To properly assess the issue of the church and society, the church must address the issue of repentance. It is tragic in our day that repentance has been reduced to a few tears and a little grief over sin. Repentance does not simply address moral failures, which again are symptoms rather than roots; it is a turning of the entire man. It is to turn your back on everything you were building your life upon, both the bad and the good, and commit to walk in a new way building only on an eternal kingdom and an eternal king which is at odds with both “moral” and “immoral” men. As an aside, perhaps the fact that we have lost sight of the doctrine of depravity has also robbed us of complete view of repentance.
Because we have not properly defined this word repentance, we often confront the world as moralists. We decry man’s behavior, which is merely symptomatic of the real issue, but do not reach down to the root of the heart. Could this failure to address the root of iniquity in the lost perhaps be because our own hearts have not been to the place where the root of iniquity was exposed and dealt with? Could it be the we have “repented” of bad behavior, asking God to help make us better, but we have never deeply embraced repentance until it lays the axe to the root of everything within us including our religious pride and smugness?
Leonard Ravenhill said it best, “Jesus did not die to make bad men good, he died to make dead men live.” It is not our bad deeds that are the primary issue; it is our internal death and the root of iniquity within man that must be dealt with. Could it be significant that while Jesus and John Baptist both began their ministries with the words “repent” they also began their ministries addressing religious men? Remember they were addressing the fundamental evangelicals of their day and we will come back to that thought, because it is very significant.
We must commit again to make dead man live and not merely bad men good. There are a thousand methods, and as many religions, to make bad men good. It is not the good man that is the goal; it is the man alive and infused with the Spirit that is the goal. In fact, it is not only the goal but the only hope for this nation or any other nation. For a dead man to live, he must repent of his entire life because that is the very thing that has lead him into death. To be sorry for a few moral sins is merely a door that must be opened that the light can illuminate the inner depravity for the purpose of divine life breaking in. When the message stops at the moral sins though, the result is either a false conversion or an incomplete conversion.
Obviously the idea of an “incomplete” conversion is not valid theologically, but we must make the point that there are believers who seem to have had a genuine new birth but have not been led into full repentance. These believers then live a frustrated Christian life where they feel something new within, but do not understand the necessity of repenting, or turning, completely from the previous way of life. The failure to repent completely leads them to try to continue building on what they see as the positive aspects of a way of life that God says you must turn away from in totality. This building on a false foundation frustrates the believer and thus we find believers that are more depressed than lost men. We must then preach repentance, but we desperately need to understand what repentance is that we might preach as John and Jesus did and not merely as moralists.