Repentance and a Willingness to Give Up Sin 1 Cor. 15: 3-4 CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO
We received the following email from one of our listeners. “Hello, I have a question concerning Repentance. What if a person truly realizes he is a hell bound sinner and he comes to Jesus as his only means of salvation, BUT he has no real intention of giving up his sins. In other words, he is more concerned with having a ticket out of hell than in living a godly life. Will God reject that person? Hope you can clear this up for me. Thanks in advance.”
We hear a lot of discussion on the topic of repentance these days. Some men preach that the mere mention of the word “repentance” in witnessing is heresy and that it leads to a works salvation. Other men teach that leaving repentance out of witnessing is heresy. Of those who believe repentance is necessary for salvation, some say that repentance must be a willingness to turn from sin. Others say that it must not only be a willingness, but also an absolute turning from his sins. Still others preach that unless repentance is accompanied by deep, godly sorrow, there is no salvation, no matter what a person might pray. And on and on the arguments go.
Rather than discuss all the doctrinal positions that men may hold regarding repentance, we will respond to the key question, which is, “Will God reject that person?” The answer to this question isn’t that simple.
By and large, since Jesus died for our sins [1 Cor 15:3-4], became sin for us [2 Cor 5:21], saves his people from their sins [Matt 1:21], taketh away the sin of the world [Jn 1:29], and came into the world to save sinners [1 Tim 1:15], a good “presentation” of the gospel is going to deal with sin, not just the ultimate consequences of sin. The truth is that God’s righteousness is perfect. So, our self righteousness and sin will not allow us to pass the judgment of God. Yet, at the same time, we must remember that getting saved and “getting cleaned up” are two different things.
After hearing the gospel preached, where sin, righteousness and judgment are covered thoroughly, anybody should recognize that he is on his way to hell because he is a self-righteous sinner. If a person is only interested in a ticket out of hell, then he has no concern for righteousness and no concern for his sin. Clearly, he is responding only to judgment, one of three things of which the Holy Spirit reproves him: “sin … righteousness, and … judgment,” [Jn 16:8-11]. Frankly, in most cases, a man like that is not ready to get saved; he is merely coming under conviction about the eternal consequences of his sins. If he were to pray “the prayer” right then, he might not be saved.
However, when a fellow “truly realizes that he is a hell bound sinner,” that adds a little different twist. He knows he is a sinner and he knows that he is on his way to hell. The only thing missing in this example is some preaching on “righteousness.” And truly, righteousness is a three phase accomplishment in our lives.
First, we have God’s righteousness imputed to our souls the moment we trust Jesus Christ as our Savior [Rom 4:5-6, 2 Cor 5:21, Rom 10:3-4]. Second, after we are saved, we have righteousness in our lives as we yield to God and not to sin [Rom 6:12-22]. This is where the continual battle between the Spirit and the flesh is waged [Gal 5:17]. A saved man who lives after the flesh will never have this righteousness until he yields his members as instruments of righteousness unto God. Third, we have the ultimate righteousness of a sinless life after we get our glorified bodies [Phil 3:21, Eph 5:27, Rom 8:23]
Thus, it is very possible for a fellow to get saved and still live like the devil, at some point [1 Cor 5:1-5, 1 Cor 5:11, 2 Tim 4:10, 2 Tim 2:26, 1 Tim 3:6-7 (these are preachers), Acts 5:3-4]. A person could have God’s righteousness imputed to his soul and still not be living in the righteousness of a life yielded to God.
Conversely, it is also possible for a fellow to look like a saint and still be as lost “as a golf ball in high weeds,” as a friend of mine used to say, [Rom 9:30-33, Matt 23:28]. He can be willing to give up his sins and actually get rid of some of them and still not be saved. So, simply being willing to give up his sins won’t save him, either. We know a fellow who gave up alcohol at an AA meeting and to this day claims to be saved because his higher power, whom he claims to be Jesus, gave him the strength to get rid of that sin. To the best of our knowledge, he is not saved, though he claims to be delivered.
The way we handle this problem when we witness is that we deal with sin and righteousness and judgment, clearly and thoroughly, before ever offering a sinner the opportunity to trust Jesus. That way he realizes that, after he receives Jesus Christ for salvation, Jesus will begin to live his life through him [Phil 2:12-13]. Jesus will start changing him from the inside out. While he will struggle with sin after he gets saved, he won’t be confused about whether he got saved. He won’t struggle with questions about whether he was willing to give up sin or whether he wasn’t willing, or any of that stuff. He will be saved because he received Jesus Christ [Jn 1:12], the only man [1 Tim 2:5] who could solve his problem with sin, righteousness and judgment.
One problem with all of this is that soul winners seem to be looking for just the right formula to cover all of the bases without leading a soul to believe that he must do some work first in order to get saved. It’s as if we are the ones who can determine whether a soul is getting saved or not. Truthfully, we are simply the witnesses [Acts 1:8]. We have to remind ourselves that souls are saved by Jesus, by the words of God and by the Holy Spirit, not by us.
When you see people saved in the Bible, there’s not any formula. Was the thief on the cross willing to turn from his sins? Did he repent? Jesus certainly didn’t go through “the plan of salvation” with him. The thief simply confessed the Lord Jesus and believed in the resurrection [Rom 10:9-10; Lk 23:42]. How about the Ethiopian eunuch or the lame man in Acts 3? Based upon the way soul winners argue over what it takes to get saved, could they even agree that these people were saved? We don’t know about their attitude toward sin. How about Cornelius and his kinsmen? Peter was still in the middle of preaching when they got saved. He never even got to lead them in “the prayer!!” You see, there is no set plan. By trying to come up with a “plan,” at what point have we added to “the simplicity that is in Christ,” [2 Cor 11:3] or taken away from the need for repentance [Acts 20:21; 2 Pet 3:9]?
In truth, the trouble is with sin in a saved man. We see more of it in our lives than we think should be there. Or we see more of it in professing Christians’ lives than we think should be there. So, then we don’t know whether to believe they are really saved. We start questioning their salvation and how they got saved because of the sins they are committing. I’ve done that in my own life.
When that happens, sin takes firm hold and visible and verbal evidence of salvation goes right out the window. To go back and retrace the “steps” of salvation at that point is just a waste of time. A fellow in that condition needs reproof, rebuke, correction, instruction in righteousness and the chastening hand of the Lord [2 Tim 3:16, 17, 2 Tim 4:2, Heb 12:5-11]. He needs a “come to Jesus meeting” and a good dose of the fear of the Lord [Acts 5:11]. He doesn’t need to get saved again or saved a different way. He needs to get right with God [Rom 6:19]. And if in getting right with God it becomes evident that he truly isn’t saved, the Lord will make that plain to him [Phil 3:15] because the Lord is not willing that he, or anyone else for that matter, should perish [2 Pet 3:9].
Over the years, we have seen a fair number of people get saved who thought they were saved before. They weren’t convinced of their need to be saved because we showed them a more precise way of getting saved. They were convinced because the Spirit of God convinced them. So, ultimately, we just have to witness. If a fellow to whom we witness is saved and living like the devil, we need to trust the Holy Spirit to show him that he needs to get right with God. If he is lost, we need to trust the Holy Spirit to bring him under conviction and to show him that he needs Jesus. That way he can get saved.