A few years ago I volunteered at an event that came to my town. It is a Christian event that has been around for about two decades that is geared towards teens. I don’t want to mention the event or the people involve by name for several reasons, but it isnt really necessary for the purposes of this blog to mention the name. It is an amazing organization that changes lives and encourages teens to live godly lifestyles. I sat through the program and really enjoyed it. There were approximately 300 students in the audience from various churches across town. Towards the end of the night the time came for the speaker to share the gospel.
(Side Note: As many who know me personally or have read my blog before, you know that I am very cautious and critical of how people share the gospel. About 95% of speakers, authors, or pastors, that I have heard, read, or seen share a very muddled presentation of the gospel that is confusing and contradicts scripture. Many of which, I believe, are not doing this intentionally. I believe they are just reciting what they learned at church from other pastors growing up or from man-made theologies and have never bothered to look further into scripture or study the context of the passages or the meaning of the original Greek words. I think many of these people who share these confusing gospels are saved, I just think they have been grievously misled.)
The speaker did a fantastic job explaining how we are all sinners and are all in need of a savior. He used examples from his own life to demonstrate this and used humor and sarcasm in the examples in order to better connect with the teens. I have a lot of respect for this guy because I know how difficult it can be to figure out how to reach that age level. But he did an amazing job……up until he got to the important part.
“You can never work your way to heaven because you can never be good enough. Salvation is a free gift from God. And the only way to get to heaven is to repent…”
When the speaker said this I was stunned. As I said, everything was perfect up until this point. I was shocked. Afterwards I talked to some of the members from my church about it. One said “I wish I had a tract I could give him to show him that the only way to heaven is by believing!” Our youth director said that when he heard that he looked at his wife and they shook their heads. A mother whose daughter is in the youth group came up to me shaking her head. “Believe! Believe! Not Repent! How hard is it to realize that the only way to heaven is to believe in Christ?!” I didn’t even have to ask her, those were the first words that came out of her mouth.
And they are all right. Nowhere in his message was the word “believe” used! All throughout scripture it is made abundantly clear that the ONLY requirement for being saved/justification/getting to heaven is by believing, also the same Greek word for faith. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” John 3:16 says ” For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” In Acts 16:30-31 the Philippian jailer asks Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved. Paul and Silas simply reply, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” The entire book of John is written with the purpose of telling people about Christ and His life so that people may believe and have everlasting life (John 20:31). Throughout that book, the word believe or faith is used over 73 times in reference to salvation. Each time it is used it is the sole requirement to receive everlasting life. Repentance is nowhere to be found. It is always believe.
Lets look at this:
1. You can never work your way to heaven. You can never be good enough to get to heaven
2. Salvation is a free gift from God
3. The only way to get to heaven is to repent
Number 1 is clearly written in scripture. Isaiah 64:6 says “All of our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Meaning that even the most righteous works we do are like filthy rags in the eyes of the Lord.
Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”. Romans 3:10 says that “There is none righteous, no, not one.”
Number 2 is also stated clearly all throughout scripture. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our lord.”. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Number 3 isn’t found anywhere in scripture. Lets take a look at the word “Repent.”
According to Webster’s Dictionary, the English definition of Repentance is “Act of repenting, or state of being penitent; specifically, contrition for sins with amendment of life”. So, in essence, the English definition of repentance is an act of being broken or sorry for sins to such a state that one turns from them. Most pastors, authors, and speakers use this definition. I have only heard a small percentage that do not define it this way. In his book, “All about Repentance” author Dick Seymour says the following:
“During Bible times the word repent was used in everyday language to refer to changing one’s mind. But…English dictionaries define the word in a totally different way…We find that the Greek words metanoia and metanoeo are the primary words used for repentance. Metanoeo is the verb form of the noun metanoia and means basically the same thing. The definition of these words is ‘to think differently, to change one’s mind, or to reconsider. These words are translated into some form of the word repentance 58 times in the New Testament.”
So, in essence, Biblical repentance is a changing of mind. That is, thinking differently. It is a mental thought process. But in English repentance does not mean the same thing. It refers to a complete turn around in regards to sin and bad works. It is an action, and in many cases requires efforts to do so.
It is important to note that not once in scripture is repentance ever a requirement for salvation/eternal life. There are many verses that talk about repentance and some can even be confusing in regards to salvation. It took me a while to figure it out, but now it is straight forward. If, in fact, repentance (in the english definition) were part of salvation, then that would contradict every time the Bible says that Faith/Believing is the only way to be saved. It would also contradict the verses that say that works have no part of salvation. If this were true, and the Bible contradicts itself, then it cannot be the inspired word of God, because God cannot lie or go back on His word.
Thankfully repentance (in the English definition) isn’t a requirement for salvation, and the confusing verses can be cleared up with a better digging into the context of the passages and looking up the meanings of the original words.
Salvation is by God’s grace alone through Faith alone in Christ alone. The moment we have been convinced in our minds that Christ is who He claimed to be and that what He said about Himself was true and that He died on the cross to pay for your sins and rose again conquering death, scripture tells us over and over again that we are saved. Nothing can take that away or undo it because both Christ and the Father hold onto us, securing our eternal life. Our name is written in the Book of Life. We are made righteous and just in the eyes of God through Christ. At that moment, we are born again as children of God. We can call on Him as our Father. We have a personal relationship with Him.
Now, usually people ask “So, if we get to heaven simply by believing in Christ, does that mean we can go sinning and living how we please?” Amazingly, people in the first century wondered the same thing. Paul responds by saying “By no means!” (Romans 6:2). He tells believers throughout his letters that once we are saved, we should start living in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. We are told that this process of living a life pleasing to Him and being made Holy is called Sanctification. It is the next step after we believe, but it is completely separate from our initial justification which is simply by believing. Many believers have to “repent” in the English meaning of the word. This was an act of turning from sin and realizing that it is not pleasing to God. For many people it is a difficult process to turn completely from various sins. And for most believers we are always in a state of repentance (in the English definition). We still sin, so we confess our sins to the Lord and get back in fellowship with Him. Repentance (in the English definition) is not at all connected to getting to heaven. But it is an essential part of living the Christian life and becoming more Holy and Christ-like.
It is of utmost importance that we share the gospel in its simplest terms. Then, once someone believes, we stress the importance of living the Christian life, “repenting” from sin, and doing good works. But we should always specify that the two things are completely separate. Because if we tell people that they must do good works such as “repent” in order to be saved, we are not teaching the gospel written in scripture, we are in fact, teaching a false gospel. A gospel, which Paul tells us in Galatians, is “no gospel at all”.
I had the opportunity to talk to and get to know the guy who shared the gospel before and after the show. I truly believe that he is a believer, I just think he, at some point was misled.
After the show I was able to give the speaker a copy of the book “What Happened to the Word Believe?” by Donald Bunge. I pray that he reads the book and that he realizes that he is teaching a works-based false gospel. Hopefully he changes his approach.
Overall, I think the guy who shared “the gospel” meant well, I prayed that the Holy Spirit would reach these kids and they would realize the truth. And amazingly we had 28 students who claimed to have trusted in Christ. I hope these kids trusted in Christ and not their ability to turn from sins, as the speaker preached.
For more information on the Biblical definition of Repentance I recommend:
• “The Ten Most Misunderstood Words In The Bible” by Robert N. Wilkin
• “All About Repentance” by Richard A. Seymour
• “Lordship Salvation: A Biblical Evaluation and Response” by Charles C. Bing
Good stuff, Nick! Proud to call you my friend!
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Excellent, Nick! And if I remember correctly (and often I don’t…), in the book of John, the book of the Bible with a specifically expressed purpose statement of evangelism (in which the word for faith/believe occurs SO MANY times), the word repent does not appear at all! Keep it clear and simple, brother!
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You are correct! I did a word study in John with the word faith/trust/believe (all the same Greek word). And I counted approximately 76 times that word was used in reference to eternal life. It appears over 90 times total in that book. And the Greek word that is translated as repentance isn’t used once.