How can we follow the risen Lord Jesus without reservation? Part 3

“Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?’ ” John 21:23

As we look at the focusing stage of discipleship in the life of Peter (John 21:20-23), we are learning to follow Jesus without reservation. So far, we have discovered we can do this when we…

– Avoid comparing ourselves with other followers of Christ (John 21:20-21).

– Focus on serving Jesus in our own unique ministry to others (John 21:22).

The final way to follow Jesus without reservation is to SILENCE FALSE RUMORS AND FOCUS ON JESUS’ SOON RETURN (John 21:23). After Jesus informed Peter that following Him would cost Peter his life, Peter wanted to know what John could expect for following Jesus (John 21:18-21). Jesus told Peter not to concern himself with God’s will for John, but to focus on following Christ (John 21:22).

John then acknowledges a false rumor that had spread due to a simple misunderstanding of Jesus’ words. John writes, “Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?’ ” (John 21:23). Many of the early Christians came to believe that the apostle John would not die but would live until Jesus returned to earth. Augustine refers with disapproval to some who insisted in his day “that the apostle John is still living, lying asleep rather than dead in his tomb in Ephesus” (Homilies on the Gospel of John 124). 1 

John addresses the error by repeating word for word the rhetorical question asked by Jesus in verse 23. These words of Jesus were not an indication of Jesus’ will for John, but of His will for Peter. Jesus had not said John would live until His Second Coming. He had merely raised the possibility in the context of a hypothetical situation to emphasize that God’s will for John was not to be Peter’s concern. So, John reports how the rumor got started and then handles Christ’s word accurately to correct the misunderstanding.

This clarification by John was very important, because when John died, some people might have falsely concluded that Jesus had not been faithful to His promise to return. Others might conclude that John’s gospel was not reliable. However, Jesus had spoken of a hypothetical possibility in this instance. His words were not a promise. 2

We probably hear rumors every day. Misinformation that gets circulated. Every week on Facebook we have people trying to spread false rumors about Christianity on our See You in Heaven page. Rumors that say, “Jesus is not God. The Bible is corrupted. Heaven does not exist. Christianity is borrowed from second century paganism. Jesus did not really die on the cross. He merely swooned or fainted and was resuscitated in the tomb. Going to heaven is based on behavior, not believing. Believing in Christ is worthless. Christ has already come back to earth a second time.” And on and on the rumors go.

Like John, we need to silence rumors by sharing the truth with rumor-spreaders. Otherwise, some of those rumors can hinder us from following Christ without reservation, especially those that undermine Jesus’ trustworthiness and the reliability of the Bible.

But when we do share the truth with those who are spreading false rumors, we need to do so graciously. The apostle Paul writes, 24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26). As servants of the Lord, we are to be known for being “gentle” and patient,” and having “humility” when dealing with those who are opposed to the truth. Why? So “those who are in opposition” can be led to “repentance, so that they may know the truth” rather led to “disputes” and “strife” (2 Timothy 2:23). Our goal is to help people “come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil.” This will not happen if we are being argumentative and cruel to rumor-spreaders.

When John wrote the hypothetical question in verse 23, “he was like believers today in this regard: he knew Jesus’ return was imminent (1 John 2:18, ‘Little children, it is the last hour’), but he could not be sure whether he would taste death before He did return.” 3

It is important to recognize that Jesus’ last words recorded in the gospel of John pertain to His return to earth (John 21:22-23). Focusing on Christ’s return is one of the greatest motivations for following Christ without reservation. Knowing that Jesus could return for His church at any moment (John 14:2-3; I Corinthians 15:51-58) gives us great incentive to faithfully serve Christ now.

After describing the Rapture or sudden removal of the church at any moment in detail (I Thessalonians 4:13-5:10), Paul concludes, “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” (I Thessalonians 5:11). The soon coming of the Lord Jesus is intended to motivate us to “comfort each other and edify one another,” not afflict one another and tear each other down. The imminent return of Christ for His church gives us incentive to faithfully serve Jesus until He comes back for us.

For example, when I played football my first year of college, we would have three-a-day practices in the heat of August to prepare for our games in the fall. So many times, I wanted to quit those practices because of the heat and exhaustion, but what kept me going was the approval of our defensive line coach. Hearing him say, “Good job, Ropp. You are going to be glad you did this,” helped me keep going.

Knowing that Jesus is coming back one day to reward those who are faithful to Him keeps me motivated to keep following Him no matter what the cost. I long to hear him say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matthew 25:23).

Pray: Lord God Almighty, many of us need a reminder of what is important in life. So often we get focused on what is temporary and lose sight of what is eternal. Thank You, Lord, for reminding us to silence false rumors, especially as they relate to Your coming back to earth. Please enable us to be gentle and humble as we share the truth with those who are opposed to it. Use us to help people come to repentance so they can escape the bondage of Satan who often promotes falsehoods to mislead people away from You and Your truth. Knowing You could come back today for Your church is intended to motivate us follow You without reservation so we can receive eternal rewards from You in the future. Lord, we want to hear You say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 382.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 401.

3. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 569-570.

What must I do to get to heaven?

30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” John 20:30-31

“What must I do to get to heaven?” This is the most important question you will ever ask. It is far more important than asking:

– “Who will I vote for in the next presidential election?”

“How much money do I make?”

“What do other people think of me?”

“How many educational degrees do I have next to my name?”

“What kind of job do I have?”

“Where do I live?”

“Am I married?”

“How many children do I have?”

“Am I successful at what I do?”

“Am I happy?”

By far the most important question you will ever ask is, “What must I do to get to heaven?” To put it another way, “What must I do to have eternal life?” If you have these questions, the most important book of the Bible for you to know and understand is the book of John. It is the fourth book of the New Testament. This book was written to non-Christians. While the rest of the Bible speaks primarily to those who know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, John’s gospel has in mind those who do not know Christ as their personal Savior.

In the gospel of John, we are told over and over again what we must do to get to heaven. Hopefully, before you finish reading this article you will at the very least know what God says you must do to get to heaven.  

Please understand that what I am going to share with you is from the Bible. The Bible is God’s Word. We are told, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). The word “inspiration” (theopneustos) literally means “God-breathed.” 1

“All Scripture” includes both Old and New Testaments. Every word in the Bible is God-breathed or from the mouth of God. There are no errors in the Bible. Not on theology. Not on science. Not on history. Not on any detail. The Bible is inerrant since it is God’s Word and God does not err.” 2

So when we read the Bible we are reading the very words of God. The Scriptures did not originate from humans beings. The Bible tells us, 20 No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21). God the Holy Spirit directed these different human authors to write each word down without error.

Since all Scripture is inspired by God, then all Scripture is profitable for teaching (instructing you in the truths that you need to know), for rebuking (reproving you for what you’ve done wrong), for correcting (showing you what is right), and for training in righteousness (guiding you to approach life as God intended it to be lived)” 3 (2 Timothy 3:16). So as we look at what God says about how to receive eternal life, we need to be open to God’s Word giving us “doctrine” or truths  we need to know about how to get to heaven. His Word may give us “reproof” and show us what beliefs about salvation we have that are wrong. The Bible may also give us “correction” and show us the right way to believe. And finally, the Bible may give us “instruction in righteousness” so we may approach the way to heaven God’s way.

In John 20:30-31, the apostle John summarizes the purpose of his book. 30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31). John reports that he was selective in recording miraculous “signs” that appeared in his gospel. Many “other signs” were performed by Jesus which are not recorded in this book. The word “signs” (sēmeia) refers to Jesus’ miracles and is intended to signify something about Jesus. 4  They are intended to tell us something about His Person and His character. John selected some of the most convincing words and works of Jesus which point to Who He is. Each of these miraculous signs is a picture of salvation:

1. Turning the water into wine at Cana (John 2:1-11). This miracle pictures new birth. Christ can transform the old life into a new life.

2. Healing of the nobleman’s son at Capernaum (John 4:46-54). This sign illustrates that the life-giving word of Jesus can give spiritual life no matter what the circumstance or condition of the recipient.

3. Healing the lame man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15). We learn from this miracle that Jesus has the power to cure spiritual paralysis so we can walk spiritually.

4. Feeding the five thousand near Bethsaida (John 6:1-14). This sign shows that as the Bread of Life, Jesus can permanently satisfy our spiritual hunger for eternal life.

5. Walking on the water (John 6:15-21). This miracle demonstrates that Jesus can give peace to the person devastated by life’s storms and take us where we could never go on our own.

6. Healing of the man born blind at Jerusalem (John 9:1-41). This miraculous sign demonstrates that as the Light of the world, Jesus can give spiritual sight to the spiritually blind so they can believe in Him.

7. Raising Lazarus from the dead at Bethany (John 11:1-44). This miracle shows that as the Resurrection and the Life, Jesus guarantees a future bodily resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in Him even though they were once spiritually dead.

8. Raising Jesus from the dead outside Jerusalem (John 20:1-29). This last and greatest miraculous sign shows that Jesus is God and He has the ability to give us life that never ends the moment we believe in Him.  

The reasons John records these eight miraculous signs are given in John 20:31. “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” John recorded these miracles to arouse faith in those who have never believedthat Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”

Through these miracles John has revealed that Jesus is the long-awaited “Christ,” the promised Messiah-God of Israel (John 1:41; 4:25-26, 29, 42; 6:69; 7:26-27, 31, 41-42; 9:22; 10:24-25; 11:27; 12:34). He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29; cf. Isaiah 53:5-10). He is “the Christ, the Savior of the world” (John 4:45). Jesus is not just a messenger or prophet. The Old Testament says of this coming Messiah, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6). This Messiah is none other than the “Mighty God.” Jesus did miracles that only God could do. No other religious leader or founder predicted they would raise themselves from the dead. But Jesus did on several occasions before His crucifixion (John 2:19-21; 10:17-18; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34; 14:27-28). And no other religious leader or founder actually rose from the dead, but Jesus Christ did, proving that He was God (Romans 1:3-4).

John also showed through these miracles “that Jesus is the … Son of God.” Not only did Jesus claim to be the Son of God or God Himself (John 5:21-23; 8:58-59; 9:35-37; 10:25-36; 17:3, 5),but His followers also claimed that Jesus was the Son of God or God Himself (John 1:34, 49; 6:69; 11:27; 19:7; 20:28, 31). His miracles confirmed He had the same divine nature as God. To be “the Son of God,” does not mean Jesus was the result of God having sexual relations with the virgin Mary as some mistakenly conclude. 5  It means that Jesus has the same divine nature as God the Father. For example, when I say, “I am the son of …,” I am saying I have the same human nature as my earthly father.

Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus claimed to be God by using “I AM” statements. Jehovah or Yahweh (YHWH) is the special name given by God for Himself in the Old Testament. It is the name God gave to Moses when He said, “I AM WHO I AM… Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you…’ Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The Lord [Jehovah] God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’” (Exodus 3:14-15). “While other titles for God may be used of men (Adonai [Lord] in Gen. 18:12) or false gods (elohim [gods] in Deut. 6:14), Jehovah is only used to refer to the one true God. No other person or thing was to be worshiped or served (Exod. 20:5), and his name and glory were not to be given to another.” 6  The prophet Isaiah wrote, “I am the Lord [Jehovah], that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images.” (Isaiah 42:8).

Yet Jesus claimed to be Jehovah several times in the gospel of John. Jesus said, “Before Abraham was I AM” (John 8:58; cf. John 6:35; 8:12; 10:9, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1). But Jehovah of the Old Testament referred to Himself as “I AM” (Exodus 3:14-15). Jesus referred to Himself as Jehovah when He said this. Jesus also prayed, “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5). But Jehovah of the Old Testament said, “My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8). Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11), but the Old Testament says, “The Lord [Jehovah] is my shepherd.” (Psalm 23:1).  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), but the Old Testament says, “The Lord [Jehovah] is my light” (Psalm 27:1). 7

Jesus also claimed to be equal with God in the gospel of John by claiming to have the same prerogatives as God. Jesus claimed to have the power to give life, raise the dead and judge them. Jesus said,21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will… 2Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His [the Son’s] voice 29 and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. 30 I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.” (John 5:28-30). Yet the Jehovah of the Old Testament also claimed to be the Giver of life, raise the dead and judge them: “The Lord [Jehovah] kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up” (I Samuel 2:6), and, “Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I [Jehovah – Joel 2:19, 27, 32] will sit to judge all the surrounding nations.” (Joel 3:12). Jesus also claimed that He is to be honored as God when He said,22 For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, 23 that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” (John 5:22-23).  Jesus boldly assumed for Himself powers and honor that only belong to God. 8 The apostle Thomas announced that Jesus was God near the end of John’s gospel when he said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Why does John want his readers to understand and “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”? That “believing” they “may have life in His name” (John 20:31b). Ninety-nine times John uses the word “believe” in his gospel. 9 It is interesting that God never uses the words “repent” or “repentance” in a book that was written to tell people how to obtain eternal life and get to heaven. Why?

One reason is because when one changes from unbelief to belief, he has changed his mind or repented in order to possess eternal life. Dr. Tom Constable states: “Repentance and faith are not two steps in salvation but one step looked at from two perspectives. Appeals to repent do not contradict the numerous promises that faith is all that is necessary for salvation (e.g., John 1:12; 3:16, 36; 5:24; 6:47; 20:30-31; Rom. 4; et al.). The faith that saves includes repentance (a change of mind). One changes from unbelief to belief (Acts 11:17-18). Sometimes the New Testament writers used the two terms, repent and believe, together (e.g., Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21; Heb. 6:1). Sometimes they used repentance alone as the sole requirement for salvation (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 26:20; 2 Pet. 3:9). Nonetheless whether one term or both occur, they are as inseparable as the two sides of a coin.” 10

A second reason repentance is not mentioned in the gospel of John 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 to believe or trust. 11

When the verb “repent” (metanoeō) and its noun form “repentance” (metanoia) are used in evangelistic contexts, they refer to changing one’s mind about whatever is keeping you from believing in Christ, and then believing in Him for eternal life. For example, in Mark 1:15, Jesus said, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Jesus was speaking to Jews who believed that eternal life could be earned through good works. Christ commands them to change their minds or “repent.” In other words, Christ commands them to change their minds about doing good works and come to God on the bases of faith alone in Christ alone.  

God could have used any word He wished. He could have said it in any language. But He chose the word “believe” (pisteuō), and He used it emphatically in the gospel of John. Almost every chapter contains an invitation to believe and a reason to believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. But what does it mean to “believe”? The word “believe” means to be persuaded that something is true, and then trust or depend upon. 12  Often the New Testament emphasizes this idea of trust or depend upon by adding a preposition after the word “believe”:

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.’ (John 1:12)

“Whoever believes in Him…” (John 3:16).

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Acts 16:31

What are we to believe or trust in Christ for? John tells us that the reason we are to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” isthat believing you may have life in His name.” We are to believe or trust Christ alone to possess eternal life. John defines this “life” as “eternal” throughout his gospel (John 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; et al.). Notice that “eternal life” is a present possession for those who believe in the name of Jesus. A name in the Bible represents a person. To believe in the name of Jesus is to believe in His Person.

Jesus defines eternal life in John 17:3: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” So eternal life is knowing God the Father and God the Son forever in a personal relationship. Getting to heaven does not mean trusting Christ to get you through the day or through your problems. Getting to heaven means trusting Jesus Christ alone to give you His gift of eternal life.

Not all facts about God are saving facts. For example, believing there is one God does not get you to heaven. Demons believe God is one but you will not see them in heaven (James 2:19). Many world religions believe God is one, but you will not see them in heaven. God is telling us in the gospel of John that to get to heaven, we must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that believing we may have life in His name. These are the saving facts we must believe to get to heaven.

You may ask, “What if a person stops believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? Will he or she lose eternal life?” The answer is “NO.” The results of believing in Jesus Christ for eternal life are permanent. If eternal life could be lost, it would not be eternal.

Saving faith is like a single drink of living water which never needs to be repeated. Jesus said, “But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst” (John 4:14a), and, “he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35b). Saving faith is like a single look at Jesus, the Savior, much like the Israelites who looked at the bronze serpent in the desert and lived, 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15). Saving faith is a decisive moment of spiritual hearing in which the voice of God’s Son effects an irreversible spiritual resurrection, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25).

People are not saved by drinking and drinking and drinking Jesus’ living water. They are saved by taking one drink of His living water (John 4:14; 6:35). People are not saved by staring at Christ. They are saved by taking one simple look at Him in faith (John 3:14-15)! People are not saved by hearing Jesus’ voice over and over and over again. They are saved by hearing His voice once (John 5:24-25). People are not saved by eating and eating and eating the bread of life. They are saved simply by eating the bread of life once (John 6:35, 51).  

What if you only had five minutes to live, what does the gospel of John say you must do to get to heaven? Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that believing you may have life in His name. What if you only had five years to live, what does the gospel of John say you must do to get to heaven? Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that believing you may have life in His name. What if you only had fifty years to live, what does the gospel of John say you must do to get to heaven? Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that believing you may have life in His name. What if you are an abortionist, an adulterer, a blasphemer, a false teacher, a homosexual, a murderer, a rapist, or a thief? What does the gospel of John say you must do to get to heaven? Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that believing you may have life in His name. The issue is believing or trusting in Christ alone to give you His gift of eternal life.

Years ago I remember reading an article on the front page of the Pratt Tribune when we lived in Medicine Lodge, Kansas. It was about a seventh grade boy named, Sam Abrams, who packed his bags and took off on an adventure that took him halfway around the world to Australia. Some people from Pratt were afraid to travel to Wichita by themselves, let alone across the state. But Sam Abrams is no ordinary thirteen year old from Pratt. He raised money for his airfare by delivering newspapers, mowing lawns, and working at Dillons. And finally on December 27, 1992, with his tickets, passport, and visa in his hands, his parents took him to the Wichita airport. From there, Sam flew to Los Angeles, then to Sydney, and on to Brisbane, Australia where he was reunited with an old friend, Dylan Cross, who used to live in Pratt.

Getting to heaven is like getting to Brisbane, Australia, from Wichita, Kansas. You cannot make it on your own. You must depend on a person, a pilot to fly your jet airplane to your destination. You cannot get there depending on your own ability. You must depend on your pilot. In the same way, you must trust or depend upon a Person, Jesus Christ, to get you to heaven. Unlike Sam, who had to work to earn the money to pay for his travel expenses, your trip to heaven is free because Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, has already paid for your trip in full by dying in your place on the cross and rising from the dead. All He asks is that you believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life.

One morning at the breakfast table, a worried husband said to his wife, “We must think of the future. We ought to economize more. If I were to die, where would you be?” His wife replied, “Why, I would be right here. The question is, where would you be?”

If you were to die, where would you be? Are you certain you would go to heaven? If not you can be certain by hearing and believing Jesus’ promise when He said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). This is so simple that children often believe it long before adults.   

When it comes to getting to heaven, Jesus is not asking you if you keep God’s commandments, because He never said, “he who keeps God’s commandments has everlasting life.” He is not asking you if you pray every day because He never said, “he who prays every day has everlasting life.” Jesus is not asking you if you go to a place of worship every week because He never said, “he who goes to a place of worship every week has everlasting life.” Nor is Jesus asking you if you have lived a good, moral life because He never said, “he who lives a good, moral life has everlasting life.” Jesus is asking you, “Do you believe in Me?” because He said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.”

If you have never understood and believed this before, but now you do, you can tell God this through prayer. Keep in mind that praying this prayer is not what gets you to heaven. Only believing or trusting in Jesus alone gets you to heaven. This prayer is a way of telling God you are now trusting in Jesus.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, all my life I thought I had to work to get to heaven. Thank You for showing me today that You have already done all the work. All I must do is believe or trust in You alone for Your gift of eternal life. As best I know how, I come to You now as a sinner who is unable to save himself. I believe You died in my place on a cross for all my sins and rose from the dead. I am now believing or trusting in You alone Jesus (not my good life, my prayers, or my religion), to give me everlasting life and a future home in heaven. Thank You for the everlasting life I now have and for the future home I will have in heaven. In Your precious name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

To help you grow in your new relationship with Jesus, please go to our website at www.seeyouinheaven.life and download our Pressing On digital discipleship materials to go through with those you care about. Thank You and may Jesus Christ give You His abundant life as you learn to follow Him as His disciple.

ENDNOTES:

1. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1121. 

2. Ibid.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2217.

4. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 370 cites Merrill C. Tenney, “Topics from the Gospel of John: The Meaning of the Signs,” Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (April 1975): 145-146.

5. This is the common misunderstanding of Muslims. See Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross, Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), pg. 249 where they write, “There are two Arabic words for ‘son’ that must be distinguished. The word walad denotes a son born of sexual relations. Jesus is definitely not a son in this sense. However, there is another Arabic word for son, ibn, that can be used in a wider figurative or metaphorical sense. A traveler, for example is spoken of as a ‘son of the road’ (ibnussabil). It is in this wider sense that it make sense to speak of Jesus as the ‘Son (ibn) of God.’”  

6. Ibid., pp. 249-250.

7. Adapted from Ibid., pg. 250.

8. Ibid., pp. 251-252.

9. In the Greek Majority Text John uses the word for “believe” (pisteuō) ninety-nine times: John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 22, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36; 4:21, 39, 41, 42, 48, 50, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 46(2), 47(2); 6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47,  64(2), 69; 7:5, 31, 38, 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46; 9:18, 35, 36, 38; 10:25, 26, 37, 38(3), 42; 11:15, 25, 26(2), 27, 40, 42, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44(2), 46, 47; 13:19; 14:1(2), 10, 11(2), 12, 29; 16:9, 27, 30, 31; 17:8, 20, 21; 19:35; 20:8, 25, 29(2), 31(2).

10. Tom Constable, Expository Notes On Acts (Garland, TX.: Sonic Light, 2010), pg. 67.

11. These ideas were shared with me by Dr. Earl Radmacher during a phone conversation on June 11, 2011.

12. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pp. 816-817.

How can we become more fruitful for the Lord? Part 5

“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” John 15:6

The Bible makes a distinction between salvation and discipleship. Salvation is a free gift based on the finished work of Christ that we receive by believing in Christ alone (John 3:15-16; 19:30; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). But discipleship is based on our good works and it is costly (John 8:31-32; 13:34-35; 15:1-8). In John 15:1-8, Jesus is not talking about how to get to heaven. He is talking about how to bring heaven down to earth through the bearing of fruit in a discipleship relationship with Christ. We are learning from Jesus in John 15:1-8 how to become more fruitful for the Lord. We can become more fruitful for the Lord when we….

– Realize that Jesus is our only source of life (John 15:1).

– Receive Jesus’ encouragement from His word (John 15:2a).

– Recognize the pruning process (John 15:2b-3).        

– Remain in Christ by obeying His word (John 15:4-5).

Jesus instructed His disciples, “Abide in Me.” (John 15:4a). This command to “abide” implies the alternative – it was possible not to abide in Christ or obey Him. What happens if a believer continues to disobey Christ? This leads to the sixth way we can produce more fruit for the Lord and it comes in the form of a warning: REPENT WHEN YOU LOSE YOUR DISCIPLESHIP RELATIONSHIP (John 15:6).

Jesus said to His eleven believing disciples, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15:6). This cannot refer to the loss of a believer’s salvation because that would contradict what Jesus has already taught about the eternal security of a believer in the gospel of John. Christ promised that everyone who comes to Him in faith will never be “cast out” (John 6:37). A believer in Jesus can “never perish” (John 10:27) nor is anyone able to “snatch” him or her out of the hands of God the Son and God the Father (John 10:28-29). If a believer could lose eternal life, then it was not eternal to begin with and Jesus would have failed to do His Father’s will (John 6:35-40). Also, it would contradict the context which addresses discipleship (not salvation) with Jesus’ believing disciples (John 13:30-15:8).

Some Bible students interpret verse 6 as an explanation of verse 2. “The viticulture process that Jesus described in verse 6 took place in the fall, whereas the process He mentioned in verse 2 happened in the spring. In the fall, the vinedresser would prune (Gr. kathairo) the vines for the winter by cutting off the dead wood. He would not cut off the unfruitful branches that could produce grapes the next season, but only the branches that did not have a healthy connection to the vine. The point of the verse is that branches with other serious problems, not just non-fruit-bearing branches (v. 2), also experience pruning.” 1

When we knowingly disobey the Lord (“If anyone does not abide in Me”), look what happens to our relationship with the Him. First, we break contact or fellowship with Him – “he is cast out [of fellowship] as a branch.” We cannot be close to Christ if we are living in disobedience to Him.

If we continue in disobedience to Christ, we lose our spiritual vitality and freshness –“is withered.” The process of withering suggests a lapse of time prior to the experience of “fire.” As we continue in disobedience to the Lord, we want little to do with Christ or with other believers. We may dread being around God’s Word or other Christians.

If we continue to disobey the Lord, Jesus says we will experience being “burned.” The word for “burned” (kaiō) is used twelve times in the New Testament. Two times it refers to burning in hell (Revelation 19:20; 21:8) and ten times it refers to temporal judgment or discipline on earth (Matthew 5:15; Luke 12:35; 24:32; John 5:35; 15:6; I Corinthians 13:3; Hebrews 12:18; Revelation 4:5; 8:8, 10) which is the way it is used here in verse 6. 

Wilkin observes, “Since the Lord did not use the verb to be burned up, but rather the less intense verb to be burned, He is holding open the possibility that the unproductive believer may respond to the burning and return to fruitfulness. The grace of God is not a license to sin. Believers who play with sin will experience fiery judgment that may well culminate in death.” 2

The “fire”(pyr) in this passage is not literal just as the vine, branches, and fruit are not literal. The word “fire” often symbolizes God’s discipline or temporal judgment of His people in the Bible. Some examples:

“Take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of anything which the Lord your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” Deuteronomy 4:23-24

“Therefore, as the fire devours the stubble, and the flame consumes the chaff, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom will ascend like dust; because they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore the anger of the Lord is aroused against His people; He has stretched out His hand against them and stricken them, and the hills trembled. Their carcasses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still.” Isaiah 5:24-25

“For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: ‘Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.’ ” Jeremiah 4:3-4

“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.” Hebrews 10:26-27

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.For our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29

Since Jesus is talking to His believing disciples about discipleship in this passage John 15:1-8), it is best to understand this “fire” as a reference to the trial of God’s discipline in a disobedient believer’s life (cf. I Peter 1:6-7; 4:12-13; Hebrews 10:27; 12:28-29). God uses discipline in the disobedient believer’s life to remove sin. This discipline may take the form of difficulties with work, family, finances, guilt, and health, etc.

If the believer does not repent, his disobedience could lead to physical death (cf. I Corinthians 11:29-30). Although the analogy of the vine and branches does not deal with restoration, what is not possible with nature is possible with God. He can restore a wayward disciple back to fellowship with Himself.

It is also possible that the reference to “fire” could refer to the loss of rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. I Corinthians 3:11-15; 9:24-27). Believers who continue in disobedience to Christ will suffer the loss of more rewards, but they themselves will be saved from an eternity separated from God in hell. “If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (I Corinthians 3:15). The more disobedience characterizes our lives, the more painful the Judgment Seat of Christ will be for us in the future.

Another way to view verse 6 is to see the burning not as judgment, but as uselessness resulting from failure to abide in Christ. 3 At the beginning of the dormant season in a vineyard, anything not attached to the vine is useless and discarded. A part of the discarding process at the end of the productive season is the burning of dry materials.

If we disconnect from the vine for too long, we may find ourselves experiencing God’s discipline, getting burned, and seeing our spiritual life withering. Such a believer is useless to himself, God, and others. So, if we find such things happening to ourselves, repent, so our fellowship or discipleship relationship with the Lord can be restored! “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8). 4

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You that I am guaranteed a place in Your house because Jesus freely gave me eternal life the moment I believed in Him. Thank You for placing me in the Lord Jesus Christ so I may bear fruit for Your glory as I learn to abide in Him. I appreciate the warning given in today’s verse that speaks of the consequences of continued disobedience to Jesus. I do not want to lose my closeness to You. Nor do I want to be useless to You or to others. I need You in my life for without You I can do nothing that honors Your name. Please help me to abide in the True Vine so much fruit is produced in my life to the praise of Your glory. In the beautiful name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pp. 286-287;  see also Gary W. Derickson, “Viticulture and John 15:1-6,” Bibliotheca Sacra 153:609 (January-March 1996), pp. 50-51.

2. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 535.

3. Bruce Wilkinson, Secrets of the Vine: Breaking Through to Abundance (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2001), pp. 97-98.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1806.

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!