How Does God "Grant Repentance"?

Popular author John MacArthur, Jr., echos the Calvinistic viewpoint when he says in his book Faith Works, “Again, repentance is not a human work. Jesus said, ‘No one can come to Me, unless the Father draws him’ (John 6:44). It is God who grants repentance (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25)” (34).

Is repentance something we do or something God does for us? Consider the three passages MacArthur offers in support of the proposition that it is something God does.

Let’s begin with John 6:44. The next verse explains how the Father draws men: “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.” God draws men by teaching them. His word, the gospel, is His power to salvation (Romans 1:16). This text says nothing about repentance being something God does.

How about Acts 11:18? It says God granted Gentiles the repentance that leads to life. How did He do that?  Not by some direct, miraculous means. The passage says nothing of the kind. Cornelius was instructed to send for Peter who would come and speak words to Him by which He would be saved (v. 14). Peter preached the gospel of Christ, just as he had done on the day of Pentecost. It is a message of hope, one which contains sufficient evidence to produce faith and sufficient convicting power to bring about repentance. Calvinists say faith, too, is a gift of God. Peter said it is a response to hearing the word (Acts 15:7). If that is true of faith, why would it not also be true of repentance?

Note also that on the day of Pentecost when Peter told the audience to repent (Acts 2:38), it was part of his answer to their question, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (v. 37). Why would Peter answer a question about what we need to do by talking about something God does for us?

2 Timothy 2:25 points to the same means: repentance produced by gospel preaching. The context is a preacher being patient and gentle with those he teaches, especially if they wrong him. If God grants repentance apart from the gospel, what does the preacher’s conduct have to do with it?

The people of Nineveh heard the preaching of Jonah, believed it, then repented (Jonah 3:4-5). The Jews on Pentecost heard Peter’s preaching, believed it, and were commanded to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:26-38). The Corinthians read Paul’s letter, believed it and therefore were made sorrowful by it and repented (2 Corinthians 7:8-10). Clearly, this demonstrates how God “grants repentance.”

In his book The Gospel Plan of Salvation, written in 1874, T. W. Brents gave this simple explanation: "God gives men repentance by a system of means calculated to produce it. He gives man faith by giving him testimony calculated to produce it, and will damn him if he does not believe it. He gives man bread by giving him the means with which to make it, but unless he uses the means he will starve for food. So God gives man repentance by causing repentance and remission of sins to be preached among all the nations in the name of His Son, yet he who does not repent will surely perish. Then let no man wait for God to give him repentance directly, until he is willing to sit, with folded arms, and wait for God to give him bread in the same way."

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