Repentance is the activity of reviewing one’s actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs. It generally involves a commitment to personal change and resolving to live a more responsible and humane life.
I love the idea of repentance. Repentance is a good, healthy, godly endeavor. No one around here thinks that contrition for past wrongs or commitment to personal change is bad. Nor is resolving to live a more responsible life. I repent this way all the time! I encourage others to do it. In the case of some of my children, I demand that they do it in certain parts of their lives. However, I have noticed that whether with a Christian believer or a Christian doubter, there is a common trait to our repentance: it doesn’t stick. Nothing is less trustworthy than a human being’s resolve to be more responsible! We are famous for making resolutions and soon abandoning them. How insane is it to write this brand of repentance in as a necessary ingredient for saving grace? We are like the twelve disciples with Jesus:
30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.
We all know how that went. Such resolve! They themselves probably thought they had true resolve here. Jesus, as we see, knew exactly what was going to happen. He knew they were all going to fall away! He knew their resolve was nothing more than words and air. And I ask you: are you really better? Does your repentance endure? Are you comfortable with making your salvation and your ultimate standing with God hinge on the authenticity of your repentance?
Yet again I must ask you: knowing the story, how did the quality of their resolve affect Jesus’ dealings with them? It was utterly inconsequential! He died, they all fell away, He rose from the dead, and He came back to them! He alone accomplished these things! How is it that people make behavioral repentance a condition to salvation, and still call Him a savior? What is saving?
I’ll tell you what a savior is. Even though He was killed, He couldn’t be stopped from resurrecting to forgive them and to set them on mission as a powerful affirmation of His eternal love and kindness towards them. You can’t put a good savior down! You know why heroes in movies get shot at a thousand times and are never killed? Because they are savior figures. In real life, Jesus goes a step beyond: He resurrects and still saves. He goes beyond our paltry proclamations of flimsy faithfulness and saves us despite ourselves, because that is what a savior does. That is why we need saving in the first place. Insisting on repentance as a condition to salvation is the same as saying we don’t really need salvation prior to accepting the actions of a savior. It would be like insisting a sick person gets well before they see a doctor. It is utter nonsense.
21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— 23 if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.