On Repentance and Easy Believism
Scripturally Addressing the Necessity of Repentance for Salvation

This article has been adapted from a series of seven posts that originally appeared on my blog Study to Answer.

On Repentance and Easy Believism
If Sin is What Separates us from God...
Repentance is the Willful Choice to Turn from Sin and to God
Faith and Repentance are Two Sides of the Same Coin
Salvation is Free, but not Easy
Is Biblical Repentance "Works-Based Salvation"?
Should We Expect Converts to Christ to Demonstrate a Changed Life?

On Repentance and Easy Believism

“Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)

Recently, I put these verses up on Facebook as my “daily Facebook verse,” accompanied by a some general comments about biblical repentance and how it is part and parcel with genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. On one of the forums that I copied the post to, I got some negative feedback from some folks who didn’t like the fact that I was teaching biblical repentance. It bothered some that I would say that repentance involves someone making the decision to turn away from sin and to the Lord, though they never bothered to try to present any sort of biblical argument against this or in favour of their own viewpoint – during the course of our discussion, I cited several portions of scripture to make my case, while they never referred to a single one.

Indeed, their argument was built pretty much entirely on misunderstanding of the scriptural arguments. they tried to take biblical repentance, in which a lost sinner turns from a love for their sin and turns to the Saviour against Whom their sin offends, and recast it as saying that repentance means “never sinning again,” i.e. “sinless perfectionism” (even though I hadn’t said anything that any mature Christian who knows the scriptures would have thought was teaching that doctrine). But most grievously was his open presentation of a false, unbiblical concept of “repentance.” Their definition of repentance was something along the lines of “realising that you need Jesus in your life.” That’s it. Nothing about sin. Nothing about turning from sin to the Saviour. Just “realising that you need Jesus in your life,” as if Jesus were some kind of self-help guru whose latest book would help you get back on your feet again.

At least they didn’t break out the old “Lordship salvation” canard that folks of this persuasion often use (and define incorrectly). Speaking of which, Pastor Kent Brandenburg has an excellent series of blog posts on that very subject, and why the “free grace” crowd misrepresent it as they deny repentance – here, here, here, and here.

Unfortunately, these folks are not alone in their unbiblical definition of repentance. There are many, many people in so-called Christianity today, both in America and across the world, whose idea of what repentance is seeks to eliminate the concern for sin or any positive decision to turn FROM sin and TO the Saviour. Many of these false teachers go so far as to call biblical repentance “works-based salvation,” failing to understand the intimate connexion that Scripture makes between faith and repentance – to lack the one is to lack the other. For lack of a better term, but to use one that most readers would be familiar with, this general position can be referred to as “easy believism.” It often bears out in the form of “1-2-3, pray-after-me” evangelism. It’s tenets are, “Don’t talk to people about sin, just get them to admit they need Jesus and then get them to pray to be allowed to go to heaven.” I admit that this *seems* like an over-simplification or a caricature, but this really is pretty much what the evangelism of many in this camp amounts to. It often takes the following template. Imagine, if you will, a fresh faced young student attending Hyles-Anderson College, notebook with numerous tally marks in hand, knocking on a door,

HA Student: *Knock Knock*

Door opens, grizzled man with ten earrings, a beer in hand, blaring rock music and filthy TV programs on in the background, appears in the doorframe.

Guy: Yeah?

HA Student: Excuse me, sir, but would you like to go to heaven?

Guy: Uh, sure.

HA Student: Great! Do you agree that you need Jesus in your life?

Guy: Uh, I guess.

HA Student: Would you like to accept Him into your life and go to heaven right now?

Guy: Uh, sure, why not?

HA Student: Okay, pray after me… *recites a model prayer*

Guy: *recites model prayer*

HA Student: Congratulations, sir! You’re saved and on your way to heaven! Have a good day.

Guy: Wonderful. *closes door, goes back to beer and movie*

HA student: *Walks down driveway, checking another tally mark on his notebook.*

Again, it seems like I’m caricaturing what goes on, but I’m not. There really are folks out there for whom this is their method of “evangelism,” and I hate to say it, but that’s often what’s going on when you see these people stand up in these churches and get a medal because they saw 600 people get saved in one week of soul-winning.

Lacking from all of this above was any mention of sin, any mention of repentance (which is often taught to ONLY apply to the saved person per I John 1:9, but not to be necessary for the lost person).

This, friends, is a DANGEROUS FALSE GOSPEL. It gives to people who have never repented and never truly been born again a false assurance that they are saved because they “prayed a prayer.” If you’ve done soul-winning door-to-door or other forms of public evangelism for any length of time, you’ve probably run into the fruits of these endeavours – the guy who opens the door, a beer in one hand and his live-in girlfriend in the other, X-rated movie on in the background, who will tell you that he’s going to heaven because he prayed a prayer with some guy one time. Such folks will rarely listen to an actual presentation of the Gospel because they “already did that,” and when you start talking about actual biblical salvation it confuses them and they close up. America is full of people (especially in northwestern Indiana, if you know what I mean and I think you do) who have “already done that” and who have been made two-fold the children of hell because of the false assurance they’ve been given.

As an aside, am I the only one that finds it ironic that many of the same folks who jump all over biblical repentance as “works-based salvation” are the ones who teach salvation by praying a prayer (i.e. a work)?

So why do so many professing Christians resist the biblical doctrine of repentance from sin? I think that first and foremost, we must understand that it is a matter of the will, not of the intellect. The doctrine of biblical repentance is not spiritual rocket science. Indeed, the Scripture says,

“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God.” (Hebrews 6:1)

The Bible here tells us that repentance from dead works and faith toward God (the construction in Greek is connective, indicating the two go together as a unit) are “foundation,” they’re basic to a proper understanding of Christ and the salvation available through Him. They’re not something you need to have more degrees than a thermometer to grasp. You don’t need to be some Harvard theologian with a 64 million word vocabulary to understand. God here calls repentance and faith “simple.” They’re things that even new and immature believers ought to know.

No, people reject biblical repentance because they consciously CHOOSE to. It’s a matter of the will. They know that it talks about sin, it often makes them feel uncomfortable about their own lives, and so they don’t WANT to accept it as true. Many others who may be otherwise well-meaning and zealous will downplay talk of repentance when evangelising (even if not to the extent in the template above) because they’re worried that if you start talking about sin and repentance, people will turn away, people won’t listen and won’t get saved. But here’s the problem – they won’t get saved if you don’t instruct them on the need for genuine repentance and turning away from sin, either. Someone doesn’t get saved by merely admitting that “they need Jesus in their life” and praying a prayer. Urging genuine repentance and turning away from sin may not win as many so-called “converts” in today’s hedonistic, self-centered America, but the people who do genuinely believe and get saved will be the ones who will go on for the Lord.

So what IS biblical repentance unto salvation? It is nothing less than a lost sinner realising that they are a sinner, realising that their sin separates them from God, and choosing to turn away from and hate their sin and turn to and call upon God the Father in faith through the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as with the rejection of biblical repentance, so also is the ACCEPTANCE of biblical repentance an act of the will. When someone repents and believes, they make a choice to turn from sin and to turn to the Saviour. This doesn’t just happen by accident. Nobody “falls into” salvation. It is a deliberate choice on the part of a sinner to agree with and obey God about what He says they need to do to be saved. Repentance can be summed up,

“For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” (I Thessalonians 1:9)

The Thessalonians were saved because they placed faith in Jesus Christ, and part and parcel with this was their choice to turn to God from idols. They were rejecting their entire religious culture that they had existed in hithertofore. They chose to make a clean break from those wicked things that separated them from God, and to turn to the living and true God. They were NOT saved because they “realised that they needed Jesus in their lives.” Even today, Hindus in India will say that, and are perfectly happy to add Jesus onto their 30 million strong pantheon of false gods. No. Repentance is turning FROM idols and TO the living God. This is true, whether your idol is an elephant-headed statue of Ganesha or is your twenty-four pack of beer every evening. If it is sin, then it separates you from God, it is an idol, and you have to turn from it to be genuinely exercising faith in Jesus Christ unto salvation.

The Bible makes it very clear that repentance is necessary for salvation,

“Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19)

“For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” (II Corinthians 7:10)

“I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3,5)

Repentance is necessary for conversion and the blotting out of sin – the whole tenor of the passage is speaking of the Lord’s return and the time of “restitution of all things,” so that we know this passage is about salvation, not merely “the Christian getting right with God.” Repentance is to salvation and is accompanied by “godly sorrow,” a genuine brokenness about sin that leads the sinner to desire to turn from it and to God. Jesus said that if you don’t repent, you will perish. You can’t get more plain than that – without repentance, you will die and go to hell. Of course, in the verses at the top that started this whole thing, Jesus connected repentance with entry into the kingdom of God – don’t repent, and you won’t enter in.

As such, any argument put forward that tries to set “repentance against grace” or “repentance against faith” is, on its face, an unscriptural argument that ought to be rejected by faithful Christians. Repentance IS faith. Faith, for it to be genuine, MUST include the element of turning FROM the sin that separates the sinner from God and which is WHAT CAUSES THEM TO BE LOST IN THE FIRST PLACE. If someone doesn’t want to give up their sin, then that person isn’t really willing to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as the Bible says you must. They’re trying to go some other way. They’re trying to climb over the wall into the sheepfold instead of coming through the gate.

We need to understand two salient points when discussing repentance:

1) God is holy. God is sinless. But not only is He sinless, He also cannot countenance sin in His presence. Sin is an offence to Him. He hates sin. He cannot abide sin. Sin cannot enter into His presence.

2) Following from this, then, is the fact that it is our sin that separates us from God and brings us under His condemnation. If someone is still in his or her sins, he or she cannot enter heaven, cannot come into God’s presence. On this earth, such a person cannot have fellowship with God. Everything they do is sin, even “…the plowing of the wicked, is sin” (Proverbs 21:4). Those who are not saved are called “children of disobedience…children of wrath” (Eph. 2:2-3). These things are what characterise their lives and walks.

From this, we must understand that to say that someone can be saved by merely “realising that they need Jesus in their lives” and without biblical repentance is to deny the very holiness of God. It’s to bring God down to the level of Dr. Phil. It is an insult to the Holy Creator of heaven and earth. It is a wicked, wicked perversion of the true Gospel.

Now, some will try to rebut this stand for biblical truth by asking whether Christians can sin, in an effort to insinuate that I was saying that repentance means that someone will never sin again after they have repented. Of course, I was not teaching that, and nothing I had said suggested it, but the question was still asked. “Can Christians commit adultery?”

Obviously, the answer is that they *can* do so. But equally obvious is that they *shouldn’t.* Really, this line of questioning is a red herring that shows that they don’t really understand what the Bible says about sin and repentance. Like I said above, repentance is an act of the will – it is making a choice that you want to leave your sin and instead live for the Saviour. None of this means that repentance erases the sin nature that we still have within us, and which battles with the new nature we receive when we trust on Christ. Even Paul struggled with this,

“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” (Romans 7:18-20)

But this struggle makes my very point, which is that repentance involves the choice to turn away from sin – Paul, though he struggled with the sin nature in his flesh, nevertheless WANTED and SOUGHT THE LORD FOR the end of the power of sin in his life.

And that’s the crux of the issue right there – because repentance involves the lost sinner desiring and choosing to turn from sin, even though this person will not subsequently be sinless in their life as a Christian, there should nevertheless be fruits meet for repentance that come forth in their life,

“But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” (Acts 26:20)

This is not saying that repentance is a “work” or that works are necessary for salvation. Rather, it is saying that AS A RESULT of genuine repentance and salvation, there will subsequently be fruits in a person’s life that indicate that their repentance and faith were genuine – they will seek to put away sin, they will desire to do the things that are in line with God’s Word, they will love the Word of God and the people of God, they will hate their former sins and seek to put them as far from them as possible, and so forth. There WILL be changes in the life of a person who has genuinely repented unto salvation,

“For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth.” (Colossians 1:5-6)

What this says is that the genuine Gospel WILL bring forth genuine fruit. That is the nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is to change the lost sinner and make him or a her a new creature (II Cor. 5:17), and to remake this person into the image of Jesus Christ progressively as they live for Him throughout their lives (i.e. sanctification). Lack of sanctification is tied in with the initial lack of repentance, and therefore lack of true saving faith.

This is why there are so many of the people I talked about above, who have prayed a prayer, but whose lives bear no evidence of any change. Years after the fact, they’re still living in the same sins, with no conscience about them and no desire to turn from them, as they were before the fresh faced young Hyles-Anderson student came to their door. There’s precious little fruit from this method of evangelism – because there’s precious little that is scriptural about that evangelism to begin with.

So yes, I will say again unequivocally and unapologetically that this “easy believism,” this “gospel” that downplays or denies repentance as necessary to salvation, is a damnable heresy and false gospel that God condemns and says is accursed (Gal. 1:8-9). Every faithful Christian who is genuinely concerned about souls, instead of numbers and tallies on a notebook, must speak to the lost about their sin and seek to call them to turn FROM it and TO the living God.

If Sin is What Separates us from God...

...then why do some folks try to say that people can be saved without repenting of their sin and turning from it and to God?

“But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” (Romans 6:17)

Above, I laid out a basic foundation for the biblical doctrine of repentance and discussed some of the reasons why faithful Christians must accept and believe it, and what some of the reasons are why folks don’t. I would like to take the opportunity below to explore biblical repentance in more detail. First, I’d like to dwell on the issue of sin and why dealing with sin has to be part and parcel with getting saved.

Many in the easy believist crowd don’t like to deal with sin. While in some cases this might be due to their own feelings of conviction when the issue is brought up because their own sin problem was never dealt with when they were praying the prayer that they believe saved them, in many cases, I think it is due to a misguided program for their evangelism. I think we all know that we live in a society that desperately wants to “do its own thing.” America today doesn’t want to hear about sin – talking about sin means you’re “judgmental,” “angry,” and “just plain mean.” Nobody wants to hear that they will stand in judgment for their adultery, drugs, sodomy, or rebellion. As a result, it IS true that when you are dealing with lost souls about the Lord, the issue of sin will be a stumbling block for some. There will be some who reject the Lord if it means they have to give up their sin. They are choosing their sin instead of the Saviour.

For the anti-repentance folks, this doesn’t fit into their evangelistic program which typically tends to emphasis raking in large numbers of people who pray a prayer and “get saved.” If talking about repentance from sin keeps people from praying a prayer, then genuine biblical repentance needs to go by the wayside. When they believe that “1-2-3, repeat after me” is the extent of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s natural for these folks to then view repentance as a “work” that “adds to” the Gospel (even though repentance, as a facet of faith, is actually CENTRAL to the Gospel). However, the anti-repentance doctrine is horribly wrong, and the basis for it is in a “dumbing down” of God that ignores or even rejects His holiness.

God is holy. This is a truism. You cannot find ANYTHING in Scripture which contradicts or calls this truism into question. Holiness is a fundamental attribute of God – it is in God’s very nature to be holy, and this holiness defines His further derivative traits such as His love, mercy, justice, etc. God is just and punishes sin because of His holiness. God’s holiness equally shows mercy to the repentant sinner who turns to Him for forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that was ordained as the way to be cleansed from sin and made right with God.

So what does it mean when we say that God is “holy”? Holiness, when applied to God, is speaking of nothing less than complete and utter separation from all sin, error, wrongdoing, and wickedness. It means that not only does God not Himself sin, but that He also cannot abide sin in His presence at all. The lost person still in his sins cannot pray, unless he is praying in repentance for salvation, because God will not hear that prayer. God does not even hear the prayers of saved people who are hanging onto some sin that they have allowed into their lives (Psalm 66:18). This is the whole basis for why those who finally reject Jesus Christ go to hell instead of to heaven and why those who reject Him will find themselves put outside of God’s paradise,

“For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” (Revelation 22:15)

Jesus Himself warned about this,

“I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3)

He was warning that those who will not repent and believe on Him will all likewise find themselves excluded from heaven, perishing in the fires of hell.

So we see that sin is something God takes very seriously, specifically because His own holiness is something He guards zealously. As a result of all of this, sin is what separates us from God,

“But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2)

Sin separates us from God. This is as true for the lost sinner as it is for the Christian out of fellowship with God because of sin. Therefore, sin is what needs to be dealt with before someone can be saved, can enter into the family of God, being in fellowship with Him. John 1:29 tells us,

“The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”

I think it should be apparent that it is not scriptural to observe that Jesus, the Lamb of God, came expressly for the purpose of taking away sin but yet affirm that people can be saved merely by praying a prayer when there has been no desire on their part to turn from sin, to be freed from sin, to seek out God to get the victory over it. Repentance involves yielding one’s self to God and desiring that sin will no longer be what controls your life,

“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” (Romans 6:6)

This is what Paul said took place at the salvation – our old man was crucified with Him. We became dead to sin but alive unto God. This was so that we would henceforth no longer serve sin, but would be God’s servants instead. Repentance doesn’t mean a person becomes sinless, but it does mean that that they want to turn from sin and to the Lord. If our not serving sin and instead living for Him is the point of our salvation, then what sense does it make to say that someone can be saved who is not repentant of their sin, who does not desire to turn away from it? Why would we say they have salvation when they’re missing the key foundation for what our salvation, from the perspective of who our Lord is, is completely missing?

The scriptures tell us that while sin is completely contrary to the nature and purposes of God, it is perfectly in line with the nature of the devil,

“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” (John 8:44)

“Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” (I John 3:7-8)

It is impossible to be both in the devil’s camp and God’s camp at the same time. It simply cannot happen. When a person is confronted with the Gospel truth, they are at a moment of decision – will they repent and yield their life to Him in faith, or will they choose to hang onto sin and reject Him? By failing to present to a lost sinner the need for repentance as part of exercising faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, that person is not being confronted with the true Gospel, and they are being left in the default position of still being in their sins, not being cleansed of their guilt by the blood of Christ.

This is not some new doctrine. Indeed, preaching repentance unto salvation is the historic Baptist position, and has been all the way back to the Apostles. The entirety of the New Testament’s message on salvation is that it involves turning FROM sin and self, and turning TO God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ, making the choice to believe what God’s Word says about our sin and about our lost condition because of that sin, and trusting on Him to take it away from us and to change us,

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (II Corinthians 5:17)

God will change us and make us a new creature as He sanctifies us as we yield to Him more and more fully in a practical way. But before this can begin, we first have to exercise faith in what He did for us on the cross of Calvary – which includes the willingness to repent of the sin that angers Him and separates us from Him, and yielding to Him as the Master of our lives.

Repentance is the Willful Choice to Turn from Sin and to God

“For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” (I Thessalonians 1:9-10)

It is often alleged by those belonging to the easy believist persuasion that repentance is nothing more than “feeling sorry for sin” or “realising that you need Jesus.” Defining repentance as the turning to God and away from sin is considered by these folks to be “works salvation.” They will readily agree with the first half of the common definition given, that repentance is “a change of mind...,” but they will refuse to accept the last half of this common formulation, “...that leads to a change in direction [i.e., to God and away from sin].”

Yet, is their approach to repentance really scriptural? It’s easy to simply define something you disbelieve in (and often, as I’ve seen from experience in dealing with them, fail to understand) as “works salvation” or “adding to grace.” It’s a whole different ballgame, however, trying to get around the plain, scriptural message of repentance as more than just “a change of mind,” but as the conscious choice on the part of a lost sinner to reject the sin that has captivated them for so long, and to choose instead the God Whom they spurned all their lives.

Indeed, this is what we see in Scripture – that repentance unto salvation is an act of the will that requires the conscious choice by a lost sinner to reject sin and turn to God. As shown previously, sin is what separates us from God in the first place. A lost sinner cannot be reconciled to God through salvation without first dealing with the reality of the fact that sin is what is keeping them from being right with God.

Now, there are many, especially Old Testament, passages used by anti-biblical repentance folks to try to define repentance merely as “a change of mind,” one that does not imply or demand “a change in direction.” Many of these involve places where God repented of something. For instance, passages such as God repenting of His stated decision to destroy Israel after the Golden Calf incident in Exodus 32; the Lord repenting of making Saul king over Israel in I Samuel 15:35; or Jonah 3:10 where God repents of His judgment of destruction upon the city of Nineveh, are often used to make the case that repentance means nothing more than “changing one’s mind.”

There are two problems with this argument, however.

First – trying to point to God while defining a normative definition of repentance *as it relates to dealing with sin and salvation* is misguided. God cannot sin, and therefore does not need to turn from it; neither does God need to be saved. However, the scripture repeatedly tells us that repentance is necessary for salvation of the souls of men. Drawing a definition of repentance solely from how it is expressed by God will completely miss the point of what it says about those of us who are NOT God, and about whom the Scripture presents a whole separate vista with respect to the concept of repentance. Their argument here is almost one of comparing apples to oranges.

Second – even if we were to grant that the sort of repentance that applies to God is normative for man, we would STILL see that the argument that repentance is merely “a change of mind” and not coupled with “a change in direction” is refuted by the passages that the anti-biblical repentance folks rely upon. Reread each of the passages mentioned above from the Old Testament. In each one, we see that, really, God did more than just “change His mind.” There was a corresponding change in the projected action that God said He would do. He stated that He would destroy Israel and make a new nation out of Moses; when He repented of this, He refrained from that course of action – His choice was followed by a definite consequence and action. When He repented of making Saul king, He acted to eventually remove Saul from the kingship and replace him with David. When God repented of His judgment upon Nineveh, He went from a place where He was going to destroy the city to one where He spared it. In each case, the change of mind was followed by a definite action that was in line with and the natural consequence of the change of mind.

God’s repentance, as with that of man, is a change of mind (at least from man’s perspective – I’m not going to get into a discussion about whether God *really* intended to actually do these things to begin with, or was using these to test his servants, etc. etc.) that corresponds with a change in direction.

That this same definition applies to man’s repentance is shown in the passage I started this post with, I Thessalonians 1:9-10. It should be obvious that this passage, with its description of the Thessalonian believers as ones who had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,” is not talking about saved people who have backslidden and are now getting right with God. No. The Thessalonians were pagan people living in a pagan society. When Paul preached Christ to them, they rejected their culture with its pagan trappings and turned to God. What’s more, their turning to God was not just one of mental assent – it was accompanied by fruits meet for repentance, the serving of the living and true God, rather than dead idols of wood and stone. The subsequent change in their lives verified the reality of their repentance – it showed that it was more than just “feeling sorry for sin,” but positively choosing to turn to God and away from that sin.

Now, sorrow for sin, a brokenness that comes with the dawning realisation of what sin has done, how it offends God, how it separates us from our Saviour – this can be the first step toward genuine repentance,

“For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” (II Corinthians 7:10)

Yet, this sorrow is not itself repentance. The verse says that it “worketh” repentance. It works toward or brings about repentance, but is not the very thing itself. Repentance is not just “feeling sorry for sin” and cannot be expressed unto salvation merely by telling God “I’m sorry.”

An insightful illustration of the reality of repentance as a definite choice of the will can be seen in the coming of the rich young ruler to Jesus. Here, we see a young man who “realised he needed Jesus in his life.” This was why he came to the Lord asking how he could have eternal life (indicating that he knew he did not have it – so this was no “backslidden believer”). Jesus instructed him to obey several of the laws in the Ten Commandments, omitting the one (about covetousness) that was the heart of this young man’s sin problem. The young man was willing to do, and indeed claimed to already be doing, these commandments. However, when Jesus dealt with his covetousness by instructing him to turn away from the money and wealth that he loved more than God, the young man balked and went away, remaining unsaved,

“And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:22)

This is a perfect illustration of what I’ve been saying about repentance. This young man had a choice to make. He could choose God or his wealth. He could hang onto that which was an idol in his heart, or he could turn to God from that idol to serve the living and true God. In this case, the young ruler made a willful choice to hang onto sin and refuse to trust on the Lord. But if he had gone the other way, if he had rejected his covetousness and chosen the Lord instead, this would have been just as willful of a choice on his part. He wouldn’t have “fallen into” it. It wouldn’t have been an “accident.” The fact of that young man’s continuance in sin and being under the wrath of God was due to his conscious choice to hang onto and love his sin (covetousness) and the material wealth which facilitated that sin. If he had turned to the Lord, it would likewise have been a conscious choice to choose God over His sin. This doesn’t mean that he would have been saved by the fact of giving away his wealth and following Jesus – those would have been the natural consequences, in this case, of his exercising faith in the Lord and turning to Him in repentance.

Scripturally, there can only be one conclusion – repentance is a turning to God and away from sin. Again, it does not mean that someone becomes sinless, nor does it mean someone has to “stop sinning” before they can be saved. Instead, it means that it is a choice of the heart, the will, the mind, to reject sin and trust the Saviour instead. Without making that choice, one cannot be saved.

Repentance and Faith are Two Sides of the Same Coin

“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God...” (Hebrews 6:1)

It is not uncommon for those who reject biblical repentance unto salvation to try to draw an artificial distinction between “faith” on the one hand and “repentance” on the other. By doing this, they can then try to argue that we’re saved by “faith,” and that to say that repentance is necessary for salvation (which it is, as has been shown previously) is to add repentance as a “work” to salvation, hence, to be teaching “works-based salvation.” This, in turn, allows the easy believism heretic to try to score rhetorical points that their actual attempts at argument from Scripture cannot – “See, I said you’re teaching ‘works-based salvation,’ so now you have to be quiet and stop arguing with me!”

Of course, the whole argument, from start to finish, is completely unscriptural bunkum, as our verse above shows. Far from being separable into neat and discrete categories, faith and repentance are actually completely complementary. In a soteriological context, to have one is to have the other. To lack the one is, likewise, to lack the other. You can no more have faith without repentance than you can have a triangle without the three sides. Repentance is part of what *defines* faith as being faith. Without it, you have no faith.

The verse above makes this point through the parallelism which the writer of Hebrews (I think Paul, but won’t be dogmatic on that point) uses. In verses 1-2, above, he is urging the Jewish Christians to whom he is writing to “move beyond the basics” of the Christian faith. He calls as “foundations” first of all “repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God” before also listing in v. 2 baptisms, laying on of hands (i.e. ordination to offices within the local church), the resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment. The progression here is interesting – the writer begins with salvation and proceeds on into the life of the saved believer: first someone gets saved, then they are baptised, then there is Christian service, then there is the resurrection and the things of eternity, these being damnation for the lost, as well as standing in judgment before the Bema seat for the saved person. But at the very start – the salvation part – he writes “repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God.” Both of these clauses are part of salvation, both come before the saved person is then baptised in obedience to and identification with the Lord, and all the rest.

The TR Greek underlying these two verses is interesting for what it shows us of the “connective” phrases used. The word “kai” (one of the words in Greek translated as “and”) is only found in two places in these verses, despite the English having “and” in several places. These two places are between the clauses about repentance and faith, and the clauses about the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. The “kai”s used in both places because “kai” is what is called a “coordinating conjunction” – it is used when the two words, phrases, or clauses being connected are on the same level. For this passage, it means that the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment are part of the same idea – the dead will be raised, some to everlasting life and others to everlasting shame and contempt. Likewise, repentance from dead works and faith towards God are part of the same idea – without one, you don’t have the other.

So what is “repentance from dead works”? Is this teaching that you have to “stop sinning” in order to be saved, as many easy-believists falsely say is believed by those who believe in biblical repentance? Of course not. As the easy believists are so fond of pointing out, “repentance” is translated from the word “metanoia,” meaning “to change one’s mind.” It means, in this context and in this passage, that the one who is repenting from dead works is “changing their mind” about the sin that separates them from God, is rejecting it instead of loving it and hanging onto it, and is turning TO God in their heart and mind and AWAY from sin. The “dead works” are nothing less than they sin that they have up to this point lived in and which has characterised their entire life, thoughts, deeds, and desires. Everything related to sin is “dead” – death and spiritual destruction are what characterise it,

“Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:15)

The Scripture also tells us that “...whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23b). Even the everyday things of life that the lost do before salvation which merely help them to live their lives apart from faith in God are counted by God as sin, as things that tend toward death rather than life,

“An high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked, is sin.” (Proverbs 21:4)

Repentance from dead works is the desire, as the Holy Spirit works in the heart of the lost person, to turn away from sin and to God. It doesn’t mean someone stops sinning, or that they never sin after that, but that their whole heart and mindset is changed toward sin. Instead of loving it, they hate it; and instead of rebelling against and resisting God, they want to yield to Him and let Him change them and make them a new creature (II Cor. 5:17).

This repentance is intimately coupled with “faith.” One cannot say they have “faith” if they are not willing to repent of their sin and turn to God. In an earlier post, I pointed out at length that sin is what separates us from God. Sin is why we are lost and undone in the first place. Sin is what makes us guilty before a holy God and keeps us from being in fellowship with Him, both in this life and in that which is to come. This being said, if someone is not choosing God over sin, then they are not exercising faith toward God. Contrary to false ideas purveyed in compromising churchianity, “faith” is not some nebulous concept or “feeling” that someone just has toward God. Faith is a very definite choice to trust God about what He has said in His Word. When God tells us to repent and believe on Him, “faith” is doing this, while “lack of faith” is not doing so. When God tells us to believe Him about something, faith is doing so, unbelief is not doing so.

When talking about salvation, if sin is what separates us from God, and if sin is what indicates unbelief (and let’s face it, ALL sin is, in one way or another, “unbelief” – trying to separate out some specific sin of “unbelief” is not really realistic), then turning from that sin is what indicates belief on the Lord, i.e. faith. If someone isn’t willing to turn from his or her sin and to the Lord, that person is not placing faith on the Lord Jesus Christ. You CANNOT have faith unless you have repentance from sin. You can’t claim to “have faith” in God when you are hanging onto that which He hates, condemns, and which He says separates us from Himself. It’s simply foolishness to try to define repentance as merely “changing your mind and accepting Jesus.” If you’re not turning from the sin that He hates, you’re not “accepting Him.” You’re still rejecting Him. Repentance from sin and faith in Christ cannot be separated, as the easy believists false try to do.

This is why easy believism is a perversion of the Gospel – they are using “gospel-sounding” language, but subtly changing the meaning of words from their scriptural, historic meanings that have been held by God’s true churches since the time of the apostles. Easy believism is designed to appeal to the flesh of unbelieving sinners so that they can hope to get to themselves the benefits of a relationship with God, without all the “negative” consequences of having to turn away from sin that they still love.

Salvation is Free, but not Easy

“And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:24)

It is not uncommon to hear easy believists and others who reject biblical repentance make statements along the line of, “It’s easy to be saved!” or, “salvation is easy!” Those who use these kinds of phrases will then try to claim that those who hold to biblical repentance, i.e. those who believe the Scriptural truth that lost sinners must turn FROM sin and TO God to be saved, are “making it hard” for people to get saved or are “throwing up roadblocks” against souls. This sort of argument is the results of a loose approach to the Scriptures, one which tries to confute the concept of salvation being “free” for it being “easy.”

The fact of the matter is that salvation is not easy. I will get to what I mean by this in just a moment.

However, I first want to make very clear that saying that salvation is not easy is NOT the same thing as saying that it is not free, nor is it teaching “works salvation.” Very clearly, the Scriptures teach that salvation is free. There is no work or law that can be done or kept that will “earn” salvation. Salvation is a FREE gift given to whosoever will call upon the Lord in repentance and put their faith and trust in Him. Salvation, justification from sin, is completely and totally the result of God’s unmerited favour and grace toward the lost soul which turns to Him,

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5)

“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)

“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5)

And so many more verses could be given that prove the Biblical truth of salvation by grace through faith.

However, when we talk about the question of whether salvation is “easy,” grace and faith are not really what we’re talking about, despite the efforts by the easy believists to confute the two notions.

“Easy” salvation is a concept that exists in our modern society because it appeals to the fleshly desires of modern Americans (and others). Ours is a society that wants everything “easy.” We want to be able to get our meals in minutes; we want to be able to surf the internet, do our banking, shop, and everything else at the touch of a button on a Smartphone. We don’t like difficulty. We don’t like to be held back from anything – the way needs to be smooth, with no hitches, or else we get mighty unhappy. I’ve seen too many instances, where adults out in a public place have throw temper tantrums because there was some snag or holdup in getting what they wanted at a restaurant, bank, store, or other venue, to believe that this is not a widespread tendency among our people. So the concept of “easy” salvation peddled by the Hyles/Schaap/easy believism crowd, is tailored to appeal to that sort of selfish, me-first mentality.

However, as our passage above shows, salvation is not “easy.” Instead, salvation requires the willingness of a person to put away the sin that they have hithertofore wanted to hang onto, and to be willing to turn to God through His Son Jesus Christ instead – i.e. biblical repentance. That’s what is often so hard. People love their sin, people want to hang onto it. They may want Jesus too, but when it comes to making the choice between Him or the sin He hates, they will choose the sin He hates far too often. Overcoming that desire to hang onto sin is a step of faith and trust that is not “easy.” Salvation remains free and open to the lost sinner, but choosing it instead of loving sin is what is “hard.”

We see the object example par excellence in the passage from which the verse at the beginning is drawn. I am sure that most of you reading this are familiar with the story. A rich young ruler comes to Jesus, asking what he must do to be saved. Jesus lists off several of the Ten Commandments that concern man’s relations with other people (one being conspicuously absent) – don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t lie, honour your parents. The young man says that he does all these. Jesus then tells him that he still lacks one thing, and instructs him to go out, give away all he has to the poor, and then follow Him. The young man is unwilling to do this, goes away downhearted, and regrettable, still as lost and on his way to hell as he was before he came to Jesus.

Some points to make about this incident:

1) Jesus was not telling this young man that the act of giving away his money and possessions would save him. There is no works-based salvation here.

2) This young man *came to Jesus*. He was seeking Him out. This young man knew that he “needed Jesus in his life,” as the easy believists are so fond of saying. Yet, despite this acknowledgement, he still went away lost. Simply acknowledging the need for Jesus did not save him, contrary to the type of salvation taught by many easy believists.

No – what we see here is that Jesus put His finger right on the one area of this young man’s life of which he really needed to repent before he could be saved – which was covetousness (this being the one Commandment Jesus didn’t mention in His original statement to the man). This young man went away sad because he loved money. He loved his possessions. These were the things he loved more than God, and therefore they were idols in his heart, and therefore were sin. This covetousness was the sin that this young man refused to repent of. This covetousness is what made salvation so hard for this young man. He wanted his possessions rather than God.

There was another man in the Scripture for whom salvation was hard – but yet he eventually obtained it by God’s grace, this being Paul (Saul).

“And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” (Acts 9:5)

Jesus as much as says that salvation for Saul was hard. “It is *hard* for thee to kick against the pricks.” God was pricking Saul’s heart, God was working on him to repent of his rejection of Jesus Christ as Messiah, or his persecution of God’s churches, and to turn to this same Jesus and be born again. Saul could not be saved until he turned FROM sin and TO God through His Son. Saul may have been a very religious man, but he was still lost. His zeal could not save Him. Repenting of sin and trusting on Jesus (Paul went from hating the name of Jesus to calling Him “Lord”) was what saved Saul. But it was a tough row to hoe for Saul – He had to turn his back on all his standing, his reputation within his religious community, his authority and popularity as a zealous “protector of the Jewish faith.” He had to give all that up and “count them but dung” (Phil. 3:8) that he might win Christ. Paul had to repent. Repentance was hard for Saul, but when he did, the free grace of God then saved him easily and wholly!

We see another example in Scripture, this time of a young woman, who had to make the difficult choice to repent and turn to God, but when she did, she was gloriously saved – Ruth,

“And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” (Ruth 1:16)

Think about this for a minute. Do you realise what Ruth did here? She was turning her back on literally everything she had ever been and known for her entire life prior to this point. Her people were Moabites – enemies of Israel and their God, pagans who worshipped their own complex pantheon of false deities, people with customs, laws, and behaviours that were often at odds with what the laws of Israel taught. And she chose God over all that. “...and thy God my God.” I can’t think of a more stark and beautiful picture of repentance unto salvation – she left *everything* - EVERYTHING - and turned to God. She left the idols, the sinful practices, the ways of her people – and chose God over it all.

What cheap foolishness is this “salvation is easy” garbage that the easy believists teach, where you can be saved by just praying 1-2-3-repeat-after-me and never having to turn from sin and to God. What a slander against God’s true saints throughout all ages, as well as against the holiness of God Himself.

No, my friends – salvation is not easy. It involves making some very difficult choices. Will we choose self or God? Will we choose sin or God? Will we choose our idols or God? But the soul who makes that choice to trust on God will then find that while not easy, salvation IS free, the FREE grace gift of a loving God who freely forgives all who come to Him in repentance and faith.

Is Biblical Repentance "Works-Based Salvation"?

“And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:20-21)

It is not uncommon when dealing with proponents of easy believism to hear them describe biblical repentance as “works-based salvation” or “trusting in the flesh,” and to see them accuse those who preach biblical repentance of “preaching a false gospel” or of being “Lordship salvationists.” As our verse above points out, if biblical repentance is “works-based salvation,” then Paul the Apostle, the apostle of grace to the Gentiles and Jews alike, was guilty of preaching “works-based salvation,” for he taught that repentance and faith were the same thing when it comes to receiving the gift of salvation. Of course, we know that Paul did not teach “works-based salvation,” but rather simply taught the Scriptures as God intended it to be taught – just as do those who teach biblical repentance unto salvation today.

Paul was addressing the elders of the Ephesian church while he was travelling back to Jerusalem. He was recounting his ministry to them, as one of the major churches of the Gentiles, and his own faithfulness in teaching and preaching the Word of God to them. In the course of doing this, he made the statement recorded above. In it, he says a number of important things that bear on the discussion of biblical repentance versus easy believism that I have been developing over the course of the last few posts.

First of all, he says that the teaching of repentance was “profitable” for them, one of the many things needful for salvation and mature Christian faith that he had not kept back from them. But unlike what is taught by many in the Hyles/Schaap circle of easy believism, this repentance was not merely “for the Christian” nor was it only limited to “sins committed by those who were already Christians.” No – this repentance was for the lost person to make if they hoped to be saved, to be born again. In v. 21, Paul provides us with a type of Hebrew parallelism in his thinking and argument-building (while the New Testament was written in Greek, Paul was a Jew who was steeped in the Hebrew scriptures, so it is natural that he would think in the patterns found therein).

He says that he had taught them, “...repentance towards God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This, in essence, is salvation. Without faith, there is no salvation of the lost soul. But equally so, without genuine repentance of sin, there is no salvation either. Both of these are mentioned here in this verse as being equivalent. They are responses of the same impulse, involving two different Persons of the Trinity, the Godhead. God the Father is in view here when he says, “repentance toward God.” God the Father is the One to Whom we must be reconciled. It is against Him that our sin has been committed and from Whom we must receive forgiveness of that sin. God the Son is the One toward Whom we must place faith and trust in the sacrifice which He made for us on the cross of Calvary. We come TO the Father THROUGH the Son. For this to happen, we must respond in faith and repentance to God’s dealings with man as per His Godhead. Repentance – that choice on the part of the lost sinner to turn from sin and to God, loving God instead of sin – is made towards the One from Whom we are separated because of that sin, the Father. Faith – that decision on the part of the sinner to believe God, to simply take Him at His Word and respond to Him as He says we should – believes on and responds to the fact of Jesus Christ’s vicarious sacrifice in the sinner’s place and the shedding of His blood for the lost sinner’s atonement. Faith and repentance are two aspects of the same believing response on the part of a lost sinner who turns to God for salvation. If you don’t have repentance of sin, you don’t have faith in Christ, and you don’t have genuine biblical salvation.

Now, many easy believists will try to say that calling repentance “a change of mind that leads to a change in direction” is “teaching works for salvation.” But let’s observe that they miss a very salient point about this, which is that the change of mind LEADS to a change in direction. The change of mind is not, itself, the change in direction. Rather, what is being said is that when someone repents, they are willing for God to change them, make them a new creature, and to alter the whole direction of their life. When a person repents, they no longer want to keep going in the same direction they were before, they no longer love their sin and want to hang onto it, they are willing for God to make “old things pass away” and “all things become new” (c.f. II Corinthians 5:17). It is not that the repentant sinner is doing these things his or herself, but rather that they have chosen God over sin, chosen love for God over love for their sin. They want God instead of their sin – not just in word, but in their heart of hearts. The putting away of sin will come later as they grow in grace and knowledge, but there must first be the decision to turn to God and away from sin before that sanctification process can begin. Again, we can see the example from Paul’s preaching,

“But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” (Acts 26:20)

Notice here that Paul’s preaching everywhere he went was that people should “repent and turn to God” first. Once they had done this, then they could “do works meet for repentance.” After they had trusted on Christ by faith in repentance, then they were to live for Him, their lives being filled and manifesting to the world at large good works that were fit and proper in the life of a Christian believer. But it all begins with that decision to turn to God and from sin. Simply “realising they need Jesus in their lives” is not enough. Unless the love for sin is dealt with – which is what separates us from God – salvation cannot be had.

Now, many will accuse this of being “Lordship salvation.” Frankly, I’m not really interested in getting into a discussion about whether it really is or not, because there are about a dozen different definitions of that term that I have seen floating around the internet, in books, and so forth. Basically, it seems like the term is used more as a pejorative – if someone doesn’t like a teaching, they’ll accuse it of being “Lordship salvation,” and let that suffice in place of making a genuinely reasoned argument against what they don’t like. The “Lordship salvation” canard is just that – a canard – and doesn’t merit a whole lot of discussion unless it is being specifically defined, which it usually isn’t.

I would note, however, that when Paul was confronted with the Lord Jesus Christ in all His glory there on the Damascus road, he went from hating that name to calling Him “Lord” (Acts 9:5), indicating a definite change in his heart attitude towards Jesus Christ. Also, I would note that Jesus Himself said,

“And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46)

Which could encompass the earlier call in the Gospels to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” So there does seem to be an element of recognising that Jesus Christ is Lord of the one’s life, in that if one is truly willing to turn from sin, then one will be willing to yield their life to Him completely. However, I can also concede that a lost sinner probably will not understand the totality of all the changes that will have to be made in his or her life for Jesus to be the Lord of their life – this will come as they are being sanctified and are faced, again and again, with either yielding another area of life to Him or withholding it in disobedience. It is the consistent tenor of the choices they make that will determine if their profession of faith is genuine or not. To the extent that we can discuss “Lordship salvation” biblically, it would be in the area of sanctification and our responses to the choices we are called to make – are we bringing for fruits meet for repentance as people who have already professed faith in the Lord?

Anywise, back to the main issue of biblical repentance and the accusations against it. One charge often leveled is that biblical repentance is “proud,” “boastful,” or “trusting in the flesh.” Frankly, I have to say that if someone actually understands what is being taught about biblical repentance, these charges are simply foolishness. How is it “trusting in the flesh” to be willing to turn away from sin as God says we must? As noted before, sin is what separates us from God,

“But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2)

How can a lost sinner be restored to Him except that this sin problem first be dealt with? The answer is that he or she cannot. But this is where the charges made by the easy believists fall apart completely – there is absolutely NOTHING “proud,” “boastful,” or “fleshly” about repenting of sin. Indeed, repenting of sin is exactly the OPPOSITE of what the flesh wants to do,

“Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.” (I Peter 4:1)

The flesh loves sin. Sin pleases the flesh. Sin “feels good.” Conversely, the flesh hates to turn away or abstain from sin. Being willing to leave your sin and turn to God, believing that He will take away your sin and give you victory over it – this is exactly the opposite of what the flesh naturally wants. Calling biblical repentance “fleshly” is like calling the air “a vacuum” – it is completely and totally untrue at its very foundational definition.

Further, we should note that the easy believist calumnity against biblical repentance as being a “work” is shown to be false by the fact that repentance is said to be something that God Himself *gives*,

“In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” (II Timothy 2:25)

Clearly, repentance (like faith and grace, take note, Eph 2:8) is something that is given by God, as He works in the heart of the lost sinner whom He is calling to Himself. And just as with faith, the lost sinner must make the choice to respond or reject, so with repentance, the lost sinner must make the choice to respond or reject. Repenting of sin is a positive response TO the grace of God that is being extended to the one with whom God is dealing. Repentance is no more a “work” than faith is – once again, they are both two sides of the believing coin.

But this leads me now to a point where the easy believists trap themselves into a biblically untenable yet entirely logical conclusion of their arguments. Let’s take the arguments in the opposite direction. If repentance is a “work,” then so is “faith.” After all, they say that it is a “work” for a lost sinner to choose to turn away from sin and to God. Making a choice is a work, they say. But that’s exactly the same kind of choice that someone makes when they choose to put faith in God through His Son Jesus Christ. They make a choice – which per the logic of the easy believists…is a work. If the one is a work, then the other must be. Both involve making a choice for or against God, believing or refusing to believe what He has said. By their own arguments against biblical repentance, easy believists are trapped into essentially arguing that they themselves believe in “works-based salvation.”

It gets even worse for their arguments, however, when we note that the only escape for them from this quandary, if they refuse to simply accept the biblical truth about biblical repentance, is to go full on Calvinist and say that the lost sinner has no part in repentance and faith – these are completely and utterly acts of God for which the sinner makes no response, does absolutely nothing his or herself, that the sinner is a totally passive character in the business of salvation. Hard core Calvinists would have no problem with that – they already think that God has picked out certain people to be saved while everyone else is lost, and that these people predestined to be saved have no say in the matter themselves. They WILL be saved, like it or not. I’ve even heard of some extreme Calvinists whose testimonies of salvation are essentially that they woke up one morning and just realised that they were part of the elect, and were therefore saved.

In almost all cases, this is not what the easy believists actually believe – but it is the logical conclusion of the arguments they make, if these arguments are carried to their end point. If repentance is a “work,” then so is faith, so if we wish to avoid works-based salvation, then neither faith nor repentance are decisions that the lost sinner makes for himself.

Of course, the other way to escape this quandary is to simply accept that BOTH faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin, and simply involve believing on the Lord and trusting Him, and that NEITHER of them are “works.” But this, of course, means jettisoning the false gospel of easy believism for the genuine Gospel taught by the Lord Jesus and His apostles.

Should We Expect Converts to Christ to Demonstrate a Changed Life?

“But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” (Acts 26:20)

Previously, I discussed several aspects of the rejection of biblical repentance by easy believists. In this section, I would like to address one last area where advocates of easy believism will differ greatly from biblical, historic Christianity. This is the area of “fruits meet for repentance” – the belief that genuine conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ will subsequently result in a changed life that is characterised by the progressive sanctification of the converted soul as they yield themselves ever more and more fully to Christ and become more Christ-like in their walk, their talk, their thoughts, and their doctrine.

There are many in the easy believist camp who reject the idea that we can assess the genuineness of someone’s profession by looking for evidences of a changed life. Just as they wish to eliminate, or at least severely dilute, repentance as a fundamental part of salvation, so also would they reject the notion that genuine sanctification is demonstrative of genuine conversion. The reasons for these two are closely related. By eliminating repentance from salvation, it is easier for the easy believists to rack up the large numbers of “conversions” that they will often claim to have seen (e.g. “Such and such saw 600 people give their lives to the Lord while out soul-winning last Saturday!!!”). When you don’t have to deal with sin that people want to hang onto and when you tell people that salvation depends merely on praying a prayer, it’s easy to rack up these big numbers. Repentance, sin, all that stuff cuts into that. Likewise, when you start saying that a changed life is the evidence of genuine conversion, and then you note that nearly all of the 600 that prayed a prayer for “such-and-such” on some particular Saturday last year aren’t coming to church, are still drinking and smoking and doing drugs, are still living with their girlfriends in fornication, etc., well, it becomes difficult to trust that these folks were really saved. In both cases, the easy believists’ doctrines are intended to facilitate large numbers and applause from their fellow man, which is threatened by biblical repentance and so forth.

So the question remains – should we expect new converts to demonstrate a changed life as they undergo the process of sanctification? Should someone who got saved five years ago still be where they were at spiritually when they professed to be putting their faith in Christ?

I believe the Scripture makes it pretty clear that we should expect to see the evidence of sanctification from those professing Christ. I mean really, if you think about it, what else would the oft-quoted verse mean,

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (II Corinthians 5:17)

If someone is in Christ, they are a new creature. They have been washed, regenerated, and renewed by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Old things are passed away, all things are become new. The tense of that verb “become” in Greek is a perfect tense – it means that the becoming has already occurred, once and for all. The person who is in Christ is no longer what they used to be. They are made new. We are in Him – a fundamentally different place than we were before we were saved. As a result of being IN Him, we are different than what we used to be. We are no longer just the natural man, carnal and sold under sin. We have the Holy Spirit within us, and are “partakers of the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4), provided with all we need to get the victory over sin and the flesh.

Paul elsewhere points out that when we are IN Christ, we walk in a newness of life that should be characterised by freedom from the power of sin,

“Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” (Romans 6:4-6)

Paul here is saying that the old man is, in fact, dead. We are raised up with Him. This new life ought to be shown outwardly by a service to God instead of our old service to sin. Obviously (as Paul’s own struggle illustrated in Rom. 7 shows us) we do not become sinless – we still struggle with our old nature, and will continue to do so until either we die or are raptured to be with Him. However, Paul’s point in this passage is that salvation is a fundamental CHANGE in a person – they are not the same as they were before. Because they are in Christ, their federal link to the old man inherited from Adam is broken, and they are now intimately linked with the second man, the Lord from heaven, in their new life in Him (c.f. I Cor. 15:47). Incidentally, believer’s baptism by immersion is the outward, public confession of this in a new believer’s life, which is why it bothers me greatly when someone claims to have believed on the Lord, yet resists and does not desire to be identified with Him in baptism. It is almost as if their flesh is rejecting this identification with Christ because there has been no true salvation and regeneration.

So very definitely, we see that a truly saved person is a CHANGED person.

However, easy believists will often confuse (perhaps accidentally, perhaps purposefully) this principle of works after salvation with works FOR salvation. In doing so, they will often misuse Scripture to try to make their case. One prominent example that I have seen in recent dealings with several folks who hold to this doctrine is to appeal to Jonah 3:10 as evidence that “works” in the lives of those who exercise faith are “works” that they’re trying to be saved by (i.e. works-based salvation).

“And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.”

I’ve had several easy-believists argue with me that this verse “proves” that repentance is a “work,” and therefore, teaching biblical repentance is to teach “works-based salvation.” The problem, however, is that they’re not understanding the verse. The “works” that the Ninevites were doing, the turning away from evil, was a FRUIT of their repentance. As pointed out earlier, repentance is a willful choice to turn from sin and to turn to God. It is a part of faith, believing God when He condemns our sin and says that it separates us from Him, and choosing to side with Him instead of our sin. The result of this choice after a person puts their faith and trust in Him will then be that they act on the choice they made, responding in faith to what His Word says. THIS is what is going on in Jonah 3:10 – God had already told Nineveh that they would be destroyed, they repented in sackcloth and ashes, and as a result of their change of mind, they then acted to turn from their wicked ways. In New Testament parlance, we would say that they were “bring[ing] forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matthew 3:8). The fact that they had already repented was subsequently evidenced by their changed lives. This is not “works-based salvation.”

This is what we see in the text verse at the top, Acts 26:20 – Paul preached that people were to repent and turn to God, and after that, there were to be “works meet for repentance” that showed the truth to the professions.

Very clearly the New Testament enjoins believers to demonstrate a changed life openly by living for Christ in an open and unambiguous manner. We are to demonstrate daily our subservience to Him by obeying His Word and living it before the world,

“This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.” (Titus 3:8)

“And let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.” (Titus 3:14)

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

“He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” (I John 2:6)

“Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (I Peter 2:12)

“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works,” (Hebrews 10:24)

“Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:21)

And so forth. Clearly, someone who is being faithful to the Lord is someone who is going to be *empirically* different than they were before they were justified in Christ. In turn, this walk in the Spirit is evidence that they have been place IN Jesus,

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1)

Walking after the flesh (i.e. this is the pattern of their life and manner of conduct day by day) suggests that someone is not “in Christ” while walking in the Spirit suggests that they are.

This gets back to the objection that many easy believists have against the doctrine of “fruit-checking,” as some might call it – not seeing any fruits meet for repentance calls into question the validity of their easy believist perversion of the gospel, that it may not in fact be a true gospel that leads to the genuine conversion of lost souls to Christ at all.

“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matthew 7:20)

The thing to keep in mind about this verse is that, contextually, it is speaking of “false prophets” (v. 16). It is saying that you can tell the genuineness of a teacher’s doctrine and teaching by looking at the fruit they produce – the “crop” of their ministry, so to speak. In the case of the easy believists, the crop is often non-existent, or at least much smaller than the awards sessions would suggest. When you have a ministry that claims to see thousands saved every year, but yet which produces “converts” whose lives stay the same, never evince a desire to turn from their sins, and so forth, the fruit simply isn’t scriptural. It is not fruit that one would expect from people responding to the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not the same as what Paul saw in cities all over the Mediterranean. It is the fruit of a false gospel.

Now, having said all of this, this all is not to suggest that any one believer has leave to look down upon or be judgmental toward another who has not grown as much or as fast as they have. Every genuinely born-again believer is undergoing the process of “working out” their own salvation (in this case, sanctification),

“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12)

This is an on-going thing in their lives. We all grow at different rates – sometimes due to our own choices, sometimes due to our external circumstances. But the point is that if someone is saved, there will be some changes. Maybe not always as many or as extensive as we would like to see, but there will be some fruits meet for repentance being manifested in their life. That sort of a situation is wholly different from one where there are NO fruits, and no DESIRE for fruits, in the life of someone professing Christ.

And finally, of course, we must acknowledge that what I’ve been talking about above is of necessity reliant upon the imperfect observations of fallible man. As a result of this, I would say that when we’re making a legitimate, scriptural observation of someone’s life, what we are NOT doing is making an absolute judgment about this person’s salvation or lack thereof (something only God knows). Instead, we’re making a judgment based on what we can see, and responding to what the Scripture says ought to be openly shown in someone’s life. If someone professes the Lord, but the fruits just aren’t there to be seen, in the very least, this person ought to be encouraged to examine his or herself to see if he or she is “in the faith” (II Cor. 13:5). This does not mean, however, that one can simply say “you can’t judge me!!!!” and expect to necessarily have a profession of faith taken at face value. This is not making a judgment absolutely on that person’s salvation in the place of God, but is instead making a judgment based on Scriptural indicators as to whether we, on this earth, will give credit to that profession based on what we see. We may be wrong something, but all the same, we are expected to act on what we see, lining it up with what we read in Scripture.