In Luke 3:8 John the Baptist preached, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” What does repentance look like? How can we know if someone is truly repenting?
Luke 3:10-14 offers experiential proofs of repentance. John stated:
10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
In this text we see that repentance is not merely feeling sorry for our sins. It is turning from them to a different life. As one writer put it, repentance is a cosmic change of mind and heart. This cosmic change produces a transformation in the person. The person is no longer the same after the Holy Spirit regenerates them (2 Corinthians 5:17). Jesus called this regeneration as being “born from above” (see John 3:3). Salvation completely changes the person. They are no longer dead but now alive in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-10).
Repentance then is not merely feeling regret for our sins. Worldly sorrow over our sins only leads to death. Godly sorrow produces salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10). Godly repentance is not wrought in our souls by mere reformation or discipline but through the Spirit of God (2 Timothy 2:25). While God does command all men to repent (Acts 17:30), the Lord works in the human heart by His Word and His Spirit to produce true repentance.
Arminius wrote this about repentance:
According to this distinction of the various conceptions, have been invented different definitions of one and the same thing as to its essence. For instance, “repentance is a change of mind and heart from evil to good, proceeding from godly sorrow.” It is also “sorrow after the commission of sin on account of God being offended, and through this sorrow a change of the whole heart from evil to good.” And “It is a true conversion of our life to God, proceeding from a sincere and serious fear of God, which consists in the mortification of our flesh and of the old man, and in the quickening of the Spirit.” We disapprove of none of these three definitions, because in substance and essence they agree among themselves, and, sufficiently for [the purposes of] true piety, declare the nature of the thing. But a more copious definition may be given, such as the following: “Repentance, penitence, or conversion is an act of the entire man, by which in his understanding he disapproves of sin universally considered, in his affections he hates it, and as perpetrated by himself is sorry for it and in the whole of his life avoids it. By which he also in his understanding approves of righteousness, in affections loves it, and in the whole of his life follows after it. And thus he turns himself away from Satan and the world, and returns unto God and adheres to Him, that God may abide in him, and that he may abide in God.”
Arminius distingues between the first and secondary causes of repentance. Arminius held first that repentance is a work of God. He wrote:
The primary efficient cause of repentance is God, and Christ as he is through the Spirit mediator between God and man. (Jer. xxxi, 18; Ezek. xxxvi, 25, 26; Acts v, 31; xvii, 30.) The inly moving cause is the goodness, grace, and philanthropy of God our creator and redeemer, who loves the salvation of his creature, and desires to manifest the riches of his mercy in the salvation of his miserable creature. (Rom. xi, 5.) The outwardly moving cause, through the mode of merit, is the obedience, the death and the intercession of Christ; (Isa. liii, 5; 1 Cor. i, 30, 31; 2 Cor. v, 21;) and, through the mode of moving to mercy, it is the unhappy condition of sinners, whom the devil holds captive in the snares of iniquity, and who will perish by their own demerits according to the condition of the law, and necessarily according to the will of God manifested in the gospel, unless they repent (John iii, 16; Ezek. xvi, 3-63; Luke xiii, 3, 5; Isa. xxxi, 6; Jer. iii, 14; Psalm cxix, 71; in the prophets passim; Rom. vii, 6, 7.)
Then Arminius noted the secondary cause of repentance:
The proximate, yet less principal cause, is man himself, converted and converting himself by the power and efficacy of the grace of God and the Spirit of Christ. The external cause inciting to repent is the miserable state of the sinners who do not repent, and the felicitous and blessed state of those who repent — whether such state be known from the law of Moses or from that of nature, from the gospel or from personal experience, or from the examples of other persons who have been visited with the most grievous plagues through impenitence, or who, through repentance, have been made partakers of many blessings. (Rom. ii, 5; Acts ii, 37.) The internal and inly moving cause is, not only a consciousness of sin and a sense of misery through fear of the Deity, who has been offended, with a desire to be delivered from both, but it is likewise [an incipient] faith and hope of the gracious mercy and pardon of God.
In other words, while the Holy Spirit works on the human heart to produce repentance and without His aid, none of us could repent, the man himself must humble himself under the conviction of the Spirit to produce true repentance. Again, true repentance is not reformation. It is regeneration that begins the process of walking in repentance and bringing about sanctification.
Repentance and forgiveness of sins is part of the gospel proclaimed (Luke 24:47). Peter preached repentance in Acts 2:38 and 3:19. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16) and the gospel produces true salvation, true regeneration and true repentance. Arminius wrote:
The instrumental causes which God ordinarily uses for our conversion, and by which we are solicited and led to repentance, are the law and the gospel. Yet the office of each in this matter is quite distinct, so that the more excellent province in it is assigned to the gospel, and the law acts the part of its servant or attendant. For, in the first place, the very command to repent is evangelical; and the promise of pardon, and the peremptory threat of eternal destruction, unless the man repents, which are added to it, belong peculiarly to the gospel. (Matt. iii, 1; Mark i, 4; Luke xxiv, 47.) But the law proves the necessity of repentance, by convincing man of sin and of the anger of the offended Deity, from which conviction arise a certain sorrow and a fear of punishment, which, in its commencement is servile or slavish solely through a regard to the law, but which, in its progress, becomes a filial fear through a view of the gospel. (Rom. iii, 13, 20; vii, 7.) From these, also, proceed, by the direction of an inducement to remove, or repent, a certain external abstinence from evil works, and such a performance of some righteousness as is not hypocritical. (Matt. iii, 8; vii, 17; James ii, 14-26.) But as the law does not proceed beyond “the ministration of death and of the letter,” the services of the gospel here again become necessary, which administers the Spirit, by whose illumination, inspiration and gracious and efficacious strengthening, repentance itself, in its essential and integral parts is completed and perfected. Nay the very conviction of sin belongs in some measure to the gospel, since sin itself has been committed against the command both concerning faith and repentance. (Mark xvi, 16; John xvi, 8- 15.)
So we end where we began. What does repentance look like? Luke 3:10-14 records that true repentance brings about not just change in our thinking but in our ways. I read Galatians 5:22-23 and can’t help but see the work of the Spirit in repentance producing these results. Repentance, again, is not feeling sorry about our sins. It is turing from them and turning to transformation of our entire beings. This is why this has to be a work of God. Who can produce repentance like this other than the Spirit of God?
Our job here is to preach repentance to the lost. Jesus Himself preached repentance as part of His first preaching (Mark 1:15). He told the crowds to repent (Luke 13:5). The Apostles followed the command of the Lord Jesus and preached repentance throughout the book of Acts. Paul the Apostle wrote in Romans 2:4 that God’s kindness leads us to repentance.
I pray that the Lord would continue to work out repentance in my own heart. I hate my sins. I see them often. The mirror of God’s Word has a way of doing that (James 1:22-25). When we see the holiness of God in light of our sins, we see the need to repent. Repentance brings about salvation, forgiveness. I long for that.
I listen to a few seeker churches on my iPhone while I drive my truck (I drive an eighteen wheeler for a living). During long hauls I can listen to two or three sermons depending on the drive. My wife says that I’m mad for listening to the seeker churches because they often make me cranky and I start ranting (as I’m doing here) about them. My problems with the seeker churches are too many to post here in a blog post. I could never willingly be a part of a seeker church for many reasons. Doctrine is the first and foremost. The utter lack of doctrine in seeker churches is disturbing to say the least.
I have been listening to one of the seeker churches for the entire year. Each week their sermons come to my iPhone. You got to love technology! I had a friend who started attending this church about 6 years ago. He still goes there. He once had a fire for the Lord, was a man of prayer and holiness, and loved to share the gospel with the lost. Those days are gone. He is a shell of his former self now that he attends this church. I place the blame at the feet of my friend but also at this church as well. They have convinced my friend that evangelism is easy as inviting “the unchurched” to his church. The church does the rest. The entire “weekend” is designed to attract the “unchurched” and they are specific that they want the “unchurched” to come and not feel like they are at church. I have often said that seeker churches remind me of cults in that they get you in before springing the trap and letting you know what they are about. In this case, get the “unchurched” coming to church and then wait for a few weeks before telling them they must “receive Christ into their hearts” if they want to go deeper. It’s like an Amway seminar. Only worst.
The rant here today is not about the seeker church I’ve been listening to this year but a new one I picked up just this week. I use to be friends with a youth pastor (when I was a youth pastor) and he always seemed to lean this seeker way. I remember once taking to him about how I wanted to build a youth ministry that revolved around prayer and the Word and he laughed and said that I would never have a large ministry if that was my formula. I followed him via social media after he moved away and watched him head down this seeker trail. He bought into the seeker pragmatism hook, line, and sinker. He begin to tweet a lot of seeker posts and I noticed his preaching was more and more becoming like seeker pastors I knew of. He ultimately started a church in the Charlotte, NC area and followed the likes of seeker gurus Perry Noble and Steven Furtick. Despite obvious doctrinal disagreements, this seeker pastor ignored that because “they are growing” and that was the bottom line.
He started his church and now he rolls out “series” sermons like Noble and Furtick complete with the works. The stage is focused on the series. The series is pushed though social media and social media is used during the talk. I sent a few of his talks to Fighting For The Faith and hope they will review them.
Here is my rant. Theology. The seeker churches ignore theology. I have listened to all the sermons from the one church this year and a few from this newer podcast and theology is utterly lacking. The twisting of Scripture is bad. For example, one of the seeker pastors preached on “Shake It Off” based on the Taylor Swift song (yes you read that right) and preached from Acts 28 where Paul “shook of the snake” and he in turn turned the snake into problems and other things that we just need to shake off. What a poor use of Scripture!
Numbers is the focus. That is the bottom line. I well remember emailing a seeker pastor back in the early 2000’s and he responded back with “I run 700 people on Sunday morning. How many do you run? E-mail me back when you get to that number and I might listen.” I was emailing him over his poor doctrinal preaching. His response: pragmatism.
I remember another preacher going to hear modalist T.D. Jakes. When I questioned him about this he responded by saying that Jakes’ church was huge and he could just feel the anointing on Jakes when he preached. Never mind that Jakes is a modalist (the Trinity doesn’t matter much). Never mind that Jakes is a false prosperity preacher. Never mind that doctrine seems to not matter at all to Jakes. Jakes’ church is big and that is enough. Pragmatism.
A crowd does not equal the blessing of God.
I pass the Kingdom Hall’s all the time while working and I can tell you that they are packed. It seems they are growing and I have my suspicions as to why. The Jehovah’s Witness are no doubt a cult. They are doctrinally wrong. Nothing more than modern day Arians. Yet they are growing because of the seeker churches in my estimation. Week after week the seeker churches are packed but doctrine is not to be found. In fact, doctrine is avoided at all costs. It amazes me that seeker preachers often will have to point out where a book in the Bible is. For example, when the above seeker pastor preached from Acts 28, he felt he had to point out where Acts is. Further, his “background” to Paul and Acts 28 was horrible. He felt he had to use “cool” language and to be funny throughout his talk to get people focused. But at the end of the day, he taught nothing. Nothing. He didn’t teach false doctrines. He taught nothing. And this is true of every seeker sermon I have heard. Let me repeat that: I have never heard a seeker sermon yet that has taught me anything. They are masters at saying nothing.
And thus cults grow. People do want doctrine. Contrary to what the seeker churches believe. Doctrine does matter to folks. In Acts 2:42 the first thing Luke records that the new disciples of Jesus did was to devote themselves to the apostles’ doctrine. First thing listed was not “worship” or “small groups” but doctrine. Cults come and fill the void. The reason seeker people leave to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses or other cults is because doctrine.
After the seeker churches go off, I turn on John MacArthur and a breath of fresh air comes in. MacArthur is the opposite of these seeker churches. He preaches doctrine. He preaches holiness. He preaches the Bible and seeks to exegete the text faithfully. Sometimes, for fun, I will listen to a seeker church and then pull up MacArthur preaching from the same text and its night and day difference.
Over the years I have been out witnessing only to run into a group of people from seeker churches. Sometimes they will ridicule me for preaching on the streets. Sometimes they talk to me and I try to reason with them about their “conversion” as 100% of them believe that “saying the sinner’s prayer” is how you get saved. They are often completely ignorant of church history or theology. They will say “I just love Jesus” but when I try to find out which Jesus they love, they don’t know. I can often point out that the Jesus they say they love is the Jesus of their own imaginations and not the Bible. Paul the Apostle warned about this in 2 Corinthians 11:4 and Galatians 1:6-9.
Am I thankful for seeker churches? No I am not. I truly believe that persecution is soon coming to the Christians in the United States and this will probably end the seeker church as we know it. Most of the seeker churches will either close up or they will complete their compromising by abandoning true faith altogether in favor of the praises (and most important, the money) of men.
Sadly, many godly churches I know of feel the need to imitate these seeker churches. I remember when Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Church led to the demise of denominational named churches. Now we just have “Calvary Church” or “Christian Life Church” to avoid the obvious doctrinal distinctive that are there. Now we have the cool fad among seeker churches to get the coolest name you can find for your church. Either way, doctrine does not matter. They would say only Jesus matters but they don’t even know if the Jesus they preach is the Jesus of the Bible.
I highly recommend you to read John MacArthur’s book Ashamed of the Gospel for a truly biblical look at the seeker church. I pray that many saints of God will love the gospel and love the truths of the Bible (Romans 1:16; 1 Timothy 4:16; Titus 2:1).
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
– 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (NASB)
The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). But what is the gospel? I have attended many churches over the years but few ever spent much time actually breaking down what the gospel is or is not. Some say they preach the gospel each and every week but all they mean by this is that they offer “the sinner’s prayer” for salvation at the end of their sermons. Few really grasp the gospel.
Asking people what is the gospel is also difficult. People just don’t know. Depending on their church, they might define the gospel as Jesus dying for our sins, good works for people, or a host of other statements. The gospel, biblically defined, is often not taught in many churches.
Over the past few years we have seen an influx of “gospel centered” ministries. We now view everything as “a gospel issue.” Whether it be work, sex, marriage, sports, entertainment, etc. everything is now said to be a “gospel issue.” We have groups such as “The Gospel Coalition” or “Together For The Gospel” but is the gospel the main focus? Are we really together for the gospel? How many people even grasp what the gospel is?
In 1 Corinthians 15 we have Paul the Apostle defining the gospel. He states in verse 1 that he wants to remind the Corinthians of the gospel which he preached to them and which they received. He states in verse 2 that this gospel is what saved them. In verse 3 Paul states that this gospel is of first importance meaning that this message takes preeminence above everything else that could be taught. This gospel came not from men but from God (Galatians 1:11-12).
What then is the essence of the gospel? Paul tells us in verses 3-5:
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
Notice Paul’s movements here. First, Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. This is important. Paul is not moving beyond what has been written beforehand in the Old Testament. The Old Testament prophesied that Christ would die. Jesus Himself taught His disciples from the Old Testament about Himself after His resurrection (Luke 24:44-48). The Apostles were eye-witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection and they took not just His resurrection but the Old Testament texts and began to preach the gospel. The Book of Acts records the Apostles preaching of the work of the Lord Jesus and it is clear that they took the Master’s teaching from the Old Testament and taught about Him to the lost.
All of this, the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus is based on the Old Testament. The foundation for solid gospel preaching is not rooted in experience but in the Scriptures. This was the apostolic authority and is ours as well (2 Timothy 3:15-17). Peter the Apostle states we have a more sure word (2 Peter 1:16-21) because of the Scriptures.
So our preaching should be based on the apostolic authority of the Bible. The gospel flows from Scripture and is focused on the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel focuses on the fact that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. He was buried and He was raised for our justification (Romans 4:24-25).
Sadly this gospel is often lacking in many churches. I download a local seeker sensitive church to hear what they are preaching these days. Each week my iPhone downloads their Sunday service. What do I get to hear? The gospel? Sadly no. I hear positive twists on texts and I hear a lot of talk about how God wants to bless us, use us, and work through us to touch our neighbors but I don’t hear the gospel. Sometimes sin is mentioned or repentance but little is said about the gospel. Sometimes the “sinner’s prayer” is offered and I assume they think that is the gospel but I don’t hear anything of 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.
We must see how the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 and all through the Bible impacts our lives. I could write for days on this one issue but on a surface level, the gospel daily reveals to me that it was my sins that Christ died for. This is clear in verse 3. My sins. I see my sins all the time. My sins scream at me like demons hiding in the shadows. My sins torment me in my dreams. My sins are easy to find and easy to see. But the gospel shouts to me that Christ died for my sins (Galatians 1:4). My sins are not erased by good works (Ephesians 2:8-9). My sins are not washed away by penance. My sins are not taken away by my own self-reformation. My sins are only washed away through the blood of Jesus that He shed on the cross for my salvation (Matthew 26:28; Acts 13:38-39; Romans 3:24-25; 5:9; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:22, 27-28; 10:4; 1 John 1:7). The death of Jesus on the cross speaks to my sins and while my sins condemn me, the Lord Jesus saves me not because of what I have done but because of His grace alone (Titus 3:5-7).
The gospel is not just Jesus’ death for my sins. Without the resurrection, we are still dead in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:16-17). Paul wrote in Romans 4:24-25:
24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.
Without the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, there is no forgiveness of our sins. That Christ died would prove nothing. If Jesus is not raised from the dead then He died just like we will die. But the Bible says that Jesus is risen from the dead. A cursory reading of the Book of Acts shows not just the fact that Jesus died on the cross but that He was raised from the dead. All four Gospels record the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. This is the main focus of the Christian message: Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.
How does this impact me? Why is this part of the gospel? Well again if Jesus is not risen, we are still dead in our sins. But if Jesus is alive (and He is!) then we can be saved through faith in Him just as He said (John 5:24-25). The focal point of John 20:31 is true: Jesus is worthy of worship and praise as the One who shed His blood for our salvation and was raised for our justification. Because of Christ, my sins are forgiven and I have peace with God through Him (Romans 5:1). I have One who sits at God’s mighty right hand for my salvation (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). Jesus is now my faithful high priest who prays for me before the Father as my intercessor, my advocate (Hebrews 4:14; 1 John 2:1-2). 1 Timothy 2:5 states that Jesus is our mediator before our holy God.
This is the gospel. The gospel is not self-reformation. The gospel is not about trying harder. The gospel is about the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus all according to the Scriptures. Jesus is the One who was prophesied about in Isaiah 53:
Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
3 He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
6 All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.
7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the living
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?
9 His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
10 But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
11 As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.
“Why did you believe the gospel, but your friend did not? Are you wiser or smarter or more spiritual or better trained or more humble?”
This is typically one of the first questions a Calvinist will ask a non-Calvinist when attempting to convince them of their doctrine.In fact, when I was a Calvinist, I used this argument more often than any other, and it was quite effective. However, I have come to believe there are at least foursignificant problems with this line of argumentation:
1) Question Begging Fallacy:
As we have discussed HERE, this is a game of question begging because it presumes a deterministic answer is required. It is tantamount to asking, “What determined the response of you and your friend?” As if something or someone other than the responsible agents themselves made the determination. The question presumes determinism is true and that libertarian free…
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The advice that John Wesley offers at the end of his tract, What Is An Arminian?, is worth reading and following. Wesley wrote:
One word more: Is it not the duty of every Arminian Preacher, First, never, in public or in private, to use the word Calvinist as a term of reproach; seeing it is neither better nor worse than calling names? — a practice no more consistent with good sense or good manners, than it is with Christianity. Secondly. To do all that in him lies to prevent his hearers from doing it, by showing them the sin and folly of it? And is it not equally the duty of every Calvinist Preacher, First, never in public or in private, in preaching or in conversation, to use the word Arminian as a term of reproach? Secondly. To do all that in him lies to prevent his hearers from doing it, by showing them the sin and folly thereof; and that the more earnestly and diligently, if they have been accustomed so to do? perhaps encouraged therein by his own example!
May we love our brothers and sisters who disagree with us (John 13:34-35). Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Loving God is the greatest commandment and loving our neighbor as ourselves is second (Matthew 22:36-39).
My prayer is that we Arminians would love our Calvinist brothers and sisters. May they see our love for them and may it not be in word but in deed.