Office Hours: The Lordship Controversy Is Back

Office HoursThis is season 5 of Office Hours and we’re talking about sanctification: New Life In The Shadow Of Death. In this episode, Mike Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, and I time travel to the  “Lordship Controversy” that raged in evangelical and Reformed circles in the 1980s and early 90s. This controversy is important because it continues to shape the way many think about sanctification. It influences the way they analyze the problems of and solutions to the Lordship of Christ, grace, and obedience. It has become the paradigm that many bring to this issue. Those who would be Reformed, however, might be surprised to learn that, in significant ways, the Reformed confession dissents from both sides of the Lordship controversy. In 1992 Mike published Christ The Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation, which clearly exposed the sub-Reformed roots of both positions in the debate. Christ is Lord and grace is free and if we understand the Reformation we can see how Christ’s Lordship and his grace relate biblically.

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  1. Thankyou both for revisiting this subject. There are still some very smart people who claim to be reformed and hold to Lordship salvation. They do not see Lordship salvation as synergistic in anyway. The obvious example being a famous debater and preacher of the Reformed Baptist persuasion in Arizona.

    It doesn’t even bother me that he believes such, but that so many younger pastors and believers I know respond to the situation by saying “But so and so believes it, so it must be right”. They cannot see then they are stuck in folk theology, not biblical theology.

  2. In describing the two stage process inherent in the Lordship view, Mike H comments that the second stage – of submitting to Jesus as Lord – is like a ‘fine print’ clause.

    This is exactly the point I have been trying to make on the Tullian & WaPo blog when I referred to the Small Print aspect of the third use of the law is misused.

    • Richard,

      WHO HERE IS DOING THAT? Mike isn’t saying that the 3rd use of the law = fine print but you seem to be saying that it is. Would you please clarify what you’re saying?

  3. This is a great interview. I just got done reading “Christ the Lord” actually.

    I don’t know if I am splitting hairs, but must I trust in Christ alone as my justification *and* sanctification in order to be justified OR is it that God grants the grace of sanctification to those who trust in Christ alone for justification, meaning it’s when we make Christ the object of our trust solely for justification that God also supplies the grace of sanctification?


    • * by trusting in Him as my sanctification I don’t mean that He must first sanctify me to some degree, but rather, is my trust to be Him both as my justification and sanctification in order to be justified, before anything is wrought in me?

      I’m inclined to think that we only must trust Him as our justification and the fruit of that is to embrace Him by faith as our sanctification. That seems to be the message of Galatians 3.

      Is that true to reformed thought?

    • @Dustin H, What in scripture leads you to believe that you can “trust in Christ alone as your justification *and* sanctification” without already having been Justified and while not being Sanctified aka being saved?

      Dr. Clark or someone else will likely have a better response, but, I frequently remind folks to take the common modern picture of salvation and jettison it. It is not, as is frequently described today, one where man is exhausted, storm battered, and ready to slip beneath the waves and drown when along comes Christ. Seeing the desperate man, Christ then throws him a life preserver to which the man must desperately cling to lest one slip back down to your peril. No, a closer description using the same situation is that the man’s bones are scattered across the desert floor, God then gathers the bones together, wraps then in flesh, and breathes life into the body.

      One needs not do/trust/say anything to be saved. One will do/trust/say many things because he is saved. So the trust is evidence, not a cause.

      A confusion of this is one reason why both Free Grace and Lordship Salvation are synergistic, not monergistic (the reformed view) in thought.

    • Dustin,

      You said you heard the interview, so I think what Dr. Horton said is sufficient. When we trust in Christ, we receive the whole Christ and not parts of him like the way the “Free Grace” or “Lordship” proponents sever him. How can one receive Christ and yet reject certain things about him?

      • @Alberto You have it backwards. We do not receive because we trust, We trust in Christ because we have received.

        A=>B != B=>A

        Remember the Ordo Salutis: Election / predestination, followed by evangelism, regeneration, conversion, justification, sanctification, and glorification.

    • Sorry R.K., I am far from being a theologian. I wasn’t even thinking in the logical order of the things mentioned, but maybe I should be more thoughtful of it. But thank you for making me think more.

      • @Alberto I thought, after I replied that such was the case. I pointed it out simply because even logical order of thing that happen simultaneously can have an impact on how we look at things.

  4. This was a great interview Dr. Clark. This provides an excellent example of how people can be predestinarian (like many Baptists) and yet not be Reformed, as exemplified in the Wesleyan (or whatever else there may be) view of sanctification held by many of them. The categories with which they speak are wrong right at the outset. We don’t make him our saviour or sanctifier; he saves and sanctifies us because he is the saviour and sanctifier.

    Another great thing I noticed in the interview is that when you both speak, you say “we.” In other words, you express a common confession among churches and not merely your private opinions or even that of a local church. It expresses a belief held through time.

  5. Thanks for the feedback.

    I gave a partial listen-through again, and here are some quotes from Dr. Horton:

    In a critique to MacArthur’s concern, Dr. Horton stated:

    “It sounds like we are making Jesus Lord. We are doing something that is over and beyond trusting and resting in Christ for our justification. And so there was a blurring of justification and sanctification…”

    “Through the same act of faith, we are united to Christ with all of His benefits…”

    It sounds like what he is saying, in the context of Reformed thought, is this: God regenerates us. We lay hold of Christ as our justification by faith alone, and through *that* faith, we receive all of His benefits, not only justification.

    Am I on the right track?

    God bless.


  6. Dr. Clark, thank you for the resources. I have to say that “Christ the Lord” was one of the best books I’ve ever read on salvation in that it helped me clear the static in my thinking concerning salvation issues.

    The static was probably due to the lack of clarity in the church.

    Having just finished the book, it was a special blessing to find this recent interview.

    Many blessings!


  7. I’ve waited for several days to respond, not wanting to speak rashly. Please permit me to register a dissenting voice. I found the interview extremely disappointing.

    The problem is not what was said in the interview, but what was left unsaid. I listened very carefully, and unless I’m mistaken, there was a term not mentioned one time: Repentance. How can one survey the Lordship Controversy and not refer at all to repentance, let alone not discuss it? From my reading years ago (I haven’t returned to “The Gospel According to Jesus” lately?, John MacArthur’s book focused heavily on the necessity of repentance for salvation – what it is, how it is distinguished from but never separated from saving faith, what are its true marks, and so forth. MacArthur never taught that repentance is a “work.” In my opinion, he never detracted from saving faith as resting on and receiving Christ alone for salvation.

    Repentance is central to our understanding of salvation.

    Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 87:

    Q. What is repentance unto life?
    A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.

    Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 15 (paragraphs 1-3):

    1. Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ.

    2. By it, a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature, and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of his mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavoring to walk with him in all the ways of his commandments.

    3. Although repentance be not to be rested in, as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof, which is the act of God’s free grace in Christ; yet it is of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it.

    In the Westminster Standards, repentance is a “saving grace,” an “evangelical grace.” Note that Westminster does not follow the idea that repentance is simply “a change of mind toward God.” It is that, of course, but it is much more. Repentance is a turning “unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.”

    Of course the repentance that leads to salvation is not a “work of the law.” At the moment a sinner exercises saving faith, his repentant turning toward God, purposing and endeavoring after new obedience may not involve any outward act. But it is something that may be distinguished from saving faith itself. Evangelical repentance is not faith, but evangelical repentance and saving faith are always found together. I believe that this is precisely what MacArthur was seeking to prove in his book, and I think he succeeded wonderfully.

    I realize that a half-hour interview cannot cover every subject. I have not been able to locate my old copy of “Christ the Lord,” so I don’t know if repentance receives full treatment there. But it was disappointing that a theological the stature of Dr. Horton talked nearly thirty minutes on the Lordship Controversy without mentioning repentance even once.

    Finally, I believe that Dr. MacArthur spent a lot of time on the incident of “the rich young ruler.” In that man’s case, evangelical repentance would have meant purposing and endeavoring after selling all his goods and giving them to the poor. Certainly he would have received full, free, forensic justification the moment he believed savingly in the Messiah (with knowledge, assent, and trust in Christ alone). But his repentance would be shown clearly by his actions after he believed, in giving up the idol of his heart.

    As Reformed believers we all affirm that saving faith and evangelical repentance can never be separated in the life of the Christ. I believe as well that it’s dangerous to separate them when we talk about salvation.

  8. Please excuse the terrible typo in the final paragraph. That should be “the life of the Christian,” of course.

  9. Frank,
    Scripture shows us that faith and repentance are inseparable in conversion (Mark 1:15). One cannot have true faith in Jesus Christ and at the same time feel no conviction of sin and a desire to change. True guilt for sin and turning from them cannot occur about from a living faith. They are like a double-barrel shotgun in conversion. We have to look at faith and repentance as a magnificent gift. Faith is a gift (Eph 2:8) and so is repentance (2 Tim 2:5). The final act of our conversion is our justification. The entire act of faith, repentance, and justification is entirely an extraspective work. It is an objective work done by Christ and given to us. The rich young ruler did not have repentance because he did not have faith. He did not have faith because it was not gifted to him by the Lord. Objectively he could never repent. I think we need to make a distinction between the initial, first time repentance of a person in conversion, and the ongoing repentance of a believer in sanctification. Initially, one is recognizing their sin and need of a savior. This is coupled with justification as a one time event. Afterwards, a new convert works in repentance in an ongoing evidencing of their conversion and justification. This distinction needs to be made because as I read you it sounds like we are justified in as much as we are sanctified in our ongoing repentance.

  10. John,

    I specifically affirmed precisely the opposite of what you suggest in your last sentence. In fact, I tried to say (perhaps not entirely successfully) exactly what you wrote in your entire paragraph. My particular point in quoting WCF and WSC, which I believe are thoroughly biblical, was to show that there is a definite commitment of the heart and the will in “evangelical” (born of the Gospel) repentance. Turning to God and turning from sin are correlative. Neither is possible without the other. This is clearly what Dr. MacArthur teaches, and I trust it’s what Dr. Horton believes as well. Nothing is this teaching jeopardizes once-for-all, forensic justification, but rather affirms it in the strongest possible terms.

  11. To focus a little closer on the anatomy of repentance: WCF 15.2 is helpful in showing that repentance is born of the mercy of God yet is distinguished from faith. A sinner who is granted the evangelical grace of repentance, ” . . . upon the apprehension of [God’s] mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God.”

    Grieves, hates, turns – these “action verbs” cannot be restricted to the ongoing process of sanctification, and divorced from the faith that justifies. They are, I believe, a necessary component of turning from sin as we turn toward God. Just as we cannot grasp the glory of the Gospel without knowing in some measure the condemnation of the law, we cannot embrace the Savior in saving faith (even weak faith) without rejecting (however imperfectly) the sin which He bore for us.

    I affirm once again that justification is a once-for-all act of God, and not a process. Yet repentance, as defined with biblical accuracy in the Westminster Standards, “is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ” (WCF 15.1).

    The pairing of faith and repentance is central to the apostle Paul’s testimony to the Ephesian elders: “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:20-21, ESV).

    • @Frank, now it seems as though you are using grace differently.

      This is why both in Christ the Lord and in the above podcast great attention is paid to the terms and definitions.

      Have you yet read “Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation” ed Horton? If not grab a copy of the 2nd edition, it is a good read and the 2nd ed takes into account some of the communication Drs Horton & MacArthur had after the 1st ed (if I remember correctly)

      You may also want to read MacArthur’s book that triggered things (The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith?), to get the position espoused from the horses mouth.

    • Frank,

      1. I appreciate your concern. There were a lot of things that we could have discussed and did not. Repentance is one of them. The program was aimed at younger listeners, who didn’t go through the “Lordship Controversy” the first time. I was trying to help them connect some of the current discussions with that episode. If we should have discussed and didn’t, that’s my fault since I’m the one asking the questions.

      I’ve been waiting to reply until I could get a look at both Dr MacAruthur’s book and at Paul Schaefer’s chapters in Christ the Lord. What follows is a longish response but I think your questions deserve a fuller and careful reply.

      2. The Larger Catechism is quite helpful here. Let me quote the relevant questions and answers and then make some observations.

      Q. 70. What is justification?
      A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

      Q. 71. How is justification an act of God’s free grace?
      A. Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet inasmuch as God accepteth the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.

      Q. 72. What is justifying faith?
      A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

      Q. 73. How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?
      A. Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness.

      Q. 74. What is adoption?
      A. Adoption is an act of the free grace of God, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, whereby all those that are justified are received into the number of his children, have his name put upon them, the Spirit of his Son given to them, are under his fatherly care and dispensations, admitted to all the liberties and privileges of the sons of God, made heirs of all the promises, and fellow-heirs with Christ in glory.

      Q. 75. What is sanctification?
      A. Sanctification is a work of God’s grace, whereby they whom God hath, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life.

      Q. 76. What is repentance unto life?
      A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, and upon the apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, he so grieves for and hates his sins, as that he turns from them all to God, purposing and endeavoring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience.

      Q. 77. Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?
      A. Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.

      In QQ. 70-73 justification is in view. In 72 we confess that, in justifying faith, the sinner is convinced of his sin and misery but repentance is not mentioned. In the act of justification faith rests on and receives Christ. Indeed, the divines very carefully stipulate that “Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it….” So, we affirm the logical necessity of the other graces that do accompany faith but we very deliberately do not include them in faith, in the act of justification because it was the Roman error to include them, to say that we are justified by a faith “formed by love.” In other words, we made faith efficacious because it includes the other graces.

      I point out the phrase “other graces” because in Q. 76, the divines taught that repentance is one of them. 74 addresses adoption. 75 addresses sanctification. Only after changing topics, moving beyond justifying faith to sanctification, do the divines turn repentance. Then they define repentance unto life as “a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God….” It is one of those other graces that the Spirit always works in the hearts of those whom he regenerates, to whom he gives justifying faith.

      It is significant that the divines then go on to explain clearly the distinction between justification and sanctification.

      Part of the difficulty in this question is the fact that we sometimes use justification and salvation to mean the same things and sometimes we use them distinctly. The divines clearly did the latter in the WLC.

      Dr MacArthur writes,

      Our Lord’s point in relating that account was to demonstrate that repentance is at the core of saving faith. The Greek word for repentance, metanoia, literally means “to think after.” It implies a change of mind, and some who oppose lordship salvation have tried to limit its meaning to that. [he cites Cocoris and Ryrie]. But a definition of repentance cannot be drawn solely from the etymology of the Greek word.

      Repentance as Jesus characterized it in this incident involves a recognition of utter sinfulness and a turning from self and sin to God (cd. 1 Thessalonians 1:9). Far from being a human work, it is the inevitable result of God’s working a human heart. And it always represents the end of any human attempt to earn God’s favor. It is much more than a mere change of mind—it involves a complete change of heart, attitude, interest, and direction. It is a conversion in every sense of the word.

      The Bible does not recognize faith that lacks this element of active repentance. True faith is never seen as passive—it is always obedient. In fact, Scripture often equates faith with obedience (John 3:36; Romans 1:5; 16:26; 2 Thessalonians 1:8). [He goes on to quote Heb 11:8]

      …Faith and works are not incompatible. There is a sense in which Jesus calls even the act of believing a work (John 6:29)—not merely a human work, but a gracious work of God in us. He brings us to faith then enables and empowers us to believe unto obedience (cf Romans 16:26)The Gospel According to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 32–33

      There is much here with which confessing Reformed Christians can agree but it is not always clear to me whether he was writing about salvation in the broad sense, of which justification is one aspect but sanctification is included, or whether he was using salvation in the colloquial sense, as a synonym for justification. If he was speaking of justification when he describes the role of Spirit-wrought sanctity and obedience, then I think we must dissent.

      One great problem with including including Spirit-wrought repentance, sanctity, and works in faith as he does is that, if he’s not distinguishing clearly between justification and sanctification then we have made things a necessary constituent of faith, in the act of justification, that are never perfect. This is precisely why the divines speak of repentance unto life under the heading of sanctification.

      Our repentance is Spirit-wrought but it is also, like the rest of our sanctification, imperfect and progressive.

      Further, when I was a student, as this debate was occurring, Bob Godfrey commented once in class that repentance must logically be the fruit of faith since unbelievers do not repent. This seems right and there are older Reformed writers (e.g., Olevianus) who did speak the same way.

      If we’re speaking of salvation in the broad sense (as defined above), then yes, faith does include repentance and and all the other graces but, in the act of justification, faith rests on Christ and his promises and it does not look to see whether the believer is sufficiently sanctified or sufficiently repentant, because the believer never is.

      One of the major points that Mike made in our discussion is that the Lordship Salvation controversy really wasn’t a Reformed argument. Our confessions are clear. Sanctity is a logically and morally necessary evidence and fruit of justification. It is part of salvation. The Free Grace folks were wrong but MacArthur’s response also created problems. See Paul Schaefer’s survey of MacAthur’s teaching in his two-part (two-chapter) essay on the Free Grace folks and on MacArthur in Christ the Lord. On p. 183ff Paul raised some of the same question about Dr MacAuthr’s language that I’ve raised here. Mike also pointed out in the interview that he has revised his language on some of these issues since 1988.

  12. R. K.,

    I don’t believe that I’m conflating cause with result. And I hope that I’m reading the Westminster Standards and the Reformed tradition correctly. As the old country preacher might say, “There ain’t no lookin’ to Christ without lookin’ away from self. There ain’t no lovin’ Him without hatin’ sin.” It seems to me that this is the meaning of “evangelical repentance” as Westminster describes it. And, as I recall, it’s at bottom what the “Lordship Controversy” was all about.

    To circle back to the rich young ruler: Of course, he could have exercised saving faith and have been fully justified while at that moment remaining a wealthy man. But this particular man could not have believed to the saving of his soul without rejecting his idol, abandoning it in his heart, and committing his entire life to Christ (that is, grieving, hating, turning, purposing, and endeavoring). The works that would certainly follow would be “worthy of repentance.”

  13. R. K.,

    I read MacArthur’s book many years ago. I have the 25th anniversary edition but have not read it again. I will purchase the 2nd edition of “Christ the Lord.” I look forward to reading the communications between Drs. MacArthur and Horton.

  14. I have a couple of questions for y’all (Mississippi lingo) who think my posts have been bumping up against neo-nomianism, or Christ as the new lawgiver. (I know you’re out there.)

    Do you believe that repentance can and should be preached in an evangelistic context?

    If no, why not, since preaching repentance in evangelism is clearly in the mainstream of the Reformed confession and tradition?

    If yes, then what actually is this thing that Westminster calls a “saving grace” and an “evangelical grace”? Is it (1) Something that happens only after you’ve savingly believed in Christ for justification, when you begin the process of sanctification, or (2) Merely a change of mind toward God, per the “free grace” advocates in the Lordship Controversy, or (3) As I’ve described it above, distinguished but never separated from saving faith, at the beginning, middle, and end of life in Christ?

    • Frank, you are bouncing around all over the place, making it virtually impossible to determine what the point of contention you have actually is.

      Have you read the original arguments? Y/N
      If No, please do so, it will get you up to speed or at least answer many of your questions. I have listed 2 already,by Drs. Horton and MacArthur, Hodges has the other one, but you should be familiar with the 1st two before continuing, unless Dr Clark or Horton want to jump in.

      If Yes, can we please take 1 topic at a time, not the 3+ already open. The issues are intertwined and as you bounce from one to the next, it makes a moving target and is quite frustrating to try and reply.

      Lordship salvation is synergistic, so is Free Grace. Both ideas originate from presuppositions outside of the Reformed view of things and require different usages for common words in order to make them fit.

      To try and cover all of the presuppositions and resultant workings out takes an entire book. I personally do not know how to express it better than has already been done.

  15. Food for thought from “Christ the Lord” by Michael Horton et al.–some quotes on faith, repentance and sanctification. MacArthur adjusted his language based on the concerns of this book, as you will see in the last quote, found in the book’s endnotes. I believe my edition is the 1st. I would definitely buy it.

    Michael Horton:

    “First, it is true that Luther and Calvin equated repentance with regeneration (although Hodges should have pointed out that regeneration, for both Reformers, was a synonym for sanctification rather than for the gift of new life). Therefore, repentance (used in this sense of sanctification) could not possibly be a condition for justification. The author is correct to affirm that ‘Both [Reformers] stood firmly for the great Reformation insight expressed in the words sola fide–“faith alone”‘ and that ‘No other position is biblical or truly evangelical. Faith alone (not repentance and faith) is the sole condition for justification and eternal life…'” p. 19

    Michael Horton:

    “Furthermore, Hodges is, I believe, correct in his insistence that Dr. MacArthur is confusing on this point. Hodges properly cites Calvin’s comments in his favor concerning this issue (an exception to the rule): ‘For to include faith in repentance, is repugnant to what Paul says in Acts [20:21]–that he testified ‘both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ’; where he mentions faith and repentance, as two things totally distinct.'” p. 20

    Calvin quoted within the book:

    “We acknowledge, then, that as soon as any one is justified, renewal also necessarily follows: and there is no dispute as to whether or not Christ sanctifies all whom he justifies. It were to rend the gospel, and divide Christ himself to attempt to separate the righteousness which we obtain by faith [justification] from repentance [sanctification].” pp. 125-126

    Michael Horton:

    “Repentance ought indeed to be preached along with the call to faith, as the flip side of the coin of conversion, but these two must be distinguished if we are to maintain ‘faith alone.'” p. 49

    Kim Riddlebarger:

    “The Reformed, then, have historically linked faith, repentance, and obedience together, not calling the latter two elements within saving faith itself, but understanding them as corollaries within the ordo salutis. That is, one who has exercised faith in Christ, and is united to Christ by that faith, will repent and will struggle to obey and yield. But these things are not conditions for nor component parts of faith itself. They are fruits of saving faith. They are the inevitable activity of the new nature.” p. 104

    Berkhof quoted within the book:

    “According to Scripture repentance is wholly an inward act, and should not be confounded with the change of life that proceeds from it. Confession of sin and reparation of wrongs are fruits of repentance. Repentance is only a negative condition, and not a positive means of salvation….Moreover, true repentance never exists exists except in conduction with faith, while on the other hand, wherever there is true faith, there is also real repentance….Luther sometimes spoke of repentance preceding faith, but seems nevertheless to have agree with Calvin in regarding true repentance as one of the fruits of faith.” p. 104

    Kim Riddlebarger:

    “In the Reformation system, repentance will never unite us to Christ, nor will repentance ever justify us. We cannot be saved without it, yet we are not saved by it. It is Christ who saves us, by grace through faith. Penitence, sorrow for sin, good works, and other ‘effects of faith’ are the Holy Spirit’s fruit to bear in our lives, not good works that we perform to earn God’s favor or to assure ourselves that we have exercised saving faith.” p. 105

    Endnotes: Point where MacArthur adjusted his language:

    “MacArthur argued in his first editions of The Gospel According to Jesus that “the Bible does not recognize faith that lacks this element of active repentance” (p. 32); that “repentance is a critical element of saving faith” (p. 162); and that “repentance is a critical element of genuine faith” (p. 172). However, when we discussed this confusion this might cause between faith and repentance, MacArthur changed the text to read “conversion” instead of “faith”. This is a substantial change that brings MacArthur into harmony with the Reformation interpretation of these key texts on this point. While faith and repentance are inseparable, and repentance is much more than a synonym for believing in Christ (contra Hodges), they are also distinct; repentance is not faith and faith is not repentance, even though both are certain fruits of conversion or effectual calling (John 1:12-13; Rom. 9:12-18; Eph. 2:1-5).” p. 226

    • * Berkhof quote reads: “Moreover, true repentance never exists exists except in conduction with faith…”

      Should read: “Moreover, true repentance never exists except in conjunction with faith”

  16. I made one initial point, and one only: The (to me) baffling omission of repentance in a half-hour review of the Lordship Controversy by a major Reformed theologian. Yes, I do remember the essential issues at stake in that controversy, and the nature and place of repentance was right at the center. I’m not entirely unaware of the theological battles in evangelicalism during the past forty years. I purposely stuck to the broad themes and took a “big picture” view. There’s a time and place for a bird’s-eye perspective. This is, after all, what Dr. Horton did in his interview. If I recall correctly, there was not one quotation from Dr. MacArthur or one passage sourced in the entire half-hour, but there were plenty of conclusions.

    I’ll stick by my initial thought, which I have returned to again and again: To fail to come to terms with the nature of repentance in even a short survey of the Lordship Controversy, is to miss not only a great big tree, but a large chunk of the forest as well.

    I seem to have struck a couple of raw nerves by daring to utter a contrary view. On to “ad fontes” as I get the time. Perhaps a little openness on the other side wouldn’t hurt, either.

    • Frank said: ‘I seem to have struck a couple of raw nerves by daring to utter a contrary view. On to “ad fontes” as I get the time. Perhaps a little openness on the other side wouldn’t hurt, either.’

      You struck no raw nerves with me until the above statement. Somethings deserve no ‘openness’, or better said: Some things may not be compromised on.

  17. Thanks, Dustin, for the apt quotations, which I read after my last post.

    I concur with MacArthur’s adjustments of his original language. I believe, though – exercising the judgment of charity – that the original language was not evidence of syncretism, but should be attributed to imprecision and weak editing. “Infelicitious phrasing” would be an even kinder reading. On the basis of those quotations at least, I believe it’s a bridge too far to say that MacArthur’s view was evidence of syncretism. As for the passages from Calvin, Berkhof, Horton, and Riddlebarger, I believe that my previous posts said the same things.

    To sum up: It would have been most helpful had Dr. Horton been as pointed and specific in the interview as the well-chosen quotations that Dustin provided.

  18. I really like Dr. Clark’s comment. I actually stored it in my notes system because it gave a great overview for me–if that’s okay. And I agree that Frank’s concern should be appreciated.

    This point:

    > “Further, when I was a student, as this debate was occurring, Bob Godfrey commented once in class that repentance must logically be the fruit of faith since unbelievers do not repent. This seems right and there are older Reformed writers (e.g., Olevianus) who did speak the same way.”

    This seems right to me because our Lord says that we submit to the master whom we love, and yet love is not seen in us loving God, but Him loving us. So it seems to me that you can’t really turn from all idols to submit to the true Master unless you perceive and receive His love through faith (Rom. 5, Gal. 3). You know, we love because He first loved us.

    Bless you, everyone.


  19. I just bought Dr. Horton’s book “The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way” and it has some interesting thoughts on repentance worth considering.

    Maybe I could get some feedback. I want to perfect my discipleship/teaching/preaching. God help me.

    He makes a distinction between repentance and the fruits of repentance, making the latter a fruit of faith and the former something that prepares us for faith, or is the occasion for it.

    I’ll put important quotes below, but here is my summary understanding of what he’s saying. If my language is imprecise or off, please correct me:

    The call to repent is a call to be convicted of your sin. It’s a call to have an inner change of disposition concerning sin in which you understand that you are a sinner and you have personally offended a holy God. It is not a call to have holy desires or inner resolves or commitments. That is the fruit of repentance. While regret may often be present in repentance, this is not to say that we seek to have a degree of holy desires before we can lay hold of Christ. Repentance is rather marked by a sense of helplessness in the face of sin’s penalty and power.

    This conviction of sin becomes the occasion for faith in Christ alone. We do not lay hold of Christ by repentance or its fruits, but only by faith. And faith is the sole instrument (and nothing else) by which we receive the merits of Christ on our behalf. Yet repentance helps us feel the urgency of embracing Christ freely, and the danger of not doing it.

    So, the apostolic message could be stated like this:

    Be convicted of the seriousness of your alliance with sin and your helpless bondage to its penalty and power. Embrace Christ by faith alone apart from works and bear the good fruits of new obedience.


    > “Repentance (metanoia) means “change of mind.” It is treated in Scripture as first of all the knowledge of sin produced by the law (Ro 3: 20). As we have seen above from Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse, the Spirit is an attorney sent to convict us inwardly of God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness. This knowledge, however, is not merely intellectual but emotional— it involves the whole person.” (Kindle Locations 14207-14210)

    > “Repentance is not only remorse for having wronged our neighbor, but is a recognition that God is the most offended party. Third, David does not try to atone for his sins or pacify God’s just anger by his remorse. David confesses that before God’s throne he is condemned, and he does not try to justify himself.” (Kindle Locations 14225-14227)

    > “Often repentance is more broadly defined to include actual change in character and behavior, but Scripture describes this as the “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Mt 3: 8) or “deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Ac 26: 20; cf. Mt 7: 16; Lk 3: 9; 8: 15; Jn 12: 24; Ro 7: 4; Gal 5: 22; Col 1: 10). In this sense, of course, repentance is always partial, weak, and incomplete in this life. Nor is it a one-time act.” (Kindle Locations 14235-14238)

    > “The Spirit brings us to repentance by convicting us of sin by the law, the gospel leads us to faith in Christ, and this faith produces within us a hatred of our sin and a craving for righteousness. Since our tendency even as believers is still to turn back toward ourselves and trust in our repentance, we must be driven again to despair of our righteousness or of any possibility of ridding ourselves of our sins by the law and cling to Christ.” (Kindle Locations 14240-14243)

    > “To put it differently, in repentance we confess (with David) that God is justified in his verdict against us, and in faith we receive God’s justification.” (Kindle Locations 14269-14270)

    > “The law begins repentance, by convicting us of sin, but only the gospel can lead us to boldly claim God’s promise with David: “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities” (Ps 51: 8– 9).” (Kindle Locations 14259-14261)

    > “Biblical repentance, however, involves a fundamental renunciation of the world, the flesh, and the devil: including the spirituality, experiences, and moral efforts in which one has trusted. The whole self must be turned away both from self-trust and from the autonomy that demands final say as to what one will believe, whom one will trust, and how one will live.” (Kindle Locations 14264-14266)

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