To many preachers of what is supposed to be the gospel today, repentance means a change in behavior rather than a change in beliefs that allows God to save someone and then Himself cause a change in the heart and the behavior of the redeemed one. When Paul was called upon to summarize the gospel, though, he didn’t even mention the behavior of those being saved, except to say that their behavior was inherently bad, but that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead. He determined to focus on nothing in his preaching to us except Jesus Christ and Him crucified, because that is the source–the sole source, in fact– of our righteousness.
But when the preachers of today fundamentally misunderstand the meaning of repentance, they wind up defining the gospel’s invitation, not in terms of the cross or of responding to God’s grace in belief, but instead summarize their invitation with something like, God “loves those who turn to Him in repentance, and loves those who cleanse themselves.” Problem is, that isn’t just a random quote. It’s a quote from the muslim Koran, and devout muslims believe it and live by it. But it doesn’t save them. They deny Jesus even died on the cross, which is why they view God’s grace as unnecessary for salvation.
Today, though, there are too many Christian preachers who are truly saved, but who for others change the rules on how to be saved, because of their unwillingness to understand what it means to repent, making it mean something that they can evaluate about the person’s behavior, instead of just a change of heart and belief and trust in Christ.
Perhaps what we need is to hear the words of someone who came out of that “turn away from sin and be good and God will accept you” mentality, into true saving faith in the true and living God.
Ergun Mehmet Caner is such a man. Born and raised a Sunni Muslim in the middle east, he was a believer in that religion not just by birth, but by choice, and he firmly believed in it, even willingly coming to America with his family in the hopes of turning it into a muslim nation submitted to Allah. But after years of trying to persuade him, a Christian friend finally convinced him that Jesus is the true Son of God and the true road to salvation. Caner describes the night of his salvation in a way that will help those who think repentance means “turn from your sins and God will forgive” to understand what it really means. Here are his words:
“For the first time in my life, I came to God with nothing in my hands to try to please Him. I brought nothing but my own repentance and my faith in Christ. Repentance itself is not a ‘good work’ that earns God’s approval. It is surrender–throwing oneself on the mercy of the court. Repentance for me was the end of works. It was an admission that everything I’d ever attempted in an effort to please God had failed. I finally saw that all my works, my best days, my righteousness, were as filthy rags. I threw myself on the mercy of the court. And Jesus declared me righteous, He declared me justified, and He saved me forever.”