What’s Missing?

By Ron Downs

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.


Biblical Perspective

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.

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  1. Scott Marchman
    April 14, 2012 at 6:28 am

    Well said, Ron! Thank you for bringing this subject to the forefront.

  2. April 14, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    Your article was refreshing. I’ve been a part of the Churches of Christ, Christian Churches & International Churches of Christ and I think we can all learn from each other. Repentance was something I didn’t hear preached a lot growing up and once I saw God’s call for me to truly be different my whole life changed. Thanks for you article again.

  3. Todd Lundgren
    April 16, 2012 at 8:19 am

    This is a good simple reminder to me. It is making me want to think more about it. I especially appreciate how you communicate clearly. Often times articles from “college” people are filled with words that 95% of the people do not understand.

  4. April 18, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    An excellent article on the need to emphasize repentance. The author communicated clearly and succinctly.

    I wonder, though, why this is published in a section for opinions. How sloppy we’ve become on the use of terminology, particularly as it is used in the Restoration Movement.

    Alexander Campbell, I think rightly do, defined knowledge, faith, and opinion in ways quite different than used here.

    Campbell defined knowledge as what you believe because of personal experience. Drop a ball and it falls to the earth — an experience of gravity. Granted the same thing might not happen in the weightlessness of space, but in normal circumstances on the surface of planet earth, you know that ball will fall due to gravity.

    Campbell defined faith as what you believe because of the testimony of others. We believe Jesus rose from the dead because of the testimony of the Bible and centuries of changed lives. You place your faith in Jesus because you believe the testimony which shows him to be the Son of God. You believe repentance is important because of the testimony of Scripture.

    Campbell defined opinion as what you believe without personal experience or the testimony of others. He once said that one could have the opinion that the moon consisted of green cheese. No one had been there when he said that so there could be no knowledge or testimony. Well, that’s out the window now! But I think you get the point.

    Let’s not relegate issues of biblical truth to the realm of opinion. We may differ on our understanding but the testimony is still there. Just because we’ve allowed the importance of repentance to slip away does not mean my brother has an opinion that we should once again emphasize it. Rather, it is his position or his view or his perspective on biblical testimony that we should do so.

    Okay, I know I’m quibbling but we so often relegate issues of biblical truth to the realm of opinion when it shouldn’t be. The brother hasn’t speculated from thin air that repentance is important; he has recognized it as important (should I say necessary) from the biblical testimony!

  5. April 18, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    iRon, I enjoyed your article, and frankly, you’ve touched on a very important aspect that is indeed missing throughout our family of churches. Or at least, the emphasis on repentance is not what it should be. That said, perhaps with the following input and feedback . . . we can get into a program for “new disciple candidates” that will greatly assist them in their endeavor to name Jesus as Lord, develop their own convictions and become that ardent disciple that Christ calls all of us to be.

    The church family of which I am an active part actually has a set series of Bible studies geared specifically for prospective new disciples. When we reach out in our evangelism, the main question we ask is simple: “Would you like to meet and study the Bible with us? And from this study, we find out the person’s religious history by asking if they’ve ever had a personal relationship with Jesus.

    From that essential beginning, we then get into individual studies on: Seeking God, The Word of God, Knowing Jesus, Discipleship, Sin, The Cross of Christ, Repentance, Baptism [if needed, a study on a number of conversion examples],The Holy Spirit, and The Church. We’re never “pushy,” rather we let the person develop their own convictions so as to guide them towards faith, repentance, confessing and naming Jesus as Lord, THEN baptism. This way, our evangelistic contacts can make up their own minds as God leads them thru His Word per these “tried and tested” studies. Therefore, by the time [usually several weeks, depending on the person] he or she is ready to become a follower of Jesus Christ without resserve or question.

    Afterwards, we follow up with connecting the “new disciple” with a family group, along with a “discipler” . . . one who is mature in the faith and will meet on a regular basis with the new disciple and go thru a series of follow up studies in order to aid he or she in their new relationship with Jesus and being an active part of the Body of Christ right beside the rest of us.

    With utmost humility, I pray this info helps, and who knows, by incorporating these studies into a usable format—a wonderful change will begin to lead others in leadership positions to seriously consider a program like the one described above. Hey, by the unconditional love and mercy of God—it works.

  6. April 18, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    Good article! Thanks so much.

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