It was recently observed to me how the theme of repentance was largely missing in the preaching of a highly respected preacher. This somewhat shocked me. How can we be thoroughly biblical in our preaching and not preach repentance? The theme of turning back to the Lord is a relentless theme in Scripture.
I was also recently reading Hosea. In that book there is much of the returning motif. The Lord through His prophet is talking about the people of God returning to Himself. Here it is in Scripture But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always (Hos. 12:6). Repentance is about returning to the Lord. It is about realizing you have gone the wrong way. It is at the heart of our faith. As I observed on February 13th (see here) we so easily take the Christian experience to be that of an add-on to our lives. However, it is a transformational experience which is predicated upon us realizing all is wrong and we need to return to our God.
If we do not have the theme of repentance in our preaching then we are not following in the line of the prophets. These men were, as the phrase has been coined, God’s covenant enforcers. They continually called the people back to the Lord from their wayward ways. They were repentance men. Moreover, that greatest of all prophets, John the Baptist was a repentance man. He preached. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matt. 3:1). And then there is the greatest preacher of all – our Saviour who began His public ministry in similar fashion: “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 has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1:14:15). It is further interesting in this light to see the Lord from heaven addressing the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:4-5: “Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
And then the apostles carried on this theme in their preaching. Paul sums up his message when speaking to the Ephesian elders by saying: “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:212).
We must not lose repentance from our preaching armoury. If we do we lose the heart of the Christian message. For the unbeliever repentance releases them into the gracious blessings of salvation. For the believer, repentance maintains us in the gracious blessings of salvation.
Any which way, we must preach repentance. We must live repentance. Let us conclude with this beautiful summary of the Jerusalem church when they heard that Gentiles had come to Christ. When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life (Acts 11:18). Oh that we would preach and live out “repentance that leads to life.”