I want to pick up an underdeveloped thread from my previous post before I move on. And that’s the thread of ‘gospel repentance’ — repentance that’s truly evangelical in that it both flows from and expresses (or declares) the gospel.
Here’s how John Calvin puts it in The Institutes (3.3.2) where he expounds Jesus’ agenda-setting sermon — which echoes that of John the Baptist — “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”:
[W]hen we refer the origin of repentance to faith we do not imagine some space of time during which it brings it to birth; but we mean to show that a man cannot apply himself seriously to repentance without knowing himself to belong to God. But no one is truly persuaded that he belongs to God unless he has first recognized God’s grace.
I find this to be so profound. While refusing to separate faith and repentance as the necessary response to God’s grace, Calvin (rightly) insists on the priority of grace.
This is a fountain from which a very distinct approach to all sorts of things in Christian life and ministry will well up.
To give just one example, in explaining the gospel to someone (Christian or not), I don’t want to preach a fear-inducing law that causes them to run fleeing to grace; I would much rather try to describe the grace and mercy of God in Jesus in such captivating and compelling terms that it draws out the repentant response it demands…