Repentance: The Dirty “R” Word

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” If cheap grace was in abundance in pre-war Nazi Germany, it is, sadly, in no less short supply in American Christianity in the third millennium.

We, in churchland, want our friends, our family, our neighbors—even strangers—to know the Good News, that Jesus died for sin, that He offers forgiveness and eternal life in Heaven. And we want people to understand that this great salvation is a free gift—they can’t buy it, and they can’t earn it.

But we don’t want to scare them off, either, do we? We sometimes forget that “R” word. Repentance. Oh, was that in there? Somehow we forget that in our Gospel presentations. We tell them all about “accepting Christ” (as if He needed our acceptance). Or we tell people to pray a sinner’s prayer and ask Jesus to come into their hearts—as if the Bible uses that kind of language. We tell people they need forgiveness of their sins, and that Jesus Christ offers that forgiveness. True enough.

But we forget repentance. Especially in the conservative Baptist circles where I run, where we are (rightly) interested in “soul winning” (though I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that as a biblical term either). We want to obey the Great Commission, so too often it’s about closing a deal—getting them to say that sinner’s prayer. Then they can tuck their eternal salvation away in their pocket like some fire insurance card, or some get out of Hell free card that they save for when they need it. But we forget to tell them that the Gospel of Jesus Christ demands a changed life.

Repentance. Dictionary.com defines repentance as, “deep sorrow, compunction, or contrition for a past sin, wrongdoing, or the like.” Likewise, contrition is further defined as “sorrow for and detestation of sin with a true purpose of amendment, arising from a love of God for His own perfections.” To repent is, “to make a change for the better as a result of remorse or contrition for one’s sins.” It means changing our ways. It means making amends for our wrongdoing. It means turning from sin and to Jesus Christ.

Jesus preached a message of repentance. Matthew 4:17 depicts Jesus’ very first message, His first sermon, “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In Luke 13:3, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” True faith and trust in Jesus Christ produces a transformed life. I’m not talking about perfection—but at least a sincere desire to live a life of obedience to God, a life that flees from sin. Not perfection, but direction my pastor always said.

I’m going out on a limb here, and I know I won’t win a lot of fans. I can’t judge your heart and what’s going on between you and God. But, if you prayed that sinner’s prayer and nothing about your life has changed—you’re probably not saved. Despite what the well-meaning evangelist told you.

Oh I believe in salvation by grace through faith, and not works. But that grace is costly. As Bonhoeffer wrote, “Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘ye were bought at a price,’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”

You may have prayed that sinner’s prayer—but did you hear that part about repent? Are you sorry about your sin, or are you just scared of going to Hell?

Think about it!

Pastor Bart

About the Author

Pastor Bart Denny

A native of Michigan, Pastor Bart has served at Bible Baptist Church since February 2017. He previously served as director of operations at Fellowship Baptist Church in Thonotosassa, Florida. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Liberty University. Before surrendering to full-time ministry, Pastor Bart served 22 years in the Navy, and was stationed on two submarines and two destroyers before commanding a coastal patrol ship. Bart and his wife, Jennifer, have been married since 1993. They have two adult children, Kyle and Kiersten, and a third child, Owen, in high school.

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