This teaching includes a free sermon outline to download for personal use, message preparation or Bible study discussion.
Almost two thousand years ago, God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to bring salvation to men. He was the Savior that had been promised over the centuries through the prophets. The time of His coming was determined in the counsels of God. And yet before Jesus could come and fulfill His ministry, bring the message that God had given Him, another man had to go before Him and prepare the way, to be the forerunner. The message of this man was specifically to prepare the way of the hearts of God’s people to receive the Messiah and His message. The name of this man was John the Baptist. And he preached in the wilderness, and he preached a very simple message. He made one demand on the people of God, and that demand is summed up in the word, “repentance.”
To me it has always been so significant that though the time of the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, was determined in the counsels of God, nevertheless the Messiah could not actually come until the hearts of God’s people had been prepared to receive Him. And the preparation of the hearts of God’s people came through the ministry of John the Baptist. And the great requirement was repentance. This, I believe, shows as clearly as anything can do, the importance of repentance. Jesus could not come and reveal Himself and bring His message and fulfill His ministry until God’s people had made a way for Him in their hearts by meeting the condition of repentance.
Repentance is one of the great doctrines of the Christian faith and it’s one which is very little understood—and for that reason, very little practiced. Many, many people are having a struggle with faith. They’re seeking for faith, they’re praying for faith, they’re going to preachers who are telling them how to receive faith. But really their problem is not with faith, it’s with repentance. I’m convinced myself that 50 percent at least who are having trouble in obtaining faith have a great basic problem. They’ve never met the real requirement of repentance.
I want to show you in our message that God invariably requires repentance first. Repentance is the first move of any man back to God. If we look in Mark’s gospel, chapter 1 and verse 15, we find the actual words that Jesus first preached. Of course, Jesus had been speaking, and He conversed with many. But His first public preaching message is recorded in Mark 1:15. The previous verse says,
“Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled [that is, God’s appointed hour has come], and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (KJV)
The first actual demand that Jesus ever made on His hearers was not to believe, but to repent. “Repent ye, and believe the gospel.” And that is invariably the order of Scripture. Not believe first, nor believe only. But repent first, and then believe.
In His earthly ministry, Jesus continued to lay tremendous importance on repentance. In Luke chapter 13:1–5, we read the first five verses. This is one of His conversations with people who came to Him with questions. And the answer He gives is very significant.
“There were present at that season some that told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” (KJV)
Two rather dramatic and unhappy things that apparently had taken place recently, at some point some Galileans had been offering sacrifices and the Roman governor of the province, Pilate, had sent his soldiers and actually executed these men while they were in the act of offering sacrifice. So that the men’s own lifeblood was spilled and mingled with the blood of the very animals they had offered in sacrifice. And this was such a terrible thing to happen that people came to Jesus and said, “Was there something particularly bad about these men? Were they particularly wicked? Or had they done some very terrible crime that this judgment came on them?” Jesus said, “No; they weren’t necessarily worse than anybody else, but I’ll tell you this, unless you repent, you’ll perish the same way.” And then He said, “You heard about that tower that collapsed in Siloam, crushed eighteen men and they were killed instantly?” He said, “You think they were worse than the rest? No, but I’ll tell you this, unless you repent, you’ll perish likewise.”
Now the word perish in the Scriptures is very rarely used merely of physical death. It speaks of more than that; it speaks of a soul banished from the presence of God. Lost for eternity. And Jesus said of those Galileans offering their sacrifice and slain in that very act of their religious duty, they “perished.” That shows us very, very clearly that religion is no substitute for repentance. Many, many people are practicing religion who’ve never practiced repentance. Religion is not a substitute. Jesus said, “Though they died in the very act of offering sacrifice, they perished.” Why did they perish? Because they had not repented. And He brings it very, very practically and individually to each one of us. “Except you repent, you’ll perish.” Those are the alternatives. To repent or to perish.
Then Jesus completed His earthly ministry, and in fulfillment of the prophets, the will of the Father, He was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead. And after His resurrection, He appeared to His disciples and commissioned them. And He told them that the gospel concerning His death and burial and resurrection was to be preached in all nations. And these are the actual words that are recorded in Luke chapter 24, verses 46–47. He said unto them:
“Thus it is written, and thus it behoved 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 among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (KJV)
Notice that the first thing that is to be preached is not remission or forgiveness of sins, but repentance and remission of sins. And both alike are offered through the gospel in the name of Jesus.
So you’ll notice that all through the earthly ministry of Jesus, the order never varied. His first requirement was repent; believe the gospel. Preaching He said, the only two choices: repent or perish. When He rose from the dead, He commissioned His disciples to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins. There is no authority in the gospel to preach forgiveness to those who have not repented.
We move on to the Day of Pentecost and the events recorded in Acts chapter 2. This records the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the gathering of a great crowd of Jews to hear this wonderful supernatural phenomenon of the Galileans speaking, by the Holy Spirit, languages which they themselves did not understand but which were understood by the Jews present. Then Peter stood up and preached that great message which centered around the person and the work of Jesus Christ. His earthly ministry, His death, His burial, and then the testimony of His resurrection. And he concluded with these words, in Acts 2:36:
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (KJV)
Now these words brought great conviction upon the hearers. The Scripture says that in verse 37:
“Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (KJV)
There’s a clear request. Tell us, what does God expect us to do? We realize we’re wrong. We’re not rightly related to God. We’re not in the favor of God. We’re cut off, but we want to come back. We want to enter into the favor of God, we want to be accepted of God. Tell us what we can do to amend our mistakes.
And Peter said unto them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins” (KJV). Again, Peter the spokesman of God and of the church, the first time the church of Jesus Christ was manifested in public, the first time that sinners came and said, “What do we need to do?” Peter came out with that key word, repent and then be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sin.
And then we go on to the ministry of Paul, as that’s recorded in the book of Acts. Following on the great missionary to the Gentiles. In Acts chapter 17, and verse 30, Paul is talking to these arrogant intellectuals in the city of Athens. He’s telling them that they have been worshiping idols and images, that they’ve been deceived, that they’ve been merely superstitious. And he then gives them this requirement of God in Acts 17 verse 30:
“The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” (KJV)
That’s as universal a commandment as can be given. God now commands all men everywhere to repent. That’s one requirement from which no one is exempted. The requirement to repent.
And a little further on in Acts chapter 20, Paul is speaking and he’s reminding the leaders of the church at Ephesus of his ministry and message while he was with them in Ephesus. And he says in Acts 20, verses 20–21:
“I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (KJV)
Paul says, I didn’t keep back anything, I told you the complete truth, everything that God requires. And my message was not first, faith, but first repentance toward God and then faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no alternative to repentance. There is no way to bypass repentance and enter into true faith. As I said, I will say again. In my experience as a minister, counseling people, I think 50 percent of the problems that people have with faith, are not really problems with faith; their problem’s with repentance.
Now it’s important that we understand what repentance means. Many people have got a wrong impression. Many people think repentance is primarily emotion. That is not so. We can go to the original languages of the Scripture, both New Testament and Old Testament, and take these words. In the New Testament, the Greek word that’s translated “repent” means literally “to change your mind or your way of thinking.” It’s to think differently. It’s a decision that involves the way you think. In the Hebrew of the Old Testament, the word that we normally translate “repent” means “to turn or to return, to turn around, to turn back.” And we could put these two together, and say that repentance is decision followed by action. You’ve been living a certain way, you’ve been thinking a certain way, you have certain standards, patterns of behavior, habitual reactions, and you suddenly come to a stop. You lay them down. You change your mind. You see things differently. You accept other standards. And having made this inward decision, you make it effective by action. You turn around. Repentance is a turning around of 180 degrees. You were walking one way, and the Bible says “your own way,” now you’re arrested! You’re stopped short! You have to turn around and start off in the opposite direction. It’s a decision followed by an action. It’s not an emotion. Many, many people have waited for an emotion. They’re waiting for something to happen that they’ll feel a certain way. This is a mistake. As a preacher, I’ve seen many, many a people get emotional. I’ve seen them maybe come forward to the altar of a church, say a prayer, and sob a little, have an expression of emotion, but there was no change. They didn’t change their way of thinking. They didn’t change their way of living. It wasn’t a genuine repentance. It was simply a kind of emotional release. But it didn’t meet the requirements of God. And this is so very important—that we realize that there’s something that we can do that God requires us to do. And it doesn’t depend on our emotion. So many religious people are the slaves of their emotion. They feel good, they think they are good. If they feel lonely, they’re lonely. If they feel defeated, they’re defeated. Actually, one great way out of the slavery of the emotions is the act of repentance. They are not going to let my emotions dictate to me. I’m not going to be ruled by the way that I feel. I’m submitting to another standard. The standard now is God’s standard. What God says will be the way I’ll act regardless of my feelings. It’s a way of escaping from the slavery of your emotions. From the slavery of custom and tradition, and the actions and standards of the people round about you. You’re no longer going to be ruled by those. You’ve chosen a new standard. That standard is God’s standard.
People may say, “Well, I’m really a pretty good person, I don’t do much that’s wrong. I’m pretty regular in my church attendance. I’ve always tried to live by the Golden Rule. I’ve never been a criminal. Why should I repent? What’s wrong with my life?” And I’d like to show you I think the Scripture which makes more clear than any other that I know, why we all need to repent. It’s found in the fifty-third chapter of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah chapter 53 and verse 6:
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (KJV)
Now this is a great prophecy of the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, His finished sacrifice on the cross that was fulfilled historically something like seven hundred years after the prophecy was given. And really the central verse of that great 53rd chapter of Isaiah, from the point of view of the context and the sense, is verse 6. “All we like sheep have gone astray.” There are no exceptions—all of us. We have not necessarily committed crimes or immorality, but we have turned every one to his own way. That’s the universal guilt of the human race. We’ve turned our own way. We’re living by our own standards. And in turning to our own way, we have turned away from God’s way. And the Bible uses a very strong word for this. “The LORD hath laid on Him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all.”
The word iniquity is one of the strongest in language. It means rebellion. Self-will. A rejection of God. And that’s precisely what the entire human race has been guilty of. Self-will, rejecting God and His way and His standards. And on the cross, God visited the rebellion of the human race and all its evil consequences upon Jesus. That’s why He died. He died as the rebel’s substitute. He died as the one who had taken your place and my place. And now God says, “You’re required to repent.” To turn back from your own way. To turn around, to face God, to submit to God, to yield yourself in obedience to God.
When a person has truly repented, he doesn’t argue with God. When you’re in that attitude and frame of mind where you want to argue with God and dispute what God says, you haven’t truly repented. And there will not be real peace in your heart, nor harmony in your life, as long as there’s an inward war between you and God. And you may be struggling for faith, you may be trying for sweet feelings, you may want to feel good, but that isn’t the answer. The answer is, repent. Change your mind, make a decision, turn around, submit to Almighty God. And He will show you the next step. Repentance is not all that God requires. But it is His invariable first requirement.
If you’d like to put the order up that we noticed in those earlier Scriptures, Jesus said, when He first began to preach, “Repent and believe ...” Now I’m going to write a big, big “R” for repent, because it’s not going to change. Jesus said “Repent and believe ...” First repent, then believe. While He was preaching, in the 13th chapter of Luke, He said, “Repent or [what’s the alternative?] ... perish.” After He rose from the dead and commissioned His disciples to go out and preach, He said, “Repentance and remission [or forgiveness] of sins.” On the Day of Pentecost, when they said, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said, “Repent and be baptized.” And Paul said to the people of Ephesus, “Repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” So God never varies this initial requirement. Repent and believe. Repent or perish. Repentance and forgiveness of sins. And notice both are offered in the name of Jesus. It’s God’s mercy that offers you repentance. And on the basis of repentance He offers you forgiveness. Repent and be baptized. It is no use to be baptized if you haven’t repented. All that does is turn a dry sinner into a wet sinner! And Paul said, repentance and faith.
I think you’d agree with me that many, many times in presenting the gospel, we’ve misrepresented God. And we’ve wondered sometimes why the results that we thought ought to follow didn’t follow. And I believe there’s a good answer there. We’ve missed out the first requirement. The change of mind. The decision. I’m going to stop going my own way. I’m going to stop living by my own standards. It’s not my values that count, it’s God’s.
I was preaching in a place on the opening chapters of Romans, and I was laying down as clearly as I could God’s evaluation of the conduct of the human race. That we are ALL guilty, we are ALL without excuse. And a lady came up to me afterwards and she wanted to dispute this with me. And she said, “You know, Mr. Prince, I think ...” and I was a little brusque, and I interrupted her and I said, “What you think isn’t important ... what I think isn’t important ... it’s what God says that’s important.” But most of us attach great importance to what “I think” until we’ve repented. When you’ve repented, you don’t answer God back. You don’t say, “Oh God, but I think ...” The Scripture says, “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” (Romans 9:20, KJV). Who are you to argue with God? The apostle James says, “Lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21, KJV). We have to lay aside certain things, we have to lay aside uncleanness, sinfulness. We also have to lay aside naughtiness. When is a child naughty? When it answers back. And God’s children are often naughty. They answer Him back. They argue, they say, “Oh but ...”
I was speaking to a lady just two or three days ago, she came to me for counsel. So she said. The actual fact, I think, she just wanted to unload her feelings on somebody, and I was close. When I began to offer her the advice that Scripture gives one in her situation, every time I quoted Scripture she said, “Oh, but... .” I said, “As long as you say, “Oh, but, ...” the Word of God is not going to help you.”
Lay aside your naughtiness. Lay aside your argumentativeness. Receive with meekness God’s Word, it will do you good. But that act of laying aside our own way, our own opinion, our own will, our own standards, submitting to God, that is repentance.
There’s one picture in the New Testament. Very familiar story—the story of the Prodigal Son, which I believe is the clearest example in actual incident of what it means to repent. I’m going to read to you the opening verses of this beautiful story from Luke chapter 15. The 15th chapter of Luke’s gospel. Jesus is speaking:
“And he said, A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many of the hired servants of my father’s have bread enough to spare, and I perish with hunger!” (Luke 15:11–17, KJV)
You notice the word “perish” there, it’s rather significant. That young man had those two alternatives: to perish, or to repent. Now let’s read his decision.
“I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father.” (Luke 15:18–20, KJV)
That is the perfect picture of repentance. It’s a decision followed by an action. Notice how he came to it. He had turned his back on Father and on home. He had gone his own way and ended up empty, lonely, frustrated, without a future. The Scripture says, “He came to himself.” He came to the moment of truth. He really saw what he’d done and what his true position was.
God really cannot deal with us until we come to that moment of truth, the moment where we see things as they really are, see the truth about ourselves, get rid of our pretty pictures and our fancy delusions and our religious language. So much amongst religious people is covered up by religious clichés. We don’t come to ourselves because we’ve got some religious language that will cover the situation up. We breathe some platitude like, “Jesus will undertake,” but it isn’t always that way. God is dealing with something in you and me.
I had a man who was a friend of mine who came to live near where we lived in Florida. I must speak in such a way that I don’t make his identity known. He had a good profession. Able man. But he’d come to the point of a nervous breakdown, was losing his professional practice, and in desperation turned to God and received Jesus Christ and was saved. But still his life was out of joint. He’d got out of the way, and just salvation hadn’t got him back. And he moved and took a practice near where we lived, and came quite often to talk with my wife and me with his wife. Their home situation was unhappy, they had one girl, and the relationship was not good. And she was going a way that they really didn’t feel was the right way for her. And he still wasn’t making the money that he needed to make; he was losing money and getting into debt. And yet working hard. And doing everything that ought to have produced success.
And one day he phoned me and said, “I want to come and see you with my wife.” And I was very busy, and I really didn’t want to give anybody that time, but I knew there was something in his voice that showed me I had to say yes. And he came and he sat there with his wife, and my wife and me. And we talked, and gradually he came to the very thing in his life, in his past, which God required to be set right. And when he opened up, he spoke about this one particular thing. It was really a miracle, the spirit of God came down over him, and he collapsed. He was a strong, able, intelligent young man, not old. But he just collapsed like a little child, and sobbed almost in my arms. And God dealt with him about this one thing which was still outstanding between God and him. Within a week, he was on the move. He moved from Florida, purchased another position, opened a practice, his daughter came back. Within about three months, the whole of that family was entirely redirected. And it all happened at that one moment when he let God deal with the one thing that he’d covered up and refused to have dealt with in his life. I can’t recall ever seeing anything more dramatic. I’ve seen many, many people have dramatic encounters with God, but this, it was so instantaneous, the moment that one thing was dealt with in his life, everything was clear between God and him. He could find his way back into God’s plan for his life, and move out again. His home was blessed, his business was blessed, he was happy, he was free. And as I knew something of the background and of the past two years of his life, I saw how God had been pushing him, pushing him, pushing him, pushing him. He would try to move to the right God would push him in. He’d try to move to the left, God would push him in. God brought him to that place where there was no way past the thing that had to be dealt with. And when that thing was brought out into the open, and he surrendered, that’s all he had to do. That’s all that God asked, was acknowledge, surrender.
That is how God deals with us. I’ve counseled so many, many people. And I’ve seen that somewhere there’s one point on which a person is still holding out against God. There’s one thing they don’t want to confess. There’s one thing they don’t want to change. There’s just one condition they don’t want to meet. And God will not deal with them. God doesn’t bargain with us. We have no bargains to make with God. We only have one thing to do. Submit! Yield! Obey! And the way to that is repentance.
The young man, the prodigal son, in this parable—he came to the point where there was just no way out. He made a decision. I’ve been a fool, gone wrong, I’m not justifying myself; I’m not excusing myself. But I’m going back. And he made up his mind in advance what he would say. He would say, “Father, I have sinned.” Not “You’ve been too strict, or too narrow in your views, or there was too much religion in the home.” But “I have been wrong! And I am no more worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.” That’s humility. When a person has truly repented, if it’s necessary to sweep the floors, they’ll sweep the floors. They don’t argue. They don’t say, “God I’m on a higher level than that.” And he came back. We’ll read the next few verses of that story:
“And he arose, and came to his father.”
See, the decision was not complete until he turned around and went. It’s one thing to make a decision, and it’s another to carry it out. That’s complete repentance. Make the decision, turn around, and move back.
“And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion...”
The Greek word “to have compassion” means “to be moved” in this area, in here. The Greek word is related to the word for the bowels, this inner part of us, which is the real center of our deepest feelings. His father had this tremendous inward reaction.
“... and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.”
See, the father was longing for his son. But he couldn’t move till the son had made that first required move, the move of repentance. The son said:
“Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called [your] son.”
But the father never let him go any further. He was going to say, “Make me as one of thy hired servants.” But before he could say that, the father said, “Treat him as the honored son of the family. Bring out the best robe, kill the fatted calf, put a ring on his hand, shoes on his feet.”
See how many of us are alienated from the best that God has, because we don’t do what that young man did? It’s very interesting. The elder brother came in a little later, and he was angry—that his father had taken back the son who had wasted his living. But you know, when you study the character and behavior of the elder brother, you find out one thing, he was religious but not repentant. And so much of this is happening today, in the church, amongst people across this nation and around the world. The people that you don’t think would be religious are realizing what it means to repent. They’re laying aside their stubbornness and their rebellion. They’re turning around and coming back to the father. And then so many of the people whom you would expect to rejoice and welcome them are sour and unhappy because they won’t meet the condition, which is repentance.
You see, religious people need to repent just as much as the unconverted and the unchurched. “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way.” In most cases, that way is a religious way. We’ve got our own religious standards, our own religious practices, our own religious associations. And it’s harder for a religious person to repent than for a person who doesn’t make any profession of religion.
When the Lord graciously met me over thirty years ago, I really knew nothing about religion. But I knew one thing, I was a sinner. I had no problems—I’ve never had any problems in acknowledging that I’m a sinner. And I think that made it much easier for me to get to God. It’s a decision followed by an action. An acknowledgment. I have sinned. Father, I’m not arguing, I’m not excusing, I’m not justifying myself. I have no arguments to offer. Here I am. I’ll do whatever You say. That’s repentance.
There’s a picture of repentance that I’d like to give you, too, from the Old Testament. In the ordinances of the Levitical priesthood, something that might seem very remote and unrelated. But in the fourth chapter of Leviticus it speaks about the sin offering. And it says that if the priest sins, he shall obtain for his offering a bullock.
“And he shall bring the bullock unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation [that is, the place of assembly of God’s people, under that religious system] ... and [he] shall lay his hands upon the bullock’s head ...“
And he shall confess his sin over the bullock, and then it says he shall slay the bullock. That’s repentance. It’s slaying the bullock. See, the bullock, the sin offering, symbolically when the priest laid his hands on the head of the bullock and confessed his sin over the bullock, his sin was transferred from himself to the bullock. The bullock became identified with his sin. This is the law of the offerings under the old covenant. Now if the priest had simply confessed his sin, and laid his hands on the head of the bullock, that would not have resolved his problem. The next thing he had to do was kill the bullock. And when he killed the bullock, he killed his own sin. He identified himself with God’s judgment on his sin. Repentance is killing the bullock.
Rufus Moseley, that great saint of God who is with the Lord and has been for some years, used to say this, “Remember, you’re forgiven when you stop doing it.” If you haven’t stopped doing it, you’re not forgiven. If you’ve just confessed your sin, and transferred it to the bullock, but you haven’t taken that sharp knife and killed the bullock, your problem isn’t resolved. Many, many people are unwilling to kill the bullock.
In Psalm 139, David was a man who knew what repentance was. There are many of his psalms that speak of repentance. Psalm 51, of course, is the famous penitent psalm. But I’d like to read some words of his from Psalm 139. The last four verses of Psalm 139.
“Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.” (KJV)
I ask Christian people sometimes, “Can we as Christians say that? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies”? Some people say yes, and some people say no, Christians shouldn’t speak like that. I say to them read the next two verses and see where David was looking for God’s enemies. He says:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (KJV)
David wasn’t concerned about enemies of God outside. David was concerned about enemies of God inside his own heart and life. And he said, “God, if there are any enemies of Yours in me, they’re my enemies too. I hate them, I don’t want them. I won’t compromise with them. I won’t make peace with them. I’ll not tolerate them.” So many times I’ve told people, “If you’re prepared to tolerate the devil, you’ll have to tolerate him! As long as you’ll tolerate him, he’ll stay. If you hate him, he’ll go!”
Young man came to me once, and said, “Brother Prince, I think I have a demon of lust. But,” he said, “I rather enjoy it. Do you think God will deliver me?” Well, definitely not, as long as you enjoy it you can keep it! God won’t deliver you from your friends. God’ll deliver you from your enemies. So if there’s an enemy in your life, make God’s enemy your enemy and God will come to your help.
I wonder if you remember that phrase that used to be so common. Those of us that passed through World War II, one of the phrases that was always being used was “the fifth column.” I don’t know whether you know the origin of that phrase. But it originated in the Spanish Civil War in 1936. When there was a civil war inside Spain, the Spaniards fighting each other. And in this war there was a certain general besieging a Spanish city. And a second general came to him and said, “General, what is your plan to take this city?” And the first general answered and said, “I have four columns advancing against the city, one from the north, one from the south, one from the east and one from the west.” Then he paused and added, “But it’s my fifth column that I’m expecting to take the city for me.” So the second general said, “Where is the fifth column?” And the first general replied, “Inside the city.” That’s the origin of the phrase, “the fifth column.” It’s the column that doesn’t attack from without; it’s the column that works within.
And all Christians are defeated, if ever they are defeated, by the fifth column. The devil cannot defeat you from without. But if there’s a fifth column inside you, that’s how he’ll overthrow you. And he’ll have his fifth column there, as long as you tolerate it. But if you’ll say, like David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: See if there be any wicked way in me”—anything of evil, any evil thing. “Then God, I’ll declare war on that thing. I’ll hate that thing. I’ll rid myself of that thing. I will not tolerate Your enemies in my life.” That is repentance in action.
I was in a certain situation. I was in an Assembly of God church, in a city which I won’t identify. And I conducted on a Friday evening a service for those that needed deliverance from evil spirits. There was there the wife of a Baptist pastor, who did not believe what I was preaching. And I’ve come to know the lady since, and she shared with me her reactions. She said, “I hated you with all my guts. If I could have got up and gone out, I would have gone.” But she didn’t share this with me at the time at all.
The next morning, Saturday morning, I conducted a Bible study in the same church. And this lady was there. Now the Bible study had nothing to do with deliverance or any of these things. I forget what it was about. But at the end of the service, this pastor’s wife came up to me and she said, “Mr. Prince, I need deliverance.” Well, I’ve learned one of the secrets is to let people get desperate. Deliverance is for the desperate. When you get desperate, God will come to your help. So I didn’t react, I just said, “Well, that’s fine.” She said, “I need deliverance right now.” I said, “Good.” She said,” I’ve got to have it.” I said, “Praise the Lord.” And I didn’t offer to do anything for her.
She just went to the altar, kneeled down, and started to pray. And she prayed louder and louder and louder, until everybody in the church could hear what she was saying. And she was saying words which astonished me. She said, “There isn’t a drop of blue blood in my veins. There isn’t a DROP of blue blood in my veins. There isn’t a DROP OF BLUE BLOOD IN MY VEINS!” Well, I’m of British background and I’m used to snobbery in Britain. And British people don’t consider that anything’s old unless it’s 300 years old. But I really wasn’t aware that Americans thought like that, so I just listened in astonishment. She went on, making this declaration, and God met her at the altar of that church. I didn’t pray with her. Nobody prayed with her. God met her. She told me afterwards, she said, “You know, I’d always been brought up to believe, in fact I’ve been trained in this—that my ancestors came over on the Mayflower, and I thought I was something special. I had a special background that made me different from other people.” She said, “While you were speaking, God dealt with me about my pride.” And God brought her to the place where He put His finger on the very thing in her life that was between God and her. Her pride in her background, her ancestry. And God brought that rather proud Baptist wife to the place where in an Assembly of God church she would lay bare this thing for the hearing of all present. And when she did that, she was delivered. Pride, the power of pride over her was broken. This is the place we have to come to.
Jesus said in one place, “If I by the Spirit of God cast out evil spirits ...” And in the corresponding passage in another gospel, He said, “If I, by the finger of God cast out evil spirits ...” So we learn that the Spirit of God is the finger of God. This is very revealing. The Spirit is not like a great hand that reaches down and covers an area. He’s just like a finger that reaches out and with just one tip touches the very thing that needs to be touched. And when the Spirit touches that thing in your life or in my life, which is our point of rebellion against God, then when we humble ourselves, then when we submit, the breakthrough comes. The release. God can set us off on the right direction again. He can treat us like the prodigal. He can say, “I’ve been waiting for you. I’m ready to receive you now. You can put off the rags. You can put on the ring, the symbol of authority. You can put on the robe, the symbol of righteousness. You can put on the shoes, the symbol of the gospel of peace.” But as long as there is unseen rebellion in the heart there can be no acceptance in the fullest sense with God.
So that the point of issue between God and you must be resolved. The thing that in your heart and life is not in line with God’s will and God’s requirements. The Holy Spirit has put His finger on it, touched it. It’s not a big area. Just one particular thing. The Scripture says that “He that keeps the whole law and offends in one point is guilty of all.” And it’s true in our relationship with God. We may be willing to do God’s will in every area except one. But when we resist in one area we are rebels!
I want to close by praying that prayer that David prayed. If you want to say it with me, do.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”