Impenitence is Man’s Choice

‘The gospel requires repentance and faith from men. Repentance is the hearts choice to turn from sin and obey God. Faith is the hearts choice to embrace the truth and trust in Christ. Both repentance and faith are states of the will. Therefore, the gospel requires states of the will.

Under a good government, the command implies ability. Only under tyranny is this not true. God’s government is good and, therefore, in God’s government the command implies ability. We can conclude then that what the gospel requires of men, men are capable of doing. A sinner is capable of remaining in a disobedient state of mind or of having an obedient state of mind through repentance. A sinner is capable of rejecting the truth and not trusting in Christ, or of embracing the truth and trusting in Christ. If men were not capable of it, they would not be commanded to do it.

• The command of a good ruler implies the ability of the subjects.
• God, who is a good ruler, commands all men to obey the gospel when they hear it.
• Therefore, all men are able to obey the gospel when they hear it.

Men are even commanded to circumcise their own hearts (Deut. 10:16; Jer. 4:4). Since they are commanded to do so, this means that it is their own responsibility and choice. To circumcise your heart means to repent or put off your sins (Col. 2:11). Therefore, to circumcise your heart means to repent of your sins but to have an uncircumcised heart is to have an impenitent heart.

When Stephen was open air preaching, he said to the crowd “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye” (Acts 7:51). Stephen was rebuking them for disobeying a specific commandment, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked” (Deut. 10:16).

Why would Stephen rebuke them for being uncircumcised in their heart unless they were capable of circumcising their hearts? Why rebuke them for breaking a commandment unless they were capable of obeying the commandment? Why rebuke them for having uncircumcised hearts unless having such hearts was their own free choice? Why would he rebuke them for resisting the Holy Spirit unless they were capable of yielding to the Holy Spirit? Unless they were capable of doing these things, why rebuke them for not doing these things?

Stephen seemed to take for granted or assume the ability of his audience. He blamed them for their impenitence which must mean that their impenitence was their own free choice. You cannot rebuke a man for something which is not his choice. A man cannot be blamed for that which is beyond his control or for what he cannot help.

As we have already seen, after preaching repentance and working miracles, Jesus began “to upbraid the cities wherein most of his might works were done, because they repented not” (Matt. 11:20). Jesus did not upbraid God because sinners did not repent, but Jesus upbraided sinners because they did not repent. That is because their impenitence was their will, not God’s will.

If their impenitence was not their own choice but was the Sovereign will of God, why be upset with them and blame them? Why would Jesus be frustrated with them for not repenting if they were not even capable of repenting? Unless they had the power of choosing to repent, and were freely refusing to repent, why would Jesus rebuke them? His frustration could only be logical, reasonable, or justified if they were capable of fulfilling His expectations but they were freely choosing not to. Jesus here assumed that they could have repented but simply didn’t want to. As Michael Pearl said, “When you are angry towards a man for his degrading or offensive behavior, you are assuming he could have acted differently.” [1]

Jesus said, “And I gave her space to repent of her fornication, and she repented not” (Rev. 2:21). Why would God give her time to repent, if she doesn’t even have the ability to repent? Is it not clear that her impenitence was not God’s fault, but her own fault? If God created her with the inability to repent, her impenitence would be His fault. But if God created her with the ability to repent, then her impenitence is her own fault. The blame of impenitence in this passage is clearly put upon her.

If God makes all men incapable of repenting and obeying, by either removing free will when Adam sinned or by withholding free will when He forms us, then God and not man is responsible for the disobedience and impenitence of the world. Either man is capable of repenting and obeying or else God is the ultimate reason for the impenitence and disobedience of the world.

However, God wants all men to repent (2 Pet. 3:9), He calls all men to repent (Acts 17:30-31), and He blames them if they do not repent (Matt. 11:20; 23:37; Mk. 6:6; Lk. 7:30; 13:34; 14:17-18; 19:14; 19:27; Jn. 5:40; Rev. 2:21). This presupposes that they have the ability to repent. You cannot blame a man for being that which he hasn’t chosen to be, or for doing that which he hasn’t chosen to do. Men are blamed for impenitence because the impenitent freely choose to be in such a state when they are free to be repentant if they wanted to be.

This is implied by the fact that those who refuse to repent of their sins will have to face the wrath of God. “But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5). To be “impenitent” means to be unrepentant. Just as those who repent change their mind about sinning, those who are impenitent still have a carnal mind. Their mind is still determined to sin. Impenitence is not a passive state but an active state. It is the wills active hostility or enmity against God. It is the will’s active embrace of a sinful life. The reason that the wrath of God comes upon the impenitent is because they are capable of choosing to repent, but are instead choosing to be impenitent. They are justly accountable and punishable for their choice. How unjust it would be to punish men with eternal hell-fire for being impenitent if they were not freely choosing to be impenitent and had no power at all to repent!

Consider how God treats those who disobey the gospel. “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? (1 Pet. 4:17). Paul answers that question, “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thes. 1:8).

Why would God punish men, for not obeying the gospel, unless they were capable of obeying it? Is God cruel and unjust as to command of them the impossible, only to punish them eternally in the lake of fire for their failure to do what He created them incapable of doing?

In a good government, not only does the command imply ability, but punishment for failure to obey commands implies man’s ability. God is just, good, reasonable, and loving. Therefore, He commands what is possible and only punishes men for doing what was avoidable. Since God punishes those who do not repent (Eze. 20:8; Rom. 2:5), repentance must be within man’s power and, therefore, impenitence must be a man’s choice!

John Fletcher said, “It is offering an insult to the only wise God to suppose . . . that he gave them the gospel, without giving them power to believe it . . . With regards to repentance, ‘Then he began,’ says St. Matthew, ‘to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not.’ Merciful Savior, forgive us! We have insulted thy meek wisdom, by representing thee as cruelly upbraiding the lame for not running, the blind for not seeing, and the dumb for not speaking! . . . Suppose a schoolmaster said to his English scholars ‘Except you instantly speak Greek you shall all be severely whipped.’ You would wonder at the injustice of the school tyrant. But would not the wretch be merciful in comparison of a Savior, (so called) who is supposed to say to myriads of men, that can no more repent than ice can burn, ‘Except ye repent, ye shall all perish?’” [2]

Source: Jesse Morrell, “Repentance, Impenitence, Faith & Unbelief Are Free Will Choices of Men” (biblicaltruthresources).


[1] Michael Pearl (By Divine Design, p. 36, Published by The Church AT Cane Creek).

[2] John Fletcher (Checks to Antinomianism by John Fletcher, Volume One, pg 142, 145, 146, Published by Carlton & Porter).



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