Robert D. Pace
John the Baptist is Scripture’s premier Prophet of Repentance. Everything he preached correlated with it. And nobody was better qualified to preach “Repentance” because John’s lifestyle matched his message. His wardrobe was a garment of camel’s hair strapped together with a leather belt. His diet consisted of locusts and wild honey. His dwelling-place was the desert. His message was “Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Despite his approach, John’s message struck the heart of his generation.
That’s because the tax collectors were unfair and oppressive, exacting more than the due amount.
The Roman soldiers, with their weapons, intimidated the common man. They could threaten, beat, and even imprison people that refused their extortion.
And as far as religion is concerned, Israel was bankrupt. Religion was all outward profession and no inward possession. The Temple was a Merchant’s Hall where the Priests pilfered the worshipers.
Israel had been without a National Prophet for 400 years. To say John’s message of repentance was relevant to his generation is an understatement. But this message of “Repentance” is also what people need to hear today. And while it may not seem like it, there isn’t a more rewarding message to hear:
When sinners repent God lifts that burden of sin and relieves the conscience of guilt.
When Christians repent of things that dishonor God, the Lord blesses us with “times of refreshing.”
And look at the rewards God sends to His corporate body when we repent. Malachi 3:1 says, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.”
When you study the Scriptures, you discover God placed noticeable emphasis on repentance. In fact, repentance is the most pronounced message of the Bible.
The Old Testament prophets spoke of it over 1000 times.
The New Testament referred to it ninety-seven times.
Jesus preached repentance everywhere He went.
And when Jesus commissioned the apostles to evangelize the world He commanded that “repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47).
But why does God place such an emphasis on repentance? Why does Paul say in Acts 17:30: “God commands all people everywhere to repent”? It’s because Christians are a “work in progress” and we won’t be perfected until we are glorified in heaven. That means everyone, including those that teach God’s Word, need to repent when God brings conviction.
Repentance Relieves the Conscience of Guilt
Do you realize that God created man with an instinct to seek His forgiveness and favor? For thousands of years mankind has instinctively sought relief from the guilt of sin. That’s because God created man with a conscience. We have flesh and bone and blood and our five empirical senses, but there is more to man than physiology. When the Bible says Man was “created in God’s image” it meant we have a moral compass, called “The Conscience,” which helps us discern right from wrong.
Notice something about the conscience: Your conscience doesn’t need a vast amount of Bible knowledge to be convicted of wrongdoing. Paul said even people completely ignorant of the Scriptures innately realize right from wrong. Listen to his words in Romans 2:14. “Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. 15 They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (NLT).
(Illustration) When I was about 9 years-old, I watched a missions movie at church. The film showed a man from the Far East dragging a heavy wagon with, what appeared to be, scores of hooks piercing his back. Each hook attached to a wire that was connected to the wagon. The purpose of this self-flagellation was to appease the anger of a wrathful god.
This is the Good News of the Bible. Jesus bore our burden of sin and His sacrifice satisfied the Heavenly Father. That’s why the Apostle said: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, [and] that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19). All God asks of men is to repent and believe on the saving work of Jesus Christ! I want to ask you something. Do you have peace with God? Is your heart and soul at rest? Is your conscience free from the guilt of sin? It can be. Trust Christ today.
(Transition) There are many Christians that live without the peace of God governing their hearts. They haven’t claimed an inner repose that has freed their conscience. And there is a reason for this.
Repentance Brings Peace
One reason some Christians live without a deep abiding peace is because they are not living honestly. It’s because their actions don’t match what they know God expects from them. To put it in everyday vernacular they don’t “walk the talk.” And there is no way anyone can find peace when they live this way.
(Example) Some years back psychologists began studying what they called the “theory of dissonance.” This theory suggests that a person’s thinking must agree with their actions or they will suffer emotional distress. For example, a student may understand it’s wrong to cheat on tests, and even though the cheating bothers this person, they cheat anyway. An employee knows it’s wrong to defraud his company but, despite the guilt and discomfort, the employee continues to defraud. But while the behaviorists have identified a problem they haven’t fully prescribed a remedy. There’s only one way to find real peace—and it comes by uniting one’s behavior with what they know to be true. And this comes through repentance. Repentance is turning from our self-destructive ways and conforming to God’s will for our lives. This is the only way to find peace.
(Transition) But repentance not only brings peace of mind it also brings joy.
Repentance Brings Joy!
(Illustration) I’ve twice traveled to Moscow, Russia planting churches. Moscow boasts of the Metro, the world’s largest underground rail system. It transports millions of passengers daily. In the 1990s I logged hundreds of miles on the Metro as it swayed and bounced over those tracks. What I remember about riding alongside the Russians is their listless, hollow countenances. There was an evident lack of joy. Communism, with its suppression of Christianity, had completely dispirited the Russians.
Do you realize that true joy is always absent when men live without Christ? While a Democratic form of Government is an eminently preferable to Communism I also want to assure you that a Democracy or Republic is incapable of creating contentment too. The benefits of Capitalism can’t content the wallet or the soul. Only Christ can satisfy Man. And He satisfies from “center to circumference.”
(Bible Example) This is the message Jesus emphasized in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Here was a young man that lacked nothing. He was at home in his father’s house and had health, wealth, and a bright future. But the world enticed him and he packed his bags and headed out. In a short time he had squandered his wealth, wasted his health, and lost his future. About that time the country was struck with a severe famine and the boy found himself in the squalor of a pigpen. The pleasures of life had run their course and the “good life” ended. When he came to his senses he realized something: the world was no place to hang his hopes. Its claims were hollow. So he did the only sensible thing—he repented. He headed back to the father’s house and his dad was there to welcome him with open arms. And guess what he discovered in his father’s house? Joy! The world was unemployed and reeling from a famine, but somehow his father’s house was celebrating. The servants were still employed and there was enough food to have a feast (Luke 15:11‑24). And all it took was humble repentance for the prodigal to get back home and enjoy it all!
Listen to David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51:8-12.
Psalm 51:8-12 (Read)
You see, there’s no joy without repentance and pursuing the things of God. It doesn’t matter how happy the world looks on Wall Street or in the theme parks or in the bars. People without God in their soul are empty and sad. Can you see now how God uses repentance to bless men? Repentance restores harmony with God! John the Baptist and preachers with a message of repentance may seem harsh and demanding, but the reward of repentance brings joy!
(Transition) So what is repentance? It seems strange that I would near the end of this message before offering a definition of repentance; nevertheless, what is repentance?
(Definition) Repentance is forsaking our self-destructive ways and accepting God’s way that leads to a path of life. When we repent we submit our thinking, our actions, our reactions, our will, and our lifestyle to Christ’s lordship.
I know that’s hard to imagine happening because some sinful practices can be so controlling we assume we’re no match for them. But remember, the Holy Spirit helps us accomplish the impossible! He can help us break habits and addictions and alter our character. He can transform Saul into Paul and Mary Magdalene, possessed with seven devils, into a saint. God specializes in miracles; so don’t let Satan tell you it’s impossible to change.
(Transition) I want to close this message by asking you one more time if you are at peace with God? Is your conscience at ease, free from the guilt of sin? Does anything have an inordinate grip on your soul? Are you free?
(Illustration) Some years ago, a murderer was tried and sentenced to death. Years later, the murderer’s brother obtained a pardon from the Governor and offered his brother a second chance. He tucked the pardon into his pocket and went to the prison. He asked his brother, “What would you do if you received a pardon and your sentence was commuted?” His brother replied: “I would track down the judge who sentenced me and murder him. Then I would catch the chief witness and murder him.” The brother left with the pardon in his pocket.
That murderer never experienced a change of heart. He was in more bondage to his sin than his cell. The Bible says in Isaiah 55:7, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” When man repents God will unveil that pardon and declare: “Acquitted!”
There are two parts to the plan of salvation: Man’s part and God’s part. Man expresses remorse, makes confession, and turns from sin. That’s man’s part and God can’t do those things. However, God’s part involves accepting our repentance. When we repent He applies Christ’s Blood, erases our sin, and regenerates our spirit. That’s called the New Birth and only God can do that. He will do it today if you will let Him.