Even in the light of so many scriptural proofs that salvation depends on repentance, some ministers still find a way to nullify its necessity by twisting its clear meaning to make it compatible with their faulty conception of God’s grace. By their new definition, repentance is no more than a change of mind about who Jesus is, and one that, amazingly, may not necessarily affect a person’s behavior.
So what did the New Testament preachers expect when they called people to repent? Were they calling people to only change their minds about who Jesus is, or were they calling people to change their behavior?
Paul believed that true repentance required a change of behavior. We have already read his testimony regarding decades of ministry, as he declared before King Agrippa,
Consequently, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance (Acts 26:19-20, emphasis added).
John the Baptist also believed that repentance was more than just a change of mind about certain theological facts. When his convicted audience responded to his call for repentance by asking what they should do, he enumerated specific changes of behavior (see Luke 3:3, 10-14). He also derided the Pharisees and Sadducees for only going through the motions of repentance, and warned them of hell’s fires if they didn’t truly repent:
You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance….the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matt. 3:7-10, emphasis added).
Jesus preached the same message of repentance as John (see Matt. 3:2; 4:17). He once stated that Nineveh repented at Jonah’s preaching (see Luke 11:32). Anyone who has ever read the book of Jonah knows that the people of Nineveh did more than change their minds. They also changed their actions, turning from sin. Jesus called it repentance.
Biblical repentance is a willful change of behavior in response to authentic faith born in the heart. When a minister preaches the gospel without mentioning the need for a genuine change of behavior that authenticates repentance, he is actually working against Christ’s desire for disciples. Moreover, he deceives his audience into believing that they can be saved without repenting, thus potentially insuring their damnation if they believe him. He is working against God and for Satan, whether he realizes it or not.
If a minister is going to make disciples as Jesus commanded, he must begin the process rightly. When he doesn’t preach the true gospel that calls people to repentance and an obedient faith, he is destined to failure, even though he may be a great success in the eyes of people. He may have a large congregation, but he is building with wood, hay and straw, and when his works go through the future fire the quality of his work will be tested. They will be consumed (see 1 Cor. 3:12-15).