Gary Ray Branscome
“Repentance and remission of sins should be
in his name among all nations, beginning at
There has been no time in the history of our nation when it needed repentance more than it does now. The evidence of people turning away from the faith, rejecting the gospel, or assuming that their own goodness will get them into heaven is all around us. At the same time, churches that should be taking the lead in calling the nation to repentance are failing to do so. Many are even actively denying basic Bible truths in the name of being relevant or bringing people together. Open sin, and wicked perversion that openly flaunts God’s law is tolerated. In the meantime millions of souls are going to hell because they never heard, understood, saw their need for, or believed, God’s promise of forgiveness in Christ.
That being said, let me make it clear that true repentance does not consist of outward piety, a few new-years type resolutions, or giving up bad habits. On the contrary, true repentance requires that total and complete surrender that leads one to humbly fall to his knees before God, admitting that he is a sinner unworthy of anything other than death and hell, while looking to Christ for forgiveness (Psalm 51:17, Romans 7:18).
Sadly, many who think they are preaching repentance are more interested in getting Christians to dress in a certain way and keep a list of dos and don’ts than in calling unbelievers to faith in Christ. In fact, they often just assume that everyone in their audience has faith in Christ, and put the emphasis on outward piety as if that were the main goal of their preaching. However, their emphasis on outward piety is only a symptom of the real problem. The real problem is that they have a faulty understanding of the gospel. They may believe that Christ saves us, but they have never trusted in Him for holiness. If they had, they would know that when we trust in Christ, not only to save us but also to make us holy, the Holy Spirit comes into our heart bringing a change that those who trust in works can never experience (Hebrews 10:10, 14, Romans 10:3-4, Galatians 5:16-17).
For preaching to be effective the preacher must not only believe that we are saved through faith in Christ, he must also realize that faith in Christ not only gets us off the hook, so to speak, but cleanses us of all sin, making us pure perfect and holy in the sight of God (Hebrews 10:14, 1John 1:7). Furthermore, his aim must not be to get people to pray a prayer, make a decision, or perform certain works, but to bring them to faith in Christ. If they are trusting in Christ for righteousness, the works will follow as a fruit of their faith, but if faith is lacking nothing they do will be acceptable to God (Galatians 3:6, Hebrews 11:6). What I have been saying is known as the proper relationship of law to gospel, and Paul explains it in the third chapter of Romans.
In Romans 3:20-23 we read “Therefore no flesh will be justified in His sight by the deeds of the law: because the knowledge of sin comes by the law. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all and upon all who believe.”
From those words we learn that the law cannot make anyone righteous (just) in the sight of God, and was never intended to make anyone righteous. On the contrary, it was given to show us our sin and need of forgiveness. Paul then tells us that God has now revealed a way for us to become righteous apart from the law, namely through receiving the righteousness that is imputed to all who believe through faith in Christ. Therefore, it should be obvious that if works cannot make us righteous they cannot cause God to be pleased with us, and they cannot improve on the righteousness that is already ours through faith in Christ. After all, if even our righteous deeds are as filthy rags, then works cannot make our best behavior acceptable to God, much less our entire lives (Isaiah 64:6).
For that reason, when a person comes to faith in Christ, what they need far more than a set of rules, is to learn how to see their own sin, learn what it means to rationalize sin and why that is incompatible with faith, and what it means to have a tender conscience and humble and repentant heart before God. These are key concepts necessary for Christian growth, yet you hardly ever hear them mentioned.
Some people are so troubled by guilt that Biblical condemnation of sin causes them to feel so guilty they begin to think they are too bad to be saved. Others are so blind to their sin that they do not think the condemnations of the law apply to them. This is a problem, because Biblical preaching has to meet the needs of both. We have to condemn sin in no uncertain terms, but at the same time we must make it clear that there is forgiveness in Christ.
If you have trouble seeing your sin, you need to ask yourself if you have ever told a lie. If you have, doesn’t that make you a liar? Have you ever in your life taken something that did not belong to you? If so, doesn’t that make you a thief? Have you ever had lustful thoughts? If so, according to Scripture you have committed adultery in your heart (Matthew ). Have you ever been so angry at someone that you wanted to punch them out, or blow them away? If so, according to God’s standard you are a murderer (1John ).
To rationalize sin is to explain it away, or find some excuse for it so that it does not bother your conscience. Most people think nothing of doing that. It is the way of the world. However, rationalizing sin was the very thing that blinded the Pharisees to their need for forgiveness. God gave the law to show them their sin and need for His mercy. But, instead of acknowledging their sin and seeking His mercy, they chose to look for excuses, loopholes, and ways around His law thus making the law of no effect (Matthew 15:6, Mark ).
That brings us to our need to have a humble and repentant heart before God. God wants us to repent of our sin instead of trying to excuse it. Our life should be a life of repentance. Every day, we should acknowledge our sin and need of God’s mercy, for we all fall short. At the same time, those who claim to trust in Christ while willfully continuing in sin, have a false faith. It is impossible for someone who does not want to stop sinning to have faith in Christ, because they do not want what he offers. They do not want to be delivered from sin, they want to be allowed to sin. They do not want Christ to take away their sin, they want Him to help them continue in sin, and that is not what He died for. That is why the Bible says, “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we are lying, and are not living the truth” (1John 1:6).
To really see a change in people’s lives, preaching has to get them to look inward, to look at their sin and feel convicted by it. And, then to humble themselves before God, looking to Christ for forgiveness. To clarify what I mean, let me give this example. When I was a teenager I liked to come up behind people and stick my fingers in their ribs. At the time, my parents and others would fuss at me for doing it, but I never listened. I was having fun. Then one day, when I was a few years older, I did it but something was different. I felt ashamed of myself for doing it. I felt like I was acting like a child. And, I never did it again. Nobody said a word. Nobody rebuked me. But, a change took place inside of me. Now the point I am trying to make is that if we want to call people to repentance, we need to stop fussing at them, and, instead, urge them to look at their sins, think about their sins, feel ashamed of their sins, and look to Christ for mercy.
order to better understand what I mean consider carefully the following
taken from a sermon by the great Evangelist, Dr. Walter A. Maier. This
sermon aired just two weeks before the bombing of
“Therefore, the message of
the Christian Church today must be that of our text, "Turn again unto
Lord"! Humble yourselves! Repent, you destroyers of public morals, who
with lewd entertainment, filthy books and magazines have increased the
sin! Repent, you corrupters of the home who
purity seem old-fashioned and chastity a burden to be scorned! Repent, you rich who have oppressed the poor, and
who have hated the rich! Repent, you teachers who lead our youth from
Christ! Repent, you adulterous husbands and
unfaithful wives, you
self-seeking parents and you self-directed children! Repent, you
blasphemers, abusers of God's holy name? Repent, you public officials
misused your high office! Repent, you merchants of horrifying death,
delight in war for selfish gain's patriotism! Repent,
you scoffers, skeptics, unbelievers, enemies of God, defaming the Lord
Before all else, however you and I need repentance for ourselves. The sins in our own lives that we may seek to deny, cover up, excuse, laugh away; the transgression which, unforgiven, will separate us eternally from Christ and His redeemed -- the depravity of our human nature, our impure desires, hot-tempered words, sinful actions -- Oh, confess them all today! -- these should bring us down on our knees in humility and contrition before the holy God! A repentant nation is a country in which the individual citizens unmistakably show their sorrow over sin. Contrition is a personal, not a political matter. Therefore, the admission to be spoken by every American Christian today should embody the full, unreserved acknowledgment of our own guilt and the statement of our faith in the Savior, taken from the hymnbook of my Church: ‘O Almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have offended Thee and justly deserved Thy temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray Thee of Thy boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, and bitter sufferings and death of Thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me a poor sinful being.’” (From the sermon, “God Make Us Penitent”.)
It is not always necessary to condemn the kind of sins that Dr. Maier rebuked in the first paragraph of his quote. In a congregational setting the situation would be different. However, a pastor could always comment on crimes in the news or crime statistics, and then call on his audience to look at their own sins. Likewise, he could start with tragedies like a hurricane or tornado, and then call on his audience to look at their own sins, reminding them that if they never experience such a tragedy it is only by the grace of God, not because they are less sinful than the people who did. [Look at how Christ used a similar circumstance, Luke 13:4-5.]
In conclusion the following statement by Dr. Walter A. Maier summarizes very well what I have been trying to say.
"When Luther undertook the Reformation of the Church and his eyes were opened to the fact that in Christ alone, but in Him completely, every believer has the forgiveness of his sins, it became his all-consuming object in life to exalt the atoning Savior, to preach the crucified, sin-destroying Christ, the risen, life-bestowing Redeemer; and because he humbly dedicated his marvelous mentality and tireless energies to teach Christ, preach Christ, exalt Christ, write Christ, sing Christ, love Christ, live Christ, always as God's Son and the world's Savior, there was not enough power on earth or in hell, among men and devils, to restrain his work. Nor can the churches today ever hope to be used of the Spirit in saving men's souls unless they, too, concentrate their efforts on Jesus." (From the sermon, “O God Cleanse Our Churches”, 1943.)