Raising the Standard on Real Repentance

Title: Raising the Standard on Real Repentance

Bible Book: Matthew 3 : 1-12

Author: David Cook

Subject: Repentance



John Maxwell tells of a native African preacher, a Rhodes Scholar, who came into his church late one day by the back door… wearing burlap instead of a suit… ringing a bell instead of carrying his Bible, declaring "It's time to Wake Up - and Proclaim a time of Repentance." The church fired him and had him committed to a mental hospital. Read Matthew 3:1-12

I. Repentance – the Forgotten Doctrine

Repentance is a forgotten doctrine of today – but is a key doctrine in the Bible

John the Baptist was a man commissioned by God to bring forth a message of repentance from sin and a call to righteous living. “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 3:1-2

Nikki is the name of the lady who cuts my hair every month. Her husband owns a skate shop in the Mall of Georgia. A few weeks ago he was out at a local skate ramp teaching 10 year old boys how to skateboard. Some men came out of nowhere and began to preach to the boys – telling them that “Jesus would not think skating is important,” and “they needed to repent.” Their preaching was way over the boys head and made Nikki’s husband upset. They did not mind that these men were outside preaching – but what did upset her and her husband was the way these men were angry – and yelling at boys they did not even know.

Sadly, this is a misrepresentation of the message of “repentance.” Say the word “repentance,” and it brings to mind images of men standing on street corners telling everyone how rotten they are – with their only message being, “Turn or Burn.” Because this is often the image of “repentance,” many preachers these days rarely even bring up the word in their sermons. That is sad - because God commands each of us to repent of our sin and to trust wholeheartedly in Him!

Ray Pritchard, a Christian author and former pastor had this to say of the missing message of repentance from the pulpit of America today, “In our day, and in our circles, the doctrine of repentance is not preached very often. There are several reasons for this. One being we live in a superficial age and any preaching of repentance is bound to cut through the superficiality. This is one point on which both liberals and conservatives share unspoken agreement — no one wants to go to church and hear hard truth from the pulpit, and repentance is the ultimate hard truth”.

Biblical repentance is not a bad thing, rather the greatest thing that can happened to anyone in his or her lifetime. That is why faithful heralds of the Word of God always preach a message of repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Mt. 3:2

The Apostle Peter preached, “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.”

Jesus Christ preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Mt. 4:17

Jesus said, “…more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7

II. Repentance – The Forging Decision

Repentant people let God change them first – and then minister to others. Repentance helps forge us into the servants God intends for us to be.

Sometimes, it seems that Christians want to name and deal with everyone else’s sins – but their own. Nancy Lee Demoss wrote, “Proud people focus on the failures of others. Broken people are overwhelmed with a sense of their own spiritual need. Proud people have a critical, fault-finding spirit; they look at everyone else’s faults with a microscope but their own with a telescope. Broken people are compassionate; they can forgive much because they know how much they have been forgiven.

John the Baptist was a radical man in his days and would be radical in today’s society as well. He was a changed man and did not fit the standards of the popular crowd – John the Baptist lived for one thing – the will of God.

John’s dress was different. “Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist.” Matthew 3:4a – Camel’s hair was rough and used to make tents and rough mantles. The leather belt was in contrast to the upper class people who often wore beautiful belts made of costly silk – embellished by silver and gold.

John’s diet was different. “….and his food was locusts and wild honey.” Mt. 3:4b I seriously doubt any of you have pulled up to McDonald’s this week and said, “I’ll have the John the Baptist Combo #4, please. And, super-size the locusts while you’re at it!”

John’s determination was different. For this is he who was spoken of the prophet Isaiah, saying “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.” Mt. 3:3

John was wholly consumed with a passion to be the man God called him to be even before he was born. What about you? Is your #1 passion to be God’s man or woman?

Someone put it this way, “A zealous man in religion is preeminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say he is earnest, hardy, uncompromising, thoroughgoing, wholehearted, firm in spirit. He only sees one thing. He cares for one thing. He lives for one thing. He is swallowed up in one thing. And that one thing is to please God.”

III. Repentance – The Faultfinding Dimension

Repentance is change at every level in ME. The focus in repentance is not on everyone else – not on finding fault in others while failing to see your own need of repentance. Maybe this is why repentance is the forgotten doctrine – we don’t mind pointing out the need for others to repent but we don’t like to look in the spiritual mirror at our own sins and failings. Repentance is about change in me at EVERY LEVEL of my life!

John called everyone in his day to personally repent and prove their repentance by changing their actions. From the religious leaders of the day, the governmental leaders, the rich and the poor– all were called to turn away from ungodly living in order to be ready to meet the King of Heaven – the Lord Jesus Christ. Because John preached with such authority, boldness, and compassion – God worked in people’s lives to help them understand their personal need of God’s forgiveness.

Can you imagine what John the Baptist would preach if he were here in America today? I think he’d have a lot to say to religious leaders who are too fearful to preach the Word of God fully. He’d have much to say to people who claim the Name of Jesus on Sunday – but live like the rest of the world Monday through Saturday. He would have much to say to people who are full of greed and take advantage of others for personal benefit. He would have much to say to people who rely on their religious denomination or parental heritage to save them – rather than being willing to turn from their sin and place their faith in Jesus Christ alone.

John would call each of us remember – there is only one Supreme Judge of the Universe – One Sovereign King – each of us should bow before Him and live lives that give evidence of His power at work in us. John reminds us that “His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Mt.3:12

The “wheat” symbolizes those whose lives bear the fruit of repentance. The wheat will be gathered up into the Master’s barn and will be of use now and eternally. Heaven will be the home of the wheat. The “chaff” represents those who refuse to acknowledge their need for repentance and for the Lord. The day is coming when the unrepentant sinner will have but one wish – that he would have confessed His sin to God repented and had a change of heart before it was too late. The “burning with unquenchable fire,” is a sobering reminder that Hell is the home of the unsaved.

“How fearful the condition of those who fall under the just wrath and vengeance of God! A godless world needs to be reminded that the heavenly Reaper is coming and with His fan in His hand will purge the earth of its worthless chaff and gather its wheat into His millennial garner. “Thy kingdom come.”– H. Lockyer, All the Parables

Evidence of God’s convicting work can be seen in the way people responded to the message. So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.” Luke 3:10-14

John taught the common people not to hoard up things for themselves – but to share. He told the tax collectors – who were known for stealing money from people – to do their work honestly. He told the soldiers not to use their rank to intimidate take advantage of people – rather to be content with their pay and content with their lot in life.

John did not sugar coat the message of God in order to popular with people. Instead he helped them know specifically what they needed to do in order to demonstrate their truly repentant hearts.

So, what is real repentance? James MacDonald, in his excellent workbook “Downpour,” says, “Repentance is change in every way and at every level. Repentance is change in me – not a change in my spouse, not a change of job, not a change of where I live or whom I hang out with. Repentance is change in the place where it’s needed most – inside me. Repentance is a recognition of sin for what it is - followed by heartfelt sorrow- culminating in a change of behavior. I see sin for what it is – changing my mind. I experience heartfelt sorrow – changing my heart (or emotions). I determine to change my behavior – changing my will. Repentance is change at every level of your being – in your mind, your heart, and your will.”

IV. Repentance – The Focus Declared

For repentance to take place, the focus must be where John the Baptist put it. Let’s take a look at Matthew 3:11-12, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Raising the standard on real repentance will bring you to the place where the focus of your life is not on you – rather on God. Your work, your ministry, your talents – as wonderful as they may be – will be second fiddle to who the Lord Jesus Christ is – and what He wants to do in and through your life.

John the Baptist could have done what most people would do today if they were in his position of popularity. He could have said, “Don’t you know who I am? I am the one whom the prophet Isaiah spoke about 400 years ago. He told you I would come bringing the Word of God. I am the one prophet Malachi spoke of saying, ‘Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me.’ No wonder so many of you are here to see me today – no wonder my ministry is so successful - I am the man!”

John the Baptist’s attitude was the opposite of that most likely in our day. With humility in his heart and pleading in his voice John says, “I baptize you with water to show your repentant heart. Now – the one that is coming after me is the One you want to listen to. He is the Mighty One – He is the one will give you more than an external cleansing from sin – but will give you the Baptism with the Holy Spirit – to bring about real internal cleansing in your life. I can only take you so far – He can take you all the way home!”


This week, I spoke with an unsaved elderly man who was low in life. He has been through an awful past and things aren’t looking up for him at all. He is coming to a place in his life where he understands his need for the Lord. When he asked for my advice, in the spirit of John the Baptist I told him, “I can help you only so much, as your friends and this church can, too. In reality – there is Only One who is strong enough, powerful enough and merciful enough to take care of you – His Name is the Lord Jesus Christ - Call upon His Saving Name in prayer.”



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