This is the fifth video of our Lesson 1 discipleship training. It will review the gospel by which we are saved from hell. It also addresses how to be more effective in evangelism by avoiding unclear gospel invitations.
“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.
Some students of the Bible do believe that water baptism is necessary for eternal salvation. They refer to six debatable verses to argue that one must be baptized with water in order to go to heaven. But this assertion clearly contradicts the New Testament teaching that salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. For example, if water baptism is necessary to obtain eternal life, why didn’t Jesus say, “He who believes in Me [and is baptized] has eternal life” in John 6:47? Why didn’t Luke write, “[Be baptized and] believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” in Acts 16:31? Why didn’t the apostle Paul say, “For by grace you have been saved through [baptism and] faith” in Ephesians 2:8? If water baptism is necessary for salvation, why did the apostle Paul say that preaching the gospel was more important than water baptism when he wrote, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (I Corinthians 1:17)? Paul makes it clear that water baptism is not part of the gospel message. Paul did not baptize many people because water baptism is not necessary for salvation from hell (cf. I Corinthians 1:14-16).
Obviously God did not intend for us to let six unclear verses interpret the over 200 clear verses that teach that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone (cf. Matthew 18:6; 21:32; Mark 1:15; 9:42; 15:32; Luke 8:12-13; John 1:7, 12; 3:15-16, 18, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:29, 30, 35, 40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; Acts 16:31; Romans 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; I John 5:1, 13; et. al). So if these six verses are not referring to salvation from hell, then to what are they referring?
– “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Mark 1:4
John the Baptist’s call to repentance was a call for the nation of Israel to change their mind about their sin and the Person of Jesus Christ. The word “repentance” is from the Greek word metanoia, a compound word from meta, “after,” and nóēma, “thought.” Together it means to an after thought or a change of mind. John was calling the nation of Israel to change its mind because the Messiah God was coming from heaven to set up His Kingdom. John says they need to repent and change their mind about their own condition and/or the coming Messiah so they can trust in Him as their Savior and He will set up His kingdom. This was a self-righteous nation that needed to recognize its own sinfulness and need for a Savior.
John the Baptist’s baptism had no saving value. It was designed to prepare the Jewish people to place their faith in the coming Messiah according to Acts 19:4: “Then Paul said, ‘John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.’” Those Jews who were baptized by John realized their own sinfulness and inability to save themselves. John’s baptism initiated them into the community of people who anticipated the coming Messiah, Who alone could save them from their sins.
– “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16
Water baptism in Mark 16:16 cannot refer to salvation from hell because this would contradict over 200 clear verses in the New Testament which teach that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone (cf. Matthew 18:6; 21:32; Mark 1:15; 9:42; 15:32; Luke 8:12-13; John 1:7, 12; 3:15-16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:29, 30, 35, 40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; Acts 16:31; Romans 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; I John 5:1, 13; et. al). God’s Word will not contradict Itself.
Jesus used the word “believe” three times in Mark 16:15-17. Notice that failure to believe results in condemnation, not failure to be baptized which is consistent with John 3:18. If water baptism is necessary for salvation, we would expect the Lord to have said, “He who does not believe [and is not baptized] will be condemned.” But He does not say this because water baptism is not a condition for salvation from hell. What this means is even if a person is baptized with water but does not believe the gospel, he or she will still be condemned to hell. Clearly, the only condition for condemnation is failure to believe, not failure to be baptized with water.
It is better to understand the word “baptized” as a reference to Spirit baptism which takes place the moment a person believes in Christ for the gift of salvation (Acts 10:43-48; 15:7-8; 19:5; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14). In Mark 1:8, John the Baptist said, “I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
This is supported further in the context of Mark 16:16. Christ said “these signs will follow those who believe” and then He lists the miraculous signs that will accompany the preaching of the gospel to “confirm” the message (Mark 16:17-20) and the apostolic messenger (2 Cor. 12:12). These miraculous signs accompanied the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the early church (Acts 2:1ff). The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a spiritual baptism. It places believers into the body of Christ forever and joins them spiritually to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ the moment they believe the gospel (Mark 1:8; Acts 10:43-48; 15:7-8; 19:5; Romans 6:3-4; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Tim. 2:11, 13). Water baptism is necessary for discipleship (Matthew 28:19-20), but not for salvation.
– “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’ ” John 3:5
When Jesus refers to being “born of water” He is speaking of physical birth. Christ explains this in the next verse. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Christ is saying that a person must first be born physically before he can be born spiritually. So to be “born of water” refers to the amniotic fluid which breaks when a baby is delivered. To be “born of the Spirit” refers to our spiritual birth into God’s family the moment we believe in Christ (John 3:15-16; cf. John 1:12). The Bible does not contradict itself. John makes it clear that the only condition for eternal life is belief in Christ (John 3:15-16, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-39; 11:25-27; 20:31). The clear must always interpret the unclear.
– “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38
After preaching Jesus’ death and resurrection to his Jewish audience in Jerusalem (Acts 2:22-35), the apostle Peter informed them “that God has made this Jesus, whom” they “crucified, both Lord and Christ” (2:36). When these Jews felt sorrow or regret about what they did to their “Lord and Christ,” they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What shall we do?” (2:37). Peter told them to “Repent” (metanoeō) or change their mind about their wrong view of Jesus and then believe in Him for salvation from Hell (2:38a). By calling the people to repent, Peter was commanding them to trust the One whom they had crucified (cf. John 11:25-26; 20:31; I John 5:1). Acts 2:41, 44 confirm this understanding when they say the people “received his word” (2:41) and “all who believed were together” (2:44).
Acts 3:19-4:4 also supports this usage of the verb “repent.” After Peter and John healed the lame man (3:1-10), Peter preached the death and resurrection of Christ to his Jewish audience (3:11-18) and invites his audience to “repent” or change their view of Christ and see that He is the Messiah. His Jewish audience was thinking, “If Jesus is the Messiah, then where is His Messianic Kingdom?” Peter explains that if they would “repent” and believe in Jesus as the Messiah, His Messianic Kingdom would commence (3:19-26; cf. Mark 1:15). How did these Jews respond? “Many of those who heard the word believed” (Acts 4:4).
Several factors must be taken into consideration to properly understand Acts 2:38:
1. Throughout the book of Acts we see that salvation is byfaith alone in Christ alone as taught by Philip (8:12, 37), Peter (10:43; 15:7-11), and Paul (13:39, 48; 14:27; 15:1-2; 16:30-31). God’s Word does not contradict itself, so Acts 2:38 must be talking about something more than salvation from hell.
2. The distinction between regeneration and forgiveness. Regeneration is imparting the very life of God at the moment of faith in Christ to the believer (John 1:12-13; I John 5:1). Therefore, it is judicial and cannot be changed. Forgiveness, on the other hand, involves the restoration of harmony between God and believers (Luke 6:37; 11:4; I John 1:9).
The Bible speaks of two types of forgiveness: Positional forgiveness involves the pardon of past, present and future sins at the moment of faith in Christ (Acts 10:43; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14). This is a one-time event and cannot be changed. Fellowship forgiveness involves closeness to God, and it can be lost and restored repeatedly throughout a Christian’s life (Luke 6:37; 11:4; I John 1:9). For example, when you are born into your earthly family you will always be your parents’ child no matter what (regeneration), but closeness with your parents can be broken by your disobedience and restored by confession and forgiveness (fellowship). The same is true in our relationship with God.
3. The meaning of repent. The word “repent” (metanoeō) means “to change one’s mind.” Whenever this word is used in a salvation context, it means “to change your mind about whatever is keeping you from trusting Christ and then trust Him to save you” (cf. Mark 1:15; Luke 24:47; Acts 17:30; Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
4. The book of Acts is dealing with a transitional time in God’s program. The birth of the Church takes place in Acts 2. For a brief period of time after the birth of the Church, people were not baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13) at the moment of faith in Christ. For example, Samaritan believers (Acts 8:12-17), disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:2-6), and Saul (22:1-16) received the Holy Spirit after they were baptized with water. But Cornelius and his family all received the Holy Spirit at the moment of faith in Christ (Acts 10:43-48) which is the normative experience for believers today (cf. Mark 1:8; Acts 10:43-48; 19:5; Romans 8:9; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14). Why the difference?
Palestinian Jews who had helped crucify Christ had to be baptized to be placed in the Church and have fellowship with God. That is, in order to enter into closeness with Christ, they had to publicly identify with Him through water baptism because they had earlier rejected Christ publicly when they participated in His crucifixion. This is why Gentiles in Acts 10:43-48, who had no part in Christ’s crucifixion, received the Holy Spirit at the moment of faith in Christ and were baptized later.
So when we come to Acts 2:36-38, Peter says to his Jewish audience, “’36Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’ 37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’” (2:36-37). Peter has just preached that Jesus, whom His Jewish audience had personally helped to crucify, was both Lord and Christ (2:22-26). Peter replies, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). By calling the people to repent, Peter was commanding them to trust the One whom they had crucified (cf. John 11:25-26; 20:31; I John 5:1). Acts 2:41, 44 confirm this understanding when they say the people “received his word” (2:41) and “all who believed were together” (2:44).
The forgiveness spoken of in Acts 2:38 is fellowship forgiveness, just as we see in I John 1:9. For these Jews guilty of crucifying the Messiah, they had to be baptized and receive forgiveness for this sin of rejecting Christ in order to have fellowship with God and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Without water baptism they would still have eternal life because they believed in Jesus (Acts 2:41, 44; 4:4; cf. John 3:16; I John 5:1), but they would not escape the temporal judgment coming upon their sinful generation for crucifying the Messiah (Acts 2:40).
– “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Acts 22:16
This verse is parallel in thought to Acts 2:38. Saul of Tarsus was saved on the road to Damascus, as seen in Galatians 1:11-12 where Paul said he received his Gospel directly from the Lord Jesus and not from any man. Paul must have been saved on the Road to Damascus because this is where Jesus spoke directly to Paul (Acts 9:3-6). In the above verse, Ananias commanded Saul to be baptized so that he might receive the forgiveness of his sins or the same fellowship forgiveness seen in Acts 2:38 and I John 1:9. Paul was regenerated on the road to Damascus, but received fellowship forgiveness for persecuting Christ (Acts 9:4) when he was baptized three days later by Ananias (Acts 22:16; 9:17).
This explains why Ananias called Saul, “Brother Saul,” (Acts 9:17; 22:13) and why he didn’t command him to believe in Christ. Saul already believed in Christ for eternal life on the road to Damascus. The demand to be baptized for forgiveness of sins was imposed upon Palestinians who had openly rejected Christ and is never directed toward Gentiles (Acts 8:36-38; 10:43-48; 16:31-33; 18:8). Therefore, these accounts in Acts 2 and 22 are the exception, not the norm.
– There is also an antitype which now saves us–baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 3:21
Before we can properly understand this verse, we must look at the preceding verses: “18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water” (1 Peter 3:18-20). Christ took our place and punishment when He died on the cross and was made alive by the Spirit (3:18). Through the Holy Spirit, Christ preached through Noah to the unbelievers (“spirits”) of Noah’s day (3:19-20).
Why refer to Noah in this context? Because Noah’s deliverance is a picture (“antitype”) of the kind of baptism mentioned in verse 21 – Spirit baptism. The water did not save Noah and his family. The ark saved them. Just as the waters of God’s judgment fell upon the ark and not Noah, so God’s eternal judgment fell upon Christ and not us (3:18). Furthermore, just as Noah and his family escaped God’s watery judgment by being placed in the ark, likewise Christians escape God’s eternal judgment by being placed in Christ through Spirit baptism the moment they believe in Jesus (Galatians 3:26-27). When Noah came out of the ark, he entered into a new life – a world that had been cleansed of sin. Likewise, Spirit baptism places us in a new relationship to Christ so we can experience a new kind of resurrection life (Romans 6:3-5).
Spirit baptism not only saves us from Hell, but it also saves us from the power of sin. Peter says that this baptism is not a physical cleansing (“the removal of the filth of the flesh”), but a spiritual cleansing (“the answer of a good conscience toward God”). Spirit baptism gives us a good conscience regarding our past sin and guilt and enables us to live victoriously now in the power of the resurrection.
Some people will ask “What about infant baptism?” To make a disciple you need first a person who has believed. Infants are not able to understand their need to believe in Christ. Therefore, parents should wait until their child is old enough to believe and understand the true meaning of baptism before he or she is baptized.
Some churches practice infant baptism as a means of committing the child to be reared in the church under the influence of spiritual teachers (Pastors, Sunday School teachers, etc.). This can be called a “baptism of confirmation” for children. This ceremony is intended to be a covenant between the parents and God on the behalf of the child. The parents promise to raise their child in the faith until the child is old enough to make his own personal confession of Christ. This custom began about 300 years after the Bible was completed. It is not in the Bible. This is different from the baptism talked about in the Bible which was only for those old enough to believe. Some churches do provide Baby Dedications whereby the child is committed to the Lord and the parents publicly confess their commitment to raise the child according to the principles in the Bible.
Conclusion: Water baptism is not a necessary for salvation or going to heaven. Only believing in Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose from the dead is necessary to go heaven (cf. John 3:15-16, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; Acts 8:12, 37; 10:43; 15:7-11; 13:39, 48; 14:27; 15:1-2; 16:30-31; Romans 4:5; I Corinthians 15:1-6; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:1, 13). However, water baptism is a condition for discipleship (Matthew 28:19) and is to be done as soon as possible after a person believes in Christ for His gift of salvation (cf. Acts 2:41; 8:6-13, 36-38; 10:43-48; 16:31-33; 18:8). When a believer is baptized with water, he is telling God and those who witness his baptism, that he desires to follow Jesus as His disciple no matter what the cost (cf. Matthew 10:16-39; 28:19-20; Luke 9:57-62; 14:25-33; John 8:31-32; 13:34-35; 15:1-8).
There are tragic things that happen in life that cause us to ask a familiar question. This question may fall from the lips… of a young mother whose twins are joined at the head… of emergency response crew at the scene of a fatal bus accident… of flood victims in Manila… of a rescue worker pulling dead bodies from the rubble left by an earthquake… of soldiers whose comrades were ambushed… of COVID-19 frontliners … from our own lips when suffering impacts our lives. “Why?” we ask: “Why me? Why this? IF God is a loving and caring God, why does he allow suffering in my life and in the lives of those I care about and love?”
The fact of the matter is that sometimes God just doesn’t make sense to us. We may have different backgrounds, goals and motivations. But there is one thing we all have in common: We all know what it means to hurt. Tears are the same for Jews, Muslims, or Christians; for white, black or brown; for children, adults or the elderly. How are we to respond when God doesn’t make sense to us?
Consider Job in the Bible – imagine how he felt when he heard these words… “You’ve lost your livestock, they’ve been stolen. Your sheep were destroyed. Your employees were murdered. Your children were crushed in a freak windstorm – they are dead – all ten of them.” This is how the book of Job begins (Job 1:1-19). One calamity after another strikes this godly father and business man. “Godly?” you may ask. The Bible says, “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). Job was not perfect, but honest before God. Job’s calamities were connected to a contest between God and Satan. Satan is saying that Job is motivated by self-interest, not love for God. Satan says. “Take away Job’s blessings and he will curse You, God” (Job 1:8-11).
So God gives Satan permission to attack Job’s property. After Job loses his wealth… servants, and children, we read: “Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.’ In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong” (Job 1:20-22).
How many of us would respond the way Job did? When God Doesn’t Make Sense… 1. SURRENDER TO HIS CONTROL (Job 1:1-2:13). How do we do this? First, we grieve. “Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head” (Job 1:20a). These are all expressions of grief. Tears are God’s way of washing away the pain. Second, we worship God. “And he fell to the ground and worshiped” (Job 1:20b).
When bad things happen, will we grow bitter or will we bow before Almighty God? Focusing on God keeps pain from swallowing our soul and it also brings us to the point of acceptance: “And he said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Job accepted the fact that all his wealth, his employees, even his own children belonged to God – so he surrendered them all to the Lord. He let go. “In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22). A person who surrenders to God doesn’t accuse God of wrongdoing. Have you surrendered all that you have to the Lord?
Satan comes back to God and says, “Sure Job didn’t curse You because You didn’t let me touch his body. Let me afflict his body and he will surely curse You to Your face” (Job 2:1-6)! For example, when I am in good health, I’m a happy man. But when my body is hurting, I’m a grump. Can you identify?
Now Job is covered with boils from head to toe (Job 2:7). Job’s wife asks Job to do exactly what Satan wants him to do (although she doesn’t realize it) (Job 2:9). Job responds to his wife, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity” (Job 2:10)? This is an incredible response to calamities which were not the result of Job’s personal behavior, but the result of a contest between God and Satan. Job continues to surrender to the Lord and accepts the good and the bad in his life as part of God’s plan.
Most sermons on Job end right there. If Job had just kept quiet, we would not have the rest of the book. But Job doesn’t remain silent. Job’s three friends come to him and they sit quietly with him “for they saw that his grief was very great” (Job 2:13).
Job doesn’t remain silent, however: “After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth” (Job 3:1). When we are hurting physically, we become more vulnerable to despair and depression. After all of his suffering, Job is wishing he had never been born. He is down in the dumps. When Job opens his mouth, it starts a long avalanche of words between Job and his three friends. This time Job is not blameless with his lips. For the next thirty chapters there is a long exchange between Job and his friends. From this exchange we learn a second principle.
When God doesn’t make sense… 2. DON’T TRY TO EXPLAIN EVERYTHING (Job 3:1-31:40). Explanations never heal a broken heart. If his friends had listened to Job, accepted his feelings, and not argued with him, they would have helped him greatly; but they chose to be prosecuting attorneys instead of witnesses.
For example, the first friend, Eliphaz, essentially says to Job, “If you sin, you suffer.” “Is not your wickedness great, and your iniquity without end” (Job 22:5)? Eliphaz is saying, “Job, the reason people suffer is because of personal sin in their lives.” It is easy for Eliphaz to say this when he is not the one with boils all over his body.
Job’s second friend, Bildad, basically says, “You must be sinning.” “So why don’t you turn to Him and start living right? Then He will decide to rescue and restore you to your place of honor” (Job 8:5-6 – NLT). Bildad is saying, “If you were living right, Job, God would heal you and prosper you. But He hasn’t, so you must be sinning.”
Job’s third friend, Zophar, basically says, “You are sinning.” “Get rid of your sins, and leave all iniquity behind you. Then your face will brighten with innocence. You will be strong and free of fear” (Job 11:14-15 – NLT). All three of Job’s friends reasoned, “Job, the reason you’re suffering is because you have sinned.”
But Job insists that he is innocent: “My soul loathes my life; I will give free course to my complaint, I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, ‘Do not condemn me; show me why You contend with me. Does it seem good to You that You should oppress, that You should despise the work of Your hands, and smile on the counsel of the wicked?… Although You know that I am not wicked, and there is no one who can deliver from Your hand” (Job 10:1-3, 7). Job is saying, “God, I’m bitter about my suffering because You oppress me even though You know I am innocent.” Job wants his friends to know that God has wronged him: “Know then that God has wronged me, and has surrounded me with His net” (Job 19:6). Job goes so far as to say if he could get God to appear in court with him, Job could prove that God was wrong to afflict him (Job 23:3-7). Essentially, Job is saying, “I am righteous. God is wrong.”
What has happened to Job? He has gone from “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord to the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, I am bitter.” He has gone from blessing to bitterness.
Has this ever happened to you? You experience a painful divorce… devastation of bankruptcy… betrayal of a trusted friend… slow painful death of a loved one… your own health issues… an unhappy marriage… social distancing… loss of a job? At first, you surrender to God’s control – grieving and then worshiping God. But the suffering has lasted so long that your grief has turned into constant complaining. Instead of focusing on the truth of who God is in worship, you are now accusing God of wrongdoing. Instead of walking through your pain, your pain is walking all over you?
How do we get back to that place of blessing God instead of blasting Him? This leads to a third response when God doesn’t make sense. Since God alone can adequately deal with life’s problems, 3. TRUST GOD, DON’T ARGUE WITH HIM (Job 32:1-41:34). Let’s look at the process Job goes through. At the end of chapter 31, Job is silent. Then a new figure arises named, Elihu.
Elihu tells Job that he won’t be as harsh as Job’s three friends and God were (Job 33:6-7). Elihu says, “God is leading you away from danger, Job, to a place free from distress. He is setting your table with the best food. But you are obsessed with whether the godless will be judged. Don’t worry, judgment and justice will be upheld” (Job 36:16-17 – NLT). Elihu is saying,“God would have already ended your troubles, Job, if you had remained silent.” In essence, to sum up Elihu’s message to Job, “Humble yourself and submit to God,” then your troubles will come to an end.
Elihu has finished lecturing Job. Strangely, Job has no response. He remains silent. God then comes right up behind Elihu to speak to Job. The last four chapters are God’s words. “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: ‘Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me’ ” (Job 38:1-3). God is saying, “Job you don’t know what you are talking about when you accuse Me of being unfair… You have said I’ve been hiding from you and unwilling to debate with you. Well, let me see your qualifications, Job. I’m going to give you an exam consisting of over seventy questions. They are quite simple actually. If you can answer these ABC questions, then I will address the questions you have in your heart.”
Job is questioned like a first grade student. He is asked about the basic laws of nature, physics, astronomy, mathematics, ecology, zoology. After the first exam, we read, “Moreover, the Lord answered Job, and said: Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it’ ” (Job 40:1-2). God is saying, “Job, if you cannot understand My ways in the realm of nature, how can you understand My ways in dealing with people?” All of us should be slow to claim that we know God’s will about the affairs of a person’s life, whether it be our own or someone else’s. We still don’t know all the facts as to why God is allowing what takes place.
“Then Job answered the Lord and said: ‘Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; Yes, twice, but I will proceed no further” (Job 40:3-5). Earlier in the book, Job was hesitant to confront God (Job 9:14). Gradually he became more confident and demanded an audience with God (Job 13:22a). Later he even spoke like he was God’s equal bragging that he would approach God as a prince (Job 31:37). But now, God had humbled Job. Job had nothing more to say. But Job was not yet repentant. He had not confessed any sin.
So God gives Job another exam focusing on two animals: Behemoth– probably an Apatosaurus (Job 40:15-19), and Leviathan, a dragon-like dinosaur which primarily lived in the water (Job 41:1, 14-15, 21, 31). God was challenging Job to subdue these mighty creatures – something Job could never do. But God could. God not only controlled these dinosaurs. He also controlled the entire universe.
God is telling Job and us in these final chapters, “Job, if I can manage this whole Universe, from the basic cell up to monsters and mega-galaxies without your understanding, I can take care of you… If I can manage the universe, I can take care of YOU. Therefore trust Me, don’t argue with Me.”
There’s a fourth way to respond when God doesn’t make sense. 4. WE WILL STOP ASKING “WHY?” WHEN WE SEE THE “WHO” BEHIND LIFE’S HEARTACHES (Job 42:1-17). Job acknowledges God’s sovereign ability to govern the universe. “Then Job answered the Lord and said: ‘I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You’ ” (Job 42:1-2). Only God has the right to use people for whatever He desires. Not all suffering is because of personal sin, but because it accomplishes God’s sovereign purposes.
But many of God’s purposes are beyond our ability to understand. Job said, “You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). Job is saying, “I tried to talk about things I didn’t understand. I flunked Your exams. I was way in over my head.”
Job continues, “Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:4-6). At the end of chapter two, Job had not sinned with his lips. But forty chapters later he has to admit, “I’ve sinned with my lips and I therefore repent.”
“And so it was, after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has…And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:7, 10). Isn’t this a fascinating story? Job’s repentance brought an end to God’s discipline of him. When Job repents, his troubles stop and God restores Job’s prosperity. God never gave Job a reason or an explanation for his suffering – He offered Job Himself.
As God revealed Himself to Job, Job stopped asking “Why?” Job stopped asking WHY when he saw the WHO behind his troubles. Christian author and speaker, Chuck Swindoll states, “No single truth removes the need to ask ‘Why?’ like this one… God is too kind to do anything cruel… too wise to make a mistake… too deep to explain Himself.” Like Job, we will stop asking ‘WHY?’ when we see the WHO behind life’s heartaches. God offers you Himself as you read this article – not reasons for your hurts, but Himself.
Do you know the WHO behind life’s heartaches? Do you know Jesus Christ? You may be wondering how can a loving and caring God allow so much suffering in the world or in your own life? Just because God doesn’t intervene in world events or stop the pain in your own life, does not mean He does not care. Any injustice or hardship grieves Him more than it does anyone else. If you tried to see suffering in the world today through God’s eyes, your view would be so different. Even if God tried to explain things to you, you wouldn’t understand. His mind is so beyond anything ours is capable of comprehending. If it weren’t, He wouldn’t be God.
Today, I want to encourage you to look at the good side of God. When thinking about how loving God is, please start with the cross. “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
Think about the suicide bomber who recently killed over one hundred people at an election rally in Pakistan. If the bomber had not died, would you die as his substitute if he had been sentenced to die for his crime? Like me, you’d probably say, “No way!” Yet that is exactly what God’s Son Jesus Christ did. He died for sinners – people who should have died for their sins like you and me. Why? So that when He had paid for our sins and rose the third day, He could forgive us for all of the wrongs we have done and give us His absolutely free gift of eternal life if we would believe or trust in Him alone for His free gift (John 3:16). Since God allowed His Son to take the place of all sinners on a cross so they could live with Him forever, doesn’t that remove all doubt about His character?
You may say, “What about the tyrant who slaughters thousands of innocent people?” God is not standing unaware. If that tyrant doesn’t come to faith in Christ, his punishment awaits him (John 3:36b). The Bible says, “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). In an eternal hell, that tyrant will want to die but won’t be able to.
We live in a fallen world. Every day people drift farther away from God. So until Christ returns to earth, the situation will get worse, not better. God could step in and stop it right now, and one day He is going to do that. But understand He is a Savior, not a Dictator. He has given everyone a choice. They can choose to come to Him in faith just as they are and receive forgiveness for all their sins and live with Him in eternity.
You may say, “What about the victims of catastrophes like COVID-19 or violence?” God grieves for these victims more than you or I ever could. Yet these are the results of living in a fallen world. But this is also why God begs people to come to Christ now. You’re not promised tomorrow. Until God establishes a new world, there will always be violence and suffering.
Please remember that God has not rebelled against people; people have rebelled against God. According to the Bible a day is coming when the earth will know no more violence, suffering, shootings, hijackings, viruses, catastrophes, pain or hardship of any kind (cf. Revelation 21-22). All who trust in Jesus as their Savior will be with Him in a perfect, problem-free place. When they see things from His perspective, they will realize how just and righteous God has been and is. God really wants you in His family.
Will you trust Christ to give you the free gift of eternal life? Jesus guarantees, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). Come to Him just as you are in faith and receive His forgiveness and everlasting life, and then you can share this good news with others before it is too late for them.
Prayer: Almighty God, I am so broken over all the confusion and pain that is in the world today. I often find myself asking “Why?” instead of “Who?” I dislike the feeling of being out of control. Please forgive me, Lord, for arguing with You and complaining against You when I feel out of control. Thank You for reminding me in the book of Job that You are in control no matter what I face. Since You can manage this whole universe, from the basic cell up to dinosaurs and mega-galaxies without my understanding, I can trust You to take care of me even when it does not make sense to me. Please help me to focus on You during these difficult times so I can be the opposite of Job’s friends who acted more like prosecuting attorneys towards Job and his sufferings. Use me to listen to those who are hurting and to accept their feelings. I pray Your Holy Spirit will draw people to Jesus during this time so they may discover how great His love is for them and receive His free gift of everlasting life by believing in Him. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“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).
“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.
“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!