Begin Here, Remain Here (1)
“Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and thento the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.” Acts 26.19, 20
The deepest need
Many Christians today believe that saving faith – full faith – consists of hearing, responding to, and continuing in the hope of the Good News of Jesus Christ. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” they explain. Just believe, and keep believing in the hope of forgiveness and eternal life.
From this perspective, all we have to do in trying to reach others for Christ is put Jesus before them in a way that scratches their itch – whatever that might be – and some of them will come to Him and find a home in our midst. Are they lonely? Jesus is a friend and comforter. Do they lack a purpose in life? He is their guide. Are they filled with guilt and shame? He forgives and renews.
You just have to find out where people are hurting, then show them Jesus accordingly. Not everyone will believe, of course, but some will, and these are the folks we’re trying to reach.
The Gospel, in such a scenario, is all about making Jesus appealing so that anyone looking for “something more” in life might find in Him the satisfaction of their deepest needs.
But what if people don’t know what their deepest need is? Or what if their deepest need is something they refuse to consider? Or don’t even understand? What if their deepest need is just the kind of thing that churches today seem increasingly reluctant to talk about?
What if their deepest need has to do with sin?
The heart of the Gospel
Deliverance from sin – its presence, power, and eternal consequences – is the heart of the Gospel of the Kingdom. But to be delivered from sin, one must first recognize sin for what it is and then be willing to turn away from it. If, in presenting the Gospel, we do not confront people with their sin, then they’ll never truly come to Jesus as Savior and Lord, but only as a kind of Helper in troubled times.
This is why Jesus consistently called those who heard Him to “Repent!” All the apostles also understood that the starting-point for saving faith is not in identifying any merely superficial needs we may imagine that Jesus will satisfy. The starting-point of saving faith, full faith, is in facing up to, admitting, confessing, and turning away from our sins.
Full and saving faith begins here, in repentance. And full and saving faith remains here for as long as we are in this life.
Repentance involves a change of thinking about a particular practice or practices, a change so dramatic that it leads us to renounce and forsake those practices. What we formerly accepted as normal – or, at least, agreeable, if only to us – we have now come to see in the light of God’s truth, as shameful, embarrassing, and even despicable – in other words, sinful (Rom. 3.20). In the face of Jesus’ holiness, we realize we could never be acceptable to Him as long as these practices continue unchecked. And in the light of His sacrificial suffering and death – occasioned by our wicked practices – we want nothing more than to be done with these disgusting and disgraceful ways and to find a new path for our lives.
When such a mindset settles in, we are ready to begin thinking differently about our lives and how we ought to live them in order to be most pleasing to God. We are ready, that is, to repent.
There is no saving faith, no full faith, without repentance. Saving faith, as Paul indicates in our text, is accompanied by repentance and leads to good works of righteousness which are in keeping with ongoing repentance. But if there is no repentance, how can there be any good works in keeping with repentance? And if there are no good works, then, as James explains, our “faith” is dead, since it does not bring forth evidence in the form of good works in keeping with repentance (Jms. 2.14-26).
Repentance is not much discussed, let alone practiced, among Christians these days. And without repentance, there won’t be many good works bearing evidence of full faith in our lives. This helps to explain why our good works, such as they may be, have not been sufficiently conspicuous or powerful to stem the tide of immorality that threatens to inundate all aspects of our society.
Without repentance, there can be no good works in keeping with repentance. And without repentance – without you and me repenting of our sins – there may not be much real saving faith in the churches of the land.
Full faith begins here, in repentance. And it doesn’t just begin here, but it continues here throughout the course of our lives.
1. What do you understand by “repentance”? Why is it important?
2. Can we have true and saving faith – full faith – without repentance? Explain.
3. Why do you suppose we don’t hear much about sin and repentance in our churches these days?
Next steps: What is involved in repenting from sin? Talk with some Christian friends about this question.
T. M. Moore
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This week’s ReVision study is Part 3 of a 10-part series, “Full Faith.” You can download “Begin Here, Remain Here” as a free PDF, prepared for personal or group study. Simply click here.
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.