Faith and Repentance by Sinclair Ferguson

Article: Faith and Repentance by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson (original source here)

When the gospel is proclaimed, it seems at first sight that two different, even alternative, responses are called for. Sometimes the summons is, “Repent!” Thus, “John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt. 3:1–2). Again, Peter urged the hearers whose consciences had been ripped open on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). Later, Paul urged the Athenians to “repent” in response to the message of the risen Christ (Acts 17:30).

Yet, on other occasions, the appropriate response to the gospel is, “Believe!” When the Philippian jailer asked Paul what he must do to be saved, the Apostle told him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

But there is no mystery or contradiction here. Further on in Acts 17, we discover that precisely where the response of repentance was required, those who were converted are described as believing (Acts 17:30, 34).

Any confusion is surely resolved by the fact that when Jesus preached “the gospel of God” in Galilee, He urged His hearers, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14–15). Here repentance and faith belong together. They denote two aspects in conversion that are equally essential to it. Thus, either term implies the presence of the other because each reality (repentance or faith) is the sine qua non of the other.

In grammatical terms, then, the words repent and believe both function as a synecdoche—the figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole. Thus, repentance implies faith and faith implies repentance. One cannot exist without the other.

But which comes first, logically? Is it repentance? Is it faith? Or does neither have an absolute priority? There has been prolonged debates in Reformed thought about this. Each of three possible answers has had advocates:

First, W. G. T. Shedd insisted that faith must precede repentance in the order of nature: “Though faith and repentance are inseparable and simultaneous, yet in the order of nature, faith precedes repentance” (Dogmatic Theology, 2.536). Shedd argued this on the grounds that the motivating power for repentance lies in faith’s grasp of the mercy of God. If repentance were to precede faith, both repentance and faith would be legal in character, and they would become prerequisites for grace.

Second, Louis Berkhof appears to have taken the reverse position:

“There is no doubt that, logically, repentance and the knowledge of sin precede the faith that yields to Christ in trusting love” (Systematic Theology, p. 492).

Third, John Murray insisted that this issue raises

an unnecessary question and the insistence that one is prior to the other is futile. There is no priority. The faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance … saving faith is permeated with repentance and repentance is permeated with saving faith. (Redemption—Accomplished and Applied, p. 113).

This is, surely, the more biblical perspective. We cannot separate turning from sin in repentance and coming to Christ in faith. They describe the same person in the same action, but from different perspectives. In one instance (repentance), the person is viewed in relation to sin; in the other (faith), the person is viewed in relation to the Lord Jesus. But the individual who trusts in Christ simultaneously turns away from sin. In believing he repents and in repenting believes. Perhaps R. L. Dabney expressed it best when he insisted that repentance and faith are “twin” graces (perhaps we might say “conjoined twins”).

But having said this, we have by no means said everything there is to say. Entwined within any theology of conversion lies a psychology of conversion. In any particular individual, at the level of consciousness, a sense of either repentance or trust may predominate. What is unified theologically may be diverse psychologically. Thus, an individual deeply convicted of the guilt and bondage of sin may experience turning from it (repentance) as the dominant note in his or her conversion. Others (whose experience of conviction deepens after their conversion) may have a dominant sense of the wonder of Christ’s love, with less agony of soul at the psychological level. Here the individual is more conscious of trusting in Christ than of repentance from sin. But in true conversion, neither can exist without the other.

The psychological accompaniments of conversion thus vary, sometimes depending on the dominant gospel emphasis that is set before the sinner (the sinfulness of sin or the greatness of grace). This is quite consistent with the shrewd comment of the Westminster Divines to the effect that faith (that is, the trusting response of the individual to the word of the gospel) “acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof [of Scripture] containeth” (WCF 16.2).

In no case, however, can real conversion take place apart from the presence of both repentance and faith, and therefore both joy and sorrow. A “conversion” that lacks all sorrow for sin, that receives the word with only joy, will be temporary.

Jesus’ parable of the sower is instructive here. In one type of soil, the seed sprouts quickly but dies suddenly. This represents “converts” who receive the word with joy—but with no sense of fallow ground being broken up by conviction of sin or any pain in turning from it (Mark 4:5–6, 16–17). On the other hand, a conversion that is only sorrow for sin without any joy in pardon will prove to have been only “worldly grief” that “produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). In the end, it will come to nothing.

This, however, raises a final question: Does the necessity of repentance in conversion constitute a kind of work that detracts from the empty-handedness of faith? Does it compromise grace?

In a word, no. Sinners must always come empty-handed. But this is precisely the point. By nature, my hands are full (of sin, self, and my own “good deeds”). However, hands that are full cannot hold on to Christ in faith. Instead, as they take hold of Him, they are emptied. That which has prevented us from trusting Him falls inevitably to the ground. The old way of life cannot be retained in hands that are taking hold of the Savior.

Yes, repentance and faith are two essential elements in conversion. They constitute twin graces that can never be separated. As John Calvin well reminds us, this is true not only of the beginning but of the whole of our Christian lives. We are believing penitents and penitent believers all the way to glory.

The Helmet of Salvation

Text: Ephesians 6:17

When Paul writes to the church at Ephesus and says “take the helmet of salvation”, he is not commanding them to be saved, for they are already saved (Eph. 2:8,9), but to understanding the biblical doctrine of salvation: to know it inside out, being rooted and grounded in the truth of it. One of the best ways to do this is by gaining an understanding of what theologians refer to as the “ordo salutis” or order of salvation.

Brief Synopsis of the Ordo Salutis

Robert Reymond’s “brief synopsis” of the ordo salutis, purchased in its entirety by Christ’s redemptive activity, commences with God the Father’s irresistible summons to the spiritually dead elect sinner, normally issued in and by the proclamation of the gospel, to enter into fellowship with Jesus Christ. The Spirit of Christ, working by and with that summons, regenerates the spiritually dead elect sinner, enabling him thereby to repent of his sins and in faith to receive and to rest upon Christ alone for salvation, in which activity he is united to Jesus Christ. The moment he believes in Christ, God forgives him of all his sins and declares him righteous in his sight, definitively sanctifies him, adopts him into his family and seals him to the day of redemption with the indwelling Spirit of adoption. The sinner, now a Christian, begins to experience the lifelong process of progressive sanctification, throughout which time he also perseveres in holiness by the power of the Holy Spirit, with the end and goal of this entire series of acts and processes being his glorification, into which state he is finally brought in the Eschaton at the return of Christ. At that point he will be fully conformed to the image of the Son of God, his summum bonum, and Christ will then be in the highest sense possible ‘the Firstborn among many brethren.’”

[Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: T. Nelson, 1998), 712.]

HT: Dan Phillips

Hermeneutics, Exegesis and the Ordo Salutis

“The ordo salutis, Latin for ‘the order of salvation’ is the theological doctrine that deals with the logical sequencing of the benefits of redemption as we are united to Christ which are applied to us by the Holy Spirit.”

Dr. James White speaks to the issue of a consistent hermeneutic derived from sound exegesis of the Biblical text and takes us on a journey looking closely at the constructions in 1 John 2:29, 1 John 4:7, and 1 John 5:1, then responding to comments made by Leighton Flowers which attempt to avoid the weight of what 1 John 5:1 teaches about faith and regeneration.

Starts at the 40:00 minute mark:

The Ordo Salutis (The Order of Salvation)

I am sure at some point you have seen crash dummies in a car as it hits a wall, and from several different angles, cameras record the event to note precisely how the collision impacted both the vehicle and the dummies inside. The videos are slowed down dramatically and observations are made which reveal a great deal. As any new car is introduced into the car market, car companies (as well as outside agency safety inspectors) conduct these kind of tests as standard procedure to ascertain the level of safety for passengers.

With this idea in view, I want us to take a fresh look at salvation from several angles. We will note that although many of the things happen in an instant, if we could slow the camera down (so to speak) we will see that one thing occurred before the other, just as the car had to hit the wall before the dent in the car could be observed. In referring to a sequence with regards to time we also speak of logical and causal order, for the simple reason that although (in time) two things seemed to occur instantly, logically speaking, one thing had to happen before the other – one thing was the cause of the other thing.

Someone might ask what is the point of such a study. I would reply that the conclusions we come to on these issues have a profound impact on how one views God, the gospel, and the Bible as a whole.

The Bible compares spiritual growth with natural growth, revealing that when we are converted, we are much like spiritual babies who need to grow in our knowledge of God and His word. As we progress in spiritual maturity, things become less fuzzy as we gain a more precise understanding of what the word of God teaches. Of course, some things will always remain deeply mysterious, while others come more into focus.

One concept that has brought great clarity for me in recent years is the study of the sequence of events regarding salvation in Scripture. Theologians use a more precise term, namely Ordo salutis – a Latin term which means the order of salvation.

The Ordo Salutis

1. Election – God’s choice of a people to be saved took place before the world was made. To the saints at Ephesus Paul wrote, 1:4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world. Continue reading