Question: What is repentance—the same as faith? How do you explain its absence in John:3:16; 5:24; 6:47; Galatians; Acts:16:31, etc.? You have written in An Urgent Call to a Serious Faith, p. 223, that those “living in sin” have no right to assurance of salvation. Is assurance based on behavior or on the objective promises of God’s Word? Please clarify where you stand on “Lordship salvation,” which ties salvation and assurance to faith and repentance as conditions for eternal life.
Answer: Faith is the only condition of salvation: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” To be saved, one must only believe the gospel. That is the promise of God’s Word.
As for repentance, I agree that the word is not in the Gospel of John, nor in Paul’s definition of the gospel in 1 Corinthians:15:1-4, etc. But Paul did preach “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts:20:21); and Jesus said, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Lk 13:3). Yet to overemphasize repentance could lead the unsaved person to imagine that he somehow must reform his life before he is acceptable to God and can be saved.
Jesus didn’t ask the woman at the well to repent, nor did He ask repentance from the woman taken in adultery, or from Nicodemus, or from any of the disciples that He called to follow Him. But He brought them to repentance. It is innate in the publican’s guilty cry under conviction of the Holy Spirit, “God be merciful to me, a sinner” (Lk 18:13 )! In believing the gospel and thereby accepting Christ as Savior in His sacrifice for sins, one is admitting to being a sinner worthy of God’s judgment, to being sorry for his sin and desiring deliverance from its penalty. In that very act of faith in Christ for dying in one’s place, there is repentance and turning from sin to the Savior.
Your question reworded what I wrote. I didn’t say that those living in sin “have no right to assurance of salvation.” I said, “We offer no comfort or assurance to those living in sin; we don’t say, ‘You’re okay because you once made a decision for Christ.’ Instead we warn, ‘If you are not willing right now to live fully for Christ as Lord of your life, how can you say that you were really sincere when you supposedly committed yourself to Him...in the past?’ And to all, we declare with Paul, ‘Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith...’ (2 Cor:13:5).”
In that section of the book, I refute the ideas that one must be baptized, speak in tongues, etc., in order to be saved. I specifically say, “Are we not then saved by our works? Indeed, not….Good works bring rewards; a lack of them does not cause loss of salvation. The person who hasn’t even one good work (all of his works are burned up) is still ‘saved; yet so as by fire’ (1 Cor:3:13-15). We would not think such a person saved at all....Yet one who...has no good works...if he has truly received the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior, is then ‘saved as by fire’....”
What I wrote is certainly not a promotion of “Lordship salvation”—the idea that if one is not living in complete obedience to Christ as Lord, then one is not saved. I don’t believe that John MacArthur, who is accused of teaching this doctrine, means that good works save. Rather, he is saying that works are an indication of whether a person is saved or not. Scripture declares that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord,” is saved. It is not only what one says, but what one believes in the heart—and the heart is deceitful. Jesus himself warns that many, calling Him Lord, will claim to have done great works in His name and yet have never been saved (Mt 7:21-23).
Many “make a commitment for Christ” and later turn away because they had not been sincere. The person who has fallen into sin and would like to turn from that sin, but it has a strong hold on him, may be a Christian. But the person who is living in sin, doesn’t care, and claims he is saved because he once made a “decision for Christ” was probably never saved. It would be wrong to comfort such persons with, “You believe in Christ, so you can’t be lost no matter how you live.”
Neither you nor I know anyone’s heart. People stand before witnesses, swear their undying love, then divorce the one to whom they made the vows. Did they really understand the seriousness of the vows they made? In their hearts, did they really intend to keep them? So it can be with those who claim to receive Christ or to believe in Him. For some, these are just words they repeated. The faith and conviction has not touched their hearts. God alone knows the heart. But a good indication of whether or not one’s faith ever was real can be found in present attitude and actions.
In my book I did not say (nor have I ever) that if a person is not living for Christ, he is not saved. I said then, as now, that one’s attitude of heart and actions are a good indication of whether one ever really understood and believed the gospel. Those who are not living for Christ but claim to be saved ought to be warned to repent, as many scriptures declare.