Whatever Happened to Repentance?
By Howard Green
The end result of much of what is being done in evangelicalism today is about life enhancement, not saving souls. People are very enthusiastic when talking about their church, pastor, or small group. It’s easier to talk about religious activities rather than eternal matters with many professing Christians because the latter makes a lot of them uncomfortable. Have you ever tried to turn the corner and move a conversation toward eternal matters and received the deer in the headlights or please pipe down look even from believers? I have and I’m sure many of you have too which isn’t surprising given the fact that the emphasis in many churches is on life enhancement and not eternal salvation. The message of repentance is largely ignored and has been replaced by a different gospel that doesn’t change anything at the soul level.
I’m all for appreciating our churches, pastors, and ministries because there are some who still teach and preach from the foundation of God’s word. These teachers, fellowships, and ministries are becoming a scarce commodity today. A growing number of churches are teaching a different gospel than Jesus taught. The growing popularity of the social gospel and seeker sensitive movement has squelched out what has been the over arching message of Christians for twenty centuries. People are sold unbiblical nonsense such as, even if you don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God, you will still have a better life if you follow His teachings.
Multitudes of people flock to these churches because they have become social hubs and religious country clubs. The prevailing message spread across many of our evangelical churches is nothing more than a life enrichment seminar neatly wrapped in spiritual sounding platitudes. Many of today’s sermons are ‘me’ centered spiritual sounding pep talks that carefully avoid any aspects of God’s holiness or coming judgment. This type of preaching fills thousands of seats in many churches but it doesn’t make disciples for Jesus. This is not what Jesus taught and He spoke the words of life.
Matthew 3:1-3 [Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)] In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’
Matthew 4:17 [Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)] From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Acts 2:38 [Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)] And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 7:10 [Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)] For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
Repentance was the primary message Jesus taught as He began His ministry. The ministry focus of John the Baptist was squarely on repentance. The critical issue of personal repentance was at the very center of the apostle’s teachings. The call to repentance has been the message that has permeated the teaching of the early church right up to great preachers of yesteryear such as Edwards, Spurgeon, and Tozer. The call to repent is lovingly repeated throughout the Bible and to ignore teaching it is to ignore the central issue of God’s holiness.
Over the past centuries, the gospel message has remained unchanged. Men who spoke under the direction of the Holy Spirit would explain what the Bible says about God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness, and the utter hopelessness of the human heart apart from the saving work of Jesus. In other words, unless one comes to repentance there no hope. My pastor breaks down the precarious eternal position of the human soul apart from Christ when he says:
“God is holy, we are not, and that’s a problem.” Pastor Mark Vroegop – College Park Church
If preaching the whole counsel of God has been a biblical mandate from the early church until now, why do many modern preachers ignore the message of repentance? I believe it’s because repentance is not seen as a relevant topic that will facilitate church growth today. Many teachers are content with speaking about an invitation to ‘a better life’ in lieu of the biblical message of repentance and total heart transformation through Jesus. When I see apathetic lukewarm Christians today, I believe it is a direct result of repentance message being largely ignored. What good does it do to know that Jesus saves if people don’t see their desperate need for a Savior? When people begin to understand the true wretched condition of their sinful heart before God, they will see the need for salvation. They will see that there is no way to get to heaven apart from Jesus. They will understand even their best goodness is like filthy rags before God. This is the message that will produce godly sorrow leading to repentance. This knowledge of what the Lord has done for us should produce overwhelming joy that we aren’t content to keep to ourselves.
Jesus knew men’s hearts and oftentimes as the crowds swelled around Him He would say something like, “You will be hated because of my name” or “You will be handed over to be persecuted.” He told a crowd, “repent or perish likewise.” He would tell people they must put their hand to the plow and not look back or tell them to sell everything then follow Him. Pastor James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel has a great term to explain the impact of Jesus’ teachings.
“Jesus often engaged in operation crowd reduction.” Pastor James MacDonald – Harvest Bible Chapel
The Lord knew for people to be His followers, they must be willing to give up everything. This message of emptying oneself and going all in for Jesus separated true followers from the rest of the crowds. If we are to teach, preach, and disciple biblically, we must break ranks and not emulate what is being done by many leaders in the church growth movement. We need to get back to the repentance and salvation message because that is what people need in these times.
Instead of spiritual apathy and Christians who are simply going through religious motions, we will have people who truly understand and live in the joy of their salvation through Jesus. Nothing cuts through apathetic Christianity more than a powerful testimony about salvation. I recently watched a video that shows what happens when the gospel and the need to repent is preached. The mini documentary tells the story of a remote tribe of people in New Guinea hearing the gospel and how they respond with repentance, humility, and uninhibited joy. As I watched the video, I realized why these people were responding with so much joy and repentance in their testimonies. It is because they heard the whole gospel and knew that without Jesus, they were eternally lost. These people came face to face with the absolute necessity of repentance! You will find the link to this wonderful video at the bottom of the article. Please check it out, you will be blessed by it!
What would happen if that biblical truth was preached instead of the ‘me’ centered messages that are so pervasive today? We would be making disciples instead of producing numbers and we would see fired up soul winners instead of widespread apathy. If we teach the biblical message of repentance, church growth will be attained the way God intended it to be.
Acts 2:47 [Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)] And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
As we draw nearer to the time of Jesus’ return, the Bible tells us that apostate teachings will creep into the church. As believers, we must be ready to tell people the good news. The need for people to repent is central in that message. It produces humility and glorifies God. Repentance may not be the popular message in today’s evangelical circles, but it’s the one that transforms hearts and makes disciples.
All for Him,