Repentance from Hardness of Heart: Why We Pray That God May Grant Repentance

Paul states in 2 Timothy 2:25: “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.” Reformed Christians point to this passage to prove that God must grant repentance for salvation. But is this the case? No, it’s not. This isn’t hard to explain within a Provisionist perspective. The answer really is context.

First, the passage isn’t directly discussing salvation of the general unbeliever. It is discussing false teachers. Notice in verse 2:23 that he mentions “foolish, ignorant controversies.” This links back to verse 2:14 “charge them before God not to quarrel.” As a side, the ESV (which takes a Calvinistic bent to its translation wherever possible) takes 2:14-26 as a single, cohesive thought. Within this group, Paul identifies Hymenaeus and Philetus (17) who taught falsehood (18). So, under discussion in this passage is not general salvation, but repentance from false teaching. Salvation in terms of justification from sin is nowhere taught in this passage.

Second, it appears that the transgressors in this passage are under special judgment of God. Hymenaeus is under the punishment of God as Paul says elsewhere,

By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

1 Timothy 1:19-20

What is the sin in view in 2 Timothy 2:18? These men “have swerved from the truth.” What truth did they swerve from? “saying that the resurrection has already happened.” The result is “They are upsetting the faith of some.” Thus, these men were guilty of suppressing the truth of the resurrection.

What happens to truth suppressors? They are judicially hardened. Paul speaks in Romans 1 about men who “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rm 1:18). God has revealed information about himself that is readily accessible to all (Rm 1:19-20), but “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie” (Rm 1:25).

Does this mean that all men without exception always suppress every truth God gives? No. Paul says in chapter two that “Gentiles . . . by nature do what the law requires” (Rm 2:14). So here, man who is a sinner by nature, also obeys God’s laws by nature even though he is unregenerate. Thus, the condemnation of Romans 1:18ff is circumstances where men even refuse the light that is within them.

This suppression of truth, then, is not that natural state of man from birth. The resulting judgments from God who “gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (Rm 1:24) is judgment for those who suppress the truth. Do most people suppress the truth? Everyone to various degrees. But I think there is particular judgement for those know the truth and yet still refuse it.

As in the case of Israel, they received much light (Rm 9:4-5). They were hardened (Rm 9:19) not because of some eternal decree, but because they pursued the righteousness of the law without faith (Rm 9:31-32). God had done everything possible for Israel to believe: preachers where sent, the word proclaimed, and they heard it (Rm 10:13ff). But they would not believe. So, they were hardened for destruction.

Does this mean the judicial hardening is forever? No. Romans 11 makes that clear.
Judicial hardening is much different than the sin nature. We are all sinners by nature. But if you refuse to acknowledge the truth even as it is given through nature, God can decide to harden them (Rm 1:18ff). But he can also decide to soften them as well (Rm 11:11-12).

How does all this inform our understanding of 2 Timothy 2:25? First, we must recognize that this passage has nothing to do with the general call to salvation. Second, because these false teachers were suppressing truth, it seems that they were judicially hardened by being turned over to Satan. Since teachers are held to a higher standard (Js 3:1), it makes sense that these would be hardened faster than others. Third, like Paul prayed and earnestly desired for the salvation of hardened Israel (Rm 10:1), so too we should desire that God grant repentance to false teachers in the church.

3 thoughts on “Repentance from Hardness of Heart: Why We Pray That God May Grant Repentance

  1. I don’t disagree at all that this passage is referring specifically to false teachers and the prayer is for God to grant them repentance. But if you’re saying that God *only* grants repentance to hardened false teachers, then what do you do with other passages that talk about God granting repentance? (Acts 5:31; Acts 11:17-18).

    The language of God granting repentance seems to be just a common expression of salvation. Don’t get me wrong, by God granting repentance I do not mean that somehow a person was forced to receive repentance outside of his volitional decision. That’s the mystery: the Bible speaks of God granting repentance, but from an experiential standpoint, we volitionally repented. Yet it was God all along orchestrating the event (cf. Gal 4:9).

    I was planning to write something on the other post, but I have no time and energy right now–working on my prospectus (!).

    ***Here is a side note.
    I would love to hear more about this over lunch, but correct me if my impression is wrong. What I’m seeing is that a) you grew up in a semi-reformed environment, then b) you saw some inconsistencies and been disenchanted by the whole thing. Now c) you were looking for an alternative that is not quite Arminian and found it. Then d) you’re trying to work out how Scripture fits into your view by e) listening to what theologians of your newly espoused view are saying. This is based on our previous conversations. I may have misread and misunderstood – but I would love to hear more about this journey and where it is heading over lunch.

    Here is what led me to this impression: 1) you told me that you’re “new” to the Provisionist view and have not explored it yet – seems like you just adapted a view instead of arriving at a view based on study of Scripture; 2) you were trying to state your Provisionist view on salvation then afterwards said that “I’m still working out how Scripture passages fit.” – seems like you started with the statement then getting into Scripture rather than arriving at the view based on Scripture. 3) you mentioned that your understanding of God’s love doesn’t fit with the Calvinism you grew up in as you were having a crisis of faith – it seems to me that your understanding of God’s love was the catalyst based on your current experience instead of arriving at an understanding of God’s love from a meticulous study of God’s Word. 4) on your previous replies, you apologized for being too passionate – but that’s maybe what it is. This is too personal for you. Is it possible that some bad past experience is clouding your judgment that motivates you to be on a mission to prove Calvinism wrong? Not that there is anything wrong with that. Many apologists became apologists because they were first atheists, for example. But there is also a reason that lawyers, police, etc. are removed from the case if it gets too personal because there is a tendency for it to cloud our judgment.

    I’m speculating, and I can be totally wrong. Again, I’m just stating how I perceive things. Feel free to correct. We can talk about this over lunch. Take care, Nate!

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    1. Both passages from Acts are not hard to explain. First, you obviously have in view God giving repentance to two corporate entities: Jews and Gentiles. This also isn’t talking about individualistic salvation.

      Second, you should notice that the word is /didōmi/. It’s the simple word for give. It does not mean that God makes the Jews and Gentiles repent, rather that he has give to them the opportunity. Gifts don’t have to be received for it to be called a gift. Also, It doesn’t follow that God makes them repent because if he did, then these passages would imply universal salvation because he gives it to all Jews and Gentiles.

      Third, repentance is given in context of forgiveness (Ac 5:31). Thus, when God makes it available to them to change their minds, it is intrinsically connected to his work on the cross. Christ’s death on cross ways the means by which gave men repentence.

      Fourth, repentance is separate from faith. While God grants the opportunity to repent, it is up to man to believe and accept. This, even when God gives repentance he still doesn’t force men irresistibly into his kingdom.

      As for your Galatians passage, I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’ll have to explain it to me.

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      1. Thanks for responding. Thanks for clarifying. I wasn’t speculating for the purpose of arguing or accusing. I’m trying to understand where you’re come from. I’m telling you what I’m seeing so you can correct it if I’m reading you wrong. That’s also why I want to ask if what I’m perceiving is accurate. So you can tell me if I’m reading you wrong. Which you did, and I appreciate that. That’s all I wanted to know.
        *****
        I think the ways of God are more complex that we think it is. Somehow, God orchestrated every event and yet not the source of evil. I think we have to have a category like that to make sense of all things. Who orchestrated the events on the injustice and evil that happened to Joseph, Job, and Jesus? It was the cruel brothers, Satan, and religious leaders and Roman government conspiring against Jesus. And yet all that was orchestrated exactly by God without making him the source of evil. The people were guilty and humanly responsible, yet God’s hand is in all of that while everyone is not forced in their actions and God is not the author of sin. But we’ll just go in circles, so, I’ll let you have the last response if you would like.

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