Question: I enjoyed your little book, The Nonnegotiable Gospel—so I bought several of them to hand out....But when I went through your little book again, guess what? I could not find the word “repentance” mentioned anywhere! Also at one place you said there is nothing for us to do. Dear brother, but there is, it is to repent....Couldn’t you...make one small change and say rather, “There is nothing for us to do but to repent!”
Response: Thank you for your letter. I appreciate the point you are making that there is no call to repent in The Nonnegotiable Gospel. Paul preached “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts:20:21); Jesus said, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mt 9:13); the disciples, when first sent out by Jesus, “preached that men should repent” (Mk 6:12); and the early church rejoiced when they realized that God had to the Gentiles “granted repentance unto life” (Acts:11:18).
And yet the words “repent,” “repentance,” or “repented” are not found in the entire Gospel of John, the Gospel to which evangelicals most often direct a person for salvation. Did the Holy Spirit blunder in leaving repentance out? Nor is there anything specific about repentance in the gospel as Paul defines it in 1 Corinthians 15. In fact, repentance is by no means a major theme of the New Testament. Why?
Could it be because repentance is implicit in believing the gospel? To believe that Christ died for my sins, I must believe that I am a sinner and that my sin makes me worthy of God’s judgment, which Christ took for me. Thus believing the gospel includes a turning from sin toward God through Christ. By receiving Him, I am in fact repenting through a total change of mind toward God. And God, who knows the heart, knows this without it being articulated in a certain way by the sinner when he comes to Christ.
Since the Bible doesn’t specify repentance as part of the gospel whereby sinners are saved, neither should I. I’m not saying it might not be good to preach repentance in The Nonnegotiable Gospel, but it would require considerable explanation. Might not requiring repentance cause some confusion? What exactly is meant by repentance? How thorough must repentance be? Must the person repent of every sin ever committed? Is he then under obligation to live a life above sin? Might this put a burden upon the sinner which he cannot bear, not yet realizing that Christ will give him the strength to live a new life? I had not consciously left out repentance, but I think it is best left that way.