A while back my wife Kathy discussed the matter of Gospel invitations for children with the leader of a children’s ministry in our church. It is a program that is very popular in America today. She was told that words like “repent” and “repentance” should be avoided when presenting the Gospel to children.
Programs like this presume they are giving a more open invitation to children to come to Jesus, that they are “forbidding them not,” by removing such “obstacles.” But they may in fact be forbidding them to come by denying them a true saving faith. For Kathy the solution was simple: obey God rather than men. The need for repentance in salvation is clearly taught in Scripture. Luke 24:47, Acts 17:30, and II Peter 3:9 are just the tip of the iceberg.
In a related incident, after a Sunday service a man in our church, who became the new head of this children’s ministry, told me that the word for repentance, in its verb and noun forms µɛτανοέω and μετάνοια, is not found in the Gospel of John. Because of this he feels there is no need for repentance, only belief, when a child or anyone else is saved. He is against the idea that Jesus must be recognized as Lord for salvation.
Surprised by my friend’s claim and doubtful that it was correct, I looked for this Greek word for “repentance” in the Gospel of John and discovered that he was right.
The Spirit of God has a reason for this omission. We will leave that with Him. But repentance, with its attendant change of life, and the commitment of one’s life to the Lordship of Christ for salvation, is taught in John’s Gospel. It is clearly set forth by the Holy Spirit in John’s words.
Allow me to point this out.
1. John 3:36: “The one who is believing in the Son has eternal life; the one who is being disobedient to the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God is abiding on him.” John’s verb forms and choice of words are informative.
a. “Believing” is in a present continuous sense, as is the word “has,” which is more-accurately translated “is having” or “possessing” eternal life. This presents a life characterized by believing. It is a lifestyle. Only a truly transformed life would reflect this.
b. John did not contrast “believing” with “not believing”; rather, he contrasted “believing” with “being disobedient.” In this we see that not believing is to be “disobedient to the Son.” According to John, believing is an act of obedience. This denotes submission to the authority of Christ. It is not a work. It is simply recognizing who He is in our lives. The author of Hebrews agrees: “He has become the source of eternal salvation to all those who obey [are under subjection to] Him” (5:9). In Hebrews 3:18 and 19 “disobedience” and “unbelief” are synonyms. Likewise, Paul wrote that when Jesus returns, He will take “vengeance on those who do not obey the Gospel” (II Thess. 1:8). The marriage of obedience and faith is further substantiated in his declaration at the beginning of Romans: “We have received grace and apostleship for obedience of faith in all nations” (1:5).
c. When John writes about believing “in” the Son, he uses the word εἰς, which denotes entrance into something or someone: an immersion. It is not partial, but total, commitment of one’s faith. It matters not how perfect or imperfect our understanding or our faith is, or how small or big it is, when we first believe. The object of our faith is totally embraced. It is a transference: moving from into, like diving off a board into a swimming pool. It reveals a change in one’s life: taking a moving van to a new residence. “He has delivered us out of the authority of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13).
There is no essential difference in meaning between believing “in” Him and believing “on” Him, as some hold, because “on” is perceived by them as being less committal than “in.” The man I referred to above said this to me. This is a “disputing about words” that is not helpful. Obviously, the two words are not at odds with each other. Both reveal total commitment. To step “on” a boat is to commit oneself to the boat. It also reflects a change in one’s life: to step from a dock to a boat. When you sit in a chair you are displaying the Greek word ἐπί: “on.” It is to rest upon a support. No one who sits in a chair is noncommittal.
2. John 8:11: “Go and sin no longer.” Though the passage about the woman caught in adultery is disputed among textual critics, evidence can be given for its credibility. It is found in an important early manuscript. In the text Jesus says to the woman, “Go and sin no longer.” He is saying, “Do not continue sinning.” The words “no longer” confirm the need for an abrupt halt: a turning point in her life… a change of direction and a change of mind; a turning from sin. It is repentance, directly and precisely taught, without using the word. And it reveals that Jesus is Lord, that He calls for this change in one’s life at the point of salvation.
3. John 12:25: “The one who loves his life is losing it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Notice the strong resemblance John 12:24-26 has to “discipleship” and “Lordship” passages in the other Gospels (Matt. 10:37-39; 16:24-26; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-26). It is John’s rendition of such teachings in the light of Jesus’ impending death. In fact, the precept alluded to in John 12:25 seems to originate from them. Notice here how Jesus connects the “discipleship”/”Lordship” message with eternal life. This is not unique when one looks at what He taught in other “discipleship” passages. Compare Matthew 16:26 and Mark 8:36: “For what is a man profited if he lose his own soul?” Or Mark 10:29 and 30 and Luke 18:29 and 30: “No man has left house, or brothers, or sisters [etc.] who will not receive…in the world to come eternal life.” And Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to Me…Take my yoke upon you [identify with Me in every way: in death and resurrection life]…learn from Me [‘learn’ comes from the same Greek word as ‘disciple’].”
This is not saying that we work to be saved. It is saying that true faith in Christ brings a change in our lives. It will cost us something—actually, maybe everything. Try telling a Christian in Iraq or North Korea that becoming a Christian makes no difference in how you live. When they believe, it is total commitment. For them, an unchanged life is an unbelieving life. Even those who go “underground” have their lives changed dramatically. American Christianity is anemic. We prefer to divide believing and following Jesus, and to deny the reality and significance of “Jesus is Lord” by separating “Jesus” from “Lord.” They do not have this convenience in other countries. John 12:25 does not support it.
We are not teaching “works salvation.” We are teaching “reality salvation.” It is totally by grace, but it will mean a changed life and it will come at a cost. “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
The writers of the New Testament understood, almost took it for granted, that there would be a change in our lives when we believe: that there would be repentance and conversion. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: the old things have passed away. Take a look [it is something you can see!]; the old has become new” (II Cor. 5:17). “[If we] keep [in a present, continuous sense] His word…in this we know that we are in Him” (I John 2:5). “Anyone who practices sin has not seen or known Him” (I John 3:6). Sound familiar? This is the message in John 8:11. “The foundation of God stands sure, having this seal: known to the Lord are those who are truly His, and let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity” (II Tim. 2:19). By our fruits we are known.
4. John 12:40: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they will not see with the eyes and understand with the heart and be turned, and I will heal them.” The meaning of the Greek word for repentance is clearly expressed in the words νοήσωσιν τῇ καρδίᾳ καὶ στϱαφῶσιν, “understand with the heart and be turned,” which John quotes from Isaiah 6:10. Νοέω, half of μετανοέω, the Greek verb for “repent,” is found in νοήσωσιν: to “understand.” The prefix, μετα, has its counterpart in σραφῶσιν: “be turned.” This describes a change of course based on new understanding: a true reversal in the true sense of repentance. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon gives the following definition for σραφῶσιν in John 12:40: “to turn one’s self from one’s course of conduct, i.e. to change one’s mind.” This is identical in meaning with the word μετανοέω.
The same word is also used in Matthew 18:3. There it carries the same meaning. “Unless you be turned [στραφῆτε—have a change of mind] and become as children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Here Jesus reveals the need for repentance, in its most pure and simple form, as expressed by children. It is not the enemy of their conversion. It is their doorway to the kingdom. Without it, according to Isaiah’s prophetic word in John 12:40, there is no healing from God, i.e. no salvation.
We see that repentance is actually found in the Gospel of John. Most likely more than once, as I have shown.
If, then, repentance is essential and “Jesus is Lord” is the confession of a repentant heart, His Lordship must be acknowledged for us to be truly saved.
To help us understand this Scriptural truth, let us take a closer look at the word “Lord,” κύριος, in the Greek New Testament.
Even when κύριος is used as “sir” (in its κύριε form), it expresses respect and deference toward the person addressed. Kύριος carries the general meaning: “he to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he has the power of deciding; master, lord, ruler” (Thayer). It gives me great concern when Christians marginalize the word “Lord” in Romans 10:9. This is a key salvation passage in the Bible. Every word is crucial for our understanding of what it means to be truly saved: to have “the righteousness of faith” (verse 6). A false understanding will mean damnation for many.
When Paul prefaces verses 9 and 10 with these words: “This is the word [ῥῆμα―the precise word] of faith which we are preaching,” he is drawing cross hairs over the very heart of our Christian faith and message. All that he and other early Christians taught soteriologically, flows into this one channel.
What is the ῥῆμα Paul is speaking of? It is this: “That,” verse 9, “if you confess in [or with] your mouth Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” For, verse 10, “with the mouth it is confessed unto salvation.” What is confessed, that leads to salvation? “Lord Jesus.” Not “Jesus” but κύριον Ἰησοῦν. It is not a good time to slip past a word (like the two slipped around the man left for dead on the road to Jericho), or trivialize its meaning, when one’s salvation or the honor of Christ is at stake. The Spirit placed κύριον there for a reason. It certainly does not mean that we address Him as “sir.” To confess in one’s mouth, κύριον, is to recognize the place Jesus has in one’s life: someone who is truly saved. It is a recognition of who He is at a fundamental level. To do less, is to deny Him.
The word “Lord” in Romans 10:9 bears the same power as in Philippians 2:11 where it clearly expresses the authority and preeminence of Christ. The two texts bear a surprising resemblance.
Romans 10:9 – ὅτι ἐὰν ὁμολογήσῃς ἐν τῷ στόματί σου κύριον Ἰησοῦν
that if you confess in your mouth Lord Jesus
Philippians 2:11 – καὶ πᾶσα γλῶσσα ἐξομολογήσηται ὅτι κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστός
and every tongue will confess that Lord Jesus Christ,
to the glory of God the Father.
Notice: the word “is” is not found in either text, yet it is clearly understood in both. (This is expressed in the same manner, without the word “is,” in I Cor. 12:3 and II Cor. 4:5.) Make no mistake. The intended meaning, and an accurate translation, in both cases, is: “Lord is Jesus,” or, “Jesus is Lord“/”Jesus Christ is Lord.” These confessions are a simple, yet profound, acknowledgment of the Lordship of Christ: recognizing Him for who He is.
We are lowered in humble submission. The word “Lord” is central, and may be considered the primary component, in both. If these verses were a painting, your eyes would be drawn to that. Indeed, one cannot duly or rightfully confess Jesus Christ without a reference to “Lord.” That is the lesson here. We also see that God is pleased and glorified when we recognize His Son as Lord.
It is important to the Spirit who placed the word in each text, and it is important to our Father. What about us?
What is it with “Christians” in America today? We are more concerned about ourselves, and our right to prerogatives, than we are about Christ. We like to be able to pop Him on and off the throne as we please. I’m sorry. This does not reflect the true nature of things. We are not lord of the Lord.
We better get it straight who is Lord, because Jesus is not backing off the throne for anyone. We don’t put Him there and He is not leaving because we say so. The message in the early church was clear: “He is Lord of all” (Matt. 28:18; Acts 10:36; Rom. 9:5; Eph. 1:22, 23; Col. 1:18). If we don’t know who He is, what right do we have to think He will know who we are in the end (Matt. 7:23)?
As you can see, I have squashed the bush rather than beat around it. Because I love Jesus and you, I have been straight forward. My greatest desire is the glory of Jesus Christ, our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Let the children come to Me,” the Person I truly am, “and forbid them not.”
© James Unruh, 2015 and beyond