“Christians don’t need to repent,” said the young man. “Jesus died for our sins… past, present, and future,” he continued, “so you don’t need to spend all of your time asking him for forgiveness. He has already forgiven you!” According to this young man, all the Church needed to do was lean into its identity as righteous daughters and sons of God!
Part of me agrees with some of the points being made by those who make these types of statements. It is absolutely appropriate to place emphasis on the Christian’s ontology, namely our union with Christ. Our identity as God’s children is rooted in our connection to Jesus and our reception of the soteriological benefits related to the cross, both those experienced in the immediate and those promised on the eschatological end.
But there are some serious issues with the suggestion that (1) Christians don’t need to repent and (2) the Holy Spirit doesn’t convict Christians. Yes, you read that correctly… advocates of the “Christians do not need to repent” concept also suggest that the Holy Spirit does not convict Christians; rather, the Spirit is said to convict the world alone.
Again, there are serious problems with these two ideas, both on a biblical-theological level as well as on a practical level. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why these ideas are short-sighted in the long run and, quite frankly, unhelpful for Jesus followers…
These views fundamentally undermine explicit statements from the Bible.
The New Testament, originally written in Greek, uses the word metanoia, which is translated as “repentance” in a number of verses that are contextually related to Christians. For example:
“Look how far you have fallen! Turn back (metanoeo) to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.” (Rev. 2:5 NLT)
“Repent (metanoeo) of your sin, or I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” (Rev. 2:16 NLT)
“Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent (metanoeo) and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.” (Rev. 3:3 NLT)
“I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn (metanoeo) from your indifference.” (Rev. 3:13 NLT)
As the context of these texts reveals,these texts are written to Christians. In fact, even if you make the mistake of suggesting that Jesus’ words to Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6) or Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22) aren’t relevant because Jesus doesn’t commend those two churches, you still have to deal with Jesus’ words to Ephesus and Pergamum, two churches that Jesus commended.
And this says nothing about the relevance of Romans 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9, which I believe are written in a way that all early Christian readers would have understood as teaching them to be repentant. Scripture indicates that Christians can and should repent when their lives are not reflecting the qualities and characteristics of the kingdom. This is not a debatable matter of Revelation is allowed to speak.
These perspectives remove the historic / orthodox appropriation and application of the “Lord’s Prayer.”
Quite simply, if one makes the arguments that suggest the Church need not involve itself with repentance, the natural consequence is to remove the Lord’s Prayer from the liturgy of the Church. Either you can join the historic Church and petition of the Lord to “forgive us our sins” (Matt. 6:12) or not. Either you can obey the Apostle James’ command (imperative mood) to “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other” (James 5:16) or not.
And here is the catch. This false teaching is not new to the Church. It has found advocacy in, for example, aspects of Marcionism, the Antinomianism controversies, and within the Latter Rain movement. Each of these theological errors were rejected by historic Christianity. Therefore, those who advocate an approach that removes “repentance” from the life of the Church, which is so clearly at odds with the Great Tradition, must provide some serious exegesis in order to convince Christians to abandon such a firmly held belief.
These ideas lack clarity and comprehensiveness on the work of the Spirit.
When someone rejects the idea that the Holy Spirit convicts Christians, they really need to explain what they mean by “convict.” If they are saying the Holy Spirit doesn’t condemn people or shame people or keep a record of people’s sins, I am in agreement! Yet if they are saying that the Holy Spirit does not reveal to Christians an awareness of sin and a desire to repent and (re)orient toward Jesus in a way that surrenders more and more of one’s life to the Lord, we have a serious problem.
When someone suggests that nowhere in Scripture is the Spirit said to convict Christians, we need to hit the “pause” button and ask some important questions. What texts indicate that “conviction” is only for unbelievers? And how is one defining “conviction” within this framework? Might there be other words that shape how we understand the Spirit’s “convicting” work?
A comprehensive pneumatology would seem to find the suggestion that the Spirit does not convict Christians to be highly questionable. Such a view, I think, posits a narrow view of repentance, not to mention that a logical consequence is a “low-pneumatology.” While those who make this argument would pride themselves on being “people of the Spirit,” it is troubling that their pneumatology essentially boils down to “conversion” and “empowerment,” overlooking that numerous other pneumatic qualities and activities.
Moreover, when the Apostle Paul writes, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to rebuke Christians, are we to understand that the Holy Spirit is not at work bringing conviction? Writing to Timothy, the apostolic representative in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul said, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Tim. 5:20 ESV). Did you catch that? Paul says that the public rebuke of Christians may function to cause other Christians to be afraid! This isn’t to say that some take “rebuking” to an unhealthy extreme or that all situations require a public “rebuke.” But one can’t deny that “apostolic Christianity” contained an emphasis and practice of the “rebuke” (cf. 2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:9, 13; 2:13, 15). Is it possible that the Spirit’s conviction of Christians would be for the same intended purpose of apostolic rebukes? I think so.
In my opinion, this issue is a central issue that, at it’s core, has dramatic effects on the nature of the gospel and the nature of the Church. We need, if anything, to understand that our identity in Christ is rooted in our “now and not yet” understanding of the process of salvation. These concepts need not oppose each other! We can, after all, have a both/and approach.
What do you think?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
On a practical level, confession and repentance is KEY to moving
forward. If we don’t stop and confess/repent of what we have done, then we are
essentially stuck in the same place doing the same things over and over again.
This is one area that our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers have us beat,
i.e. the tradition of the confessional which calls people to stop, confess and
Great point. I think perhaps even above all else these are signs of The Spirit.
Interesting… I would be interested to know what this is in reference to? The biblical/theological aspects of my thesis research is focused on “conversion” in the Gospels and Acts. I would argue that “repentance” is the Christian life… Learning to listen to the voice of God requires repentance. You can not listen to God without “turning to” (repenting) God. Jesus says over and over that following him is basically listening to his voice and doing what he says. Doing this requires turning toward him when he says, “follow me.” That is metanoia. Jesus says “follow me” and you turn toward him and away from what you are doing…. I know that is simplifying the concept…but that is what I’ve been working on for the last 3 years.
I guess this is in reference to anyone who would make these suggestions. I’ve heard it from many who are influenced by the “hyper-grace” movement (e.g., Joseph Prince, etc.). In our own tradition, the Vineyard, the view regarding the Holy Spirit not bringing “conviction” to Christians is being advocated through the teachings of the School of Kingdom Ministry.
But, like you, I find “repentance” to be a significant aspect of the heart and soul of the gospel, not to mention an important kingdom quality.
I can’ wait to read your dissertation!
I have 4 weeks to turn in my draft. Yikes.
Okay. I haven’t heard it talked about quite like this… But I thought that was what you were on about.
I was thinking about writing a paper for SVS about this topic and using a bunch of my stuff.
This causes me to think back to a basketball coach who always said “the only players not making mistakes are sitting on the bench.” In other words — if you profess to be a follower of Christ living out your faith, you’re going to make mistakes from time to time, These mistakes produce the need for repentance.
I know that when I sin, I am committing an offense against God; I also know that it hurts Him. If I am not emotionally inclined to repent for hurting His heart, I have to wonder if I have His Spirit truly living in me.
Miss you dude!
When did mistakes become sin? Eve had the wrong info about the trees yet wasn’t accounted to her as sin nor did it bring sin into the world while she walked around the garden of “perfection” with this wrong info. John put it best when he said if we sin. Not when. Being perfect and sinless are two different things the church has blended together and allowed for hyper grace to flourish.
Josh, I think it would be a bit helpful to make a clarification here. Mistakes, depending on the intention of the author, can either be sin or not. For example, I think it’s a HUGE mistake to commit adultery. That’s also a sin. It’s a huge mistake to miss a turn when driving on a freeway in L.A. too, but that’s not a sin. I’d give azbubba the benefit of the doubt on that one 🙂 Your comment seems to be making a mountain out of a mole hill.
Regarding your statement about perfection and sinlessness, you’ll need to provide a bit more explanation on that, not to mention some substantiating evidence and biblical data to evaluate.
I am a little busy to provide a thesis on the Scriptural differences between perfection and sinless. However I would say this. I have never known anyone to mistakenly commit adultery like missing a turn. One God gives grace and a way out. The other is human error.
Josh – I’m assuming you are talking about Wesleyan perfectionism (also called entire sanctification)? Described by John Wesley as:
“…that habitual disposition of the soul which, in the sacred writings, is termed holiness; and which directly implies being cleansed from sin, ‘from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit’; and, by consequence, being endued with those virtues which were in Christ Jesus; being so ‘renewed in the image of our mind,’ as to be ‘perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect’ ( A Plain Account of Christian Perfectionism, p. 12).
“In this is perfection, and glory, and happiness: the royal law of heaven and earth is this, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.’ The one perfect good shall be your one ultimate end” (ibid.). Lastly, perfection is “deliverance from inward as well as from outward sin” (ibid., p. 26) and “a Christian is so far perfect as not to commit sin” (ibid., p. 25).
Easier said as the pure and spotless bride and the Spirit say “come”. However, had never read that by Wesley so thank you for giving me more to study!!:)
Glad to help…I guess….. 😕 I can’t say that I agree with the stance, but, hey, there’s nothing wrong with giving folks resources to study. 😛 Here’s wishing you good hunting on your theological journey.
You don’t need to provide a thesis. I’d just take a link to a book or article that is shaping your views… or even a paragraph or two 🙂
And just to, again, make my previous point. You are ignoring the context in which I have used the word ‘mistake.’ That, I think, is pretty relevant to this topic.
I mean, how can you suggest that adultery isn’t a mistake?!?!?! It is possible to be both a mistake and a sin. Both/and…
It’s a mistake in the sense that made a wrong choice but isn’t even close to the same as missing a turn. Sin isn’t a mistake as in missing a turn as wasn’t paying attention. It takes submission to the desire to commit adultery which there is always a way out given and the grace to overcome the desire.
no article, book etc to give you. Prayer, fasting and Scripture at this point.
If we’re going to delve into semantics, I’ll clarify some statements.
Not every mistake is sin, and I could have clarified that. If we make a sinful mistake, that requires repentance.
The argument about whether or not we sin is a theological argument that is a bit above my pay grade. My belief is that when we are born again, it is not the instantaneous transformation one would hope to achieve. We are still on Earth and tied to our former sinful lives. As we develop our relationship with God, we become more in tune with what causes division between ourselves and Him. We also should, over time, develop instincts and feelings that lead us to regret anything that breaks that relationship. Do we ever get to a place where we are totally devoid of sin? I don’t believe so — but that’s me.
I’m a little confused regarding your statement of Eve and sin. God said not to touch or eat fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden. She did not sin by walking around the tree in the garden; however, when she ate the fruit from the tree, she most certainly did sin. The Bible may not have defined that action as sin, but she deliberately disobeyed a commandment from God. If that is not the definition of sin, I do not know what is.
Point with Eve was she had wrong info. She walked around with and when asked by satan told him wrongly what God had said. This is pre-fall in the garden without sin yet this is not counted against her. Eating is. That was my point. Church makes sin list bigger than God in Scripture does. Being perfect and sinless are not one and the same.
Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:2 is — μεταμορφοῦσθε τῇ
ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοὸς. “You all be metamorphosized by the renewing of your minds.”
The phrase here is book-ended front to back with meta-nous (meta-noia). In
other words, repentance (re-thinking everything) is the daily and on-going
process of discipleship. We are invited to join Jesus through initial
repentance, and walk with him ongoingly as we learn to think differently about…
EVERYTHING! It is almost impossible to imagine that once a person becomes a
follower of Jesus, that Jesus will not tell him/her through the ministry of the
Holy Spirit’s conviction that a particular way of thinking and doing is leading
to a particular way of being that is not in sync with the will of Jesus.
Embedded in the very work of the great commission is the call to teach
believers obedience to Jesus. That will require a lifetime of re-thinking
everything, and re-aligning with the will and ways of Jesus.
I find that in most discussions of repentance, the focus is on what we turn from rather than what we turn to. I personally believe that if the focus is placed more on what we turn to, then there is not nearly the division in ideology that this article portrays.
It is also my experience that those that focus on what we need to turn from in others, rarely see what they need to turn from in themselves.
Is it possible to focus on both? Can we talk about what we turn from and what we should turn too? That’s what Paul seems to do in his letters to the Ephesians, Corinthians, and Galatians, etc. There’s an emphasis on what the early church was called to turn from and certainly an emphasis on turning to Jesus and the gospel.
I do think it is possible. I have just found that most people have a predilection to do one or the other. I also think it means to spend time actually talking to those in both camps instead of assuming that they are somehow “off.”
Personally as one who has had people label him as a “Fundamentalist” and a “Liberal” depending on which side is doing the speaking, I find it tiresome that efforts are not made to really know where a person is coming from.
So having said that, I would suggest you actually sit down with some you have concerns with and listen,. 🙂
Hmmm. So your assumption is that I haven’t actually sat down with some of these people and had conversations?
As I indicate in the very beginning of this post, this comes from actual conversations. 🙂
But… fair enough.
I am just going by my experience with you Luke.
Yeah… that’s a good point. You made an assumption and ignored content in the post. We have very similar experience!
I’m deleting and blocking the trolling…
When you make a slanderous statement, ignore actual content found in a post, and then just do your usual toolish antics, you can go play somewhere else.
Tsk. Dang. I missed all the fun.
Check your PM’s son. I sent you some fun stuff to read… like how cool someone is with their website analytic ranking or something silly.
Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
I would encourage you to go to the “young man” and speak with him directly. Perhaps you have. If so then i think that is great.
Your content here is legit. I hope that what you are pointing out was well received by the “young man” if he is indeed preaching a Christianity without repentance. Personally I think there is a real disconnect between what some understand the word repentance to mean in praxis verses the intent of God’s Word. Many practice a works based Christianity where daily repentance takes the place of the Father’s Grace and mercy. Possibly equally as dangerous as “hyper-grace”.
I hope the message of Philippians on Christian love and unity is the end goal and not simply a side dish. Seems the Paul is pushing for this in the gentleness mentioned in Galatians 6:1.
May Jesus reign.
Galatians 6:1 Brothers,[a] if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
Thanks for editing the article.
I do find that the understanding of repentance for some is more about groveling than about the Father’s heart. Seems the “radical middle” and the “both/and” show up in lots of places.
I certainly agree with the main thrust of what Luke Geraty. It’s interesting to me now that my eyes are opened a bit wider how many Christian arguments are over either/or when it’s a both/and Reality.
Yes, we are fully forgiven the instant we receive Christ, past, present and future, AND ALSO we need to confess/acknowledge when we do sin. I don’t see a necessary conflict there.
Yes, the Spirit convicts the world of sin (John 16:8-11), AND ALSO the Spirit of God convicts us, pricking our conscience so we abandon ourselves more fully to Him.
What is difficult for me is to maintain a vibrant focus on the Reality of who God is as relational Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit, and the high view of who God designed us to be as image-bearers and recreated creations without compromise…and yet not to get diverted from this “great work” (Nehemiah 6) in a dialog of trying to explain what is unexplainable. I want to go for all Scripture says, but that line between “all” and “too much” is often very thin and sometimes subjective, and complicated greatly with all our social media today.