In my last two posts, I have sought to reveal the biblical data which clearly establishes that the repentance is inseparably tied to faith and both are central to the New Testament’s teaching on conversion. However, in order to properly understand the place of repentnce in salvation, the biblical definition of repentance should also be established.
Chafer defined metanoia (Greek word for repentence) as “a change of mind,” noting that “reading into this word the thought of heart-anguish is responsible for much confusion in the area of soteriology.” Ryrie, also understands metanoia to refer to a change of mind apart from sorrow over sin. According to Ryrie, “the only kind of repentance that saves is a change of mind about Jesus Christ.”
Hodges even claims that “the standard Greek-English dictionary does not list any New Testament passage where the meaning ‘to change one’s mind’ actually occurs.” He is content to allow metanoia to be interpreted as a turning from sin, only repentance has no bearing on salvation, rather only on “fellowship with [God].” He makes the important point that repentance must be determined contextually, however, he seems to consistently misinterpret its context.
Lordship advocates work to gather all the biblical data on repentance and define it as “a turning to God from sin that involves a change of heart and purpose inevitably resulting in a change of behavior.” MacArthur agrees that repentance is not “merely shame or sorrow for sin, although genuine repentance always involves an element of remorse” (Rom. 2:3-4). This sorrowful repentance is not merely a human work, “it is, like every element of redemption, a sovereignly bestowed gift of God.” This clearly reflects the force of Acts 11:18, “then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life.” This statement follows the conversion of Cornelius and its “context clearly indicates that the Jews rejoiced that the Gentiles were forgiven and justified (10:43)” such that “repentance unto life” appears “to be used as a virtual synonym for ‘believed in the Lord Jesus Christ’ in verse 17.”
In addition, 2 Timothy 2:25-26 speaks of God granting “repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” to Timothy’s “opponents” with the result that those repenting “may escape the snare of the devil, being captured by him to do his will.” These “opponents” must be unbelievers and this text simply gives no indication that repentance has fellowship with God in view.
Thus, it has been established that God is the one who grants repentance and repentance is clearly tied to conversion. MacArthur says the call to repent is “a command to recognize one’s lawlessness and hate it, to turn one’s back on it and flee to Christ, embracing him with wholehearted devotion.” As a result, biblical repentance contains three essential elements: intellectual (Matt. 12:41; Luke 11:32; 15:7, 10), emotional (Matt. 21:29-32), and volitional (Matt. 13:15; Luke 17:4; 22:32).
Intellectually, repentance begins with recognition of sin, not simply recognition of who Jesus is (Luke 18:13), often the verb metanaeo (Luke 15:7) is used to denote intellectual repentance. Although remorse may not reflect true repentance, emotionally genuine repentance involves “a sense of anguish at having sinned against God” (2 Cor. 7:10). This fits with the repentance portrayed in the Old Testament, “with sackcloth and ashes, the symbols of mourning (cf. Job 42:6; Jonah 3:5-6).”
Volitionally, true repentance is marked “by a change of the will . . . that will inevitably result in change of behavior.” In the New Testament “epistrepho” is used to denote volitional repentance. This change of behavior is not what saves, but should be understood as the fruit of true repentance. Therefore, it can be seen that repentance in the New Testament certainly denotes more than sorrow for sin but certainly not less. Furthermore repentance takes on a fuller meaning than non-lordship proponents give it and as such it is intricately tied to faith and ultimately salvation.
Chafer, Systematic, 373.
Ryrie, So Great Salvation, 92, 94. Such a narrow definition does not necessarily fit the broader lexical range of “metanoia.” Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines “meta,noia” as “the change of mind of those who have begun to abhor their errors and misdeeds, and have determined to enter upon a better course of life, so that it embraces both a recognition of sin and sorrow for it and hearty amendment.” Joseph Henry Thayer, trans., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1962) 406. Ryrie’s definition of repentance essentially makes repentance and faith the same thing, repentance clearly has a broader meaning.
Hodges, Absolutely Free!, 146.
Gleason, “The Lordship Salvation Debate,” 61.
MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, 179.
Thomas J. Nettles, “Review of Absolutely Free: A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation,” Trinity Journal
Ibid. Unfortunately, for the sake of space this analysis has limited itself to assessing repentance in the New Testament. The repentance demanded by God of his people in the Old Testament clearly demands both a change of behavior and a turning of the heart toward God (cf. 1 Kings 8:47-48; 2 Chron 6:37-38; Deut 30:1-3). In addition, the command to repent in the Old Testament is often accompanied by warnings of eschatological judgment (cf. Isa 1:27-28; Ezek 18:30-32). In order to rightly understand repentance in the New Testament, the commands to repent in the Old Testament should be addressed-it is worth noting that non-lordship proponents see much more discontinuity between the Testaments in the area of repentance (c.f. Chafer, Systematic Theology, 377-378).
Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 201. Here the verb epistrepho means to “turn back morally, to reform.”