Something seems to be missing in many churches today when it comes to the issue of salvation. There is strong emphasis on believing in Jesus. There also seem to be strong emphases on confessing Jesus and baptism. But it seems there is little or almost no emphasis on repentance. Repentance has been dropped from the church’s vocabulary.
John the Baptist came preaching repentance. Jesus preached repentance. Both John and Jesus made repentance the heart of their message.
The message on Pentecost was not to accept Jesus and be baptized, nor was it to ask Jesus into your heart and be baptized. It was repent and be baptized. Peter and the apostles saw repentance as an essential element of salvation. Peter’s next message also included a strong emphasis on repentance.
The Bible clearly presents the need for repentance. There must be sorrow over sin if there is going to be genuine change of heart.
Baptism without repentance is worthless. Many in our churches are losing the biblical perspective on repentance. People certainly must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God—but more is required. There must be genuine repentance from sins. Sin is our problem, and we must repent. We must change our mind about sin. We no longer want any part of sin.
It seems we want people to accept Jesus, but we do not talk to them about sin. Whether we admit it or not, we have been influenced by those who want to preach only a positive message.
We do not want people to feel bad—but sin should make one feel bad. Sin is an affront to a holy God. He hates sin, so believers should genuinely repent of sin. Jesus died because of sin. He did not die because man is basically good; he died because mankind is sinful and needs a way to come back to God.
Not That Bad?
Why has this message been ignored? Why are we afraid to call sin what it is? Is it because repentance is a painful subject? Repentance requires a person to admit he is a sinner and needs a Savior. Modern man does not like to admit the possibility of failure—that there might be something wrong with him.
We are still into the I’m OK—You’re OK thinking. People believe they are not “that bad”—certainly not as bad as a murderer, for example. The issue is not whether I am “that bad.” The issue is this: I am a sinner in need of a Savior. As John Newton said, “I am a great sinner, but Jesus is a great Savior.”
So what is missing today? A genuine belief that mankind needs to repent. In recent years, I have heard very few messages whose subject was repentance. We ask people to accept Jesus, and that may be OK. But, would it not be better that they believe in Jesus, repent of their sins, confess Jesus as Lord and Christ, and then be baptized?
Are we going to preach a biblical message or a popular message? That seems to be the question we need to ask in our churches. We want growth, but not at the expense of truth. Truth has never been popular, but we should present a clear message of salvation to the world. That message includes the need for repentance of sin.
I am not advocating that we preach Restoration Movement principles, but I believe we must preach a biblical message. I am advocating we again make repentance a part of the message. It is time we call Bible things by Bible names. It is time we practice biblical Christianity. If we want to see believers impacting the world, it will happen only if we speak where the Bible speaks, and the Bible speaks of repentance.
It appears to me that what’s missing in many circles today is repentance. I hope I am wrong, but what do you think?
Ron Downs serves as vice president for academic affairs/academic dean at Louisville (Kentucky) Bible College.