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321 and Repentance (part two)

This post is continued from here.

I've been pleased that, in the last month, the 321 video has been shared so widely.  It's meant that I've been able to interact online with a handful of people who have raised questions about the presentation.  I'd say the reservation people have had is this: "Where's repentance?"  In fact it's pretty much the only objection I've heard so far.

I was bracing myself for Trinitarian discussions. I was gearing up to present robust defences of Adam's historicity.  None of that has come up.  Yet.

But a good 8 or 10 times someone has said "This is a deficient gospel because there's no summons to repent."

There are a number of ways to respond to this.  One is simply to say "This is only a 5 minute summary.  You can't say everything."

Another is to say "the word 'repent' is not magic.  John's Gospel, for one, gets along fine without it."

Another is to say: "Repentance is not, properly speaking, a part of the good news.  The good news is the announcement of Jesus - His dying, rising, enthronement and return.  The gospel is not about us, it's about Him.  Repentance is the response to the good news."

Those things are true and they need saying at some point.  But in most cases I've responded with a question of my own.  Roughly speaking I've asked "Since 321 presents humanity as lost in Adam with no spiritual life in ourselves and no ability to produce life... and since the new life is presented as coming entirely from beyond us in Jesus... and since the new life of Jesus is presented as an all-embracing, marriage-like oneness with Jesus... what does the command to "be one with Jesus" lack which using the word "repent" would add?"

I've asked that kind of question many times but I've not yet received an answer.  So let me ask it more generally...

If we proclaim the renunciation of self in Adam and the receiving of new life in Christ, what more do we want in our definition of repentance?

I know that no-one in these discussions wants to question salvation by "faith alone." But I do fear that - in wanting something more - 'faith alone' is exactly what's in jeopardy.

In some evangelistic presentations I see a desire to present salvation as a discrete series of steps.  There tend to be a sling of synonyms made into stages.  The unbeliever is told to confess and profess and turn and surrender and trust and repent and submit and admit and believe and commit and do.  It's not the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church.  It's more stream-lined than that.  And it's about internal, mental hoops to jump through.  But still, so often it's a system we offer to people rather than the simplicity of offering the Son.

Have you ever heard a "close the deal" evangelistic talk in which Jesus Himself is not presented or offered? Perhaps the preacher has simply piled up illustration upon illustration - "There's a line... cross the line.  Jesus has given you a cheque... bank the cheque.  In the Matrix there's a red pill and a blue pill... which pill will you take?" What might begin as a call to "simply trust Jesus" becomes an exhortation to adopt this attitude or that, this resolution or that, and then...  Well the thing is, when repentance is this discrete thing then the sinner who repents is only really left with their discrete repentance.  They've "made the step", or whatever, but they're in great danger of leaving the meeting with a resolution not a redeemer.

All of which is to say - Offer Christ.  The new life is in Him.  And if a non-Christian hears this offer and says "I'm not sure I have it in me to repent", tell them:

"You definitely don’t have it in you. But God has given it to you in Jesus. Have Him!"

6 thoughts on “321 and Repentance (part two)

  1. Si Hollett

    The 'x and y and z and α and ξ and Л and Ж and խ and ա and... ' bit hasn't rendered properly. It just forms one line going off the edge of the page. Then again, that effect of it heading off under the side bar as it's so long is quite good.

    I often find that the testimony time you often get where people go "I followed Jesus and I now don't have a problem with drink/drugs/low self esteem/broken relationships/swearing/being in a gang/etc/ad nauseum". I've certainly sat through these things - especially as a teenager where you got the drugs-are-bad and Jesus-is-great at the same time to cover both sides of what parents want their children to hear - and felt condemned that I was struggling to deal with my issues. These guys didn't seem to be struggling (Emma's real discussion of her struggles is one of the many things that makes A New Name so great) and the emphasis (to my unsaved/new Christian ears at least) was all on our old selves being crucified rather than Jesus being crucified - that Jesus gives us the power to sanctify ourselves.

    PS, having run out of letters, I thought I'd add some random non-Latin ones - bonus points for guessing the last two...

  2. James Krieg

    I think that the word 'repent' carries connotations today in some circles that we need to think carefully before using it, or at least make sure we explain clearly what it is. I like to say 'Repent means saying 'I am wrong and God is right. Therefore I need to accept what he says is true - and I know what he says by looking at Jesus.' I think so often, as you have pointed out, repentance sounds like something we add to faith - something we must do for God to save us. But most of the time if we have presented the Gospel truly, the required response of repentance will be a no-brainer to anyone who hears.

  3. Glen

    Si - that's right, this kind of "repentance" doesn't only daunt non-Christians - it crushes Christians too!

    James - I'm going to steal that. Repentance is saying "God is right, I am wrong." That's metanoia - change of mind! And it's just the most basic statement of faith.

  4. Gav

    Hey Glen. Can you elaborate on the bit where you say that repentance is the "response" to the good news?

    Isnt the focus on the response the same? About us?

    You see response taught is gospel presentations and also just on Monday it was taught in a bible study video we were watching with a recently finished CE group......pray, read, respond. I crossed ot respond and wrote receive in my study book and I was shot down immediately. I stood my ground but I dont think I convinced anyone. :-\

    The study we were looking at was Rom 1:5, 1:17 and 5:11. We are saved by faith. We receive faith. Obedience comes from faith. So was I right to apply the same principle in reading the bible?

    Pray to receive Jesus
    Read to receive Jesus
    Receive Jesus by the Spirit....not respond?

  5. Glen

    Hey Gav, I guess it depends what people mean by respond. One response to a sermon might be to sit in my pew afterwards and just say "Thank you Jesus." But also I can well imagine a valid response might be to go and sort out my direct debit so I can give more sacrificially. There's definitely a place for that.

    The trouble comes if "response" always means "do." And it's double trouble if it's framed in terms of "God has done this much, how much are you going to do?"

    The life of faith is indeed a life of receiving. From the Father we receive Christ by the Spirit (which generally means 'in the word'). The first response is indeed faith. But we're not against works. Works are great! It's just that works flow from faith - there's an order that's important. First Eph 2:8-9 then Eph 2:10. As you say on Romans 1:5 - obedience comes from faith.

    So response - even a response of zealous deeds - can be a really good thing. But it needs to be framed in terms of a Gift from God coming *down* to us. We receive it *and* we pass it on. It's the old Luther quote - "God doesn't need our good deeds but our neighbour does." If I hear the word rightly there should be a transformation of my mind and heart and a corresponding "response" of "being-slightly-less-of-a-jerk" to my wife. And in a sense I'm responding "for God's sake" - but actually all I've done is *received* from God while I've tried to actively *love* my wife. So a response of good works is good and appropriate. But receiving first, and remembering that grace always runs downhill will keep things in a proper perspective.

    Does that make sense / answer your question?

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