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“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.” C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
“You forgot about repentance! There’s a big hole in your teaching from Galatians!”
It’s the most common objection I hear from Christians who are committed to sin-management theologies. The accusation hints that since I’m all about freedom in Christ I don’t care about repentance.
Galatians insists that the spiritual life is all about trusting Christ and what every Christian needs is more grace, not less.
But does that mean that repentance is out of the equation?
Today’s podcast and notes demonstrate how grace and repentance go together.⇦Tweet that!
Brace yourself, what you’re about to read may not square with the turn-from-sin definition of repentance you’ve been taught. So let me begin by saying:
I Believe in Repentance
Much of the debate and confusion about the doctrine of salvation could be avoided if we were more careful to define our terms. The word repentance is one of those terms we use assuming that everyone agrees to its meaning. I know there are differing views on its meaning, translation, and relationship to eternal salvation. But I feel usage, context, and an understanding of the history of this troublesome term should determine our definition of repentance:
Repentance is a change in heart that involves a turning to God.⇦Tweet that! The action, for both unbeliever and believer is to turn to God in abandoned trust as we turn from the darkness in our lives.
The Problem With the Word
Repentance has become a religious word freighted with cultural definitions unmoored from the original meaning.
In my extended notes in the free online commentary of on Galatians, you can read with meticulous detail how this word’s meaning took a sharp works-righteousness turn from the original Greek word, metanoia. I hope you’ll listen to the podcast and refer to the free online commentary of on Galatians. I’m sure it will generate questions that I’d love to help you think through.
The Bottom Line of Repentance
Cutting to the chase, I’d be a lot more comfortable saying that I believe in metanoia rather than simply stating I believe in repentance the way it’s popularly defined. But here’s the bottom line on how I apply my understanding of repentance to the lives of unbelievers and believers:
In relation to unbelievers and eternal salvation, repentance is not a prior step or condition.⇦Tweet that! Neither is repentance a second step that is necessary. Salvation is always through faith alone in Christ alone. Repentance, or more accurately, metanoia, is the more general concept, for a person can change his or her heart about something, even God or sin, but not be saved. But when someone one believes in Christ, the Holy Spirit persuades them of something they did not formerly believe. They have had a change of mind or heart about whom Jesus is and what He has promised about eternal life that causes them to turn to Him for deliverance (cf. Acts 20:21).
In relation to believers and deliverance from the power of sin, repentance is ongoing. Christian growth is always through faith in what God has said.⇦Tweet that! Once again, there appears to be an overlap between faith and repentance. Since faith is being persuaded that something is true or someone is trustworthy, when we believe or trust, there is a change of mind and heart from unbelief to belief, from not trusting to trusting. Repentance, or more accurately, metanoia, is a change of heart that involves a turning to God in trust.
Question: I know this is revolutionary for many of you, but if you’ll listen to the podcast, I’d love to answer any followup questions!