C. H. Spurgeon was once quoted as making this statement: “Brethren, we shall not adjust our Bible to the age, but the age to the Bible.” Such excellent counsel should be paid heed to, especially in our day and time when the signs of compromise are all around us. Many churches and preachers have become guilty of not only drifting away from the preaching of the gospel, but also the purity of the gospel, leaving out one key ingredient: the doctrine of repentance. Instead of boldly proclaiming the truths of the Scriptures that call for sinners to repent, the gospel is “sugar-coated” so as not to offend anyone. Much of the techniques used in modern day evangelism is basically geared toward an instantaneous human decision, rather than a radical transformation of the heart wrought by Almighty God through the Holy Spirit’s convicting work and the truth of His Word. In other words, the need for repentance is usually overlooked, ignored, or side-stepped altogether in order to secure a profession of faith from an unsuspecting sinner.
We are currently living in a time when man is brainwashed to think good thoughts, high thoughts, wonderful thoughts about himself. Within the last 20 years there has been a covert invasion in Christianity that can best be described as “Christian” psychology which is nothing more than watered-down humanism. With people searching for answers to their complicated problems created by their increasingly complex lives, psychology comes along and attempts to answer and solve man’s sin problems and its consequences through the building up and restoration of a person’s self-esteem and self-image. A known author, Ernest Pickering, wrote: “Evangelical Christians have become enamored with psychology. This fascination has definitely had its effect upon preaching. People are more interested in having their feelings explored and diagnosed than they are in hearing objective truth from the Scriptures. We are living in an age where the focus of ministry is upon counseling and group manipulation rather than upon preaching. Expertise in psychology and in church management are deemed more important than immersion in the Word of God. Is the preacher to be mainly a pulpit psychologist, applying spiritual Band-Aids to the emotional hurts of his hearers, or is he to be a proclaimer of the rich and varied truths of the Word of God? Much preaching today, particularly in those churches thought to be models of success, is centered on psychological themes – meeting a person’s emotional needs, helping individuals achieve self-esteem, and solving their personal and interpersonal problems.” (excerpted from “The Tragedy of Compromise,” Ernest Pickering, 1994, p.139)
Psychology Vs. the Gospel
The prevailing theme that is often emphasized in many religious circles of our day is for people to get in touch with their inner self and ask the question: how do you feel about yourself? The bottom line is that it really does not matter to a hill of beans what we think or feel about ourselves, but what does the Word of God say and teach. This matrimony between psychology and Christianity has created an unholy alliance which is producing some strange offspring that are permitting, promoting, and preaching deceiving, dangerous, and damnable false doctrine. This diabolical psycho-babble of self-love is sweeping through churches today among self-seeking men in a self-centered society whose greatest problem is a desire to worship at the altar of self. The apostle Paul warned us that one of the characteristics of the last days would be that “men shall be lovers of their own selves” (II Timothy 3:2). Biblical preaching and evangelism cannot and should not be aimed at solving psychological problems or making people feel good about themselves. Even though we may be living in a society that is consumed with this “touchy-feel-good” attitude, there must be a return to the old fashioned preaching of the gospel of Christ which is still “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). The truth of that passage of Scripture is one of the most potent statements to be found in all of the New Testament because the apostle Paul equates the gospel itself with God’s almighty power. The gospel is the only message God uses for salvation. And one of the most important aspects in the preaching of the gospel is the calling forth of sinners to repent of their sin.
No doubt some churches and preachers have fallen into the trap of teaching a mushy self-worth propaganda that seeks to camouflage itself in the robes of charity and tolerance. Many are abandoning their God-called purpose of holding up the mirror of God’s Word and graphically reveal to man what he really looks like in the sight of a holy God. The missing message in modern day evangelism is the biblical doctrine of repentance where a sinner is convinced and convicted by the Holy Spirit of his exceeding sinfulness and lost condition. While the term or subject of repentance may be considered by some to be old fashioned and out of date, it is an undeniable fact that the words repent, repentance, and repented are used over one hundred times in the Bible. When you carefully study the Scriptures it becomes apparent that repentance and faith are inseparable graces of God that are the products of a quickened heart that has been regenerated by the Spirit of God. When the Lord Jesus Christ began His public ministry He came on the scene preaching the narrow and exclusive doctrines of repentance and faith. If the very Son of God felt compelled to preach such a message before a lost and dying world, so should we. In Galatians chapter one we are told that there is only one true gospel and any gospel message that leaves out the doctrines of repentance and faith would fall under the category of being a false gospel.
What Does Repentance Mean?
When used in the context of salvation, repentance basically means there is a turning from sin to God. A true, God-given, Spirit-led, biblical repentance is a change of one’s heart and mind toward God about sin. The message of the apostle Peter in Acts 3 was “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out…” (Acts 3:19). The greatest need for any sinner is to have his sins blotted out but a man will never have the pardon of sin while he is still in love with his sin. There must be a hatred of sin, a loathing of it, a turning from it. C.H. Spurgeon said it so well when he wrote: “He who has stood before God, convicted and condemned, with the rope about his neck, is the man to weep for joy when he is pardoned, to hate the evil which has been forgiven him, and to live to the honor of the Redeemer by whose blood he has been cleansed.” Sin must be revealed to the heart of the sinner as being exceedingly sinful and God must be revealed to the heart of the sinner as being perfectly holy. Man must be brought to that place where he sees himself as a lost, ruined, guilty, wicked sinner without help or hope. In repentance, a lost sinner not only sees himself as a sinner, but he recognizes the fact that he has sinned against a righteous and holy God. When one sees himself as he appears before God, he is brought to a place where there is godly sorrow for his sin and hates it altogether. In essence, to hate sin is to love God. In true repentance there is not only the desire to escape the consequences of sin but to be rid of sin itself as a thing displeasing to God. When dealing with the subject of repentance it should be pointed out that it is not enough just to turn away from sin; one must also turn to God for salvation. This is exactly what happened with the believers of Thessalonica when it is recorded that they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (I Thessalonians 1:9). The apostle Paul testified to the fact that the Lord had called him to preach the gospel of Christ “first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20). In true repentance there is conviction, contrition, and conversion as one turns from his sin to Jesus Christ for salvation. Repentance is the result of the convicting power of the Holy Spirit using the Word of God to cause a change of attitude, action, and affection in the sinner’s heart to where he abandons his own self-righteousness, realizes his wretched sinfulness, and humbly cries out: “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
Repentance Is A Gift
God commands all to repent (Acts 17:30), but ultimately it is He himself who must grant repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18; II Timothy 2:25). Repentance originates with God; it is because of His goodness that He leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Even though God demands the response of repentance and faith, He must graciously prompt and empower that response in the heart of sinners. An honest belief in the sovereignty of God in salvation would bring an end to a lot of the nonsense that goes on today in the name of evangelism. No sinner will ever repent and believe until he be first given life to repent and believe. Spiritual life must precede spiritual acts. The human heart is so depraved that left to ourselves, none of us would ever repent of our sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. If we could generate repentance and faith on our own, we would certainly have something to boast about. But the Bible teaches, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our salvation is totally of God’s grace from first to last, including His gifts of repentance and faith. We are reminded in Philippians 2:13 that “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
Repentance Is Important
Is repentance really all that vital and crucial in the matter of evangelism? Evidently it is because not only did the John the Baptist preach it (Matthew 3:1-2), but all the apostles were commanded to preach it (Luke 24:47). The apostle Paul was faithful throughout his ministry in “testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). The doctrine of repentance is indeed important and imperative because without it, men will perish in their sins (Luke 13:3,5), only to be cast into the eternal lake of fire.
Many today are of the opinion that we must tone down the gospel message so as to make it less offensive and more appealing. Preaching repentance and boldly confronting sin are seen as archaic, ineffectual means of reaching the world for Christ. The truth is, biblical evangelism does not need slick salesmanship to evangelize the lost. What is needed is a firm, fervent declaration of the gospel of Christ, calling on sinners to turn from their sin to the Saviour for the salvation of their soul. If we are faithful to plant and water the seed of God’s Word, the Bible promises us that it will be God who gives the increase (I Corinthians 3:6-7). It isn’t the cleverness of our methods, the techniques of our ministry, or even the wit of our preaching that puts power in our testimony and witness. It is obedience to a holy and sovereign God.
One well known author and commentator wrote these thought-provoking words: “If preachers only had confidence in God’s power and God’s Word, they would not feel it necessary to trim and adjust and tone down the message. They would not feel they could use artificial means and thereby induce more people to be saved. They would not view evangelism as a marketing problem, but they would see it for what it is – the proclamation of divine revelation as the only means by which God calls the elect to Himself. They would rely more on the gospel, the power of God unto salvation. And they would abandon the worldly gimmicks that are propelling the church faster and further along the downhill slope.”
May it be that we would be careful to look to the supreme example set by our Lord and Saviour who, during His brief ministry on this earth, went about preaching the urgent and needed message: “repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).