A man was driving when he saw the flash of a traffic camera. He figured that his picture had been taken for exceeding the limit, even though he knew that he was not speeding… Just to be sure, he went around the block and passed the same spot, driving even more slowly, but again the camera flashed. Now he began to think that this was quite funny, so he drove even slower as he passed the area again, but the traffic camera again flashed. He tried a fourth time with the same result. He did this a fifth time and was now laughing and waving when the camera flashed as he rolled past, this time at a snail’s pace. Two weeks later, he got five tickets in the mail for driving without a seat belt.
Sometimes we do the wrong things and never realize we’re in the wrong until it’s too late. The same can be said of the spiritual road of life. We could actually be heading in the wrong direction, or always driving in the same circle, caught up in our own opinions of what is right, and we actually are missing the truth. I’m probably describing most of the world, certainly most of the culture we live in today. People live their lives by their own set of rules, which, if you boil them down, comes out to, “If it feels right to me, then it must be right with God, at least the God I choose to believe in.”
See that? It’s not that people feel they must live by a sense of right and wrong with God. God to them exists by their sense of right and wrong. It’s not that they need to meet God’s standard, God must meet their standard in order for God to be accepted by them. If they accept God, then they go to heaven. And God, then, could never reject them because then God is no God, who loves and accepts everyone according to their standards for God. But really it’s like the guy driving around in circles thinking he was right, when in fact, he was wrong. And many people are driving in the circles of their own spiritual lives, thinking they’re in the right, as they pass the watchful eye of God, never realizing that in fact, they may be actually on the path to perdition.
This is why the Word of the Lord came to John the Baptist in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when the Lord sent John the Baptist to all the country around the Jordan in Israel to preach a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. God was sending his only begotten Son to the world to provide the way of salvation, but for people to enter that “way,” their hearts needed to be prepared.
To John, there was neither Jew or non-Jew, only believers and un-believers, those “in the way of God,” and those “on their own path to destruction.” We still have the same two groups of people today. John’s message is still relevant because we still have both groups among us today. His message needs to be heard by both groups of people if the Kingdom of Heaven is to enter people’s hearts.
Repentance prepares the way for both the Believer and the Unbeliever. In this article, I will talk about the un-believer, and next week I will talk about the Believer. You can have people in both groups caught in the destructive circle of self-destructive sin.
For the un-believer, repentance leads to salvation.
- Repentance means to turn around. Unlike the guy who kept driving in circles, repentance is a warning message that you are heading the wrong way, doing the wrong thing, and to repent means that you recognize the truth, turn around, and go the right way, in this case, the way of God.
- For example, I once heard Dr. James Kennedy tell the story about how repentance turned his life around. Back in the 1950s, Dr. Kennedy was an Arthur Murray dance studio instructor. Dr Kennedy was a drunk. He slept around. And he lived a very worldly life. One day he started dating a Christian girl, she asked him, “Where do you go to church?” And he said, “Nowhere. You don’t have to go to church to be a good person.” Then, with an air of arrogance, he said, “You can be a good Christian WITHOUT going to church!” And the girl said, “No you can’t!”A week later, Kennedy was sleeping in bed in a drunken haze. When he woke up, he heard a preacher on the radio. He got up to turn it off. But before he got to the radio, he heard the preacher say this: “Suppose that you were to die today and stand before God. And he asked you, “What right do you have to enter my heaven?’ what would you say?” The question stopped Kennedy in his tracks. He sat back down on the bed. And listened as Dr. Donald Barnhouse shared the gospel message. That Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. If we believed this in our hearts, confessed this with our mouths and surrendered our lives to him, all our sins would be forgiven. And we would get to be with Jesus in heaven forever. And right then and there, Kennedy completely surrendered his life to Christ.The next day, as he was shaving, he kept looking at himself in the mirror. And saying, “I’m forgiven! I’m completely forgiven! I’m going to spend eternity in paradise with Jesus!” And he was so happy, and so grateful. That he decided right then and there, “I want what happened to me to happen to as many people as possible.” And he started going to church with his new Christian girlfriend. They dated for three more years. And they never slept together even once until his wedding night. That’s how much the power of Jesus Christ changed him. And for the last 45 years, Dr Kennedy has shown his appreciation for Jesus Christ by living a life of loving service to Him.
Can you see how repentance worked in his life?
He was a guy driving around in circles of his destructive sinful patterns thinking he was right, as he passed by the watchful eye of God, when in fact, he was wrong and on the road to perdition (destruction).
Only when faced with the question that took him out of the driver’s seat and made him answerable to an almighty and righteous God, was the pattern of his thinking, the chains around his stubborn heart broken. Then the Kingdom of Heaven entered his life through his repentance, that is, turning around in his thinking and behavior, and turning to Jesus Christ as his model, example, and way of living to please God.
My story is different from Dr. Kennedy’s, but I was a young man on the path to destruction and eternal condemnation, but did I know it? No. Did I think I was right? Of course I did. Did I hold God to my standards of right and wrong? You bet I did.
My story is different from Dr. Kennedy’s, but yet it is exactly the same, because the power of the Gospel to change my life was the same when I was confronted with the exact same question by Herbert W. Armstrong on television one night. I had a powerful spiritual experience that shook me to my core after visiting Dachau Concentration Camp when I lived in Germany. Upon returning home, one night I was watching Herbert W. Armostrong, who asked me the question, “Suppose that you were to die today and stand before God. And he asked you, ‘What right do you have to enter my heaven?’ what would you say?”
If you can not answer that question confidently, then perhaps you need to hear John’s message to turn around, that is, to repent. Turn away from your sins and turn to Jesus, who is called the Christ. All throughout the Bible, God calls us to turn from our sins and arrogant ways of thinking and to turn to him, and he will graciously forgive us. Confess your sins to God and ask him for forgiveness. God raised Jesus from the grave for our salvation. If we believed this in our hearts, confess this with our mouths and surrendered our lives to him, all our sins would be forgiven. And we will get to live in the true love of God in heaven forever.