Foundation of the Good News


Foundation of the Good News

There are certain times in the life of a Christian when one is expected to give his testimony: before baptism, at summer camp, applying to go on a mission trip, attending a new Bible study. This was a task I dreaded. My testimony was about as mundane as you could imagine. “I grew up in the church. I don’t remember a particular time I came to faith, I think it’s been more of a gradual process over my lifetime. I got baptized when I was about 13 because it seemed like it was time. I’m so happy Jesus saved me from my sin.” Nope, that’s not not going to make the pastor happy. He wants to hear the moment you came to faith, when you realized you had to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and savior for yourself. He wants to hear when you officially got born again. I would think, “Please, not that born again term. How did this conversation become so political?”

Sometimes, I would pretend to be happy that I was fortunate enough to live a relatively holy life, enjoying salvation from a young age and sheltered by the church from sin. But in reality, I used to envy those people who were drug users or in jail before they became Christians. Not only were their testimonies way more interesting than mine, but their faith was far more authentic. Those people who had been saved from so much were so appreciative of Jesus and passionate about Christianity. Church-boy me on the other hand was just continuing life as usual. To me, Jesus’ words rang particularly true, and they worried me -- “He who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47.) Was this my destiny as a Christian?

I didn’t understand repentance. I don’t think anyone ever explained it to me.

The Foundation of the Good News

We talked about the Kingdom of Heaven. It's a social utopia: healthcare, justice, environmental beauty, safety, fairness, freedom. It is a society where people truly love each other. All of our social and political problems solved. But, there is a catch. All who enter into this Kingdom must first accept that the problems it solves aren’t just the faults of other people. To the extent that our problems have been caused by the selfishness of others, we must also confess that our own selfishness has also caused others harm. If we want to live in a perfect world that’s free of evil, we must admit that we need to be cleaned from evil as well. We must confront the evil in ourselves.

Thousands of years ago, God was sending Israel a bunch of prophets promising the coming of this Kingdom of God, but it was only followed by centuries of silence. Then, out of nowhere, this guy, John, came along. He stands out in history because he was the first prophet in hundreds of years. Not only did he start talking about the Kingdom of God again, but he was prophesying that it was near! That was good news, and people took notice.
Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. (Matthew 3:1-2, 5-6)
Remember we said that the Good News (Gospel) comes in two parts: Water and Spirit. This is where the water begins. We will continue in the scriptures to see how water grew out of this simple idea. Baptism is basically just the Greek word for washing. John was continuing the ancient ritual of washing prescribed in the Jewish Law. But John’s baptism meant something more than it ever had before. John’s baptism took on a new meaning of repentance:

“John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4)
John’s Gospel message about the Kingdom beginning with repentance was so critical, it formed the foundation of Jesus’ message too:
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matt 4:17)

I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:3)
Even after Jesus, the Apostles built their Good News message upon the basis of repentance as well:

Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. (Acts 3:19)

Repentance

When I was a child, I remember many times being forced to apologize to my sister for hitting her or stealing her toys or whatever I used to do that was looked down upon by my mother. I would push my logic to its youthful limits to devise every way of avoiding it. I quickly outgrew simple tactics like crossing my fingers as I apologized. Eventually, I realized I frequently was sorry, but not because I felt I did wrong, but because I got caught. If this part of the apology wasn’t spoken out loud, it was thoroughly meditated upon as the apology left my lips. How could my mother know that my apology was inauthentic? If the next day I continued hitting my sister or stealing her toys or whatever I used to do, I would inadvertently make it obvious. You see, an apology is not the same thing as repentance.

The Hebrew word for repentance comes from two words: to feel sorrow and to return. The Greek means a change of mind. Repentance is a regret about something in the past. But true repentance is also about the future. It is a change in direction. Repentance from sin then, means changing one’s ways from sin in the past to righteousness in the future. If there is no change in actions, there is no repentance.

“They should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.” (Acts 26:20)
Repentance requires appropriate deeds. When you repent, your actions must change appropriately. And yet, this is not what the popular Christian doctrine of today says. That false doctrine says that God’s unlimited grace brings forgiveness as long as we keep on sinning. It’s true that God’s grace is unlimited, and therefore his grace is powerful enough to change us. Repentance is not an ongoing process. It is an event -- a turning point. So, if you continue to return to your sin after experiencing his grace, what have you turned from? If you haven’t turned from anything, have you really repented? If you haven’t really repented, has God forgiven you? If God has forgiven you, why is it you keep returning to your sin?

Repentance is a Change of Heart

I didn’t understand this until recently. As a dedicated churchgoer, I couldn’t even see my sin. I couldn’t see my sin because I wasn’t interested in finding it. I spent more energy trying to justify my sin than repenting from it. I thought cursing wasn’t really a sin if it expressed true feelings of anger. I thought anger wasn’t a sin if it was motivated by the greater good. I thought the greater good was an abstract version of love. I thought love didn’t apply when someone did something wrong against me. I thought drinking was ok because I was trying to be culturally relevant to reach sinners. Yet I thought I didn’t need to confront sinners because I could reach them by my example of how I lived. I thought I could kiss girls because I wasn’t crossing any sexual boundaries. I thought I could focus on my career, because the more influence I got, the more I could stand up for the Kingdom. Yet I thought I shouldn’t stand up for the Kingdom at work, because it would get in the way of getting more influence.

I thought I was doing everything right. But all that so-called righteousness was just me justifying my sin in my mind, and I couldn’t see it because I had the wrong heart. I was blinded by my arrogance. How did I believe these lies??? Looking back at how easily convinced I was that I didn’t have sin, I see now how simple it is to justify evil. How foolish I was to wish I was some kind of criminal so that I had big sin to repent of! My lies, self justification, arrogance, and blindness to my faults make me far more deserving of hell than those criminals who turned their lives around!

Repentance isn’t just a prayer, or forcing ourselves to live differently. The different living results from a changed heart. Our desire needs to change. We need to want righteousness. We need to crave it. We need to hate sin. At its core, repentance is really a changed attitude of humility before God.

Repentance Brings Forgiveness

Before I understood repentance and humility, I was just like that Pharisee who loved little because he was forgiven of little. The words Jesus spoke to him have taken on new meaning to me. Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees was that they thought they did everything absolutely correctly and according to their law, but they had the wrong heart. They justified their actions in their minds so much that they couldn’t see their own sin. They didn’t think that they needed any forgiveness, when in reality, they needed it more than anyone. The Pharisees were arrogant, just like me. Jesus wasn’t saying that their lack of sin meant they would never love him as much. He was offering them an opportunity to change their hearts and love him more.

How much forgiveness you and I receive is our choice. That’s because repentance leads to forgiveness. Look again at John’s message: “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” When we change our attitude and humble ourselves, God changes his attitude toward us as well. It changes from judgement to forgiveness. God is so eager to forgive you. But you can’t be saved from something that you won’t admit you have. When you admit you have a problem though, the floodgates of God’s grace and forgiveness open.

Repentance Leads to Jesus

Unfortunately forgiveness is where most so-called gospels stop. They’re not really preaching Jesus, they’re preaching John. They tell you to “repent and turn to God,” but leave you on your own to “perform deeds appropriate to repentance.” They preach God’s forgiveness, but they ignore his power to change you. When we are left to our own efforts to overcome sin, we will inevitably fail. This is why according to a false gospel, repentance has become a recurring event and sanctification is a lifelong process. That has absolutely no basis in scripture.

Forgiveness from sin is awesome, but it’s not the whole gospel -- it’s just the beginning. Repentance is a change in our attitude, and forgiveness is a change in God’s attitude. But the Good News is about more than attitudes. It brings a supernatural and tangible effect. It is about a change in us. Until we’re changed, we may be forgiven, but the sin is still there. John brought forgiveness. Jesus brought freedom.

Before we get to this freedom in Jesus, we must begin with the right heart. That foundation is repentance. There is no salvation in repentance by itself, but repentance is necessary for salvation. Look at how scripture emphasizes repentance leading to something else:
“The sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10)

“God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18)

“Perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:25)

“When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John.” (Luke 7:29-30)
People cannot accept Jesus’ message without repentance. But repentance on its own cannot save us. God did not just leave us to regret our past. He came to save us from it. That’s why repentance leads to Jesus. We’ll see how in the next post.

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