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Why Do I Need to Repent if Salvation is by Grace Through Faith?

For years I was confused about the call to repentance in the Bible. I knew that salvation was by grace through faith, and yet I wondered about the emphasis on repentance which I saw in the New Testament. This emphasis is certainly all over the place, and so it’s clear that to become a Christian, a person must repent and believe in Christ, but repentance seemed like a “work” and therefore a contradiction of the idea of grace by faith alone. Here’s what I came to understand:

I got it confused because I misunderstood the word repentance in the first place. Repentance is not changing the way we act. In fact, it is not an action at all, but instead is turning away from sin in your mind.  Now, don’t be mistaken, turning from sin in word and deed is what always happens when there is repentance, but repentance is not doing anything; instead it is changing your mind about sin.

When a preacher says, “Repent!”, what he is saying is, “Change your mind.”  The word for repentance is metanoeo.  Meta – means with.  Noeo – means, the mind, or thinking.

Literally, with the mind.

Therefore, repentance means…change the way you are thinking about sin. This makes perfect sense – if a person is going to call on the name of Jesus for salvation from their sin, wouldn’t they first have to think differently about sin? Of course.

It’s only when a drowning man realizes the water is killing him that he calls for help. To him, water is a big negative, and that’s an understatement. And it’s the same way with sin. 

Therefore, in order to call on Jesus for help, I have to realize that sin is a mega-negative. It has caused me pain and loss.It has severed relationships and broken me time and again.  Therefore I need a Savior, and to repent is to realize the harmful, negative nature of sin. The call to faith is also the call to see sin for what it is.

This idea gets clarified in Luke 3:8 when John the Baptist takes repentance to the next step and says,

Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. Luke 3:8a (ESV)

In this, John is saying to do something, but this is distinct from the call to salvation. If you have really repented, he is saying, then you will change.  Your deeds will be evidence that you have repented, but hear this – deeds are not necessary for salvation – they are only evidence that salvation has come, as in the case of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10 ESV). If a Christian has really decided that a particular action is sinful, then by the power of the Holy Spirit Who reminds us of our sonship, that person will work to stop doing that particular action. But it will not be perfect work. There will be fits and starts. He will stumble and fight…all his life, but he will fight.  Because of what Christ has done for him, he will fight against sin and slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, bear fruit.

But we do not call people to salvation by saying, “You must do something and believe.”

Instead…we call them to repent.

For Monday, July 6th: Luke 4

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Is Baptism Necessary For Salvation?

It was probably 10 years ago that I got a call from another pastor in town (since moved away) inviting me to lunch.  He and I had never really connected, so I gladly accepted.  As we sat down at Culvers one early afternoon, he didn’t take too long to get to his point.  He had come to visit Edgewood recently and had liked what I had to say…mostly.

“I appreciate how you tell people how to go to heaven,” he began.  “But…I think you’re a wolf in sheep’s clothing (Yeah, that’s what he said). You’re not telling them the full truth.”

Fascinating. What did he mean? Well, I soon found out. He was upset that I wasn’t telling people that they needed to be baptized in order to be saved. In his tradition, he had come to appreciate grace (Amen!), hence he was glad I was explaining the gospel, but he had also come to believe in the necessity of baptism for salvation. Since I didn’t share his conviction, I guess you can call me wolf pastor.

This particular aspect of theology, called baptismal regeneration, is only held by some who name the name of Christ, but it has always struck me as downright weird. (How’s that for a theological argument?) Later this pastor’s church would take out an ad in a local newspaper for a “community baptism”. How strange. In fairness, they promised instruction in advance, but it was almost as if they felt they could get people dunked and ensure their place in heaven. And how misleading…I wonder how many lost people in the community saw that ad, realized what the church was trying to do, and thought, “I guess I’m good…I’ve been baptized.” Yikes…extremely confusing.

The Apostle Paul, however, was not confused about the subject. His seemingly offhand thoughts on baptism in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 are almost comical…

…were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 (ESV)

It’s not a full orbed theological argument on the subject of baptism, but it’s darn close. First, Paul can’t remember whether he baptized anyone, so it’s clearly not an issue that is in the forefront of his mind. But more than that, he says quite succinctly that he was not sent to baptize.  And finally, as if all that weren’t enough, if baptism were required for salvation, Paul would never have said “I thank God that I baptized none of you except…”

That said, baptism is important.  It is a command of the Lord (Matthew 28:19, 20), and it gloriously envisions the gospel, not only in picturing the washing away of sins, but also in immersion, as the believer is buried with Him in baptism, and raised with Him in newness of life (Romans 6:4). So if you haven’t been baptized since believing in Jesus, you should be. It’s an obedience issue…but it is not a matter of salvation, and those who say it is are confusing the gospel of grace. And that’s a really, really bad thing to do.

Makes you wonder who the real wolf is…

For Wednesday, May 5th: 1 Corinthians 2

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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