The downplaying of repentance in the modern church

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From “How to become a Christian”: Chapter 14 – Step one in detail – repent

It is equally no coincidence that the Devil has done everything he can to downgrade the importance of repentance.  He has managed to persuade multitudes of people that it does not really matter much and that preachers should not speak about it or emphasise it.  He has had great success in the Western church in getting many Christian leaders to leave repentance out of their message altogether, or to just mention it briefly, with awkwardness and apology, rather than boldness and urgency. 

One of the reasons why Christian ministers and teachers choose not to talk about repentance is that they are too embarrassed and afraid to do so.  There is the fear that it will offend people and be controversial.  They also fear that it will make them appear old-fashioned or even judgemental.  Yet, our duty is to explain the gospel in the same way that Jesus explained it.  We have no right, or need, to change it or to ‘improve’ it.

Note what apostle Paul says when he is on trial before King Agrippa.  He is explaining what he has been preaching.  See how Paul also emphasises repentance right at the outset, as the very first thing he tackles when he preaches the gospel, just like John the Baptist, Jesus and Peter:

19“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. 

Acts 26:19-20 (NIV)

See also how apostle Paul says that we should prove our repentance by our deeds, i.e. by what we do.  Mere speech is no proof that a person has really repented.  There needs to be some visible and practical change.  Something needs to stop, or begin, or change.  When God sees that He can be satisfied that our repentance is real. 

In the past, when seeking to explain the gospel to somebody I used to mainly look for signs that the person truly believed.  Now I focus much more on whether there is any evidence of repentance. That is much easier to assess than the person’s beliefs.

Therefore when you repent take real steps to change your lifestyle.  Get rid of any known sin that you are involved in.  You can only begin with what you know about.  From that point on God will bring to your mind, one by one, other sins that you need to repent of and actively put right.  But He will not deal with it all in one go.  He will take it in stages, provided that you genuinely begin by repenting to the best of your ability at that point. 

Repentance is not a negative thing.  It is actually very positive and joyful.  The experience of Ebenezer Scrooge in ‘A Christmas Carol‘ is an inspired illustration of what repentance really is and the joy it brings. If you are unsaved, repentance leads to forgiveness and the starting of a relationship with God.  If you are already a genuine believer then repentance restores closeness with God, which sin always spoils:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

1 John 1:9 (NIV)

As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:12 (NASB)
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