So doesn’t the change of mind about sin, righteousness and judgment, which is repentance, also result in a change in a person’s life, a clear change that gives some evidence of his salvation?
Thank you for your question. This is a common question and a fair question. It actually cuts at the root of theological paradigms. To reword your question if I understand it rightly, you are asking, “Isn’t evidential change inevitable if you’re really saved?” The question comes down to, “Is evidential change inevitable or is it by faith?”
At salvation, among many great truths, the Holy Spirit moves in to the now regenerated human spirit, bringing the very throne life of Jesus Christ into the believer. There is phenomenal internal change. Therefore, the provision for evidential change is available immediately at salvation. Often, since people are in the mode of looking unto Jesus, they initially keep doing so and access grace for new living. This is evidential change. But when they stop looking to Jesus, no longer walking by faith, they stop accessing grace. Then the “evidence” is no longer seen. But when they walk by faith again, they access grace again, and so on. At any given moment, saved people either walk after the flesh or after the Spirit. We’re all a little schizophrenic!
How much change is “evidence”? This focus makes everything subjective. How much failure is lack of evidence? Did you and I sin today? How about yesterday and the day before that? There is no way to objectively measure this. So people tend to classify sins into the grosser sins and the glossed over sins. They tend to think if people commit the more culturally distasteful sins, they’re not saved, but then overlook sins like bitterness and pride. This is not a fair evaluation.
The point is that the access of grace for change is a matter of faith and not that which is inevitable. “Without faith it is impossible to please him” (Heb. 11:6). If change was inevitable, then the imperatives and admonitions of the New Testament are irrelevant. Certainly, the indwelling Spirit is constantly urging believers to trust to obey. Divine initiation is readily at work—this is inevitable. But change through grace demands a faith response—this faith response is not inevitable. Sadly, at times we yield to the flesh (unbelief) instead of the Spirit (faith).The steps of faith for obedience are just that—steps of faith. They are not inevitable, but rather by faith. Therefore, the ensuing change is not inevitable either. The grace for change comes through faith. “We have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand” (Rom. 5:2).
To come back to your question, the change of mind in repentance results in salvation. Based on the provision of the indwelling Christ and the access by faith to that provision, the change of life can and should start taking place at this point. But is not inevitable; it’s by faith. Faith accesses grace and transformation occurs—but it is only by faith. It’s not automatic.
The fruit of John 15 and the “evidences” of 1 John are both connected repeatedly to the inspired word abide. Jesus defines “abiding” as dependence on Him (John 15:4-5). The word abide occurs over 20 times in 1 John 2-4. Again, “evidences” are not inevitable; they evidence through abiding—the picturesque word for faith.
To help us understand this, we could ask, “Is regeneration inevitable or is it by faith?” In other words, “Does regeneration precede faith or does faith precede regeneration?” Martin Luther and John Calvin both rightly came to the understanding that salvation is by grace through faith. However, they both wrongly understood faith to be a work. This is not a mean-spirited criticism. After the darkness of the dark ages, it is understandable they didn’t see everything right. It was still the early rays of morning light after the dark night, not the brightness of daylight that would follow. But since they wrongly concluded faith to be a human work, they wrongly concluded that you must get regenerated in order to believe (and therefore faith would no longer be a human work). In so doing they made faith inevitable, instead of responsible. (I addressed this more thoroughly in Q#8 Reformed Theology vs. Keswick Theology.) If you’re regenerated, it’s inevitable you would believe.
But faith is not a work. The Bible clearly says so. “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). Faith is something man “does,” but it’s not a work; it is dependence on the Worker. True, no one will believe without the divine initiation of the Spirit’s convincing of sin, righteousness and judgment. In that sense the Spirit offers the “gift” of faith. As when someone convinces you of the worthiness of a particular doctor’s care so that you entrust yourself to his care—and in that sense he has given you the gift of faith in that doctor, the same is true in salvation. When the Spirit convinces you of the worthiness of Jesus as the Savior so that you trust Him to save you—in that sense the Spirit has given you the gift of faith—but only in that sense. You can respond in faith or you can resist (Acts 7:51). It is not an outside alien element entered into you so that you inevitably believe, as in regeneration before faith.
If you conclude that regeneration precedes faith, so that faith for salvation is inevitable, then it would fair to conclude, that faith for change would be inevitable too—and thus evidential evidence would be inevitable. But it would also follow that if it is inevitable, faith for change would be perfect, just as faith for salvation would have to perfectly follow regeneration. But perfect change is not the case.
In actuality when you believe in response to Holy Spirit conviction, you then receive a regenerated spirit providing a place for the Holy Spirit to indwell, who then moves in. Simply put, when you believe in Jesus you receive eternal life (John 3:15, 16, 36; 5:24; 6:47). Faith accesses, and therefore, precedes regenerating grace. Then as you walk by faith, you grow in grace, making “evidential” what has occurred internally. This is what can and should happen, and will happen when you by faith access grace—but it’s not automatic or inevitable; it’s by faith. Here faith accesses transforming grace.
Next week: Is repentance required for salvation? Faith and repentance? The two aspects of man’s response to God’s offer of salvation? And if both are a part of salvation, why is it we seldom hear repentance in a Gospel message?
Fantastic! Such a great answer that makes it very clear. So many people wrestle with this issue and this is a great way to frame it. It also reminds us of our need for the Holy Spirit’s continuing work of sanctification in our lives.
Thanks for these comments, Ben and your dad Mr. Everson. May the Lord use it!
I agree with Ben Everson. Your answer uses several excellent analogies. I’m going to read this over and over until it “sticks”… Thank you, John.
I think the biggest problem in all of this is the failure to distinguish between justification and sanctification. John you gave a good answer. I always enjoy your articles.
I appreciate your thoughts here too. Thanks for following!