Repent and Be Saved
- April 28, 2019
- Jared Odenbeck
The more I engage with the American church outside of the United States, the more I find my spirit troubled. I recently watched the documentary American Gospel. I strongly recommend it. I realized that we have lost the essence of the Gospel, which says, repent, believe, and be saved. A Gospel that presents the necessity of repentance, in keeping with Jesus’ teaching, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5), demands the confession of a need for help, a willingness the narrow and hard way of personal transformation, and a grace marked by humility. Repentance has fallen out of favor in the West with the rise of moral ambiguity and the unwillingness to act in true love, as opposed to a pervasive and flippant acceptance of anything and everything.
Cue, therefore, the phenomenon of mega-churches, not just in size, but in extravagence of performance and production. The theology of such churches often falls well short of Gospel truth, but their desire to present Christianity in an attractive manner to grow in cultural attractiveness even exceeds that. Clothing and sneakers worth thousands clothe those on stage (follow @preachersandsneakers on Instagram if you don’t believe me), which communicates a total acceptance and valuation of the way of the world – materialism, consumerism, and the importance of appearance. The church should attract many, but not due to glamour and overwhelming cultural saturation, but rather due to the fragrance of Christ that the body emits.
Churches, and therefore individuals, that fail to preach a Gospel that mandates repentance before the LORD fail to communicate a necessary doctrine of our faith – the utter wickedness of man and his sinful nature. Apart from an understanding and recognition of the insurmountable mountain of sin and subsequent complete hopelessness apart from miraculous redemption, many will turn away in indifference, or worse, believe in a false gospel. But, we must not allow ourselves to overemphasize repentance and so quickly abandon, as the Galatians did (Galatians 1:6-7), the complete Gospel.
“And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32). Only the sick accept the Gospel. The well see no need, for they trust and believe and hope in their own religiosity, their own goodness, their acquisition of pleasure, and their own performance. What man, who believes that perfect health flows through his body, will seek out a doctor, and pay the price he requires?
For those in need, those in desperation, the Gospel satiates and satisfies the palate of man. Yes, “A hungry man looks for food in a very different way from a full man,” (Needleman, 53) for the hungry man recognizes a need – an absence of cavernous depth that he must fill. The stomach, famished, growls and ravenous pangs flood the body. Man knows that he needs one thing – food – and therefore seeks after that one thing with his whole heart. This pursuit consumes him and knocks unrelenting at the forefront of his mind until, at last, satisfaction comes, and nourishment fills his emptiness.
And what is this nourishment? “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” Ephesians 2:4-7 (emphasis author’s). True repentance springs from the recognition of unconditional love and acceptance and forgiveness before the Father. Despite the death that came from the trespass, it pleased God to send his Son to die on behalf of the sins of the world, that we might commune with him and know the greatness of his grace in his steadfast loving kindness towards us.
Until repentance returns to the forefront of the Gospel message, which calls men not just to repent, but to repent and be saved – and know the Son, therefore knowing also the Father, and to experience the love of God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – cheap and flattering teaching will emerge from the church and flood a world that cries out in the pangs of hunger for real food.
The world does not just need to get in the door. The world does not just need an awe-inspiring musical performance in a “worship experience.” These things benefit, but apart from a commitment to the truth of the Gospel that presents the duality of the wicked sinfulfness of man and the unfailing and extravagant love of God out of a deep conviction and loving care for one’s fellow man, many will hunger and many will be deceived in believing a gospel that is not The Gospel. And that is a matter of life and death.
- Needleman, Jacob. Why Can’t We be Good?