I Would Like To Add Jesus To My Pile Of Idols Please

“Repentance isn’t necessary for salvation! I know people who have been saved without repenting.” “The Bible says only believe, not repent!” Such was the protest of a church leader who pulled me aside after a sermon where I had preached on Acts 2:38 some years ago. This was sadly ironic in light of the text of Scripture that I had just read and preached.

And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38)

What did this man react so strongly against? What I taught the congregation that day could be summarized this way: A heart that believes the truth of the gospel but is still steeled in rebellion against God will not be saved. The Bible is clear that “unless you repent, you will likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). In other words, the kind of faith that does not turn from sin, does not save. This is true in the Old Testament or the New Testament. It is true whether we are reading Paul or James or Jeremiah or Jesus. Salvation is always received the same way. It is received with the grace of repentance and faith. As C. H. Spurgeon has said, “Repentance and faith are two inseparable companions. They flourish or decay together like the two arms of the human body.” [1]

Sadly, however, this unbiblical gospel and watered-down view of conversion is still being regularly and widely propagated in evangelical circles today. It is common fare in numerous para-church youth ministries. It is well entrenched in many dispensational circles by those who rely on the teachings of Charles Ryrie, Zane Hodges and others. This is the kind of dispensationalism that, as John MacArthur has said, “ought to die.”

What is true repentance? Listen to these words of James Broadus, published in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark by the American Baptist Society in 1903:

“The Greek word translated ‘repent’ means change your mind.  In the religious use, it means to change from sin to holiness, from the world’s service to God.  Whoever really does this will feel deep sorrow for the sin he has committed, and will at once go to reforming his life.  So it is often said that repentance includes sorrow for sin and reformation.  But the exact idea of the Greek word is the change of mind, deciding to turn from sin to God. . .  Only the believing will truly repent, only the penitent will fully believe the gospel.” [2]

 Zane Hodges, however, flat out denies that repentance from sin must accompany saving faith. He persistently claims that repentance is not required for salvation. Charles Ryrie takes a slightly different track. He admits that Scripture indicates that repentance is required for salvation but then circumvents this admission by inventing a new kind of repentance that he says doesn’t involve sin!  When the non-Christian repents unto salvation, Ryrie says he doesn’t necessarily change his view of his sin at all. He just changes to have a favorable view of Jesus. In this way, Jesus is simply added to the sinner’s pile of idols. Apparently, Ryrie thinks God is glorified by this kind of gospel. 

The Bible is the silver bullet that will put an end to such a confused version of the gospel that would separate faith from repentance. Two points are at stake here: (1) gospel repentance involves a turning from sin and (2) a sinner turning from sin with faith in Christ results in salvation.

1. Repentance is from sin:

“…no man relents of his evil, saying, ‘What have I done? Everyone turns to his own course…” (Jer. 8:6)

“I have winnowed them with a winnowing fork in the gates of the land; I have bereaved them; I have destroyed my people; they did not turn from their ways.” (Jer. 15:7)

“You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear, although the LORD persistently sent to you all his servants the prophets, saying, ‘Turn now, every one of you, from his evil way and evil deeds, and dwell upon the land that the LORD has given you and your fathers from of old and forever.” (Jer. 25:4-5)

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the LORD God: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.” (Ezek. 14:6)

 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the LORD God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the LORD God; so turn, and live.” (Ezek. 18:30-32)

“God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:26)

“Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” (Acts 14:15)

2. Repentance from sin leads to salvation:

“For thus says the LORD God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’ But you were unwilling.” (Is. 30:15)

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the LORD God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the LORD God; so turn, and live.” (Ezek. 18:30-32)

Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus.” (Acts 3:19-20)

 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.” (Acts 8:22)

“…And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.’” (Acts 11:18)

“…Gentiles to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:18)

Referring to the difference between his position and what he calls the Lordship preachers [actually not a bad label if you ask me], Ryrie said, “The importance of this question cannot be overestimated…one of them is false and comes under the curse of perverting the gospel or preaching another gospel.” [3] That is quite a claim!

But wait a minute. The gospel response of repentance from sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ has been preached by every faithful minister of the gospel from the day Martin Luther hung his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg until the present day. Are we to understand from Ryrie, then, that every one of the Reformers and every one of the Puritans were heretics who all preached a false Gospel? Was the true gospel unknown in the church until Ryrie and his gang came along? Certainly this is not the case. Sadly, even some Arminians have a superior theology on this point than what Ryrie is promoting. For instance, Wesley and Whitefield certainly differed in their views of Calvinism and Arminianism but at least both of these men preached that apart from repentance, no man will be saved. Sadly, this is not true of these “non-Lordship” teachers. In fact, when one begins to look around, one realizes that this teaching originated as a case of increasing theological inbreeding within a small circle of seminaries and Bible colleges. Some of these schools recovered from this and some didn’t. From there, however, this teaching spread to the churches.

Mercifully, there are many cases in which men’s hearts are a bit better than their heads. On this issue, my hope is that Charles Ryrie falls into that camp. But this does not lessen the seriousness of his error. This is an important issue, as he himself admits. If the church stops believing that repentance is necessary for salvation, a host of other problems arise. Carnal evangelistic methods soon accompanied this teaching because they seemed to be successful at sweeping these worldly people into the ranks of the confessing church. Additionally, the doctrine of carnal Christianity was also invented because a need existed to explain why so many of their “converts” under this gospel remained so worldly.  The doctrine of carnal Christianity wrongly explains this phenomenon by saying that there is no reason to think that Christians will necessarily look or behave any different from the world. Furthermore, church discipline had to go by the wayside because the theological foundation for it was now stripped away. After all, if genuine Christians cannot be expected to look any different from the world, how can we justify putting worldly people out of the church? The list of consequences goes on and on and on…

Suffice to say, repentance from sin is necessary for salvation. This was the message of Jesus when he began his ministry saying “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). And this was the message Jesus gave the church to preach when he said “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, begining at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). The church must be faithful to the message of salvation that Jesus has given us. There is no alternative.

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, The Mourner’s Comforter, p. 80.

[2] John A. Broadus, Commentary on the Gospel of Mark, p. 16 (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1905)

[3] Charles C. Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life, p. 170.


2 responses to “I Would Like To Add Jesus To My Pile Of Idols Please

  1. This is a great article and very helpful for me as I have studied both Ryrie and Macarthur in the past.

  2. tractsandtreatises

    Thanks. I am thankful for how the Lord has helped you through this issue.


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