Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Reason Real Repentance Is So Rare These Days

I never ceased to be amazed at the street evangelists who stand on corners and yell and scream at others about impending judgment. Not only is it irritating, the messengers don't seem to understand the utter futility of shouting "Repent!" and "God's judgment is coming!" The message of God's judgment toward sinners never leads sinners toward God. It just doesn't happen. It's impossible, according to Scripture.

The only thing worse is when preachers in expensive suits--men  who don't look like  wild-eyed maniacs--deliver the same message of impending judgment and expect conversions. The only difference between preachers in pulpits and those on street corners is that most sophisticated preachers speak of sin in terms of a nebulous and wicked 'society' or 'culture' rather than shouting at a specific person as he walks down the sidewalk. The spirit and message are the same. The message of God's wrath on the 'unrepentant' homosexual, drug addict, adulterer, alcoholic, and other named sinners never leads to change in any of them.

True repentance springs from God's goodness. The Bible tells us this.  "It is the goodness of God that leads to repentance" (Romans 2:4).

When Law is constantly proclaimed in an effort for God's judgment and man's crimes to meet in the court of conscious, no true repentance will ever be produced. Sorrow, maybe, but no repentance. Regret, possibly, but no true repentance. Judgment proclaimed always leads people to flee from God, never toward God.

Evangelical, saving repentance  springs from a believing view of a reconciled God in the face of Jesus Christ, and the incredible good news that God has an eternal love for sinners. Repentance and faith go hand in hand, for it is "repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). God's love for sinners in sending His Son, and the Son's finished work on behalf of sinners, contain both the spirit and message (grace and truth) that lead sinners to repentance toward God and faith toward Christ. These two things are never produced until the  spirit in the messenger is one of love toward sinners and the message is one of God's goodness in Christ toward sinners.

If your organization is known more for the sins they're against and the message of God's judgment on unrepentant sinners,  then right there is the reason why there are decreasing conversions.

Next time you feel tempted to clap and cheer at a convention for a thunderous message against 'homosexuals,' and 'transsexuals,' and other 'sexual sinners,' or a diatribe against alcohol and drug abuse, or a proclamation of God's judgment against our nation for the moral decay in Hollywood, or God's wrath on our culture due to the break-up of the traditional family, maybe you ought to sit on your hands.

We must regain the message of the goodness and grace of God toward sinners and begin to focus like a laser on the gospel and forsake our infatuation with Law and judgment or we will never see a turnaround in the numbers of people saved.


Victorious said...

I know it's considered rude to shout words on the internet, but I'm going to shout a loud AMEN to show my agreement! Thank you, Wade!

Jesus presented Himself as One who could/would meet their needs and provide abundant life; i.e. bread of life, living water, freedom, relief from burdens, etc. His harsh words were directed only to those who elevated the law above love, mercy, and grace.

Wonderful post!

Bob Cleveland said...

I can't tell you how many times I've seen people post "If my people, who are called by my name..." on FB and then reply, when I inquire as to just what sins His people are supposed to repent of "Everything...." and then list a litany of everything the Bible names as sin. I mean the verse is out of context and should never be cited without the prior verse, anyway (it's all one sentence).

Trying to guilt God's people into doing something, I suspect. Like march down the aisle.

If I'm a drug addict or alcoholic, I'd be looking for someone to offer me victory over those things. I already feel bad enough about them.

And why don't we ever sing "Victory in Jesus" during the "invitation hymn", anyway? Isn't that what the Gospel invites people to?

Maybe that's one of the problems in today's church.

Wade Burleson said...

Victory in Jesus as an invitation hymn!

Love it!

Wade Burleson said...



Anonymous said...

Can a lost man repent or does he need the power of the Holy Spirit to actually repent? Since repentance means an about face in one's life can a lost man actually do that or is the only genuine change brought about by the indwelling power of the Spirit?

Aussie John said...


Fresh air!! Right on!

Anonymous said...

ii Thes 3:2

Wade Burleson said...


"Can a lost man repent...?"

The Spirit convicts of sin - the saints declare the gospel to sinners - sinners repent toward God and have faith toward Christ when the Spirit and the word do their work.

Unfortunately, we Christians try to play the role of the Spirit.

Victorious said...

I know we try to convince people that they are sinners who need to be saved from the fires of hell. But when I say that I never for one minute thought I was a sinner, I tell the truth. I was good. I had values. I stayed within acceptable "boundaries." If someone told me I needed to repent, I would have thought they were fanatics and dismissed them in a heartbeat.

But life was very hard...and very sad and I didn't think I could go on. I needed help. Life had no meaning.

Someone had put David Wilkerson's book, "The Cross and the Switchblade" in my mailbox. I never knew who did that, but I read it. I didn't even believe in God but got on my knees (hoping there was one) and told Him my life was a mess and if He could help, He could have my life.

Then just to be sure :)I was doing everything right, I read the prayer in the back of that book. I actually felt silly.

Weeks later, my husband looked me in the eye and asked me "what in the world is going on with you....you've changed." Praise God! I was a new creature but didn't think it was noticeable.

Jesus meets us where we are. He knows our heart. There are no perfect, special, "legal" words required. He knows....

Victorious said...

P.S. I need to add that it was after conversion that I began to see sin in my life. And it wasn't any of those in the 10 commandments. That's why I didn't think I was a sinner.

The Holy Spirit showed me that thoughts, attitudes, negligence, etc. are sins. And my heart is being changed so it begins to reflect His love.

Wade Burleson said...

That, Victorious, is a powerful testimony.

Anonymous said...

Repentance is a "grace gift" per II Thess 3:2.

All men are called to repent since all have sinned; however, as the II Thess passage states, God must be given by God. Again all men are commanded to repent-Acts 20:31

Anonymous said...

I mean repentance must be granted to the sinner by God


Bob Cleveland said...

Victorious, everyone's testimony as to their salvation is precious, and powerful, but none moreso than the testimony of someone like you.

God's power to redeem drunks and addicts and killers is marvelous, but even more marvelous, to me, is His reaching down to someone the world wouldn't think needed saving.

Praise God.

Robert Hutchinson said...

"But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

"God 'will give to each person according to what he has done.'

"To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.

"But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.

"There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile;

"but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

"For God does not show favoritism.

"All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.

"For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.

"(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law,

"since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)

"This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares."

Romans 2:5-16

Wade Burleson said...


Can't quote Romans 2 without setting the context for whom it twas written!

"Therefore, you have no excuse, everyone of you WHO PASSES JUDGMENT, for in that which you judge another, you CONDEMN YOURSELF...." (Romans 2:1).

Romans was written for the religious, the self-righteous, and those who believed themselves worthy of God's favor and 'sinners' worthy of His judgment.


Christiane said...

I remember responding to a question written in a post by David Miller. My comment went like this:

"Christiane May 30, 2014 at 4:03 pm

“If the Spirit cannot get through to the sinner’s heart to bring repentance, will my angry words have any real effect? ”


DAVID, ‘kindness’, like that of Our God, may help them:

“. . . God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance . . . ”
(from Romans 2:4)

and this ‘kindness’ in us needs to mirror the kindness shown to sinners by Our Lord Jesus Christ, when He was among us, when He talked and ate and sat with sinners . . . when He went out among the people and had great compassion for those with problems.

Romans, Chapter 2 helps to answer your question, and it does a better job than I could ever do."
- See more at: http://sbcvoices.com/a-time-to-marginalize-some-people-need-to-be-ignored/#sthash.vo6IyuTv.dpuf

I remembered one of the first teachings given to the children of my own faith:
it is by our kindness and our humility that we may point people towards Christ.

Jim Pickle said...

I agree. Jesus gave his life for me while I was still a sinner (I am paraphrasing). I can personally testify that unconditional love and acceptance when revealing my sin allows me to share it, ask for prayer, and to seek accountability. Judgment fosters shame and rejection.

Great message, Wade. Thanks for all you do.

Robert Hutchinson said...

Agreed. Yet, Paul's method to convince was not by deemphasizing the law and future judgment.

"You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?
You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?" Romans 2:21-23

So, it seems to me, that Paul is the street preacher (of which you speak) using the law and future judgment to convince the self-righteous of their lawlessness in order to lead them to "repentance for the forgiveness of sins" through Jesus Christ.

Victorious said...

Robert, Wade can probably respond to your comment better than I, but I think as he said, it's important to understand the context of Paul's message by those he's speaking to.

I don't think someone needs to say specific words or perform a specific action to be saved. For example, the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears spoke not a word and yet Jesus said her sins were forgiven. The thief on the cross was assured salvation, wasn't he? And yet he didn't utter the words we think are necessary. And what about Mary and Joseph; does scripture say they repented? Or were they saved by their faith in Jesus as the Messiah?

And Paul himself wasn't aware of his sinfulness until after he was saved by Jesus. He said he acted in ignorance by murdering thousands. He saw his actions as an honorable thing evidently. So the revelation of sin came after his encounter with Jesus.

Just some of my thoughts. I sometimes wonder if we don't over emphasize our importance in the conversion of others. Jesus said if He was lifted up - HE would draw all men to Himself. Our job, in my opinion, if to lift Jesus up and trust He will do what He said He would.

Christiane said...

For Mr. Hutchinson,

Yes, the Gospel as presented by St. Paul frequently landed him in jail.

Scripture records for us an incident where there is a direct ‘connection’ to how one man accepted St. Paul’s Gospel and was converted.
That story is reveals something of the importance of ‘the gospel message’ going beyond its words and being shown personally and actively in witness to Christ through great compassion also.

I give you the story of Paul, the Prison in Philippi, the Roman jailer, the earthquake,
and Paul’s words . . . ‘do not harm yourself, for we are all here’

. . . Paul’s act of compassion for the jailer so surprised him that he was opened to the power of the Gospel and was enabled by the Holy Spirit to turn towards Jesus Christ Kyrios:


Austin Al said...

So, Wade, do I hear you expressing ideas that are diametrically opposed to that darling of the reformed, George Whitfield?

Anonymous said...

Technically, the kindness here in Romans 2, based on the context suggests that it is common grace not Jesus on the cross grace. In fact, acts 17 suggests that the resurrection guarantees judgment is coming therefore God commands all people to repent. Interestingly, over looking common grace due to a hard and impenitent heart is storing up wrath for the day of wrath based on Romans 5 so that none are without excuse. I think this is too reductionist too rely on one verse as the only reason one might be implored to repent. Nevertheless, I agree it is through the beauty of the gospel and the radical grace of God in spite of the judgment deserved and imputed to Christ that the Holy Spirit quickens the dead sinner to life and gives them the gift of repentance and faith. Repentance then is a faith response gift that follows the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit (1 john 5:1).

Rex Ray said...


Yes, Paul spent time in jail; in fact that’s where his life ended.

His final stay in prison was not caused by preaching the Gospel, but the way he preached it. (Sort of what’s going on today with those that practice ‘our way or the highway’.)

He was warned that he was about to be killed by Christians. (Acts 21: 21-22)

Their suggestion to prove he believed like them sent him to the eyes of the High Priest who had been trying to kill him for years. \

You know how the story ended.

Byron said...

I am not prepared - nor do I desire - to debate the "dogmatic" expressions of "never" when God is referenced. But I do question the advisability of using such. It seems to intrude upon the sovereignty of God.

Christiane said...

when it comes to witnessing for Christ, the 'type' of 'kindness' a witness needs comes from the fruit of the Holy Spirit ...

that is why we call it 'kindness like that of Our God'

it is born out of His love and His mercy, not from any sense of our own that we can 'score a victory' by converting someone . . . what happens in the heart of the person turning to Christ, that is the work of the Holy Spirit

we have been invited to participate as witnesses to Christ in the work of God in the world

and we know from the Westboro folk what does not work

and we know from the great cloud of witnesses from the beginning of the Church what does work

kindness is not 'weakness', gentleness is not the absence of strength, and the peace of Christ is far, far more than the absence of strife

the power of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is great and when it is tapped and used in the service of the Great Commission,
many are drawn to turn to Christ

some thoughts on the 'chesed' of God

Beth Duncan said...

Good post, Wade.

kws said...

Wade, do you believe in a literal, eternal hell? If so, how should we preach about it?

Wade Burleson said...


Hell is the holiest place on earth. It is the place of God's judgment on sinners. It is not the masochistic hell of Dante's inferno, but the prison where God sends evil doers for their just punishment. God is present in hell, for the flames of hell that do not consume is the holy nature of God (remember the burning bush?). So, yes, I believe in a 'literal hell,' but this literal judgment, this literal holy, righteous judgment against our sin is precisely what God has borne for us in the atonement of His Son.

kws said...

Should we not then warn people in the strongest terms to avoid this literal, eternal hell by fleeing to the cross as men like Edwards and Spurgeon did? If your point is that the reason few people are coming to faith is an overemphasis on judgment in our preaching, I simply don't see that. I can't recall the last time I heard a sermon on hell in a Baptist church.

Curious Thinker said...

Excellent post. It seems when people are warned to repent because of God's judgement on them, it installs fear and guilt causing their repentance not real or true. Instead people should repent because they give their hearts to the faith and believe in God's grace and blessings not his wrath. I mentioned before I'm reading a book by Pastor Joseph Prince who sums up being under grace and not law perfectly.

Byron said...

In my earlier comment on this blog, I meant to say that I think it unproductive to engage in a lengthy debate about judgement. Several years past a minister of another denomination said to me, "We do not need a theology of judgment, we need a theology of love." There is truth in the statement, but I ask, "How can you have one without the other?"
Also it must be noted that the O. T. is replete with declarations and warnings of God's judgment. In my study today in preparation for teaching Sunday School, I noted Ezekiel's instruction from God to inform Israel of impending judgment. Whether the repetition of such warning accomplishes, or is intended to do so, conversion, confession, commitment, or condemnation, it is still a major part of the content of God's word, the Bible.

Anonymous said...

I have found it helpful to see repentance as the turning from my own arrogance, selfishness and pride in dealing with my deepest problems, and putting all my faith and trust in the divine person and work of Jesus Christ.
No one had to tell me my inner life is empty,dysfunctional, miserable, lost and guilty. And that outwardly there are many fears, disappointments, doubts and dangers that have to be confronted. That's life. Everyone knows it and tries,unsuccessfully, to cope with the situation.
Repentance constitutes a major paradigm shift in how I deal with this condition of missing the mark and the meaning of life . I repent of having insisted on taking my own useless remedies, and now humbly and gladly submit to his sustaining daily dose of manna.He has given me a new heart, and the fruit of the Spirit is beginning to show in my life. Repentance means turning to Him in love and submission, which in turn find its expression more and more in wisdom, service, suffering and sacrifice. To me, this constitutes real repentance.

We know the law of Moses condemns, but is not able to convict, nor does it have the power to convert. People are convicted in their hearts when it comes to them that they have rejected a loving Savior.


Christiane said...

I love your comment, GORDON.
It has much meaning for me, also.

Gary said...

Does forbidden-fruit-eating merit eternal punishment?

Dear Christians, have you ever stopped to think about what the Christian story really says: Someone committed a crime. There is a severe penalty for committing that crime. And there is one means to avoid the penalty for that crime and to expunge the record of the perpetrator of that crime.

Crime: Forbidden fruit eating.

Penalty: A lifetime of hard labor, disease, war, rape, torture, starvation, agonizing physical death, and horrific eternal punishment/torture in the after life.

Means of Restitution: A human sacrifice.

Dear Christians: Isn't it obvious? This is an ancient fable. No one living in the modern 21st century should believe this tall tale.