Preach, The Seed

V3 “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him”.

I have recently seen an increase in the number of ‘prophetic words’ on YouTube and other social media platforms, I have seen and heard Christians talking and many are starting to articulate a belief that the way our society is going is a very clear indication that we are rushing headlong into what Christians call ‘the end times’. The time of tribulation and return of Christ prophesied by John in Revelation is just around the corner and may even happen in our lifetime, they say.

This is very contentious in Christian circles, beliefs and stances on the millennium and the tribulation vary widely. When Christ will come again, how he will come, whether it will be before or after what people call the great tribulation, real can be a source of great conflict. I have seen it become a trigger for substantial argument and division in the body of Christ.

I am not going to dive into that bear pit today — Jesus may or may not come in our lifetime, and what that will look like is uncertain to me. But what I can say to you with 100% certainty it this: You will, one day, stand before Him. Either you will meet Him through the gateway of death, or Jesus will come back first, but either way, you’ll come before him. Revelation describes what that time will look like:

“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book k was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:12-15)

There is an increasing problem in the British legal system where criminals refuse to attend court. They are allowed to stay in their cells and are sometimes sentenced ‘in absentia’. You do not get a choice about whether you stand before God or not. You don’t get to decline or refuse. Every single human being on planet earth will face God. Every. Single. One.

The only choice we get to make is the choice whether or not to be ready for that moment, whether we stand before God as someone whose name is recorded in the Lamb’s book of life or whether we come before him as an enemy. We must, in the words of John the Baptist “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him” in our own lives.

V3: “repentance .. ”.

When we looked at Jonah a few weeks ago we looked at repentance, so you may feel that I am sounding like a cracked record, but the message JtB preaches demands we think about it here. In the interests of variation, I am going to tackle it slightly differently though.

Repentance is Scriptural

  1. Repentance was JtB’s message, the preparation he was calling people to (today’s text).
  2. When John was arrested Jesus’ started preaching, His first message was “repent and believe” (Mark 1:14,15).
  3. The great commission (Luke 24:46,47) tells us that repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached …” (emphasis sis mine).
  4. Peter preached repentance on the day of Pentecost “repent and be baptised” (Acts 2:38).
  5. Paul preached repentance. In Acts 20 he call the elders of the ephesian church together and in v21, he reminds them that he had “declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus”.

In the words of Paul “God now commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30)
Jesus himself when talking about some Galilean who had been killed by Pilate, looks at His listeners and looks through time to us and says this : “I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well” Luke 13:3.

Preacher Derek Prince says without exception the first response to a correctly preached Gospel is always repentance. And without repentance faith alone is an empty profession. This is the nub of what James is explaining when he talks about our deeds matching our faith in James 2:14-26. He makes a reference to the shema (which was a SPOKEN declaration of faith) when he says “you believe there is one God” (the Shema: “hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one” Deut 6:4). He points out that simply saying is won’t save you “even the Demons believe that – and shudder”.

This leads nicely on to:

Repentance is revealed in our actions

Many Christians are building on an unstable foundation which calls for a confession of faith without declaring repentance and turning away from the old life. This means that many Christians have never truly repented of their sins. The message so often preached today is ‘believe in Jesus and your actions will automatically fall into line because the Holy Spirit will be in you leading you and guiding you to become more like Christ’. We have use illustrations like the ‘believe, belong & behave will follow’ v ‘behave, believe then belong’ to explain what the church should be like.

Now please don’t misunderstand me, I am completely sold out for the grace of God in our lives, and acting lovingly and graciously towards people in our midst, especially those who are struggling in some way. And I believe the church is the one place that we should find love, forgiveness and acceptance regardless of the lifestyle we’ve lived, but let’s not fall into the trap of saying that how we act is of no consequence, and that it doesn’t matter how people live their lives once they come to faith.

True repentance and coming to faith requires that we reject our old, ungodly lives and live fresh, Spirit-filled lives sold out for Jesus. One of the primary ways we can measure how genuine someone’s faith is, is by watching how they live. In fact Paul tells Timothy to keep a close watch on exactly that. The truth is that if you say that your actions don’t matter you are in real danger, because if our actions are unimportant, then we can effectively ignore them. That puts us on a slippery slope to hypocrisy. That’s not the message Jesus preached, he preached instead ‘repent and believe’.

Interestingly, people in the church say stuff like ‘we must just live under the grace of God and not get too hot under the collar if our lives don’t instantly match up to that because God’s Spirit will guide us and sanctify us’, yet the world doesn’t look at Christians or the church in that way. They watch our lives and our actions and they make value judgments on the faith we profess (and bluntly on Jesus) based on those observations (just this last week, I saw yet another meme which proclaimed exactly that). I have lost count of the number of people I’ve met who have rejected Christianity because of the hypocrisy of Christians both corporately (the ‘church’ does this or that) and individually. I want the Seed as a church to be one where both individually and corporately we have an inherent integrity between our confession of faith and our actions.

If, then repentance is so important, then it is vital we understand it properly if we are to get it right …

Repentance explained

Repentance is not merely a feeling. It isn’t feeling bad or sorry about our actions. It IS possible to ‘feel’ sorry or bad about our action or inaction, yet to not really repent in the Scriptural sense.

Judas felt bad about betraying Jesus, so much so in fact he tried to give the money back, and he hung himself, ‘full of remorse’. I am not going to discuss this morning about whether Judas found salvation or not, but I do want to note that I know lots of people do something wrong, or don’t do something right and they feel bad about it, but the next time – they do it all over again.

Interestingly, sorrow may have a part to play in salvation – but sorrow is not repentance – sorrow leads us TO repentance (or it can do so). In fact Paul describes two kinds of sorrow:

  1. Godly sorrow, which leads to repentance,
  2. Worldly sorrow, which brings us death

“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death”. (2 Corinthians 7:8-10)

Repentance is not about me

When I was young, we would often say sorry when our wrong actions or bad behaviour was discovered. Almost daily, it seems, this politician or public figure makes headline news when some indiscretion is revealed. They regularly stand before the press and declare their sorrow about whatever it was. But what were they sorry for? What they did wrong? Or for getting found out?

Our actions have consequences, and frequently, our sorrow is based on our own selfishness. When we express sorrow, we are not actually sorry for the actions we took but for the consequences we have to suffer as a result.

Repentance, then, is not grounded in my discomfort or embarrassment, it is grounded in my understanding of how my action/s are against the will of God. Even when other people are hurt and pay the price of my sin, it is not, primarily against them our sin is committed. Repentance is grounded in the words of David “against you and you only have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4)

V3 “for the forgiveness of sins”

Last week I touched on this when I spoke about the fact that people are quite happy for Christians to give and be charitable and caring, but they don’t want us to declare what God thinks about the way they live their lives.

The thing is this, people around us quite often don’t believe God even exists. This puts us in a quandary about sin. If you do not believe God exists, then your understanding of what sin is cannot possibly be the same as what I understand it to mean.

The modern way of seeing sin is as a way of describing something as ‘wrong’. But what defines what is right and wrong? Where does ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ find their genesis? For example, people get all hot under the collar when Christians declare that (for example) actively participating in a homosexual lifestyle is ‘sinful’. The reason for that is that nowadays, some nebulous undefinable thing which we call “society” defines what is ‘sinful’, what is right and what is wrong. The greatest “sin” we can commit is to take a stance which is contrary to the general understanding of society (most obviously seen in media shows).

However, when we talk about sin, what we understand as sin is meaningless to anyone who isn’t a Christian and doesn’t even believe in God. Non believers simply cannot mean the same as we do when they talk about sin.

Why? – Because sin is a THEOLOGICAL word, it is not a cultural one. It describes an action which is contrary to the will of God and results in the fracturing of man’s relationship with Him. If you don’t believe in God and you don’t believe in the concept of acting in a way which damages your relationship with Him (how can you if you don’t believe he exists) sin as the Christian understands it is meaningless to you. If you believe in God, and you don’t want your relationship with Him fractured, why would you want to sin? So the first question to answer when you’re talking to someone about this (or any other issue) is the one about God and their belief in Him. If there is no belief, there is no point in talking about what is and what is not sinful.

You cannot understand the concept of or significance of sin unless you first accept and believe that there is a God and that He has told us what is good: Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Lots of people will readily agree with the first two of those which speak to our actions and our attitudes, but they will conveniently forget the last one which is all about our relationship with God, but without a relationship with God, the other stuff in eternal terms is meaningless – Isaiah says “all our righteous acts are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Hebrews 11:6 tells us straight “without faith it is impossible to please God” (talking about faith next week)

How do we deal with sin?

Last week I mentioned that this is the thing which the New Testament brings as ‘new’. Before Christ, there was a whole system of offering and sacrifice the Jews followed. They were known collectively as ‘the Law’

But for the Christian, these rituals are redundant.. Paul writes about this most eloquently in the book of Galatians – he rants at times at the Galatians and reminds them that it is not the Law which saves them, but the finished work of Christ on the Cross:

“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:15)

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians also speaks into this. He tells them it is by grace you have been saved though faith … not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8,9).

Romans 4:4,5 says: “Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness”

Titus 3:5 “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”

Even today you will find people who profess to be Christians, yet think that it is their spirituality or their faithfulness which bring their salvation. Lots of Christians will agree that the sacrificial systems of the Old Testament are no longer binding on the Christian, but they substitute them with church attendance, Bible reading, regular prayers and quiet times, giving, doing good works. The list is almost endless. Notwithstanding what I said earlier about repentance being revealed in our actions, it is not the actions which save us.

The bottom line here is to fully understand that:

  1. Good works do not bring salvation
  2. Religious practices & traditions do not bring salvation
  3. Going to church does not bring salvation
  4. Giving does not bring salvation (indulgences)

The only thing that brings salvation is then finished work of Christ on the cross. If you believe salvation can be gained by any other means, then you are following what Paul describes as ‘another gospel which is really no gospel at all’ (Galatians 1v7).


Repentance scripturally involves both the mind and the actions, It does literally mean to change one’s mind, to “think again”. A good example is in the parable of the prodigal son …

Feeding the pigs, his repentance was birthed in his mind, in his will. Luke 11:18 describes him at a place where he can’t get any lower he makes a decision “I will go to my father”. And then that decision resulted in an action – he arose and went to his father.

Derek Prince says every man must get to the point where he must stop, change his mind, change his direction, face the opposite way, turn his back to the shadows and turn towards the light.

Decorating – we cannot (or should not) paint or paper anything without first preparing it. Scraping off old paint or wallpaper, filling cracks, sanding imperfections, replacing rotten timbers or whatever it might be. Repentance is like the preparation, it’s getting the old stuff dealt with, having the slate wiped clean. Then the real work of transformation can begin!

There might be stuff in your life that you’ve realised “actually I’ve never really repented of that. I might have been sorry for the consequences of it in my life, I might even have turned my back on it and made all sorts of human effort to make amends for it in some way, but I still have a nagging sense of guilt about it”. If you want rid of that, if you want true inner peace and rest, then the answer is simple! Get before God and like David say, “against you and you only have I sinned”, repentance doesn’t have to be public and showy it doesn’t necessarily have to be tearing up the front and throwing yourself on the floor, it can just be a quiet conversation with Father God in your Spirit.

If you have something in your background that you are feeling uneasy about, a sense of shame or guilt perhaps, there are two possibilities

  1. The accuser is trying to steal your peace by reminding you of it ..
  2. The Holy Spirit is putting His finger on you because you haven’t truly repented of it.

The good news is that in either case we can deal with that! We can rest confident in the fact that God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22,23), that in the Cross, there is always forgiveness. We either need to remind ourselves that guilt does not come from God, but from the enemy and put it where it deserves to be. Or we need to come before Him on our knees, repent and find freedom – either way we can know with confidence that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)