If you would ask me one word that today’s popular prosperity preachers hate, I would immediately say, “repentance”. They hate it and its meaning and its implications to the core. They abhor it so much that they twist it into something light, easy and less-important, eventually making it of no effect so that that average, unthinking, careless Christian who never reads his Bible, hears such teachings and starts living worse than an unbeliever.
Yet, if there is one theme scattered abroad in the Bible everywhere, it is repentance. John the Baptist called people to repent before Jesus began His public ministry (Mark 1:1-4). Jesus began His ministry by calling people to repent (Mark 1:14-15). A major part of the message of all judges and prophets – Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Zechariah, Malachi – was repentance. It really comes as a surprise and a rude shock to me when I hear preachers playing down repentance. And I want to clear up misconceptions and expose false teachings about repentance that is causing today’s Church to rot! Sadly, many Christians are buying it without discernment! I’m therefore burdened to write about this.
1. “Righteousness of Christ” is not a substitute for repentance
I’ve heard many popular preachers teach that once we put our “faith” in Christ, it is “done” and that we need not persist in a life of repentance. They assert that we can throw “repentance” out of the window because “faith” has come in, covering us with “Christ’s Righteousness”. Is it true? The plain truth is that the Bible does not teach so.
Justification by Christ before God does not exempt us from repentance. It is true that we are justified in Christ and counted righteous in God’s eyes. But our sinful nature is still raging within us, wanting to bring us down. And it overwhelms us often – no Christian can deny this. The Bible calls us to kill our sinful deeds with the Spirit’s help (Romans 8:13) and fight this battle raging within us by seeking God’s Grace to become holy. And this process of sanctification involves regular repentance from sinful inclinations which the Spirit will reveal to us everyday as we seek God’s Word.
2. Repentance is coming helpless before God
Many Christians perceive repentance to be an emotional outcry for spiritual help after falling into a grievous sin. Actually, repentance is your response to God the moment you discover your utter sinfulness on encountering God’s holiness – this will happen every time you read the Scriptures with a receptive heart and an open mind. It is recognizing that we have fallen short of God’s Glory (Romans 3:8) and that we need His cleansing Grace and power – not once, but every single day. Once you grasp this definition of repentance, you’ll have no problem recognizing the importance of repentance as a part of your daily Christian life. You won’t be buying into the feel-good teachings and ignorant claims of preachers who belittle God’s Word.
3. Repentance is not good works
If there is one important message today’s popular church needs to hear, it is this:
REPENTANCE IS NOT A “FILTHY RAG” GOOD WORK
Many Christians have taken the verse “our good works are like filthy rags” far beyond its intended meaning. It means that we must not depend on our good works to win God’s approval. It does not mean that we do not have to repent! Repentance is a part and parcel of a born-again Christian’s life – it marks the beginning of new life and is essential for spiritual growth and progress. A Christian who does not persist in repentance and continual sanctification has not really understood the nature of new life in Christ as described in the Bible.
4. Repentance involves the will
Many Christians have a logic for saying that repentance is “Good works”. They reason this way:
Repentance involves will -> Therefore, it is of man -> Therefore, it is “good works”
When the Bible says that the will (a conscious choice) is involved, it does not teach that will-power in itself can save you (That would be heresy – Pelagianism). According to the Bible, repentance is a mysterious working of the Spirit of God in the sinner’s soul through the Word of God, convicting him of his sin and urging him to change by receiving God’s Grace. Here, your conscious choice and the Work of the Spirit are somehow mysteriously involved – just as Jesus is God and man at the same time. Any attempt to dissect this harmony and clinically explain this mystery will result in confusion. Emphasizing one at the cost of the other is error.
Remember this clearly – the will is not working alone. Without the Holy Spirit, no change can happen. You cannot boast for having repented and changed. At the same time, the Holy Spirit does not “control” you. It is possible for you to remain passive, neglect continual repentance and live casually without taking God’s Word seriously. It is possible for a person to make a commitment to Christ earlier in life and not take repentance seriously afterward. I urge you to keep away from such an attitude and teachings that encourage such attitude. Unless you are intentional about spiritual growth, nothing will happen – your will and conscious choices are involved in working out your salvation. We must “work out” that which God “works in” us (Philippians 2:12-13).
5. Repentance is the only means of receiving God’s Grace
Grace cannot be earned. But this Grace that saves and transforms, has to be received and used (2 Corinthians 6:1). And for that, repentance is the only means. The unrepentant soul has no use for God’s Grace. Those who talk about God’s Grace without making sincere efforts to work out their salvation are deceiving themselves. Tell me – how can anyone understand God’s Grace unless he first beholds God’s law and encounters his utter inability to keep it? Repentance is born as a result of this encounter.
If you are simply looking at God’s righteousness in Christ without understanding God’s holiness and knowing what it is to be righteous, you have no need of repentance. “Christ’s righteousness” is merely a watch you wear – an accessory. It is not a garment of forgiveness and justification that you need to cover you nakedness. And you have no idea of God’s Grace. That’s like walking around naked with just a watch in your hand and boasting in it. Sadly, many Christians live like that. No wonder the world is appalled on seeing such “Christian” lives.
Let me close by saying that the reason many Christians believe lies and half-truths about repentance is because they don’t read the Bible for themselves. I’ve frequently encountered such Christians only to find out sooner or later that they did not read their Bible seriously or regularly. As you reflect on this, I pray sincerely that the Lord would give you wisdom and insight into His Word and keep you from deception. I also urge you to read the Word of God to check if what I’m writing is true – I don’t want you to buy my words without studying God’s Word for yourself. Nor would I be happy if you discredit my words based on what some popular preacher has to say.