I'd like to begin our discussion of the errors of the Free Grace\Easy-Believism camp by discussing their teaching on the issue of repentance. Before we do, a few points of housekeeping are in order.
- The discussion will take place in the comments section. I'm not going to post replies to specific issues in the main part of the blog.
- Since I'm plain old busy (writing and editing tracts, blogs, doing ministry, small business, family and my own walk with Christ), I just don't care much for debate. My goal here is to expose false teaching and proclaim the truth, not debate it. Debate is usually fruitless when it comes to doctrine unless you're playing by the same rules (hermeneutics). The Free Grace camp does not play by sound rules of hermeneutics, so debating these points doesn't accomplish much. I'll respond to comments that have something to do with the main issues, but I'm not going to repeat myself.
- The tactic of trolling will be met with complete apathy and deletion of the offending comment. If you're not sure what trolling is, I think Wikipedia has a decent article on it.
The Free Grace Teaching on Repentance
To be fair, there are two main teachings in the free grace on repentance. Those who seem a little more moderate in their view (e.g. Charles Ryrie) view repentance as a "change of mind" regarding the person of Christ. They hold that the Greek term for "repent" means "to change one's mind" according to the usage of the term in the classical Greek. Therefore, whenever someone in the New Testament says "repent" it must mean to change one's mind about the facts of the Gospel. They do not believe that it means "turn from sin" because this would be a "work".
Charles Ryrie holds this position in his book "So Great Salvation". Using the example of Peter's sermon at Pentecost, he states that Peter tells the audience to repent of their conceptions of Jesus of Nazareth. He says, "That repentance saves" (page 86, emphasis Ryrie's).
The Free Grace camp as a whole (both the moderate and the extreme) make much of the fact that the word "repent" does not appear in the Book of John. They consider this to be strong evidence of the fact that repentance from sin is not necessary for salvation since John was written for an evangelistic purpose (Jn. 20:31). Their logic runs, “If repentance from sin was necessary for salvation, then John would have included it in his writing.” Both camps (represented by Ryrie and Hodges) hold to this idea. It has been rightly pointed out that many other concepts important to evangelism are not mentioned in John's Gospel, including hell. Does that mean that we shouldn't mention hell in our witness?
The more extreme view of repentance comes from the late Zane Hodges. Hodges, in an incredible massacre of the Biblical text and the principles of systematic theology, says that repentance is nothing more than “fellowship with God”. Specifically, he says, “The call to repentance is the call to enter harmonious relations with God” (Absolutely Free, page 145). How does he arrive at this definition? He examines the uses of the word “repent” in Luke and states that the word always occurs in the context of Jesus sitting down and having a literal meal with someone. As a result, he can write, “It is all about the sinner ‘sitting at the table’—having fellowship with—God” (page 149). I wonder what he would have said if the Lord had mentioned the word “repent” only in the context of gathering figs or walking on the water? What interpretation would he have arrived at then?
Interestingly, Hodges shoots down the moderate FG view of repentance when he says, “The standard Greek-English dictionary (Bauer-Gingrich-Danker Lexicon) does not list any New Testament passage where the meaning ‘to change one’s mind’ occurs” (page 146). So much for Ryrie’s assertion. Shot down in a blaze of glory by somewhat “friendly fire.”
The Biblical Teaching on Repentance
Now that we’ve considered the basic teachings of the two parts of the FG camp on repentance, we can examine what the Bible actually says in the light of sound hermeneutics.
It would seem that much of the FG argument, in the case of Ryrie’s position, rests upon the Classical Greek usage of the term for “repent.” To read some of the material from the FG camp, one would think that they believe that the Hebrew usage of the term in the Old Testament is irrelevant. However, as The Complete Biblical Library (TCBL) states, “Any understanding of repentance in the New Testament must first and foremost rest upon its Old Testament foundation” (volume 4, page 173).
In fact, this is true no matter what Greek word study one does. In any serious word study, the Hebrew background is given serious consideration. Not so with the FG camp. It is as if they are saying that the apostles (as well as Jesus Himself) would abandon their Jewish upbringing in the Torah and the Prophets simply because a pagan Greek might have used the term to mean “change of mind” (which according to Hodges, doesn’t happen in the NT anyway). To even suggest this is ludicrous in the extreme, but it is the unspoken assertion of the Ryrie FG camp.
The TCBL states this about the Hebrew term for “repent”: “The thought of ‘returning to God’ and His covenant purpose as well as the idea of ‘turning away from sin’ and rebellion is inherent in shuv” (ibid.). As Ezekiel 18:21, 30-31 so aptly illustrates, repentance in the Jewish mindset clearly meant “turning from sin.” It is this idea that would have predominant in the minds of the apostles considering their rich Jewish heritage in the Old Testament.
Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament builds on this foundation, making the case that the New Testament usage of the term “repent” comes directly from the Old Testament. It states, ““…the terms have religious and ethical significance along the lines of the OT and Jewish concept of conversion, for which there is no analogy in secular Greek” (volume 4, page 999, emphasis mine).
That Pauline theology is saturated with the concept of Biblical repentance (turning from sin as well as turning to God), there can be no doubt. Kittel states, “In Christian rather than Hellenistic terms, he (Paul) regards metanoia as ‘the change of thought and will which releases from evil and renders obedient to the will of God” (4:1005, emphasis mine). Further, “…the concept of a radical transformation effected by the revelation of God in Christ is still for Paul the foundation of his whole theology. And this is precisely the thought of conversion as understood by Jesus” (ibid.).
The Free Grace movement asserts that it is not necessary to repent from sin on the one hand. On the other, some wildly assert that it means fellowship with God. But no less of an authority than Kittel (which happens to sit on the shelves of the DTS library, apparently unused) makes it very clear that the term must include “radical transformation” and “release from evil.” It is this intent that the New Testament writers included in their conception of repentance.
A final word on this issue. Regarding those who claim that repentance is a work, may I draw your attention to 2 Timothy 2:25? Repentance is a gift from God; it has nothing whatsoever to do with something that can be worked up emotionally. Man will not repent unless God does a sovereign work in his life. Otherwise, he will continue to crave and coddle his sin.
When we preach the Gospel, we have a holy obligation to call the lost to repentance and faith (Acts 3:19; 20:21). Anything less than that is not the Gospel.
Some Great Men of God on Repentance
“Yet remember, though He condescendeth to reason, to persuade, to [call], and to beseech, still His Gospel hath in it all the dignity and force of a command. If we would preach it in these days as Christ did, we must proclaim it as a command from God, attended with a divine sanction and not to be neglected, save at the infinite peril of a soul…’Repent ye’ is as much a command of God as ‘Thou shalt not steal.’” --C.H. Spurgeon
“The man whose little sermon is ‘repent’ sets himself against his age, and will for the time being be battered mercilessly by the age whose moral tone he challenges. There is but one end for such a man—‘off with his head!’ You had better not try to preach repentance until you have pledged your head to heaven.” --Joseph Parker
“Both the law and the gospel must be preached; the law to give birth to repentance and the gospel to lead to faith. But they must be preached in their proper order, first the law to bring repentance and then the gospel to work faith and forgiveness—never the other way around.” --William Perkins
“Wouldst thou know when thou hast been humbled enough for sin? When thou art willing to let go thy sins.” --Thomas Watson
"Repent therfore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord..."-- The Apostle Peter (Acts 3:19)
"And the times of this ignorance God overlooked, but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent." --The Apostle Paul (Acts 17:30)"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." --Jesus Christ (Matthew 4:17)