We are contrasting the divine plan for man’s salvation against the “plans” as men have conceived them. God’s plan is quite simple. His plan was to save man by grace. The way he chose to offer his grace to the world was by means of the sacrificial death of his Son on the cross. It was conceived in his mind before he ever created man. That plan was continually held before the human race in the form of prophecies, promises, types and shadows all through the Old Testament and brought to its fullness in the New Testament era with the birth, life, death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah, the man, Jesus who has been made the Christ. In short, Jesus IS God’s plan for the salvation of the human race.
It is a mistake to think of the eternal plan of salvation as a series of actions man must take in order to receive forgiveness from God. That not only belittles what God has done in Christ, but it puts the focus on man’s achievement as the means of acquiring God’s approval and thus the salvation he promises as a matter of grace. It matters not how simple those actions may be, if the one doing them does them for any other reason than as a response of faith to what God has done through grace, that action makes salvation dependent on what man does and not as a result of what God has already done.
Make no mistake, God does expect certain responses to his offer of grace – appropriate responses that reflect our faith in him. To refuse to respond appropriately would mean that we really do not have faith in him and that we really do not intend to obey him in any way.
Now, think about repentance. I know of no Christian group who denies the necessity of repentance as a condition of salvation. After all, Peter, an inspired apostle commanded it in no uncertain terms on the day of Pentecost.
Jesus had emphasized the necessity of repentance. Twice in Luke 13:1-5 he repeats … “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” Paul said he had commanded the Gentiles that they should “repent and turn to God” (Acts 26:20). This latter passage shows the concept of turning “from” and turning “to.” It is turning from sin and turning to God. The Thessalonians had turned “to” God “from” idols (1 Thess. 1:9).
On the day of Pentecost at the close of his recorded speech and in response to the people’s question, “what shall we do?” Peter told them to …
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38).
In teaching this verse much stress is placed on baptism by many, but how much teaching is done on repentance? Obviously baptism is important. But how many times is a candidate asked “Have you repented for the remission of your sins?” It seems to be assumed that one who comes forward in a “service” asking to be baptized has repented. Repentance seems to be pretty much left between the individual and God. Perhaps one who has been known for some particular sin will be asked if they have quit that sin, but I have never heard of it. But in this verse there is as much stress on repentance as there is on baptism.
But what is repentance?
“Repentance is not just sorrow for sin but a decisive change, a turning away from sin and to a life of obedience. “Repent” translates the Old Testament call to Israel to “return” to faithfulness to the covenant. It does not mean self-punishment, depression, or remorse. Judas was sorrowful and distressed (Matt. 27:3) but he did not repent.” (BibleGateway.com/Matt. 3:2/Show Resources).
Repentance is a radical turning of one’s self that comes from a fundamental change in thinking. It comes about as a result of an understanding that one is headed in the wrong direction in his life – that he is in sin, separated from God and headed to eventual destruction. One who is penitent makes up his mind to do differently and then reverses his course. Whereas he had been walking away from God, at repentance he begins walking toward him. Repentance is evidenced by the change in life that follows that change of mind.
The “prodigal son” is a good example of repentance. Jesus said that “…when he came to himself, he said, “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.’” (Matt. 15:17, 18).
Why is so much stress laid on repentance in the preaching of both John the Baptist and Jesus? (Matthew 3:1-2; Matthew 4:17). John demanded the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him for his “baptism of repentance” to “[b]ear fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:8). If there is not this change evident in one’s mind and life he does not believe in (trust) God and will not be obedient to his will for his life. In short, he cannot be saved without repentance. God will not force himself into one’s life against his will. He must willingly turn to God to receive his forgiveness. Repentance is that turning.
Jesus even taught a parable to illustrate the meaning of repentance to the Jews.
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” (Matthew 21:28-32).
They had heard John the Baptist preaching repentance but had not heeded John. They gave the correct answer to his question but hadn’t done what both John and he were trying to get them to do. They knew what repentance was, but why hadn’t they repented?
Think for a moment about who Jesus was addressing. In the previous verses in this chapter “the chief priests and the elders of the people” had challenged his authority to cleanse the temple as he had just done. These were the high officials of the Jews. They were the leaders – the elite. They couldn’t be seen as having any weaknesses requiring repentance. They had to maintain the facade of stern authority. “Don’t let them see you sweat!” could have been their motto. Such people as these can never admit to a needing to change. So they were not about to let the people see them as weak or vulnerable. It would destroy their credibility and the appearance of certainty they felt they must maintain. These can never say they are wrong and therefore will never repent.
It is people who truly feel the deep down need to change their lives who really repent. This kind of people are the ones whom God can use. They are humble enough to admit their need, sick enough of their sin to long to be whole, pliable enough for God to mold them and willing enough for God to use them. And it is these who will be thankful to God for the salvation he offers them. Paul reminded the Corinthians of the kind of people God had chosen to be his own …
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:25-27).
Do these almost flippant, almost irreverent “plans” offering instant salvation bring people to this kind of humble, seeking, deeply heart-felt need for forgiveness? Does it bring one to the point he is willing to give up everything to be Jesus’ disciple? This is what real repentance does. It reaches into the innermost part of the sinner and drives him to God. And the only thing that will bring him to that realization is the knowledge of what God has done for him.
Only the scene of Jesus, beaten, bloodied and dying on the cross and knowing it was because of his sin can move a sinner to such a depth that he will turn with his whole being to God with a consuming desire to live from that moment and for the rest of his life in his service and for his glory. Anything less than this cheapens God’s grace. We dare not do such!
More tomorrow …