Chapter 15: Of Repentance Unto Life and Salvation
In this chapter, we will consider what repentance actually is. Is repentance a gift? Do we repent only when we become Christians? Does repentance always accompany faith? Is repentance necessary for salvation?
I find the division of the paragraphs a bit unhelpful. The Confession speaks of those who are aged repenting unto life (par. 1), Christians repenting of their sins (par. 2) and defines what repentance actually is in paragraph 3. It seems to me that it would have been more natural to begin by defining what repentance actually is and then proceeding with what are now paragraphs 1 and 2. Therefore, I will begin here by giving a definition of what repentance is and then I will try to defend that definition biblically in paragraph 3. Wayne Grudem says that:
Repentance is a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ.
Thus, repentance is not only a sorrow for our sins against God, it is not only us being sorry for doing what we did, but it the commitment to forsake our sins and instead obey Christ the Lord. But more on this in paragraph 3.
That the Baptist Confession depends and copies from the Savoy Declaration of 1658 can very clearly be seen especially in this chapter, which is wholly different in the Westminster, but almost identical in the Savoy. See the comparison here.
§1 God in their effectual calling giveth them repentance unto life
- Such of the elect as are converted at riper years, having sometime lived in the state of nature, 1 and therein served divers lusts and pleasures, God in their effectual calling giveth them repentance unto life. 2
- Titus 3:2-5
- 2 Chron. 33:10-20; Acts 9:1-19; 16:29-30
In this paragraph, the Confession is speaking about the repentance of those who have lived manifestly wicked lives. The words of Dr. Waldron here are especially helpful:
The Confession makes this distinction out of a desire to distinguish repentance as a crisis experience from repentance as an ordinary grace. All believers are marked by the ordinary grace, but not all believers will know, or need to know, repentance as a crisis experience.
In this chapter two types of such a crisis experience are mentioned. The Confession first refers to ‘such of the elect as are converted at riper years having sometime lived in the state of nature’. Scriptural examples of this are Manasseh, Paul and the Philippian jailor. Secondly, it refers to ‘believers [who]…fall into great sins and provocations’. The scriptural examples here are David and Peter.
We simply think of Saul of Tarsus and his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. In the sight of the religious Jews his way of life was blameless (Phil. 3:4-6), but in the sight of God, he was a wicked man who was persecuting Him (Acts 9:4). As a persecutor of the Church, it was understandable that the saints had difficulty in believing that the wicked persecutor has been saved and now is a saint. His wicked life was turned upside down by God and he was that his righteousness through the law was worthless. When the Lord saved him, He gave him “repentance unto life.” A beautiful phrase coming from Acts 11:18 which means that repentance is necessary, and in fact, it leads to true life in Christ.
The paragraph does not mean that only those who are “at riper years” and are manifestly wicked are granted repentance, rather the point is, if these people are called by God, anyone and everyone should repent and turn to God. As Dr. Waldron also notes, this paragraph is written against those who would say that only if you had a dramatic experience of repentance, you are saved. There is no question that the Philippian jailer and Paul had a dramatic experience, but countless millions have not had a dramatic experience, yet they have repented, been saved and walked since then in a life characterized by repentance from sin.
Notice also that the Confession connects repentance with effectual calling (chapter 11). When God calls us, He not only gives us faith, but He also grants repentance which accompanies that faith (2Tim. 2:25; c.f. Acts 20:21). This happens at conversion when God transfers us from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Christ. He grants us faith and repentance and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. The Reformed understanding of the Ordo Salutis (Order of Salvation) is:
- Election (chapter 3)
- Effectual Calling (chapter 10)
- Regeneration (chapter 11)
- Conversion (chapter 14 Of Saving Faith and chapter 15, the current one on repentance)
- Justification (chapter 11)
- Adoption (CHAPTER 12)
- Sanctification (chapter 13)
- Perseverance (chapter 14)
See this helpful picture by Tim Challies.
It is important to note that here we are speaking of the logical order of salvation and not how we experience salvation. In chapter 11, I argued for “Regeneration Precedes Faith”. From our experience, the new birth and faith in the Lord Jesus happened at the same time. So, when we speak of the Ordo Salutis, we do not mean the order in time, but logically. This has to do more with causation and which one is dependent on the other. Repentance is in stage four. Repentance and faith together are under conversion and they describe what conversion is. There would not be a conversion if there was no regeneration. There would be no regeneration if there was no effectual calling. There would be no effectual calling if there was no sovereign election in eternity past. One is dependent upon the other and springs forth from the other.
§2 God has mercifully provided that believers so sinning and falling be renewed through repentance unto salvation
- Whereas there is none that doth good and sinneth not, 1 and the best of men may, through the power and deceitfulness of their corruption dwelling in them, with the prevalency of temptation, fall into great sins and provocations; 2 God hath, in the covenant of grace, mercifully provided that believers so sinning and falling be renewed through repentance unto salvation. 3
- Ps. 130:3; 143:2; Prov. 20:9; Eccl. 7:20
- 2 Sam. 11:1-27; Luke 22:54-62
- Jer. 32:40; Luke 22:31-32; 1 John 1:9
Paragraph 1 dealt with unbelievers turning to Christ, now paragraph 2 deals with Christians turning back to Christ after sin and restoring their relationship to their merciful Savior.
Christians can testify that they sin daily and seek God's forgiveness for known and unknown sins daily. But sometimes we fall into greater sins. It is a greater sin to commit adultery in actuality, than in the heart, obviously. Both are a sin, but one is greater than the other. It is a greater sin to murder someone than to merely hate someone. It is possible for Christians to fall into the “greater” sins. There have been believers who have committed adultery, been involved in sexual immorality, stolen, cheated and done other things which God has forbidden. They have fallen into sin, but they have not fallen beyond recovery...if they truly were believers! This is the test of true believers: a true believer will always be brought back to repentance by God. It may take days, months or years, but the Shepherd will not lose any of His sheep and will seek them out one by one.
We may sometimes think too highly of ourselves and our ability to overcome sin, and also think too lowly of the remaining corruption in us and the fallen world around us. With such a mindset we leave ourselves open to Satan's attacks. We may think “no, not me” and “I will not fall into that sin”, but we forget about the “power and deceitfulness of [our] corruption dwelling in [us]” which makes it all the more easy for us to fall into sin. God would be just and holy if He were to abandon us the moment we sin again after being in Christ and leave us in our sin, yet as our Father and the faithful covenant God, He will not leave or forsake us even in the midst of our sin.
The great Gospel promise is that not only are all our sins punished in Christ – past, present, and future, but also that we should seek forgiveness from God and man every day and may experience forgiveness every day. 1 John 1:9 is crucial in this discussion.
1John 1:7-9 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
This is a passage and a promise that I cherish, knowing myself to be a great sinner and Christ the Lord my great Savior. In this passage, we are commanded to walk in the light and have our life patterned after Jesus’ own perfect life. But then John, knowing the nature of man, reminds us that it is an impossible task to seek to walk like Jesus and n...