Are you a Christian who has never repented? Did someone (erroneously) tell you that it was not necessary to repent before becoming a Christian, that all you needed to do was “believe”? If so, please read on. The following is an excerpt from the book The Spirit-Filled Believers’s Handbook, which was written by the late bible teacher Derek Prince.
The New Testament is unanimous on this one point: True repentance must always go before true faith. Without true repentance there can never be true faith.
The call to repentance begins at the very introduction to the New Testament with the ministry of John the Baptist.
The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight.”
John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:3-4).
John the Baptist’s call to repentance was a necessary preparation for the revelation of the Messiah to Israel. Until Israel had been called back to God in repentance, their long-awaited Messiah could not be revealed among them.
A little further on we read the first message that Christ Himself preached after John had prepared the way before Him.
Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel…and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1: 14-15).
The first commandment that ever fell from the lips of Christ was not to believe but to repent. First repent, then believe.
After His death and resurrection, when Christ commissioned His apostles to go out to all nations with the gospel, once again the first word in His message was “repentance.”
Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).
Here again it is repentance first, and after that, remission of sins.
Shortly after the resurrection, the apostles, through their spokesman Peter, began to fulfill this commission of Christ. After the Holy Spirit’s coming on the day of Pentecost, the convicted (but still unconverted) multitude asked: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). To this inquiry there came an immediate and definite answer.
Then Peter said to them, “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” (Acts 2:38).
Here again it is repentance first; after that, baptism and remission of sins.
When Paul spoke to the elders of the church at Ephesus, he outlined the gospel message which he had preached to them.
I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:20-21).
The order of Paul’s message is the same: first repentance, then faith.
Finally, as we have already seen in Hebrews 6:1 -2, the order of the basic foundation doctrines of the Christian faith is first repentance from dead works, then faith, baptisms and so on.
Without exception, throughout the entire New Testament, repentance is the first response to the gospel that God demands. Nothing else can come before it, and nothing else can take its place.
True repentance must always precede true faith. Without such repentance, faith alone is an empty profession. This is one reason why the experience of so many Christians today is so unstable and insecure. They are seeking to build without the first of the great foundation doctrines. They are professing faith but they have never practiced true repentance. As a result, the faith which they profess procures for them neither the favor of God nor the respect of the world.
In many places today the simplification of the gospel message has been taken one step too far. The message often preached today is “Only believe.” But that is not the message of Christ. Christ and His apostles preached “Repent and believe.” Any preacher who leaves out the call to repentance is misleading sinners and misrepresenting God. For Paul tells us that it is God Himself who “commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). That is the general edict of God to the entire human race: “All men everywhere must repent”
In Hebrews 6:1 repentance is defined as “repentance from dead works”; in Acts 20:21 it is defined as “repentance toward God.” This means that, in the act of repentance, we tum away from our dead works and face toward God, ready to hear and obey His next command.
The phrase “dead works” includes all acts and activities that are not based upon repentance and faith. It includes even the acts and activities of religion- even of professing Christianity – if they are not built on this basis. It is in this sense that Isaiah cries out:
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags (Is. 64:6).
There is no reference here to acts of open sin and wickedness. Even those acts which are done in the name of religion and morality, if they are not based on repentance and faith, are not acceptable to God. Charity, prayers, church attendance, every kind of religious rite and ordinance – if they are not based on repentance and faith- are merely “dead works” and “filthy rags”!
There is one other fact about scriptural repentance which must be emphasized. True repentance begins with God and not with man. It originates not in the will of man but in the free and sovereign grace of God. Apart from the working of God’s grace and the moving of God’s Spirit, man left to himself is incapable of repentance. For this reason the psalmist cries out for restoration.
Restore us, O God … and we shall be saved! (Ps. 80:3,7).
The word translated “restore us” means literally “cause us to tum back.” Jeremiah uses the same word in Lamentations 5:21.
Turn us back to You, 0 Lord, and we will be restored.
Unless God first moves man toward Himself, man cannot of his own unaided will tum to God and be saved. The first move is always made by God.
In the New Testament Christ expressed the same truth.
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him (John 6:44).
The supreme crisis of every human life comes at the moment of the Spirit’s drawing to repentance. Accepted, this drawing leads us to saving faith and eternal life; rejected, it leaves the sinner to continue on his way to the grave and the unending darkness of an eternity apart from God. The Scripture makes it plain that even in this life it is possible for a man to pass “the place of repentance”- to come to a point where the Spirit of God will never again draw him to repentance, and where all hope is lost even before he enters the portals of eternity.
It is fitting to close this study with the words of Christ in Luke 13:3 (which are also repeated in verse 5).
Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.
Christ was speaking of men who died in the very act of performing a religious rite; that is, a company of Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their own sacrifices. While carrying out their sacrifices in the temple, these men had been executed by order of the Roman governor, and their blood had been mingled on the temple floor with that of their sacrifices.
Yet Christ tells us that these men perished; they went to a lost eternity. Even their religious act of sacrifice in the temple could not save their souls, because it was not based on true repentance.
The same is true of the religious ceremonies of many professing Christians today. None of these religious activities is any substitute for true repentance. Without such repentance, Christ Himself said, “… you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
Many young Christians struggle with the question of whether it is ok for them to dance, smoke or drink alcohol, because if they are prohibited from participating in these things, they might end up losing a lot of their friends. In his book The Spirit-Filled Believers’s Handbook, bible teacher Derek Prince provided some good insights on this subject, which would be helpful to new believers who might be struggling with this issue.
One often hears questions such as these: Is it right for a Christian to dance? to smoke? to gamble? and so on. The answer to all such questions must be decided not by accepted social practice, nor by accepted church tradition, but by the application of God’s Word.
For instance, I remember that a group of Christian African women students once asked me, as a Christian minister, if there was any harm in their attending dances at the college where they were being trained as teachers. In reply I did not offer them my own personal opinion or the regulations laid down by a mission board. Instead I asked them to tum with me to two passages in the Bible.
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Col. 3:17).
I pointed out that these two passages of Scripture contain two great principles which are to decide and direct all that we do as Christians. First, we must do all things to the glory of God. Second, we must do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God by Him. Therefore, anything that we can do to the glory of God and in the name of the Lord Jesus is good and acceptable; anything that we cannot do to the glory of God and in the name of the Lord Jesus is wrong and harmful.
I then applied these principles to the question they had asked me. I said, “If you can attend those dances to the glory of God, and if you can freely give thanks to God in the name of the Lord Jesus while you are dancing, then it is perfectly all right for you to dance. But if you cannot do your dancing in this way and upon these conditions, then it is wrong for you to dance.”
It was my responsibility, as I saw it, to give those young women basic scriptural principles. Thereafter it was their responsibility, not mine, to apply those principles to their particular situation.
Medical research has brought to light one very definite way in which many modem Christians, like David of old, have been kept from the paths of the destroyer by the application of God’s Word.
The Scriptures teach very plainly that the body of the Christian, having been redeemed from the dominion of Satan by the blood of Christ, is a temple for the Holy Spirit to dwell in and is therefore to be kept clean and holy. For example, Paul says:
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are (1 Cor. 3:16-17).
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
For this is the will of God, your sanctification … that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel [that is, the earthen vessel of his physical body] in sanctification and honor (1 Thess. 4:3-4).
On the basis of these and other similar passages, many Christians have refrained from using tobacco in any form. Until fairly recently it was often suggested by unbelievers that this refusal by Christians to indulge in tobacco was merely a kind of foolish, old-fashioned fad, akin to fanaticism. However, modem medical research has demonstrated, beyond all possibility of doubt, that smoking – particularly of cigarettes – is a direct contributory cause of lung cancer. The medical associations of both the United States and Great Britain have endorsed this conclusion. In the United States this year there will be an estimated 146,000 deaths from lung cancer (American Cancer Society). Another undisputed fact, proved by experience and endorsed by medical science, is that death through lung cancer is usually lingering and painful.
In the face of facts such as these, the refusal of Christians to smoke can no longer be dismissed as foolishness or fanaticism. If foolishness can be charged to anyone today, it is certainly not to the Christian but to the person who regularly wastes substantial sums of money to gratify a lust which greatly increases the possibility of a painful death through lung cancer. And if foolishness can be charged to the victims of this lust, surely nothing short of wickedness can be charged to those who, by every means of persuasion and modem publicity, willfully seek, for the sake of their own financial profit, to bring their fellow human beings under the cruel bondage of this degrading and destroying habit.
Almost exactly the same that has been said about tobacco smoking applies equally to excessive indulgence in alcohol.
Again, a majority of sincere Christians have through the years refrained from this kind of indulgence on the basis of the Bible’s warnings against it. It is a well-established fact that excessive indulgence in alcohol is a major contributing factor in many kinds of mental and physical disease and also in the modem toll of traffic accidents.
Here again, as in the case of smoking, millions of Christians have been preserved from harm and disaster by their practical application of the Bible’s teaching.
A new, “modem” plague – AIDS – came upon the world in the 1980s. Christians who practice monogamy and refrain from immorality protect themselves and their children from the devastation of that disease.
On the other hand, homosexuality, so often touted as an “alternative life-style,” has proved to be an alternative death-style. Christians who have been protected from these evils can surely echo, with deep thankfulness, the words of David.
Concerning the works of men,
By the word of Your lips,
I have kept myself from the paths of the destroyer (Ps. 17:4).
There are many people who attend church, and who may even claim to believe in Jesus Christ, but neglect serving Him out of laziness, carelessness or stubbornness (there is even a term for such individuals – “pew-warmers”). According to the late bible teacher, Derek Prince, the bible warns that such individuals are in danger of outer darkness. Below are excerpts from the book The Spirit-filled Believer’s Handbook.
We shall now consider in greater detail the principles by which believers will be rewarded for their service. These are set forth by Christ in the form of two parables: the parable of the talents (see Matt. 25:14-30) and the parable of the minas (see Luke 19:11 -27).
The central theme of both parables is the same. Each concerns a man of wealth and authority who commits a certain sum to each of his servants to administer on his behalf and then takes a journey to a distant country. After a considerable lapse of time, this wealthy man returns and holds an individual reckoning with his servants as to the way in which each has handled the money committed to him.
In both parables three servants are mentioned individually: the first two are faithful in administering their master’s money; the third is unfaithful. This is how the money was distributed in the parable of the talents:
And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability (Matt. 25:15).
(A talent was a considerable quantity of money, perhaps as much as fifteen years’ wages.)
Notice that this verse reveals the principle according to which the talents are distributed: “to each according to his own ability.” That is, God distributes to each believer the maximum number of talents that his own ability will permit him to use effectively. God does not give to any believer either more or less than he is able to use effectively.
In this parable the first two servants each achieved an increase of 100 percent. The servant who had received five talents gained five more; the servant who had received two talents gained two more. The lord assessed the faithfulness of these servants not by their net gain but by their percentage increase. The servant who gained five talents was not considered more faithful than the servant who had gained two talents, although his net gain in talents was greater. Rather, each of these servants was considered equally faithful because each had achieved the same proportionate increase: 100 percent.
This is indicated by the fact that the words of commendation spoken to these two servants, recorded in Matthew 25:21 and 23, are exactly the same in each verse.
His lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.”
Each of them had originally received the maximum number of talents that his ability would allow him to use effectively; each of them had achieved the maximum gain possible – 100 percent. It is on their faithfulness, as expressed in the percentage increase achieved, that their judgment is based. The fact that one man originally received five talents and the other two is not the basis on which their faithfulness is assessed.
In this parable of the talents the third servant merely hid the one talent he had received and later brought it back to his lord in exactly the same condition in which he had received it. For this he was not only deprived of any reward, but he was also totally and finally rejected and cast out from his lord’s presence.
But his lord answered and said to him, “You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. Therefore you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:26-30).
There can be no doubt whatever about the meaning of these words. This third servant not only received no reward; he was actually deprived of the one talent which he had originally received, and he himself was cast out from his lord’s presence.
Let us now tum to the parable of the minas in Luke 19. (A mina was a quantity of money equivalent to about three months’ wages.)
In this parable ten servants are mentioned, although only the cases of three of them are described in detail. Originally, all ten servants received the same amount committed to them by their lord: one mina each.
Of the three servants whose cases are described, the first gained ten minas, the second gained five minas, and the third merely hid his mina away and eventually brought it back in the same condition in which he had received it.
It would appear that each of these three servants possessed equal ability, since each received the same amount committed to him. However, they were not equally faithful. The first gained twice as much with his mina as the second. For this reason his reward was twice as great.
Then came the first, saying, “Master, your mina has earned ten minas.” And he said to him, “Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.” And the second came, saying, “Master, your mina has earned five minas.” Likewise he said to him, “You also be over five cities” (Luke 19: 16-19).
We notice that, in two respects, the reward of the first servant was greater than that of the second. First, the first servant was specifically commended by his lord as a good servant; the second servant received no such special commendation. Second, the first servant was given authority over ten cities; the second servant was given authority only over five cities. That is to say, their rewards were in exact proportion to the increase which each had achieved.
One further conclusion we may draw from this parable is that rewards for serving Christ faithfully in this present age will consist in positions of authority and responsibility in the administration of Christ’s kingdom in the following age. In other words, faithful service in the present age leads to continued and extended opportunities of service in the next age. For those who truly love Christ there can be no greater joy or privilege than that of continuing to serve their Lord. For those who are faithful, this privilege, begun here in time, will be extended throughout the ages of eternity.
In this parable of the minas, as in that of the talents, the third servant was condemned for being unfaithful and failing to make any use at all of the mina committed to him.
And he said to him, “Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow. Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?” And he said to those who stood by, “Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas” (Luke 19:22-24).
In this parable, as in that of the talents, the unfaithful servant not only received no reward, but even the one mina he had originally received was taken away from him. The final end of the servant with the one mina is not revealed in this parable. However, it seems reasonable to conclude that, like the unfaithful servant in the parable of the talents, he was rejected and cast out from his lord’s presence.
In both these parables alike, failure to make active use of the talent or mina committed to each servant is described by the very strong word wicked. In each case the lord commences his judgment of the unfaithful servant by the phrase “you wicked servant.”
From this we learn that, by God’s standards, wickedness consists not only in actively doing that which is bad, but just as much in the failure to do good when it lies within our power to do it.
Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin (James 4: 17).
In other words, the sins of omission are no less serious than the sins of commission.
The same thought is contained in Malachi’s prophetic revelation of God’s judgment.
Then you shall again discern
Between the righteous and the wicked,
Between one who serves God
And one who does not serve Him (Mal. 3:18).
Here we find a clear and sharp distinction made by God between the righteous and the wicked. The righteous are defined as those who serve God; the wicked as those who do not serve God. Once again the lesson is plain: Not to serve God is in itself wickedness.
It was this wickedness that led to the condemnation and rejection of the unfaithful servant in each of the two parables we have studied. In neither of these parables did the rejected servant do anything evil; in each case the ground of his rejection was merely that he failed to do the good which it was in his power to do. In both these parables Christ indicates that this same principle of judgment will be applied to all those who claim to be His followers and servants.
In the previous chapter we examined the passage that speaks about the Christian whose works are rejected and burned up in the fire of judgment, yet he himself is saved (see 1 Cor. 3: 11-15). On the other hand, in the parables which we have now considered, it appears that the unfaithful servant is not only deprived of any reward, but he himself is rejected and cast out forever from his lord’s presence.
This naturally leads us to ask an important question: What is the difference, in God’s estimation, of these two cases? Why should it be that, in the case described by Paul, the man’s works are rejected but he himself is saved, whereas in the parable of Jesus the unfaithful servant not only loses his reward but is himself also rejected and cast out?
The difference appears to be this. In the case described by Paul, the man actually did try to do something active for his master; in fact, the examples of wood, hay and straw suggest that he did a great deal. However, his work was not of the kind or quality that would stand the test of fire. Yet this activity of his – though misguided and unrewarded – did at least serve to prove that his actual faith in Christ was genuine. For this reason the salvation of his soul was assured even though his works were burned up.
On the other hand, the unfaithful servant with the one talent did nothing at all for his master – either good or bad. This failure to act at all showed that his profession of faith and service was vain and insincere.
Faith without works is dead also (James 2:26).
A faith that does not result in activity of any kind is a dead faith; it is empty, worthless, insincere. Not only does it fail to produce any works of service which can be rewarded; it even fails to secure for the one who professes it the salvation of his own soul. A person who professes faith in Christ without ever seeking to serve Christ actively is a hypocrite.
For this reason, the judgment of such a person is to be cast “into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” A careful examination of passages concerning similar judgments (see Matt. 24:51 and Luke 12:46) shows that this place of outer darkness, with its weeping and gnashing of teeth, is the place reserved for the hypocrite and the unbeliever. The unfaithful servant who does nothing at all for his master must take his place in this same category; he is in reality a hypocrite and an unbeliever. The place appointed for him is outer darkness.
Does a born-again Christian never commit sin again? In his book The Spirit-Filled Believers’s Handbook, bible teacher Derek Prince provided some good insights on this subject, that would be helpful to new believers who might be struggling with this issue.
Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God (1 John 3:9).
John here directly relates the victorious life of the overcoming Christian to the nature of the seed which produced that life within him – that is, God’s own seed – the incorruptible seed of God’s Word. Because the seed is incorruptible, the life it produces is also incorruptible; that is, absolutely pure and holy.
However, this Scripture does not assert that a born-again Christian can never commit sin. Within every born-again Christian a completely new nature has come into being. Paul calls this new nature “the new man” and contrasts it with “the old man” – the old, corrupt, depraved, fallen nature which dominates every person who has never been born again (see Eph. 4:22-24).
There is a complete contrast between these two: The “new man” is righteous and holy; the “old man” is depraved and corrupt. The “new man,” being born of God, cannot commit sin; the “old man,” being the product of man’s rebellion and fall, cannot help committing sin.
The kind of life which any born-again Christian leads is the outcome of the interplay within him of these two natures. So long as the “old man” is kept in subjection and the “new man” exercises his proper control, there is unsullied righteousness, victory and peace. But whenever the “old man” is allowed to reassert himself and regain his control, the inevitable consequence is failure, defeat and sin.
We may sum up the contrast in this way: The true Christian who has been born again of the incorruptible seed of God’s Word has within him the possibility of leading a life of complete victory over sin. The unregenerate man who has never been born again has no alternative but to commit sin. He is inevitably the slave of his own corrupt, fallen nature.
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