Date: June 28, 1998

Bible Text: Luke 13:3 |


My text is taken from Luke 13:3, “...except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

God commands all men everywhere to repent.  The reason for this is that no man will ever go to heaven without repentance, and every man outside Christ must repent or go to hell.  The New Testament is a handbook on repentance.  Continually, as you go through the New Testament, it urges people to repent and shows people their need of repentance.

God loves us.  We all know His love is higher than the highest mountain, deeper than the deepest sea, and is as unending as eternity.  God is love, and it’s because of that love that He provided a way of escape for us who are guilty sinners.  John 3:16 is many times called “The Gospel in a Nutshell,” and it is.  Theologically speaking, the gospel in a nutshell is repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The message of repentance and the absolute necessity of repentance rings out from the scriptures from cover to cover, from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation.  There has never been a person go to heaven who did not repent.  Every person who did repent went to heaven, and every person who will repent will go to heaven.  This great cardinal doctrine is the dividing line between heaven and hell.

The burden of the Old Testament prophets could be summed up in the quotation of one, “...turn ye, turn ye..., for why will ye die...?”  After the voices of the prophets fell silent, there were 400 years when it seemed as though the heavens were made of brass.  Then all of a sudden, the voice of God broke through the silence through John the Baptist; and his burden was the very same as the Old Testament prophets.  The first words in his major message were, “...Repent ye:  for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Now we know his voice was silenced by a half-drunk, adulterous king and a wicked woman and a dancing girl.  They cut off his head; but immediately, the Lord Jesus took up the same message in our text today, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

Let that ring in your ears. “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”  They took our Lord Jesus Christ and by wicked hands nailed Him to the cross.  However, a few short days later, Peter stood at Pentecost and faced the crowd.  What were his first words?  “Repent, repent.”  He was the apostle to the Jews.  The Apostle Paul was the one who was to reach the Gentiles, and he cried out with the same message, to “repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.”

Notice as you study this doctrine that faith and repentance are not two separate acts.  They are two sides of an instantaneous act.  They are the same.  Some people think that they repent and find salvation on the installment plan.  That’s not only unscriptural, it’s illogical.  They are saying that they’re going to gain heaven little by little.  Little by little they are going to add up their good works.  Let’s say that a person is right on track, and he’s doing what he says he wants to do.  He’s adding up his good, but halfway through he dies.  Now, answer this for me.  Is he going to go halfway to heaven?  Is half of him going to go to heaven and half of him going to go to hell?  Is he half saved and half lost?  No.  Repentance and faith are inseparable.  It’s one instantaneous act.  You turn from your sin to salvation.

No person ever genuinely repented who didn’t exercise faith in Jesus Christ.  There are a lot of false ideas floating around today.  No person has ever trusted Christ for salvation who didn’t repent of his sin.  It’s impossible.  Jesus didn’t come to save people in their sin, Jesus Christ came to save people from their sin.

Tonight, let’s find out what it means to repent of your sins.  It is so important.  I can’t think of anything today that’s more important to our people.  Yet there is so much misinformation going around.  I have a two-point sermon, and it will not be long; but let’s clear the brush away and find out what repentance is not.

The first thing I’d say is that repentance is not fear.  I’ve heard people say, “Oh, I was afraid, and called out to God; so I’m saved.”  No, no.  I’ve seen people who got caught in sin over and over and over again, and I thought they would get saved.  I thought that they would repent.  But fear in itself is not repentance.

Most of you know about the murder that was committed this week.  The fellow, Mark, is Todd’s and Anthony’s brother.  He went to this church.  He and his wife were in our church two weeks ago.  It was not uncommon for them to be here.  But they rejected the preaching.  Many times Todd’s brothers and sisters would laugh, “Man, you’re wasting your life.”  Now listen to me.  Here’s a guy who took a butcher knife and stabbed his wife to death at Marquette Mall.  He knows religion, he knows what prayer is, I think he knows what salvation is.  I have an idea that he’s scared to death as he’s hiding right now.  I have another idea also that he has prayed to God several times.  “Oh, God, help me!”  Is he saved?  I don’t know, but you’re not saved by fear.  This is the idea of a “foxhole” conversion  “Oh, help me!”  Well, that should lead to salvation.  If you have any sense it should lead to repentance, but it’s not repentance.

Other people have the idea that penance and repentance are synonymous.  That’s not true either.  Penance is an act of self-denial.  Penance is an act of man denying himself of something that he wants.  We know in the springtime there’s something called Lent for millions of people around the world.  They “give up something” for God that they should not have anyway in most cases.  They think this is in some way helping them get to heaven.  Before Lent is Mardi Gras.  They go down there and get drunk, they womanize, they sin.  “Man, I’m giving up bubble gum for Lent so now I’m going to live it up!”  Do you think Lent is getting them one step toward heaven?  It’s self-punishment inflicted in order to appease the wrath of God and gain favor in His sight, but that’s not repentance.

I don’t know if it’s still there, but for hundreds of years, there was a set of steel stairs in Rome that the Catholic people would climb up and down on their knees.  These stairs were supposedly brought from Israel as the stairs on which Jesus Christ walked up to Pilate’s Hall.  There in Rome, men and women go up and down these stairs on their knees, sometimes leaving a trail of blood.  The reason for doing this is explained by a bronze plaque down at the bottom of the stairway.  It is a papal decree from several hundred years ago declaring that the more a Catholic would climb those stairs inflicting self-torture, the more time would be taken off his stay in purgatory.

Isn’t that sad?  Around Easter time we see people carrying crosses or even hooking crosses to their backs and dragging them behind them.  Or they will whip themselves or even have themselves nailed to a cross in some countries.  Praise God, I’m glad I don’t believe that.  I’m glad we don’t have to do those things to be justified.  I feel so bad.  I don’t mean it in a haughty way, but I feel so sorry for those people who think they’re getting to heaven by climbing stairs on their knees or whipping themselves.

Praise God, we know the One who suffered in our stead — Jesus Christ.  I know the One upon whom the judgment of God came down in my place. He was wounded for my transgressions and bruised for my iniquities, and praise God, “...if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature:  old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

Penance is not repentance.  They’re not the same.  Others would say, “I think repentance is reformation.”  Now, it would do good for people to reform.  It’s good if a person says, “I’m going to stop drinking,” or, “I’m going to stop beating my wife.”  That’s good.  For most of us, it would be good, as it were, to turn over a new leaf.  I believe in New Year’s resolutions.  But if you’re not saved and you turn over a new leaf, you know what you’ll find out?  That new leaf is just as rotten as the old leaf.  You can’t save your soul by turning over a new leaf.

If it were possible for you to begin right now to never sin again (and it’s impossible for a person to live sinlessly), you might think it would save your soul.  But you’re wrong.  Let me illustrate.  Let’s say that I run up a big bill at some business in town, and I go to the owner of the store and tell him, “I’m sorry for building up that bill.  From now on I’m going to pay in cash.  I’m going to turn over a new leaf.”  Now, I would think he’d be happy because instead of my having his money, he’d be able to use it for what he wanted.  It would be good for both of us.

But if I say, “I’m glad we’ve settled this,”  and start to go out the door, leaving his office, I think he’d say, “Hey, just wait a minute.  What about the old bill?”  I might turn and say, “Hey, what’s wrong?  I just told you I’m going to start paying with cash.  I’m going to turn over a new leaf from now on.”  But he answers, “Yes, but what about the old bill?  You owe me thousands of dollars.  What are you going to do about the old bill?”  I might get mad and say, “What’s wrong with you?  What kind of ingratitude do you have?  I’ve just said I’m going to pay you in cash.”  He’d say, “I want the old bill paid.”  Right?

The same is true if you think you can reform and, by doing so, satisfy God.  With your sinful nature you could never go without sin; but even if you could, what about the old account?  What about the old sins that blacken your soul?  The old account must be settled, and it can’t be settled by self-reformation — only by God.  The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth all of our sins.  “Neither is there salvation in any other:  for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”  There’s only one way.  Don’t pollute that way.

Others might say feeling “sorry” would get it taken care of.  “Man, I feel sorry.”  I’ve seen many people feel sorry when they’re caught.  But feeling sorry is not repentance.  “Oh, I’m sorry!  I’m so sorry I’m caught!”  You’ve seen your own kids that way, haven’t you?  If you deal with people, you’ve seen that among adults.  If somebody is repentant, they will never make an excuse.  They will see themselves as guilty.  There will be no excuses whatsoever.  There will be no, “I’m wrong, but....”  There will be no “buts.”  Feeling guilty is not repentance, however.  Oh, it may be the beginning, a spark to your conscience, but it’s not repentance.

We’ve looked at things that repentance is not.  Now I want to look at what it is.  What is scriptural repentance?  What is repentance that brings salvation to the soul?  I wish I could get this across to everybody in this room who is not saved.  Here is a definition I found that I like.  “Scriptural repentance is a change of mind which leads to a change of heart, a change of attitude, and a change of conduct; a change of attitude toward self, toward sin, and toward the Lord Jesus Christ.”

You see, those sins that I loved, now I hate.  I’m not saying that anybody will ever be sinless.  But I’m saying those sins that I loved, now I hate.  It’s a change of attitude toward sin.  In our own self-righteousness, we think we’re pretty good.  We like to compare ourselves with others, and we normally find the dirtiest, rotten person we can look at and say, “I’m pretty good; I’m better than he is.”  Or, “I’m better than she is.”  That’s our own self-righteousness.  That’s not repentance.  But when repenting, you have a change in your attitude toward self.  That’s what worries me about people with pride.  Pride will keep you from being convicted.  Pride makes you mad at the preacher.

I never like to throw doubt into people’s minds who are saved, but I’m convinced that this is the problem with people who are just continually fouling up.  You can preach and preach, and it just bounces off of them.  You can preach cannonballs, and they just bounce off of them like BBs.  You can sit down and talk to them about problems, whether in their family or personal life, sins of omission, whatever it might be, and it just means nothing!  I’m really afraid they have never repented.  I think you see this more than ever in Christian homes where salvation is pushed upon young children.  They say, “I want to get saved!  I don’t want to go to hell!  Everybody I know is saved.  I want to get saved.”  But they never even understand what repentance is.  “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

“Until a man repents he commonly feels comfortable about himself and his ways; but when the Saviour, through the Spirit, gives him repentance, he changes his mind about himself, and seeing nothing good in his heart or in his works, his whole soul cries out, ‘Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.’”

Again, when you repent you have a change in your attitude toward self.  “In my hands, no price I bring; simply to the cross I cling.”  I have to see myself as a helpless, hopeless, hell-deserving sinner.  We must see Christ as our only hope.  That’s why you hear me say so many times that I can’t understand how a person can trust Christ as his Savior but can’t trust Christ enough to get baptized.  I can’t understand how a person can trust Christ as his Savior and not trust Him enough to tithe.  The simple things, the easy things.

Another simple definition of repentance is “an about-face of a soul that has been going away from God.”  His back has been toward God, and his face toward sin.  Man has a predisposition for sin.  David said, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”  We come into this world with a natural tendency toward sin.

I remember when Jeff, our firstborn, was just starting to talk.  When he was two or three, he did something completely wrong that he knew he wasn’t supposed to do.  I was right there watching and asked, “Jeff, did you do this?”  He looked at me and said, “No.”  What?  Now that’s happened to me many times since then, but the first time surprised me.  I was sitting there watching this kid.  He knew I was watching him, and he did wrong.  When I asked him if he did it, he said, “No!”  I was shocked until I realized who his father was.  Not only was he born to sinners, but his father was the devil.

Is there anyone here who can say there has never been a time in your life when you did something wrong, you were confronted with it, and you denied it?  Man has a predisposition to sin.  It’s natural for him to sin.  And when you start down that pathway of life, you may not know it, but you are on the path that leads to hell and destruction.  You can hear the gospel and stay on that path to hell and destruction.  Every day you live after reaching the age of accountability, you are one day closer to hell.  Every step that an unrepentant sinner takes puts him a step closer to hell.

God can put many roadblocks in front of us.  You might hear the old, old story that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.  The Holy Spirit can bring genuine, deep conviction.  But until you turn your back to that sin and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, you are on your way to hell.  You have to turn your face in faith to Jesus Christ as He hangs on the cross to take your place as the absolute, only substitute.  And from that time on, every step you take is a step toward heaven.  Every day that goes by, you are one day closer to life eternal in the presence of God the Father.

No person ever genuinely repented of his sin who didn’t turn in faith to the Savior.  The Holy Spirit brings conviction to man.  Even now, I’m convinced, He’s letting someone see himself as God sees him — a helpless sinner.  You may be saying, “What would people think?”  Is that a reason to go to hell?  We must see that we cannot save ourselves.  “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us....”  The Holy Spirit shows us the need of repentance, our need of a Savior, our need of Christ; but most say, “No.”  That’s why we are told it’s a straight and narrow way to haven.  The way to hell is broad, and the majority of people are trodding that way.

How many times have you tried to lead someone to Jesus Christ and, in essence, they say, “I don’t want to let my sin go.”  Now I’ve heard people say, “Oh, you don’t have to let your sin go; it’s okay.”  Yes you do!  You’re not saved by works, but you cannot hang on to your sin at salvation and go to heaven!  That’s false doctrine.  You’re saying, “No,” to God.

Let me give you a true story of a man from history who said “no” to God.  Aaron Burr was one of the most brilliant students to ever attend Princeton University.  When he was a senior, a revival was going on there.  That was normal for his day.  He attended the services regularly, and he got under conviction.  The power of the Spirit of God just pressed on him, and so he went to his favorite professor to talk to him about his need.  But that professor happened to be a French infidel.  Aaron told this French teacher that he had been attending the services, had been under conviction, and just knew that he needed to accept Christ as his personal Savior.  That French infidel curled his lip and said, “Aaron, this God stuff, this Bible stuff —  that’s okay for the common man; but you’re going to graduate valedictorian, number one in your class at Princeton University.  Don’t let religion foul up your life.  Don’t get involved in it; don’t let it ruin your life.”

He took this infidel’s advice, but God kept on drawing him, kept on pulling him to those meetings.  He knew he needed to be saved, and he was under great conviction.  In a few days he went back to this French teacher and said, “I can’t sleep.  The judgment of God continually stares me in the face.  I know I need to get right with God.”  But the old infidel worked on his pride and said, “Don’t get sidetracked with religion.  Maybe someday you can subscribe to some religion, but don’t let it foul you up now.  Let me tell you what you need to do:  you need to go back to your room right now and close the door and lock it.  You call upon this thing you call God and say, ‘God, if there is a God, leave me alone!  If I ever need you, I’ll call on you.’”

It’s sad to say that Aaron Burr did just that.  He went to his room and said, “If there’s a God, let me alone.  I’ll call if I ever want you.”  God took him at his word.  Thirty years later, it’s said that there was a knock on Aaron Burr’s law office door.  He said, “Come in.”  A friend opened the door and stepped in, and after a moment he said, “Aaron, I want you to meet a friend of mine who means more to me than anything in the world.”  Aaron Burr said, “Yes, fine, I’d love to meet him.  Tell him to come in.”  The man said, “He’s already here.  His name is Jesus, and I want to introduce you to Him.”

When he said that, Aaron Burr’s face turned white, his lips trembled, and he hung his head.  “I appreciate your concern, but what you ask is impossible.  I settled that matter 30 years ago as a student at Princeton University.  I told God to let me alone, and He’s done just that.  The thought of eternity has never again troubled my soul.”  We know the shame Aaron Burr brought upon himself.  He lived a Christless life, died a Christless death, and went out into eternity a traitor to his own country.

A completely different story would have been told if he had repented, if he had kicked his pride right in the face, if he had heeded the call of God as he was being dealt with in school.  “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD:  though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

But now God “...commandeth all men every where to repent....”  God commands all men to repent.  Have you?  This is the dividing line between heaven and hell.  Don’t let anyone tell you anything else.

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