Getting the Gospel Right: Repentance

Is repentance necessary for salvation? There has been quite a discussion at SI on that topic this week. It’s a question of eternal consequence. Yet, I fear that many Bible-believers (including many Bible-believing preachers) are getting it wrong.

I preached a message on repentance at TCBC some time ago, and because I think it’s a matter that needs urgent attention, I’ve posted the message here.

(Warning: the file is big and the message is long. There’s a better series from a better preacher on the topic available here.)



28 Responses

  1. Chris,

    Isn’t it a bit confusing to identify repentance as the gospel? Isn’t the gospel the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-4)? Since when has repentance become part of the triple framework of redemption? Isn’t it more accurate–and certainly more preferable– to identify repentance and faith as TERMS of the gospel, and NOT the gospel?

    Just wondering.

  2. TP,

    I don’t suppose that you intentionally left out the fourth element in Paul’s list of what he “delivered” to the Corinthians (all of which are marked by hoti). Notice the list: Christ died for our sins, he was buried, he was raised on the third day, and he appeared to Cephas, the twelve, et al.

    Interestingly enough, Paul goes on for the rest of the chapter talking about only the last item in that list (the bodily appearance of Christ after his resurrection). Could it be that Paul is not giving a “quick and dirty” definition of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1–5? Perhaps he is simply establishing the fact that the bodily appearance of Christ is just as important as his death, burial, and resurrection.

    I have heard preachers rail on those who “haven’t really given the Gospel” because they failed to mention the burial or resurrection of Christ in a Gospel presentation, but then these same preachers omit the bodily appearance of Christ.

    I would define “the Gospel” as the message that God has made a way for man to be right with him by faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ (Rom 3:21–26). Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin: turning from sin in faith to God (1 Thess 1:9). A faith without repentance is syncretism; a repentance apart from faith is merely reformation.

  3. Mark, do a search on ‘my gospel’ in the NT. It enlightens this topic. I think in the main TJP is right on this point, technically speaking. We do need to call for repentance along with faith, but the way the apostles use the term ‘gospel’ has more of a technical meaning than the way you are defining it.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  4. Don, I never thought I’d see the day! Here I was, trying to use some good ol’ “biblical theology,” looking at the specific instance in context, and you go correcting me with your “systematic theology” from the whole NT! What have things come to?! Next thing we know, you’re going to be studying “election” throughout the NT and you’re going to be a Calvinist! [heh,heh]

  5. Very funny!

    I suppose that my comments could be seen as a ‘system’, but my understanding of BT is that you limit your description of a subject strictly by Biblical data. When you start making conclusions beyond the data, you are entering systematic theology. That’s why I am leary of the pronouncements on elder rule, for instance. See the other thread.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  6. Amen, Chris. I have been reading the Concordia [Lutheran Confessions], and your sermon sounded as if you were quoting from Article XIIa (V) of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. I can imagine Luther sounding much like you today. You are right on in defining the Gospel, and I wept hearing your sermon. God grant you many more years to proclaim the Gospel, and may many be converted to Christ by your preaching. Btw, I also loved your reference to the Westminster Confession. Bless you.

    May God be merciful to me a sinner.

  7. Chris,
    Thanks for representing a burden that has been on my heart for a long time. I also appreciated your message and passion with which you communicated. I certainly agree with many of your points. May the Lord use this to help us “get it right.”


  8. Mark,

    Your post is perhaps the strangest thing I’ve read in a while.

    I do believe you confuse the gospel with its proofs, especially the proofs of its capstone, the resurrection. To suggest the witnesses of the resurrection are equal to the content of the gospel is an error of the first order.

    Yes, Paul a gave a clear and concise definition of the gospel in 1 Cor. 15:1-4. In fact, he gave the ONLY definition of the gospel. And, no, he never intended the post-resurrection appearances of Christ to be just as important as His blood atonement. You confuse things badly here.

    If what you say is true, if Christ’s post-resurrection appearances are just as important as His blood atonement, then when Jesus arose from the dead early on the first day of the week, we still didn’t have a gospel until Cephas and the Twelve certified His appearances, which would “complete”the gospel.

    I noticed, too, that, after carrying on about the post-resurrection appearances being equal with the death, burial, and resurrection, you go on to define the gospel without mentioning the post-resurrection appearances!

    While your understanding of the essence (or foundation) of the gospel scares me (and it should anyone who reads your remarks), your comments on repentance and faith are good.

  9. No matter how you take 1 Corinthians 5, the post-resurrection appearances were vital to the presentation of the gospel in that many eye-witnesses could testify to the veracity of his resurrection (Acts 10:41).

  10. I’m surprised this is so difficult. “Gospel” means good news. It was used throughout the four gospels, even before Christ’s death, burial & resurrection. In fact, the “gospel” of salvation by faith was preached to Abraham in the OT (Gal. 3:8). The 3 facts of Christ’s death, burial & resurrection may be a summary, but the gospel is the good news of salvation, including the necessity of faith and repentance. If it were merely facts without a required response, how could it be “obeyed” (Romans 10:16, II Thes. 1:8)? And finally, how could the Judaizers be accused in Galatians of preaching “another gospel”? My understanding is that although they didn’t deny the three facts of Christ’s work, they added to the required response–and thus changed the gospel.

    Now, let’s consider the necessity of repentance rather than the title of my post.

  11. Repentance is absolutely necessary. The problem is defining saving repentance. A distinction must be made in the NT between passages that teach saving repentance and those that teach sanctifying repentance. This is less than clear in preaching I’ve heard on this topic.

    Saving repentance is the turning away from whatever one was relying upon to earn entrance into the presence of God (e.g., law deeds, good works, being Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, etc.) and turning to the finished work of Jesus Christ (John 19.30). I no longer rely upon my dead works but upon Christ the Living Word.

    Sanctifying repentance takes place in the believer. Here, I turn from specific sins and ask for cleansing. I put on Christ as His disciple. I am moving in a direction that now pleases Him. It is a continual battle that will end when I am glorified at death or His return.

    Much of the confusion regarding repentance could be dispelled by distinguishing between these two definitions. We must also be careful in the passages we use to preach saving repentance. Often we use passages that are addressed to believers and that outline sanctifying repentance.

    Well, off to a couple’s retreat in Clear Lake. Looking forward to retreating :)

  12. TP,

    I must agree, someone is badly confused. If you agreed with my closing statements on faith and repentance, you should probably have reread my post and realized that you completely missed my point. How can we expect to have any sort of cogent discussion when you fail to understand my comment before responding?

    Let me be clear: I do not believe (nor did I ever say) that Christ’s post-resurrection appearances are “just as important as his blood atonement.” That is ridiculous.

    What I did say was that Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 is not to define “the Gospel.” As Chris pointed out, the word gospel means “good news.” The Gospel also includes a required response, not just historical facts (since it must be obeyed).

    As I understand from the context of 1 Corinthians, Paul was explaining that the bodily resurrection of Christ (as evidenced by his “appearing” to many people) was just as true as his death and burial. As you probably know, the concept of bodily resurrection was repulsive to Greek thought (cf. Acts 17:32). In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is teaching them the importance of the bodily resurrection of Christ and then he connects that to the necessity of their own bodily resurrection.

    If “the Gospel” is simply the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, then is receiving the Gospel simply affirming those historical facts? By your insistence that the Gospel is “the death, burial, and resurrection,” this is where we are left.

    I would submit that the Gospel involves more than just the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. In my understanding, the “essence” of the Gospel involves four main elements: the Creator God (who he is and why man is responsible), sin (both the act and the principle), Jesus Christ (his person and work), and faith and repentance (the application of the Gospel).

  13. Chris, and all

    How often do you use the Creeds in your worship, and would you say that the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds summarize the Gospel adequately?

  14. “…one baptism for the remission of sins…” I would submit that true forgiveness/remission of sins [absolution] can not be granted without repentance. Repentance must be part of the Gospel or what use is belief?

  15. From the “Apology of the Augsburg Confession”:

    28] In order, therefore, to deliver pious consciences from these labyrinths of the sophists, we
    have ascribed to repentance [or conversion] these two parts, namely, contrition and faith. If any
    one desires to add a third, namely, fruits worthy of repentance, i.e., a change of the entire life
    and character for the better [good works which shall and must follow conversion], 29] we will
    not make any opposition. From contrition we separate those idle and infinite discussions, as to
    when we grieve from love of God, and when from fear of punishment. [For these are nothing
    but mere words and a useless babbling of persons who have never experienced the state of
    mind of a terrified conscience.] But we say that contrition is the true terror of conscience, which
    feels that God is angry with sin, and which grieves that it has sinned. And this contrition takes
    place in this manner when sins are censured by the Word of God, because the sum of the
    preaching of the Gospel is this, namely, to convict of sin, and to offer for Christ’s sake the
    remission of sins and righteousness, and the Holy Ghost, and eternal life, and that as
    regenerate men we should do good works. 30] Thus Christ comprises the sum of the Gospel
    when He says in Luke 24, 47: That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in My
    name among all nations. 31] And of these terrors Scripture speaks, as Ps. 38, 4. 8: For mine
    iniquities are gone over mine head, as a heavy burden they are too heavy for me…. I am feeble
    and sore broken; I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart. And Ps. 6, 2. 3: Have
    mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak; O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed. My soul is
    also sore vexed; but Thou, O Lord, how long? And Is. 38, 10. 13: I said in the cutting off of my
    days, I shalt go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years … I reckoned
    till morning, that, as a lion, so will He break all my bones. [Again, 10, 14: Mine eyes fail with
    looking upward; O Lord, I am oppressed.] 32] In these terrors, conscience feels the wrath of
    God against sin, which is unknown to secure men walking according to the flesh [as the
    sophists and their like]. It sees the turpitude of sin, and seriously grieves that it has sinned;
    meanwhile it also flees from the dreadful wrath of God, because human 33] nature, unless
    sustained by the Word of God, cannot endure it. Thus Paul says, Gal. 2, 19: I through the Law
    am dead to the Law. 34] For the Law only accuses and terrifies consciences. In these terrors
    our adversaries say nothing of faith; they present only the Word, which convicts of sin. When
    this is taught alone, it is the doctrine of the Law, not of the Gospel. By these griefs and terrors,
    they say, men merit grace, provided they love God. But how will men love God in true terrors
    when they feel the terrible and inexpressible wrath of God? What else than despair do those
    teach who, in these terrors, display only the Law?

  16. Jim, can you give some examples of the texts you’re thinking of that address “sanctifying repentance”?

    It seems that the Acts references that record apostolic preaching very clearly require repentance as a condition of forgiveness (3:19), a condition of life (11:18), an indispensable part of saving faith, etc.

  17. Chris, I don’t think you will see sanctifying repentance in Acts, unless it is Ac 26.20, but try 2 Cor 7.9-10, where Paul commends the already believing Corinthians for repenting to salvation not to be repented of… I don’t think he means a second salvation here…

    I was thinking about this thread earlier today and the discussion over definitions. The question was, is repentance necessary for salvation. I would say yes. But repentance isn’t part of the gospel, it is the response. There are 95 verses in the NT that contain the word gospel. I haven’t gone through every one of them, but it does seem to me at first impression that the gospel and repentance are two different things. Consider this passage:

    ESV Mark 1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

    The gospel is a noun, an objective thing. Repentance and faith are subjective actions, responses to the object.

    Anyway, that’s all for now. I don’t want to beat on this too much, but the subject is certainly worthy of a good deal of study. In my NT series, I recently went through Romans and started with “The Glorious Gospel” as the first message. That’s one of those deep well subjects that you can never really get enough of, or all of. I hope to start a series on Romans next summer, but we got a two week preview this time.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  18. If the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ does not mean anything to us, even with our acknowledgement to their truth, without repentance, there is no efficacy to our assent. The preaching of the Gospel is useless without the response of repentance. It is the Gospel that produces repentance to the glory of God.

    I see where there may be confusion: the Gospel IS the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. To the unregenerate, the Gospel means nothing except these “facts”. Mnay people “believe” this, but what use are they to the unregenerate?

    To those called according to his purpose, the Gospel demands repentance which is what Chris was preaching, and what the proper response should be to the Gospel. Repentance is the result of the Gospel to those who believe. Without it, we are damned regardless of whether we “believe” the facts of the Gospel or not. Belief is ineffective without repentance. Listen to the sermon again. I don’t think Chris is “adding” anything to the Gospel. What I got was that the Gospel must be preached with repentance as its goal. The two can not be divided. I say “right on, brother”.

  19. Again, I’m sorry. There is never a “useless” preaching of the Gospel. We are called to preach the good news of salvation with the hope that all come to repentance.

  20. I should have used the phrase “the hearing of the Gospel is useless without repentance”. or something like that…you guys with the MDiv degrees will help clarify, I hope.

  21. Chris,

    In light of our discussion here, you might be interested in this post by Tom Ascol:

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  22. Hello Chris,

    Acts 3.19 is obviously a text that ought to be used to preach saving repentance. Same with Acts 11 passage.

    How about Revelation 2.5? Here, believers are told to repent and do their first works. I would say this context dictates sanctifying repentance.


  23. In order to get the Gospel right it is extreemly important to understand what must be repented of to obey the Acts 2:38 command. This command is the small narrow gate that was perfected by Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus crucifixion is the sin of murder caused by bloodshed. Since God demands an accounting whenever a man’s life is taken by bloodshed Jesus’s command REPENT means repent of the one sin of his murser for the forgiveness of ALL sins. The trouble with you boy’s idea about the way to be saved is that in your gospel Jesus’ crucifixion is not a sin you can teach anyone to repent of.

  24. Theodore, your post doesn’t make any sense to me. None. Why highlight Acts 2:38 and not Acts 17:30 or 26:20? Are you suggesting that Paul was specifically commanding Gentiles to repent of the one sin of murdering Jesus? On what basis do you suggest that only murder “demands an accounting” with God? And in what sense did the Gentiles commit the murder? And if that’s what Paul meant in Acts 17:30 and 26:20 (or elsewhere), why didn’t he just say so?

    Why in the world are people so motivated to deny that repenting of one’s sins (and sin) is part of the gospel?

  25. I’m not. The Gospel calls us to repentance unto salvation.

    Jesus Christ…suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. The third day he arose again from the dead…and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.

    If what Christ did at Calvary does not call us to repentance, than we are most certainly damned. But God be praised, he has not left us without the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the message of the Cross. Salvation is the free gift of God, given by grace through faith in the Everlasting Son of God, not of works which we have done, but by his grace we are saved. That is the message of the Gospel. May Jesus Christ be praised! I know whom I have believed.

  26. RE Chris.
    According to Jesus only a very few people find (understand) what the small narrow gate\door is that has been perfected by his crucifixion. For this reason I concluded that the contemporary message of salvation relative to Jesus’ crucifixion is not correct, i. e. false. We know that a false testimony about Jesus was introduced because of the Galatian letter. In this letter Paul uses the term “offense of the cross”. My question was what offense? Since Stephen says that Jesus’ crucifixion was the sin of murder and Jesus says that that the Holy spirit was going to intentionally convict the whole world of guilt in regard to sin, should it not be asked, what sin cut so deep that it motivated the question? This question can only actually mean “Brothers what shall we do” (about the sin of crucifying the only begotten son of the living God) ?
    At issue is that taking a male human life by BLOODSHED is the factor by which God can legally demand an accounting “from EACH, including you, man too”. see Gen. 9:5b NIV.

  27. Good question to ask. There is no forgiveness without repentance. And repentance is contingent on hearing the gospel. I don’t think repentance is the theme of the gospel, but the aim of the gospel being preached. Just look at the day of Pentecost, of all days the gospel was preached right then. The response to hearing Peter preach? Conviction of the people, and their response was “what then should we do.” Peter made it pretty clear – “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the holy spirit. (Acts 2:38)”

    Jesus did the same thing – he challenged men to repent in light of the Kingdom that was coming – which for the righteous meant restoration, but for the unrepentant and wicked, that same event meant judgement.

    Mark 1:14-15 – Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

    When Jesus preached “the gospel of God” it included the call to repent because the Kingdom of God was coming. This was also the message of Paul and the other apostles, yet it is neglected today.

  28. I forgot to add one thing – here are some more thoughts on this subject –

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