Tom: The Gospel, as I believe we’ve been demonstrating by discussing it for the past—Dave, it’s been a half-year of programs—is a topic that’s so splendid, so rich in meaning, that we haven't come close to covering it. Yet it’s so simple, so uncontrived, that even a young child can grasp it and have eternal life through receiving it. Even so, Dave, when we or anyone else discusses the gospel, it doesn’t take much for controversy to get underway. I'm thinking about a particular situation where you wrote a booklet entitled The Nonnegotiable Gospel, and someone wrote to you, objecting to the fact that they could not find “repentance" in its pages. Your reply caused a flood of mail disagreeing with you. Now, what could be so controversial about your viewpoint on repentance?
Dave: Well, Tom, I don't know. Sometimes you can become almost a little bit discouraged, if that were possible, because no matter how you try to clarify things people have certain ideas, and when they have once gotten that idea in their head that I’m against repentance—which I’m not. I believe in repentance. But when they once get that idea in their head, there’s nothing you can do to change it.
Now, all I said…
Tom: Well let’s lay it out. Let's explain to people how this fits in, because it is an idea that it would be easy to go astray.
Dave: Right! The idea that we get from the people who have written to us, and so forth, is if you do not use the word “repentance” in your presentation of the gospel, this is not the gospel. And all I tried to say was, "Well, then I guess Jesus did not give the gospel to Nicodemus!” We always turn people to John 3: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him…” Whosoever repents and believes in Him? It doesn't say that... “Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” And we turn to John 3, because there Jesus is laying out conditions for salvation, and He’s declaring very clearly, you’ve got to be born again. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, the son of man must be lifted up,” and so forth. But he doesn’t use the word “repentance.”
Tom: So, what does repentance mean? What are we talking about here? He doesn’t use the word, but it’s there.
Dave: Well, but Tom, let me finish.…
Tom: Nicodemus has to repent…
Dave: Let me finish with this.
Tom: Okay, go.
Dave: We don't have the word there. We don't have the word in…Paul says, Romans 1-16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.” Okay, so you're saved through the gospel. You go to 1 Corinthians 15, he tells you what the gospel is. He says, “This is the gospel that I preached unto you, by which you are saved, wherein you stand, and so forth…how that Christ died for our sins according the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” Now, again, you don't find the word—the word—“repentance,” okay? And that was…the original objection was that in a little booklet that I wrote, The Nonnegotiable Gospel, the word “repentance” wasn’t in there, but I think the idea of repentance...
Tom: Well, what are some of the ideas—there’s more than one idea about it.
Dave: Right…[repentance] is inherent within the gospel. In other words, when I believe that Christ died for my sins, and I turn to Him as my Savior, surely I am repenting of being a sinner, I’m repenting of having rebelled against Him, and I’m acknowledging that when He took my place, He had to suffer the judgment of Almighty God. And when I turn to Christ, I’m turning from my sin and from myself, and I’m turning to Him.
So, without using the word “repentance,” certainly that's understood. But, Tom, you’ve got a lot you want to contribute on this, so let me keep quiet for a bit here.
Tom: No, Dave, I don’t want you to keep quiet. But there are some aspects of repentance that I think—this is why I think we’re getting so much mail, because it confuses people. You just identified, in effect, defined, repentance as turning— turning from us to Christ, turning from our life to the life that Christ has. From what we couldn’t do to what He can do and did do.
But, Dave, we have a scripture that confuses it a little bit. Judas repented, but he didn’t turn to Christ. See, there’s another sense of the word that confuses people.
What does it mean, “Judas repented”? And why doesn’t that fit into this?
Dave: Well, I guess Judas repented of the consequences that he brought upon himself.
Dave: His heart, I don’t believe, had changed, apparently. But when I turn to Christ, I’m, in effect, I’m repenting, for example, of the very idea that by my efforts I could please God, or I could earn my salvation! When I’m turning to Christ, and I’m putting my faith in Him, I believe in the gospel, I’m relinquishing everything! I’m relinquishing all claim to my own righteousness. I'm acknowledging that I’m a sinner. I wouldn’t be believing in Christ if I were not acknowledging that I’m a sinner and that I am sorry for my sin. How could I possibly thank Him for dying in my place without being repentant for the sins that nailed Him there? It’s because of my sins that Christ died. And so, Paul says, “This is the gospel, how that Christ died for our sins.” I believe that! Am I not repenting of my sin, and of the fact that it’s my sin that nailed Him there?
And so, I think we had a little problem here with those who—sometimes I can impose my views upon someone to such an extent that I’m being unreasonable, and I’m not recognizing that the other person is perhaps saying the same thing, but in different words.
Tom: Yeah, but there also can be distinctions. For example, one concern that we have with regard to repentance is that some people see that as a pre-condition for salvation: “Lord, I’m never going do this again, and I reject all that I’ve done, and I’m going to go out and live a good life. And then I come to You.”
For example, as you know, and probably many of our listeners, I’m a former Catholic. For Catholics, the idea of repentance is not the same idea. The idea I had then is not the same idea I have now, as an evangelical. Then it was penitence. There were certain things that you had to do. As a matter of fact, in Catholicism, the definition really comes from the Latin Vulgate. The Latin word can be translated very easily as penitence—expiation for sin. Doing certain things before salvation can be gained. So there’s confusion that way.
Dave: Yeah, and, Tom, that’s one of the problems, or one of our concerns. There is no work that I can do. There is no change that I can make in my life that will clean me up and make me acceptable to God. And some people would get that idea from the word “repentance.” Now, you must repent. Well, that means I’ve got to clean up my act? I’ve got turn from all my sin? I’m an alcoholic, and I just can’t lick this thing, and somehow I’ve got to turn away from that.
When you turn to Christ, and you put your faith in Him, this is what the Bible asks. “To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
Tom: But, Dave, that has to be tied in with an understanding of Mark:1:15: “Repent ye and believe the gospel.” That’s what you’re talking about. There has to be harmony between those two verses, or you've got them conflicting with one another.
Dave: And all I'm trying to say is when I believe the gospel, I’m repenting, because the gospel—what does it say to me? It tells me I’m a sinner, tells me I’m hopeless, unworthy, a wretch, that there’s nothing I can do—I cannot please God; I cannot earn eternal life; salvation is a gift of God: “It’s not by works of righteousness that we have done, but by His mercy, He saves us.”
So when I turn to Christ, I’m repenting. I’m in repentance, even though I don't use the exact word, but that is what has happened in my heart. And when I come to Him, and I believe in Him, He does the work in my heart. I am born of the Spirit of God. I’m born again; I become a new creature in Christ Jesus. “Old things have passed away, all things have become new!” And the gospel is such good news, Tom, and it is so wonderful that all I have to do—and, of course, there are objections: The cultists, the Watchtower Bible tract society, would say, “Oh, well, then, you believe. All you’ve got to do is believe and now you can live whatever life you want,” and so forth.
No! If I’m made a new creature in Christ Jesus, then He has become my life; He lives His life in me. He’s the one who changes me! It’s not by gritting my teeth and vowing to live a new life. And it’s not by the works of the flesh, as Paul said to the Galatians: “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now perfected in the flesh?” Paul said, "I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ has come to live in me.”
So this is the wonderful promise of the gospel: “To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” And, Tom as you know, as a Catholic, you were under a burden to do all kinds of works, to engage in the sacraments, and so forth. That really kept you from Christ, because you couldn't believe that salvation was a free gift.
Tom: Correct. And, Dave, just to sum up what we’ve been saying here: it’s a turning to Christ, and my life is going to be transformed. The works—just as you’ve alluded to—the things that people say, “Well you ought to do this as a Christian,” we can now do because we have Christ in our life, and He enables us to do it—life in Christ.