Repentance was at the heart of the very first sermon after Christ’s resurrection. Peter told the crowds gathered at Pentecost, “Jesus of Nazareth . . . ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:22-23).
When the people heard this, they fell under powerful conviction. The preached Word pricked their hearts, because the Holy Spirit had come in all His power. And according to Jesus, that’s precisely the Spirit’s work. He said the Holy Ghost comes to “reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8).
The crowds were so stirred, they couldn’t move. Suddenly, before them were the very issues of life and death. So they cried out to Peter, asking what they should do. He answered, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. . . . Save yourselves from this untoward generation” (Acts 2:38, 40).
This passage illustrates the repentance at the heart of Jesus’ message. If there is no conviction in the message—no truth about sin and guilt, no smiting of the heart—then the Holy Ghost simply isn’t in it. He’s simply not present in such preaching.
Peter wasn’t interested in offending those crowds at Pentecost. His only purpose was to show them the truth, and when the Holy Spirit reveals the truth, it convicts. It goes down deep and roots out every area of the heart.
Sadly, this isn’t happening in many churches today. Our ministry receives letter after letter echoing the same refrain: “I have a neighbor I have witnessed to for months. I take him to church, hoping he’ll hear a word about his condition and his need for the Lord. But my pastor never says a word about sin. There’s never a word that brings conviction, that spells out the need for Jesus’ cleansing, freeing power. So my neighbor leaves even more comfortable in his sin.”
What a tragedy! How grievous it must be to God that more people are affirmed in their sins inside churches than outside of them.
According to Jesus, no one can be delivered from sin—no one is ever faced with truth—without the convicting presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus declares, “My church is a place of shameless, open repentance.” Indeed, the apostle Paul attests: “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Romans 10:8-11).
Simply put, we are brought to salvation through our open confession of repentance. Jesus states, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). And, He says, repentance is how we are healed and restored: “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).
Beloved, this is good news! Jesus is telling us, “In My Church, everyone is healed through repentance. It doesn’t matter who you are—the physically broken, the mentally ill, the spiritually sick. Everyone must come to Me the same way. And all find healing through repentance.”
So, what is the central message of Christ’s gospel? He makes it plain throughout Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In these four gospels, He tells us, “Here is what I preach in My church. This is My message to all sinners.”
First of all, “Jesus came . . . . preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). What was Jesus’ first message? He preached repentance.
To some Christians, this may sound like strong language. They may respond, “Okay, but how strongly did Jesus preach repentance?” Luke answers that Jesus told His listeners, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5).
You may think Christ’s gospel of repentance sounds like a downer. But Paul says otherwise. A repentant heart brings true life: “Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
What is the true gospel of Jesus Christ?
The Lord told Peter, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
Clearly, belonging to Jesus’ Church means more than simply believing in Him. Many Christians today merely “cast a vote for Jesus.” Their attitude is, “I voted for Christ. That makes me a member of His party.” But once they cast their vote, they walk away and forget all about His lordship over their lives.
Jesus says belonging to His Church means committing to follow Him. And that involves a life of self-denial and taking up a cross. “He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).
Our Lord makes it clear: “If you’re in My church, then be prepared to suffer and be persecuted for your faith in Me. Be prepared to deny yourself all fame, acceptance and worldly pleasure-seeking.”
The fact is, Christ’s Church has never been approved or accepted by the world and it never will be. If you live for Jesus, you won’t have to separate yourself from others’ company; they’ll do it for you. All you have to do is live for Him and you’ll find yourself reproached, rejected, called evil: “Men shall hate you, and . . . shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake” (Luke 6:22).
Yet, Jesus adds, this is the path that leads to true fulfillment. “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25). In other words: “The only way you’ll find meaning in life is by selling out your all for Me. Then you’ll find true joy, peace and satisfaction.” Christ tells us, “My Church is without spot or wrinkle. So when you come to Me, you must be willing to lay down all sins. You must surrender all to Me, to die completely to self, to all ungodly ambition and ego. By faith, you’ll be buried with Me. But I will raise you up into new life.”
“A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. . . . I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep” (John 10:12, 14-15, NLT).
Let’s face it, even the most dedicated pastor is a hired hand. He is someone the Good Shepherd trusts, an approved workman hired to care for the sheep. But sometimes even a trustworthy servant is no match for a desperate, hungry wolf (unless that servant is supernaturally emboldened as David was).
The point here is that even the best pastor will fail you at times. He’s human, after all. And he doesn’t know you the way the Good Shepherd does. Don’t misunderstand me, most of us need the godly counsel of a faithful pastor. At times we may even need the wisdom of a professional counselor. Scripture tells us that there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors, including our devoted Christian friends. The difference with Jesus is that He is always there for us: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep” (10:11). He never fails you, never leaves you, and always has your best in mind.
We all know the famous scene in the Gospels where Jesus turned over the money changers’ tables in the temple. It was a literal act but also symbolic. Jesus was overturning an inferior religious system, declaring in effect, “You leaders are supposed to be shepherds over the people but you sell sacrifices to them rather than making true sacrifices to the Father. I’m overturning your system. I am the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. I faithfully guide them into the good pastures that will bless and keep their lives.”
If you want true guidance in life, get to know your Shepherd’s voice. It may or may not come to you audibly, but it always comes through His written Word. Do you need direction in your life? He has but two words for you: “Follow Me.” Keep your eyes on Jesus. Focus on what His Word says and obey it. You can trust Him to lead you into His promise of a rich and satisfying life!
When my father left this world, he went out singing the praises of Jesus. Late in his life he renounced witchcraft, renounced Satan, and accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. My mother brought him to the Lord before his death, and now the two of them are together in heaven, dancing along the golden streets, basking in God’s glory, relishing their new eternal home with God. When I close my eyes, I can almost hear them shouting out in worship to their new King. Their Savior. Their glorious Redeemer!
How I wish my father could have enjoyed such a life on earth. I would give anything to have seen him worship God on earth as passionately as he served Satan. He would have been such an effective witness, such a powerful evangelist, such a great and mighty preacher of God’s Word.
Everything he did, he did with passion. His faith would have been so real and strong and unquenchable. He would have commanded such great miracles. He would have trusted God completely, drunk of His Word, followed Him wherever He might lead! His heart would have burned with a soul obsession! Because that’s the kind of man he was.
Instead of cowering before the devil, he could have spent his life hurting him, defeating him, bruising him. He could have had such an impact on the world. If only my father could have found Jesus at an early age.
Don’t let Satan steal your life and heart the way he stole my father’s. Don’t be seduced by his lies. Don’t be taken in by his charm or led astray by his empty promises. Put your faith in Jesus. Give your life to the one who wants to lift you up, not tear you down. The one who loves and cares for you. The one who brings true power and strength, not puny parlor tricks.
Don’t let Satan rob you the way he robbed my father. Don’t let him blind you to the truth of God’s goodness. Put your trust in an extraordinary God!
“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life” (John 10:10).
Nicky Cruz, internationally known evangelist and prolific author, turned to Jesus Christ from a life of violence and crime after meeting David Wilkerson in New York City in 1958. The story of his dramatic conversion was told first in The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson and then later in his own best-selling book Run, Baby, Run.