In Acts chapter two, Peter preaches a very powerful sermon to a large crowd at the temple. He preached about the Lord Jesus Christ – His death, resurrection & ascension. He pulled no punches, even reminding the crowd that they themselves were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (v.23).
Look at the reaction of the crowd that had previously been mocking the preaching of the apostles. Verse 37 says, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Notice two (2) things about their response to the preaching of Christ crucified: First, they were cut to the heart. They were convicted of their sin and guilt before a holy God. Second, they no longer had any delusions of trying to only come to God on their own terms.
May I be so bold as to say that this is precisely where much of today’s evangelism goes wrong. Sometimes today’s evangelism goes wrong in that it simply does not involve preaching the gospel; it does not include the message of Christ crucified and risen from the dead. But at other times it goes awry in that we are so desperate for results that we are quick to accept almost anything and everything as being indicative of saving faith. No real conviction of sin? No problem. Our hearers only “coming to Jesus” in order to address felt needs or in order to help them straighten their lives out? Sounds great! No repentance? Some preachers today even go so far as to say that repentance is completely unnecessary or, worse, that it is an attempt to add our works to the grace of God in salvation. Nothing could be further from the truth. And nothing could be further from the gospel that we find in Scripture.
What was Peter’s answer? Peter pointed them to the promise of God in Jesus Christ. Verse 38 says,“And Peter said to them, “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.” He tells them to “repent.” This is truly (and sadly) one of those precious words that has been slowly disappearing from the Christian vocabulary. You will rarely hear of repentance in sermons today. And that should clearly not be the case.
Peter preached repentance in that first sermon in Acts chapter 2. Was that an isolated instance? By no means. What was the very first message that the Lord Jesus Himself preached? Mark 1:14-15 says,
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Similarly, Matthew 4:17 says,
“From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.””
So the kingdom of God and the call to repentance were clear and consistent themes in the preaching of Jesus Christ from the very beginning of his earthly ministry. Not only that, but our Lord Jesus Christ clearly taught the apostles that repentance was to be an essential part of their preaching. At the end of Luke’s Gospel, he includes his account of the Great Commission.
Luke 24:45-48 says,
“Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
So Jesus opened their mind to understand the Scriptures, showing them that His death and resurrection were at the heart of the Old Testament from beginning to end. And what else did He help them to understand about the Scriptures? That from beginning to end the message of salvation has always been characterized by the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of the Christ.
So repentance has always been an essential part of true Christian preaching, an indispensable part of the gospel message, and a necessary component of faithfulness to the Great Commission. One writer has said,
Repentance is a missing link in much present-day evangelism; yet it is part of the doctrinal content of our message. It is not new methods that we need. It is the very message of evangelism that needs to be restored; not just a ‘tune-up,’ but a complete overhaul. (Ernest C. Reisinger, Today’s Evangelism, p.37)
But what does it mean to repent? The Westminster Shorter Catechism gives us a very helpful definition of what it calls “repentance unto life.”
Q. 87. What is repentance unto life?
A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.
It is no wonder that in his book, Rediscovering Holiness, J.I. Packer writes, “Repentance is in truth a spiritual revolution.” It is a total change of mind, heart & disposition toward sin and toward God. It is the ultimate u-turn. To use military imagery, it is a spiritual “about-face.”
Have you understood the depth of your sin and guilt? Have you turned from your sin and turned to Christ by faith? If not, you may be a lot of things, but a Christian is not one of them. Turn from your sin unto Jesus Christ by faith so that all of your sins may be forgiven, cleansed by the blood of the Savior.
May we in the church learn to faithfully proclaim the same message that the Lord Jesus & His Apostles did, And may we see the same results – the Lord adding daily to his church those who are being saved (Acts 2:47).