Just as a new baby born from his mother's womb without wailing is an unhealthy sign, so is a person who claims to be born-again without repentance. It is surprising to see many people, these days, declaring to believe in Jesus without repenting over their sins. The Holy Scripture explicitly says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Cor. 7:1). The old revivalist, Charles G. Finney (1792-1875), reminds us:
What did the apostles tell sinners when they asked what they must do to be saved? What did Peter tell them at Pentecost? What did Paul tell the jailer — to repent, forsake their selfishness, and believe the gospel. This is what men must do to be saved.
Anyone who genuinely receives the salvation of God will go through – CONVICTION of sin, CONFESSION of sin and CHANGE from his former sinful life. These are the unavoidable steps toward repentance and the undeniable signs of salvation. Without repentance, no doubt a person is unsaved, for it is because of sin man has been separated from God and had caused Jesus to suffer brutally to lay His life on the Cross. J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) wrote:
The plain truth is that a right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. Without it such doctrines as justification, conversion, and sanctification are “words and names” which convey no meaning to the mind. The first thing, therefore, that God does when He makes any one a new creature in Christ is to send light into his heart, and show him that he is a guilty sinner.
Nowadays, people are quite uncomfortable to admit themselves as sinners while the tax collector cried out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Lu. 18:13). Today’s Christianity has turned from crying for the Lord's mercy to chasing God's blessings. Before hearing the good news of Jesus Christ one should hear the bad news that he is a sinner—separated from God, for no one gratefully receives the goodness of God without realizing his own wretchedness.
It is regretful to see, when people desire to come to Christ, sin and repentance are least considered. There is a great emphasis on what Jesus can do—He can comfort; He can satisfy; He can bless; He can give peace—without any requirement of repentance. In fact, Jesus does awesome wonders so that people would repent. The gospel of Matthew records, “Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent” (Matt. 11:20).
Jesus Himself said, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations”(Lu. 24:46-47). What is it that should be preached in Christ’s name and what is it that people should know to come to Christ? Repentance and forgiveness of sin, without which there is no salvation and peace.
It is interesting to notice, although Jesus and the apostles performed signs and wonders, their message was centered upon repentance, not on miracles and blessings. Jesus preached, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near” (Matt. 4:17; Lu. 13:3; 15:7); and the apostles declared, “Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus” (Mr. 6:12; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 26:20). Ah, they did wonders and preached repentance!
Now, repentance itself does not save any person but God doesn’t forgive people without repentance. Repentance for living sinfully is what people must do and forgiveness of sins is what Christ offers when they repent. This is what the apostles preached and the early church heard, not to mention—this is what people neglect to heed in our day.
Jesus, the Savior of Sinners
To many, Jesus is seen as a healer, miracle-worker, problem-solver and a blessing-giver. He is not predominantly focused as the One who will save them from their sins. Most of the people who went after Jesus with such an attitude, left him and no longer followed Him (Jn. 6:66).
I have keenly observed those who claim to believe in Jesus just for the sake of receiving a blessing, healing or a miracle—without undergoing conviction and transformation from sinful life—either not remain in the church for a long time or continue to live a carnal life in the name of being a Christian. Such people intellectually believe in Jesus and live more of a problematic, selfish life without passing through life-changing experience.
It is important to consider that the major problem of mankind is not financial crisis, sickness, situations, people and other difficulties. So what is it then? It is SIN. It is because of sin the world is in the worst, depraved condition. One of the major reasons people who claim to come to Christ do not find complete fulfillment in Him is because they have come for some personal gain rather than for personal deliverance from sin.
May the reader understand that the primary purpose of Jesus’ coming is not to heal, perform miracles, to give desirous blessings or to make us feel good about ourselves—but to save people from their sins. When an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph to announce the birth of Christ, do you remember what he proclaimed: “.....you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins”(Matt.1:21).
Anyone who decides to believe in Jesus must be aware that he is committing his life to follow Him. It seems many who endeavor to believe in Jesus do not think about following Him at all or at least learn later. If a person believes that he is saved and yet has no desire or passion to follow Jesus, he is not a true believer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) put it rightly, “Only those who obey can believe, and only those who believe can obey.
The Holy Scriptures not only encourages to confess and believe in Jesus (Rom. 10:9) but also exhorts, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness” (2 Tim. 2:19). How many of those who declare to believe in Christ have actually turned from evil? We cannot burn for God unless we turn from sin. This doesn’t mean one will become perfect after coming to Christ but there will be an obvious, progressive growth in the holiness of God and ongoing repentance.
Jesus Christ plainly said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). The one who sincerely believes in Jesus and by the power of God’s grace constantly grows in his obedience to the will of God revealed in His word is the one who inherits God’s kingdom. True, we are not saved by good works but if there is no confession of evil works before salvation and no accompaniment of good works thereafter (in obedience to God), we are certainly not saved.
These days Jesus is used as a means to prosper, to become successful and to fulfill every desire of 'self', when in fact He said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). Rather than naming and claiming to get everything from Him, Jesus said, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Lu. 14:33). Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) said it well, “The Salvation of God is deliverance out of self entirely into union with Himself.” Do those who claim to be saved experience this freedom?
Finally, there is a capturing interest in the numbers these days. Great emphasis is laid upon great multitudes coming to Christ. Even though it is wonderful to see multitudes coming to the church meetings, we should not be quick in concluding they are all genuinely saved. True Salvation always results in the change of heart. The early church not only grew in numbers but also lived in the fear of God. It is written, “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord”(Acts 9:31).
Is there a fear of the Lord these days in the growing numbers of people in the church? Surveys of contemporary Christian beliefs and conduct tell us that most Christians do not act much differently from non-Christian people. Ah, many seek favor from the Lord to bless them but have no desire to walk in the fear of God!
I believe we need another reformation to get back to the essentials of biblical teaching in regard to salvation. May the Lord have mercy on our generation and bring a mighty transformation. Amen!
1.Charles G. Finney, Crystal Christianity (Pennsylvania: Whitaker House, 1985), pg.63.
2. J.C. Ryle, Holiness (Moscow, Idaho: Charles Nolan Publishers. 2001), pg.1.
3.Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (Tiruvalla : Suvartha Bhavan), pg.60.
4.Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (Chennai: Evangelical Literature Service, 2000), pg.79.
5. Of course there were problems but the apostles made every effort to exhort them to walk in the holiness of God.
6.James Montgomery Boice. Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2001), pg.191.