Israel Folau’s provocative Instagram post has caused polarised reactions. For some Christians, it was refreshing, boldly calling the world to repentance. For others, it lacked grace in both its tone and in that it did not clearly offer forgiveness to the lost.
Grace was there if we know how to join the dots, but you had to dig to get to it.
An IG post is fundamentally a picture. In this instance, it was a meme, presented as a warning sign that listed sins that roughly correspond to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 or Galatians 5:19-21, along with the statements, “Hell awaits you. Repent! Only Jesus Saves.”
Instagram text is secondary but serves to explain and give context to the visual. Folau’s contained three Bible passages and his own comments which included: “Jesus loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.”
So, grace was there if we know how to join the dots, but you had to dig to get to it.
In fairness, Folau had actually already joined the dots when he wrote for PlayersVoice, where he identified as a fellow sinner and said, “If you choose to believe in him, repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the removal of your sins, you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. That will enable you to live the life that God called us to live.”
Here we see that Folau focuses on the outworking of belief in repentance expressed as a changed life. This repentance was more clearly defined as a process when he said via Twitter last year, “To be born again you MUST, repent of your sins, be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ and then prayed upon asking God to receive the Holy Spirit. If you’ve done it a different way from this then you aren’t born again.”
To be born again you MUST, repent of your sins, be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and then prayed upon asking God to receive the holy spirit.
If you’ve done it a different way from this then you aren’t born again.
— Israel Folau (@IzzyFolau) January 18, 2018
Folau is doing more than calling sinners to repentance; he is calling all people to his particular theology of salvation – one in which we are saved through these specific steps, which he finds in Acts: 2:37-38.
The church Folau attends, the Truth about Jesus Christ Church, teaches that faith alone is dead faith (based on James 2:14, 17-19). They argue that works negated by passages such as Ephesians 2:8-9 are dead works but we are saved through righteous deeds including repentance, water baptism in Jesus’ name and Holy Spirit baptism.
We should also have a deep respect for Folau’s courage in standing for his convictions.
We would do well to be reminded that Jesus did call us to repentance, saying, “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). Repentance is linked to faith and is a natural result of believing that God’s kingdom has arrived with its king, Jesus. It is the action of turning from the world or rival gods to the true God (Acts 3:19).
So, we can take note of what Izzy is saying in so far as it calls us to examine ourselves: have we repented? Do we live as if Jesus is our Lord?
We should also have a deep respect for Folau’s courage in standing for his convictions. Wherever he is theologically, he has a level of integrity that most of us lack.
While Israel Folau rightly highlights the problem of sin and our need to repent of it, his offer of grace was secondary and buried more deeply than many would have been willing to dig.
More than that, he is calling people to a form of repentance that is at odds with a gospel that is offered by grace and through faith.
Tom Richards is a Westminster Presbyterian Minister and missionary. He left the more complicated topic of Folau and the Trinity for later.