Posts Tagged ‘repentance


The Real Issue in Gospel Preaching



One of the great problems with modern “evangelism” is that it attempts to deal with the wrong issue. The question with which most evangelistic conversations seem to begin is “Do you want to go to heaven when you die?” Then, the “mark” is told that Jesus died for everyone without exception, and if they will just believe that he died for them, they can go to heaven when they die.  Aside from the fact that no apostolic preacher ever made such statements in early New Testament evangelism, there are several fatal flaws in this approach.


The first problem is that it ignores the sinner’s ignorance of the nature and character of God. This is one reason the “drive by” approach to evangelism is faulty.  True evangelism cannot take place in a theological vacuum. To assure sinners that God loves them when they have no concept of that God’s character and attributes will be a futile exercise. When they learn who God is and what he demands, they may not wish to be with him in heaven for one minute, much less for eternity.


Additionally, it ignores the true nature of the sinner’s condition in sin and rebellion against God. I recently heard an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor explain what he called the gospel. When he spoke about the universality of sin, he said this, “You have to know that you are a sinner because you have done bad things like everyone else.”  Such statements glaze over the true problem. The psalmist understood and stated the true problem when he wrote, “They are corrupt, they have done abominable works” (Psalms 14:1). The remedy God’s redemptive work accomplishes reaches beyond the sinner’s abominable works to the sinner’s corrupt nature.  Since all the unregenerate sinner’s actions result from his corrupt nature, it is not merely that he has done wrong things but that everything he has done has been displeasing to God since all his actions have sprung from the heart of a corrupt rebel. The Scriptures tell us the prayers of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord and the plowing of the wicked is sin.  God’s redemptive plan intends to remedy not only the sinner’s guilt but his corruption.


Paul understood very clearly the commission Jesus had given him.  This is what he said Jesus had sent him to do. Jesus sent him to the Jews and Gentiles “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they might receive the forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified through faith in me [Christ]  ( See Acts 26:16-20). Does this not indicate that unless sinners are turned from darkness to light, there will be no forgiveness of sins and no spiritual inheritance?


Please understand this does not mean sinners must quit all their sins before Jesus will accept them. What it means is that they must understand they are so corrupt that they will never be able to break the bonds of sin’s dominion by their own efforts. If they are to be saved from their bondage and corruption, only Christ can save them. They must bring their sins to Jesus that he might break those bonds. It is the promise that they will be fully pardoned and justified when they turn to God, that gives them confidence to approach him.


There is not the slightest hint in the New Testament Scriptures that it is God’s purpose to exonerate sinners of their guilt but leave them in the  state of sinful corruption out of which those sins have flowed.


If you are interested in reading in greater detail about this issue, I would urge you to read my book, “Authentic Evangelism and Its Counterfeit.”  It is available at


The Bonfire–Daily Straw Man#2

Today’s “straw man” is the assertion that Calvinists teach believers must maintain their standing before God by their obedient behavior until the judgment. If they fail to produce the level of obedience necessary to maintain their justification, they will be lost.

If I hadn’t read this stuff myself, I would never believe anyone could be sufficiently ignorant to make such a statement. A corollary to this prodigious misrepresentation is the idea that when we insist that sinner’s must bow to Christ’s Lordship at the point of initial faith, we are calling on sinners to do good works that will contribute to the merit needed to justify them.

Our view is that the only work that maintains our standing before God is the finished work of Christ. Since our justification depends totally on his gracious work for us, not only is there nothing we can do to keep it, there is also nothing we can do or fail to do that would cause us to lose it. The only place our obedience has in our lives subsequent to our initial justification is to give evidence of the reality of our faith. True faith produces obedience. Even this obedience on our part is never meritorious. Not only are our works without justifying merit; the faith and its accompanying repentance from which those works spring is also without merit.

Apparently, these people believe that if a sinner comes to a “moment of genuine faith” in Christ, he will be eternally secure no matter what happens subsequently. The issue is that genuine faith is not momentary faith. These two terms should never be used together in the same sentence concerning faith. Genuine faith is ongoing faith. The writer to the Hebrews tells his readers we have come to share in Christ if “we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Heb. 3:14). When Jesus described those to whom he gives eternal life, he described them as those who hear his voice and follow him (See John 10:28). There is no reason to believe we have eternal life and that we will never perish if we have no desire to hear his voice and follow him.

When we call on sinners to repent, we are not calling on them to stop sinning and begin a new life of obedience. We are calling on them to acknowledge that they cannot stop sinning and become obedient servants of Christ. We are calling on them to bring their sins to their new master that he might break the bonds that have held them captive and produce in them, by his Spirit, the obedience he desires.


The Good Son Is Going to Perish

 Interpreting Parables

Jesus used parables to teach one primary lesson for each parable. Those who teach principles of interpretation rightly caution us against trying to make parables walk on all fours. If we try to press all the details of a parable, we are destined to teach doctrines that are contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture. This is an important rule of biblical interpretation concerning parables of which many seem to be unaware and many others simply choose to ignore. If we find teachings clearly delineated in didactic, theological, passages, there is nothing wrong with recognizing allusions to those teachings in the parables. Still, those doctrines must first be established by didactic passages. Like all illustrations, parables break down in points of detail. Our task is to discern the primary lesson Jesus intended to teach in each parable. This is more difficult to discern with some parables than with others.

The Parables of Luke Fifteen

In the case of the parables of Luke fifteen, the primary lesson Jesus is teaching is easy discover. Jesus spoke the trilogy of parables we find in this chapter in response to a charge made by the Pharisees and scribes. “Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So He spoke this parable to them, . . .” (Luke 15:1-3). Jesus was always approachable. Sinners did not shy away from him but felt comfortable in his presence. He received them and ate with them. From the perspective of the Pharisees and Scribes, this complaint was perhaps the worst insult they could have hurled at Jesus. In reality, their complaint is the best news we sinners could receive. This man receives sinners. He does not wait to receive us until the grace he infuses as the result of his redemptive work produces obedience to his commands. He receives us as sinners with no righteousness of our own. The main point of the parable is that Jesus is interested in seeking and saving the lost. In all three of these parables [or all three parts of the parable], Jesus speaks of lost things. The first is a lost sheep, the second a lost coin, the third is a lost son. It is important that we understand that the distinction Jesus draws between the righteous and sinners in the Gospels is not one of reality but one of perception. In reality, there is no one who is righteous, not even one. Jesus speaks of those who perceive themselves to be righteous and those who understand themselves to be sinners. Those who perceive themselves to be righteous are without hope. Jesus only came to redeem the lost.

Both Sons are the Focus of the Parable

The so called “parable of the prodigal son” is really as much about the older son as it is about the younger son. It is the contrast between the two that Jesus intends to grab our attention. The older son clearly believes he deserves a party thrown in his honor. In his view, the younger son deserves nothing but the Father’s disgust and rejection. In reality, he is right. What he fails to understand is that he, too, deserves the father’s rejection. We clearly cannot deduce that fact from the parable since there is nothing that would indicate that he was undeserving; we must learn it from other biblical passages. Remember, it is the sinner’s perception of himself that Jesus is talking about, not the reality of the sinner’s standing before God. In Jesus’ parable, it is the one who knows he is lost that the father receives and showers with his good things. The older brother receives nothing. In truth, he is the one who is lost. He saw no need for a Savior. In his perception, he had merited the father’s blessing since he had never left his father’s house. The Pharisees and Scribes, as religious as they were would die in their sins because they saw no need for a Savior.

An Illustration of Repentance

Our Lord’s account of the younger brother’s experience in the far country provides an excellent illustration of the nature of repentance. The younger son, in his arrogance had received his inheritance and left his father’s house. He traveled to a distant country and there threw away his inheritance with both hands, living with harlots. When he had spent all the money, a great famine began in that region and he began to be in need. He even went so far as to get a job feeding pigs and was so hungry that he would have eaten the pig food rather than return to his father’s house. Sinners will do anything to avoid returning to the Father. Then, the text tells us he came to his senses. The rest of the New Testament Scriptures teach us that sinners do not just “come to their senses” on their own. This must be God’s work. But, this is not the primary lesson taught in the parable. At this point, Jesus was not concerned with how he came to his senses. His point was that this young man began to understand that he would perish if he did not return to the father’s house. Consider what was involved in his return.

1. He decided to return to his father’s house. Someone has said, “Repentance is not something God requires us to do before we can return to him; it is returning to him.”

2. He acknowledged that he was not worthy to be called the father’s son.

3. He was willing to be treated as a hired servant in his father’s house. The passage says nothing of performing meritorious works to earn the father’s favor. It says nothing about doing penitence so that he might be freed from his post-baptismal sins. It says nothing about keeping the sacraments so that grace might be dispensed to him through them. It says nothing about making a pilgrimage to gain blessings for himself Verse twenty simply says, “So he began his journey and went to the father. He returned with empty hands. He returned without arguments as to why the father should accept him. He returned without any right to the inheritance. He returned with the purpose of serving in the father’s house as an obedient servant for the rest of his life. This is the way sinners repent. We return to the Father without any intention of offering anything as an incentive for his acceptance. We have no arguments of our own as to why he should receive us. We return understanding that we have squandered our inheritance and now deserve no inheritance at all. We return with a heart purpose to serve him for the rest of our days as obedient servants. There is one great difference here between his experience and the sinner’s return. This young man returned without any promise of acceptance. He had no reason for confidence. He returned with a fond but unfounded hope that he would be received. When, as sinners we return to God in saving faith and godly repentance, we do so with a well founded confidence based on God’s salvation promises. He has said, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). The heavenly Father cannot turn sinners away since to do so would make him unfaithful to his promises. The good news is that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. He doesn’t ask you to change yourself; he simply commands you to return. He invites you to come just as you are so that he might cleanse you from your sins and conform you to his likeness. If you continue to insist you are worthy to receive God’s blessing and the eternal inheritance because you are worthy in yourself, you, like the good son, will perish in your sins.