When was the last time you heard a good old, Hell, Fire, and Brimstone sermon? You know the kind; the preacher gets a little loud, pounds the pulpit a few times and tells people to repent of their sins or else. Even if he does not yell or beat on the pulpit, he will warn people of an eternity in hell, tell them to have faith in Christ, and change their ways.
Many Christians today will claim that type of preaching is judgemental; that our message is one of love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy.
Using Jesus and the New Testament preachers as our example; what should our message be?
Matthew 3:1-2, "In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And Saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Matthew 4:17, "From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Mark 6:7,12, "And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits ... And they went out, and preached that men should repent."
John the Baptist, the twelve Apostles, and Jesus Christ all had a message of repentance. Repentance was so much part of the message of Christ that twice within three verses the Bible quotes Him as saying, "I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3,5).
The problem many people see with the "repent or perish" preaching is that our works do not save us. The Bible is clear; a person does not receive eternal life because they are a righteous person or through some religious ceremony.
Two examples of salvation through faith - Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast."
Titus 3:5, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost."
How do we rectify, "repent or perish" with salvation by faith?
We should note that Hebrews 6:1 informs us that the foundations of salvation are "repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God."
Not every type of belief is saving faith. Satan and his demons believe in God. James 2:19, "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble."
Satan knows the Word of God; he used it during the temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:6). He plunged the world into sin, by causing Adam and Eve to doubt what God had said (Genesis 3:1-6). If there is any creature in the universe that knows of the existence of God, His Word, His plan of salvation, it is Satan. He has spent all of history attempting to sway humanity away from God.
Many people have the same type of faith Satan does - they know Jesus Christ is the Son of God, they know the Scripture is God's Word, they believe in eternity, including heaven and hell. They know the fundamental truths and accept them as such, but an acknowledgment of the facts is not saving faith.
Satan and his angels will spend eternity in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10; Matthew 25:41). Satan's belief is not saving faith.
The Bible talks of a person becoming a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 8:1, 9; John 3:3; Galatians 6:15; Romans 7:6; Ephesians 2:15, 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10).
Saving faith changes the heart. That is where repentance and faith come together. Saving faith will produce works. Romans chapter 4 explains Abraham's salvation by faith, and not by works. Romans 4:3, "For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness."
James 2:19-26 quotes the preceding verse and explains that Abraham's faith came alive by taking Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him. The works do not save us. However, they do show that salvation has come.
When an individual has saving faith, the Holy Spirit moves into their heart, and the desire to sin weakens, the desire to do good increases. The change in heart will, therefore, produce the turning away from sin, aka - repentance.
Above I quoted Ephesians 2:8-9, the passage tells us we are saved by grace, through faith, and not by works, but let us go to the next verse, Ephesians 2:10, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."
After saving faith comes the works. The works do not save anyone, but they are proof of faith.
How is your faith? Is it like Satan's; an acknowledgment of truth, but without a change of heart? Alternatively, is your faith one that changes who you are?
"Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." - Jesus Christ.