Please see Acts 17:30.

In 1937 the American Tract Society sponsored a contest in which they offered a prize of $1,000 for the best new book written on one of the “essential evangelical doctrines of the Christian faith.” Sixty-one years ago, $1,000 was a lot of money and a great many well-known Christian authors entered the contest hoping to win the prize. A committee representing six denominations judged the entries. The judges unanimously chose a book written by a man whose name I have mentioned before — Dr. Harry Ironside, who for many years served as pastor of the famous Moody Memorial Church in downtown Chicago. The book he wrote is entitled Except Ye Repent. The title is taken from the King James Version of Luke 13:3 where Jesus said to the men of his day, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish”.

Let me quote the first sentence from Dr. Ironside’s introduction: “Fully convinced in my own mind that the doctrine of repentance is the missing note in many otherwise orthodox and fundamentally sound circles today, I have penned this volume out of a full heart.” Repentance, he says, is the missing note in many otherwise sound churches. If it was so in 1937, how much more it must be true in 2006.

In our day, and in our circles, the doctrine of repentance is not preached very often. There are several reasons for this. First, we live in a superficial age and any preaching of repentance is bound to cut through the superficiality. This is one point on which both liberals and conservatives share unspoken agreement — no one wants to go to church and hear hard truth from the pulpit, and repentance is the ultimate hard truth. Second, some evangelicals fear the preaching of repentance because they think it somehow opposes the gospel of grace. Their fears are justified if repentance is made to equal penance, the act whereby a man atones for his own sin. But that is not true biblical repentance. Where true repentance is preached, it actually promotes the grace of God.

A Major Biblical Topic
Even a casual reader of the Bible soon discovers that repentance is a major biblical topic. All the prophets mention it in one way or another. Isaiah called Israel to repent, as did Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Hosea and Micah and Malachi. A survey of the New Testament shows that the words “repent” and “repentance” are used in various forms 55 times. John the Baptist cried out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2). The entire message of Jesus is summed up in these words: “Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). When Jesus sent the 12 apostles out, they preached “that people should repent” (Mark 6:12). Our Lord also declared, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”(Luke 5:32). When Luke recorded his version of the Great Commission, he tells us that Jesus ordered that “repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). Evidently Peter took those words seriously because on the Day of Pentecost he concluded his powerful sermon by calling on his hearers to “Repent and be baptized … for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).

Before we move on, consider these two verses:

  1. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
  2. “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

What is God saying?