How Repentance Helps to Keep the Church From Scandal

Ah repentance. We talk about it every Sunday when the pastor concludes his service with a plea for all the sinners out there to, “Repent and believe.” Though repentance remains forever linked with faith, salvation, and the singing of Just As I Am, the doctrine has implications far beyond the concerns of the individual pondering whether or not he has he ticket to heaven. It is that. But it is much more. The doctrine of turning from sin to follow Christ defines the Church and serves as an important paradigm through which Christians view themselves and the world. As John the Baptist noted in Matthew 3:1-2, it is the preaching of the repentance of sin that corrects the crookedness of the universe and ushers in the kingdom of God. Repentance guides men and women into the Church, preserves their membership in the kingdom of God, and protects the righteous witness of the God’s people. If the Church loses its grip upon the doctrine of repentance, its distinctive edges of truth will disintegrate into the mushiness of self-expression. The Church will become the world replete with all of the world’s scandals.

To keep the Church from dissolving into the world, the God’s people must follow John the Baptist and champion the doctrine of repentance, noting both its cost and scope.

1. The Danger of No Repentance

Matthew reports that John’s ministry consisted of the preaching of repentance and of the baptism of sinners. Though he wore very basic clothes, ate bugs, and set up shop in the middle of nowhere, people flocked to John. Matthew 3:5-6 says,

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Matthew 3:5-6

John found success through focusing upon the gospel. But is such success still possible?

As the world wrestles with social, economic, political, health, and racial concerns, many in the church feel a pull to abandon the preaching of the gospel for the purpose of dealing with the real problems of the age. They question the validity of calling sinners who lack food, the right to vote in fair elections, and meaningful healthcare to repentance. They believe society must change before people can change. Thus, they abandon the clear preaching of the gospel to organize protests, to form apologetic conferences, and to hand out food. As they dive into urban centers, the doctrines of repentance drift from view. Their new converts are baptized into the waters of popular opinion, confessing their politics.  Repentance becomes an afterthought that is never resurrected.  

Lacking repentance, these churches become the spiritual reflection of their community’s wishes. They replace the will of God with the will of the local majority, a majority that has never repented of sin. Being blinded by their hearts and Satan, the well-intended social majority never accurately diagnoses sins or puts forward remedies that change hearts. When the Church follows the world in an effort to reach the world by addressing its most pressing problems, the Church will fail to gain the world’s respect and to gift the world meaningful change. Christians that have never turned from evil will in turn find themselves unable to help society turn from evil.

 2. The Danger of Cheap Repentance

Often the secular world scoffs at the idea of repentance because spiritual heart change appears to produce no earthly benefits. It is simply a nod of the head, a mental confession, that can be made with the flip of the coin. After all, who doesn’t want to make grandma happy and secure a get-out-of-jail-free card?

This perception of repentance proves to be a caricature of John’s repentance. When John’s hearers emerged from the waters of baptism, they were changed people. Those who had accumulated great wealth were to clothe the poor and to feed the hungry (Lk 3:11). Government employees were called to stop exploiting the tax-code. Police officers and soldiers were told to stop extorting the weak and vulnerable, finding contentment in their wages. The repentance of sin brings about reform and justice in the individual heart. Then that heart brings the principles of the gospel to bear on his home, work, and political spheres. Whenever a true Christians sits down at his cubical, steps into his mechanics bay, or puts on his badge, the world should become a little more just, loving, and good.

Sadly, the repentance found in many churches today does not lead to such change. Instead of calling their listeners to demonstratively turn from their sins, more than one undiscerning pastor has called his congregation to bow its heads and close its eyes. He then asks those who would like to repent to raise their hand. After that, the pastor leads those secret followers in a formulaic repeat-after-me prayer. When the prayer is over, the pastor praises the soul for having embraced Jesus. The eyes are then opened, and the final song is sung.  

Nothing else is asked of the soul. The church community knows nothing of the profession and no expectation of righteous living is placed upon the person who just prayed the prayer. Aside from the silent assent to the sinner’s prayer and feeling a little pressure towards the waters of baptism, the soul leaves as he came, unchanged. The pastor made no mention of how the newly converted sinner needs to go home and love his wife. The fruit of repentance has been bushed aside in an effort to win converts.

Unfortunately, mental repentance divorced from works proves to be no repentance. As James 2:18-19 makes clear, “But someone will say,

You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

James 2: 18-19

The practice of cheap repentance will ruin the local congregation. Instead of thinking it odd that Sally steals from her boss or that Jerry is having an affair while attending church, the church simply looks the other way. Everyone struggles. No one has ever been disciplined or put out of the Church. Why start now? Who are we to say that their mental affirmation of Jesus was not real? Consequently, the pastor keeps asking people to close their eyes and sin thrives. Only when the perversions of the church attract the attention of the media or law enforcement does she stop and call for some form of limited repentance in an effort to save face.

To avoid scandal and to hold leaders accountable, the Church must call all of its members and guest to repentance.

3. The Danger of Limited Repentance

John the Baptist respected no man or woman’s social status. He called both the poor and the wealthy, the weak and the powerful, the pagans and the religious to repentance. He called out the arrogant pastors and theologians of his day, labeling them a “brood of vipers.” Stepping into politics, he reproved Herod for all the evil things he had done (Lk 3:18). John feared God and preached.

Sadly, many in the Church will not call all their listeners to repentance. They are happy to call the poor lady strung out on drugs, the youth passed out from his latest drinking binge, and the tattooed guy making ends meet at the corner gas station to faith. If they reject the church’s message, the pastor and his congregation lose neither social capital nor income. But when the woman who owns the biggest factory in town regularly insults and belittles the members of her Sunday School class, the pastor will not speak up and risk losing her ‘generous’ tithe. When the well-liked contractor dumps his wife for the secretary, the elders will not call him to holiness, fearing his parents and others would get mad and leave the church. And when the popular pastor gets caught in bed with a member of the youth group, everyone looks the other way, fearing a public scandal will drive away members and send the budget crashing. Instead of calling the Pharisees and the Herods of today to repent, the church invites them to dinner for the purpose of ‘expanding the kingdom.’

But in the process of expanding the kingdom, the local church loses the gospel of repentance. Once it is lost, the leaders of the church will resemble the leaders of the world, replete with their sexual and financial scandals. The congregation soon follows its leaders. The members will downplay the sin in their lives while fixating upon the sins of others. The sanctifying power of the gospel will be replaced with earthly benchmarks that measure personal wealth and prestige. When the local church limits repentance to the ‘untouchables of society,’ it ultimately loses its gospel distinctiveness and becomes a moralist country club with religious decoration. The fear of man restrains the faithful preaching of the gospel and destroys the church.


John came preaching the repentance of sin. Men and women found salvation. The Church sprang forth through Jesus thrived. That salvation can still transform lives and sustain souls today.

Will we preach it?

Review: The Doctrine of Repentance

51159BRX7QL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_The topic of Repentance demands the Christians full attention. If we hope to walk with our Lord in Savior in paradise, we must know, understand, and practice repentance. As Thomas Watson said, “Repentance is a continuous act. The issue of sorrow must not be quite stopped till death.” If we get repentance wrong, we will undoubtedly get the whole Christian faith wrong.

The Puritan pastor Thomas Watson dived into the conversation about repentance in 1628 when he published his short book, The Doctrine of Repentance. In the space of a 112 small pages, Watson thoroughly wrestles with the doctrine of repentance revealing both what it is and what it is not. After showing that repentance is the conjoined twin of faith, Watson spends the next three chapters discussing the difference between counterfeit and true repentance. He then looks at the motives and reasons for repentance, encouraging his readers to endure the difficulties that often follow true repentance and to remove all hindrances to true repentance.

Both the well-seasoned reader and the new-believer will find Watson’s book helpful. He wields the knife of scriptural interpretation with the care of a skillful pastor, quickly and succinctly applying the Scriptures to the lives of his readers. He clearly reveals what the Bible has to say about repentance. And he says it well. He paints powerful word pictures that bring the truths of Scripture to life. He writes, “Never do the flowers if grace grow more than after a shower of repentant tears.”  And then, he says, “A hard heart is the anvil on which the hammer of God’s justice will be striking to all eternity.” Most every page contains 1 to 3 insightful statements worthy of a quick tweet or of a Sunday morning mention. My own heart and preaching has benefited greatly from Watson’s convicting and loving words.

Sunday school teachers, pastors, men and women looking for devotionals, and those who love deepening their knowledge of God will find this little book immensely beneficial. I encourage you to grab a copy today!

How Serious Are Our Sin Problems?

doctorI once heard of a man who went to his doctor  because his side was hurting. After a brief examination, his doctor informed the man that he needed to have an appendectomy right then. The patient was not convinced. And politely told his doctor, “I think I’ll get a second opinion and let you know what I decide.”

To this, his doctor replied, “No you won’t. If you leave here today, you will die. You will be dead within 24 hrs. if you don’t have the surgery.”

Often when it comes to our sin, we take the same exact view as patient. When we are confronted about our gossip, or about your infidelity, or my greed, we tend to minimize the other person’s concerns. We blow off our spouse; we ignore the pleas from our kids; and, we discount the concerns of our small group leader. Our sin is not that big of a deal. Christ died for it. We are done here. Move on, please. I’m do not need surgery. I am fine.

Although this is often the approach we take when coming face to face with sin, this is not Jesus’ approach to sin. In Mark 9:43-50 Jesus says these shocking words,

And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell,[a] to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

Sin is not small matter to Jesus. He tells us to flee it at all cost. Even if we have to cut off a hand or a foot or pluck out an eye to be free from sin, the cost is worth it. Sin is death and all who love, minimize, and ignore their sin are on the path to death both physically and spiritually. Those who love Jesus will not coddle or ignore their anger, their porn addiction, or their frequently lies. They will confess them. They will seek out help from their pastor or from another mature man or women in the faith. They will do everything and anything they can to be free from sin.

Now a quick aside, I do not think Jesus is telling us to physically mane ourselves to achieve victory over our sins. Think about it for a minute. Jesus did not tell Peter to cut out his tongue because he denied Christ three times during the crucifixion narrative. And Jesus does not want us to cut off our hands because we steal, to cut off our feet because we speed through stop signs, or to pluck out our eyes because we look at porn. We do not sin because of our body. We sin because of our hearts. Our hearts and our thinking direct the actions of the body. Jesus clearly states this truth back in Mark 8:21-23,

For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride,

We sin because our souls are corrupted and not because our bodies are fallen. Rather than encouraging us to hack apart our bodies, Jesus is calling us to sacrifice all for righteousness. He is calling the angry man to work fewer hours so that he can sleep more and spend more time with his family, creating a home of peace. He is calling the porn addict to give up his smart phone and to burn his computer. He is calling the drug addict to surrender his stash and to turn himself into the police. He is calling the liar to confess his sins to his wife, pastor, and friends. Jesus is saying we must being willing to lose all, including our good reputation, our friends, our family, our wealth, and every worldly thing to enter the kingdom of heaven. If we do not, we cannot reach heaven.

At some point, all of us will be tested. Everyone will face the pressure of divine inspection. The lies that masked our want of faith will be ripped away, revealing all the deeds that we have done in secret (both good and bad). The reality of whether or not we trust in ourselves or in the great physicians for salvation will be made known.

Those who refuse to flee from their sin will die. They will be cast into the fires of hell. Don’t mistake this. We may not take our sin seriously. We may not think, we have an illness leading to death. But God does. He is not fooled. He will judge us for our sins. All who love sin will die. And all who flee from sin will find eternal life.

And it is not enough for us to be around Christians. It is not enough for us to come from Christian families. It is not enough for us to flee secular friendships and to come to church. We must have true life within our very souls. Notice what Christ says in verse 50.

“Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves and be a peace with one another.”

If we embrace sin, if we view sin as insignificant, and if we love lawlessness, we are not the children of God. I once heard an old-time preacher tell a family that they had good genes and that he expected a lot of them spiritually because they were descended from a godly lineage. It was a nice sentiment. But, it is not true. Grandma’s righteousness does not mean you will be righteous. Your parents faithful church attendance does not mean you are a going to heaven even though you are always mean. Walking the aisle, talking to your pastor, getting baptized, and memorizing Bible verses does not compensate for your constant lying. The man, woman, and child whose life is characterized by disobedience cannot be redeemed or fixed by his or her surroundings. Salt that has lost its saltiness is worthless. Faith that clings to sin is worthless. Do not be deceived.

But that is not the end of the story. If you love sin, you can stop today. You can repent of your sin. You can confess that your are evil and in need of God’s righteousness bought for you by Jesus’ death on the cross. And then you can confess Jesus as Lord. If you do, he will liberate you from your sin. He will make you salty again. He will save you. He will fix your broken relationships; he will give you peace on earth and in heaven.

Guys and gals, God is good loving and full of glory. Anything we give up including wealth, prestige, power, and earthly satisfaction will be more than made up for in Christ. As John Piper often says, “We are most satisfied when he is most glorified.”

Our patient from before had an option, surgery or death. He choose surgery. He cut out part of his body so that he might live. He listened to the doctor and found life.

Friends, lets listen to our heavenly doctor. Let’s take sin seriously and cut it out of our lives so that we too might live.