Godly Change Requires More Than a Lane Change


For many of us, that’s a rather nasty little word. It conjures images of fire-and-brimstone preachers holding their thick, black Bibles over their heads with one hand while pointing the other menacingly at the shell-shocked crowd and yelling:

“Repent, ye depraved sinners bound for the depths of hell. Repent before the fires of heaven consume the earth. Repent if ye can. Because the Dread Pirate Roberts is here for your souls.”

Wait, I may have gotten a little Princess Bride mixed in there at the end. But you get the point. Repent rarely gets good reviews.

But the biblical authors don’t seem bothered by it at all. Actually, they seem to like it. Jesus, Peter, and Paul, all identify repentance as one of the fundamental ways in which we should respond to the gospel (e.g. Mt. 4:17; Acts 3:19; Rom 2:4). All of them seem to think that we need to repent before we can enter the Kingdom.


But wait. Doesn’t that cause a bit of a problem. We often tell people that the good news of the gospel means that they don’t need to do anything to earn salvation. We make a pretty big deal out of that point: salvation by grace means no required works before salvation. If we require repentance before salvation, then, aren’t we breaking our own rules? If you have to do something before God will save you, then it seems like some kind of legalism has slipped in through the back door (or maybe the front door!).

This is the beginning of my latest post over at the Transformed blog. You can read the rest there.




  1. Craig Beard says

    Marc, you’re such a trouble-maker! I’ll confess to being one, too, because I’m going to contribute this thought: I think the whole “If you say that one has to _______, you’re being legalistic” thing starts with a theological notion (and I have nothing against theology or “theological notions”) and says that what the Bible says has to fit that.

    • says

      Nothing wrong with causing a little trouble!

      The issue with any theological concept, of course, is how well grounded it is in the Bible. And given the Bible’s emphasis on grace as the necessary foundation of salvation, I think we’re on safe ground saying that there’s nothing we need to do in order to earn/merit/deserve salvation. And I think we cause problems for ourselves when we understand repentance as a work and then view it as a prereq for salvation.

      • Craig Beard says

        A couple of things.

        First, a confession that I really should be careful to read all of a post before commenting. I noticed post facto that I’d read only the teaser.

        Second, if I left the impression that I think we can earn/merit/deserve salvation, I did a very poor job of communicating. I unequivocally deny that we can do anything (including repent) that puts God in our debt so that we earn/merit/deserve salvation.

        Third, having read the whole post, I’d say this: if repentance were explained as you explain it, there would be no need to tack on to the end (as I’ve heard people do with repentance and baptism), “. . . but it isn’t a work.”

        Fourth, I’m really looking forward to reading your book on the gospel. Any idea when it’ll hit the shelves?

        • says

          Thanks Craig, good clarifications. And if we can help people understand repentance in a way that eliminates the need for a “not a work” addendum every time, that’s a win!

          I’m still in conversation with a couple of publishers. (This process takes forever!) But I’m working on it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *