Although the changes in all areas of life are increasing at an incredible rate, one area remains completely unaffected: the needs of the human soul and its relationship to God. Since there has been sin in the world, there is only one way to personal salvation: repentance.
Yes, God commands us to do what we least want to do. There is no relationship with God without first repenting! Wherever an apostle or servant of God preached about the foundation of our faith, he always began with the message of repentance. That was how Jesus began His mission. Mark tells us: “After John was imprisoned, Jesus came to Galilee and preached the gospel of the kingdom of God and said: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel!’” (Mark 1:15)
The kingdom of God can only begin where people are willing and ready to first repent. Paul also appeared in Athens with this conviction: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). This was preached not only in Athens but in every corner of the earth. Paul stated this very clearly and touched on the most crucial point in life.
With the call to repentance, he indirectly, but very consciously, reminded all of the undeniable guilt without addressing it head on. His message had gained sufficient knowledge and was understood, for “some, including one of the council, believed” (verse 34). Salvation in Jesus Christ is offered to all people and can only be experienced through repentance and faith.
The word “repentance” does not mean “penance” or personal performance, as is required in some ‘Christian’ circles. Repentance means to reverse direction and return to God. This is about a complete change of mind. In true repentance, a person is ready to turn from his stubborn and worldly ways and accept God with all his heart. This contrite reversal naturally includes the admission and confession of personal guilt. The conversion takes place in the belief of forgiveness and redemption through the blood of Jesus.
Repentance is, therefore, not an outward atonement of guilt but a humble, repentant acknowledgment before God. The prophet Joel preached: “Now, therefore, says the Lord, Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning” (Joel 2:12). John the Baptist warned against the outward appearance of repentance that does not result in real fruit (Matthew 3:8).
True repentance leads to an acquittal and a living relationship with God. That is exactly why we have to begin with repentance. It is precisely for this reason that the Lord instructed His servants to preach repentance. Through preaching, man is shown the ways of God and his wrong ways that lead to destruction and, ultimately, to death. Preaching repentance is intended to encourage the sinner to repent, accept the gospel, and find forgiveness. The call to repentance does not drive the listener into despair but shows the way to his salvation. God does not want anyone to die and perish in their sin, so He commands all people in every corner of the earth to repent.
Personal guilt makes personal repentance and conversion necessary. Paul made the claim in a letter to the Romans that the entire world is guilty before God. “They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:12).
Since God is holy, man can’t have a relationship with God in a state of guilt and sin. When Isaiah saw the Lord in His Holiness, he exclaimed: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). But after he became a prophet, he began to expose the sins of his people and called them to repentance. An evangelist once, almost desperately, said: “It is so difficult to find sinners. But if I could find one, I would have a wonderful message for him!”
There are many self-righteous people, but no one wants to be a sinner. Too often, people excuse their sin. Unfortunately, many times a “gospel of love” is preached to people, whereby sinners need not be frightened nor hypocrites tremble (see Isaiah 33:14). Most people of our time want “gentle sermons,” and efforts are made to offer them. But God wants repentance, and He commands it!
Every pastor should be reminded of his responsibility before God and people. Gentle preaching leads many people into apathy rather than real, sincere repentance. The desired awakening can only come from a deep knowledge of sin and repentance. It has to start with real repentance, in our community, in the church, and where necessary, within ourselves.