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.

Five Factors in Repentance

Joel Lindsey is lead pastor of Grace Church in Racine, Wisconsin. He has written the following article, “How to Repent: 5 Steps” (original source here)

The importance of repentance is hard to overstate. After all, Jesus’s first public exhortation was “Repent!” (Mark 1:15)—and if it was that high on Jesus’s list, we probably should pay attention too.

But how do we repent well? Psalm 32 is a wonderful place to explore the nature and process of deep repentance. Here are five vital steps.


How happy is the man the LORD does not charge with sin, and in whose spirit is no deceit! (v. 2)

Repentance requires honesty. No one comes to God with true repentance in their heart unless they’ve first acknowledged their need for forgiveness and reconciliation with him. Only those who have ceased trying to cover up their sin with self-righteousness and deceit can experience the deep and lasting change that comes only through repentance.


When I kept silent, my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the summer’s heat. (vv. 3–4)

Let’s face it: you are seeking repentance because God’s Spirit has convicted you. We often blame others for our stress and general moodiness, but many times we simply feel bad because we’ve done bad things. David describes physical and emotional symptoms associated with a guilty conscience. We must honestly assess the consequences of our sin, which means assessing both personal consequences and the impact it has had—and will continue to have—on others.


I acknowledged my sin to you and did not conceal my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.” (v. 5a)

Deep repentance demands full confession. Though it seems counterintuitive, the only way to be truly covered by Christ is to fully expose your sin. In the process of repentance, we must fight to be utterly transparent before God about the depth and breadth of our sin. Only ruthless honesty will suffice—and lead to freedom and joy.


You took away the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is faithful pray to you at a time when you may be found. When the great floodwaters come, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; You protect me from trouble. You surround me with joyful shouts of deliverance. (vv. 5b–7)

Adam and Eve hid behind inadequate, self-made coverings to mask their sin and shame. We too often hide behind self-made righteousness in order to make ourselves appear more acceptable than we really are. If you want to change, to really change—which, by the way, is the mark of true repentance—then you must hide in God alone.

It’s not enough just to repent of overt sins. It’s not enough to say, “I admit to my wrong behaviors.” All kinds of people repent that way, especially religious people with an image to maintain.

A Christian doesn’t just repent of their outward sins, but also of their attempts to hide behind shoddy self-made righteousness. Stop hiding in your effort. Hide in God.


Many pains come to the wicked, but the one who trusts in the LORD will have faithful love surrounding him. (v. 11)

How can you be sure God will forgive you? His unfailing love. Recall and find assurance in the great promises he has made throughout history, and how they have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ:

His promise to Adam and Eve to crush the enemy
His promise to Abraham to claim and protect a people
His promise to Moses to provide a way for sinful humans to meaningfully relate to a holy God
His promise to David to provide a once-and-for-all eternal King for his people
All throughout history—right on up to the moment when you’re repenting—God has been saying, and continues to say, “I love you. I will not fail you. I am enough.”

Look to the promises of God, seize the hope, and “be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones; shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:11).

Repentance in the Gospel of John

uturn-sign“The no-lordship teachers commit the word-concept fallacy, assuming that, because a particular word is not used, then the concept denoted by that word must be absent.” – Keith Throop

From the Grace to you website (original source here)

One argument against repentance that is invariably found in no-lordship books goes like this: The Gospel of John, perhaps the one book in Scripture whose purpose is most explicitly evangelistic (John 20:31), never once mentions repentance. If repentance were so crucial to the gospel message, don’t you suppose John would have included a call to repent?

Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote,

“The Gospel by John, which is written to present Christ as the object of faith unto eternal life, does not once employ the word repentance” (Systematic Theology, 3:376). Chafer suggested that the Fourth Gospel would be “incomplete and misleading if repentance must be accorded a place separate from, and independent of, believing. No thoughtful person would attempt to defend [repentance as a condition of salvation] against such odds, and those who have thus undertaken doubtless have done so without weighing the evidence or considering the untenable position which they assume” (3:376-77).

More recently, Charles Ryrie has written,

It is striking to remember that the Gospel of John, the Gospel of belief, never uses the word repent even once. And yet John surely had many opportunities to use it in the events of our Lord’s life which he recorded. It would have been most appropriate to use repent or repentance in the account of the Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus. But believe is the word used (John 3:12, 15). So if Nicodemus needed to repent, believe must be a synonym; else how could the Lord have failed to use the word repent when talking with him? To the Samaritan harlot, Christ did not say repent. He told her to ask (John 4:10), and when her testimony and the Lord’s spread to other Samaritans, John recorded not that they repented but that they believed (John 4:39-42). And there are about fifty more occurrences of “believe” or “faith” in the Gospel of John, but not one use of “repent.” The climax is John 20:31 : “These have been written that you may believe . . . and that believing you may have life in His name” (SGS 97-98).

But no one camps on this point more fiercely than Zane Hodges:

One of the most striking facts about the doctrine of repentance in the Bible is that this doctrine is totally absent from John’s gospel. There is not even so much as one reference to it in John’s twenty-one chapters! Yet one lordship writer states: “No evangelism that omits the message of repentance can properly be called the gospel, for sinners cannot come to Jesus Christ apart from a radical change of heart, mind, and will.”

This is an astounding statement. Since John’s Gospel does omit the message of repentance, are we to conclude that its gospel is not the biblical gospel after all?

The very idea carries its own refutation. The fourth evangelist explicitly claims to be doing evangelism (John 20:30-31). It is not the theology of the gospel of John that is deficient; it is the theology found in lordship salvation. Indeed, the desperate efforts of lordship teachers to read repentance into the fourth gospel show plainly that they have identified their own fundamental weakness. Clearly, the message of John’s gospel is complete and adequate without any reference to repentance whatsoever (AF 146-47).

Hodges suggests that the apostle John was purposely avoiding the subject of repentance (AF 149). He finds in the Gospel of John

not a word—not a syllable—about repentance. And if ever there was a perfect place for the evangelist to inject this theme into his gospel, this is the place.

But his silence is deafening!…

The silence of chapter one persists to the very end of the book. The fourth gospel says nothing at all about repentance, much less does it connect repentance in any way with eternal life.

This fact is the death knell for lordship theology. Only a resolute blindness can resist the obvious conclusion: John did not regard repentance as a condition for eternal life. If he did, he would have said so. After all, that’s what his book is all about: obtaining eternal life (AF 148).

What are we to think of this suggestion? Is the apostle John’s “silence” on repentance really a death knell for the lordship position?

Hardly. H. A. Ironside responded to this issue more than fifty years ago. He wrote:

The arrangement of the four Gospels is in perfect harmony. In the Synoptics [Matthew, Mark, and Luke] the call is to repent. In John the emphasis is laid upon believing. Some have thought that there is inconsistency or contradiction here. But we need to remember that John wrote years after the older Evangelists, and with the definite object in view of showing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, we might have life through His Name. He does not simply travel over ground already well trodden. Rather, he adds to and thus supplements the earlier records, inciting to confidence in the testimony God as given concerning His Son. He does not ignore the ministry of repentance because he stresses the importance of faith. On the contrary, he shows to repentant souls the simplicity of salvation, of receiving eternal life, through a trusting in Him who, as the true light, casts light on every man, thus making manifest humanity’s fallen condition and the need of an entire change of attitude toward self and toward God (Except Ye Repent, 37-38).

Zane Hodges’ assertion that “the fourth gospel says nothing at all about repentance” (AF 148) is demonstrably false. It is true that John does not use the word repentance, but as we have observed elsewhere, our Lord also did not use the word grace. One suspects no-lordship theologians would recoil from any suggestion that the doctrine of grace was missing from Jesus’ teaching.

Repentance is woven into the very fabric of the Gospel of John, though the word itself is never employed. In the account of Nicodemus, for example, repentance was clearly suggested in Jesus’ command to be “born again” (John 3:3-7). Repentance was the point of the Old Testament illustration our Lord gave Nicodemus (John 3:14-15). In John 4 , the woman at the well did repent, as we see from her actions in verses 28-29.

Isn’t repentance included by implication in the following Johannine descriptions of saving faith?

John 3:19-21: And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.

John 10:26-28: But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them (emphasis added).

John 12:24-26: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.

To say that John called for a faith that excluded repentance is to grossly misconstrue the apostle’s concept of what it means to be a believer. Although John never uses repent as a verb, the verbs he does employ are even stronger. He teaches that all true believers love the light (John 3:19), come to the light (John 3:20-21), obey the Son (John 3:36), practice the truth (John 3:21), worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24), honor God (John 5:22-24), do good deeds (John 5:29), eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood (John 6:48-66), love God (John 8:42 , cf. 1 John 2:15), follow Jesus (John 10:26-28), and keep Jesus’ commandments (John 14:15). Those ideas hardly concur with no-lordship salvation! All of them presuppose repentance, commitment, and a desire to obey.

As those terms suggest, the apostle was careful to describe conversion as a complete turnabout. To John, becoming a believer meant resurrection from death to life, a coming out of darkness and into light, abandoning lies for the truth, exchanging hatred for love, and forsaking the world for God. What are those but images of radical conversion?

Loving God is the expression John uses most frequently to describe the believer’s demeanor. How can sinners begin to love God apart from genuine repentance? What does love imply, anyway?

Finally, remember that it is the Gospel of John that outlines the Holy Spirit’s ministry of conviction toward the unbelieving world (John 16:8-11). Of what does the Holy Spirit convict unbelievers? Of “sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8). Wouldn’t it seem that the Holy Spirit’s ministry of convicting people of sin and its consequences has the specific purpose of laying the groundwork for repentance?

Repentance underlies all John’s writings. It is understood, not necessarily explicit. His readers were so familiar with the apostolic message that he didn’t need to dwell on the issue of repentance. John was emphasizing different facets of the gospel message than those highlighted by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But he most assuredly was not writing to contradict them! His aim certainly was not to devise a no-lordship doctrine of salvation.

In fact, John’s purpose was exactly the opposite. He was showing that Jesus is God (e.g., John 1:1-18 ; 5:18 ; 12:37-41). John’s readers clearly understood the implication of that: If Jesus is God and we must receive Him as God (John 1:12), our first duty in coming to Him is to repent (cf. Luke 5:8).

Illustrating Repentance

uturnArticle: An Illustration of Repentance by Benjamin Shawn, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.”

In the heat of the Christian life, however, that definition may seem more theoretical than practical, not particularly helpful when seeking to live a life of repentance (See the first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses: When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.) We recognize that repentance is a grace. That is, it is a gift from God. It is not something we work up for ourselves. It is not turning over a new leaf. It is a turning away from sin and a turning to God that is fueled, as it were, by the Spirit of God at work within us.

We all recognize that the first act of repentance is only the beginning. We recognize that sins must be mortified. We recognize that there is the problem of indwelling sin in the life of the believer. But I suspect that we don’t often attach repentance to these things. In part, this may be because we do not have a sense of what repentance look like when God is working repentance in us.

Perhaps an illustration will help. Imagine repentance as a man walking in one direction who suddenly realizes that he is walking in the opposite direction from which he should be walking. He stops. He turns around. Then he begins walking in the new direction. It is a quick and simple process. He realizes. He stops. He turns. But imagine someone on a bicycle realizing he is going the wrong direction. In one sense, it is still obvious. He stops. He turns around. He begins bicycling in the new direction. But it is a longer process. He has to come to a stop. Depending on his speed, that may take some time. The turning around also takes longer. And it takes longer to get up to full speed in the new direction. The process is the same for a man in a car. But it takes longer than for the man on the bike, and it may require going somewhat out of his way before he gets back on the right track. The process is the same for a man in a speed boat. He has to slow down, enter the turn, and come back. But the time and distance required to do so is much longer than what was required for the man walking. Now imagine that the man is piloting a supertanker. It takes him miles to slow the ship down enough to even begin to make the turn. The turn itself is immense, taking him quite a distance from his intended course. Then again it also takes a large amount of time to get up to full speed in the new direction.

Now apply the images to repentance. Some sins are small and easy. We stop and walk the other way. Some sins, like the bicycle, are a little more difficult. In God’s work in the believer, He takes a little time to bring the believer to an awareness that his course is actually a sinful one. Then there is the process of coming to a stop, the process of the turn itself, and the process of getting up to speed in faithfulness. But some sins are enormous. We may not be aware that they really are sins. Or they may be so deeply ingrained in us that we are not willing, at first, to recognize them as sins. God works patiently with us, carefully slowing us down, as the captain does with the ship, so that He can bring us through the turn and into the new direction, where He can bring us up to full speed.

There are two things that I find helpful about this illustration. First is the fact that God does not work repentance in us instantaneously, but over time. So the awareness of sin and the desire to change come gradually. God brings us, as it were, to a full stop slowly and carefully. So there are going to be many slips and falls on the way to that stopping point. The second thing has to do with the turning itself. In the image of the ship turning, there is a long time when the ship is neither on the old course, nor on the new course but, as it were, dead in the water. So it may well be in the life of the Christian. The sin has been admitted. The slips and falls have gotten fewer. But there seems to be little progress. We seem to be dead in the water. At that point, we are in the turn. Speed will pick up. Godliness will grow. But it will do so slowly, as God patiently works with us.

So if you have prayed for repentance for some particular sin, and there has been no instantaneous change, keep praying. God has promised to work, and He will. And you will be glad in the end that He did it slowly and carefully.

Does Prayer Change God’s Mind?

magnifying-glass5Article: R. C. Sproul (original source here)

Does prayer make any difference? Does it really change anything? Someone once asked me that question, only in a slightly different manner: “Does prayer change God’s mind?” My answer brought storms of protest. I said simply, “No.” Now, if the person had asked me, “Does prayer change things?” I would have answered, “Of course!”

The Bible says there are certain things God has decreed from all eternity. Those things will inevitably come to pass. If you were to pray individually or if you and I were to join forces in prayer or if all the Christians of the world were to pray collectively, it “would not change what God, in His hidden counsel, has determined to do. If we decided to pray for Jesus not to return, He still would return. You might ask, though, “Doesn’t the Bible say that if two or three agree on anything, they’ll get it?” Yes, it does, but that passage is talking about church discipline, not prayer requests. So we must take all the biblical teaching on prayer into account and not isolate one passage from the rest. We must approach the matter in light of the whole of Scripture, resisting an atomistic reading. Again, you might ask, “Doesn’t the Bible say from time to time that God repents?” Yes, the Old Testament certainly says so. The book of Jonah tells us that God “repented of ” the judgment He had planned for the people of Nineveh (Jonah 3:10, KJV). In using the concept of repentance here, the Bible is describing God, who is Spirit, in what theologians call “anthropomorphic” language. Obviously the Bible does not mean that God repented in the way we would repent; otherwise, we could rightly assume that God had sinned and therefore would need a savior Himself. What it clearly means is that God removed the threat of judgment from the people. The Hebrew word nacham, translated “repent” in the King James Version, means “comforted” or “eased” in this case. God was comforted and felt at ease that the people “had turned from their sin, and therefore He revoked the sentence of judgment He had imposed.

When God hangs His sword of judgment over people’s heads, and they repent and He then withholds His judgment, has He really changed His mind? The mind of God does not change for God does not change. Things change, and they change according to His sovereign will, which He exercises through secondary means and secondary activities. The prayer of His people is one of the means He uses to bring things to pass in this world. So if you ask me whether prayer changes things, I answer with an unhesitating “Yes!”

It is impossible to know how much of human history reflects God’s immediate intervention and how much reveals God working through human agents. Calvin’s favorite example of this was the book of Job. The Sabeans and the Chaldeans had taken Job’s donkeys and camels. Why? Because Satan had stirred their hearts to do so. But why? Because Satan had received permission from God to test Job’s faithfulness in any way he so desired, short of taking Job’s life. Why had God agreed to such a thing? For three reasons: (1) to silence the slander of Satan; (2) to vindicate Himself; and (3) to vindicate Job from the slander of Satan. All of these reasons are perfectly righteous justifications for God’s actions.

By contrast, Satan’s purpose in stirring up these two groups was to cause Job to blaspheme God—an altogether wicked motive. But we notice that Satan did not do something supernatural to accomplish his ends. He chose human agents—the Sabeans and Chaldeans, who were evil by nature—to steal Job’s animals. The Sabeans and Chaldeans were known for their thievery and murderous way of life. Their will was involved, but there was no coercion; God’s purpose was accomplished through their wicked actions.

The Sabeans and Chaldeans were free to choose, but for them, as for us, freedom always means freedom within limits. We must not, however, confuse human freedom and human autonomy. There will always be a conflict between divine sovereignty and human autonomy. There is never a conflict between divine sovereignty and human freedom. The Bible says that man is free, but he is not an autonomous law unto himself.

Suppose the Sabeans and Chaldeans had prayed, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” I’m absolutely certain that Job’s animals still would have been stolen, but not necessarily by the Sabeans and Chaldeans. God might have chosen to”answer their prayer, but He would have used some other agent to steal Job’s animals. There is freedom within limits, and within those limits, our prayers can change things. The Scriptures tell us that Elijah, through prayer, kept the rain from falling. He was not dissuaded from praying by his understanding of divine sovereignty.

No human being has ever had a more profound understanding of divine sovereignty than Jesus. No man ever prayed more fiercely or more effectively. Even in Gethsemane, He requested an option, a different way. When the request was denied, He bowed to the Father’s will. The very reason we pray is because of God’s sovereignty, because we believe that God has it within His power to order things according to His purpose. That is what sovereignty is all about—ordering things according to God’s purpose. So then, does prayer change God’s mind? No. Does prayer change things? Yes, of course. The promise of the Scriptures is that “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). The problem is that we are not all that righteous. What prayer most often changes is the wickedness and the hardness of our own hearts. That alone would be reason enough to pray, even if none of the other reasons were valid or true.

In a sermon titled “The Most High, a Prayer-Hearing God,” Jonathan Edwards gave two reasons why God requires prayer:

With respect to God, prayer is but a sensible acknowledgement of our dependence on him to his glory. As he hath made all things for his own glory, so he will be glorified and acknowledged by his creatures; and it is fit that he should require this of those who would be subjects of his mercy . . . [it] is a suitable acknowledgement of our dependence on the power and mercy of God for that which we need, and but a suitable honor paid to the great Author and Fountain of all good.

With respect to ourselves, God requires prayer of us . . . Fervent prayer many ways tends to prepare the heart. Hereby is excited a sense of our need . . . whereby the mind is more prepared to prize [his mercy] . . . Our prayer to God may excite in us a suitable sense and consideration of our dependence on God for the mercy we ask, and a suitable exercise of faith in God’s sufficiency, so that we may be prepared to glorify his name when the mercy is received.
(The Works of Jonathan Edwards [Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974], 2:116)

All that God does is for His glory first and for our benefit second. We pray because God commands us to pray, because it glorifies Him, and because it benefits us.

A Life of Repentance

Jr. (original source here)

It takes me some time to kind of wind down and come off the excitement and adrenaline push of a Ligonier Conference. We just a few days ago had our annual Reformation Bible College conference, and I’m still thinking about it and thinking about the blessings that I had, about the things that I got to talk about, and that’s leading me to ask you to listen to this too. If you were there, I’m glad you were there and that you’re listening to the podcast, if you weren’t there, I’m hoping next time you will be.

Our theme, our approach for this year’s conference was a little bit odd. We’re looking at the dawn of the Reformation, and we’re doing so because we’re fast approaching the 500th anniversary of the occasion of Luther nailing his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg. But that doesn’t happen till next year, so it’s a little bit odd to be stopping to celebrate the 499th anniversary of the start of the Reformation. So our approach was to say “What was going on in the leadup?” My last talk, I looked specifically at what was going on in the life of Luther, and it was an opportunity to speak on a theme that was near and dear to my heart. I have, I confess, if you ever come to a Ligonier conference, if you want to know what’s going through my mind while I’m up there talking it’s not “All those people are looking at me!” I’m actually quite comfortable. I don’t like when one person looks at me, but I’m quite comfortable with a big crowd. What I’m thinking about is what I’m trying to do. What I’m trying to do is to bless and help the audience with respect to their sanctification.

To put it another way, I’m trying to be prophetic into the lives of that particular audience. I get a little bit frustrated and annoyed at our propensity to sort of let loose our inner prophet when it’s safe. That we speak badly about our brothers and sisters that aren’t within our hearing. And what that does is it has a tendency to fill the ears of those who are hearing with pride. And so I want to speak to our propensity, and one of the things that I spoke to is this idea that we have, because we’re Reformed people, we’re theologically minded, we have this vision of Luther and the start of the Reformation, that this is how it happened: Luther was wrestling over some particular text or some particular Greek word, and he’s in his study or in a pub somewhere, and he has this “Eureka!” moment and then decides to go publish on it. And I suggested that that badly misunderstands what happened, and who Luther was. Luther was a genius, he was a brilliant mind, but more importantly, he was troubled in heart.

I argued that we can see what sparked the Reformation by looking at the first of the 95 theses. And the first of the 95 theses did not say “When Rome said this about this obscure text in Jeremiah, they mistranslated this Hebrew word” what he said was “When our Lord commanded that we should repent, he willed that all of our lives would be lives of repentance.” You see, what troubled Luther was not mere intellectual error, what troubled Luther was the sin in his own life. And that’s what needs to be our concern, and our reason for rejoicing in and celebrating the Reformation. The Reformation is the recovery of how we have peace with God. But our problem is we don’t even know that we don’t have peace with God. We don’t feel the weight of our sin. But Luther did. When he saw his sin and when he knew the holiness of God, he knew he had to hope that there would be some way that he could escape the wrath of God.

My talk took a turn to what may be my favorite text in all of Scripture, that text where Jesus gives the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, where the Pharisee stands and says “I thank you Lord that I am not like other men”, and the tax collector says, unable to look up, beating his breast, “Lord be merciful to me a sinner.” You see, our problem is, we’re smart enough to know that we’re not supposed to be the Pharisee. But we’re pharisaical enough to think that because we’re smart enough to know that, that we’re not like other men. And we thank you Lord, that we’re not like other men, we know that the Pharisee is the bad guy of the story. Instead of actually recognizing that what we’re called to is the beating of the breast, and that crying out for mercy from God in Christ.

Friends, I want us to be students of theology, I want us to wrestle over difficult things, I don’t have a quarrel with enjoying these things while we’re smoking our pipes and stroking our beards. But we never, never can lose sight of the fact that all these things should be done while we’re beating our breasts, while we’re crying out for the mercy of God in Christ, that is what was recovered. The truth of the matter is that we have peace with God because of what Jesus did for us, in fact the whole issue of the Reformation was the affirmation of our dependence upon His grace alone. Not our dependence upon recognizing our dependence upon His grace alone, not our dependence on the perfect formulation. I suggested in my talk that if you were to query the tax collector upon the difference between imputation and infusion, he would have no idea, he would think you were speaking in tongues. But if you asked him “Do you cooperate with God? Do you contribute? Do you walk alongside God in your justification? Do you bring anything to the table?” he would say “Oh yes I do bring something to the table. I bring the need. I bring the problem. I bring death and destruction and rebellion. I’ve got nothing to offer. And that, at the end of the day, is the heart and soul of the Reformed faith, not just the mind, but the heart and the soul of the Reformed faith. Repentance is the foundation and the substance of Reformation.

Hyper Grace and Repentance

uturn-signIn an article entitled “Hyper Grace and Repentance”, Dr. Sam Storms” so they say, and should instead turn our attention to the finality and sufficiency of God’s saving grace to us in Jesus Christ.

There is a sense in which this is a good and important reminder. Some Christians are excessively sin-conscious and have failed to recognize the glory and peace that come from trusting wholly in what God did through Jesus to remove the guilt and condemnation or our sin. But what they fail to recognize is that it is precisely because of the wonder and majesty of God’s saving mercy in Jesus that we should be sensitive to our sin and quick to repent of it. We do not repent in order to curry God’s favor or to make it possible for us to be reconciled to him. But repentance is absolutely necessary if we hope to live in the daily delight that comes with being reconciled to God.

Our experiential communion with Christ is always dependent on our sincere and heartfelt repentance from sin. We are altogether safe and secure in our eternal union with Christ, due wholly and solely to God’s glorious grace. But our capacity to enjoy the fruit of that union, our ability to feel, sense, and rest satisfied in all that is entailed by that saving union is greatly affected, either for good or ill, by our repentant response when the Holy Spirit awakens us to the ways that we have failed to honor and obey God’s revealed will in Scripture.

Part of the problem in the Hyper-grace message is their failure to properly define repentance. Several Hyper-grace authors contend that the only sense in which a Christian is required to repent is to change his/her mind or to rethink regarding sin and our relationship with God. Here is how one man thinks we think about repentance. In other words, this is how he believes we believe:

“Ongoing repentance is necessary to keep an angry God happy enough with you to be willing to bless you and use you. Your standing with God must be maintained by ongoing good behavior, and the only way to accomplish this behavior standard is through frequent sessions with God where you confess all known sins, ask for forgiveness, and repent or turn away from those sins.”

Again, he writes:

“Repentance is viewed as a necessary but onerous requirement in dealing with sin and staying in God’s good graces. It is a tool to be used to keep us in line and to prevent us from acting like the heathens we once were. If behavior modification is the goal, and it is with all legalists, then repentance is viewed as the primary method of accomplishing it.”

He argues that repentance simply means “to change your mind” about something. Rethink it. See the truth and believe it. Here is how he sums it up:

“The Holy Spirit convicts . . . or convinces me that I have believed a lie. I confess . . . or agree with the Spirit of Truth (no sense of condemnation). I then repent . . . or change my mind in light of truth.”

Michael Brown, who has written the most comprehensive response to hyper-grace, provides us with an illustration of how bad a definition of repentance this is. I’ve taken the liberty of expanding upon it a bit.

If you live in Oklahoma City, as I do, and you wish to join me in a leisurely drive to Dallas, Texas, you would typically depart from my house, drive east on Memorial Drive, and then turn right onto I-35. It’s about a 3½ hour drive. Everything seems to be going well until you notice a sign that says, “Wichita, 124 miles.” You turn to me (since I’m driving) and say, “Hey, guess what: we’re driving north instead of south. Dallas is in the other direction.” My response is: “Huh, you are correct. I’ve changed my mind about whether or not we are driving in the right direction.” And then I proceed to continue driving north, heading straight for Wichita, Kansas, instead of south for Dallas, Texas.

Changing of one’s mind is useless if it isn’t accompanied by a change of direction, a change of life and action. The only reasonable thing for me to do, having first changed my mind/belief about what direction I’m heading, is to exit off the interstate and do a 180 degree about face and head south in the direction of Dallas. It’s one thing to change my belief about where I’m heading. It’s another thing to change my behavior. And both elements are involved in genuine, biblical repentance. Continue reading

Repentance and Confession in our Worship

and asks God to forgive and cleanse, to renew and restore, to inflame our cold hearts and fill us with overflowing love.

Confession is one of the defining marks of a Christian because it is linked to repentance and faith. When we confess our sins to God, we are agreeing with God that our sin is something that needs to be forgiven. We are recognizing that our sin hurts us, hurts others, and most importantly, hurts the heart of God. Confession is the expression of repentance in which we name our sin for what it is, turn away from sin, and turn toward a merciful God. One of the differences between a Christian and a non-Christian is not that the non-Christian sins and the Christian does not, but that the Christian sins and repents, while the unbeliever hardens their heart toward God – either by refusing to admit the sin or by trying to deal with the sin in some other way. Continue reading

The Granting of Repentance Through The Use Of Means

2 Tim 2:24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Part 1: There is war happening for your soul. On one side, Satan is scheming to enslave you to sin and blind you to the beauty of God. But God, by his power, is able to lead you to faith, repentance, and freedom. How is the war won? Dr. John Piper looks at several key verses in this lab.

2 Timothy 2-24–26, Part 1 // God May Grant Repentance from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Part 2: God makes the objects of the miracle of repentance agents of the miracle of repentance. In Part 1 of this two-part series, John Piper established that it is God who decisively brings repentance for any sinner. Now, he asks what role, if any, we have in bringing about that repentance for others.

2 Timothy 2:24–26, Part 2 // God’s Agents of Repentance from Desiring God on Vimeo.

How can I tell if repentance is genuine?

Sproul JrDr. R. C. Sproul, Jr., in an article entitled “How can I tell if someone has truly repented of grievous sin?” writes:

The Fruit of True Repentance

There is one tell-tale fruit, but it may take a long time for it to happen. And even then you likely won’t see it. But here’s the fruit nonetheless — if the sinner ends up in heaven, you will know they had truly repented. If not, they likely had not. I understand the desire to know the sincerity of another’s repentance. I’ve been in countless pastoral situations wherein it seemed like the answer to that one question — is this person truly repentant — determined the answer to every other question about what should be done. Trouble is, God has not been pleased to give us the means to peer into the souls of others.

An Example

So what do we do? Consider the case of adultery, perhaps the most common grievous sin we face. Suppose I am unfaithful to my wife. Suppose I claim to be repentant. What ought she to do? The Bible says that she is free to divorce me, but is not required to do so. Many times her decision is bound up in this question — is he repentant? But that’s not really the question. If I am repentant, her duty is to forgive me. But her duty is not to remain married to me. If I am feigning repentance, and she decides to stay with me, but later determines my repentance isn’t sincere, even if I so confess, she is not free to divorce me. That’s why my counsel in these circumstances is to encourage thinking through this question — would you, knowing what you now know, marry this person? If not, forgive and divorce. If so, forgive and stay together. But you don’t need to know if the repentance is sincere.

Evidence of True Repentance

One parenthetical thought. I consider it good evidence, though not compelling proof, that a person is sincere in their repentance if they repent before their offense is known, and if they repent of what would otherwise never be known. Such doesn’t mean, on the other hand, that only this kind of repentance is sincere. David was busted by Nathan before he came to repentance. But I doubt anyone would doubt his sincerity after reading Psalm 51.

Time Will Tell?

The hope that time will tell is elusive. The unrepentant can appear repentant for a long time. The repentant, on the other hand, sin all the time, making it all too easy to doubt their repentance. In the end, therefore, all we are left to do is to exercise our best judgment, and I would argue, to practice a judgment of charity. Perhaps the best indicator I know of is this — is the sinner owning their sin, and standing ready to do whatever is necessary to make right, as much as is possible what they have done. Which is to say, the repentant are those who repent. Can the unrepentant fake this? Yes, but usually they do not.


We cannot go through our lives afraid that we might forgive the unrepentant. We ought to go through our lives afraid we have failed to forgive the repentant. With the former we may allow ourselves to be wrong, with the latter we are wronging others.