"My heart I give Thee, Lord, eagerly and earnestly." - John Calvin
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
There Is No Merit in Repentance
When he preached at the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:16-34), one of the things the Apostle Paul told his hearers was, "[God] commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to Him" (verse 30). Pelagians will often claim that a command to repent must imply that the ability to do so is natural to every man. Of course, that claim is consistent with the a priori belief of the Pelagian that men are capable of all forms of spiritual good, not just repentance. And it is just as false.
That is certainly not how repentance is described in Scripture.
Consider, first, Psalm 80:3: "Restore us, O God;let Your face shine, that we may be saved." The word "repentance" does not appear here. However, in order to be "restored," do we not have to repent? Yet, restoration in this verse is something that God does, not us. Second, look at Jeremiah 31:18: "Bring me back that I may be restored,for You are the Lord my God." This sentence contains two verbs, "bring" and "restore," that make the same point, that it is God's initiative to bring us to repentance, not something that a sinner creates in himself. And third, turn to Lamentations 5:21: "Restore us to Yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!" Again, the same Prophet uses that word, "restore." In the New Testament, we find the same concept, but using the word "repent," in Acts 5:31: "God exalted Him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins." Just as fallen Israel cannot forgive her own sins, neither can she create her own repentance. Rather, God must give both. This verse is especially important, because, by pairing those two things, no one can claim that one is by free will, without the implication that the other is, as well.
Also, look at the words of Paul in II Timothy 2:24-25: "And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth." Not only does he describe repentance as having its origin in God, not in us, but he also tells us that God is under no obligation to give it. When He does, it is an act of grace and mercy, not of imperative. Unlike its common perversion even among Evangelicals, repentance is not an act of human merit. It is not a thing that fallen man can produce and offer to God. Rather, it is something that God, out of His goodness, mercy, and sovereign will, gives to the elect alone. Pelagianism is the natural religion of the sinful human heart, but the Scriptures refute it.
My name is Chris Cole. I have lived in the Charlotte, NC, area for over thirty years, and have been an active Presbyterian during most of that time. I love the Westminster Confession of Faith as a beautiful expression of my own personal beliefs.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I prefer the English Standard Version of the Bible, and all quotations are from the ESV, unless otherwise stated.
I have a number of reviews of Reformed books on Amazon. There is a link to them in the Reformed links below.
"Seeing [that] the Lord of lords, the Lord Jesus, is so ready (never was there king so ready to hear a subject as Jesus is), [even] if thou wert the vilest body that goes, a thief, a harlot, etc., yet if thou wilt say this, 'Lord, remember on me, and give me a part of thy kingdom'; - if thou prayest to him from a penitent heart, with confidence and assurance, I promise unto thee, heaven and earth shall go [fall] together ere thou wantest [lack] thine asking. Seeing [that] our Lord Jesus is so liberal [free-giving], then seek more than enough, more than a kingdom, and thou shalt get more. The only cause why we want [lack] is in us: we have no hearts to seek it." - Rev. Robert Rollock, Scottish Presbyterian minister, about 1590, in a commentary on Luke 23:42-43