I've been preaching the gospel for decades in one of the most difficult places in the world. I have been doing it a lot and with a lot of different types of people. Obedience to the Great Commission does help one grow. I have also preached through every book of the Bible verse by verse -- every one -- some in long expositional series. So as I write this post, it comes out of all of that study and all of that experience.
When I preach the gospel to someone, when I'm done, he understands it. He acknowledges it. He knows it is true. He understand it, he gets it, and he is ready either to believe or not believe it. When I'm done, I know I preached the gospel. I'm satisfied with that. By the way, later today, I'm going out to explain this for two hours, door to door. Today.
Last Friday, Thomas Ross posted a presentation of repentance for a Baptist church constitution or doctrinal statement. One criticism was that it was too complicated or even messed up because it was too much. The implication was that evangelists should leave it out, to keep the gospel simple, that is, the gospel isn't simple enough when repentance is included. What I've heard in the past as a critique of repentance in the gospel is that it front loads works. I'll explain how it doesn't in this post. It's not that difficult to explain, or it's not complicated. It's simple.
I'm going to write out what I say on repentance in a gospel presentation. I'm talking to someone who doesn't understand it. He's ignorant of it, so the poster person for 'let's not have it be too complicated.' Every one of those, I've found, it isn't too complicated. They may not like it, but they definitely understand it. I've never seen it where it is an intellectual issue. It is always volitional. My opinion, and I say opinion, is that it is a volitional issue with the people criticizing the inclusion of repentance in the gospel too. They don't want it because they want what they want, not what God wants.
I explain the gospel in four points as my base explanation, so I'm coming up to the fourth point, which is where I explain repentance. Here's how it sounds. I've done this thousands of times.
Just because Jesus died for everyone doesn't mean that everyone goes to heaven. For what Jesus did to apply to someone, there is one response that is required to what He did. He did everything that needed to be done, but there is a response that someone must make in order to be saved. I call it a response, because it isn't a work. Salvation isn't a work and doesn't come by works. No amount of works can get rid of your sins. The only way for your sins to be forgiven, removed, washed away is by means of one response to what Jesus did, and it isn't works. [This is where I included works verses and their explanation. I'm not going to do that in this post.]
OK, so salvation isn't by works. The one response to what Jesus did through His death, burial, and resurrection is to believe in Jesus Christ. The fourth thing that we need to know is 'believe in Jesus Christ.' We know it is to believe in Jesus Christ, and I want to show you that, but an important question is, what does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ? Many people say that they believe in Jesus Christ in this country, and they don't really believe in Him. We know that. So what does that mean, to believe in Jesus Christ? First of all, however, we must believe in Jesus Christ, and I want to show you some verses on that. [This is where I show verses on believing in Jesus Christ. I show several and explain them, three of which are in John 3.]
OK, so we can see that if we believe in Jesus Christ, we have eternal life. But again, what does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ. Part of what it means to believe in Jesus Christ is to repent. Let me explain. In Luke 13:3 and 5, Jesus said the same thing twice. He said, "I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." Twice, once in verse 3 and then in verse 5, Jesus said (quote the verse again). So Jesus says, "If you don't repent, then you are going to perish." In John 3, remember, He said, "If you believe, you won't perish." If you don't repent, you will perish, but if you believe, you won't perish." Repent and believe are two sides to the same coin.
Someone who does not repent, does not believe, and someone who does not believe, does not repent. You can't repent without believing and you can't believe without repenting. These people Jesus talked to thought that other people had perished because those people had done really bad things, that made them deserving of perishing. Jesus is saying, no, unless you repent, you all deserve to perish.
To repent is to turn. Let's say that this wall right here (or this railing or whatever you can use) is the end of my life and that is death, and so it is Hell, and this path to the wall is my life. My life keeps going and going. One thing about life is that it doesn't stop, it just keeps going until you die. So my life keeps going this direction and doesn't stop and it ends in Hell for me because of my sin. I keep going my way and my way ends in death, in Hell. I deserve it because of my sin. Look at the wall. If I don't want to run into this wall, and I can't stop, what can I do? (Wait for the person to answer. Ask it again, picture it again, to help. Most people can't get this figured out, even though it is so simple. If the person says, turn, then, yes, to turn, but they can't figure it out. They see the only option as running into the wall.)
Alright, most people don't think of this, but if you don't want to run into the wall, and you can't stop, then all you can do is turn. Turn. (This is a "duh" moment. It was too simple, it was so simple. And they show that every time.) If you don't want to run into the wall, you've got to turn. If you don't want to go to Hell, you've got to turn. Your life is a life of sin, it's your way. The end of that is Hell. If you don't want that, then you've got to turn from that, your way, your sin, the same thing, and what do you turn to? You turn to Jesus Christ. (People know they can't keep going their way and be saved. They instinctively know something is wrong or why would they need to be saved.? If everything is OK, then why does anyone need to turn?)
Jesus said in Luke 9:23, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." Jesus was talking about salvation. To come after Jesus, to follow Jesus, you can't keep going your way. You've got to turn from your way, deny yourself, and follow Him. If you keep going your way, you're not believing in Jesus Christ. You're believing in yourself, trusting in yourself. You say, if I don't want to go to Hell, I can't keep going my way, I've got to turn to follow Jesus Christ, believing in Him, and not myself. That's it.
As you look further in Luke 9:24, the next verse, Jesus says, "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it." After "follow me," this is the second most common or repeated thing that Jesus says in the gospel. To save your life, you've got to lose your life. You can't hang on to your life and receive the life that Jesus wants to give you. Giving up your life is to repent. You are turning from your way to his way. The word "life" is the word psuche, which is elsewhere translated, "soul." For the Lord to cleanse your soul, you must give up your soul. If you give up your soul, he will restore it or convert your soul that has been ruined by sin.
You can't keep going your way, you've got to go His way, follow Him, giving up your life for His life. Jesus goes on to say in the next verse, see here, "For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?" In another place, Jesus says, What does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?" Losing your soul is going to Hell. In Hell, there is no more opportunity for your soul to be restored or cleansed of sin. It's too late. (There are various components here. Their sin, which condemns them, they must repent of that, which is their way. Those are one in the same. There is an authority issue here too. They are rebellious, wanting to do what they want, and going their way. They have to turn from that. Those are all interrelated.)
Next I bring in Romans 10:9-10, 13, which brings in Lordship. Lordship, repentance, and faith all go together, and it is very simple. If you are lord of your own life, you keep going your own way, and you don't repent. If you believe in Jesus, then you believe He is Lord or Christ, and you give up your own way for His way. If you do, He will save you. Those are His terms. This is consistent with every other place on salvation in the Bible.
For those reading with the "front loading" works criticism, it's simple. Faith or repentance are not works. If you think that repentance is a work, then why isn't "calling upon the name of the Lord" a work, or "praying a prayer," not a work? It is silly, but eternally and damningly silly. Scripture says faith is not a work, says that repentance is not a work, and that confessing Jesus as Lord is not a work. All three of those are singled out as not a work. Salvation is not by works, so this is consistent in scripture. What I think it is for these where repentance is just too complicated is that they don't want to preach it, because it's the part of the gospel that men have the hardest time with, so they leave it out willfully. I believe it is willful and perhaps out of a reprobate mind. That would be consistent too.
I haven't told you everything I say when I preach the gospel, but this is a good example of what I do when I preach repentance. It is not complicated. Every. Single. Person. Understands. It. I've never had someone say, I don't get it. They get it, crystal clear. I've also found that many, many will understand that this is different than typical evangelicalism or so-called Christians. They know this is true. The Holy Spirit is illuminating that truth to them through scripture.