Summary: Message explores danger William Booth saw when he said, “The chief danger that confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration..."
Is Repentance a Dirty Word? Part 1
Richard Tow 7/17/16
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the Salvation Army was a powerhouse of evangelism. It’s founder and leader was William Booth. I want to begin this morning by reading to you a warning handed down by him that will introduce the message today.
“The chief danger that confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell.”1
I will expound briefly on each danger and then focus the rest of the message on one of these in particular.
1. Religion without the Holy Ghost. More current translations would say Religion without the Holy Spirit. Millions of Americans attend church every week, even with the rise in secularism. But the danger Booth is talking about is people going to church, having their services, but having little or no real interaction with the Holy Spirit. It is possible for people, under the name of Christianity, to gather together every week; sing some songs; listen to sermons; enjoy social interaction with friends. Yet never be changed by the influence of the Holy Spirit. The great danger we face today is that church simply becomes good clean entertainment. And it can easily keep a Christian veneer while doing that. How does that work? Well it’s been a hard work week; I’m tired and it’s hot outside. But I can sit comfortably in a nice air conditioned building; lean back passively and let the two hours go by. Having put in my time and done my duty, I can now go do what I really enjoy. How much of the church would continue right on today without God being there at all? Maybe a better question is how much of church is going on right now without God being there? Religion without the Holy Spirit. “Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof” as Paul put it in 2 Tim. 3:5.2 What was the driving force of the New Testament Church? Was it exciting programs? Impressive buildings? State of the art sound equipment? No, they had none of that. It was the activity of the Holy Spirit. Can you discern the difference between human excitement and the presence of the Holy Spirit? Most people can’t. Human activities don’t change people’s hearts; only the Holy Spirit can do that. Only the Holy Spirit can transform a selfish creature into a giving, loving person. Church is to be a place of transformation.
2. Christianity without Christ—without the Christ of the Bible. Maybe with “another Jesus” concocted in their own minds. But not the one with a cross.3 Not the one who said "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Perhaps a more positive Christ than that. Maybe one who helps me indulge the flesh, rather than deny it. Christianity without the Anointed One—just a nice group of people who do not disturb my self-centered life.
3. Forgiveness without Repentance. Yes, this is very nice. I have many sins that need to be forgiven. I intend to continue indulging myself in those sins. But I want them forgiven because I don’t want the consequences of that behavior. So a religion where I can keep doing whatever I want to do; yet, get the slate wiped clean by a quick confession or two. Forgiveness without Repentance. Repentance means a change of mind, metanoia4 a change of mind that results in a change of behavior. Across America people are being offered forgiveness without repentance. They are not told that God’s forgiveness is linked with their repentance. To turn to God, one must turn from sin. Dietrich Bonhoffer called it cheap grace. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, he wrote “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Forgiveness without Repentance. Prov. 28:13 “He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses” (that’s part of it; but listen to the rest of the sentence) “and forsakes them will have mercy.”
4. Salvation without Regeneration. No real internal change. The person simply said some words and joined a group. That’s what Nicodemus had before he met Jesus. (Plenty of religion and a salvation based on his good works). Jesus told him that to really be saved something supernatural must happen within. “You must be born again.” 2 Cor 5:17,
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Salvation without Regeneration.