Article 47

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What we Believe







Acts 20:21

"Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21).

In this statement we can say that we see Paul the Apostle summarizing the sum and substance of his ministry as it dealt with the human side of the message he preached. In other words, it is his message horizontally defined as it dealt with man toward God. Paul was one who testified to mankind, no matter what their background, he testified that the message of God was that God was saving His people through repentance and faith.

Repentance and faith, as taught in the New Testament, are not two means (or tools) God uses to fashion His people in that salvation He wrought in Christ. They are, in fact, two interrelated aspects of the one tool God uses to unite His people to the redemption wrought in Christ Jesus. Salvation is by grace in substitution and representation (Eph. 2:5) and through the gift of faith in its actual application (Eph. 2:8-9). Repentance and faith can be described with the illustration many have used before -- they are two different sides of the same coin, with faith being the Head of the coin. In other words, where this repentance exists this faith exists and where this faith exists this repentance exists. In certain instances a person might see one outwardly manifested more than the other but under careful scrutiny both will always be witnessed as being present together. Paul also made it clear that there are specific objects of this repentance and faith. The scripture states it here as "God" and our "Lord Jesus Christ" respectively.

With that being said I will again define what I have just said but in another way. When a person has "repentance toward God" it also exists as "faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" as well. And when a person has "faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" it exists as "repentance toward God" also. They are not one and the same but they are both of the same. Compare these scriptures for an illustration (Jn. 5:23; I Jn. 2:22-23). I know there are those who would say Acts 20:21 teaches Jesus Christ as being less than deity, but this is to corrupt Paul’s intention for he certainly does not say that in the text, and the preponderant testimony of scripture certainly teaches otherwise. Paul, in the text, is not defining a difference between God and Jesus in their being but the interrelationship of repentance and faith. A truly repentant person is also a believing person and visa versa. Paul is not trying to show a distinction between the two [God and Jesus nor repentance and faith] but rather the relationship of the two. This passage, in fact, teaches the unity of the Godhead in Christ as the One God and the one gift God gives which has both repentance and faith as its traits. Let us ever be thankful of God’s gift.

Faith is often spoken about in this day and rightfully so. Certainly some distort the true characteristics of faith not realizing [some intentionally and others unintentionally] that faith is the particular and free gift of God to His elect (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 12:3). All men do not have faith (II Thess. 3:1-2) and thus faith is not common to all without exception. However, there seems to be even more confusion about repentance than there is about faith. So let take a close look at repentance itself.

Seeing that repentance is interrelated to faith then we will see repentance described as the particular and free gift of God to His elect as well, would we not? Does the scripture teach this to be so? Here are three passages showing that it does. (1) God in the person of Christ gives repentance and forgiveness of sins to the elect Jews [Israel] among the Jewish nation (Acts 5:31 cf. Rom. 9:1-8). (2) God has granted repentance to the elect among the Gentiles (Acts 11:18). Acts 11:18 is not a statement that God had already given every elect Gentile the gift for many had not even been born as yet. However, it does teach that the evidence was clear to them [the apostles and brethren in Judea, vs. 1] that God had included the Gentiles in the gift of repentance. That is the context of this passage. (3) It is taught without argument that repentance is given at the sovereign pleasure of God (II Tim. 2:24-26). These three teach what Paul confirms that repentance and faith are kindred graces from God. Repentance does not come from within human nature. That repentance which is to salvation is not a human effort toward God but a free gift given to men and women who then respond toward God in that gift. Repentance is not the result of the supposed free will of man. God did not make all mankind able to repent (cf. Heb. 12:17) just as He did not give all men faith (II Thess. 3:2). This truth seems to be generally discarded, and even hated, by many. Nevertheless, it is the truth of scripture. However, this is not the only area concerning repentance that is missed or distorted today.

When preachers today speak of repentance they generally speak of it concerning men and women and their turning away from committing the immoral sins of the flesh or their "living in sin." Certainly there is something to be said about this area of repentance. However, it should be noted that this turning from sin is the result of repentance or the outflow of it and not the initial gift of repentance itself. Paul, in his Acts 20:21 summary, states repentance to be toward God not from sin. Others speak of repentance as being sorry for one’s sins. There is something to be said about sorrow for one’s sins, but godly sorrow "worketh" repentance, it is not repentance itself (II Cor. 7:10). As with faith, so also is godly sorrow, it is always present with repentance but neither is repentance itself. Moreover, godly sorrow is far different than shame in having one’s sins discovered by others. In other words, many are ashamed when they are caught and they profess to be sorrowful and repentant, but they quickly do the same again when in private. A sorrow wrought by God [godly sorrow] causes one to repent [turn away from] even if others know nothing of the matter! So then, does scripture speak of both aspects of repentance, that is, toward God and from sins? If so then can we say the scripture teaches that to repent of sins flows from repentance toward God?

First, take note that both are mentioned in scripture. Scripture is clear that men should repent of their wicked deeds (Jer. 8:6; II Cor. 12:21; Rev. 9:20-21; 16:11). Scripture is also clear that men should repent concerning their attitudes and beliefs about God (Job 42:6 -- Job did not need repentance from immorality but from his attitude toward God’s dealings with him and from his self exaltation; Acts 2:38 -- these people needed to repent toward God concerning their attitude [and thus certainly their evil actions] about Christ Jesus; Acts 20:21; II Tim. 2:25; Rev. 16:9). When we consider that the Lord God had said to the house of Israel that they should repent, and turn from their evil deeds (Ezk. 14:6; 18:30) then we see the order of repentance toward God and repentance [turning] from sins. It is then no wonder that Paul wrote to the believing Thessalonians about their having "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God…" (I Thess. 1:9).

To turn from sins apart from turning to God first is the first major step into self-righteousness! To claim to have turned to God and not be turning from sins is a double standard. To claim to have turned toward God and not believe the Lord Jesus Christ is to call God a liar. To claim to believe Christ and reject the true person of God is to deny God. Those to whom God gives repentance and faith they turn toward God from their sins believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God who is sovereign over all.

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