I heard a sermon recently aimed at the fallibility of people in understanding and correctly teaching the good news about the kingdom of God, which Jesus established through his death, burial and resurrection. Even preachers get it wrong according to this pastor. His message centered on the grace of God and how this grace is obtained by all sinners. He noted the need for some amount of faith in the gospel of Jesus’ sacrifice. He gave an example of how faith saves a person.
In his example, it became clear that according to his gospel one does not need to repent of sin in order to be saved from sin. One need only assert faith in Christ in order to be unconditionally saved. Not only did the preacher admit that he was amazed at this concept but that most sinners are amazed that they don’t have to stop sinning in order to be saved. This, to me, is a strange gospel message. It is strange to me because I was taught that repentance leads to life. Faith is no doubt a necessary component of a person’s recognition of Jesus as the Son of God but such faith leads one to repent or “change their mind” about sinning. Having been taught this way, I also checked with the Bible’s teaching on repentance and found that all sinners were taught to repent from their sin, their dead works, in order for their faith in Christ to have an effect.
Now the preacher telling this story explained how very simple the gospel message really is and how many get it wrong. I turned to my wife and whispered, “This is not the truth of the gospel. This preacher has it wrong too!” My wife replied, “Not now!” fearing I had made a scene. I wondered why the preacher didn’t quote a scripture or two to support his story; just so we could all get the gospel message correct.
I have to admit at this point, I cannot find any teaching or example in the Bible of people accepting the gospel message without doing something before coming to the saving grace of God. After all if God’s grace (forgiveness of sins) is available through our faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, shouldn’t we do something about sinning? If fornication, sex before marriage, is sinful shouldn’t a sinner take responsibility for sin, admitting that sinning is wrong? Shouldn’t anyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ change the way they live and stop continuing in sin. Isn’t this a reasonable response to belief in Christ? Shouldn’t I stop sinning in order to be forgiven of sin? Shouldn’t the belief in Christ include a commitment to change one’s life and abandon sin? Are we saved in our sins or from our sins? Is there any proof of this theological point?
It really doesn’t matter what I think about this preacher’s “gospel message”. What should make a difference is what God thinks
about this version of His gospel message. If it is correct that God is willing to forgive people who are living sinful lives, isn’t God just ignoring evil? What kind of justice exists if God is not holding anyone accountable for their sin? Is it possible that God is being misrepresented by the teaching and preaching of such things? Or are these in harmony with what He has revealed? I guess it is best to read the Bible.
The announcement of the good news began when John, cousin to Jesus, went about “…proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” Luke 3:3. John proclaim “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand”. Jesus seems to have been irritated when his own people, the Jews, dismissed his miracles Luke 10:13. The miracles were proof that He was Messiah, the anointed one of God, who takes away the sin of the world. And yet these people were harder to persuade to repent than the wicked Ninevites who had repented at the preaching of Jonah Luke 11:32. At His ascension into heaven, Jesus opened the minds of his disciples to know the scriptures and with this, he abbreviated the gospel message “… and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.” Luke 24:45-48. The gospel is the death and resurrection of the Messiah. Jesus died so that repentance and forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed in his name.
Peter seems to have fulfilled this great commission in his first sermon to the Jewish people for it caused them to be broken in
spirit and they cried out, “Men and brethren, what should we do?” Without missing a beat, “Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. ‘’ “ Acts 2:38. Apparently, they believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Obviously, they had faith in that belief or they would not have been moved to ask for relief from the guilt and shame of murdering their Messiah. Faith in Christ leads, as we have seen from John, Jesus and now Peter, to repentance.
Peter seems to have been hung up on this repentance theme. He preached this on every occasion. He preached this to the people at the gate of the temple Acts 3:19. He preached this to the high priest and the Sadducees Acts 5:30-32. Peter remained consistent to this preaching even among those who were not Jews. Convinced of his knowledge of the gospel, the leaders of the church at Jerusalem heard Peter’s story and ““When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”” Acts 11:17-19. But maybe this was only Peter’s message. Is it possible that other preachers taught the need for repentance?
Paul preached to the whole world Col. 1:6. To the philosophers of his day he preached “… God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent…”Acts 17:29-31. Even when on trial Paul’s message did not change. “…as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus.” Acts 20:20-22. He reiterated his testimony on the topic of his preaching saying he had “… declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout the countryside of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance.” Acts 26:19-21.
So what is missing between the two gospel messages? One says grace is to those who have faith in the Grace of God only. The other message says faith in Christ first leads to repentance from sinful living. Is the Bible that hard to understand that no one can get the gospel message correct? Is there some play on words that we are missing? If repentance is required for salvation by the grace of God, is this a work of men that is not acceptable to God?
Do you remember the little man Zacchaeus the tax collector? Jesus chose to eat at his house. Zacchaeus was hated by his own countrymen because he cheated and stole tax money and exacted more from his own people to give to the Roman government. He had become wealthy by means of fraud. Jesus had made Zacchaeus so honored by
his friendship that he “… stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house since he also is a son of Abraham.”
Zacchaeus had repented and Jesus recognized his repentance as his salvation.
The Jailer was charge with Paul and Silas’ keep. When the earth quaked and the prison doors have opened the jailer was in fear of losing his own life at the loss of his keep. ” And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? “31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. 32 And they spoke to him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. 34 And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.” Acts 16.
The jailer believed the word of the Lord spoken to him. That same hour of the night he washed their stripes and then was baptized. That same hour he washed their stripes. The jailer had repented of his sins and his act of kindness was proof of this.
It seems if we look at every conversion in the book of Acts we will find a contrition of heart that sought out a changed nature; a repentance of the mind. 2 Timothy 2:24-26. People do have something to do before salvation. Repent! Turn from sin.
This it seems is what God wanted through Christ; a repentance that leads to salvation. Paul taught Timothy the same thing. A servant must be gentle, apt to teach, instruct those who oppose the gospel message in hopes that God will bring them to repent so that they can escape the snare of the devil.
24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; 26 And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will. 2 Tim 2:24-26.
The gospel is simple. The Bible is clear. Christ died to save the sinner from sin. He died so that repentance would be preached. Repentance will lead to life. Belief is not sufficient if it does not change our mind about sin. Maybe people will repent after they have accepted Christ Jesus as Lord. But until they do repent how does their acceptance of Jesus save them from their sins?