Book Review: Repentance: The Most Misunderstood Word in the Bible

 

Disclaimer: while this review is critical in nature, it’s not my place to judge Cocoris’s motives, sincerity, or faith. All believers will stand before Jesus Christ very soon to give an account —starting with myself. The critical standard applied to Mr. Cocoris’s book should be equally applied to my review based on the Word of God.

Because this book is written by an author who holds a Free Grace Theological view, this review will include highlights of this theology to help explain the thought process that prevents an objective definition of repentance. The author (Cocoris) cannot define repentance objectively (as I see it) as he must define it within the perimeters of his theology. Free Grace Theology (FGT) is his authority for faith and practice and “drives the bus” of his biblical interpretation (in my opinion). He writes “to define repentance as being sorry for sin or turning from sin is dangerous” (page 20). Free Grace Theology (FGT) does not make sin an issue, but belief in the One who died for their sins. People can come to Jesus for salvation without regret for sin, or desire to turn from it. Being in love with their sin is perfectly acceptable. They must only believe in Jesus; leaving sins at the cross is unnecessary. In essence, converts are free to “mire and wallow” in it.

Free Grace Theology (FGT) commonly stresses three passages for salvation that don’t include repentance: John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-9 and Acts 16:31. Because these passages and others exclude repentance, it cannot mean more (in their view) than “a change of mind.” This change is intellectual. No outward action required.

Because John 3:16 is foundational to FGT, it will be covered briefly. John 3:16 begins with God and ends with eternal life. Everlasting life is conditional on belief. They must believe (Greek present tense) in Jesus Christ to be saved. John 3:21 states, “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (ESV). The “whoever” are the true believers of John 3:16. Notice that their works “may be clearly seen.” FGT rejects the notion that works must follow salvation.

Jesus said believing (Greek present tense) is work in the same Gospel of John. Jesus said, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (John 6:27). The passage continues, “then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God” (John 6:28)? The word “do” is in the Greek present tense. The question here is, “what works must we do continually to be saved?” Jesus replies, “This is the work of God, that you believe [present tense] in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29b).

Believing is undoubtedly a continuous work in the book of John. Believers must “rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). There are different kinds of “works” in the New Testament. The believing that Christ described as “work” (John 6:27-29) is NOT “works of the law” (Rom 3:20), OR works to earn heaven as wages due (Romans 4:4). FGT mislabels works; they place them all under one category. They fail to “rightly divide” the Scripture.

Luther and other Reformers of the past have successfully convinced the masses of an apparent conflict between works and grace. They placed all works in one category and a workless faith (faith alone) in the other. In essence, salvation is totally free (from man’s view), or it would not be a gift. People don’t need to love Jesus or turn from their sins. Divine viewpoint has been replaced by Satan’s lies.

Is not a sovereign God free to dictate the conditions necessary for man to be saved? If you offered to pay for all the surgeries that would heal every blind person in your city, would you not set the conditions for the blind to receive this grace? Does God submit to man’s ways, or does not man submit to God’s ways to live?

God set the condition for eternal life in John 3:16. FGT claims man can have it their way with a one-time belief that God never said. A one-time faith is faithless; it does not believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “My sheep hear [present tense] my voice, and I know [present tense] them, and they follow [present tense] me” (John 10:27).

Cocoris writes, “the Greek words rendered ‘repent’ and ‘repentance’ mean ‘a change of mind or attitude’ -period” (page 15). FGT teaches “faith alone” for salvation. Since faith is all that God requires (in their view) a sinner needs not turn from sin, confess it, show remorse, or commit to a new life of faith in Christ to be saved. Passages that teach “obedience of faith” for salvation are flushed (Rom. 1:5; 15:18-19; Heb. 5:9; Acts 6:7, etc.). They teach that discipleship, water baptism, and bearing fruit, fall under the “works” category; they aren’t required to be saved. A “believer” can become an unbeliever, get “wasted” their entire life in sin, and be welcomed into glory without a reward. It’s not unusual for FGT to claim that James 2:26 is NOT describing salvation, where the Bible says, “faith apart from works is dead.”

Cocoris argues that faith in Christ and repentance (change of mind) are the same thing. He writes, “Repentance, which means a change of mind or attitude, not tears or turning from sin, is inseparable from faith in salvation” (page 20). This view handles the Bible with blinders. It recklessly ignores  (in my opinion) passages that teach that repentance is more than an intellectual change of mind. Real repentance involves turning that produces fruit. See Acts 3:19, 26:20; Mat. 3:8; Luke 3:8, etc. A biblical hermeneutic that does not consider the Bible as a whole is dangerous.

A second reason that repentance is different than faith is that these two terms are sometimes listed separately, side by side. See Acts 20:21, Hebrews 6:1, and Mark 1:15. In these three passages, faith (belief) and repentance are separate, individual requirements for salvation.

FGT teaches that certain passages for salvation do not mention repentance; therefore, repentance (more than “a change of mind”) is not required. A consistent application of this rule results in erroneous theology. If we were to practice this fallacy, some passages only list repentance in Christ for salvation; therefore, belief in Christ would be unnecessary. Furthermore, passages that seem to indicate salvation is by works would have to be interpreted alone such as this one: “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (Romans 2:6-7).

Conclusion: the author’s theology that certain passages do not mention repentance so repentance is not required for salvation results in erroneous theology. The entire Bible as a whole must be considered.

Another argument made by FGT is that the Gospel of John is the only book written so people would be saved. Since the book of John does not mention repentance (page 12), more than “a change of mind” is not required. The author writes:

Not only does the Bible repeatedly mention faith as the single requirement, but also in critical places it does not mention repentance. The Gospel of John is the only book in the Bible that at it’s purpose to bring people to Christ. At the end of his gospel, John wrote, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31)”  (page 12).

The paragraph above is wrong for several reasons. The Bible does not teach a one-time faith for salvation anywhere, but ongoing faith in Christ. The word “believing” above is in the present tense. To claim that in “critical places” repentance is absent is subjective. To claim that the gospel of John “is the ONLY book in the Bible” that is written purposely “to bring people to Christ” is questionable. Most Bible scholars would probably disagree with this statement. The book of Matthew was written primarily to a Jewish audience to convince them that Jesus Christ was/is indeed their true Messiah. The books of Mark and Luke were written primarily to a Gentile audience so they might believe.

FGT erects multiple straw-man arguments for their theology to work. Christians as myself who believe that “faith alone” is unscriptural are “working for their salvation.” But the only place that “faith alone” is found in the entire Bible is in James 2:24, where real faith is not alone of good works (ESV, NASB, NIV, NET)! Spiritual salvation cannot be attained by a faith that is alone. It would be severed from its object, Jesus Christ. “Faith alone” is not on Christ; it has no repentance, it will not result in water baptism as the early church practiced immediately after one believed. Real faith that saves, trusts and relies on Jesus Christ who died for their sins. Real faith includes repentance that produces fruit (given the opportunity), because real belief is inseparable from action. True, ongoing faith produces works to the glory of Christ. These works do not save, as “Jesus paid it all.” This “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 15:18-19; Heb. 5:9; Acts 6:7, etc.), is the result of believing faith. Ongoing fruit does not earn the believer salvation. Salvation has been paid entirely by the blood of Jesus Christ.

A “straw man” argument is found on the front cover (in my opinion). Below the title it reads, “The most misunderstood word in the Bible.” Should this be true, it would be apparent throughout church history. The proof is mysteriously absent. Who taught that repentance was only a change of mind five hundred years ago? How about 1800 years ago? Suddenly in the last 40 years (approximately) the church discovered the correct meaning of repentance can be obtained when one does not follow the normal grammatical rules of grammar. That is, words have a range of meaning defined by their surrounding context.

The author is correct that words have a range of meaning, defined by context. He writes, “the meaning of a word is determined by its usage at a given time in a given context” (page 13). Sadly, this statement “goes up in smoke” (in my opinion), as he examines 58 repentance passages and disallows the context to define them. This blearing omission is by necessity. Should the meaning of repentance be defined by context, it would expose the falsehood of the “faith alone” theology.

Where is the “faith alone” theology in the Bible? Not even the early church writings record such a concept. These martyrs died for a faith that was not alone.

Matthew 3:8, states “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (ESV). Cocoris writes, “John distinguishes between repentance (an inward change of mind) and the fruit of repentance (an external change)” (page 24). The author deconstructs the inspired connection God made in His word between repentance and the fruit it was to produce. The context indicates a repentance that resulted in fruit. This cannot be true for FGT because their theology does not permit a repentance that must produce fruit. The context describes a repentance that is more than “a change of mind”, it was to produce fruit! “Faith without works is dead.” The Bible makes perfect sense when read in context, grammatically, and exegetically without the glasses of FGT.

How about Ephesians 2:8-9? This passage seems to be the “safe house” for FGT. The words, “have been saved” come from one Greek word found in the perfect tense. The Greek perfect tense pictures an event in the past where an objective was met (salvation here), this reality has ongoing results that continue up to the present. Paul is teaches, on the basis of grace you were saved in the past and continue saved today by your faith. This was not a one-time faith, but a present tense faith. This verse does not identify the faith further by stating it was alone of good works. In fact, Paul wrote to “present tense” believers to inform them that their works were not saving them (“not of works”). They were saved by grace, by their faith. FGT claims that Ephesians 2:8 describes a one-time faith, but this is simply not true. They also claim this verse teaches that one is saved by “faith alone,” but this is not stated as the faith is not qualified. They also love to quote this verse to the unsaved, out of context.

On page 20, he writes “repentance is a change of mind –period. A change of mind should result in a change in behavior, but the word repent looks at the change of belief, not the change of behavior. Repentance is the root; change in behavior is the fruit.”  After claiming that “repentance is a change of mind –period,” he takes liberty to add to his definition. Without a verse in context, without quoting from a credible Greek lexicon, he defines it further based on what his theology allows. He decides for his audience that the change (fruit) is optional. The unsaved can come to Jesus without any intention of producing fruit. This directly contradicts the repentance that Paul preached. Paul writes, “but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:20). The repentance that resulted in “turning to God” and “performing deeds” was similar to what John the Baptist preached: “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew. 3:8). There is a beautiful consistency found interwoven throughout Scripture when it is not changed where sinners can have Jesus and their sin too. Paul warned Timothy of the last days: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

The book has a “word study” on repentance, but it is located in the appendix (pages 82-83)! Maybe the author hopes his target audience won’t find it there (in my opinion). This “word study” is a “sham” (in my opinion). He takes only one page to cover the meaning of repentance in the New Testament (Koine Greek). First, he quotes from the Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (Mounton and Milligan, 2004, page 404) and writes, “It cites a use of the verb ‘repent’ that means ‘change of mind’” (page 82). This is a misrepresentation as he skipped the next sentence which states, “Its meaning deepens with Christianity, and in the NT it is more than ‘repent’ and indicates a complete change of attitude, spiritual and moral, towards God” (page 404). The meaning that Mounton and Milligan assign to repentance is unmistakably more than a “change of mind.” Cocoris (in my opinion) misleads his readers.

Next, Cocoris provides two extra biblical sources from Robert Wilkin to attempt to demonstrate that the use of repentance could have been a “change of mind” during the Koine period. Wilkin is a well-known FGT teacher and author. He is famous for being a proponent of the “crossless gospel.” One does not even need to know about the cross and why Christ died to be saved. Could not Cocoris provide a more reliable source? Tragically, he quotes (or references) Wilkin more than 30 times in this book; more than any other source. He irrefutably holds Wilkin’s views as credible (in my opinion).

Finally, Cocoris takes his audience to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Kittel) to finish his “word study” argument that repentance is only “a change of mind.” It appears that Cocoris “mined” the 27 page definition of repentance and extracted two quotes out of context. Cocoris writes: “The conclusion given in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Kittel) is that for the Greek philosophers metanoia was predominantly used ‘in the intellectual sense. . . . by a penitent alteration of judgment, by reconsideration, for example, by the correction of a mistaken view, the fool becoming a wise man” (Kittel, vol. 4, p. 980) (page 82-83). This quote from the “pre-biblical” era and “extra-biblical usage” is really a perversion of the Biblical meaning of repentance. Remember, Cocoris is conducting a “word study” to determine the biblical meaning of repentance in the New Testament. Why does he not take his audience to the right place of the article where New Testament repentance is discussed? Because he failed to do this, at the end of this review a small sampling of Kittel’s definition of repentance for the New Testament will be posted.

After reading this book, I’m convinced the author and FGT are the ones who misunderstand the Biblical meaning of repentance. The author’s “narrow”, “change of mind” definition is a travesty. He denies the real meanings of repentance, where the contexts of passages are free to define it.

A believer should prayerfully study the Bible and “draw” their theology over time. This must take place under the Spirit’s guidance. The practice of reading the Bible under the lens of a theological system results in many errors, especially the doctrine of salvation. What has happened to verses like this one? “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Thanks for reading this review. The biblical meaning of repentance is important.

Here is part of Kittel’s definition of repentance:

“μετανοέω and μετάνοια in the New Testament

I. The Linguistic Understanding. Both words are most common in the Synoptic Gospels. . . . .The popular Gk. sense (→ A) is most likely at Lk. 17:3 f., where μετανοεῖν denotes regret for a fault against one’s brother, and 2 C. 7:9 f., where the combination with → μεταμέλομαι, → λύπη and → λυπέω suggests remorse (though → 1004 f.). Elsewhere the only possible meanings are “to change one’s mind,” “change of mind,” or “to convert,” “conversion.” But the terms have religious and ethical significance along the lines of the OT and Jewish concept of conversion (→ B.–D.), for which there is no analogy in secular Greek. Again the NT use betrays certain peculiarities like the Jewish Hellenistic (μετανοέω synon. of → ἐπιστρέφω, Ac. 3:19; 26:20; constr. with prep. ἀπό or ἐκ, Ac. 8:22; Rev. 2:21 f.; 9:20 f.; 16:11; Hb. 6:1; constr. with εἰς, Ac. 20:21), and rests on the underlying Aramaic, the speech of Jesus and primitive Palestinian Christianity. Hence the only apposite renderings are “to convert” and “conversion.” What the religious language of the OT expressed by שׁוּב, and the theological terminology of the Rabbis by תְּשׁוּבָה, עָשָׂה תְּשׁוּבָה or תְּתוּבְתָא, עֲבַד תְּתוּבְתָא , the NT, like the Jewish Hellenistic writings, expresses by μετανοέω and μετάνοια. This is no V 4, p 1000 idle philological finding. For as the call μετανοεῖτε which Jesus issued in the steps of the Baptist is construed as an emotional appeal: “Feel sorry,” or as a stirring of the whole consciousness: “Change your mind,”145 or as a demand for acts of expiation for wrongs committed: “Do penance,” or as a summons to a radical change in the relation of God to man and man to God: “Convert,” “be converted,”147 so according to these various interpretations there will be radically different understandings of the message of Jesus. Investigation of the history of the term up to NT days has shown us, however, the only path which may be followed, and exposition of the theological usage of the NT will pursue this to its destination, namely, that μετανοέω and μετάνοια are the forms in which the NT gives new expression to the ancient concept of religious and moral conversion.148” (Footnotes not provided) (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 1964) (volume 4, page 999).

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