by Mike Ratliff
29 Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30 Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:29-31 (NASB)
You don’t have to look very hard to find Christians who disagree with our commitment to preach the genuine gospel that the Apostles and our Saviour preached. One of the points of contention in this debate is the necessity or preaching repentance. Many who are opposed to repentance being a necessary component of salvation see it as “works.”
Our ears have grown accustomed to hearing men told to “accept Jesus as your personal Saviour,” a form of words which is not found in Scripture. It has become an empty phrase. These may be precious words to the Christian–”personal Saviour.” But they are wholly inadequate to instruct a sinner in the way of eternal life. They wholly ignore an essential element of the Gospel, namely repentance. And that necessary ingredient of Gospel preaching is swiftly fading from evangelical pulpits, though the New Testament is filled with it…
Paul confronted the intellectuals of Mars Hill by preaching, “God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). This was no optional note on the apostolic trumpet. It was the melody, the theme of their instructions to sinners. Merely to talk about “accepting a personal Saviour” eliminates this crucial imperative. – Walter Chantry
One of those commands to repent is from our Saviour’s own lips before He ascended into Heaven.
44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:44-49 (NASB)
First, look at v45. Before we can understand scripture God must open our minds, enabling us to read and know the truth. In v47 we have the ‘formula” for preaching the gospel to this lost and dying world straight from our Saviour. We are to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name. This is only one example, but if we know our Bibles then we also know that repentance is at the heart of the Gospel. If a supposed gospel sermon does not contain the call for repentance from sin then it is not the gospel.
In actuality, this liberalization of the gospel is a major battle in the war over who is truly Sovereign. Is God Sovereign over all? Is Man sovereign over anything? Those who preach a form of the gospel sans repentance and, instead, invite people to “accept Christ” are actually making sinners sovereign and makes our Saviour nothing more than a servant. This turns the focus of the Gospel upside down.
10 as it is written,
“There is none righteous, not even one;
11 There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,”
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”;
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood,
16 Destruction and misery are in their paths,
17 And the path of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Romans 3:10-18 (NASB)
This very powerful passage from the Apostle Paul makes it very clear that no person seeks after God. All are spiritually destitute and unable to understand the truth let alone seek after God. Therefore, we must confirm in our hearts the Biblical truth that for people to be saved, God must intervene. God must do something to save people because they can do nothing on their own to seek Him. This should immediately make it clear that any form of the Gospel that promotes the sovereignty of man in salvation is not Biblical.
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
41 Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. John 6:35-46 (NASB)
In this passage we see that whoever comes to Jesus will be ‘saved’ because they believe. They come to Jesus because the Father gives them to Him. He then reiterates that all who come to Him will not be cast out. This sounds like they come to Him seeking, but let’s look at v44. No one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them. Who takes the initiative in our salvation? It is God, not people. People do not seek out God, God seeks them out, draws them to Jesus.
We cannot view these passages in isolation. When we read about people coming to Jesus and believing we must not forget Romans 3:10-18. We must interpret scripture with scripture.
With just these few passages we have looked at so far we can see that people do not elect our Lord, voting for Him instead of self thereby earning their salvation from a grateful Saviour. Instead, we see that God takes the initiative, draws people to the Son to believe. What about repentance? What is it? It is an inward response which pleads with the Lord to forgive and deliver from the burden of sin and the fear of judgment and hell. This is why those things must be part of every Gospel presentation. Let’s look at a Biblical example of this.
9 And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 (NASB)
Our Lord, who knows all things, tells us that the tax collector repented and was justified. That means that God accounted unto him righteousness that the Pharisee thought he had. What did the publican (tax collector) do? He humbled himself in the presence of God, exhibited sorrow and mourning for his sin. He admitted he was a sinner and asked God to be merciful to him. What about belief? Where was that? Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin, which is called conversion. Repentance turns from sin to Christ while faith embraces Him as Saviour. While different in concept, faith and repentance cannot occur independently. Therefore, when the publican repented he was also turning to his Saviour in belief.
14 Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14-15 (NASB)
17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17 (NASB)
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, 3 and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:1-4 (NASB)
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NASB)
The passages from Mark 1 and Matthew reveals to us that Jesus’ message was one of repentance. From Matthew 18:1-4 we see that that also includes humility. What have we learned? Repentance is a necessary part of our salvation and is one side of the coin of conversion with faith on the other side. We also saw where no one comes to God on their own, but must be drawn by God to the Son. Neither can they repent and believe unless that is given to them by God. This enabling, whatever name we give it, is by God’s grace and through the faith that comes with it people repent and believe and are justified by God. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Should a call to repent be part of the Gospel call? Absolutely! What then of all those preachers who preach the “come to Jesus so He can make your life better” gospel? I fear that our enemy is using this in an attempt to fool people into believing they can have Christ on their own terms. From what I have seen in these passages, our Lord is not in Heaven on some cloud wringing His hands and mourning about people not accepting Him into their hearts. Instead, we see that God actively draws people to the Son, enables them to believe, and when they see their sin in contrast to Christ’s righteousness, they repent and turn to Him for salvation. Therefore, let’s preach the whole Gospel, thereby unleashing the saving Grace of God across the World!
Soli Deo Gloria!