Simply awesome explanation of how to minister the gospel to the most hardened criminals possible.
“Lord, lead me out of the crazy place.”
Many years ago I heard Dr. Lewis Foster, professor of New Testament at Cincinnati Bible Seminary and one of the translators of the New International Version, give this illustration at a college age retreat for the Christian Student Fellowship ministries at Miami University, The University of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky University. The camera that he had at the time, which was quite high-tech for the 1970s, had a feature in the view finder which split the image horizontally down the middle. As he explained it, when he would focus the image, both halves of the image would eventually come into sync and eventually merge into one, and the camera would be in focus. He told us this to tell us how we needed to bring the Jesus of our experience and the Jesus of scripture into sync to give us a clear picture of Jesus and put our Christian lives into correct focus.
Ultimately, the only Jesus worth knowing and worth believing is the one of scripture. The gospels are the trustworthy accounts that were set down for us to tell us who Jesus Christ is, and to tell us about his birth, life, ministry, and especially his death and resurrection. The Christ of the Bible is the Christ of our experience, if we have been born again of his Spirit by faith in him. The inspired Word of the Bible is the guide to the truth about the Lord that we claim to believe in, to his will that we claim to follow, and to the glory of the one we claim to love and praise.
It can be quite startling for someone who has seen, heard or read some of the distorted pictures of Jesus in our movies, our history classes and texts or even in some of our religious institutions, to read how Jesus began his ministry in the gospel of Mark. This summary of the habitual message of Jesus, from Mark, the recorder and translator of the eyewitness and apostle Peter, describes Jesus as someone who burst onto the scene with good news. He started his ministry preaching the gospel, as Mark put it, and calling people to repentance and faith. It tells of how Jesus came with good news to the pity party of first century Judaism as they smarted under the domination and oppression of Rome. It tells of how he came with good news that called for a response, of repentance and faith.
So here is what Mark wrote down for us: “After John [the Baptist] was sent up to prison, Jesus came into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom of God, and was saying, ‘The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has arrived. Repent and believe the good news!’”
The real message of Jesus Christ is that the kingdom of God has arrived. His ministry centered around the message that the time of God’s intervention into our world which had been promised by the prophets had begun. So he came and gave the message that was the fulfillment of the longings of the people of God, then and in all ages, had arrived in him and through his ministry.
Jesus began his ministry with the good news of the kingdom of God. He did not point to anything else or anyone else as the reason why he could make that stupendous claim. Rather, he himself was the fulfillment. He was the kingdom of God in person, the center and the fulfillment of the promises which came through the Old Testament prophets. His sovereign authority and power were the demonstration of the truth of the promises, and in Jesus Christ the promises of God become reality.
When Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, Jesus took up where the ministry of John the Baptist left off. Herod Antipas, one of the sons of the Herod who had been king of Judea when Jesus was born, had John the Baptist apprehended and imprisoned. Jesus had already spent some time with John and his disciples in the area of Jordan in Judea, but now returned to Galilee where he had grown up in Nazareth. John had declared that there was a more powerful one to follow, and Jesus took up his ministry as the one that John had been predicting would come. And so Mark wrote, “After John [the Baptist] was sent up to prison, Jesus came into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom of God . . . “ Jesus came as the good news of the kingdom of God both in his person and in his message. He came as the anointed King, with the authority and power of the Son of God, with the power over sin, disease and death. But his message was summarized as the good news of the kingdom, because it was good news that the King whom God had appointed had come. Indeed, the wording of Mark also shows a real intention to show Jesus as the fulfillment of the prediction of Isaiah on his return to Galilee:
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the one who brings good news,
Proclaiming peace, bringing good news of good things, proclaiming salvation,
Saying to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”
(Isaiah 52:7 — Dale’s sight translation of the Hebrew, informed also by the Septuagint).
Indeed, in the original Hebrew, there’s that word for salvation, yeshuah, which sounds a lot like Jesus’s name – Yeshua — in Aramaic. This may well be And this takes up and continues the opening words and prophecy of Isaiah with which Mark’s gospel opened: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God – just as it has been written in the book of Isaiah the prophet . . .” . So, the good news of the kingdom of God is the the King has come with the salvation of God.
Now, the gospel of the kingdom is not the physical presence of the anointed King, and his conscious use of his sovereign authority over sin, disease, death and the kingdom of Satan. Rather, it has become the gospel of the crucified and risen Son of God. He is still the same anointed King, though, and still has the same authority over sin, disease, death and the kingdom of Satan. Since his ascension into heaven, he still gives eternal life and righteousness through those who come under his sovereignty and enter his kingdom by being born again of his Spirit. This is still the good news that the King has come, and that now through his spiritual presence through his Holy Spirit in his people he still brings salvation. This good news is still the stupendous news that brings hope in the midst of this world. This gospel is the same gospel that once came to Winston Churchill once said to Billy Graham: “I am an old man. Life has lost all meaning. I am ready to take a fateful leap into the unknown. Young man, can you give me a ray of hope?”
So then, the message of Jesus that the kingdom of God had arrived meant that the time had come when God was fulfilling his promises made in centuries past. God had announced his purposes long ago through the Old Testament prophets, and now these promises had begun to reach their fulfillment in him. All the goodness that God had for his people had arrived, in the person and ministry of his anointed King from the line of David, Jesus of Nazareth.
The summary of the form of the gospel that Jesus proclaimed, appropriate to the opening of his ministry, was, “The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has arrived.” Though there are many Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, when Jesus said that the time was fulfilled and the kingdom of God had arrived, he is specifically referring back to Daniel 2:44 and 7:22. The first reference came in the dream that God gave to the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar, which the prophet Daniel had to interpret for him, of the four empires that there would be, including his own. In the days of the fourth empire, which we now know as the Roman empire, God was to set up his own kingdom. In the second reference, as part of the interpretation of a vision that Daniel himself had of the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven, God would set up a kingdom for his people. So Jesus was saying that the time had come when this kingdom was being set up and being given to the people of God, and it was coming at the prophesied time and according to its predicted schedule. Therefore Jesus, who himself would call himself the Son of Man throughout his ministry in conscious identification of himself with the Son of Man of Daniel’s vision in Daniel 7:13-14, was announcing the fulfillment of prophecy to them. He came as the King to the people who had the Old Testament revelation, all the Bible that there was up to that time, who were looking for its fulfillment. He did not bring a new ritual, a new set of rules or anything else, but in him, God came in person, in the person of God the Son, to set up his kingdom. This brings the understanding that the good news that came through Jesus was fulfillment of the promises of God.
Though the content of the gospel itself has changed through addition, as more of God’s promises were fulfilled through Jesus, even to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the reality is that the message is fulfillment of the promises of God and the prophecies of the Old Testament. So often, when we go over the central events of the gospel, as the life and ministry of Jesus came then to the cross and the empty tomb, we may miss the stupendous understanding that it was all fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament and the promises of God. But Jesus took special care to keep on explaining this in depth to the apostles after his resurrection, in a time which some have called his post-resurrection ministry, on how his the circumstances of his life, ministry, death and resurrection were the fulfillment of what God had already declared through the Old Testament (Luke 24:27, 44-45). Even in the statement of the outline of the gospel, the apostle Paul repeated several times that it was according to the scriptures: “I make known among you, brothers and sisters, the gospel with which I evangelized you, which you have received, in which you stand and by which you are saved — by that word with which I evangelized you, if indeed you are holding fast to it – apart from which you would have believed in vain. I passed on to you as of first importance that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, and that he arose on the third day according to the scriptures . . .” (I Corinthians 15:1 -4 ).
So, even in this day and age, where some voices are coming up again that say that the Old Testament is not really necessary, and some may even want to do like the ancient heretic Marcion and ditch the Old Testament, the gospel of Jesus Christ establishes for all time the continuing validity and relevance of the Old Testament, since his coming was in fulfillment of the Old Testament. Even more, it becomes necessary to chop all the passages out of the gospels where they point out the different places in his life, ministry, death and resurrection where he fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament. And then whatever gospel that there may be left of Jesus seems as if it lacks foundation and context, and all that is left are some moralizing stories, some miracles which they usually gloss over as well, and a death that seems more tragic than purposeful and a resurrection that seems more gratuitous than victorious.
And because the content of the message began in the prophetic Word of God in the Old Testament, and was fulfilled and explained by Jesus Christ himself through his ministry, there is no authority on earth for anyone ever to change or alter the gospel message. Again, there are some who may try to excise parts of the message out to try to make it more appealing to those who make no profession of following Christ – the parts that they say that the post modern mind cannot accept. We’ve heard that kind of thing before for almost every generation in the church in the Western world for the past five hundred years or so. In fact, from before and after the First World War, the attempt was to downplay the parts that some said that the modern mind cannot accept. One word added to the cliché – the post modern mind instead of the modern mind, and the same error that emptied mainline churches pops up again. But the center of the gospel has always remained Jesus Christ, the promised King, the Son of God crucified and risen, despite the reappearance of the same readiness to cave in to the intellectual fashions of the moment.
And so the question comes on where anyone else can come into a church of Jesus Christ and claim any kind of authority for changing the content of the gospel, and changing proclaiming the message of the good news of the gospel into something else – like doing some kind of good deed or church task. In the past pastors and teachers within the body of Christ, in clarifying what Biblical evangelism really is, have often had to say that inviting people to church is a good thing and a good deed, but in itself it is not evangelism as defined and practiced by Jesus and the apostles. We’ve also had to say that doing some church support ministry such as teaching Sunday School or playing the piano is not in itself evangelism, though there may be opportunities for evangelism. (And sometimes I’ve startled some people within churches by saying that church musicians – directors, composers, instrumentalists and singers – need themselves to be grounded in the Word of God and to be able to share their faith – and that may transform much of the current music from its current emotionality and superficiality to something that reflects more of a Biblical faith and universal Christian experience. ) And we’ve had to say that doing humanitarian deeds as Christian service is not itself evangelism, though again it may well furnish opportunities for witness and corroborate the reality of how the gospel transforms people.
But when we read about Jesus proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom of God, we can correct a misleading picture and cultural stereotype which many may have of evangelizing – of a man in a tie and suspenders, yelling, huffing and puffing in a microphone in a deep accent from the southern United States, as he is “preaching the gospel” — like a character from the movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Certainly many who may have fit that stereotype during the 1920s and the 1930s did preach a Biblical gospel, were not corrupt as the fictional Elmer Gantry, and did lead many to a real salvation in Christ.The reaction of some to that kind of straw man character is to the style, and they may consider themselves more sophisticated. But we can see Jesus speaking in his normal calm, controlled, direct and forthright style – sometimes stupendously compassionate and kind, at other times commanding with all the authority of the Son of God — as he did so much throughout the gospels. So then he showed us a genuinely Christlike way to proclaim the gospel and truly evangelize – the Biblical content in a truly Christlike way, without the stereotypical style that some have associated with evangelism, and which they have avoided because they want to appear more sophisticated and intelligent than a straw man stereotype.
But even further — the very coming of Jesus Christ as the promised King was therefore the corroboration of the truthfulness and faithfulness of the God of the Bible. He is the God who stands by his promises and purposes, even if others might forget them, be indifferent to them, or even be skeptical or dismissive of them. The good that he has promised will come about just as he had said. And this is a reason for every believer in Jesus Christ to look forward with anticipation for the fulfillment of all the promises of God for his people and to live in the strength of his promises. Though the kingdom came in its opening installment in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and continues since his death and resurrection in his church, the citizens of his kingdom, yet there is all the fullness of his kingdom yet to come, when he returns in glory. This will mean that we can continue to live in hope and anticipation, with the knowledge that through Jesus Christ we know, love and serve an eternally faithful, truthful and trustworthy God. It is like the reply of a Marine during the Korean War to the reporter Marguerite Higgins, when she found him eating beans in –42 degree Fahrenheit weather. She asked him, “If I were God, and could grant you anything you wished, what would you like?”
The Marine replied, “Give me tomorrow!”
In the fulfillment of his promises to bring his kingdom into this world, and the fulfillment of his promises through Jesus, God has given us tomorrow. The coming of Jesus Christ into this world meant that God’s kingdom has already arrived, and there is yet more to come, when it comes in its fullness. The saving sovereignty of Jesus Christ means freedom from the power of sin, disease and death through the power of his death and resurrection. God’s message to this world began in the ministry of his Son and continues with us today. This means that the good news for us today started with the good news that Jesus came with both in his message and in his presence so many years ago. And this is the good news which he has passed on for us to share with the entire world until he returns.
The reality of the kingdom being present now is not something that brings the goodness of God to everyone and anyone without a personal response. The reality of the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ calls for repentance and faith. The reality that came with Jesus still calls for our response and acceptance. The valid, expected responses to the good news of the kingdom of God still remains exactly what Jesus was calling for in his ministry.
The call for repentance was very definitely part of the ministry of Jesus. The reality of the presence of the kingdom called for this response, and Jesus was plain in calling for it. He himself had all the authority in himself to call for repentance, and he did so as part of the condition for anyone to participate in the kingdom of God. His call reflects the impossibility of acknowledging and coming under the sovereignty of God, becoming a part of the kingdom, while remaining in selfish charge of one’s own life. His call was for a complete change of life as the proper response to the good news of the kingdom of God, for people to turn from sin to follow the will of God.
Jesus simply used that one word, “Repent!” This verb came in the imperative mood, as a command to the people whom he heard. In this command to repentance he followed clearly the Old Testament prophets who called the people of God to repentance, and here as the anointed King he also fulfilled the ministry and office of prophet – not a moralizing teacher, but someone clearly echoing the message of the Old Testament prophets.
This is why Jesus didn’t have to spend much time defining repentance for those who heard him. First century Jews were well aware of what repentance meant from the prophets. Here is how Isaiah defined it:
“Seek the LORD while he may be found,
Call on him while he is near!
Let the wicked man forget about his own way,
And the evil man his own thoughts and plans,
And let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
And to our God, because he will abundantly pardon.”
(Isaiah 55:6-7, Dale’s sight translation).
Turning away from sin – and not just from an outward act, but also the very thoughts, intentions, plans and schemes to think, speak and act outside the will of God — and turning to God for pardon and mercy – that is the scriptural definition of repentance. And the prophet Hosea even went so far as to give the Israelites some specific words to say to God to express repentance, to tell him of their turning away from sin to him:
“Turn, Israel, to the LORD your God,
Take these words with you to him, and turn to the LORD,
Say to him, ‘Forgive our sin, And receive us for good, so that we may offer you the fruit of our lips.’”
(Hosea 14:2-3, Dale’s sight translation).
And just as Mark already wrote a few words earlier, the baptism with which John the Baptist came was a baptism of repentance, and as the people were baptized they confessed their sins. So, with this emphasis on repentance, John was recognized as a prophet clearly taking up the Old Testament call to repentance, and Jesus took it up as well. Though they both made predictions – John of the immediate appearance of Jesus, and Jesus of his own crucifixion and resurrection, as well as the events leading up to his second coming (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, Luke 21), they were not regarded as prophets for making predictions. Rather, the call for repentance marked them clearly as prophets consistent with the prophets God sent to Israel during the centuries of the Old Testament. So it’s noteworthy that while during his ministry, then, that Jesus was recognized not just as a teacher, but also as a prophet – just like his forerunner, John the Baptist.
So then, it can be quite shocking to some when they really pay attention to what Jesus said when he once defined his mission as, “I have not come to call the ‘righteous’, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31). And even more startling to anyone who has been propagandized by the picture of Jesus as a moralizing story teller, is this declaration of Jesus: “I say to you, unless you repent, you will likewise perish” (Luke 13:4). And in his post resurrection ministry, he put the emphasis on repentance as a clear part of the expected response to the message of the gospel (Luke 24:47) in practically the same words which he had used earlier and which had been characteristic of the ministry of John the Baptist.
So on the day of Pentecost, at the conclusion of his great proclamation of the gospel, it’s no wonder that the apostle Peter concluded, “Repent! And be baptized, each 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” (Acts 2:38). These words clearly echoed the prophecies of John the Baptist and of Jesus, but were now being fulfilled in the age of the gospel. And apparently at the conclusion of his sermon he went on to plead at length with those who heard to “Save yourselves from this broken generation” (Acts 2:40). And this call to repentance was a part of the ministry of Paul as well – but more on that shortly.
So then, this was part of the expected response to the good news of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ: becoming part of his kingdom calls for repentance. This means the renunciation of all self righteous pretensions, of holding to getting one’s own way at all costs to oneself and to others, and it means trusting in God’s readiness to forgive. The message of repentance was not intended to put anyone down, but to give people the truth about themselves so that they could enter the blessings of the kingdom. This message of repentance is the invitation of love and grace to receive forgiveness and to change the direction of one’s life into the direction of the kingdom of God.
This message of repentance needs regularly to be asserted in every age of the church of Jesus Christ, and it is in full accord with the direction of his earthly ministry and his stated expectations during his post resurrection ministry. It addresses the reality of a person which is known deep inside each person’s conscience, about the reality of one’s own sin, but it also demonstrates genuine faith in the readiness of God to forgive. This means turning from sin, and even the thoughts, intentions and schemes of sin, and turning toward following the will of God, so that the direction of one’s own personal life is turned into the direction of the kingdom of God.
How repentance is a change of heart leading to a change of life and a change of sides can be understood from an incident which happened during the ministry of John Wesley. There was a group of his followers that were planning to hold a meeting in a barn, and there was a group that opposed them. So one man hid inside the barn inside a sack. He was planning to open the door after the meeting started, to let the others from his group in to break up the meeting. But after the singing, prayer and preaching of the gospel began, the man hiding inside the sack came under deep conviction, and came to Christ that evening. He never opened the door to let the others in, because he had repented and he had changed sides.
But repentance was not all that Jesus called for in response to the good news that he brought. He expected to be believed and trusted as the anointed King of God, the Savior who had come at the predicted time. So, coming into the blessings of his kingdom means trusting the word of the King.
Jesus called for faith in himself as a part of the response that he expected to himself and to his ministry. As Mark recorded, he said, “ . . .believe the good news!” Faith in the good news meant confidence in the word of the messenger, and the bearer of the good news was the King himself. As he came and presented himself as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, of all the hopes of the people of Israel, he expected those who heard him to accept his word and believe him. He called for confidence in his words and promises, as the Son of God, God’s chosen ruler of his people. This entailed more than just acceptance of the facts of monotheism, of belief that there is one God, but also of the claims and trustworthiness of the messenger from God, the Messiah himself, the promised King. And as it would become evident throughout his ministry, the reality of this faith would mean following the King. And this new emphasis on faith in the Messiah as leading to personal salvation as being central to the personal conversations and public teaching of Jesus is also the central theme to the gospel of John.
This was a new emphasis, then, in the response that was expected with the inception of the age of the kingdom of God with the ministry of Jesus. Faith in the Old Testament was belief in one God, the God of Israel and the renunciation of idolatry, and while trust in him was expected and encouraged, the explicit call to faith becomes much more prominent with the arrival of Jesus and start of his ministry. But with the coming of John the Baptist, who pointed to the people to the Messiah in their midst, and with the ministry of Jesus, faith in the Messiah became paramount to become a partaker of the blessings of the kingdom of God. And this emphasis on faith continued after the life and ministry of Jesus came to the culmination of his earthly mission in his crucifixion and resurrection, so that belief in the gospel came to its full New Covenant meaning of faith in Jesus, King Messiah, the Son of God, who died on the cross for our sins and rose again to life. He is now the crucified and risen Son of God who calls for our full trust and allegiance still, and for faith in his good news of his salvation that he has brought. Certainly belief in his gospel means concurrence with the facts of his death and resurrection, but even more, it is a personal, conscious trust and allegiance to him. It is trust in his good new which opens our lives to where we can receive all the goodness of God in his kingdom, as we trust in his word and the trustworthiness of the messenger, who was the King himself.
This call to faith in the crucified and risen Son of God continued onward in the New Testament ministry of the gospel. The apostle Peter concluded his message to the household of the Roman centurion Cornelius, “All the prophets bear witness that everyone who puts his or her faith in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). The apostle Paul told the jailer of Philippi, “Put your faith in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved . . .” (Acts 16:31). And Paul joined repentance and faith together as the expected response to the gospel when he said that he had “ . . . testified to both Jews and Greek about repentance to God and faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). And it was Paul who defined what it meant to come to saving faith in Jesus when he wrote in the epistle to the Romans, “ . . . if you acknowledge with your mouth that, ‘Jesus is Lord!’ and you believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved . . .” (Romans 10:9).
This is also an emphasis that needs to be kept paramount in the preaching and teaching of the church of Jesus Christ in all places and in all times. Belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ is saving faith. J. Gresham Machen once wrote, “ . . . saving faith is acceptance of Christ, not merely in general, but as he is offered to us in the gospel.” It involves acceptance of the truth about Jesus as in the New Testament, not merely as a historical figure, but as the Son of God who came, suffered and died and rose again, and trusting him alone for one’s eternal salvation. And this is what brings anyone now into his Kingdom and into the fullness of the goodness of God that his Kingdom brings.
In the Old Testament, God told his people, “I set before you the way of life and the way of death. Now choose life!” ( In Jesus Christ, God came as the sovereign King, God’s own anointed Son, as the bearer and messenger of the Kingdom of God, came near to us and in person to set before us the way of life and the way of death, and call us to choose life by repentance and faith in his good news. In his preaching and teaching, then, Jesus expected response to his message. He expected no complacency or a business as usual attitude to his message. Moreover, he, as well as John the Baptist, the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul and the Old Testament prophets were totally unashamed of using the imperative mood to call people to repentance and faith. They did not deliver requests to think about it for a little while. They called for, and expected response to their message. And responses they received as they called for repentance and faith: 300o on the of Pentecost, some several thousand more after another time of great preaching and teaching in the Jerusalem Temple, the household of Cornelius, the Philippian jailer, Lydia the seller of purple dye, and so on. They would all take the time to explain the gospel in depth and to explain repentance and faith in depth, as well as to answer honest questions with honest answers, but they were all calling for a verdict and a decision in response to the gospel of God.
The nature of the kingdom of God, as the salvation and sovereignty of God through Jesus Christ, then, calls for the response of repentance and faith. The people of God today do not need to have any kind of reluctance in making this known. Some will question our authority to command this; we can point to the command that we received from the Word of God and our own response to the command to do just that. Some will dislike it because of their theological position that repentance and faith are the gifts from God, and must come from the working of God. We can point to the reality that the Holy Spirit who inspired the scriptures is present when the gospel is proclaimed to bestow those gifts of repentance and faith, and that he inspired the Word which set forth the direct commands to men and women of all ages to repent and believe in the gospel. Some will simply not like the style of directly calling men and women to repent and believe in the gospel. But there is no need for any kind of false dichotomy between immediate response or allowing people more time to consider their response of repentance and faith. It would be scriptural to give a clear understanding of the gospel and clear directions of what repentance and faith, as well as making it clear that an immediate response is possible and that a delay can be eternally fatal as to anyone who wants to consider his or her response at length. There does not need to be great pressure on anyone but rather loving clarity and even loving pleading, much as Peter gave on the day of Pentecost.
But even more, making clear the expected response of the human will to the gospel in repentance and faith – which can be understood themselves to be good works brought about in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, as John and Charles Wesley asserted – can correct an impression that some may have that being born again means waiting for God to zap them with the same kind of experience of overwhelming love and joy that so many believers may give witness. The reality of the turning to God through repentance and faith in Christ as he is presented in the gospel does not require any kind of passive waiting on God to provide anyone with any kind of experience. Rather, there is the conscious response to the gospel in repentance and faith and many may have an overwhelming experience of the joy of salvation at that time, but there is no need to seek or look for that same kind of experience. At the same time, there is no gradual sliding into the kingdom of God, but rather a real point of decision in response to the call of the gospel through Jesus Christ to repentance and faith. It is as Henry Wright once wrote: “No man or woman oozes unconsciously into the Kingdom of God. In the final analysis, all enlist, and every soldier knows when he enlisted.”
Through the message of his gospel, then, King Jesus has challenged each of us personally to enter his kingdom. This good news comes from the risen Lord himself, and he himself, in his death and resurrection, is the gospel himself. Life, righteousness and healing are the blessings of his kingdom to those who respond to him, who come to him by repentance and faith and then find out how good the good news really is.
The sovereignty of Jesus Christ means freedom from the reign of sin, death, disease and Satan, and entrance into his reign of salvation, to eternal life and righteousness. This is the good news that calls for our response in repentance and faith: repentance to receive forgiveness and faith to receive eternal life from the King. It means for each one who comes to the King in repentance and faith a place of personal place of acceptance in his kingdom, pardon for sins, acceptance with God and the possession of eternal life. So the question comes to each one of us: have you responded to the invitation of the King?
The sovereignty of Jesus Christ, in his saving power and authority, is our message to the world. The salvation which was secured by his death and resurrection is available to everyone. That is the reason for our witness to others, and for our working together to bring his message to all the world. The entrance of the kingdom of God to our world is good news for everyone, and we cannot keep that message to ourselves.
But finally, the sovereignty of Jesus Christ is the reason for our praise and rejoicing. We cannot remain sullen and self pitying, as if he had never come to our world as the kingdom of God and salvation of God incarnate. He came to give freedom from the penalty and power of sin, and living in that freedom means the joy and the celebration of how the kingdom of God has come into our world and how it has entered and changed our lives.
What does this mean?
Repentance is part of the expected response to the scriptural gospel!
Jesus: “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).
Peter: “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins . . . Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord . . . “ (Acts 2:38, 3:19).
Paul: “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus . . . first to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 20:21, 26:20).
True repentance involves:
Humbling oneself before God and turning from sin: ” . . . if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:14).
Confession and renunciation of sin: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 29:13). This means rejecting any excuses for sin or shifting the blame for one’s sins on anyone or anything else before God and man. It means the full acknowledgment of personal responsibility for one’s own sins.
Renunciation of the thoughts, desires, and intentions of sin, as well as the outward actions and habits of sin: “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).
Agreement with God about the reality and offenses of sin, and desires to be rid of them entirely: “Against you, you only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge” (Psalm 51:4).
Godly sorrow that leaves no longing for the former way of life: ” . . . yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended, and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (II Corinthians 7:9-13).
Thus false repentance involves worldly sorrow, wounded pride, and shame at the exposure of sin. It means no change of actions or direction. It leads to hardness of heart, demonstrates resistance to the Holy Spirit, and contempt for the grace of God, and continues in sinful ways with stubbornness. It comes from spurious decisions, where repentance is not presented as part of the expected response to the gospel. It comes from dishonest decisions, where a person goes through the outward appearance of faith in Christ, but has not decided to be done with sin. These spurious and dishonest decisions not only come from an incomplete presentation of the gospel, but many times where a person is seeking something else — church membership, the approval of family or friends — instead of salvation by Christ from sin. In these cases a person is really coming to God with his or her own agenda instead of paying attention the extremely serious promises, commands and warnings of the gospel.
The realization of the truth: “Those who oppose (the man of God) he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance, leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape fro the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (II Timothy 2:25-26).
The working of God’s prevenient grace: “So, then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18; see also Acts 5:31).
Prevenient grace is the theological term for the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those who hear the gospel to enable them to repent and believe. True repentance and saving faith are thus the work of the grace of God through the Holy Spirit, and not “works salvation” by any means. This is an enabling which does not reduce or eliminate any human responsibility to repent and believe when the gospel is heard, since the preaching of the gospel in the power of the Spirit brings with it the ability to respond. It is not natural to the pride and stubbornness of sinful people, though, to repent when the gospel is preached.
What does this mean to me?
Let us make a call for repentance a definite part of the presentation of the gospel.
Let us each consider the matter of our own conversion, and be sure that our own repentance has been deep and thorough!
Let us pray for others who need to know the salvation of Christ to receive God’s grace for repentance, and for him to incline their hearts to repent.
All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.