Discussion of Salvation-Related Terms

The meaning of the word “repentance”.

Lk 13:3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. (NIV)

Mk 1:4 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (NIV)

The Bible teaches that repentance is necessary for salvation. However, many people have a wrong understanding of the word “repentance”. To them, repentance always means turning away from our sins. Therefore, we are not saved if we do not turn away from our sins.

Actually, the word “repentance” literally means to have a change of mind towards something or someone. It can refer to changing our mind about sin and turning away from it (Luke 17:3­4) but it can also mean changing our mind about a person or fact in the sense of believing what we used to doubt.

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.” (NIV)

In this verse, John the Baptist urged the people to repent by believing in Jesus, not by turning from their sins.

Mt 11:20 Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. (NIV)

Jesus was angry with those cities because even though he did the most miracles in them, they did not repent. Did Jesus perform miracles so that we can feel regret for our sins? No, miracles were performed so that we can believe that Jesus is from God.

John 20:30-31 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. {31} But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John 10:24-25 The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” {25} Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me,

Therefore, the word “repent” in Matt 11:20 does not refer to turning away from our sins because miracles are not meant to convict us of our sins. Jesus performed miracles so that we can change our mind about Him and believe that He is from God. Another example will prove the point.

Luke 16:20-31 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores {21} and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. {22} “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. {23} In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. {24} So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ {25} “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. {26} And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ {27} “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, {28} for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ {29} “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ {30} “‘No , father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ {31} “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

We see from the verses above that “repent” is used not in the sense of turning away from sin but in believing. Repentance when it is used in relation to salvation involves changing our minds about Christ, who He is and what He’s done to provide forgiveness and deliverance for our sins. The people in those days believed that Jesus was just a carpenter’s son. Some believed that he was a good teacher and others thought that he was a prophet. All of them had to repent (ie change their minds) and believe that he is the son of God before they can be saved. When we trust in Jesus to save us from our sins, then we are automatically repenting, even if we continue to hold on to certain sins in our lives.

The Gospel of John is the only book in the New Testament that plainly declares that it is written with an evangelistic purpose in mind. But it never uses the word repent even once.

John 20:31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (NIV)

Why doesn’t John mention the word repentance if turning away from sin is necessary for salvation? Instead John used the words “believe” or “faith” some 50 times. This proves that the act of repentance which Lk 13:3 says is necessary for salvation is equivalent to the act of believing.

The Bible tells us that we must repent to be saved. We have seen that the word “repent” has a wide meaning which means change of mind either about sin or simply about some facts. But how do we know whether the repentance that is necessary for salvation refers to change of mind about sin and turning away from it or just change of mind about facts. The “repentance” that is required for salvation must refer to believing because of the many verses that tell us that we only have to believe to be saved. If turning from sin is necessary, then are all these verses incomplete or downright wrong.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

If turning away from sin is necessary for salvation, then this verse is wrong because not whoever that believes is saved. Even if he believes, if he does not turn away from his sin, he is not saved.

Also, turning from sin cannot be a condition for salvation because that involves work. And the bible is clear that salvation is not by works but by faith. If salvation is gained by turning away from sin, then it is also gained by being good. But the Bible teaches that it is not how good we are but when we believe, Christ’s righteousness is credited to us.

2 Cor 7:10­12 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear ourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. 12 So even though I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong or of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. (NIV)

Some people believe that the word repentance in verse 10 refers to turning away from sins because it is induced by sorrow and not simply a change of mind. It therefore goes that turning away from our sins leads to salvation (verse 10). However, a closer examination reveals that Paul is actually referring to a specific case of a Christian brother who has committed adultery with his father’s wife as described in his previous letter.

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. {2} And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? {3} Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. {4} When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, {5} hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. (NIV)

Paul was surprised that the church tolerated this action and did nothing. The church should have been grieved. He then urged the church to discipline this man. 2 Cor 7:10 picks up on this topic again and in this second letter, Paul commends the church for taking his advise and pronouncing judgement on the errant member. In other words, the church changed their mind or attitude towards this sinner after Paul’s rebuke and this repentance resulted in their delivery or salvation from sin. The salvation talked about in 2 Cor 7:10 is salvation from the contamination of the sin. A careful reading of 2 Cor 7:11-12 will show that Paul is indeed referring to this particular case and not to the Corinthian Church having to turn from their sins in order to be saved.

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,

Doesn’t the word “repent” here refer to turning away from sin because the result is that our sins may be wiped out. No. The “repent” here refers to change of mind and believe. By faith, we not only can have our sins wiped out, we can have Christ’s righteousness imputed in us.

Acts 10:43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Romans 3:22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,

Philippians 3:9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

Acts 5:31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour 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.”

Some say that repentance in the sense of turning away from sin is not regarded as work because God is the one who does the work. However, anyone can testify that turning away from sin doesn’t come easy. We have to resist the devil before he will flee from us. How can resisting not be a work. The repentance talked about here does not refer to turning away from sins, it refers to change of mind and belief. What the verses meant is that God helps us to believe. This truth is taught in other parts of the Bible.

Acts 26:17-18 I (Jesus) am sending you (Paul) to them {18} to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

1 Corinthians 12:3 Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

The meaning of grace

Eph 2:8­9 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. (NIV)

Salvation is by grace. But what exactly is grace? The Greek word for grace is “charis” which means “undeserved merit”. In other words, the person who receives is totally undeserving and the giver doesn’t expect anything in return. The following verses tell us more about the nature of grace.

Lk 6:32­35 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even `sinners’ love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even `sinners’ do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even `sinners’ lend to `sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (NIV)

In these verses, the words `what credit is that to you’ in the Greek is simply `what charis have you’ or “what grace do you practise” as some versions render. In other words, if we love expecting to be loved, do good expecting good in return, lend expecting repayment, then we don’t have grace. Grace must be given without expecting anything in return (verse 35). Similarly, if God expects something in return for the salvation he has given us, then it is no longer grace. Grace must be be given without expecting anything in return.

Rom 11:6 And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. (NIV)

Gal 2:21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (NIV)

Salvation has to be through faith because there is no other way to be saved by grace except through faith.

Romans 4:16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.

Lordship advocates teach that grace does not give the Christian the liberty to do as he pleases and still keeps his salvation. True grace teaches us to refrain from sin. If a Christian continues in his sin, he has not experienced true grace.

Tit 2:11-12 11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, (NIV)

This verse simply teaches that a person who is truly saved will be freed from the power of sin and empowered by God to lead holy lives. This empowerment from God is grace or something we do not deserve. It is not talking about grace in relation to salvation. We find a similar teaching from the following verse.

Rom 6:17-18 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (NIV)

The word “charis” literally means “undeserved favour”. It is typically used to talk about the gift of salvation. But we cannot restrict the word to only that. Grace is anything God gives which we do not deserve.

God’s ministry to Paul is “grace”.

Rom 15:15-16 15 I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus…(NIV)

Our spiritual gifts are “grace”.

1 Pet 4:10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. (NIV)

When we are tempted, the strength that God gives us to resist is “grace”.

Heb 4:15-16 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are– yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (NIV)

Heb 12:14-15 14 Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God…(NIV)

The above verse seem to teach that those who continue to sin will miss God’s grace of salvation. This understanding is not correct. We can surely miss God’s grace of salvation by relying on our works.

Gal 5:4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (NIV)

The key to understanding Heb 12:15 lies in the interpretation of the words “hysteros” (translated “misses” in NIV) and “charis” (translated “grace”). If we interpret “hysteros” to mean “failing to receive” and “charis” as “the undeserved gift of salvation”, then we have to conclude that it is possible to fail to receive salvation because of sin. However, if we resort to such an interpretation, we run head on to verses that teach that we cannot fall out of God’s grace by sinning. Grace is always sufficient to cover whatever sins we have.

Rom 5:20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more (NIV)

1 Jn 2:1 And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (NIV)

How else can we interpret Heb 12:15? I believe the word “hysteros” mean “lack of” and not “failing to receive” in the verse. This is another possible interpretation of the word.

Mk 10:21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack (Greek “hysteros”),” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (NIV)

1 Cor 1:7 Therefore you do not lack (Greek “hysteros”) any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. (NIV)

As mentioned above, grace need not always refer to salvation. In fact, the grace in Heb 12:15 probably refer to the grace of God’s strength we can draw on to lead holy lives (same usage as in Heb 4:15-16). Therefore, Heb 12:14 is telling us to strive for holiness while verse 15 is telling us not to lack the grace of God which is the strength we can draw on to lead holy lives.

The meaning of the words “faith” and “believe”

Next, Lordship advocates teach that when Jesus says that we must believe or have faith in Him to be saved, He is actually saying that we must believe and submit totally to Him. In other words, all the additional ideas are implicitly contained in the word “believe” or “faith”.

When the Bible talks about believing to obtain salvation, it talks about believing in a series of facts. There is no way we can read into the verse the idea of submission.

Romans 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Note: There is nothing in this verse that teaches that public confession of faith is necessary for salvation. The confession here could well be a private one.

John 20:31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John 8:24 I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”

Lordship advocates coined the term “intellectual assent” to describe a kind of faith that is without the emotional or volitional element. In other words, the person agrees to the facts but does not feel any emotion over it or wants to live for God after hearing it. This, they say, is precisely the kind of faith that demons have, which James warned us against in Jas 2:19. Therefore, intellectual assent to faith alone is sufficient to save.

Jas 2:19-20 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that– and shudder. 20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? (NIV)

But the problem with demon’s faith is not that it is intellectual assent. I believe that their faith is not even genuine. Demons claim to believe in one God but their actions were inconsistent with their belief. Remember that they rebelled against God and chose to follow Lucifer who rebelled because he wanted to be like God. If Lucifer really believed in one God, would he think that he could be like God? Therefore, James here is giving us another example of peony faith. And this phoney faith has no consistent actions to back it up because the angels later rebelled against God.

Isa 14:12-15 12 How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! 13 You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. 14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” 15 But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit. (NIV)

We see therefore that the demons’ claim to believe in one God are totally inconsistent with their actions. They chose to follow Lucifer who wanted to be like God. Christians can fall into this category if their actions betray their claim of faith like praying to idols.

Lordship advocates quote the following verses to prove that obedience in God’s laws is an integral part of “believing” or “faith”.

Jn 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him. (ASV)

Rom 1:5 Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. (NIV)

Acts 6:7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. (NIV)

Heb 3:18-19 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (NIV)

1 Pet 1:21-22 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. 22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.

Actually, these verses does not prove that we have to obey God before we can be said to have believed Him. As we have seen, the “believing” that results in salvation is believing in a set of facts about Christ. Rather these verses teach that when we believe, we are actually being obedient to Jesus’ call that we believe in Him.

Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

This verse simply says that true faith will express itself in love for God for what He has done. It is not saying that loving is a part of faith.

The meaning of the word “disciple”

Lk 9:23-26 23 Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.(NIV)

Lk 14:25-27,33 25 Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters– yes, even his own life– he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple….33 any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. (NIV)

Lordship advocates however teach that these verses, which is a call to discipleship, is also a call to salvation. To them, the word “disciple” is synonymous with “Christian”. For example, the Great Commission, which we understand to be a call to make Christians, was to go into all the world to make disciples. They argue that the word “disciples” was used instead of “Christians” because they mean the same thing.

Mt 28:19-20 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (NIV)

The word “disciple” is also used consistently as a synonym for “Christian” throughout the book of Acts.

Acts 11:26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. (NIV)

See also Acts 6:1,2,7; 14:20,22; 15:10.

Faith advocates believe that “disciple” and ” Christian” do not mean the same thing. The strict sense of the word “disciple” is simply “one who follows a person’s teachings”. In many instances, it refers to someone who literally follows his teacher wherever he goes in order to learn from him. In this sense, a disciple can be a Christian or vice versa but the two do not mean the same. It is like saying that a Bible student can be a Christian and a Christian can be a Bible student but this relationship is not necessarily true.

To prove that “disciple” and “Christian” do not mean the same thing, consider the following:

Jn 6:60-66 60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” 61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?….64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” ….66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (NIV)

You see, these people who followed Jesus were called His disciples even though many did not truly believe what Jesus said. They were not true believers but merely people who followed the Lord everywhere He went to learn from Him. Notice that verse 66 says that they “turned back and no longer followed him” implying that they were previously following Jesus.

It is wrong to say that because the call to make disciples is included in the Great Commission, “disciple” is synonymous with “Christian”. The Great Commission is more than a call to make Christians. It is a call to make Christians, teach them to observe the commandments of Jesus and baptise them. The fact that baptism is included in the Great Commission already tells us that it is talking about something more than making Christians, as many will agree that it is not necessary to be baptised in order to be a believer.

Lk 9:23-25 is a call to discipleship and not to salvation. Notice that Jesus was speaking to his 12 disciples and not to a general audience. Verse 18 says that Jesus was praying in private and His disciples were with Him. The call to discipleship came immediately after He has told them in verse 22 that He was going die soon. The verses that follow describe how high the price of following Him. They must take up the cross daily (ie submit to God’s will for their lives daily). They must also be willing to sacrifice their lives for Him. Whoever loses his life (ie physical life) for Christ’s sake shall gain it (ie eternal life) but whoever wants to save his physical life by denying Christ shall lose eternal life. Jesus warned that whoever is ashamed of Him, He too will be ashamed of them in the last days.

Likewise Lk 14:25-27 is a call to discipleship, not salvation. Notice in verse 25 that He was talking to a group of people who were travelling with Him. Jesus says that if they do not put Him first (to the extent of hating his family by comparison), they cannot be His disciples. Isn’t this the same situation as another disciple who wants to follow Jesus but first has to go and bury (ie care for till death) his father. Jesus’ reply was the same.

Acts 11:26 does not prove that disciples are synonymous with Christians. Rather the verse is talking about Christians who are also disciples.

Mt 11:28-29 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (NIV)

According to Lordship advocates, “taking the yoke” refers to discipleship. In ancient writings, a pupil who submitted himself to a teacher was said to take the teacher’s yoke. Thus Jesus’ call to take His yoke in order to find rest for our souls shows that we have to be a disciple and submit to Him in order to be saved.

I believe that taking the yoke refers to discipleship which in turn means no more than “learning” . But learn what? Note that Jesus said those words after He had criticised the wise and learned who refused to accept His teaching that salvation is through faith and were weary and burdened by all their man-made legalism. Immediately following this criticism is the Lord’s promise of rest for their souls. One can hardly imagine how this can be so if, as Lordship advocates suggest, one has to submit totally to Jesus’ lordship to be saved. I therefore believe that Jesus is saying’ “Learn from me that salvation is simply by believing.” The phrase “rest for your souls” which seem to denote salvation could just as well be translated “rest for your lives.” The Greek language does not differentiate the words “soul” and “physical life.” In other words, Jesus’ method of salvation is not burdensome or tiring.