How Often Do You Have to Repent in Order to Be Sure?

679216_w185As a follow up to my review of J.D. Greear’s book, I would like to share with you a question that one of my church members asked on my Facebook account the other day.  Greear wrote, “Great “recipe” for reflection here! I’ve read it three times and will probably read it again before this day is through! My only question is, how much of the repentent behavior is enough to cross over the line of being assured and not being assured? I guess that what I am asking is, when is the repentent behavior “good enough”? I’m a little unclear on that point!”  I shared the following response with him and he gave me permission to post it here.  I hope this helps:

“That is a great question Keith. The Scripture shows us that “repentance” and “faith” are not one time events but rather the two primary ongoing activities of the Christian life. While they each have a clear and definite beginning point at our conversion, we never really grow past the need to repent and believe. In our lives, the fact that we continue to come to Jesus in repentance and faith provide the evidence that we have truly been converted. Let me show you from the Bible what I mean.

In Mark 1:15 Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” The two words “repent” and “believe” lay out for us the response to the message of the gospel. In the original Greek these words are both in the present tense, indicating that they are not just actions that we take in the past but instead represent ongoing activities. These actions have a definite and clear beginning point, but they continue throughout the lifetime of the believer. In his book, Greear states it this way, “Salvation is a posture of repentance and faith toward the finished work of Christ in which you transfer the weight of your hopes of heaven off of your own righteousness and onto the finished work of Jesus Christ. The way to know you made the decision is by the fact that you are resting in Christ right now… The posture begins at a moment, but it persists for a lifetime.”(p.48)

Greear points out that the Apostle John almost always spoke of faith in terms of an ongoing (present tense) activity. For instance, in John 3:36 he writes, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God remains on him.” One of my favorite instances is in 1 John 5:13 where John writes, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” (see also John 9:36-38; 10:27-28) In each of these instances, the Bible is not referring to something that we do only once in our lifetimes but rather to an ongoing posture.

This should not be taken to mean that there is not a moment of salvation or conversion. Greear is careful to point out that the Bible speaks of salvation as occurring in a moment: we are “born again” (John 3:1-3); our sins are washed away (Acts 22:16); Christ;s righteousness is credited to us (Rom 4:5); w are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light (Col 1:13)…” (p, 44) But he states, “The way that you know you made the decision, however, is not by remembering with absolute clarity the moment you made it, but because you are seated now. Many people know exactly when that point of decision was for them…For others, however, the moment is less clear….Either way, what we are to do now is to maintain the posture of repentance and faith.” (p.44-45) In other words, the evidence or assurance of our salvation is not gained from being able to point to one specific moment in our lives, but rather that we are continuing in a posture of repentance and faith.

Now back to your specific question, “My only question is, how much of the repentent behavior is enough to cross over the line of being assured and not being assured? I guess that what I am asking is, when is the repentent behavior “good enough”?” There is not a formula for measuring out the amount of repentance and faith in a person’s life. Both of these are postures of our hearts. Throughout our lives as Christians we will become aware of certain behaviors or attitudes that are sinful must turn to Christ in repentance and faith. The fact, that we are willing to “repent” and “believe” is the evidence or assurance of our salvation.

I hope this helps. For another helpful review of this book, please see  Tim Challies.

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Review of Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart

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J.D Greear, Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to know for Sure You Are Saved, (Nashville:Broadman & Holman, 2013)

The title of J.D. Greear’s new book, “Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart” is sure to stir up a great deal of controversy.  Even in the preface of the book, Dr. Paige Patterson confesses that he does not “like the title of the book” but reassures the reader that “J.D Greear makes it clear that he has no objection to anyone receiving the Lord … The title itself is not meant to prevent anyone from calling on the Lord.  It is rather a genuine admonition for everyone to seek and trust the Lord Jesus.”  Before rejecting this book outright, however, I would like to encourage every Pastor and lay person to take a serious look at the Biblical argument Greear has laid out in this book.  In my opinion, this book may be one of the most valuable resources on the market for the church today.

In a simple, straightforward, manner Greear tackles one of the most pressing issues facing American evangelicalism today— the assurance of salvation. Specifically, Greear sets out to tackle two problems related to this issue.  First, he wants to answer the questions, “How can anyone know, beyond all doubt, that they are saved?”  Second, he deals with those who he refers to as “ the falsely assured,” or people who have prayer a sinner’s prayer but have never experienced genuine conversion.  Both of these issues are pressing problems in the modern evangelical church.

The basic thesis of this book is that “Salvation is not a prayer you pray in a one-time ceremony and then move on from: salvation is a posture of repentance and faith that you begin in a moment and maintain for the rest of your life.” (p.5)  Greear points to a 2011 Barna study showing that while nearly half of all adults in America have prayed a sinner’s prayer and as a result believe they are going to heaven, many have never shown any fruits of repentance or a changed life.  He suggests that part of the problem is the way that evangelicals speak about the gospel.  Specifically the way we couch the response to the gospel in phrases such as “ask Jesus into your heart,” or “accept Jesus as Lord and Savior,” or “give your heart to Jesus.”  He writes, “These phrases may not be wrong in themselves, but the Bible never tells us, specifically, to seek salvation in those ways.  The biblical summation of a saving response towards Christ is “repentance” and “belief” in the gospel.” (p.7) He goes on to say, “Repentance and faith are heart postures you take toward the finished work of Christ.  You might express the beginning of that posture in a prayer.  But don’t make the mistake of equating that prayer with the posture.  The sinner’s prayer is not a magic incantation or a recipe you follow to get a salvation cake.  The real stuff— that stuff that matters— is the posture of repentance and faith behind the words you speak.  The prayer is good only insofar as it verbalizes the posture.” (p.8)

In the remaining chapters of the book, Greear lays out a thoroughly Biblical approach to the issue of assurance.  In chapter 2 he answers the questions “Does God even want us to have assurance?”  He demonstrates that the key to confidence in this life is our assurance of new life in Christ and the resurrection.  In chapter 3, he lays out a clear and well-presented explanation of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross.   Greear’s ability to make the nuances of the gospel clear and understandable makes this chapter of particular importance.  Laymen and theologians alike will gain from reading this chapter of the book.   In chapters 4 and 5, he lays out Biblical and practical explanations of what it means to “believe” and “repent” leaving know doubt in our minds as to what the responses to the gospel entail.  In chapter 6, Greear takes on a subject of eternal security and specifically the Biblical warnings about losing our salvation.  This chapter will be particularly helpful to balance the popular misunderstandings of “eternal security” that have contributed to the problem.  Chapter 7, deals with the practical evidence or fruit of conversion that should be produced in the life of the believer.  Finally, in chapter 8, Greear tackles the problem of “continued doubt.”

As a Pastor this book has made me think deeply about how I present the gospel in my personal evangelism and preaching.  Specifically, it has forced me to think about the terminology and phrases that I use in calling people to respond to the gospel.  I can think of several instances in the past when I have ministered to people who struggled with the very concerns and issues that Greear talks about in the book.  The book is written in such simple easy language that nearly anyone is going to be able to understand its essential message.  I can see it being used as a small group study in the church or with individual believers in the church.

 

HERE IS THE LINK TO A FOLLOW UP POST THAT I DID ON THIS REVIEW ENTITLED:

How much do you have to repent in order to be sure?