Summary: A sermon on the importance of repentance in the gospel (adapted from Richard Owen Roberts book, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, chapter 1)
In John Steinbeck’s story, The Wayward Bus, a dilapidated old bus takes a cross country shortcut on its journey to Los Angeles, and gets stuck in the mud. While the drivers go for assistance, the passengers take refuge in a cave. It is a curious company of people and it is obvious that the author is attempting to get across the point that these people are lost spiritually as well as literally. As they enter into this cave, the author calls the readers attention to the fact that as they enter they must pass a word that has been scrawled with paint over the entrance. The word is repent. Although Steinbeck calls that to the readers attention it is interesting that none of the passengers pay any attention to it whatsoever.
About 30 years ago there was a group of people who started a belief called Free Grace. This group taught that faith alone is the only condition for salvation. Nothing new there. However, here was the twist that was new, they said this: Repentance is not a condition for salvation and repentance should never be included as part of the gospel message.
Glad we don’t preach that or do we? Must be baptized to be saved. Criticize faith only, must also talk about baptism only, repentance is not needed.
What is repentance? In salvation it is the sinner’s recognition of and acknowledgement of his lost condition and his need for grace through Jesus Christ. But it is more than this. Literally it means a change of mind. To repent is to change one’s attitude and mind toward self, toward sin, toward God and toward Christ. We change our minds and agree with the Bible.
First word of the gospel is not “love,” not even “grace.” First word of the gospel is “repent.”
Thesis: Let’s see if the first word of the gospel is “repent”
Repentance: The First Word of John the Baptist’s Ministry
Look at Matthew 3:1-2: “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.””. Not only is the word repent the dominant note in John’s message, but he made the concept of repentance absolutely clear.
“And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Mark 1:4, NIV. Repentance must precede forgiveness; forgiveness does follow repentance. There is something unwise in supposing that a person can enjoy the forgiveness of sins while resisting or merely remaining ignorant of repentance.
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Matthew 3:7, 8, NIV. Don’t think of ourselves as Christians unless we are bearing fruit that is in keeping with repentance.
John the Baptist was not shy about naming particular sins that people needed to repent of. “But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.” Luke 3:19, 20, NIV.
Repentance: The First Word of Christ’s Ministry
“When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee.” “From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”” Matthew 4:12, 17.
Mark agrees with this as well: “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”” Mark 1:14, 15, NIV.
Both John and Jesus make an immediate tie between repentance and the kingdom. Why? There were two kingdoms then as there are two kingdom now. Dual citizenship is prohibited. Consider this: As citizens of the kingdom of darkness we are not fit subjects of the kingdom of light. We must repent. As citizens of the kingdom of this world we are barred from citizenship in the kingdom of heaven, for no man can serve two masters. We must repent. As citizens of the kingdom of Satan we have interests and loyalties that have no place in the kingdom of god. We must repent. If we are active citizens in the kingdom of evil we cannot be admitted to the kingdom of righteousness, for neither evil nor evil ones are permitted to enter. We must repent. As citizens of a perishing kingdom we have nothing to do with an imperishable kingdom. We must repent. As citizens of the kingdom of flesh we do not belong in and could not relate to the kingdom of the Spirit. We must repent.