Response to Mac’s View of Repentance

by Todd Deaver and Jay Guin

In his post, “The Two Questions on the Repentance Requirement,” Mac says, “Regarding Todd’s second question as to whether or not repentance always entails the cessation of the sin, let me say that it does.” He later adds that —

the continuation of the act without an interim [cessation] would indicate no repentance whatever. Cessation followed later by another attack would not in and of itself prove that repentance had not earlier occurred. We are not told how much time there must be between acts in order for repentance to have occurred. It is not a matter of time as such. It is a matter of attitude toward the deed. And, there are degrees of sorrow and regret. If the act never stops, however, no degree of repentance has been actualized.

Following this, Mac immediately turns to discuss conversion:

Now, for a sinner to become a saint he must repent (Acts 17:30, 31). He must determine to leave the practice of sin. A Christian does not and cannot practice righteousness and sin at the same time. It cannot be done (1 John 3:7-9).

Even a new Christian must walk in the light (1 John 1:7), and for Mac this means not continuing the practice of sin of any kind. Only momentary lapses are forgiven. If any sin is persisted in even because of ignorance, he leaves the light for the darkness. Therefore, to become a Christian a sinner must repent of every currently practiced sin specifically, meaning that he recognizes each sin as wrong and ceases every one of them, at least for a time. This is what we understand Mac to be saying, and it appears to be confirmed by statements from his subsequent post, “Salvation Submissiveness Is Obedience”:

I would say that whether you refer to a specific sin or to sin in general, when one repents there must be cessation of that sin for a while. If not, how in the world could godly sorrow have moved the man to repent? (cf. 11 Cor. 7:10). We either face “change” are [sic] we do not face change. If a man repents of adultery but does not repent of murder, can that repentance save him? The answer is obvious (cf. Jas. 2:10, 11). The category of sin in general is composed of sins in particular. If one does not repent of any particular sin or sins, then how can he claim that he has repented in general?

… There is a level of spiritual intimacy reached between God and man in conversion that means that the practice of sin is over or the transition from the world of the lost to the church of the saved is not made (Col. 1:13).

… No cessation-no repentance. One cannot walk in righteousness and walk in evil at the same time (Eph. 2:1-3).

If this is Dad’s (and Phil’s) actual position, the implications are disturbing, to say the least. A new convert must repent to be saved (Acts 2:38). If he must repent as Dad has defined it, then “whether you refer to a specific sin or to sin in general, when one repents there must be cessation of that sin for a while.” And since a new convert must repent of all sin (Acts 3:19; Heb. 6:1), by Dad’s definition, he’d have to cease all sin “for a while.”

Therefore, before a sinner could be truly converted, he would have to understand everything he is now doing that is wrong so that he can immediately cease committing those sins. If he doesn’t recognize and stop every sinful practice, he hasn’t really repented, and thus hasn’t really been converted because, according to Mac, a partial or incomplete repentance (i.e., repenting of some sins but not others) can’t save anyone.

Of course, this definition of “repent” contradicts Mac’s other theory: that a novice Christian might initially be in error on some point of doctrine and yet be saved, whereas later, after having more opportunity to learn better, he must get that point of doctrine right on penalty of damnation.

But on this theory, how can the novice have truly repented at all? We agree that the scriptures require a convert to repent. If “repent” means stop sinning, then he hasn’t repented if he doesn’t live sinlessly immediately after his baptism. So does repentance require the cessation of all sin or not?

Let’s look at a few examples to see how this would play out. We’re pretty sure Mac and Phil both teach that all forms of gambling are sinful. So if a woman who buys a lottery ticket every day learns the gospel and is baptized but in ignorance continues this daily purchase, she hasn’t really repented and so wasn’t truly converted. When she learns better she would presumably need to be rebaptized.

If Mac is right about repentance and one must repent specifically of all his sins to be converted, then a person in a denomination that practices instrumental worship could not be converted unless and until he recognized such worship as wrong. It wouldn’t be enough for him to agree not to practice it any more. He would have to admit that it’s sinful and be sorry he had done it. Repentance would demand nothing less since true repentance is produced by godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10).

Finally, how does this position work with sins of omission? If “no cessation” means “no repentance,” as Mac says, then to be truly converted it would seem that a person must immediately put an end to his failures to live up to the example of Jesus (1 Pet. 2:21). Has a new convert ever succeeded with this?

In the New Testament, we don’t see baptisms preceded by months of detailed instruction on how to worship, organize a church, etc. Rather, the converts we read about were able to repent on much more limited instruction.

One can become a Christian without repenting specifically of every sin, and it’s possible to have a submissive faith and walk in the light while at the same time continuing to practice some sins because of ignorance (though not in rebellion). And such a person can still be described as “obedient” and “faithful.” She is still “walking in truth,” “keeping the commandments,” and saved.

What “obey” and “repent” really mean

Many of us have children. We consider our children faithful, obedient children even though they are not yet perfect in their understanding of our will — or perfect in their obedience to our will even when they understand it correctly. Rather, we judge our children by the overall direction of their lives and the submissiveness of their hearts. Why would we expect God — who loves us more than we love our own children — to judge more harshly?

Consider the meaning of “obey” in 1 John —

(1 John 1:8-10)  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. … 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

(1 John 2:3-5a)  We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.

At first glance, John seems to contradict himself. In one breath he insists that we all sin. In the next, he says we’re lost unless we “obey” Jesus. Obviously, the solution is to understand that “obey” in this context does not mean “perfectly obey.” It’s rather a reference to the overall direction of our lives and to our submission to Jesus as Lord.

Just so, “repent” generally refers to change to a life of obedience, that is, to a life that submits to Jesus as Lord — although not perfectly. Consider how “repent” is used in Acts and the epistles of Paul.

(Acts 2:38) Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

(Acts 3:19) Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,

(Acts 5:31) God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.

(Acts 11:18) When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”

(Acts 13:24) Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel.

(Acts 17:30) In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

(Acts 19:4) Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”

(Acts 20:21) I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

(Acts 26:20) First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.

(Rom 2:4) Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

(2 Tim 2:25) Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,

Plainly, the ordinary meaning of “repent” is to change the direction of one’s life so as to submit to Jesus as Lord.

Repenting of a sin

However, there is a handful of verses where “repent” speaks of repenting of a particular sin  —

(Acts 8:22) Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.

(2 Cor 7:9-10) yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

(2 Cor 12:21) I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.

Now, there’s a valuable lesson in this distinction, and it comes up in the context of church discipline and the obligation of Christians to hold one another accountable to submit to Jesus as Lord.

You see, in the typical case, a Christian does not know the heart of another Christian except by observing his behavior. When we see a fellow Christian committing a deliberate sin  — incest, as in 1 Corinthians 5, or refusal to work to support one’s family, as in 2 Thessalonians 3  — we have good cause to be concerned whether our brother is guilty of deliberately continuing to sin. And if so, our brother is on the road to spiritual death (Heb. 10:26).

Therefore, when a brother or sister is found in deliberate sin, we have every right and obligation to warn our brother or sister to turn away from that sin, repent, and return to the Lordship of Jesus. You see, in such a case, failure to repent of the known sin is symptomatic of failure to be penitent in the broader, more general sense of the word. We call on our brother to repent because he needs to both end the deliberate sin and turn his life back toward God – because his deliberate sin is symptomatic of a heart turning away from Jesus and toward damnation.

In such a case, there may even be the need for the church to disfellowship a member in an effort to bring him to repentance, as Paul commands in 1 Cor. 5 and 2 Thes. 3.

The second way we might call on a Christian to repent of a particular sin is as a matter of instruction. Some while back, one of Jay’s ministers met and converted a previously unchurched couple engaged to be married. Soon thereafter he began to counsel them in anticipation of marrying them.

In the course of his counseling sessions, he learned they were sleeping together. You see, coming from an unchurched background, they’d never been taught that this is wrong. Our minister lovingly explained God’s will, urged them to stop — to repent — and they did.

Was he asking them to move from an unsaved state to a saved state? No, they were surely in grace. They plainly had hearts for God, so much so that they immediately gave up their sexual relationship as soon as they learned better. They were penitent before and they were penitent after.

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15 Comments on “Response to Mac’s View of Repentance”


  1. […] Response to Mac’s View of Repentance […]

  2. nick gill Says:

    In wartime, a soldier who fails to hold off an enemy attack (maybe he ran out of ammo, maybe he didn’t clean his weapon appropriately, maybe he misunderstood a command, maybe he just broke and ran) has not surrendered his loyalty to his country.

    A soldier who passes information to the enemy, or who takes up arms against his fellows, has committed treason.

    Josephus’ writing clearly shows that ‘repentance’ is change-of-loyalty language, allegiance language, defection language.

    Christ calls us to defect from the kingdom of darkness and “pledge allegiance” to the kingdom of God.

  3. d Says:

    good analogy … helpful, insightfull

    ty nick.

  4. Wendy Says:

    I am wondering how many mature Christians are guilty of pride, selfishness, covetousness, gluttony. What chance do new Christians have if we are expected to be able to master and cease all sin on conversion?


  5. Wendy points out something important: We don’t make the sins she cites into tests of fellowship.

    We only do that with “Somebody Else’s Sin” – divorce, doctrinal error, homosexual attraction, etc.

    We don’t call others down in the “brotherhood papers” (or Web sites) for greed, envy, indolence, racial bigotry or lust. We don’t condemn churches which have never/rarely assisted the poor, helped widows or orphans in their desperation, or sent support for victims of natural disasters. We don’t write up folks who don’t sell their possessions and give to the poor, meet daily with glad hearts, have all things in common so that none among them has a need, or dine together in their homes.

    Why is that?

    And what does it say about the motivations of our hearts when we do?

    Here’s what scripture says about it: Luke 10:29; 18:9-14.

  6. Royce Ogle Says:

    “Many of us have children. We consider our children faithful, obedient children even though they are not yet perfect in their understanding of our will — or perfect in their obedience to our will even when they understand it correctly. Rather, we judge our children by the overall direction of their lives and the submissiveness of their hearts. Why would we expect God — who loves us more than we love our own children — to judge more harshly?”

    Is this how God determines who is and is not saved? No, it is not. Salvation is “the gift of God”, not earned, not deserved, and based soley upon the perfect life and perfect offering of that life to God on behalf of wicked sinners. There is NO other salvation no matter how perfectly a person complies with coC practices. We are either saved by trusting Christ or we are not saved at all.

  7. Dusty Chris Says:

    Great point Wendy and Keith. It’s back to the “Pull the log out of your own eye” thing. It is so easy to judge others for the things they are doing that we aren’t doing, and for the things others aren’t doing that we are doing. But even the most righteous (or self righteous) among us will find it impossible to keep the law (all of it) even for an hour straight (because even if we think we can, then we are prideful). Thank God for grace.

  8. laymond Says:

    Royce said, “Why would we expect God — who loves us more than we love our own children — to judge more harshly?”
    Maybe because he has already proven “the wrath of God” can be a pretty harsh judgment. have you ever drown, most of your children, or called down fire upon them, for disobedience, Royce I wouldn’t try to judge God by man’s standards. If you had your only son hanging on a cross would you not get him down. God is strong, man is weak, just that simple.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    laymond-have you ever drown, most of your children, or called down fire upon them, for disobedience

    laymond, God drowned people who He gave years to come to Him and wouldn’t and Elijah called on God to bring down fire on people who horrifically sacrificed babies on false idols who He also gave many chances to come to Him.

    Luke 9:51-56 “Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.”

  10. Weldon Says:

    The account of engaged couple was a superb illustration of your point.

  11. AngllHugnU2 Says:

    I am always amused at the dialogue we Christians share with each other about sin. We spend so much time trying to define what essentially is a lie. Sin is a lie. The more time you spend chatting about what the darn subject the more real the belief to participate in its absence of love.

    I know…I know…the outcomes of sin seem so painfully real. Most acts of delusion will always result in pain, sadness, and confusion. If you think about it…slamming your head against the wall believing the wall will move is exactly what little life there is in believing sin to be a truth to be followed. That essentially is what makes living or even spending time debating its place in our being a real Christian or not simple folley.

    Ultimately, we all come to a moment where we say in one way shape or form…”there has got to be a better way of living our life.” In this moment, we have become more willing to touch the real, the honest, the true, and authentic creatures of love blessed to be so by God.

    If we are genuine about finding an answer we will watch the fog of our delusional behavior fade and see before our eyes a path for us to follow. Our vision at that point is inspired by the God who lives within around above below and through every cell of our being. Most everyone believes this means we to be gods. Those who choose to listen carefully come to accept, understand, and appreciate the meaning of this reality to be God is closer to us than we give The Father credit.

    So, debate sin…as if it were a sport, a game, an exercise of your magnificent will….BUT, choose to know such talk she pale in comparison to the value your life has to enhancing public welfare and the individual search we all have to know God better deeper and more intimately.

    Thanks.

    AngllHugnU2
    Author of IM with God

  12. Royce Ogle Says:

    AngllHugnU2,

    Are you speaking in a secret code? I have no idea what you just said.

  13. anglhugnu2 Says:

    Well….I guess I did get a tad wordy! 🙂 Sorry….a bad moment of illeration!


  14. […] more scriptural understanding is proposed in an article Todd Deaver and I authored over at GraceConversation – Consider the meaning of “obey” in 1 John […]


  15. […] In that series, quite far removed from the current discussion, Todd borrowed a story from me – […]


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