Our ears have grown accustomed to hearing men told to 'accept Jesus as your personal Saviour,' a form of words which is not found in Scripture. It has become an empty phrase. These may be precious words to the Christian—'personal Saviour.' But they are wholly inadequate to instruct a sinner in the way to eternal life. They wholly ignore an essential element of the gospel, namely repentance. And that necessary ingredient of gospel preaching is swiftly fading from evangelical pulpits, though the New Testament is filled with it.
When Jesus began his public ministry, his message was, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel' (Mark 1:15). As he met the woman at the well, his gospel insisted that she turn from adultery. Encountering Zacchaeus, Jesus turned him from thievery to philanthropy. Now the demand to the ruler is, 'Turn from your lust for riches. Repent!'
The apostles preached the same message. Those who were closest to Christ and understood his evangelism 'went out and preached that men should repent' (Mark 6:12)....
Today men are properly told to confess their sins and to ask forgiveness. But evangelists and pastors are forgetting to tell sinners to repent. Consequently this misinformed age imagines that it can continue in its old ways of life while adding Jesus as a personal hell insurance for the world to come. Treasures on earth and treasures in heaven. Who could turn down that bargain! Pleasures of sin and joys of eternity. That is a good deal! Sinners are not being saddened, as was the young ruler, to learn that they must turn from sin to have eternal life. Yet it is the 'sine qua non' of the gospel promises. Scripture always joins repentance and remission of sins (cf. Acts 3:19, Luke 24:47, Acts 26:18). Repentance is necessary to forgiveness.
Confession of sin is not enough. There must also be a full purpose of heart to turn from the former life of sin to a new walk in righteousness. No man can serve God and mammon (Matt. 6:24). Neither will God save any man who continues to serve mammon. To confess, 'I have sinned in loving riches,' while intending to pursue those same riches with continued relish is not repentance. For salvation the ruler must be determined to forsake as well as confess.
'He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy' (Prov. 28:13, emphasis added). Though sorrowful confession is an essential part of repentance, it is not the whole of it. The change of mind which issues in definite turning away from sin is the heart and soul of true repentance.
It is no wonder, however, that repentance is not being preached today. How can a man turn to a God of whom he is ignorant? How can a sinner turn from a sin to which he is blind because God's law is unknown to him? Having considered the first part of Jesus' message 'irrelevant,' modern preachers must overhaul the principal requirements made of sinners....
Churches are being filled with professing Christians who have never heard that Jesus demands repentance of any who seek eternal life. People flock to 'accept Jesus as a personal Saviour' without selling all. They have never been told by the preacher that there is a condition placed on having treasures in heaven—that is, repentance. So the converts of modern evangelism are often as worldly after their 'decisions' as before; for they have made a wrong decision. The covetous still cling to their riches and pleasures. Wealth and ease remain as the prevailing marks of their lives.
In a panic over this phenomenon, the evangelicals have invented the idea of 'carnal Christians.' These are said to be folks who have taken the gift of eternal life without turning from sin. They have 'allowed' Jesus to be their Saviour; but they have not yet yielded their life to the Lord. Trying to patch up a faulty evangelism, the church has adopted a faulty follow-up. It defends the questionable experiences of men and women as conversion and holds out the added carrot of 'victorious life' to those who will take a second step. Well, the rich young ruler would gladly have been a 'carnal Christian.' Wouldn't he delight to be assured of eternal life while serving the devil on earth? Needless to say, the Bible knows of no such grotesque creature as one who is saved but unrepentant. No illegitimate sons will enter God's kingdom. They must have faith as their mother. but they must also have repentance as their father.
Often Christ turned crowds away by insisting that, 'Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple' (Luke 14:33). He was not speaking of abundant life nor of 'victorious' giants of the faith. He demanded this turning from everything to himself as a condition of discipleship for everyone. The young ruler would turn from earthly riches to heavenly or he would cling to earthly riches and perish. It was imperative that he part with his sin or with the Saviour. We have no right to lower Jesus' entrance requirements for his kingdom.
Christ has not invented a different gospel for the twentieth century. But the sad fact is that evangelical missionaries, churches, and literature have unconsciously scrapped the doctrine of repentance to replace it with an easy, sorrowful confession. This fundamental, indispensable foundation stone of the gospel is being ignored. If 'The word of the beginning of Christ' (Heb. 6:1) is discarded, what will be the end of the souls under this influence? No wonder evangelism is ineffective! The church has great cause to be disturbed. It isn't preaching Jesus' gospel!
Paul went from house to house 'testifying repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ' (Acts 20:21). That was the central message when the Spirit attended the church with his power. It is time to be preaching repentance again. Men must be confronted with Christ's ultimatum to the ruler: repent or perish at the hands of a holy God whose perfect law you have criminally despised. Jettison your sin or God will cast you out of his sight. The prodigal son could not return to his father while in the embrace of harlots. Neither can you enter heaven lovingly clutching your riches.
- Walter Chantry, Today's Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? (The Banner of Truth Trust: 2010), 38—45.Further Reading
If Not for Amazing Grace
Jesus Christ Is King