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“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14)
And if you wonder what God is going to get out of history, why He tolerates the wickedness, and the injustice and the suffering so long, the answer is God is going to get a people for Himself. That’s God’s ultimate objective in the present age.
Now we’re going to turn to the third session of Laying the Foundation, and the title of this message is “Through Repentance to Faith.” I want to say right at the beginning there is no other way to faith except through repentance. Any other way that claims to get you there is a deception. True faith is impossible without repentance.
Let me go back now and remind you briefly of what we have been studying together. First of all, the foundation of the Christian faith, the personal foundation, is Jesus Christ. And everyone who is to be a true Christian has to build his or her life on that foundation. I suggested to you that the confrontation between Jesus and Peter, when Peter declared, “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” is a pattern of what needs to happen in each one of our lives in its own particular way. I said there were four elements in that encounter.
Number one, confrontation. Jesus and Peter stood face to face, there was no mediator, no priest, no third person in between them.
Second, there was a revelation given by the Spirit of God of the eternal identity of Jesus—not the carpenter’s son but the Son of the living God.
Thirdly, Peter received and acknowledged that revelation. He didn’t refuse it, he embraced it.
And fourthly, he made a public confession of his faith.
And those, I believe, are the elements that must be at the basis of every really successful Christian life. Confrontation, revelation, acknowledgment and confession.
And then we looked at the very important practical question, once you’ve laid this foundation, how do you build on it? And from the parable of the wise and the foolish man, which Jesus told, we saw that building on this foundation, first of all, consists in acknowledging the Bible as the written Word of God and Jesus as the living Word, and hearing and doing what Jesus said. So, building on the foundation is hearing and doing what Jesus said.
Then we looked at the authority and the power of God’s Word. I pointed out that the word authority comes from the word author. So, the authority of any book depends on the author. The authority of the Bible depends on the author and the author is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, God Himself. So the authority of God is in the Bible.
And then I pointed out that there we have the Word in two forms: the written word and the personal word. Jesus, the Word of God made flesh. And I tied this in with your personal relationship to the Bible. I said, and I’ll say it again, you do not love God more than you love His Word. You do not obey God more than you obey His Word. If you want to find out what place God has in your life, find out what place the Bible has because they are the same. The Bible is the written Word, Jesus is the personal Word. Through the written Word the personal Word comes into our lives.
Now I want to go on today by discussing the doctrinal foundation. We’ve looked at the personal foundation which is Jesus Christ. But the New Testament also reveals that there is a doctrinal foundation. This is a revelation which has escaped the notice of millions of Christians but it is very clearly stated in Hebrews 6:1–3. We’ll turn there now. Hebrews 6:1–3, which says:
“Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles [or the basic truths] of Christ, let us go on to perfection [completion or maturity], not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.”
Now there are two thoughts there which you have to combine. First of all, it’s essential to lay the foundation. If you’ve never laid the foundation you can never do the building. But once you have really laid the foundation then don’t keep re-laying the foundation but go on to a complete building. Those are the two combined thoughts. But you’ll see in Hebrews 6:1 it says the foundation. This is the doctrinal foundation of the Christian faith and it lists six doctrines which I will go through again.
Number one, repentance from dead works.
Number two, faith toward God.
Number three, the doctrine of baptisms, plural.
Number four, the laying on of hands.
Number five, resurrection of the dead.
And number six, eternal judgment.
And if you follow that through you’ll see it takes us from the very starting point of the Christian faith to its ultimate fulfillment in eternity. It’s very important to see that the Christian faith does not terminate in time, it does not terminate in this life or this world. It takes us beyond this world, beyond time into eternity. I fear that many, many Christians today hardly have any vision of eternity. They act and think as if everything that matters is going to happen in time. And actually, Paul says if we only in this life have faith in Christ we are of all men the most miserable, the most to be pitied. If you do not have a vision that takes you beyond time and into eternity, your condition is pitiable and you will suffer very many disappointments because time is not the fulfillment. The fulfillment comes in eternity.
And so, these six doctrines take us from the starting point, which is repentance, right through the resurrection and judgment.
Now I want to begin to speak about the first foundation doctrine; that is, repentance from dead works. But I want to point out to you something first of all, a very remarkable thing, in verse 3 of Hebrews 6. The writer says:
“This we will do if God permits.”
We will go on to completion and fulfillment if God permits. Now you might ask, “Why would God not permit? Surely He wants us all to go on.” I’ll answer you from a little, simple example from building. In any major city of the civilized world today, in order to build a building you have to have a plan, you have to get a permit from the authorities and they have to approve your plan. Then they will come and inspect your building stage by stage as you go through with it. The first thing they’ll really inspect is the foundation because they know that if the foundation is not secure the building will not be secure. And if your foundation is not solid they will not issue a permit to continue the building.
And God deals with you and me exactly the same way. He says, “I need to inspect your foundation. If it isn’t laid according to my requirements I’m not going to give you a permit to go on.” You can just go on forever in this elementary stage of the Christian faith never maturing, never coming to completion, never coming to fulfillment because you haven’t laid the right foundation. So you see how absolutely essential it is that we master these six doctrines which are the foundation of the Christian faith.
And we’re going to look now at the first one, repentance from dead works. First of all, what are dead works? Most of the modern translations say works or deeds which lead to death. I don’t believe that’s correct. I believe dead works are anything we do when it’s not done in faith to God. Anything not done in faith is a dead work. The only thing that brings life into our activity is faith. So, you may have been a very good churchgoer, you may have given money to the poor, you may have said prayers, but if it wasn’t done in faith, it was all dead works. We have to turn away from everything not done in faith. Faith alone gives life to what we believe and what we do.
That doesn’t mean that you’ve necessarily been living a sinful life but you just haven’t been alive to God because faith hasn’t come into your heart and brought the life of God.
Now, it’s very important that we understand what repentance is. Repentance is not an emotion. I’ve seen many times preachers will seek to work people up into an emotional attitude and then call them to faith in Christ. And very, very often that leads to a let down because the emotion runs out and they’re left with nothing. So bear in mind repentance as defined in the Bible is not an emotion, it is a decision. It doesn’t spring from the emotions, it springs from the will. If we can reach people’s will and turn their will, we will see permanent conversions. Many of the so-called conversions in the church today are impermanent because they have never really changed the will of the person. They’ve had an emotional experience, they got excited, maybe they felt wonderful for a few weeks, or months or even years. But, in the end they don’t have what it takes to go through because their will has not been touched.
Now, you know there are two main languages of the Bible, Greek of the New Testament and Hebrew of the Old. And each of those languages has a specific word for repent. But only if we put the two languages together do we get the full meaning of repentance. The Greek word in secular language is always translated “to change your mind,” to change the way you think. So, first of all, repentance is changing your mind about the way you’ve been living. I’ve been living to please myself, to do my own thing. From now on I’m going to live to please Jesus my Savior. It’s a decision. As I said before, it is not an emotion. You can repent without any obvious emotion but you cannot repent without a change of your will.
And then the Hebrew word—and this is so typical of the Jewish people because they’re a very down-to-earth people. They want to know, well, What does it work out as? And the Hebrew word for repent means literally “to turn around.” You’ve been facing one way, the wrong way, with your back to God, you turn 180 degrees, face toward God and say, “God, here I am. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”
So you put the two together and you have a complete picture of repentance. Faith comes only after repentance. The whole message of the Bible is in this order: repent and believe. There are lots of people, and some of them are here this morning, who are struggling for faith. The truth is you’re not struggling for faith, you’ve never met the condition of repentance. You see, it’s the first of the six foundation doctrines. And if you don’t have that foundation stone in place, your building will always be wobbly.
I have counseled over the years hundreds of people, hundreds of Christians who’ve come with their personal problems. After a lot of experience I came to this conclusion, at least fifty percent of the problems of professing—or real—Christians are due to one fact, they have never truly repented. They have never really changed their mind. They’ve never really made a decision, they’ve never really surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus in their lives. They’re still thinking about decisions from this point of view, “Now, if I do this, what will it do for me? If I do that, what will it do for me?” When you’ve repented, that’s not the way you think. You think, “If I do this, will it glorify Jesus? If I do that, will it glorify Jesus?” And so we have multitudes of people—I think especially young people but not only young people—who are double minded. The Bible says a double minded man is unstable in all his ways. He doesn’t have a solid foundation, he can’t produce a stable building.
So I invite you just where you are right now, quietly to reflect for a few moments and ask yourself, “Have I ever really truly repented? Or, am I still double minded? On Monday my aim is to please Jesus, on Tuesday my aim is to please myself.” You see, you’ve got the worst of both worlds, actually. You’d be better off just living in the world, living for yourself, because you’re a double minded person, you’re a split personality.
Now we have to go on with the nature of repentance. There is one parable that Jesus told which is the most vivid and perfect illustration of true repentance. It’s the parable of what we call the Prodigal Son. Somebody else has said it should be called the Caring Father. You remember the story in Luke 15, most of you know it. The second son of a wealthy family decided to get all his inheritance from his father right now and went off to a distant country and lived it up. He did all sorts of sinful things. And then, when he’d spent his whole inheritance, a famine came and the only job he could get was feeding pigs. And you have to remember, he was Jewish so for him to feed pigs was just as low as he could come—without any slight on pig farmers. We’re not saying anything against them but it just so happens that for the Jewish people, the pig is right outside.
And so here he is, in rags, feeding the pigs, hungry, wishing he could fill his stomach with the husks that the pigs are eating. And then this is what happens. Verse 17 of Luke 15:
“When he came to himself he said...”
That’s the point you have to come to. You have to come to yourself, what I call the moment of truth. You have to see yourself as you really are. You have to see yourself as God sees you.
“When he came to himself he said, How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger. I will arise and go to my father and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.”
Now you see the two elements? — because it goes on to say:
“And he arose and went to his father.”
He made a decision, and he turned around. That’s repentance. Making a decision and carrying your decision out. Going back to the father whom you have offended, to the God who loves you, saying, “I’ve made a mess of my life. I can’t run my own life. I need you. Will you take me back?” The wonderful thing is he planned to say to the father, “Make me as one of your hired servants.” But when he started out, his father was watching for him. I think this is so beautiful. That’s how God is. When we begin to turn, He’s watching for us and waiting for us.
“The father saw him a long way off and ran to meet him.”
That’s how God is. That’s how He meets us.
“And he kissed him...”
And he never let him say those last words, “Make me as one of your hired servants.” He said:
“Bring out the best robe, put a ring on his finger, sandals on his feet and kill the fatted calf.”
That’s the result of true repentance. It’s worth repenting to be welcomed like that by God. That’s the picture. Just think about it for a moment yourself. He came to himself. He said, “I’ve made a mess of my life. I’ve wasted everything my father gave me. But I’m going to make a decision. I’m going to turn around, I’m going to go back to my father and say I’m sorry.” He turned and went. Think about that. That is true repentance. Repentance in action.
Now, there can be a false repentance which we in English today call remorse. Judas experienced that, described in Matthew 27, verse 3 and following:
“Then Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, seeing that he had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priest and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ And they said, ‘What is that to us? You see to it.’ Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed and went and hanged himself.”
Judas had remorse but he never changed. In fact, I believe he’d passed the point where he could change. And to me this is a solemn thought. People can in this life pass the point where it’s possible for them to change. I think the most significant moment in any human life is the moment when God begins to deal with you about repenting. If you shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, I’m not interested. Maybe later,” there’s no guarantee that God will ever deal with you again. The most critical moment in any human life is the moment when God says, “Repent. I’m willing to take you back. I love you, I want you.”
I’ve considered what I’ve seen in people’s lives and in the Bible. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s one thing that makes God really angry and it is despising His grace. He freely offers us His grace but if we despise it He turns in anger. There’s one person who despised the grace of God. Do you know what his name was? Esau. And he’s described in Hebrews 12. I want to look at that passage for a moment because there’s a lot of the Esau in people like you and me. We want to be careful that Esau doesn’t make our decisions. This is what it says in Hebrews 12, beginning in verse 14:
“Pursue peace with all men and holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
Notice that, without holiness no one will see the Lord.
“Looking diligently, lest anyone fall short of the grace of God, lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled. Lest there be any fornicator or profane or godless person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.”
Now, we have no record whatever that Esau ever committed fornication but his attitude in God’s eyes was just as bad as fornication. What was his attitude? For one little bowl of soup he despised his birthright. He had the birthright as the elder son. All the inheritance could have gone to him. But just because he was physically hungry and could smell that delicious soup which Jacob had prepared—this is very vivid to me because I lived amongst the Arabs for some time and they make exactly what Jacob made, soup of lentils. They call it in Arabic surabit addis (phonetic). It has the most delicious smell, it permeates the house. And I can picture Esau coming back from his hunting, tired, hungry and he just smells this delicious smell. And Jacob says, the bargainer that he was, “Listen, you sell me your birthright, I’ll give you the pottage, the soup.” And I suppose Esau thought what good will my birthright do to me now, I’m hungry. I’ll just take what I’ve got offered to me. And it says Esau despised his birthright and he made God extremely angry. And later on through the prophet Malachi God said, “Jacob I have loved, Esau I have hated.” That’s a very solemn thought. If you deliberately despise the grace of God and the inheritance which He offers you in Jesus Christ and turn away for some cheap, temporary pleasure of this world, you make God very angry.
And then it says, going on with that story:
“For you know that afterward when he wanted to inherit the blessing he was rejected [rejected by God] for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.”
Now the Greek makes it clear. He wasn’t seeking the place of repentance, he was seeking the blessing. But he was rejected because he found no place, no way to repent. And I do believe that in this life a person can pass the place of repentance and never be able to get back. I want to urge upon you, this is a very, very solemn thought. Far too little is said today in many congregations and many denominations about the need for repentance. But without true repentance there can never be true faith. You’ll always have a wobbly up and down experience, in one day and out the next, because you haven’t laid the first foundation stone which is repentance, a decision of the will to turn away from self-pleasing and doing your own thing to turn back to God, to face up to God and say, “God, here I am. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” That’s repentance.
There are some of you here today who have never truly repented. I want to suggest to you it’s the source of many of your problems. Your up and down experiences. You feel good one day, have a wonderful meeting in the church, you think it’s wonderful. The next morning something else happens and you’re down. You’ve never really laid the first foundation stone. All you have is a wobbly edifice which one day will collapse.
Now I want to emphasize that repentance must go before faith. There is no true faith without repentance. This is emphasized all through the New Testament. In Matthew chapter 3 we read about the ministry of John the Baptist who was sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. And what was his message in one word? Repent. In other words, repentance was essential before the Messiah could come. Repentance prepared the way for the coming of Messiah. Until God’s people, Israel, had been through this experience of repentance they could not be ready to meet their Messiah. In Matthew 3:1–3 it says:
“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is He who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord. Make His path straight.’’”
How did he prepare the way of the Lord? By calling God’s people back to repentance. And repentance is the only way we can prepare for the Lord to come into our hearts and lives.
And then when John had finished his course Jesus Himself, in fulfillment of John’s prophetic word, came to continue the ministry of the gospel. And it says in Mark 1:14–15:
“Now after John was put in prison Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel and saying, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel.”
Repent and believe. You cannot truly believe unless you have first repented. The first word of command that ever came from the lips of Jesus was not believe but repent.
I remember being in a meeting in Southeast Asia, let me say, where a certain preacher had preached a message on healing. He’d spoken very eloquently about God’s will and plan to heal and quoted some of the promises about healing. But he had not said one word about repentance. Then he called the people forward and most of them came from a background of idolatry and they had no idea what they had to do to receive what God was offering. I know because I got involved in counseling them, Ruth and I together. It was such a lesson to me. With all his good intentions and his sweet language he had totally confused those people because he’d given them the impression that they could come to God without repenting. He never used the word repent once in that message. I don’t say this to criticize a preacher, I just say this because I learned a lesson and I’m afraid there are many, many people in many, quote, gospel churches and gospel services who are confused because all they’re being told is what God will do for you but they are not being told what God requires from you. The first thing He requires is repent. Change your mind, turn around, make an 180-degree turn and face up to God and say, “God, tell me what to do and I will do it.” That’s repentance.
Now if we look on to the end of Jesus’ ministry, His message never changed. In Luke 24, after His resurrection Jesus gave instructions to His disciples. In Luke 24:46–47. Remember, this is after the resurrection, just before He left this world.
“Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Messiah, the Christ, to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem.’”
Notice the message, repentance and then remission or forgiveness of sins. But no forgiveness without repentance and that is the message that was to begin in Jerusalem and be preached to all nations. Repentance, then forgiveness through His name.
And then when the church came into being in public view on the Day of Pentecost, the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and a multitude of Jews gathered and wanted to know what was going on, and Peter stood up and preached that famous message from the 2nd chapter of Acts. And then at the end they were convicted and they said to Peter, “What are we to do?” This is the first time the church as such had been asked by sinners what must we do. Let me read this. Acts 2:37:
“Now when they heard this [that was Peter’s message] they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’”
And I want to tell you that if you ever come to the place where you sincerely want to know what God wants you to do and you’re willing to do it, God will not leave you in any doubt as to what He wants. His difficulty is not telling you, His difficulty is bringing you to the place where you want to know and do it. And as soon as these people under real conviction of sin said to the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter as the spokesman of God and the church gave them a clear, precise, practical answer.
“Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent.’”
What comes first? Repentance, that’s right.
“Let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
There’s a three-stage promise.
Number one, repent.
Number two, be baptized in water.
And number three, receive the Holy Spirit.
I don’t believe God’s program has ever changed. I believe that’s exactly what God wants sinners to do today. I believe that’s the message the church should be proclaiming. Repent, be baptized in water and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
And in places where that message is preached, it happens exactly as it did on the Day of Pentecost. People repent, they’re baptized and they receive the Holy Spirit. I’ve seen this happen many times, many times coming up out of the water at baptism they are filled with the Holy Spirit. Why should we water down the message? We have no authority to do that. The only authority we have is to proclaim the message of the New Testament: repent, be baptized in water, receive the Holy Spirit. When we give the message, God gives the answer. It isn’t God who has changed, it isn’t the message that has changed, but in many cases it’s the church that has changed.
And let me say something which may shock you, but I cannot find from the book of Acts onwards any person who claimed salvation from Jesus without being baptized in water. See if you can find one. Because Jesus said “he who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” What right have you or I to take out the words “and is baptized”? Salvation is believing and being baptized. And when you’ve done that you’re a candidate to receive the Holy Spirit. That’s the message of the church, it’s never changed as far as God is concerned.
And then we look at the ministry of Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles. We’ll see as it’s recorded in the book of Acts. First of all, Paul found himself in Athens which was a very intellectual and idolatrous city. He ended up by preaching to them. I don’t think he had any intention of doing it but he ended up where they wanted to know what he believed and he told them. He concludes his message in Acts 17, verse 30 and following, speaking about all the time that they’d lived in idolatry and ignorance of God, he says:
“Truly these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent...”
That says so clear, God now commands all men everywhere to repent. No place and no person is excepted. That’s God’s universal requirement from humanity. He’s willing to overlook the past if we will repent.
And then it says:
“...because He [God] has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
And notice also another feature of the preaching of the apostles which is often dropped out, Jesus is not only the Savior, He’s also the judge. And He’s just as thorough and efficient in judgment as He is in salvation. If you don’t meet Him as Savior you will meet Him as judge. Again, this is dropped out of so much preaching. People talk about the Savior but they never mention the judge. Actually, in his message to the men of Athens Paul never mentioned a Savior. All he said was the judge.
And I’ll tell you, people will live very different lives if they’re not aware of the fact that they’re going to face the judgment of Jesus. There’s a carelessness and a sloppiness in so much contemporary Christianity because we have not faced up to the fact that not only is Jesus the Savior but He is also the judge. “God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness.” What’s the issue of judgment? It’s righteousness, how we have lived, what kind of people we’ve been. It’s not a question of our denomination, our nationality, our social status... There’s only one issue in judgment, it’s righteousness. And in the first epistle of John, John said all unrighteousness is sin. It’s like if you wanted to know what crooked is. I’m not a geometrician but I’ll just show you a straight line and say anything that deviates from that line is crooked. It may deviate by one degree or it may deviate by 90 degrees, but it’s all crooked. And, all unrighteousness is sin. Anything that is not righteous is sinful. There’s no third category.
I’ve observed in so many believers today, they kind of have a third category. Well, it isn’t righteous but it isn’t sinful. That category doesn’t exist in God’s thinking. Anything that is not righteous is sinful.
And then we look on in Acts 20 to Paul’s description of his ministry in Ephesus where he’s had some of the greatest results of his whole ministry. He’s speaking now to the elders of the church in Ephesus because he’s about to leave them and he says, “You’ll never see me again in this world.” He has this message of love and concern for those men. He says in verses 20–21 about his ministry in Ephesus:
“I kept back nothing that was helpful...”
I’ve often pondered on that phrase, “I kept back nothing.” It implies that there might be some motivation not to preach the full truth because it might cost you your social position. If you’re a minister in a denomination it might cost you your position in the denomination. If you’re a popular society figure it might cost you your popularity. So, Paul says, “I thought it over and I decided that nothing was going to influence me to keep back any of the message.”
“I kept back nothing that was profitable but proclaimed it to you and taught you publicly and from house to house...”
I like that, his message didn’t change whether it was in a big meeting or in a home group. It was the same message. What was it?
“...testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith to our Lord Jesus Christ.”
What comes first? Faith or repentance? Repentance. Repentance toward God. “God, I’m sorry. I’ve been a sinner, I’ve led my own life.” Then faith toward Jesus. “Jesus, I believe you took my place. You died for me on the cross, you took my sins.” But you cannot have true faith in Jesus unless you have first true repentance toward God.
See, the New Testament is so consistent. I think it’s something of which the church needs to repent that we have so often watered down the message, deceived people, given them a false impression of what it means to become a real Christian. You cannot become a real Christian without repentance. There is no faith without repentance.
The Bible says all men everywhere have to repent. You might say why all men everywhere? Let me give you an answer from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah 53:6 says this:
All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned everyone to his own way . . .
You see, that’s our problem. We haven’t necessarily committed murder or idolatry, or stolen anything, or maybe not even lied. But we’ve all done one thing, we have turned to our own way. Our way is not God’s way. That’s one thing we all have in common regardless of our denominational or racial background. Whatever the color of our skin, we have all turned to our own way.
And then it says:
“The Lord has laid on him [that is, on Jesus] the iniquity of us all.”
That’s a very strong word, iniquity. What is turning to our own way? It’s iniquity, it’s rebellion, it’s putting myself ahead of God. And that’s why God requires all men everywhere to repent. Because we have all turned to our own way. We’ve all been doing our own thing, we’ve been pleasing ourselves and leaving God out of the picture. God says, “I’ll accept you, I’ll forgive you because of what Jesus did, if you will repent.” That’s the bottom line, repentance.
Now I want to say that repentance starts with God. Everything good starts with God; we’re always dependent on the grace of God. Apart from God’s grace, apart from the moving of His Spirit, we cannot repent. This is brought out so clearly in Psalm 80. The same phrase occurs three times in this psalm. In the version that I’m reading, it says in verse 3:
“Restore us, O God, cause your face to shine and we shall be saved.”
But where the translation says “restore us,” the Hebrew says “turn us back.” In other words, cause us to repent. That comes three times. In verse 3:
“Turn us back, O God, and we shall be saved.”
“Turn us back and we shall be saved.”
“Turn us back, O Lord, and we shall be saved.”
You understand? You cannot repent unless God turns you. The turning starts with God. That’s why it’s such a vital moment in our lives when God begins to turn us, because if we shrug it off and turn away we cannot repent left to ourselves. We’re dependent on God to initiate repentance.
And then in the book of Lamentation, chapter 5 and verse 21. Lamentation is the mourning of Jeremiah over the destruction of Jerusalem because of its continued rebellion against God. It says, Lamentations 5:21, and in this translation, “turn us back.” It’s the same word that’s used in Psalm 80.
“Turn us back to you, O Lord, and we will be restored.”
Or returned. Turn us back and we will turn. This is a very, very solemn thought. You cannot turn unless God starts to turn you. That’s why that is such a sensitive moment in every life.
I know of one young man who was my companion in the army. When I got saved he was the only witness. He knew of the change in my life. And later on in the same unit I started a Bible class. I thought, I got to do something. I have no idea how to run a Bible class, I didn’t know where to begin. I thought, begin at the New Testament. Where do you begin? Chapter 1. So, I began with the genealogy of Jesus. I went on and I had about four or five of my fellow soldiers attending. This was in the desert in North Africa. And then this friend of mine—he really was a good friend—came to me and he said, “I’m sorry, old chap, but I won’t be coming to your Bible study any more.” I said, “Why not?” He said, “Because I know if I do I will be converted.” Years later I met him in totally different circumstances. He was the most miserable person I know. He plead with me to help him. I did everything I could. I’m experienced in leading people into the Lord and I could not help him. I’d helped his wife, she was saved. I don’t know what his end was but oh, what a warning to me. You think you can turn when you want to turn. You can say, “God, I’m busy now but come back later.” You cannot do that. When he wanted to turn he couldn’t. I don’t say that he passed the place of repentance, I don’t know what his ultimate end was. But what a lesson that was to me! It didn’t suit him at that moment when God was speaking to him to accept salvation. When he wanted salvation God didn’t speak to him. Who knows what his end was.
Now, the Bible says there’s only one alternative to repentance and this is stated in Luke 13, the first few verses in the ministry of Jesus.
“There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.”
Apparently Pilate had had them executed while they were actually performing some sacrifice. You’d think that that would count for their good but Jesus answered and said:
“Do you suppose that those Galileans were worse sinners than other Galileans because they suffered such things? I tell you no. But unless you repent you will all likewise perish. All those eighteen on whom the tower on Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you no. But unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
There’s only two alternatives, repent or perish. Those are the words of Jesus Himself.
Now, we said repentance is the way to faith. Let’s begin to consider a little bit about the nature of faith and then we’ll go on in our next session. In Romans 10:17 which I quoted to you before, it says “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” That’s a very important principle. Faith, as used in the Bible, means always faith in the Word of God. It can come only from one source, God’s Word. It has only one focus, God’s Word. You see, we can say in contemporary English, I have great faith in my doctor. Or, I have faith in a political party or I have faith in a certain kind of medicine or diet. That’s legitimate, there’s nothing wrong with using those words but it’s not the scriptural use of faith. Faith in the Bible is always based on the Word of God. Anything that is not based on the Word of God is not biblical faith.
And then in Hebrews 11 we have a definition of faith. I think it’s the only word that the Bible actually defines. I can’t think of another word that is actually defined in the Bible. In Hebrews 11:1:
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, a sure persuasion concerning things not seen.”
So, there’s a relationship between faith and hope. I’ve discovered a lot of people have hope when they think they have faith. Faith is here and now, hope is for the future. Faith is a substance, something so real that it’s called a substance. It’s in our hearts. On the basis of faith we can have a legitimate hope for the future. But, any hope that is not based on legitimate faith is just wishful thinking. But bear in mind, faith is a substance in our hearts. It’s right there right now.
Romans 10:10 says:
“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart, you will be saved.”
Notice biblical faith is not in the mind, it’s in the heart. And then Paul goes on to say:
“For with the heart man believes to salvation.”
In the New Testament, believing is a word of motion. It’s not a static thing. It’s not taking an intellectual position. It’s something in your heart that leads you to something new. Faith is a verb of motion. By faith we believe unto salvation. You can have intellectual faith and never be changed. You can embrace all the doctrines of the Bible intellectually and remain completely the same. But when you have faith in your heart, it leads to salvation.
Faith is in the present, hope is in the future. Faith is in the heart, hope is in the mind. In 1 Thessalonians 5:8 Paul speaks about both. It’s a very interesting picture that he uses. 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Paul says:
“But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.”
You’ll notice there are two items of armor. Faith is the breastplate. What does the breastplate protect? The heart, that’s right. But hope is a helmet. What does the helmet protect? The head, that’s right. Faith is in the heart, hope is in the mind.
Now, hope is very important because every true Christian should be an optimist. If you’re a pessimist, actually that’s a denial of your faith. I define hope as this, a confident expectation of good based on the Word of God. And every one of us who is a true believer has a confident expectation of good. Because, no matter what happens in this life, we’re going to be with Jesus forever. If that’s your hope, you can get depressed, you can get downcast, but you never give up because you have a hope, a hope that’s based on faith.
Then we go back to Hebrews 11 for some more statements about faith. This wonderful 11th chapter of Hebrews, the great faith chapter. In Hebrews 11:3 it says:
“By faith we understand that the ages were framed by the Word of God so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.”
It’s very important to understand, faith relates you to the invisible. Faith is not based on what we see. Faith takes us beyond the realm of the senses into the realm of the invisible.
And in 2 Corinthians 5:7 Paul says:
“We walk by faith, not by sight.”
Notice, they are alternatives. When you see, you don’t need to believe. You only need to believe when you don’t see. So Paul says we walk by faith. We’re not walking by what we see, we’re walking by what we believe.
And outside the tomb of Lazarus Jesus said to Martha:
“Did I not tell you that if you would believe to see the glory of God, you would see it.”
So which comes first? Believing or seeing? Believing, that’s right. So many people say, “Well, when I see, I’ll believe.” No, that’s not true because when you see you don’t need to believe. You need to believe when you can’t see. We walk by faith, not by sight. I’ve met so many people who say, “Oh, if I only could see I’d believe.” But that’s not true. You wouldn’t need to believe. You need to believe when you can’t see. We walk by faith, not by sight.
And then I want to say in the original languages of both Greek and Hebrew, faith is not primarily a doctrinal issue, it’s a matter of character. We’ve got it wrong in our evangelical thinking. We tend to talk about faith as an intellectual embracing of certain doctrines. Primarily, faith is a matter of character. This is true of the Hebrew emanau (phonetic), the Greek pistos (phonetic). Both of them primarily mean faithfulness, loyalty, commitment.
Jesus said to His disciples, “You are those who have continued with me in my trials.” That’s faith. It’s continuing with Jesus. It’s a personal commitment to a person.
Faith relates us to Jesus as our high priest, when we confess it. Hebrews 3:1 says:
“Consider the apostle and high priest of our confession, Christ Jesus.”
Remember that. It’s very, very important. Jesus is the high priest of your confession. If you say it, He’s your high priest. If you keep silent He cannot be your high priest. That’s why it’s so important to confess your faith.
And then in Hebrews 4:14 it says:
“Seeing then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.”
We confess, we’re tested, but we hold fast. And as long as we hold fast, Jesus is our high priest.
But in Hebrews 10 it takes us a stage further. Hebrews 10:21 says:
“Having a high priest over the house of God ...[verse 23:] let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.”
Notice we’ve progressed from faith to hope. We have a hope that’s based on our faith. We confess our faith and now we confess our hope. It says without wavering. Why do you think it says that? Why would it say without wavering? Why would it say hold fast the profession of our faith? The reason is because there’ll be a lot of forces that will oppose us, a lot of pressures that will come against us, a lot of things that will seek to discourage us and undermine our faith. This is a battle of determination. It’s a battle of endurance.
Finally I have to tell you, reluctantly, faith will be tested. Untested faith is of no value in the sight of God. Jesus said to the church of Laodecia:
“I counsel you to buy of me gold tried in the fire.”
That’s real faith that’s stood the test. In ancient times gold that had not been tested by fire was not considered worth anything. Faith that has not been tested is not valued at all by God.
Let me quote to you in closing James 1:2–4:
“Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
Do you want to be perfect and complete? You have to let endurance have its perfect work. That’s the trial that you go through. And Peter says elsewhere:
“...that by various trials we have been grieved, that the genuineness of our faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, may be found to praise, honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”
And let me say one final word to you, which you probably will wish I hadn’t said, there’s only one way to learn endurance. Do you know what that is? Enduring. That’s right.
God bless you.