So far we have considered some of John MacArthur’s beliefs and two examples of how these beliefs play out concerning the story of Nicodemus and the story of the woman at the well. Now I want to wrap up this series with an examination of MacArthur’s teaching on repentance. This is a crucial issue and one in which many people stumble. People may see that Lordship salvation is an extreme, that Calvinism is an extreme, and that the gospel call does not equal the call to discipleship but far too many still stumble over repentance. Stumbling over the idea of repentance can lead to a false gospel. I firmly believe that if more people understood this that there would be more separation between groups that advocate one side or the other.
So what exactly does MacArthur say about repentance and faith?
“Repentance is a critical element of conversion, but do not dismiss it as simply another word for believing.” 177 MacArthur says that the meaning of the word does not stop at “change of mind.”
(I agree that it is a critical element. I disagree with MacArthur however that repentance is not synonymous with believing. As far as conversion goes it most certainly is the same because there are not multiple ways of salvation. The word repent, believe, or the combination repent and believe can all be used to accurately describe repentance at conversion. Repentance and faith can be seen as two sides of the same coin so to speak. Repentance is a change of mind from what one currently believes to trusting Christ alone based on His atoning work for salvation. Faith is to trust Christ alone based on his atoning work which implies that you no longer believe what you did before. The two are inseparable as far as conversion goes for eternal life.
Keep in mind that LS advocates like MacArthur, along with many moderate Calvinists and Arminians, use a similar analogy but change it. They keep with the two sides of one coin analogy but for them one side is repentance (turn from sin, be sorrowful, desire to obey) and the other side is faith (many times this faith means a faith that WILL obey or it wasn’t real).
“As metanoia is used in the New Testament, it always speaks of a change of purpose, and specifically a turning from sin. In the sense Jesus used it, repentance calls for a repudiation of the old life and a turning to God for salvation.”
Metanoia is indeed the word in question but simply means afterthought or change of mind. It is not a call for the repuditation of the old life. Remember, the gospel call is not the same as the call to discipleship. Not all believers become committed disciples and, of those that do, not all stay completely committed for their whole lives.
“Such a change of purpose is what Paul had in mind when he described the repentance of the Thessalonians: “You turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God” (I Thess. 1:9). Note three elements of repentance: a turning to God, a turning from evil, and the intent to serve God. No change of mind can be called true repentance if it does not include all three elements. The simple but all too often overlooked fact is that a true change of mind will necessarily result in a change of behavior.” P 178
(This is a false statement. I Thess 1:9 is not an eternal salvation verse. Paul was commending them for their testimony. Their change of service was part of their ongoing walk with God after conversion. The Thessalonians were saved through faith just like everyone else who is saved. Remember there is only one way and that is by grace through faith. Look at I Thess 1:8 where it mentions their faith. They had believed Paul’s gospel (1:5) and were now at work spreading the good news. So much so that Paul said in 1:8: “…but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.” See, once they had believed the gospel they went about spreading the gospel versus serving the idols that they had served previously. Their change of behavior didn’t save them. Their service came out of love. This also doesn’t mean that good works automatically follow conversion. For these people there were good works but it is not a normative principle. Certainly believers should be good testimonies and faithfully spread the gospel but it not automatic and the zeal does not always last. The flesh nature will always struggle against serving the Lord.)
“Repentance is not merely shame or sorrow for sin, although genuine repentance always involves an element of remorse. It is a redirection of the human will, a purposeful decision to forsake all unrighteousness and pursue righteousness instead.” P 178
Repentance at conversion is not as MacArthur describes here. Remorse is not a condition for salvation. Neither is a decision to forsake anything. Likewise unbelievers are not deciding to pursue righteousness. All they need to do is see their need (hopeless sinful state) and trust Christ to save them.
“Nor is repentance merely a human work. It is, like every element of redemption, a sovereignly bestowed gift of God.”
MacArthur is at least consistent but is consistently wrong. Repentance and faith etc are not “sovereignly bestowed gifts”. We are not regenerated before faith! See, MacArthur’s view only has a chance to be a non-works salvation view if this is true. The great problem is that IT ISN’T. This is why I believe that so many bypass the decision of repentance / faith because they make it out to be like something that God does FOR them and it becomes likened to the repentance and faith that are a part of Christian living, not conversion. In other words, one MUST obey to have any hope that his supposed gift of faith was real and that he is really one of the elect. This leads to endless soul searching, lordship legalism, and fear once one realizes how bleak things look as far as their performance.)
To wrap this up let consider then what MacArthur says about faith.
“We have seen already that repentance is granted by God; it is not a human work (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25). Likewise, faith is a supernatural gift of God.” p 188
(MacArthur goes in the book into a long twisting of Eph 2:8-9 to come up with this. The problem for him is that salvation itself is the gift. It is a gift offered by grace (meaning it is undeserved on our part) and is accepted through the conduit of faith (our unmeritorious response). Salvation is given to all who will believe as a free gift. Now that is grace! To say faith itself is the gift is to mix everything up.)
On page 189 MacArthur says that faith is not true faith unless there is an attitude of surrender to Christ’s authority. MacArthur’s errors go on and on from there. I’d have to write a few full long books just to cover it all. John MacArthur deeply saddens me because he is well known and has written many books but his message is not right. Let’s be careful when studying and teach scripture that we deal honestly with what the texts actually say. Especially where repentance, faith, and the gospel itself are concerned.