On April 13th, I did a post titled John Calvin, Rick Warren, Repentance, and the Purpose Driven Life, wherein I argued that we in the evangelical church really don't understand the nature of sin and because of that we don't understand the nature of repentance. Paraphrasing John Calvin, we ascribe to habit, that which the Bible ascribes to nature. I argued that sin cannot be defined as something merely outward, an action or an attitude. Sin is often used as an adjective in the Bible to describe our nature. Thus, repentance from sin cannot merely be a change of attitude or action, it must be a change of nature. Hence, the necessity of regeneration - only God can change our nature, and only God can grant repentance. Godly repentance is a reflection of a change in our nature.
In response, Bob over at Mr. Standfast, gave the following comment:
I'm about to embark on the PDL thing myself, as a "home host" as a matter of fact. My question for you is this: Is the issue of repentence different with regard to a believer than a non-believer? I mean, believers also need to repent, of course, but is repentence for them equally a change of nature, as in the case of the non-believer? Is the continuing life of repentence a progressive inward change? The reason I ask is, if Warren's book about faith-building, about growing in discipleship, rather than about coming to faith, does this make the absence of repentence in the book a less egregious problem? Just wondering.That's a great question for which I have no great answer. But that's never prevented me from sharing my thoughts on other matters, so why should it stop me now. Here are a few thoughts in response to Bob's question.
There are many differences in the repentance of the believer and the unbeliever. We can think of this in terms of our nature and in terms of our relationship to God.
When the unbeliever sins he sins according to nature. Thus, his repentance must be the evidence of a change of nature. As I tried to point out in my prior post, it is entirely possible to change one's attitudes and behavior without regard to Christ. The unbeliever who wants a happier life and is willing to use Christ to get it may change his attitude toward his sin, but he has not changed his attitude toward Christ.
When the believer sins, he sins contrary to nature. Romans 6:1-2:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?Therefore, whatever repentance looks like in the life of a believer, it is definitely not evidence of a change of nature. For the believer, repentance is more like conforming his attitudes and actions to his true nature.
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (electronic ed.) (Ro 5:21-6:2). Wheaton: Good News Publishers.
Furthermore, when the unbeliever sins he sins against God as judge. When the believer sins he sins against God as Father. The dynamics of the relationship and repentance change accordingly.
Having said all that, Bob's question about the PDL book takes the issue a step further -
Is the continuing life of repentence a progressive inward change? The reason I ask is, if Warren's book about faith-building, about growing in discipleship, rather than about coming to faith, does this make the absence of repentence in the book a less egregious problem?I would answer yes to the first and no to the second question.
To the question "Is the continuing life of repentance a progressive inward change?" I would answer yes. I may frame the question a little differently because really, this question is getting at the question of "what does sanctification look like?" or "what does it mean to grow as a Christian?"
Colossians 2:6 says:
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,If we received Christ by repentance and faith it seems clear that we grow in Him by continued repentance and faith. Also, Galatians 3:1-6 says:
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (electronic ed.) (Col 2:6). Wheaton: Good News Publishers.
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?I think Paul is clearly associating our beginning "by the Spirit," with "hearing with faith." It also seems clear to me that what was heard was the message of Christ crucified. The Galatians had come into the faith this way, but when it came time to grow in discipleship they switched to "growth via works." Paul says they need to come back to "growth via the gospel."
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (electronic ed.) (Ga 3:1-6). Wheaton: Good News Publishers.
Putting all the pieces together we come to the fact that, though justification and sanctification can be distinguished, they can't be separated. We are sanctified in the same way we are sanctified - by continuing to hear the gospel, believe, and repent.
Thus, if faith and repentance are at the core of justification, they must be at the core of sanctification. So yes, although I have changed the wording and some of the metaphors from Bob's question, I think it is obvious that repentance is part of the continuing life of the believer and it is of the essence of progressive life change.
I don't think we can talk about faith building and growing in discipleship apart from repentance. After all, what is Christian growth about? It is about the continual battle with and victory over sin. Christian growth is all about the Romans 7 struggle. It is not about primarily about learning more, doing more and behaving better. It is about winning the war against indwelling sin. And indwelling sin is only conquered through continued application of the gospel, along with faith and repentance.
In that respect I would argue that, at any point the book claims to present the gospel, if the gospel presentation lacks a clear presentation of the nature of sin and corresponding need for repentance, then yes it has failed in that regard.
If the book claims to be a manual for Christian growth and leaves out any reference to the ongoing war with indwelling sin and corresponding victory through gospel-faith-repentance, then yes, it falls short.
If it were merely a manual on evangelism, or worship, or fellowship, or some very narrow aspect of the Christian faith, I would have no problem with the fact that it didn't cover repentance. After all, any systematic theology doesn't cover repentance on every page. But I do have some concerns that, if the book bills itself as a broad-ranging manual for discipleship, and leaves out repentance, then it has short changed the reader.