Repentance, Part 7
“I have decided to follow Jesus…The world behind me, the cross before me… No turning back.”
These are excerpts from the lyrics of an old but popular Christian chorus. To most Christians, the sentiment and the theology behind the lyrics are obvious.
The singer is professing that he has abandoned the lusts and temptations and desires of the world that would keep him from Christ. He has changed his focus from things of the world to concentrate on the cross. By keeping the cross before him, he seeks to remain on the path of righteousness with no thought of ever turning back to his old life.
The reality is that these sentiments do not hold true for many who claim to be Christians. Too many of us have not turned our backs on things of this world, either materially or spiritually. Too many are still determined to live the American dream of working or winning our way into prosperity.
We still sin – sometimes egregiously. We are still guilty of covetousness, of contempt and pride and hatred, of disobedience to parents, of adultery, and of untruthfulness. We are still strongly subject to idolatry, of taking the Lord’s name in vain, and of abandoning any concept of a Sabbath.
Yet I believe God was aware of all of this when He developed the plan of redemption before the foundation of the world. He was aware of all this when He created man and placed him in Paradise. He knew that even those who professed Christ as Lord would yield to temptation, and sin, and rebellion, and would experience spiritual as well as moral failure.
He knew it – yet He staked the future of the kingdom of Heaven on just such people. As C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “…apparently He thought it worth the risk.” (Though I assure you, God never takes a risk. See my article concerning this question.)
That is why there is grace!
That is why salvation is not dependent upon a person’s goodness or behavior or even upon on a person’s confession, but on God’s call on that person’s life. That is why the evidence of being born again is not a profession, or a prayer, or a performance, but obedience.
Think of the people God used throughout the Bible. The first thing Noah did after the flood was get drunk and get naked. Abraham lied. Jacob deceived his brother, his father, and his father-in-law. Judah had a child by his daughter-in-law that he mistook for a prostitute. David committed adultery and conspired to commit murder.
God knew the hearts of these men even before He called them. He knew they would yield to temptation and sin, but He called them anyway. He did not call them because they were perfect, but in spite of their weaknesses. He covered their sins with grace so that they would be acceptable to Him. They responded with obedience.
God is not looking for good people. He is looking for obedient people. He will take care of the goodness.
Jesus made it clear that those who were truly saved were not those who simply confessed Him as Lord, but those who followed that confession with obedience.
Matt. 7:21 Not everyone who calls out to me, “Lord! Lord!” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.
In Matthew 7:24-26 and in Luke 6:46-49, Jesus teaches about the wise man who built a house that could withstand the storms of life because it was built on a rock. You might be surprised to learn that, in spite of what songs and preachers might say, the rock in that story is not Jesus.
Yes, Jesus is a sure foundation. In Ephesians 2, He is the chief cornerstone of the church built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles. In 1 Corinthians 3, He is the foundation of an effective ministry.
But the foundation of Matthew 7 and Luke 6 – the foundation that assures that our lives will stand the test of trial in the world – is our obedience to the commands of Christ. That’s why Paul preached about the critical importance of good works.
Acts 26:20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent (change their mind about the direction in which they are headed and turn from their sin) and turn to God (believe) and prove their repentance by their deeds.
Thus the end of repentance is not salvation or the forgiveness of sin, deliverance from hell and the assurance of heaven. All of these are the rewards that follow after repentance. The end of repentance is obedience, which is true worship and evidence of our love for Christ.
John 14:15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
John 15:14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
True repentance is not signified by walking an aisle or by reciting a salvation prayer or by inviting Jesus to come into one’s heart (none of which can be supported by Scripture), but by fulfilling the Great Commission.
Confession that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 4.15) is not simply making a statement, no matter how sincere. Abiding in love (1 John 4.16) is not settling complacently into a peaceful and relaxed relationship with God.
Jesus promised that He and the Father would live in the hearts of those who were obedient (John 14.23).
Jesus called to Peter and Andrew, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt. 4.19) He said, “Follow me, because I am going to make something out of you and give you something to do.”
Jesus did not call us simply to save us from death and hell. He saved us so that we would be able to respond to His call to obedience.
God determined to build His kingdom through the labors of men and women empowered by His own Holy Spirit. He called us to come by the cross. Then, leaving the cross behind us, we are to focus our eyes on the world through which we are passing as obedient servants of the gospel.
In light of all of this, maybe we should rethink and revise the old chorus with which I began this article. Instead of “The world behind me, the cross before me,” maybe we should revise the words to say…
I have decided to follow Jesus (repentance)
The cross behind me (salvation)
The world before me (obedience)
No turning back!