An Effort at Clarification – Faith and Repentance

I have been listening to a series of lectures / sermons by John Piper on "Understanding Future Grace". I’d like to add my two cents.

Pastor John makes a comment in the second lecture that he thinks Calvinists have not spent enough time and effort exploring why it is that the new birth leads to a change in a person’s life. I’d like to offer some thoughts on why this is the case.

Faith is of it very essence a form of trust. The article on faith from the 1689 London Baptist Confession discusses faith as follows:

By faith a Christian believes everything to be true that is made known in the Word, in which God speaks authoritatively. He also perceives in the Word a degree of excellence superior to all other writings, indeed to all things that the world contains. The Word shows the glory of God as seen in His various attributes, the excellence of Christ in His nature and in the offices He bears, and the power and perfection of the Holy Spirit in all the works in which He is engaged. In this way the Christian is enabled to trust himself implicitly to the truth thus believed, and to render service according to the different requirements of the various parts of Scripture. To the commands he yields obedience; when he hears threatenings he trembles; as for the divine promises concerning this life and that which is to come, he embraces them. But the principal acts of saving faith relate in the first instance to Christ as the
believer accepts, receives and rests upon Him alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life; and all by virtue of the covenant of grace.

To have faith in Christ is to trust Him and what He did to pay the penalty for our sin and provide a righteousness we can be credited with. But I propose that faith involves more.

If we are to trust Christ when He tells us how to get to heaven, we should also trust what He says about how to live our lives here on earth (John 3:12). We don’t get to pick and choose what we trust Christ on. This trust results in a changed attitude.

What do we need to have this kind of trust? We first need to believe certain facts about Christ. Among them: that He was God come to earth and that He died on the cross for our sins. (The exact minimum knowledge required for a person to come to saving faith is a worthy topic of discussion, and I defer to R. C. Sproul in his book The Truth of the Cross.)

But saving faith moves beyond this intellectual assent to facts. It moves into the area of trust. The old illustration about a chair is a good one. There is a chair setting in the room with me as I type this. It looks like a strong chair. It is not bent or damaged. I have seen other people sit in it. I have no reason to believe it will not hold me up. But it is not holding me up right now for a very simple reason: I am not sitting in it. For the chair to hold me I have to make a decision to sit in it, walk across the room, and actually put myself into the seat. I have not trusted the chair until I have sat in it.

Saving faith is like that. I rest all of my hope for friendship and fellowship with God in this life and the next in Christ and what He did for me. The old acrostic is a good one:
FAITH – forsaking all I trust Him. I stop trusting in what I have done, my “good” works, to earn my way into heaven. I begin to trust Christ.

Wrapped up in this trust in a confidence in what He said about how to live life (John 3:12). This trust will result in a change in our behavior. We are transformed by the “renewing of our mind” (Romans 12:1-2). Our change in attitude toward our sin results in a change in the way we live our lives. Our minds are set on things above (Col. 3:1-17), and we live where our minds are set (Romans 6:1-12, 8:1-11).

Saving faith carries within itself the seed of repentance. Confident trust in Christ leads to a change in the way we live. Not perfection. We always find that the good we want to do, we do and the evil we do not want to do we do (Ro. 7:7-25). But we begin to live lives of repentance, keeping short accounts with God and confessing the sin His Spirit brings to our minds. We continue to trust that Christ’s sacrifice pays for our sins.

Of course, Piper is right we he says that we begin to desire Christ above all else and treasure Him above all things. We do find our joy in Him. We are not trusting a set of facts; we are trusting a person. It is impossible to truly trust a person we do not respect and admire. It is not easy to trust a person whose company we do not enjoy, and to trust a person with all of our lives is the most difficult type of trust to have. We find our delight in Christ because of His winsomeness and uniqueness. We are awakened to Christ’s attraction by a decisive work of the Holy Spirit.

Is this a good way to see saving faith? Does this cover the bases? Is it amateurish exegesis? I’d like to get some other opinions on this.

I’d also like to ask if this kind of faith is a faith that you posses. Do you trust Christ with your life? If not, why not? What stands in the way?


L P Cruz said...

Hi Bro. JK.

I will chime from a Lutheran perspective. In Concordian parlance repentance is broadly composed of two things a.) contrition - being sad and sorry that one is a sinner and more importantly because of his sins he is damned because of it, b.) trust - on the fact that his sins are forgiven in Christ's cross only.

Hence, a Christian does not want to be forgiven by God on any basis he might have in him, he wants to be forgiven because of Jesus' work, not on any of his.

Note that repentance does not mean (from our side) from now on I will do better - I promise, like a bargain. The betterment is not founded on what I can do, but on what Christ has done - at the Cross he has made the sinner holy and so he becomes what Christ has made him to be.

Regeneration to us does not mean progressively sanctified. There is no quantity measure for this. It is a qualitative change instead. What change is the presence of faith. Where as before there was no faith in the forgiveness found in the Cross of Jesus, now there is.

Loving Christ and any noble thing we do is the result of or fruit of faith, it is not wrapped up in the definition of faith. If we add more to the definition of faith, we get into trouble, Christ's work will not be the sole source of comfort.

In fact if we include aspects that come from us be they psychological, emotional or whatever in the definition of faith is damaging. To look at the Cross is to look at the love of God for us, this produces love for God. God loved us first before we love him and continues to be first for us.

Well you know already that I am unhappy with Dr. Piper's over-articulations. I call them that, he seems good in justification topics even though he emphasizes the subjective but when it comes to Christian Hedonism, I am truly puzzled that he goes mystical.


steve martin said...

I too,(as with L.P.C.) am not all that crazy about Dr. Piper's emphasis on the self.

Whether wittingly or not, it naturally puts the onus back onto 'you' and then assurance just goes away. i would say that the gospel just goes away, for all intents and purposes.

Christian progression is an idea that begs the question, when then, have you arrived?

With some of these folks, it seems as though you just never quite get there.

My pastor likes to say, "Baptism and no further!" (with respect to our Christian progression)

Christ is enough. He will do, in the life of the believer, what He will do. The goading of the law will only bring death, as it rightly ought. Jesus Himself, and His gospel, will only bring life.

Great post! Thanks very much!

J. K. Jones said...

LP and Steve M.,

Thanks for your comments.


Piper gets most of his theology from Jonathan Edwards. I once heard a lecture by John H. Gerstner, another Edwardsian.

Gerstner recounted a conversation with a professor at Yale regarding Edwards. The professor remarked that when he read Edwards he was convinced that we were all Christians. Gerstner responded that when he read Edwards he was convinced none of us were Christians.

In another series of lectures on the Westminster Confession of faith by Gerstner, I was struck by two sections he covered one right after the other: faith and repentance. When he lectured on faith, I was convinced that I was a Christian and had been since a very young age. When he lectured on repentance, I was convinced I was not a Christian and that I never had been.

I agree with Westminster. The 1689London Baptist Confession I accept for my own agrees with Westminster word for word at many points. But in some areas, I do not agree with Gerstner. I agree with what he says in some principles, but not in others.

Christians live lives of repentance and faith. We constantly repent of sins as we become aware of them. This repentance is not meritorious, but it is a necessary outcome of regeneration and faith. At that point, Gerstner and I agree.

When we look to ourselves, we often come up short as you say. We must look to Christ. To quote Edwards, “Flee to Christ!” How do we do this? We look to the promises of a good and just God in the Scriptures He has provided us. At this point Gerstner would look to himself, and he and I disagree.

Piper does the same thing.


L P Cruz said...


In Lutheran thought we go through the cycle of repentance and faith.

For example when we first believe we are so excited and grateful that we want to obey God's laws. SO we do all of these acts of gratitude. Then as we conform to the image of Christ we kind of pat ourselves on the shoulder and fool ourselves that we are making it happen.

Just then the Law hits us again and we are back on the bottom leading us to repentance and hearing again the release of the Gospel we come to faith again.

The Lutheran liturgy aids in getting that cyclic life into focus.

The message is not try again better next time but see how doomed you are and without Christ, you are nothing.


J. K. Jones said...


What you are describing is what I mean when I say "live a life of repentance and faith."
We constantly become more aware of sin, and we constantly turn in faith to Christ. We do try to do better next time, but it is out of a sense of gratitude (or love for Christ, etc.). Doing better is not what makes us right with God (justifies us).

The longer we are Christians, the more aware of the subtle sins that are present in our lives. We may be improving, but we can’t see it because we become more aware of other sins or more aware of the seriousness of the sins we have fallen into. That’s why I have given up looking within myself and started looking to Christ.


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