I often hear and read (like on Facebook) statements about Jesus and His gospel that surprise me (I suppose they shouldn’t). Some of these statements are reproduced frequently, without explanation, and I wonder, “Where did these ideas come from?” I read one such statement from a well-meaning Christian. The statement was referencing a specific individual, but the “truth” it cited was presented as a universal truth. It suggested that individuals should not worry about what is being said about them and their behavior, because “Jesus loves and accepts people just as they are.”
What Does the Bible Say?
Is this really what the Bible teaches about Jesus? I have read and studied the Bible for awhile and throughout that time, I haven’t found this teaching in its pages. Let’s take a very short trip and see what it does teach about Jesus’ message to others. In ch. 4 of his gospel, Matthew describes the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (v. 17). Interestingly, the previous chapter describes the ministry of John the Baptist, the chosen forerunner of Jesus. What was his message? “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (vv. 1-2). Did Jesus continue to preach this way? Luke records the following in chapter 13, “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’” (vv. 1-5). When Jesus sent out His disciples to preach the gospel, what was their message? “So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent” (Mark 6:12).
After Jesus’ ascension, Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and preached his first inspired sermon. What was his message? “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:38). Later, Jesus converts Paul and makes him His chosen messenger to the Gentiles. Paul sums up his ministry to the Gentiles in a speech before King Agrippa: “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:19-20).
Do you see the theme developing in the preaching of Jesus and His chosen messengers? Repentance. The Greek word translated “repentance” is “metanoia.” It means “to undergo a change in frame of mind and feeling; to make a change of principle and practice, to reform.” Repentance involves a change. Jesus’ message involved change, not an acceptance just as we are. The good news for us is that it is Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, that brings about that change. This is regeneration or rebirth. That is a topic for another time, but the key point, for now, is that Jesus’ message of the gospel includes change.
There is no need to be harsh to others, who are suffering under sin. All believers (all of us) were once slaves to sin. But, we do no one a favor by telling them that Jesus loves and accepts them just the way they are. No…we condemn them. Let’s not do that. Remember Jesus words quoted above, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 17:7).
This is really good news. Let’s all be grateful that Jesus does not leave us in the state in which He finds us. Let’s rejoice that He brings about a change in our lives by giving us the Holy Spirit to continue the work of change in our lives.
The great reformer Martin Luther wrote in the first of his 95 Theses, the document that started the Reformation, “that the whole life of believers should be repentance.” So, let’s try something old…let’s endeavor, with the Lord’s help, to live lives of repentance and out of love call others to the same.
May grace and peace be multiplied under you.