Published on March 28th, 2017 | by Adam Felder
The pillars of the Gospel are unchanging:
- God created everything. As creator, He exercises His right to determine right and wrong. Those determinations are given to us through the Law; of which we are held accountable to obey.
- Man rejected God’s authority and broke His laws. Now, every human is born an enemy of God, and by nature, continually breaks God’s laws. That law-breaking is called sin.
- Because we are all sinners (law-breakers) we deserve to be punished. If God was to simply sweep our sins under the rug of His love He would not be a righteous judge… indeed He was be a very unrighteousness judge.
- So… we deserve our punishment… an eternity in hell. We have rejected the infinite glory of God and therefore deserve an eternal, conscience punishment for our crimes against Him.
- Yet, God is love, and in love He sent His son Jesus Christ to live a perfect life and die on our behalf. Though sinless, Christ took upon himself the punishment we deserve for the sins we have committed (and will commit). He bore the full cup of God’s wrath and was killed 2000 years ago on a cross.
- Christ died, was buried, and three days later rose from the dead, conquering sin and death, making it possible for us to do the same.
- The offer to be saved from the punishment we deserve is a free gift. It can’t be earned or bought. No amount of good works, penance, or money given to charity will convince God that we are good enough to deserve salvation. God mercifully offers it freely, out of grace, and grace alone.
These are the unshakable tenants of the Gospel message – on which nearly all evangelical Christians can agree. The only thing remaining is the call, and that is wrought with controversy. How does one, when faced with these truths, finding themselves desirous of salvation make this exchange personally effective? How does one have Jesus’s work on the cross applied to them?
It is my contention, along with many others, that we find the answer in Mark 1:15 with Jesus’ own words. That verse says that Jesus was entering the town of Galilee, preaching the Gospel. His message was simple: “The kingdom of God is at hand, Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
That is the call. If one desires to be saved they must: Repent and believe the Gospel.
Yet… this begs the question (and doesn’t limit the controversy): How does one “Repent and believe the Gospel”? Perhaps the easier piece to understand is the latter, “believe the Gospel”. Faced with the pillars written above, if one believes them to be true and sees the beauty of the good news, they have “believed the Gospel”. How then should we understand “Repent”?
Some would argue that repentance here is simply a restatement of “believe the gospel”. One primary reason for this understanding is the definition of repentance. In the Greek it means to “change one’s mind”. To have a certain mindset or understanding of something, and to change your mindset/understanding of that thing. So… the argument goes: Repent and believe the Gospel simply means, stop “unbelieving” the gospel (repent) and believe in the Gospel. This argument reduces this verse to redundancy: stop not-believing and believe.
We won’t exegete the texts in this blog, but a careful examination of 2 Cor. 7:10-11 reveals that repentance stems from godly grief and it leads to salvation. There is a recognition that “something is wrong with me, with my situation” which creates an urgency to clear one’s name, an indignation, a longing for something different, a zeal that wasn’t there before… the grief (by definition) is a recognition of bad news that affects the heart. To apply these heart responses to only a lack of belief falls short of the intent of the text. Additionally, 2 Tim 2:25-26 shows us that repentance is a gift, that when received (from God) we are finally FREED from the snare of the devil after being captured by Him to do His will. And what is the will of the enemy? Yes, the will of the enemy is unbelief but can we honestly say his will is limited to unbelief? No… the will of the enemy is anything anti-God… in effect, the will of the devil is sin, in every form.
Repentance, therefore, must be more than just a call to affirm something you didn’t affirm before. Repentance is a change of heart and mind about who we are, about the state of our souls, about the reality of sin and its punishment (“eagerness to clear one’s name” – 2 Cor 7), and about who Jesus Christ is and what He did for us. The call of Jesus to repent is a call to see our helpless inability to save ourselves, reject the desire to sin, and see Jesus as our substitutionary sacrifice and Lord – worthy of our affections and allegiance because of what He has done.
Repentance is NOT a requirement that someone stop sinning in order to merit or earn the Lord’s acceptance. The drunk need not “kick the bottle” before coming to Christ. The porn addict need not muscle up enough will power to be porn free for a month before earning the right to be saved. No! 1000x, No! Repentance does, however, recognize that “I have a sin problem that needs to be dealt with”.
Therefore, since sin and repentance are intrinsically linked, and repentance, per our Lord Jesus, is required for salvation, it would behoove us to understand the nature, the ultimate essence, of sin. The fruit, or the outward manifestations, of our sin serve as pointers to larger “root” issues of the heart that drive those actions. Every sin has a root and those roots must be acknowledged and grieved over at some level. Yes, we should grieve over lashing out in anger… but if the source of the anger isn’t dealt with and grieved over, repentance cannot truly take place. We simply regret the outward manifestation of the root. In fact, to be given the insight, by the Lord, to see the roots of sin and yet excuse and make peace with them, regardless of any affirmation of belief, is a sure sign of a false, empty, un-saving, faith. The heart and mind MUST be changed at a root level.
What do I mean by “roots” of sin? While the fruits of sin (drunkenness, lust, anger, greed, etc.) are, unfortunately, only limited by the creativity of man’s depraved mind, the roots of that fruit have remained unchanged. I recently finished the Bible Study “Behold Your God” in which it was explained that all sin can be boiled down to one (or a combination of) three root sins: Pride, Selfishness, and Unbelief. The angry (fruit) person may be enraged because someone treated them in a manner they felt was unfair; but underneath the anger is ultimately pride… a sense that they are worth more than how that person treated them. For the greedy business man who’s aim in life is to climb the corporate ladder, stepping on anyone and everyone they need to in order to get ahead… his heart is giving in to unbelief. He doesn’t believe that a greater joy and satisfaction lies with knowing and loving Christ. His faith, instead, is put in what this world has to offer… be it power, status, money, or prestige. Likewise, every “outward” fruit sin will find its source in at least one of those three root sins: pride, selfishness, and unbelief.
Would You Like To Take a Survey?
In testing this “root” theory, a survey of the Word seems to bear witness to this truth. There appears to be a thread of these root sins throughout scripture, seen again and again in how Satan tempts us, how false converts prove to be apostate, and how even a Christian needs to continue to battle these root sins as a means of assurance.
|Gospel Call to Repent & Believe
|Christ Tempted in the Wilderness
|Parable of the Soils
|True Believer’s Assurance
|Humble yourself before God, confessing your inability to save yourself through works.
|Tree made one wise “like God”
|Worship me and I’ll give you the world
|Seed finds hard soil and is taken away
|Pride of Life
“I am rich… I need nothing”
|Humble yourself, reject sin, receive & obey His commandments
|Surrender your life to Christ. You are not your own. Die to your selfish desires.
|Tree was good for food
|Test God – Throw yourself off the temple
|Plant choked by the world
|Lust of the Flesh
Self-love vs “first love”
|Selfless love towards others, especially fellow believers
|Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.
|Tree was a delight to the eyes
|Make bread from those stones
|Plant burned by sun
|Lust of the Eyes
“Wake up” still spiritually dead
|Continue to believe and grow in the Gospel!
Starting in Genesis, we see the devil tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. His temptation took hold as the Word says in Genesis 3:6:
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that is was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate…
Here we see Eve giving in to all three root sins. She saw the fruit was good for food, so instead of obeying God’s command to not eat she satisfied her selfish flesh and took it. The fruit was a “delight to the eyes” – she fell to unbelief that her God was her true and greatest delight… she turned from that truth and believed delight was found elsewhere. And lastly, she desired the tree because she wanted to be wise. She wanted to be “like God” (vs 5 prior), gaining wisdom knowing good and evil, elevating herself in pride, making more of herself than she ought. The result of falling to these root sins? The fall of mankind, spiritual death, pain, and separation from the Lord… just to name a few.
The thread continues in the life of Christ when He was tempted in the wilderness. Satan’s tactics hadn’t changed (and remain largely unchanged even today). He tempted Christ three times, taking a swing at each root sin in hopes that it would find a foothold. He first tempts Jesus to make bread to satisfy his hunger. Jesus rebukes this temptation with the belief that all He needs is the bread of doing His Father’s will. He will not bend to the temptation of unbelief. Satan also temps Christ to throw himself off the temple and have His angles catch Him, to which Jesus replies that He will not test the Lord. He will not try to force His desires on the Father. He will not demonstrate a selfish attitude by “testing” God to give Him what He wants… even if it is for the satisfaction of proving to the devil He was who He said He was. It was not the will of the Father for Jesus to jump and be caught, therefore Jesus put himself last and put the Father’s will first. Lastly, the devil tempted Jesus to bow before Him and as reward, He would be given the world! He would be made a great man! The most powerful person on earth! (as if He wasn’t already….). Jesus once again rejects the ploy of the enemy and stands against the temptation of pride, declaring… There is only one God to worship and Satan isn’t it.
Parable of the Seeds
We see this thread continue in the parable of the seeds, where a prideful, hard heart leaves the seed on hard soil where it is stolen by the birds, while selfishness kills the plant that sprouted when the desires of the world stir up the flesh, and lastly the persecution-heat of the sun burns away false belief when professing faith is tested. In each case, the root sins remain… there was no repentance. The heart and mind where not changed. Only the last seed brought forth a great harvest. It was that seed that “repented” of hardness of heart, finding soft soil to grow in, turning from the selfish tendencies of the world, and believing the gospel despite the heat of persecution.
Nearing the end of the Bible, we find in the book of James three, eerily familiar, descriptions of sin: The Lust of the Flesh, the Lust of the Eyes, and the Pride of Life. The parallel between the root sins of Pride, Selfishness, and Unbelief are clearly evident. As we desire to satisfy the lust of our flesh we think only of our selfish desires. When we see believe that our ultimate joy is found not in Christ but in the lust of our eyes and the joy that the world seems to offer, we fall victim to unbelief. And finally, by definition, the Pride of Life is a root that will always lead to death as we can never perform well enough or be esteemed highly enough to prove our worth to a perfect, holy God. James could see the root problem of sin and he warned his reader, and now us, of the same dangers.
Even the churches of Revelation suffered from these root issues. The church of Laodicea pridefully testified that “I am rich… I need nothing”. The church of Ephesus fell prey to self-love which caused them to “lose their first love”. And the church of Sardis was exhorted to “Wake Up!” as many who thought they were spiritually alive were still spiritually dead in unbelief. The story doesn’t change… in every case, the roots remain the same. Is it any wonder, then, why all three churches were called to repent (vs 2:5, 3:3, and 3:19)?!
The book of 1 John is a tremendous book written to the Christian who desires assurance. The three primary means noted throughout that book, through which a believer can know they are regenerate are: Belief in the Gospel, a love for others (especially for fellow believers), and a life that isn’t characterized by the practice of sinning. So, for the believer, we see that our assurance can be found in how we actively war against the three root sins we’ve seen again and again throughout scripture.
- The Christian can be assured of his salvation when he wars against unbelief and believes the Gospel.
- The Christian can be assured of her salvation when she wars against selfishness recognizing and acting on the desire to put others, especially fellow believers, first. Loving them with a sacrificial love.
- The Christian can be assured of his salvation when he wars against pride by humbling himself under the loving commands of the Lord, finding in his heart a desire to turn from sin and obey God’s commandments out of joy and delight, not out of begrudging submission.
Let us not sell short the words of our Lord Jesus by cheapening the call to repentance. The heart and mind must be changed regarding these root sins. Yes, every person suffers from a variety of fruit sins, but underneath them all are the roots of depravity that must be seen for what they are and grieved over accordingly. To be at peace with pride, selfishness, and unbelief is to remain unsaved. God will only save the one whose heart and mind have changed and who therefore desires, in the strength that God supplies, to sever the roots.
The Focus is Off
On the other end of the pendulum swing, as we talk to unbelievers and share the gospel, if we only speak of the outward manifestations of the roots we never address the heart problem. When this happens the passers-by or the person we’re talking to equates “not doing xyz sin” with repentance unto salvation. The tragedy of this message is that salvation can be understood as something we earn (by not “sinning” a specific fruit) or it offers a different kind of false assurance, should the hearer believe that their prideful heart isn’t a problem as long as they don’t act on it. If they can muster enough will power to suppress the fruit, the root can remain.
No… our call should be an exhortation to believe the Gospel and sever the roots of pride, selfishness, and unbelief because what is needed in the life of an unbeliever is a new, repentant heart!