view of this, Jesus’ entreaty for sinners to repent in verse 13 is, by any reasonable measure, soteriological.  No other interpretation fits the context of the forgiveness spoken of in verses 1-8.

Repentance in Matthew 11:20-24


20        Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not:

21        Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

22        But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.

23        And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done inSodom, it would have remained until this day.

24        But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.

Subjects of repentance:

In vs. 20, the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida, in which Jesus had just performed his mighty works, are the subjects refusing to repent.  They are contrasted in vs. 21, to the ancient cities of Tyre and Sideon, ancient cities that disappeared long ago, but which would have repented if the same works had been done in them.

Object of that repentance:

Not expressly stated.  Since repentance means “a change of mind,” we can only inferentially determine the object of repentance by determining the concepts or propositions about which men must change their mind.  Verses 1-15 of chapter 11 are directed primarily to the ministry and person of John the Baptist.  And the purpose of John’s mission is plainly stated:  “For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee” (Matthew 11:10).  John testified of Jesus.  And Jesus invited them to believe John’s testimony.  In vs. 14-15, we read:  “And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.  He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”  There is not one word in this passage about “turning from one’s sins.”  The issue of this passage is the willingness of one to believe on Christ.  But we learn in vs. 16-19 that the men of these cities would neither receive John’s testimony about Jesus, nor could they be persuaded by the mighty works that Jesus did among them.

“But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.”

The problem with the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida (vs. 21) and Capernaum (vs. 23) was their refusal to believe on Christ.  Neither the witness of John, nor the witness of Jesus would change their mind.  Asking Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum to repent is no different than the requirement to believe on Jesus Christ for their salvation.

In contrast, the repentance of Tyre, Sideon was hypothetical:  “If the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”  The works of Jesus would have caused their repentance.  However, the object of their repentance would be contingent upon what hypothetical message would have attended the hypothetical miracles that Jesus might have done in Tyre and Sideon.  Since neither Jesus mighty works, nor a message attending those works, was ever actually presented before Tyre and Sideon, the object of their hypothetical repentance is never stated nor implied.  All that can be said about it is that whatever message would have accompanied the mighty works of Jesus would have been the object of their hypothetical repentance.

Consequence of repentance (or lack of repentance):

Jesus uses temporal judgment of the ancient cities of Tyre and Sidon (vs. 21-22) and Sodom (vs. 23-24) as a counterpoint to His warning of eternal judgment facing the residents of the contemporary cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida (vs. 21) and Capernaum (vs. 23).  Had the ancient cities of Tyre and Sideon (vs. 21) heard the same message, “would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes,” and Sodom (vs. 23) would have remained to this day.”  This is temporal judgment (or hypothetically being spared temporal judgment) of the ancient cities.

However, it is not temporal judgment with which Jesus threatens the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum.  The temporal judgment of the ancient cities of Tyre,Sidon and Sodom is used as a counterpoint to the eternal judgment facing the residents of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum.  Jesus said of these contemporary cities, “But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.”  It would be plainly absurd to hammer this verse into a threat of “temporal judgment.”  The coming “day of judgment” cannot refer to the temporal judgment of AD 70 on Israel (in which the contemporary cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaumwould be destroyed), because Tyre, Sidon and Sodom had long since perished as city states!  It would be plainly idiotic to interpret this passage as meaning that Jesus would revitalize the urban centers of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom so that He could again lay waste to those cities in AD 70 along with the Jewish state.  Nor did such an absurd thing happen in AD 70.  The only future judgment that can fall upon the lost cities of Tyre, Sideon and Sodom that could also fall at some future time upon Chorazin, Bethsaida andCapernaum is the eternal judgment that awaits those who reject the redemption offered through Jesus Christ.

The intent of this passage therefore is plainly soteriological, and to deny this is a manifest absurdity.  It is using the temporal judgment of the ancient cities of Tyre, Sideon and Sodom as a warning of the eternal judgment awaiting Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum.  And “repentance,” as used in conjunction with the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaidaand Capernaum is therefore soteriological.  Those who refused to believe the witness of John also saw the mighty works of Jesus.  And yet they refused to repent.  They continued to reject Jesus, and the forgiveness of sin he offered.

Part 8 to come

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6 Responses to “Saving repentence about the work of Christ – 7

  • Wouldn’t it be consistent to consider “unbelief” a sin? John 3:18 and 36 would seem to indicate this, right? Wouldn’t not believing in Jesus as the Son of God constitute the sin of unbelief by calling God a liar (1 Jn. 5:10)?

    All this to say that, while I appreciate your trying to deal honestly with the texts in question and their immediate contexts, your attempt to separate “unbelief” from other sins to justify what you consider to be the biblical use of “repent” is forced. The first two commandments in Exodus 20 have to do with one’s view of God. Any person who puts another “god” before the one, true God transgresses the first commandment, and that is sin (1 Jn. 3:4). Any person who makes an idol (physically or in the mind) is transgressing the second commandment, which is also sin. Both of these transgressions/sins have to do with the sin of unbelief, do they not?

    So I wouldn’t be so quick to try to separate “repentance from unbelief” from “repentance from sin,” because unbelief is just one more manifestation of sin… in line with the idolatry on the lists of unrepentant and practicing sinners who will end up in hell one day (c.f., 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Rev. 21:8).

    For what it’s worth, a DTS-grad/pastor once described “repentance” and “faith” as two sides of the same coin. That’s why we see John, as you correctly point out, never talking about “repentance” and only about “belief.” In other words, you can’t have an “unrepentant – from sin – faith” nor a “faithless repentance.” And he wasn’t limiting “repentance” to the field of faith; he acknowledged that repentance had to do with “repentance from sin,” no matter what form they may take (e.g., unbelief, lying, stealing, adultery, murder, etc.). His emphasis, however, was on how faith and repentance can be interchangeable in the NT (vs. “unrepentant faith” and “repentant unbelief).

    • Repentance within saving faith may indeed be two sides of the same coin, however, repentance can have absolutely nothing to do with salvation at all, the point is to take each text and look at it. I mean absolutely no offense when I say, I don’t really concern myself with what the DTS grad pastor once said. I do not think of any man beyond what is written. Not every instance in the NT can faith and repentance be interchangeable unless it speaks to a person and eternal life. One should know that. We know when God is not repenting, or believers are repenting, it has nothing to do with ‘faith’.

      God bless, thank you for your comments.

      • Yes, but to artificially try to pry “eternal life” from “repent,” when eternal life is clearly at stake and, therefore, implied, is misguided. (i.e., The “kingdom of heaven” in Matt. 4:17 is ultimately being in God’s presence, and no unrepentant person will have that privilege) I threw in the DTS grad/pastor comment because I figured you were a classic “free gracer.”

        So you appear to concede that there are instances of “faith” and “repentance” being two sides of the same coin – because they deal with eternal life, right? Could you post some example where you see this?

        Thank you!

        • The entire book of John would be an example. John was written so that we could know that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, and that in believing, we would have life (eternal life) through His name. The entire and sole condition mentioned is believe. So would John’s testimony of why he wrote this book be false?

          Or how about where Jesus says, repent, or likewise perish? Why are we missing the word ‘believe’ if this was not repentance (a change of mind TO belief) unto life?

          Thank you for the shorter response 🙂

        • And by the way, I suggest you read all the articles, all 7 parts, before asking more questions, because the prior articles, you’ll find your answers. If you do, all these questions have been touched upon. Thanks.

          Here’s the link for all 7 parts.

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