Although a great deal of attention is given to the theme of repentance by the New Testament writers, it is never mentioned as an end in itself. Rather, repentance is a means to salvation. It is what Solzhenitsyn refers to as “a clearing” Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “Repentance and Self-Limitation” From Under the Rubble, Bantam, p. 134. of the ground. Repentance is the condition of, or the prerequisite to, salvation. Jesus makes this clear when, in Mark 1:15, He exhorts the people to repent and believe the gospel. Repentance alone will not save you; but unless you repent you cannot be saved.
One of the most astonishing things I have read in recent years was a Christian book on the plan of salvation which actually suggested that repentance was subordinate to faith. Here is the result of the Commercial Transaction Theory: salvation is totally God’s responsibility He’s done everything—He’s paid for your sin; therefore, just simply accept what’s already been done. They come to Christ to get; to receive an unconditional gift. This was most certainly not the case in biblical times. This current type of teaching will never result in sinners realizing their sin and coming broken and contrite to the foot of the cross like the convicted publican.
The tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified… He who humbles himself shall be exalted. —Luke 18:13-14 (NASB)
Here a man encountered his own sin; he didn’t refer to himself merely as a sinner but rather as the sinner. The man was ashamed to even lift up his eyes. As the realization came into sharper focus, he cried out to God for mercy! The men of Jerusalem responded in similar fashion to the anointed preaching of Peter.
Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” —Acts 2:37-38 (NASB)
What a rare sight! How often has modern preaching affected men to the point they were pierced to the heart and came asking how to be saved?
Our trite little formula of “just accept Jesus” has produced countless spiritual stillbirths and inoculated millions of others against the true gospel. The question, “Will you accept Jesus?” implies some doubt about His acceptability! We must remember that Christianity is, in essence, a relationship between a man and his God. We have broken the relationship. We have left God in the act of rebellion to pursue our own idea of happiness. Surely if we are going to be reconciled to God after all this, it must be on His conditions. There seems to have been an inversion of biblical injunctives. It is not whether we “accept” Christ, but whether Christ accepts us. That is the crucial issue. Will Christ indeed accept us the way we are as so many today imply? Will the King of Kings come to rule over a moral garbage dump? The notion that the sinner’s condition is irrelevant at salvation shows how little we know of our responsibility in salvation, as well as God’s character.
C. S. Lewis asks:
When we fall in love with a woman, do we cease to care whether she is clean or dirty, fair or foul? …Does any woman regard it as a sign of love in a man that he neither knows nor cares how she is looking?’
The Lord Jesus refers to man’s solemn responsibility in salvation with His warning to would-be disciples:
For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ —Luke 14:28-30 (NASB)
One of the greatest deterrents to the conversion of sinners today are the “half-built-Christians so evident across our land. From the very beginning they were instructed by pastors, priests and laymen that they were acceptable to God the way they were. Thus the idols which remain in their hearts (presumably to be dealt with later) bring ridicule to God’s name. Where does the Bible teach that a turning from or a forsaking of all known sin is not an absolute essential condition of salvation? The popular theory that the sinner is “clothed with Christ’s righteousness” to cover up the actual presence of ongoing sin, makes God appear as the biggest dupe in the universe! If God cannot have fellowship with unrighteousness, and we are leading unrighteous lives (except for Christ’s righteousness), then we can only conclude that God’s relationship is actually with Himself! The notion that God enjoys fellowship with those who are sinners by glancing at Christ’s righteousness beside him is unrealistic. The present day church seems to have missed the whole meaning of 2 Corinthians 5:21 because it is only a happy submission to Christ (or a right relationship) that is referred to by the phrase “in Christ” (see also Chapter 2). Anselm admitted a ‘non-personal’ transference of Christ’s merit to men, a point which so enthusiastic a champion as Brunner thinks a fault (Gustaf Aulen, Christus Victor (Macmillan) p. 92)..