Is Repentance Necessary For Salvation?
I recently read your article: Casting Out The Ghost Of Charles Finney. (Great job by the way!) As it pertains to salvation, I look at repentance as a companion description of faith. Salvic repentance is the description of our faith turning from whatever we had been trusting to trusting Jesus. So in that sense, I'm comfortable saying that we are justified by repentance and faith. In that context it only means that we hadn't had our faith in Jesus before and now we do. (FYI: This is similar to how Got Questions describes repentance as necessary for salvation.)
There is also repentance from sin, which is a different issue - and I see why people would worry that we would be adding works to the gospel if we think of repentance primarily as repentance from sin. So outside of salvation, repentance from sin simply describes changing our view of sin to agree with God's view of sin. Repentance of sin naturally leads to confession which is to speak in agreement with God about our sin. And if we agree with God about sin, we will be in position with Him to walk in the Spirit by faith in that area of our lives. (At the same, if we truly understand what sin is, it's technically impossible to turn away from sin without putting our faith in Christ, since anything done apart from right relationship with God is sinful.) (Just following the stream to the end: Then there's also salvic confession of faith, which is to speak in agreement with God about the gospel.) Is that making sense or does that sound "out-there?"
Thanks again for your various thoughts you shared. It is always enjoyable to connect with believers on these matters. Theology is important and nothing is more important than our salvation. With Christ as our forerunner, and the word of God as our guide, we can come to an accurate understanding of our salvation.
So let me begin by saying that I am unsure as to the precise nature of your views. That is, I am not absolutely certain as to how you read the scriptures. For this reason, I feel that because I am uncertain, my response may seem more basic to you than is useful. That said, please understand, I only take this pedantic approach in order to guard against the possibility of offense.
So first, let me say that systematic theology is a complex subject. As you no doubt know, it involves both the study of repentance as well as the study of faith. That said there are some notable areas of overlap between these two biblical locus’s which I think we need to appreciate. So for our purposes, I will employ the use of logic in order to enable our terms to be rendered with infallible certainty.
One of the most widely accepted laws of epistemology (which is our study of knowing) is something called the Contrary Consequence Elimination Principle. This principle states that for any propositions, x and y, if x and y are contraries, and if S is justified in believing that x, then (necessarily) S is also justified in believing that ～ y.
In logical shorthand, we would state this principle as follows: “Jsx → Js ～ y.” (Where “J” symbolizes “justification”).
Now, in our discussion, let x = “Only God, by his work, can save man.” Next, let y = “Only man, by his work, can save man.”
Now it is clear that our two propositions are contraries. That is, due to the law of noncontradiction, they cannot both can be right. Either x is right, or y is right, or both are wrong. But both cannot be right. Correct?
Now, the Contrary Consequence Elimination Principle states: Jsx → Js ～ y. In other words, if S is justified in believing x, then (necessarily) S is also justified in believing that ～ y (where ～ y equals, “y is false”).
[Note: For theological reasons, I take it that Jesus’ death on the cross provides S with precisely the sort of justification needed for assenting to x, and thereby, assenting to ～ y.]
However, that said, it is important to note what takes place when we reverse the order of our two propositions. For if S is justified in assenting to ～ y, that does not necessarily mean that x is now true.
It may very well be correct that it is false to say: “Only man, by his work, can save man.” But it would not follow, logically and inescapably, that x is thereby proven true. Perhaps an animal can atone for man! Perhaps it is true that a man’s birth saves him! Or perhaps, more absurdly, the moon can atone for man!
The list could go on and on and on, almost limitlessly...
For this reason, what we are discovering here is that there is no way to logically prove that ～ y strictly entails x.
We have further discovered that x necessarily entails ～ y, as well as the negation of the other possibilities (i.e., moons, birthday’s, etc.).
This proves that it is right for us to say that ～ y is not “necessary” for justification. For ～ y does not “necessarily” entail x. Rather, it is x which necessarily entails ～ y.
Does that make sense?
For this reason, the scriptures often shorten the ordus salutus (i.e. "order of salvation") to the biblical maxim: “If you believe you will be saved.”
In other words, the reason that faith alone justifies is that x entails ～ y, even though ～ y does not entail x.
This is therefore the reason that I disagree with “Got Questions” answer regarding: “Is repentance necessary for salvation?” I would rather say that repentance is not “necessary” for salvation because repentance does not “necessarily” entail salvation.
Now, for purposes of clarity, it is important for us to point out precisely what we are discussing. We are inquiring into the efficient cause of our justification.
Like a bowling ball which we rest on a pillow, the cause (the ball) and the effect (the depression in the pillow) will occur simultaneously. Hence, the bowling ball is the efficient cause of the depression, and not the other way around.
So also, the man who affirms x simultaneously affirms ～y because of the Contrary Consequence Elimination Principle and the law of non-contradiction.
In this way, repentance is not necessary for justification because it cannot be reasonably construed as the efficient cause of our justification.
Consequently, in virtually all Protestant texts on systematics (i.e. Calvin, Wesley, Luther, et al.), the above distinction is always recognized and taught. Otherwise, the man who forgets to ask for forgiveness one day, goes to bed that night unjustified. This is clearly false. It would have the effect of a Christian deconverting every time he or she sins. It would also, fundamentally, be an anti-gospel (i.e. a gospel of works).
That is why Charles Finney essentially got it wrong. The question is not “Am I still legally justified after I commit sin?” Rather, the question is “Will my faith survive if I am not sorry for my sin?” Sin and faith are in mortal combat in our souls and unconfessed sin will gradually hardens our hearts to gospel-faith. That is why Christians should confess sin regularly. We do not confess sin in order to become “re-justified.” Rather we confess sin so that our faith may remain alive, thereby enabling us to retain our justification. And so that is the way the Bible teaches the twin issues of repentance and faith.
So in closing, in Hebrews 6:1, we read: “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not lying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.” (ESV)
The word repentance in the above verse is the Greek word “metanoia” and simply means "a change of mind." We could thus read this verse as saying: “Let us leave behind the foundation of changing our minds about dead works.”
From there, the writer goes on to speak about faith in God, which is different from the faith of demons criticized by James. (cf. Ja 2:19)
Thus the writer is saying that justifying faith trusts in God’s work for our redemption, thereby proving that repentance and faith are different.
So I hope that in some way helps to clarify what I have defended in my article. Of course feel free to let me know how I did. And thanks again for writing Ben!
Ben Fischer <><