The questions concerning the Lordship of Christ, and whether surrender of our lifestyle in submission to Christ is necessary in order to be saved, is inexorably tied with how we understand words like “repentance,” “faith,” “works righteousness,” “lawlessness” and a host of other biblical terms. Some readers might wonder if I’m just outlining a fairly detailed theological debate that might not impact the way we live. But let me set out my case as practically as I can.
Imagine a couple living together out of wedlock, receiving Christ as their Saviour, and refusing to either get married or move apart. Should you baptize them and receive them as members of your church? If you say, “yes,” then let me make the matter just a bit more complicated. Imagine that couple is a homosexual couple. Are you still comfortable? If you still say yes, you are at least being consistent. But if you say yes to the first couple and no to the second couple, can you at least acknowledge you have a major problem? I suspect that the world we are living in will sniff out the hypocrisy and let us hear about it! And, I might argue, rightly so. Either we demand repentance in keeping with salvation or we don’t.
Now, let’s make the matter even more complicated. Imagine the homosexual couple consists of a 17-year-old man with a 65-year-old man? Would you still accept their conversion if they did not repent? Or, imagine it is not a couple, but a multiple marriage consisting of one man with three wives, all 30 years younger than him. At what point do you say, “No.” Because at some point, we all will say, “no.” The only question now is, do you have any biblical ground to stand on, and are you even slightly consistent, or are you operating on your own prejudices and the spirit of the age?
Lest we think this is too fanatic, years ago, Larry Flint, founder of “Hustler Magazine,” a famous pornographic magazine taking pornography to the “next level,” confessed that he had received Christ as his personal Saviour. Yet he insisted on continuing to publish the magazine. Would you have baptized Larry?
Now, just so we are clear, I wouldn’t have baptized the heterosexual couple that was living together outside of wedlock, and I wouldn’t have called them believers until they repented. But, at this juncture, I set these matters before us because these are not obscure possibilities. As our society continues to launch into an acceptance of sexual behavior once found abhorrent, Christians are struggling with how to be both gracious and yet firm in our biblical convictions. That in itself is quite a discussion.
But behind this discussion is one that is ultimately vital. What does it mean to be saved? Does the Bible insist that we impose repentance upon the unsaved as a condition of salvation? I think it does. And if it does, how far do we go with this? Should we turn from lying, gossiping and slacking off at work to be saved? If we say we must, why end it there? How about outbursts of anger, unkind treatment of others, addiction to pornography? How long is the list of things to repent of? Furthermore, what do we mean by saying that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone? I have been on record as saying that it is faith alone, apart from works that saves. Am I being consistent? And how far would I be willing to go? Am I demanding perfection in order to be saved? I sure hope not. And how can we have assurance of faith if repentance is part of the package, since no one has ever perfectly repented?
I believe the answer to this conundrum, is that we need to see faith in entirely biblical terms, in which faith means so much more than simply believing something to be true. Remember James 2:19 argues that the demons, just like believers, believe that God is one. That is their theology! And that means, theological propositions, however necessary and however strong they are, do not save by themselves. Grace working through faith does. Hence, what we mean by faith and repentance is essential. I will explain that next week.