Gospel Repentance

Gospel repentance is a repentance which comes as the gift of God by the Holy Spirit as He enlightens our minds to the Gospel — God’s promise to save guilty sinners, freely give them all of salvation (including the work of the Holy Spirit in them), and entitle them
to final glory based solely upon the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ freely imputed to all who believe the gospel.

It is only in this light that sinners can come to a repentance that is pleasing to God. Before hearing and believing the true Gospel, all repentance is no more than legal conviction that motivates a sinner in seeking to remove the guilt and defilement of sin and to recommend himself to God by his own self-efforts at remorse, reformation, obedience, and dedication.

This is the repentance and sorrow of the world that “works death” (2 Corinthians 7:10) as it motivates sinners to bring forth “fruit unto death” (Romans 7:4) and “dead works” (Hebrews 6:1; Hebrews 9:14).

Such “fruit unto death” and “dead works” include any attempts of a sinner to attain or maintain any of the blessings or benefits of salvation based on anything other than the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ freely imputed by God.

A person therefore may be acutely aware of his guilt and defilement. He may admit his total depravity and utter worthlessness. He may adamantly and continually confess that God would be just to damn him based on his sins, but true godly repentance can only be determined by this:

Where does he find relief from his guilt, defilement, and depravity?

If he finds relief anywhere but in the righteousness of Christ (His substitutionary obedience to death on the cross), he has not been “made sorry after a godly manner” (2 Corinthians 7:9) nor come to “godly sorrow” which “works repentance to salvation not to be repented of” (2 Corinthians 7:10). His repentance is no more than legal, natural-conscience conviction of which he needs to repent.

We would all agree that the Bible teaches the necessity of repentance
Luke 13:3 “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

Acts 17:30 “God commands all men everywhere to repent.”

Christ said in Matthew 9:13, “for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

He told His disciples that (Luke 24:47 )“repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

Paul characterized his ministry in the preaching of the Gospel as… (Acts 20:21) “testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What exactly is this repentance?

When most people think of repentance they most always think of reformations of life involving a change from a life of immorality or lack of dedication in religion to a life of morality and dedication in religion. Most who go through such a change end up better in society as they conform to moral standards and begin to practice responsible behavior. Their families and their societies may be the better for it.

But such reformations do not characterize the true nature and heart ofgodly repentance!

Such reformations may accompany godly repentance, but if this is as far as it goes, the person may have turned from immorality to morality, but they have not repented in God’s sight. In fact, if such a person reforms in character and conduct as motivated by the darkness of false religion, then they are “twofold more the child of gehenna” (Matthew 23:15). The fact is that most people repent of immorality and irresponsible behavior before they are ever saved and come to true godly repentance.

The Greek dictionary defines repentance as “a reversal of your thoughts; a radical change of mind.” In the New Testament, the word “repentance” means a change of mind that brings about a change of life, walk, and conduct. In the Old Testament, the word “repentance” meant a turning as in the case of a person going in one direction and turning around to go in the opposite direction.

This godly change of mind and conduct which is called repentance can come only in light of the Gospel wherein Christ and His righteousness
is revealed as the only ground of salvation . This godly repentance is a change of mind concerning the character of God (Who He is) and the only ground upon which He can justify the ungodly. It is achange of mind concerning Christ (Who He is and what He accomplished) and the value of His obedience unto death (His righteousness) as being the only ground of salvation. It is a change of mind concerning ourselves (who we are) as being guilty, defiled sinners who owe a debt to God’s justice we cannot pay, who are in need of arighteousness we cannot produce. It is a change of mind concerning our best efforts to remove the guilt and defilement of sin, our best efforts to recommend ourselves to God, our best deeds aimed at attaining, maintaining, and entitling us to salvation.

The Apostle Paul illustrates this clearly in Philippians 3:3-10. In trueGospel faith and repentance a sinner comes to see and trust that Christ’s righteousness alone entitles him to all of salvation, including the subjective work of the Spirit, BEFORE he makes any efforts to obey God and persevere. In this specific light, he comes to see that before faith, his best efforts at obedience, all that he highly esteemed and thought was profitable in recommending him unto God, is now “loss,” no more than “dung” (Philippians 3:7-8) in light of Christ’s obedience to death.

What he before thought was pleasing unto God and works of the Spirit, he now sees as “flesh” (Philippians 3:3-4). What he once highly esteemed, he is now ashamed of it (Romans 6:21) and now, in light of the Gospel, counts it as fruit unto death, dead works, and evil deeds. He now sees that before faith, before believing that Christ’s righteousness alone entitled him to all of salvation, his thoughts of God were all wrong and that the god he worshipped and served then is an idol. Therefore, in repentance, he turns from that idol to serve the true and living God (1 Thessalonians 1:9).

This kind of true godly repentance can only come in light of the Gospel as it takes this specific truth, this light, to expose the sin that deceives us all by nature (John 3:19-20). Before we hear and believe the Gospel we are all deceived by sin (Romans 7:11). The sin that deceives us all by nature is not immorality. All of us by nature, by natural conscience know that immorality is sinful (Romans 2:14-15).

This knowledge may not keep sinners from indulging in and even excusing or justifying such immorality, but this is the result of not retaining the knowledge God has given in the conscience. The sin that deceives us all by nature is the sinfulness of seeking to establish a righteousness of our own before God. It is the sin of thinking that our reformations, our faithfulness, our tears of repentance and remorse, our attempts at obedience, our prayers, or anythingthat proceeds from us could attain, maintain, and/or entitle us to any part of salvation. This reveals the true nature and heart of godly repentance.

Consider John 16:8-11.
John 16:8 And when He is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:

John 16:9 Of sin, because they believe not on Me;

John 16:10 Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see Me no more;

John 16:11 Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.

This refers to the work of God the Holy Spirit in theconversion of God’s elect. It describes the conviction (convincing) that
goes on when the Holy Spirit brings sinners to repentance. He convinces God’s elect “Of sin, because they believe not on Me.” Many claim that this means that the Holy Spirit convinces sinners merely of the sin of unbelief. This is certainly included, but it goes further. The Holy Spirit convinces sinners that everything before faith, before hearing and believing the Gospel, was sinful (dead works, fruit unto death).

God the Holy Spirit convinces God’s elect “Of righteousness, because I go to my Father.” This means He convinces sinners that Christ’s righteousness alone entitles them to all of salvation. He convinces God’s elect “Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.” This is a large part of Gospel repentance in that the Holy Spirit puts within every believer a new standard of judgment. The believer no longer judges saved and lost based on Satan’s lie (outward appearance, reputation, etc.) (Genesis 3:4), but he now judges saved and lost based on God’s truth (Gospel) (Mark 16:15-16; John 3:18; 2 John 9-11).

It is true that there is a continual aspect to repentance. It is true that believers must repent constantly over the presence and influence of remaining sin. We see examples of this in the Bible. The Corinthians were called on to repent over their sinful conduct. They were called on to be ashamed enough to change their behavior. The Galatians were called on to repent of following false religious teachers who corrupted the Gospel with legalism.

All this is true, but Gospel repentance begins with repentance of dead works and former idolatry. If this does not take place as the first evidence of true saving faith, then all continual repentance is no more than legal, natural-conscience conviction.

Now, in light of this we must judge from God’s testimony as to whether or not we have truly repented. For example, there are many who have changed doctrines but who have never truly repented. Many have come from believing in the false god of free-willism, and have come to believe in a sovereign God. Many have come from believing auniversal atonement to believing in a particular atonement. Many have come to claim to believe in the doctrines of total depravity, election,irresistible calling, and perseverance of the saints, but they have nevertruly repented.

How can this be?

They have never admitted that while they believed God would save them based on something other than the righteousness of Christ which entitles sinners to all of salvation, that while they imagined that God would save them, keep them, and entitle them to redemption based on something that proceeded from them, they worshiped and served an idol, they were lost, and all their efforts were fruit unto death. They have never been made ashamed of such religious pride and self-righteousness, they exalted themselves and had confidence in the flesh.

They have never repented of believing and promoting a universal atonement which reduced the blood of Christ to a worthless pedestal upon which sinners could stand and boast of their own faith, repentance, and perseverance. They have not yet seen how such doctrine dishonored every attribute of God’s redemptive character, casts shame and reproach upon the Person and the work of Christ, and gave them room to boast. They will not
admit that believing and promoting such God-dishonoring doctrines proved that they were not submitted to Christ and His righteousness as the only ground of salvation.

Some may argue, “But these are only implications that can be discovered only by a mature and skilled believer.” For those of you who believe this is a valid argument, you need to refer to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Such doctrines that dishonor God, deny Christ, and leave sinner’s room to boast are damning (Galatians 2:21; Galatians 5:1-4; Galatians 6:14-16).

Think about this — How can we honor God, exalt Christ, and leave ourselves no room to boast?

This can be accomplished only in believing that Christ’s righteousness alone entitles us to all of salvation, including the Holy Spirit’s work in
us, before we take the first step in seeking to serve the Lord and persevere in the faith. One cannot believe this Gospel savingly without
having repented of everything else. If you have not believed this up to this point, then you need to repent and believe the Gospel!

By Bill Parker

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10 Comments on “Gospel Repentance”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised
    from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.” – Romans 7:4

    One of the reasons for our marriage to Christ and being freed from and becoming dead to the law is that we should bring forth fruit unto God as
    opposed to fruit unto death. “Fruit unto God” refers to the works and efforts of justified sinners, those who are married to Christ and dead to the law, aimed at obeying God’s commandments, aimed at pleasing God, in our personal character and conduct.

    “Fruit unto God,” then, is that which
    proceeds from our personal character and conduct aimed at perfect conformity to Christ. Therefore, “fruit unto God” must be excluded totally
    as to attaining or maintaining any part of our salvation. “Fruit unto God” is the works and efforts of believers, and our works and efforts are not
    good enough to save us, keep us, make us holy and fit and qualified, nor are they good enough to earn God’s favor and blessings, nor can they make
    us more certain of salvation.

    All of these things are attained by Christ, and
    we are partakers of all these blessings of grace as we become dead to the law and married to Him. “Fruit unto God” is pleasing to God as it is the
    fruit of faith that honors God, exalts Christ, and excludes boasting in ourselves. They are motivated by the assurance of salvation based on the
    righteousness of Christ.

    Bill Parker

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Abraham Booth, Glad Tidings

    p 238 “According to fatalism, the word of truth having no influence, is of no use in regeneration, the salutary and important change being produced entirely without it..It is too hastily assumed that the mind is prepared to receive the light of spiritual knowledge before the truth have any influence on it.”

    p 247 “Now the question is: Do the Scriptures lead us to conclude that the mind and the conscience are brought into the new state by an immediate divine energy, without the medium of either the law or the gospel? I think not. It is written: by the law is the knowledge of sin.

    p 249 “For an ‘awakened sinner’ to be persuaded that regeneration is effected without the instrumentality of divine truth, is to give an injurious direction to his prayers and expectations.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    https://witheredgrass.wordpress.com/2009/06/19/jonathan-malesic-keeping-faith-quiet/ Nicodemite is a term that ‘generally denotes a secret or timid adherent’.[ Most often it is used as a term of disparagement, applied to persons who are suspected of public misrepresentation of their actual religious beliefs by the practice of dissemblance (exhibiting false appearance) and dissimulation (concealing true beliefs).
    Introduced into 16th century religious discourse, its currency persisted into the 18th century and beyond. It was usually applied to persons of publicly conservative religious position and practice who were thought to be secretly humanistic or reformed. Originally employed mostly by Protestants, it was also later used by Catholics as well.
    Certain “spiritualists” refused to join the anabaptists in public believer-baptism, and pretended to take the “sacrament” in the parish church or avoid martyrdom.

    In England during the 17th and 18th century it was often applied to those suspected of secret Socinian, Arianist, or proto-Deist beliefs.

    The term was apparently introduced by John Calvin (1509–1564) in 1544 in his Excuse à messieurs les Nicodemites.[5] Since the French monarchy had increased its prosecution of heresy with the Edict of Fontainebleau (1540), it had become increasingly dangerous to profess dissident belief publicly, and refuge was being sought in emulating Nicodemus

  4. markmcculley Says:

    An error is to preach law until despair and then gospel as hope.

    This, in a sense, is assuming sinners can actually take sides against themselves without any hope of forgiveness, simply by announcing the just judgment of God.

    (Not talking about duty here, sinners are duty-bound to agree with God on his just judgment, regardless of if God will save them. )

    True repentance is not produced by the law only, however, but by the revelation of the gospel. Since the justice of God is a part of the gospel, there is no need to preach law separately before gospel.

    There is only one person who took sides against himself and submitted to the righteousness of God without the hope of forgiveness, and it is Jesus – he had to bear the whole weight of sin by himself with no substitute, so that his people are free from that burden.

    i think this is an important point

    1. gospel tells us what law really is

    2. even though all have duties to the law (and even duties to the gospel), i am not sure how much good it does to say it that way, and I don’t think the Bible itself very much talks about the ‘duty” of faith and repentance (about the gospel). Rather, there is this promise for “as many as” believe the gospel, and if you rejoice and believe in the gospel, then you want it to be true, you want to believe, and you won’t need “duty” talk to get you to believe.

    3. I know that is pretty “circular”, as in “if you believe you believe” , but I agree with your caution against “methodism” and “preparationism” (most of the time on what we need, and then at the last moment Jesus as the solution)

    4. that being said, I don’t think the law gospel law, or gospel law sequence works the same way with every effectual calling

    some people get “convicted” even on the basis of wrong information about what the law, and are already in despair when they hear gospel

    not saying that this is necessary, or even “to be preferred”, but rather that we can’t say—oh I doubt that you are a Christian because the trajectory (the narrative) didn’t run the same way in your life as it did in mine


  5. markmcculley Says:

    I agree with you about the lack of teaching true justice, satisfaction, election in the atonement, being the reason for a lack of law/gospel antithesis. I do very much teach law-gospel antithesis, but it amounts to saying that the gospel is about the satisfaction of the law. Which is not saying that the gospel is the law, or that the law is the gospel. Check out some of my other essays on the antithesis.






  6. markmcculley Says:

    onhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison—“the heart in the biblical sense is not the inner life, but the whole man in relation to God”


    The Christian must therefore really live in the godless world, without attempting to gloss over or explain its ungodliness in some religious way or other. He must live a ‘secular’ life, and thereby share in God’s sufferings. He may live a ‘secular’ life (as one who has been freed from false religious obligations and inhibitions). To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the basis of some method or other. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Jesus , “woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish but inside are full of extortion and self-indulgence.” Hypocrisy is a real sin, something to be ashamed of, something to repent for. It is shameful ….
    But there is something to be said for it. “Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue.” The hypocrite, while she may be caught up in whatever sin she is caught up in, is able to recognize virtue and desires to be perceived as virtuous even while lacking virtue. We as hypocrites we cover our sins because we also recognize them as sins.
    We postmoderns hate hypocrisy, not because we have such an abiding commitment to the virtue of honesty, but for the same reason we judge so harshly those who judge. There are those who hide their vice by arguing that their vice is a virtue (greed, selfishness)
    For many, avoiding hypocrisy is the only means of atonement for sin. But do these people avoid hypocrisy?
    “Well, I may be selfish , but at least I’m honest about it.” This proud confession of sin is a diabolical perversion of true repentance. We “acknowledge our sin” in that we admit to doing what we did, but we dismiss sin because in admitting it we make it no longer a sin.
    Admitting is our way to make atonement for it

  8. markmcculley Says:

    better to say “I admit” than to ever say “they admit”. People who disagree with you are not “admitting” stuff. They are disagreeing with you .

  9. markmcculley Says:

    I hear this preacher soundbite—“it’s a precious and rare thing to find a sinner” It’s like preachers are saying that’s the end of the story, and thee is no more need to know about Christ and how Chrsit atoned or how Christ justifies —-….though only ungodly sinners are justified
    or need to be justified
    this does not mean that God justifies all ungodly sinners

    you can be a sinner without being justified
    you can know you are a sinner without being justified
    God never will justify all sinners

    Jesus rejects many sinners as His guilty clients, because Jesus was never the mediator for many guilty sinners

    God’s election comes first before Christ’s atonement
    Atonement to satisfy justice is a result of God’s love for the elect
    God’s love for the elect is not a result of Atonement for the elect

    This means that election is not the same thing as the atonement
    This means that election is not the same thing as justification.

    • markmcculley Says:

      Elect but still condemned at the present time? Some “high Calvinists” don’t have a category for lost elect people. They think that you were never lost, but that you only didn’t know you were already saved.

      Many pastors (who are not Calvinists at all) like to say to people who are still legalists— some of you didn’t know the motives and how reconciliation worked, but you were already reconciled.

      The elect have already been judged at the cross. E everybody else will be judged, since all will be judged. But not all who were judged at the cross have been “baptized into that death” yet by God’s legal imputation. Since this is so, we should NOT talk to people assuming that they are Christians even though they don’t know the gospel yet.

      To those who are still ignorant of the gospel, we don’t talk only about gratitude and freedom. Yes, we tell them that those for whom Christ died are thankful and free and pleasing to God. But we also tell them— if you don’t know the gospel and believe it yet, then you should be shut up to nothing but legal fear.


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