FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 17, number 7, February 15, 2018
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” -Matthew 4:17
The First Thing Missing in Today’s Evangelical Church
In what Biblical scholars call Jesus’ early Galilean ministry (beginning in Matthew 4:12), after His baptism by John and his temptation in the wilderness, Jesus began his ministry in Capernaum which was located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Matthew cites the words of Isaiah who says that those who were dwelling in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:1,2). So from that beginning Jesus preached, heralded, proclaimed the truth. And what was the first word of His message? It was the word “repent.” Mark records the same thing in his gospel, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel,” (Mark 1:15).
Which begs the question, what does the word “repent” mean? The Greek word is metanoia which literally means a change of mind resulting in a change of behavior, speech, and values. Jesus uses the word repeatedly in the gospels. He says, “I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance,” (Luke 5:32). He says that if Tyre and Sidon has seen His mighty works in their day, then they would have repented and avoided judgment (Matt 11:21, Luke 10:13,14). In commenting on the demise of several men who perished in a construction accident when some were wondering if they were simply getting what they deserved, He said to them, “No, but unless you repent then you will likewise perish,” (Luke 13:3.) Paul, in his Aeropagus address, declares that all men everywhere must repent (Acts 17:30). Acts 11:18 speaks of repentance unto life. In Luke 16 in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus says that even if someone from hell could warn the rich man’s relatives of hell, they would still not repent (Luke 16:30).
So clearly repentance is fundamental and absolutely necessary in gospel preaching to the lost of our world. But what about stressing repentance to sinners justified by the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to them by faith? The writer to the Hebrews tells them they are to repent of their dead works (Hebrews 6:1). That is, even as believers they must realize that while dead works (things we do to garner God’s favor) will never save anyone, they will never sanctify anyone either. He tells us to lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:2). James commands that we lay aside filthiness and all that remains of wickedness and receive the word implanted which is able to save our souls (James 1:21). Paul says that we are to put off the old man and put on the new man (Ephesians 4:22-24). He also says that there is to be no silly talk or coarse jesting (Ephesians 5:2). And what are these references if they are not examples of calls to repentance?
So, it should be obvious to any Bible reader-God requires repentance from everyone, non-believer and believer alike.
But is that what we typically find in today’s evangelical and Reformed churches? We often hear solid exposition, grounded in Biblical and Systematic Theology. We often hear articulate, scholarly presentations which stress the wonderful person and work of Jesus Christ. But how often do we hear preachers calling people to repent of specific sins?
If the Bible is clear about the first word of gospel preaching, and if preachers say they are seeking to be faithful to the word of God in their preaching, then what gives? I see at least three reasons for our failure to preach repentance. I will briefly mention these at this time and then enlarge on them in future articles.
First, we live in a world inundated with psychotherapy which has made inroads into the church. Listen carefully to what a good many preachers are saying today, and you will hear that we all are wounded, that we must get in touch with our emotions, that we are hurt by what our parents did or did not do to us, that we are all broken people, and consequently we will always struggle with (you name it) pornography, feelings of inferiority, doubt, anxiety, same sex attraction, etc.
Secondly, historical/redemptive preaching has taken the guts out of the Old Testament. This is complicated so I won’t say much now, but the old historical/grammatical interpretation of Scripture which viewed the Old Testament as the word of God the Father, the gospels as the word of Christ the Son, and the Acts and the epistles as the word of God the Holy Spirit has given way to finding Jesus in every single passage of the Old Testament. So, for example, when we read Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” we immediately see Jesus instead of beginning with King David who was in deep trouble. A steady diet of historical/redemptive preaching takes away the fear of God who plays hardball throughout the Old Testament with unrepentant sinners.
And thirdly, a justification only gospel has filled our churches (and dare I say our pulpits) with people who have “believed” on Jesus but who have never been born again. In a justification only gospel one can continue in sin with only the slightest concern that all may not actually be right between him and God. That’s why our pastors and elders must spend so much time with toxic marriages, porn addiction, wayward and apostate members who seem to never make any progress in gospel holiness. Jesus said to Nicodemus that unless he was born from above he would never see the kingdom of God. Our churches, it seems to me, are breeding grounds for false believers. It seems that in too many places the full gospel is not being preached.
So practically speaking, assuming you are a born again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, are you in need this very moment of repentance? Are you living any way in direct disobedience to the Ten Commandments or any of the commands we find in Scripture? If so, then repent. Change your mind which results in changing your values, speech, and actions. If you are in Christ, then you have the Holy Spirit who gives you the power to repent and obey. Do so now, and when you sin again, repent again. Be humbled daily, repent daily, rejoice daily.
1. The Greek word for mind is nous. From this root word we have paranoia (disease of the mind)