How to be greatly used by God – Part 2

22 Then they said to him, ‘Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?’ 23 He said: ‘I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the Lord,” ’as the prophet Isaiah said.” John 1:22-23

We will look at a second way to be used greatly by God based on John the Baptist’s response to the religious delegation’s inquiry. This religious delegation was not content with John’s previous denials (John 1:20-21). They must have some response to take back to their leaders, so they questioned John further. “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” (John 1:22). “Give us a break! Tell us something we can take back to Jerusalem. If you are not any of these people, then who are you? What do you have to say about yourself? Show us your resume.” They turn the matter over to John.

Wow! What an opportunity for John the Baptist! At this point, he could have said anything. He could have said, “I am the great forerunner or prophet or preacher! Look at how many baptisms I have performed. Look at how many people I have attracted. Wow! I must be awesome. I need to be leading church growth seminars or teaching preaching classes. I need to be invited to preach at evangelism conferences.”

But John did not flash his credentials. He did not flatter himself or build his own name. He did not attempt to make himself great. When asked, “Who are you?” to what did John turn to determine his identity? He turned to Isaiah 40:3 in the Bible. The only reliable and accurate source of information about our identity is the Bible.

“He said: ‘I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the Lord,”’ as the prophet Isaiah said” (John 1:23). John says, “If you want to know who I am read the prophet Isaiah. It’s written there for you.” This indicates that John himself had learned about who he was and what he was to do by reading and studying God’s Word. Most likely when John asked himself, as he must have as a young boy, “What does God want me to do?” he found the answer in the Word of God: “I am to be a highway builder. I am to prepare a highway in the desert for our God.” Not for men to get to God, but for God to get to men.

Isaiah tells how highways are built: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth” (Isaiah 40:4). Check with a modern road builder and he will tell you that is exactly how a highway is built: the low spots are filled in, the high spots are leveled, the crooked ones are straightened out, and the rough ones are made smooth.

This beautiful description of John’s ministry to people is still the way repentance works in the human heart today. If you feel low and worthless, depressed, insignificant, your life is meaningless, you are in a valley — then transfer your trust to Christ and He will lift you up: “Every valley shall be exalted.” That is where Jesus will meet you.

If you feel proud and self-sufficient, able to handle your own affairs, then come down: “Every mountain and hill brought low.” That is where Christ will meet you, and nowhere else.

If you are handling things in a crooked manner, if you are devious in your business dealings and untrustworthy in your relationships with others, then realize there is only One who can forgive your crooked ways – Jesus. “The crooked places shall be made straight.” That is what John the Baptist preached: “Repent” (Matthew 3:2, Mark 1:4; Luke 3:4).

The verb “repent” ( metanoeō) is a compound made up of two Greek words. The first is meta, “after,” and the second is noeō, “to perceive, understand or think.”  The two together mean “after perceiving, understanding, thinking” or “to change one’s mind.” The noun “repentance” (metanoia) is also a compound word made up of meta, “after,” and noēma, “thought.” Together the two mean an “afterthought” or “a change of mind.” Hence, repentance in an evangelistic context is simply changing your mind about whatever is keeping you from believing in Christ and then believing in Him alone for eternal life (cf. Mark 1:15; John 3:36; Acts 19:4). Christ will meet you right there.

If you are given to riding roughshod over people, your life is filled with a lot of rough, tough situations, repent, change your mind and trust Christ to save you; decide to smooth out those places, deal with those things, and Jesus will meet you right there. “And the rough places smooth.” That is a highway for God to come to you. That was John’s ministry all through his life.

Interestingly, the apostle John never uses the words “repent” or “repentance” in his gospel. Why did God inspire the apostle John to leave these two words out of the only book of the Bible whose primary purpose is to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life (John 20:31)? One reason is because when one changes from unbelief to belief, he HAS changed his mind or repented to possess eternal life.     

A second reason is because the words “repent” and “repentance” are easily misunderstood to mean something like “turning from sins” or “penance” which involve works. If a non-Christian is told to turn from his sins, he is going to ask, “How often must I do this and from what sins must I turn?” The word “believe,” however, communicates such simplicity that it is less likely to be misconstrued to include a works-oriented response. Believe means believe or trust.

John the Baptist knew that he was merely a voice. He is not an important person, like a prophet or the Messiah. He is a voice. Unlike the eternal Word of 1:1, a voice is temporary. A voice is fleeting. A voice is fading. And that is John’s view of himself. I am merely a fading voice that is crying in the wilderness.

John’s message is one of preparation: “Make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23b). John summons the people to be ready for the coming Messiah. He is the one preparing the way for the coming King (an important role in ancient times involved leveling the land and clearing the road). He saw his role as the voice preparing the way.     

When I played football, some teams ran the single wing offense. One of the positions in the backfield was the blocking back. He never carried the ball, but just blocked for the ball carrier. He never received any glory, but he did it because he was a team player. That’s what John was. John was like the old-time telephone operator – when they connected you to your party, they just got out of the way.

If we are to be greatly used by God like John the Baptist, we must know who we are. We are called to be God’s voices. We are the temporary voice chosen to prepare the way in our generation. Each generation has a voice, and we are the voice for this time and this place. Our role is temporary, but it is essential. Without the voice, the people will not hear. And if they do not hear, they won’t be able to believe in Jesus for eternal life (cf. Romans 10:14).

We are to speak and live the message of Jesus before a watching world. If God is going to greatly use us, we must recognize who we are not (John 1:19-21) and who we are (John 1:22-23). We are not Jesus. Nor are we victims. We are voices. God wants to use our voices to prepare people to believe in Christ for His gift of everlasting life (cf. Acts 19:4). Will you let Him?

Prayer: Father God, thank You for reminding me that the Bible is where I want to turn to determine my identity. Your Word contains the most accurate and reliable information about who I am in Christ. Unfortunately, I have spent much of my life looking for my identity in things that change – my achievements, my appearance, my education, my family, my friends, my failures, and even my pain. Your Word never changes nor does Your view of me. I am so humbled that You want to use my voice to prepare people to come to faith in Jesus for His gift of salvation. Please give me the boldness, clarity, wisdom, and opportunities to proclaim Christ crucified to those who are perishing without Him. I pray Your Holy Spirit will use Your Word to persuade people of their need for Jesus so they will believe in Him for eternal life before it is too late for them (John 16:7-11). I am so grateful that the power to transform lives comes from Your gospel message (Romans 1:16), not from my personality or my persuasiveness. Thank You, Jesus, for Your grace which sustains me. In Your name. Amen.

Preaching Repentance

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” Luke 3:4-6

When Luke writes that John the Baptist “went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (3:3), he refers to the prophet Isaiah’s beautiful description of John’s ministry (cf. Isaiah 40:3-5) which is compared to a highway builder that prepares “the way” (3:4). Isaiah tells how highways are built: “Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth” (3:5-6a; cf. Isaiah 40:3-5). Check with a modern road builder and he will tell you that is exactly how a highway is built: the low spots (“valley”) are filled in, the high spots (“mountain”) are leveled, the “crooked” ones are straightened out, and the “rough” ones are made smooth. 

This description of John’s ministry to people is still the way repentance works in the human heart today. If you feel low and worthless, depressed, insignificant, your life is meaningless, you are in a “valley” — then transfer your trust to Christ and He will lift you up: “Every valley shall be filled.” That is where Jesus will meet you. If you feel proud and self-sufficient, able to handle your own affairs, then come down: “Every mountain and hill brought low.” That is where Christ will meet you, and nowhere else. If you are handling things in a “crooked” manner, if you are devious in your business dealings and untrustworthy in your relationships with others, then realize there is only One who can forgive your crooked ways – Jesus. “The crooked places shall be made straight.” That is what John preached: “Repent.” Change your mind about whatever is keeping you from trusting Christ and trust Him for salvation. Christ will meet you right there. If you are given to riding roughshod over people, your life is filled with a lot of rough, tough situations, repent, change your mind and trust Christ to save you; decide to smooth out those places, deal with those things, and Jesus will meet you right there. “And the rough ways smooth.” That is a highway for God to come to you. That was John’s ministry all through his life.

John’s message of repentance is one of preparation: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight” (3:4). John summons the people to be ready for the coming Messiah so “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” in His Messiah (3:6). John is the one preparing the way for the coming King – an important role in ancient times that involved leveling the land and clearing the road. John’s “voice” was to prepare the way for Jesus the Messiah to come to His people so they may believe in Him (3:4a; cf. John 1:7; Acts 19:4). 

Likewise, God calls believers today to be His “voices.” God wants to use each of us to prepare the way in our generation. Each generation has a voice, and we are the voice for this time and this place. Our role, like John’s, is temporary, but it is essential. Without the voice, the people will not hear. And if they do not hear, they won’t be able to believe in Jesus for eternal life (cf. Rom. 10:14).

What is Repentance?

“But [I] declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the regions of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.” Acts 26:20

After testifying to King Agrippa about his early life and his conversion on the road to Damascus (26:1-18), the apostle Paul said he was “not disobedient to the heavenly vision” he received on the road to Damascus (26:19), “but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the regions of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance” (26:20).

Notice the order of verbs in Paul’s message to Jews and Gentiles – “repent…turn (to God)…do works (befitting repentance).” The word “repent” (metanoeō) refers to a change of mind. Whether you are a religious person (Jew) or a nonreligious person (Gentile), the gospel calls you to change your mind about “God.” Notice that to “repent” is not the same as doing “works befitting repentance.” The word “and” makes this distinction. When we repent or change our minds to believe in Jesus, doing “works befitting repentance” is the result of repentance, not repentance itself. This change in action is the result of the change of mind or repentance and is necessary for discipleship or maturity to take place in the Christian life (cf. John 15:6-8; Revelation 2:4-5, 16, 21-22; 3:3, 19).

The religious person (Jew) relies on his own righteousness and religious activity to gain acceptance before God and the gospel tells him to change his view of God (repent) who is absolutely holy and righteous and realize that his own righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Then he is to “turn to God” to receive His “forgiveness” through “faith” in Christ (Acts 20:18). With Christ in his life as a result of believing in Jesus, he now has the power to “do works befitting repentance.”

The nonreligious person (Gentile) does not care anything about the things of God and may not even believe God exists. The gospel calls this person to change his mind about God Who does exist, and Who hates sin and will punish it (Isaiah 6:1-5; 59:1-2; Romans 3:23; 6:23; Revelation 20:15). His repentance is also a change of mind about his sin and God, so he can see his need to believe in Jesus for His forgiveness (Acts 20:18). After believing in Jesus, he too has the power to “do works befitting repentance.”

With this said, I want to point out that the words “believe” and “faith” are used over 200 times in contexts dealing with salvation from Hell in the New Testament compared to the next most used verb, “repent” (metanoeō), and its noun form “repentance” (metanoia), which are employed 33 times in salvation-related contexts in the New Testament. When the word “repent” or “repentance” are used in evangelistic contexts, they refer to a lost person changing his mind about whatever is keeping him from believing in Christ, and then believing in Him for eternal life. The non-Christian may need to change his mind about the Person of Christ (Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38), God (Acts 20:21), idols (Revelation 9:20), sin (Revelation 9:21), or his works (Revelation 16:11; Hebrews 6:1) before he can believe in Christ for the gift of salvation.

Repentance cannot refer to sorrow for sin or turning from sin because in the Old Testament God repents (e.g. Genesis 6:6-7; Exodus 32:14; Jeremiah 26:19; Jonah 3:9-10; et. al.). In the King James Version, the word “repent” occurs forty-six times in the Old Testament. Thirty-seven of these times, God is the one repenting (or not repenting). If repentance meant sorrow for sin, God would be a sinner. The apostle Paul distinguishes sorrow and repentance in 2 Corinthians 7:9 when he states, “your sorrow led to repentance.” Sorrow may lead to repentance or accompany repentance; but sorrow is not the same as repentance. In Acts 2 the Jews felt sorrow or regret about what they did to Jesus whom God made both Lord and Christ and they asked, “What shall we do?” (2:36-37). Peter told them to “Repent” (2:38) after their sorrow or regret.

In summary, when communicating the gospel, let’s be very clear. Repentance is a change of mind about whatever is keeping a non-Christian (religious or nonreligious) from believing in Christ, and then believing in Christ for His gift of everlasting life (Mark 1:15; John 3:16). Doing works befitting repentance has to do with discipleship and growing toward maturity in the Christian life after a person believes in Christ. 

Must I Repent to Go to Heaven?

“Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.'” Mark 1:14-15

When Jesus came to Galilee, His message challenged the Galileans to “repent and believe the gospel” of the kingdom of God. In evangelism contexts of the Bible, the word “repent” means to change one’s mind about whatever is keeping an unbeliever from believing in Jesus, and then believing in Him for everlasting life (Mark 1:15). The non-Christian may need to change his mind about the Person of Christ (Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38), God (Acts 20:21), idols (Revelation 9:20), sin (Revelation 9:21), or his works (Revelation 16:11; Hebrews 6:1) before he or she can believe in Christ for the gift of salvation.

Repentance cannot refer to sorrow for sin or turning from sin because in the Old Testament God repents (e.g. Genesis 6:6-7; Exodus 32:14; Jeremiah 26:19; Jonah 3:9-10; et. al.). If repentance meant sorrow for sin, God would be a sinner.

The gospel of John was written to tell non-Christians how to get to heaven (John 20:31),  yet John never uses the words “repent” or “repentance” as a condition for everlasting life because when one changes from unbelief to belief, he or she has repented. Another possible reason for the absence of these words in John’s gospel is because they are easily misunderstood to mean something like “turning from sins” or “penance” which involve works. The word “believe,” however, communicates such simplicity that it is less likely to be misconstrued to include a works-oriented response.

The issue is are you willing to agree with God that you are a sinner in His sight, who deserves to be separated from Him forever in a terrible place of suffering called the Lake of Fire (Romans 3:23; 6:23; Revelation 20:15)?

The invitation to repent can confuse people into trusting in their own efforts (turning from sin) or feelings (sorrow for sin) instead of the finished work of Christ on the cross (John 19:30).

In the context of Mark 1:15, Christ was offering His Messianic Kingdom to His self-righteous audience. But they needed to stop trusting in their own righteousness (“repent”) and “believe” in Jesus alone as their Messianic King so they could enter His Kingdom (Mark 10:15).

When we share the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection today (I Cor. 15:3-6), we must invite non-Christians to believe or trust in Christ alone to enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:5, 16). When they believe in Christ they have repented or changed their mind from unbelief to belief. This is so simple that children often understand and believe it before adults do. Let’s keep the gospel clear as we reach out to a lost world!