True faith is grounded in Christ’s work alone, not in anything we do. Yet, let me be clear: there is no pardon of sins without repentance (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30). Repentance proceeds from faith; it does not precede faith. The cause of our pardon is Christ through faith. If repentance preceded faith, then our work of repentance would seem to be part of the ground for God to pardon us, which Scripture doesn’t teach.
The faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance. — John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 119.
Repentance is a critical teaching of the Word of God. We are called to proclaim it in the name of Christ Jesus everywhere (Luke 24:47). Yet a question arises: must people repent of their sins and show a changed behavior, that is a changed life, before God grants justifying faith—faith that is the instrument by which God reconciles a sinful person to himself? Or does repentance follow faith? Which comes first—faith or repentance? And how do we know?
How should we define repentance and faith?
The Westminster Shorter Catechism has a helpful, biblically-based definition of repentance:
Q. 87. What is repentance unto life?
A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.
The Heidelberg Catechism gives a good biblical definition of true faith:
Question 21. What is true faith?
Answer: True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.
Repentance is turning from sin to obedience. Internally, it is a hatred of sin and a motivation to live in gratitude and love by obeying God’s commands. Externally it is changed conduct. Saving faith is a gift of God in our hearts leading us to trust him alone for our forgiveness, righteousness, and salvation, only because of what Christ has done for us.
So, which comes first—faith or repentance? The answer is faith precedes repentance; it is a fruit of saving faith—not the other way around. A person is reconciled to God (justified) by faith alone, not by faith plus works. Yet, faith without repentance is not saving faith. Let me explain by considering what the Bible teaches.
The Bible contains various passages regarding the need for repentance.
The book of Acts records examples of the apostolic call to repent, believe, and be baptized; the call goes out in various combinations and order.
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By Cole Newton — 7 months ago
In Leviticus 16, which is the very heart of the Pentateuch, the instructions for the Day of Atonement were given. This was the only day that the high priest was allowed to enter into the most holy place, which contained the ark of the covenant, for it was the day where the high priest would make a sacrifice to atone for the sins of Israel. Indeed, one goat was slaughtered before the LORD on that day; however, another goat was sent into the wild. Just as the sacrificed goat was meant to be a substitution for the rightful death that Israel’s sin had earned, the other goat was meant to carry the sins of the Israelites away into the wilderness, never to be seen again. This is the origin of the term scapegoat. Being delivered into the hands of the Gentiles is a foretelling that Christ’s death would be the great atonement of which both goats were only signs and shadows. Jesus would not only shed His blood for the forgiveness of sins, but He would do so outside the covenantal community, into the Gentile wilderness.
And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Mark 10:32-45 ESV
The story of Elijah’s ascent to heaven has always intrigued me. Elijah clearly chose Elisha to be his successor because he knew that his prophetic ministry was coming to an end. And though we tend to think of Elijah’s direct trip to heaven via fiery chariots as being one of the most fascinating stories in the Bible, the whole account reads with a significant amount of heaviness. Elijah is going to be with the LORD, yes, but where will that leave Israel? Who is bold enough in the Spirit to call fire down from heaven to consume God’s adversaries?
Indeed, as they make the long journey, Elisha is greeted by prophets along the way, asking if he knows that his master is being taken from him. Elisha simply says, “yes, I know it; keep quiet” (2 Kings 2:3, 5). As Elijah crossed the Jordan and prepared to be taken up, he asked Elisha if he had one final request. “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” Elijah answered, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so” (2 Kings 2:9-10).
Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is marked by a far greater heaviness, for he was going not to be taken back to the Father but to be crushed by the Father. Although the prophets knew of Elijah’s departure, even the very wisest could not bring themselves to understand the plain plan that Jesus revealed to them. And in our text today, John and James make a request that seems reminiscent of Elisha’s so long before. Elisha’s request was granted so long as he had eyes to see Elijah’s departure, and while Jesus states that only the Father can grant the request that James and John desire, they will indeed become more like Him than they presently knew. Yes, they would reign with Him in His kingdom, but first they would share the cup of His suffering.
The Third Prediction // Verses 32-34
With this third prediction, Mark tells us explicitly for the first time that Jesus is going to Jerusalem. The Son of David, heir to that eternal throne, will be killed in the city from which He ought to rule. As He was walking, we read that the disciples followed behind in amazement, and those who walked behind the disciples were afraid. R. C. Sproul writes:
I believe Mark gives us this curious detail because of the resolute determination that the disciples saw in Jesus to go to His destiny. He had set His face like flint (Isa. 50:7) to go to Jerusalem, for He knew He was called to give Himself over to His enemies there, and He had taught his disciples what would happen to Him on more than one occasion (8:31-33; 9:30-32). Now, as He approached Jerusalem, Jesus did not linger. He moved quickly, keeping ahead of His disciples, going to His death with a firm step. Most of us, if we knew we were going to our deaths, would drag our feet. Not Jesus. He was prepared to obey the Father to the utmost end. The disciples could not get over it. They were amazed by His resolution and were terrified at what might befall Him at Jerusalem.
Pulling the twelve aside a third time, Jesus gave them the most explicit and detailed foretelling yet:
See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.
While our eyes may be drawn to the details of mocking, spitting, and flogging, the disciples would have likely found the being delivered over to the Gentiles the most shocking portion to hear. I think that Sproul is right to see an allusion to the Day of Atonement here.
In Leviticus 16, which is the very heart of the Pentateuch, the instructions for the Day of Atonement were given. This was the only day that the high priest was allowed to enter into the most holy place, which contained the ark of the covenant, for it was the day where the high priest would make a sacrifice to atone for the sins of Israel. Indeed, one goat was slaughtered before the LORD on that day; however, another goat was sent into the wild. Just as the sacrificed goat was meant to be a substitution for the rightful death that Israel’s sin had earned, the other goat was meant to carry the sins of the Israelites away into the wilderness, never to be seen again. This is the origin of the term scapegoat.
Being delivered into the hands of the Gentiles is a foretelling that Christ’s death would be the great atonement of which both goats were only signs and shadows. Jesus would not only shed His blood for the forgiveness of sins, but He would do so outside the covenantal community, into the Gentile wilderness.
The Bold Request of James & John // Verses 35-40
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Mark does not tell us whether this happened immediately after Jesus’ final prediction of His death and resurrection, but under the leading of the Spirit, he has clearly intended to set the request of James and John against that backdrop. What exactly was their request? Let us read it as well as Jesus’ reply.
And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
Tim Keller summarizes this scene well:
To them, “in your glory” means “when you are seated on your throne,” in which case the people on the right and the left are like the prime minister and the chief of staff. John and James are saying, “When you take power, we would like the top places in your cabinet.” Here’s the irony of their request. What was Jesus’s moment of greatest glory? Where does Jesus most show forth the glory of God’s justice? And where does he reveal most profoundly the glory of God’s love? On the cross.
When Jesus is at the actual moment of his greatest glory, there will be somebody on the right and left, but they will be criminals being crucified. Jesus says to John and James: You have no idea what you’re asking.
Christ’s triumphant and conquering glory will come through His horrific and brutal humiliation, through Him being delivered into the hands of the Gentiles to be mocked, spit on, and flogged. Notice the two images that Jesus uses to convey His imminent suffering: a cup and a baptism.
The cup is common image of God’s wrath within in the Old Testament.
Review of Richard B. Gaffin Jr.’s, “In the Fullness of Time: An Introduction to the Biblical Theology of Acts and Paul”By Harrison Perkins — 5 months ago
Gaffin’s most recent book is a searching exploration of how to apply New Testament eschatology to the unfolding sweep of redemptive history, particularly regarding how the ascended Christ has ushered in the end of the ages by pouring out his Spirit on his church.
Dr. Richard Gaffin, professor emeritus of biblical and systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), is famous for his emphasis on redemptive history and the historia salutis, or the factors concerning Christ’s once-for-all accomplishment of redemption. Claiming the legacy of Geerhardus Vos and Herman Ridderbos, he has focused his scholarly efforts on the major redemptive-historical shifts that occurred in Christ’s first coming, also highlighting the eschatological flavor of New Testament, particularly Pauline, theology. Gaffin’s students have often lauded his course on Acts and Paul as his fundamental contribution to the field. His most recent book, In the Fullness of Time, preserves those lectures in published form, produced from transcriptions of his recorded lectures and edited by Gaffin himself.
This book is essentially a work on eschatology, arguing that the inbreaking of the last day in Christ’s advent is a primarily encompassing feature of New Testament theology, and tracing out its implications. It has two parts, the first exploring the theology of the book of Acts, and the second examining the Pauline corpus. Under each topical chapter, Gaffin performs careful and detailed exegesis on several passages related to the point he is considering, each focusing in some way or other on the already-not yet of New Testament teaching.
Part one on the theology of the book of Acts predominantly focuses on Pentecost’s theological significance. Gaffin argues, rooting his claims not only in the events of Acts 2 but also in a holistic consideration of Luke’s treatment of the Holy Spirit and God’s kingdom in both installments of his account to Theophilus, that Pentecost belongs to the historia salutis as a facet of the once-for-all accomplishment of redemption and a turning point in redemptive history itself. His target, of course, is Pentecostalism, which has often posed Pentecost—at least in the categories with which Gaffin is grappling, even if not their own—as part of the ordo salutis. That Pentecostal position entails that every individual believer should experience the same sort of phenomenon as occurred in Acts 2 because they see that tied to how salvation is applied to the believer. Gaffin, on the other hand, makes a strident case that the Holy Spirit’s outpouring at Pentecost is not a normative experience as part of the ordo salutis but was a pivotal moment in redemptive history wherein Christ sent the Helper whom he promised to send, so that the church would be equipped for her kingdom-expanding mission of gospel ministry.
Gaffin’s exegesis is thoroughly persuasive on this point, demonstrating Pentecost’s age-shifting significance as the extension of Christ’s kingdom into this world by the power of the Spirit to be carried forward in the church’s means of grace ministry. As a convinced cessationist, I am glad for this thorough pushback against destructive understandings of the Christian’s experience of the Spirit. The presentation, however, does leave some questions unanswered. Gaffin convincingly outlines what Pentecost’s implications are not, yet never outlines what its implications are with much specificity. The dawning of the age of the Spirit is of course an exhilarating idea, prompting thanks for the Spirit’s presence with the church in our endeavors. This material’s value could be richly supplemented, however, by focusing also on what it means to live in the age of the Spirit and how the Christian experience of the Spirit should be understood. That is not to say this experience need be described all that experientially, but is to say that sometimes extended refutation (and even positive exposition that is nonetheless rightly but primarily aimed to circumvent error) can leave us with only half of what we need. What does the Spirit do in the church during this period of redemptive history?
Another question arises from Gaffin’s helpful case that Pentecost belongs to the historia salutis: namely, related to the difference, if any, that comes in relation to the ordo salutis compared to believers who lived prior to the Incarnation and Pentecost. This question is a necessary point to consider because the recent increase of Baptist reflection on the covenants and the unity of redemptive history has focused on the Spirit’s indwelling as the difference between Old and New Testament soteriology. In this respect, and to some degree in relation to the emphatic concern to preclude Pentecostal conclusions, this book could have used some slight updating as it seems to focus on matters that may be somewhat out of date in most recent discourse. That certainly does not diminish its value for what it does contribute, but leaves some important matters unclarified. It would have been a significant help to see Gaffin think Pentecost’s redemptive-historical shift all the way down to its specific applications for more precise systematic theological questions. This point in no way suggests that Gaffin’s answers to these questions would be deficient, just that it would have been most helpful to get to read those answers.1
Part two, which concerns the theology of the Pauline letters, likewise emphasizes Paul’s contributions to understanding the shifts in redemptive history that accompany Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. This section too, then, focuses on eschatology—namely, the inbreaking of the last days through Christ’s humiliation and exaltation. The survey of the history of interpretation for Paul’s letters is particularly helpful regarding the higher critical period, showing Gaffin’s familiarity with a host of literature, available only in the European languages when he would have been originally preparing this course, with which modern readers of Paul must in some way or other reckon. After framing the investigation of Paul’s letters in terms of the history of interpretation and the overall eschatological structure of his thought, the bulk of part two focuses on the significance of Christ’s resurrection for redemptive history and for the Christian life. The chapters here probe deeply into how Christ’s resurrection should reorient the way we think about eschatology, redemptive history, and salvation.
I am aware that readers of the Heidelblog will be especially interested in this book’s treatment of the doctrine of justification. Gaffin has made controversial claims about justification in his earlier published writings, particularly concerning an application of our already-not yet eschatology to justification itself, leaving some aspects of it to be completed in the future. Although valuing his emphasis on eschatology and his thoroughgoing amillennialism, I have disagreed with Gaffin on this point, especially his interpretation of Romans 2. Two points must be noted here: 1) This post is a review of a particular book, not an engagement with everything Gaffin has ever written, and 2) nonetheless I believe that there was a demonstrable shift in Gaffin’s thought on the ordo salutis in his 2016 essay “The Work of Christ Applied.”2
The second point may be worth elaborating. Whereas Gaffin had formerly criticized the notion of fixed relationships between Christ’s benefits within a truly ordered ordo salutis, this essay contains more resolute statements concerning a logical order. For example, he contended that the blessings of the ordo salutis “are not received as an arbitrary or chaotic mix but in a set pattern with fixed connections among them,” which prevents “misrepresenting individual aspects or acts and so distorting the work of Christ applied as a whole.”3 In another instance, Gaffin also affirmed the priority of the legal aspects of salvation:
While these two [forensic and renovative] aspects are inseparable, the judicial aspect has an essential and decisive priority. Because his [Christ’s] obedience unto death is the requisite judicial ground for his resurrection, his becoming the life-giving Spirit presupposes his being justified in the Spirit, not the reverse.4
It is possible that this suggested shift in Gaffin’s thought on the ordo salutis occurred while he edited the English translation of Geerhardus Vos’ Reformed Dogmatics, an invaluable contribution. Vos took positions that remarkably resemble Gaffin’s most recent arguments. For instance: “The subjective application of the salvation obtained by Christ does not occur at once or arbitrarily.” Rather, “there are a multiplicity of relationships and conditions to which all the operations of grace have a certain connection.”5 This point has bearing on how we must review In the Fullness of Time.
By Cindi Ferrini — 2 weeks ago
Your friend shares about their special needs child? You are listening to a story of your friend who is a caregiver and the surgery the person they care for just had? Your friend just took their family to a special camp and had a great experience? Phil. 2:3-5, “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for our own personal interests, but also for the interest of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” Let’s do this and care about others, their story, and give them “their moment!”
Impressed recently about this idea, I have realized that we don’t often give others a chance to share their “moment” without others (or myself) wanting to share a similar experience or story. Something that happened to us recently has us really reflecting and being much more observant of letting others share what is important to them without topping their story or telling our own unless they ask.
Upon being asked how we were, Joe shared that I (Cindi) had just gotten out of the hospital and shared in 2 sentences how critical I was in the ICU -going in for one reason and other things popping up. Without missing a beat, nor asking a question or showing any interest, they shared about a friend who went into the hospital for something and died of something unrelated. It helped us to realize some things we should be aware of when others share something with us:
Others (outside our closer circles) probably don’t really care and thus their own story will come to mind and trumps ours (we didn’t know this persons’ friend, so how was this story pertinent in the moment?)
Their story was obviously more important or they would have asked about ours (not a question asked nor a concern shown except, “get better soon”.)
Their “death” story of their friend didn’t encourage our journey!
The “can you top this” attitude can leave one feeling unheard and invisible. (It did us.)
So how did we handle it? We said not another word, listened to the story and commented on it, sharing our condolences on the loss, and went on our way.