As recorded in Matthew 16:15, when the disciples were asked by Jesus the question: “Whom say ye that I am?” Peter replied, “…Thou art the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the living God.” In reply to Peter’s confession, Jesus said: “…and upon this rock I will build My church.” (Mt. 16:18). What was the “rock” to which Jesus referred? The Roman Catholic Church would tell us that Jesus was referring to Peter himself, and this is why they believe they are the true church—because their popes are in direct line of descent (spiritually if not physically) from Peter. Protestantism, however, rejects this claim and says that the “rock” (or foundation) is Peter’s confession.
Those who do not recognize dispensational distinctions in the Bible see no difference between the church referred to here and the Church which believers today are members. However, we dispensationalists do recognize several different “churches” in the Scriptures. We especially distinguish between the “church” of Matthew 16:18 and that of Ephesians 1:22-23, the former being the Kingdom Church and the latter the Church, the Body of Christ.
That the confession of Peter was the foundation belief upon which Jesus would build the Kingdom Church is corroborated by John when, almost at the close of his Gospel, he tells why he wrote: “And many other signs truly did Jesus…which are not written in this book: but these [signs] are written, that ye not written in the Book: but these [signs] are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ [Messiah], the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name” (20:30-31).
In spite of widespread evangelical practice, the Gospel of John was not written to be handed out at evangelistic meetings. John’s Gospel consists essentially of 8 miracles (surrounded by the teachings of Jesus) which John very clearly says were “signs.” It has been well said that we in this dispensation are a sign-less people. However, we know from 1 Corinthians 1:22 that the Jews required signs. So John wrote for the benefit of Jews, and he told them that he had informed them of these signs in order that they might believe that “Jesus is the Christ [Messiah], the Son of God” – the content which Jesus had said was to be the foundation of the Kingdom Church.
After Jesus was resurrected, He gave the Kingdom commission to the 11 circumcision Apostles (later, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to become 12 by the addition of Matthias), including the following conditions of salvation: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” This is the message Peter preached on the day of Pentecost. “Repent and be baptized…for the remission of sins.” We need to see the parallelism in the two statements:
(a) He that believeth
(b) And is baptized
(c) shall be saved.
(b) and be baptized
(c) For the remission of sins.
It should be obvious that the two (a)s are equivalent as are the two (c)s so that just as “being saved” and “remission of sins” have analogous meaning contents, so “repent” and “believe” are analogous. Some might object to this because so many of today’s popular preachers of the gospel have tended to convey the impression that “repent” means “get rid of your sins” or “be sorry for your sins.” Consequently, instead of the simple gospel message of “by grace [on God’s part] through faith [on God’s part] plus nothing,” it is often preached (and written in tracts) that the requirements for salvation are: (1) to turn away from or get rid of your sins, and (2) believe that Jesus died for you.
As a result of the false idea of the meaning of “repent,” when those who profess salvation in gospel campaigns apparently do not progress in the
Christian life, the reason suggested is: “We don’t have enough preaching of repentance these days,” with the implication that the ones professing salvation have not sufficiently grieved over or turned away from their sins, and because of this have backslidden.
However, this is a complete perversion of the gospel we are supposed to preach. This can be understood by a correct appreciation of the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts the unbeliever of sin in a general sense, not of particular sins. When Jesus spoke of the conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit in John 16:8, He added, “Of sin, because they believe not on Me.” It should be obvious that the Holy Spirit cannot really convict me about my specific sins until He is residing in my spirit, which residence can only begin when I receive the Lord Jesus as my Savior by faith. It is then the experience of the believer that the more the Holy Spirit is allowed to control the life, the more sin is revealed, just as the brighter the light in the room, the more dirt, dust, and cobwebs become visible. In the words of the hymn writer, “And they who fain would serve Him best, are conscious most of wrong within.”
I suggest, therefore, that it is utter nonsense to tell the unsaved to turn away from, or get rid of their sins. Paul certainly never did. He never told the unsaved to turn away from stealing, but he did plead with believers to do so (Eph. 4:28).
Our responsibility then to the unsaved person is not to tell him not to do this sin or that sin (isn’t that merely the old idea of “turning over a new leaf”?), but to say, in one way or another, “You are a member of Satan’s family—get saved.” Only to the saved do we have the right to say (in love), “You are a member of God’s family—get rid of your sins.”
The meaning of “repentance” (metanoia) is a “change of mind.” How does this fit into Peter’s message? About what did his Jewish hearers have to change their mind? The high points of Pete’s Kingdom gospel (in Gal. 2:7 Paul refers to this gospel committed to Peter as “the Gospel of the Circumcision,” since it was the message that specifically pertained to the Jews) preached on the day of Pentecost were: “Ye men of Israel…Jesus of Nazareth…Him…ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain…This Jesus hath God raised up…Therefore…know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, Whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” So the ones who were convicted by Peter’s message changed their minds (repented) from believing that Jesus was an imposter and blasphemer, resulting in their crucifying Him, to believing in Jesus as Messiah, and this change of mind (or faith) caused them to be saved (have remission of sin, or have life through His name).
Now apply this same line of thought to Paul’s message for the present dispensation. In Acts 20:21 we are told that Paul had preached “…repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” These are NOT two separate requirements for salvation, but equivalents (as in Peter’s message). The “and” has the sense of “even” – “repentance toward God, even faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” So, when I believe on the Lord Jesus as Savior, I change my mind about God, specifically about His way of salvation. Previously I thought I would get to Heaven by my own works, by going to church regularly, by trying to live a good life, etc., BUT NOW, I change my mind by receiving God’s way of salvation.
So, in both messages, Peter and Paul’s , “repent” (change of mind) and “faith” are not two separate items, but equivalents – merely different ways of expressing the essential heart response to the message.
However, having noted this parallel, we need to recognize that the gospel preached by Peter and that preached by Paul are also different in many ways. Some of these differences are:
- They were addressed to different companies of people with different programs and different destinies.
- Paul’s gospel included “the secret of the gospel.” This was part of the Mystery revealed to the Apostle Paul by the glorified Lord Jesus Christ. The secret was that salvation or the remission of sins in any dispensation was based on Christ’s propitiatory death on the Cross (Rom. 3:24-25). Peter didn’t preach this in his Gospel of the Circumcision – it hadn’t been revealed to him. It has been pointed out by various writers of the Grace Movement that Peter preached the Cross as bad news; Paul preached it as good news.
- The content of the faith required for salvation was different. Although Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc. were indeed saved by the blood of Christ shed at Calvary, the content of the faith required of them was certainly not that of the faith required of us under Paul’s gospel. They were responsible only for believing what God told them to believe. And so it was with the Jews under Peter’s preaching by the Gospel of the Circumcision. As has already been shown by reference to Matthew 16, John 20 and Acts 2, in order to become members of the Kingdom Church, they were required to believe that Jesus was their promised and prophesied Messiah. Under Paul’s gospel, we are required to believe that Jesus is our Savior Who died to pay the penalty for ours sins. (He is the Messiah of the Kingdom Church, not of the Church, the Body of Christ.)
- Peter’s message demanded an instrumental means of salvation: water baptism. Paul’s gospel excludes water baptism (1 Cor. 1:17).
- Peter’s gospel involved the observance of all that Jesus had commanded them (Mt. 28:20), and this included the Mosaic Law. This was faithfully preached by the circumcision Apostles, seen even as late as Acts 21:20. Paul’s message is: “…ye are not under the Law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).
- Even the perspective of the resurrection was different in the two gospels. According to Peter’s gospel, the resurrection of Christ was proof to the Jews that Jesus was indeed their Messiah (Acts 2:32-36). According to Paul’s gospel, the resurrection of Christ is proof that the sacrifice on the Cross was sufficient to pay the debt for all of my sins and, therefore, I am justified (Rom. 4:25).