September 25, 2007

Where is The Balance in Repentance?

The Polar Opposites

In the current debate there are two extremes in evangelical and fundamental circles over the definition of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The opposing views are commonly known as “Lordship Salvation” and the “Crossless” Gospel. The Lordship interpretation of the Gospel is most notably identified with Dr. John MacArthur. The Crossless (Deityless) interpretation of the Gospel is most notably identified with Zane Hodges, Bob Wilkin and is the official position of the Grace Evangelical Society.

The overall debate is not over a question of a weak gospel verses a strong gospel, but of the one true gospel standing apart from all other false gospels. If the strong Lordship gospel erred by addition, the weak Crossless gospel equally errs by subtraction. Any alteration of the Gospel either by omission or addition must be rejected!

Lordship Salvation tears at the very heart of the gospel; it corrupts the “simplicity that is in Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:3) Telling a lost man he must offer anything, in addition to faith, believing and repentance toward his salvation, is a “works” philosophy and is a departure from the “faith which was once delivered” (Jude 3). Lordship Salvation conditions the reception of eternal life upon an upfront promise of cross bearing, “full surrender” and “whole-hearted commitment.” That is Lordship Salvation, which is a false addition to the Gospel.

The increasingly meaningless Crossless gospel has alarmed many within the Free Grace community. For the conversion of the lost the Crossless gospel advocate considers who Jesus is, His deity, sacrificial death and resurrection unimportant and non-essential for the lost man to know, understand or believe. The sinfulness of man, the pending judgment of God and what Jesus did to provide salvation does not need to be known, understood or believed. A lost man can consciously reject the deity of Jesus, but according to Crossless teachers he can still be saved if he will simply state he believes a man named Jesus will give him eternal life. Misconceptions about the deity of Christ, sin, Hell and the substitutionary death and resurrection of the Lord are matters to be addressed after a statement of belief in the name Jesus for eternal life.


Representing the Lordship view of repentance, Nathan Busenitz (John MacArthur’s personal assistant) sees repentance as necessary for salvation. In addition, however, he defines repentance as “a change of allegiance” and includes a willingness to submit to the authority of Jesus Christ. Nathan views repentance as a decision to stop sinning and start obeying. See- How Does the Lordship Advocate Define Repentance?

Representative of the Crossless view of repentance, Zane Hodges believes repentance is not a condition of salvation, and is not necessary for conversion. In Harmony With God, Hodges wrote,

“Thank God there is only one answer to the question, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ That, of course, is the answer not only of Paul and all the apostles, but of Jesus Himself. The answer is: ‘believe!’ Repentance is not part of that answer. It never has been and never will be....I myself once held the ‘change of mind’ view of repentance and taught it. But the Scriptures have persuaded me otherwise.”

These are the opposing views of repentance coming for the Lordship and Crossless teachers. Both definitions reveal a serious departure from Scripture. Neither one is right! Men who fall somewhere in the middle of the Lordship and Crossless extremes are in close agreement on repentance, but you will find some variance among them.

Refining the Defining:

The delayed publishing of my revised an expanded edition of In Defense of the Gospel is primarily for two reasons:

1) My discovery and addressing of the Crossless interpretation of the Gospel. I have devoted a great deal of time to dealing with this issue and providing space for men like Pastor Tom Stegall and Greg Schliesmann to make contributions to the discussion.

2) The doctrine of repentance. Upon its release in April 2006 my book immediately came under a great deal of scrutiny, as one should expect when you put your thoughts and doctrinal position in print for public consumption.

In my debates with the Lordship advocates (2006) and in the current debate with the advocates of the Crossless gospel I found that one of the areas of sharpest disagreement is over the doctrine of repentance. Both groups hold to opposing errors on repentance.

The confusion from differing views underscores the importance of clearly and accurately articulating the biblical view of repentance. This has lead to my decision to look at this doctrine and try to find that biblically defined position. Criticism, occasionally constructive, from both sides has shown me where I can refine my position and articulation of this vital doctrine. This requires study and prayer, which I am undertaking.

It is not my goal to appease or fit in to either side of the debate. No matter where I stake out my position on repentance I am sure to be applauded or criticized by folks from within both camps. Preachers, I am sure you can identify with that. My desire is to simply stand where the Bible stands, whether or not that will identify me with a particular system of theology or movement.

Now It's Your Turn:

Have you taken the poll on repentance in the left column? It is an informal, unscientific poll, but I thought it might give us a snap shot of what kinds of specific opinions exist among the guests to my blog.

Here is what I’d like to see in the thread. I am encouraging each of you to go into the thread and write, in a sentence or two, how you would define repentance. Try to boil it down to a simple, succinct defining statement. I am going to allow for anonymous posting for this thread so that all may post a personal definition without concern over criticism.

IMO, this will be an interesting a study to see the diversity of opinion on the doctrine of repentance.



  1. I'll go first:

    Repentance is a change of mind where one recognizes he is a sinner before a just and holy God. When he agrees with the convincing and convicting work of the Holy Spirit that he is a sinner (John 16:8-9) and transfers his dependence to the Lord for his salvation—he has biblically repented. Biblical repentance is a change of mind that should produce the fruit of a change in direction from self and sin toward God. The fruit that should follow is distinct from repentance itself. This change of mind is what Acts 20:21 describes as, “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    Well, that was four sentences. So let's say up to, but no more than, four sentences.


  2. I agree with your definition above, but I feel that lands somewhere in between the first two options on your poll. The way the poll is worded, with repentance being a "change of mind" sounds much like the mental assent only position on the gospel, and I cannot vote for that. With the expansion you give above, I am quite comfortable with it. Perhaps a short hand other than "change of mind" should be used to identify this position.

  3. Saving Repentance is coming into agreement with God about yourself, and Him. It is a change of mind from self-reliance to God reliance.

  4. Men:

    Thanks for the comments.

    Lurker: My def. does land in the middle, and I wrote the poll options to give contratsing choices.

    Kevl: Thanks for posting your definition.

    I'll probably have to wait until Wednesday before I can get back to you with more.


  5. Lou,

    There is a booklet put out by Ron Shea called "The Gospel". Word of Grace Bible Church and Duluth Bible Church also distribute this booklet. There is a section in the booklet specifically about repentance. If I remember correctly off the top of my head the book emphasizes that repentance is the change of mind whereby the unsaved person REJECTS whatever he was trusting in for salvation This change of mind called repentence could be likened to a hand that in essence says, "Just say no!" (to the old works system of salvation).

    (Faith is the other hand that ACCEPTS or believes in Christ alone for salvation.)

    Check out the booklet, you may find it helpful.

  6. - The definition of metanoia, the greek word for repent is very informative; see the theological definition.
    For salvation, a person repents of his prior beliefs about how one is saved, and instead turns or changes direction based on new information and stops trusting in good works and instead trusts in Christ's finished work on the cross but it may or may not result in fruit. Second tense salvation also known as sanctification, can involve a change in mind about sinful attitudes and actions, so that as a result, fruit is observed. Repentance can be a change in mind about many things; for instance, you can repent and decide to take a different driving route to work based on the "construction ahead" signs.

  7. Jon:

    I will secure a copy of Shea's book. Thank you.


  8. Debbie:

    Thanks for posting the note on repentance. I like that you gave a pre and post conversion take.


  9. If anyone wants to get into some deeper reading on the word repentance, I recommend Mike Cocoris' eight sequential articles entitled "Repentance: The Most Misunderstood Word in the Bible." They can be found in the Grace Family Journal in the Duluth Bible Church website, starting with the Summer 2004 issue.
    Go here to read the 1st article:

  10. Hey Lou,

    I would agree with Jonathan. Saving repentance is a change of mind about Jesus Christ and the way that God saves people.

    Tom <><

  11. Lou,
    I find this definition helpful. As the Bible presents the preaching of repentance in the historical narratives, it is often possible to mis-define repentance, particularly in contexts that make it appear to encompass works as part of its definition. I am speaking of the preaching of John the Baptist.

    It is difficult to respond to others in debate formats with a good definition.

    Could you (or have you already?) post a similar dialogue in defining "the gospel," particularly to help us in its various biblical contexts?

    Larry, aka GrahamCracker

  12. Larry:

    Thanks for the note.

    I am comfortable with the definition I put in the article. What I working through now is to clearly define what repentance is not.

    What we all find is that there are even among men in very close agreement in their general definition of repentance there may exist some difference of opinion on finer points within the braod definition.

    Thanks for stopping by,


  13. I am enjoying watching the poll numbers.

    Three days left for you to participate.

    Remember, this is Chicago. So, we encourage you to vote early and vote often.


  14. Hey Lou I know this thread has been dead for a bit.. but this is the short definition of Repentance that I came up with today.. it's a bit more complete than my one-liner above.

    Repentance can be found the middle of Paul's declaration of the Gospel in verses 3-5 of 1 Cor 15.

    I am a sinner - so I must die
    God came and lived according to the Scriptures - He is faithful
    God died in my place - the payment for my sin is made (finished)
    God rose from the dead - security in Him.

    Repentance that saves is a judgment of self, an appraisal of Christ, and the resulting transfer of trust from self to Christ.

  15. Kevl:

    Thnaks for checking in.

    As you are probably aware I am working through the doctrine of repentance, and I appreciate everyone's input.

    Good to hear from you. I think I've seen you commenting some at SI.


  16. Ya I've been visiting there lately.

    I really need a place where there are strong believers who want the Truth. Most of my fellowship online has been in a much more limited forum.

    There's nothing like having your posts vetted by people who are hungry for the Truth, and who are experienced with the whole Word, not just their pet doctrines.

    I believe you recommended SI to me.

    I love that a lot of the people there are more conservative then I am. Just reading the forums has led me to consider things I had not been weighing before.

    I think I tend to jump in way over my head.. but that's ok. I really DO enjoy it when someone much more wise in the Word shows me that I'm completely out to lunch!! I'm thankful for those times.


    This whole repentance thing is SUCH an important topic.


  17. Repentance is the natural response of true belief.