…repentance is the ultimate tipping point. It is the mechanism that puts genuine change into action in our lives and in our culture. It is what enables us to move beyond the past-and all of the mistakes of the past-and into the future with bright hopes and new dreams. Repentance is the fulcrum upon which transformation turns.
One of the central messages of the Scriptures is a call to repentance. It is not to predict the future. It is not to offer new moral mandates. It is simply to declare the “words, statutes, and commandments of the Lord” that the people might “be overtaken and repent” (Zechariah 1:6). It is that they might “put on sackcloth and lament” (Joel 1:13). It is that they might “repent and turn” from all their transgressions “lest iniquity be their stumbling block” (Ezekial 18:30). It is that they might “return to the Lord” for “healing and restoration” (Hosea 6:1). This is the constant refrain of hope in the Scriptures:
- Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness. Isaiah 1:27
- Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.
Of course, this was not exactly a welcome message – even if it was a refrain of hope. It wasn’t in the days of the prophets and it still isn’t today. As the renowned English preacher of the last generation, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once remarked, “The great effect of preaching repentance is to make everybody feel condemned, and nobody much likes that.”2
None of us wants to hear that our hearts are “deceitful and wicked above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). We don’t want to hear that “we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) or that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We don’t want to hear that our corrupt lives have resulted in a corrupt culture where the innocent are exploited, the helpless are despoiled, and the downtrodden are utterly forgotten. We don’t want to hear that there are very real and tangible consequences to our sin that ultimately must be dealt with. We would much rather find a series of steps that would “enable” us, “empower” us, or help us to “recover,” than we would to hear the clear message of grace:
- In repentance and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. Isaiah 30:15
According to Lloyd-Jones, if Jesus “had come and told us that the way of salvation was to consider a great, noble, and wonderful teaching and then to set out and do it, why, we would have liked it. Thoughts of imitating the Lord always please mankind, because they flatter us. They tell us that if we only use our wills we can do almost anything… The world today in its state of trouble is very ready to listen to sermons that tell it somehow or another about the application of Christian principles. No one is annoyed at them. ‘What wonderful thoughts’ people say. ‘What a wonderful conception.’ But the message of the Gospel is that, ‘The world is as it is because you are as you are. You are in trouble and confusion because you are not honoring God; because you are rebelling against Him; because of your self-will, your arrogance, and your pride. You are reaping,’ says the Gospel, ‘what you have sown’ … We all dislike that, and yet it is always the message of Christ-He called upon men and women to repent, to acknowledge their sin with shame and to turn back to God in Him, but the message of repentance always has been and still is a cause of offense.”3
The scriptural call to repentance is inescapably clear. Alas, our resistance to it is profoundly entrenched in our hearts, our lives, our homes, and our culture.
We know that the gospel is “foolishness” to some (1 Corinthians 1:18). It is a “stumbling block” to others (1 Corinthians 1:23). But it is an “offense” to all who disbelieve (Galatians 5:11). It is an offense to us for precisely the same reason the prophets were persecuted (Matt. 5:12; Acts 7: 52). It is an offense to us because the message of repentance fails to flatter us. And so like the people in the days of the prophets, we cry, “Do not speak out,” and “Do not prophesy about these things” (Micah 2:6). We shy away from the harsh truth-thinking that surely the Word of the Lord only brings “good things” (Micah 2:7).
Nevertheless, repentance remains the tipping point. It is the solution to our grave societal problems, the antidote to our endemic cultural pathogens, and the counterweight to our brazen political tyrannies, and can only be undertaken as we humbly yield to the truth of the gospel. This is the starting place. This is square one.
2. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Heart of the Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 61.
3. Ibid., 62.
” The Repentance Tipping Point, Jeremiads, and Nehemiads” By George Grant, Ph.D.
published in the magazine “Faith For All of Life”, April 2013.
George Grant is the pastor of Parish Presbyterian Church, director of the
King’s Meadow Study Center, Founder of Franklin Classical School,
New College Franklin, the Comenius School, LifeNet Coalition, HELP Services,
Parish Life Network, and the Chalmers Fund. He is the author of more than five
dozen books. The father of three and grandfather of three, he lives in Franklin,
TN with his wife and co-author, Karen.