Understanding The Bible
"The Missing Doctrine in the Modern Church of
By Dr. Glen Clifton 1.
(Warning: this is a
“politically and religiously”
incorrect message to the modern church)
Ladies and gentlemen, today, I’m sure that I could preach on a more popular subject than the one I’m about preach. At the same time, I am also sure that I couldn’t preach on a more important one. This message, I’m sure, will not be a sweet; soothing one. It will not comfort you and give you peace. I ask God’s help and direction as I try, with his grace, to deliver this pungent, stinging and sharply penetrating message from the word of God.
I have been blessed to be able to preach the gospel for almost 50 years. I have ministered in four states and preached in over twenty. I have preached as an evangelist in revivals and bible conferences across our country and have attended many churches across the nation. I have read the Saturday newspaper listings of churches and their pastors “Sunday sermon listings.” I have read their church bulletins and mailings….and I’ve witnessed little on this subject.
I have had a library of thousands of books. I have read scores of thousands of sermons by other pastors. I have found in all these studies almost nothing about the subject I am bring to you. This subject is written about hundreds of times in both Old Testament and New Testament. There is a deafening silence on this subject in American pulpits. Today, our people need courageous, Godly men who will stand up and speak up about the sinful darkness about us, who will call sin by its right names, and then give the remedy.
God expects his pastors to speak powerfully. He also expects the people of God in the church to support their pastor when he exhorts the doctrine.
Let me read you several scriptures about today’s subject.
John, the Baptist said, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish.”
Our lord declared, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to
Peter preached, “repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the lord…”
Paul, standing before the educated of Athens preached, “in the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.”
The apostle peter wrote: “the Lord is not slow in keeping his promises, as some count slowness, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
2 peter 3:9
I wonder if you took
a poll of church members across our country, how many would respond that they
had heard a sermon on repentance? And, why haven’t you heard a sermon on
repentance? Why won’t most preachers preach on repentance? Let me suggest some
First, many pastors are afraid that they might offend some of their church members. Some of the attendees might become upset at the thought of being told that they must repent of their sins. The word repentance is unfashionable and pastors refuse to revive it. Far too many preachers today, fear for their pulpit.
Personally, I love ‘ole Nathan, standing before King David and telling him of his contemptible meanness. And, do you remember john the Baptist, the preacher of the wilderness? He had a real backbone when he faced Herod, the lecherous king. No wonder they got in trouble! But, there are far too many “sugar-milquetoast,” “spineless,” “jelly-fish,” “sweet-William” preachers who care more about their church-job-security, than proclaiming the whole counsel of God.
Second, in our more fashionable churches and religious circles, naming sin would be not only unpopular, but in today’s world “politically incorrect.” To name sins, that God’s word says, “The lord hates…, and are an abomination to him,” (proverbs 6:16) is just out of the question. Preacher and church member, I understand all that. I have stood before the church deacons. They didn’t like my leadership-style, my preaching, and they thought that I was too “plain-spoken” in the pulpit. They said, “Plain talk about sin would run people off and hurt our church.”
Dr. H. A. Ironside wrote, “The doctrine of repentance is the missing note in many otherwise orthodox and fundamentally sound circles today.”
I’m reminded of the story of the Methodist pastor who was a “straight-speaking” minister. One Sunday, after his sermon on sin, his stewards called him in and in so many words told him to taper-down his messages. “Don’t call sin by name. You are drawing to much attention to the sin, and that will cause our young people to go sin.” The wise pastor said, “Oh, I see what you want me to do,” as he took a small bottle out of his desk. It was a bottle that had a “skull and crossbones” on the label and was marked poison. It was strychnine. “You want me to change the label, say, to essence of peppermint. Men, I can change the label, but, it will still be poison, and even more dangerous.”
Preachers cannot sell out to the world (or the pressure of some church members). We must call sin by its right name and preach the unvarnished truth, even though some will have it in for us. I wonder if it isn’t because of our cowardice that the world seems to pick-on-us and pity us so? I am wondering if some of our bible schools and seminaries don’t bore the rifles to small for the load we’ve got to fire? I wonder if some of our pastors don’t fire, because we are afraid to, lest the congregation fire them?
Someone has said, “That cheap grace is now being preached. It is being received with a cheap faith, resulting in cheap Christians (or maybe just cheap church members, who are not saved at all).
Over half a century ago, Dr. B. H. Carroll said: “I give it as my deliberate conviction that the Christian profession of today owes its lack of vital Godliness, its absence from prayer-meeting, its miserable semblance of missionary life very largely to the fact that old-fashioned repentance is so little preached. You can’t put a big house on a little foundation.”
And Vance Havner once taught us, “The last word of our lord to the church is not the great commission. Our lord’s last word was “repent!” Christ’s command to five of the seven churches of Asia was “repent!” (Revelation 2 and 3. Remember: our lord was talking to Christian church members).
Have you ever see a football team that was ahead, but is quickly losing momentum? Have you ever seen a basketball team that has had 10 or 15 unanswered points scored against them? What does the coach do? He calls “timeout.” Why? To get their team back into the original game plan. What’s wrong with the church? Why are we losing ground? Why has the southern Baptist convention plateaued and gone down since 1993? Why do we have over 10,000 churches that report no baptisms each year? Why were there over 17,000 churches, (40 percent) that reported no baptisms of youth 18 years and under?
The church needs a time-out for a tune-up! We must get back to the bible game plan. The church is like an orchestra, where only half the members show up for practice. We are too busy, or too lazy, or too careless to practice. We are occupied with other things. We need to return to the fundamentals and the game plan we started with.
Why do we need to do this? Because sin is flourishing and spreading unchecked in our churches! Satan is not fighting many of our churches anymore… he is joining them. Our churches today have become tolerant of sin in our presence. We put up with certain things and practices, because we don’t want to be called a bigot, or be accused of prejudice. Many of us have given up on the standard, because we are afraid of the pressure of people.
The church has lost its sense of sin. Many churches (and pastors) have lost the ability to evaluate, define, describe, appraise, and announce the fatal nature of sin. Sin has been taken out of our preaching and teaching. Because of permissiveism and tolerance men and women in our churches have adopted the standard of the world. “Sin is only sin when you get caught.” We no longer preach that sin is ugly and disastrous. This type of permissive theology (which is not bible theology), has made its way into our pulpits and has become the greatest danger confronting the church today.
We need to remember and understand that sin is a blighting process, a deadening force, a wrecking agency. Sin is treason against almighty God. Sin sears, it blights, it kills and it damns. Mistaken preachers may soothingly whisper of the love and mercy of God until their congregations come to feel that sin is just a human frailty and requires only cultural remedies. Not so! Because, “The wages of sin is death…” Romans 6:23
Churches and Christians that tolerate what almighty God condemns get themselves into trouble. The church at Corinth was highly gratified by sin in their midst. However, Paul would not overlook the immoral brother, “just because he was a good person” 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. The church at Thyatira was broadminded, and would not think of taking a stand against Balaam and Jezebel, worldliness and false doctrine, but they were condoning what the lord condemns, and he told them to repent. Revelation 2:18-29. Remember John the Baptist, I mentioned earlier? This lion-hearted servant of God never bent an inch. He just loaded his rapid-firing gospel gun with the powder of God’s wrath and rammed in the seventh commandment and turned it loose on the lecherous old rascal and the shot lit into him good and hard. He said, “You are living with your brother Philip’s wife and you’ll go to hell like any other common sinner. Repent, repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Matthew 14:1-12
The church at Ephesus was orthodox and hard working. In fact, they even condemned heresy. Yet with all this great activity, they fell because they “left their first love.” And Jesus told them to “repent.” Revelation 2:5 The church at Laodicea was comfortable, growing, and wealthy, yet, our lord said that they were too cold to boil and to warm to freeze. They were lukewarm, temped, putrid, nauseating in the lord’s eyes. They were a little too bad to be good and a little too good to be bad. Jesus told them to “repent.”
I stand before churches like this almost every week. They just sit there, hardly blinking an eye, as I preach my heart out. They look at me as if to say, “you don’t mean me do you,” as they look at their watch. The average church member has no burden for a lost world. In fact, the average church member shows little evidence of having been born again. Many are living in open sin, and anything spiritual is the farthest thing from their minds.
Dr. Mac Brunson, pastor of the first Baptist church in Jacksonville, Florida stated this past week, (11-23-06) “the only way for God’s people to get out of where they are stuck in sin is to reach up in repentance and grasp the hand of grace.”
Why has the church lost so much of her power? It is because we have been selling out to the world, the flesh and the devil. So, what’s the answer to our 21st century predicament? Repentance toward God!”
With that introduction let me get to my sermon.
I. What is 'repentance'
Repent and repentance are both Old Testament and New Testament teachings. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word “nacho” means to turn around or to change the mind. It is used over 600 times in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the Greek word “metanoia” means to change the mind. And that’s what it means “When you begin to think the opposite way than you’ve been thinking.” Literally, it is a military term which means to “do an about-face, and go in the opposite direction.”
To better understand what it is let us see what repentance is ‘not.’
a. Repentance is not conviction
Surely, a person must
be convicted, realizing the consequences of sin. Man must see sin in its hideous
reality. That’s why God sent his Holy Spirit into the world. Jesus said, “He
will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment… of sin,
because they do not believe in me.” John 16:8,9
Men must know that their sin is a soul-damning, God-dishonoring thing and they must repent. There are always those under the sound of my voice who come under deep conviction. I’ve witnessed them stand and tremble during the invitation. They become a part of the “white-knuckle” club, just holding on to the bench in front of them, not willing to give up the old life for the new abundant life.
Some of you are members of the senior’s society. You have been to church so many times, some, just to please your wife (or husband). You are slowly tottering to your grave with wrinkles and grey hairs, and you know, that after the grave, there’s nothing left but hell, yet you won’t give your life to God. So close, and, yet so far. Convicted, but not converted!
b. Repentance is not “doing” penance
Repentance is not
penance or penitence. Repentance means: a change of mind, a change of direction.
It is a change of mind about sin, about self and about God. One must turn from
sin to the savior! I must be sorry for my sins enough to quit them.
When I was young, I was taught that I must ‘do’ something to rid myself of sin. I must say so many ‘hail Mary’s’ and repeat the rosary so many times, usually about 20 to 25 times. I wasn’t praying…I was saying. I wasn’t talking to the living Christ, I was begging to those who are dead. I was taught that absolution (the forgiveness of sin) could come only through the priest in the sacrament (saving ability) of penance. I just knew that I couldn’t do enough or be good enough to be forgiven. Then, I read in the bible that the apostle Paul told a young man named timothy, “There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” 1 timothy 2:5 The author of the book of Hebrews tells us, “now this is the main point of the things we are saying: we have such a high priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens… now he has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as he is also mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.” Hebrews 8:1,6
The apostle john wrote, “…if anyone sins, we have an advocate (lawyer) with the father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” I john 2:1
Under this new covenant I don’t need a man, a priest, a parent or anyone to let me talk to God. Why? I now have the everlasting savior, who is my lawyer. I didn’t “work” for him. I didn’t deserve him. But, I now have Jesus! Glory to God!
C. Repentance is not contrition (sorrow)
Of course, you must be contrite, you must be sorry for your sin before you can be saved. David said, “I am ashamed of my sins.” Psalm 51:1-19. Paul said, “There is a Godly sorrow which produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted, and there is a sorrow of the world that produces death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10 You see, there is a different kind of sorrow that a man can have which does not save.
Come with me behind
the walls and bars of our state penitentiary or the county jail where I have
shared the gospel many times. Do you realize that almost everyone who is
incarcerated is sorry? But, are they sorry because they broke the laws of the
land, or are they sorry because they got caught?
Come with me into a quarantined section of a hospital where we visit a man that is writhing on his bed in obvious pain. He will tell you of his dirty sins that put him in this physical state. He will definitely tell you that he is sorry he ever participated in such debasement. Is he really sorry for his sins, or is he sorry that he has to reap in his diseased and rotting body the legitimate harvest of his foul and licentious life?
One old woman told evangelist Sam Jones, “brother, I’ll tell you what repentance is. It is being so sorry for your meanness that you ain’t going to do it any more.” Sam said, “well, aunty, there ain’t no such definition in the books as that, but you’ve got it down right for certain.”
Sorrow and tears are
not the measure of real repentance. Judas shed tears, but he did not repent. He
was sorry, but he did not repent and he went to hell.
Satan is always pleased with the preacher who gets up in the pulpit and begins to soft-pedal and spit-hairs about what repentance really means. But, the preacher who gives the devil a good case of spinal meningitis is the one who calls sin by its name, and exhorts the people to quit!
you can be sorry for your sin, but, if your sorrow isn’t the Godly sort that leads you to genuine repentance, where you forsake your former ways and turn to Jesus Christ….your sorrow is a worthless fake.
D. Repentance is not confession
There’s a lot of
confession that is nothing more than lip service. As a pastor for years, I have
seen many who get so convicted because of their sins, and feel so sorry for it,
that they go up after the service and get on their knees to confess their
shortcomings, and then go out and continue to live in the same old way. This is
What God wants is sincere confession and any other kind isn’t worth the breath it takes to make it! You have heard the saying: “confession is good for the soul.” Yes it is! However, only real repentance leads to Godly confession.
Do you remember the parable that Jesus taught in john 18:9-14, about the two men who went up to the temple to pray? The Pharisee extolled his own virtues in his loud, verbal confession. Vs. 11,12 The repentant tax collector prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” V. 14 Jesus said, the tax collector went away justified. V. 14 True repentance comes with real confession!
Proverbs 28:13 says, “he that covers his sins shall not prosper: but whoever confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy.” This means: confessing all, and hiding nothing. You see, it is our nature to deny our sins, directly or indirectly; to minimize or make excuses for them. But, when the Holy Spirit works in our souls and our sins are brought to light, we must acknowledge them before God. When true biblical repentance works in our hearts, then there can be no relief for our broken hearts until we confess our sins and lay them bare before God.
We see this in psalms 32:3,4, “when I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer.”
If you don’t confess
your sins, you will become hardened. I’ve known Christians - truly saved,
judicially forgiven, and eternally secure - who were hardened, impenitent, and
insensitive to sin. They, consequently, are also without joy because they don’t
have a loving, intimate fellowship with God.
I know it is difficult to confess sins. Just like a little child who will not admit when they did something wrong, adults are also stubborn.
Confession of sin is crucial because it gives God the glory when he chastens the disobedient Christian. Confession and repentance go hand-in-hand, but they are not the same.
II. True repentance demands change
As I shared earlier,
the word repent literally means: “to change your mind,” “to change your
direction,” an “about-face.” It means, “I’ve been going wrong, but now I am
going to go right.”
Repentance is a gift of God. Acts 5:31 the bible teaches, “The goodness of God leads you to repentance.” Romans 2:4 Faith without repentance is folly, the ultimate of hypocrisy, and repentance without faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ is futile.
Do you remember the parable of the lost son that Jesus told in Luke l6? This young man had left his family, he had left his upbringing, he left the country, he had fallen into sin…..lost everything! Then …..The bible says, “He came to himself.” V. 17 then he said, “I will arise and go to my father.“ v. 18 then, he said, “I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and no longer worthy to be called your son.” V. 21 do you see the progression? Here I see: realization, confession, repentance, and return to the father.
If you don’t know Jesus…God doesn’t want you to be lost! The bible says, “the lord…is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 2 peter 3:9 God loves you so, even in your sin, that he sent Jesus to prove his love by dying for you. You, as a sinner, must repent before you can be the recipient of salvation by grace through faith. Ephesians 2:8-9.
God doesn’t want you out of his will, floundering around with no victory. Some of you here are trifling with the patience and mercy of God, laughing at sin in your life. Time and time again a warning has flashed before you, and you have put him off. Your stubborn heart will not let you surrender your life to him. You have hardened your heart against the pleadings of God. You must repent if you are to enjoy the unbroken fellowship with God. Job 42:1-6
Someone has said, “I repented at conversion, before I understood the meaning of repentance, but since then as a Christian I have repented many times.”
Our churches are void of spiritual power. There is discontent and dissatisfaction in the pew. Many pastors have given themselves to the easy subjects, and are unwilling to preach the whole counsel of God. There is a lack of courage among God’s men. A wave of amorality is sweeping America and we are not speaking up!
Dr. Bailey smith concluded a recent message in Florida by saying: “I recently read an article that said there were 600 bridges in America that will collapse because of “existing problems.” Then, he discussed… America is filled with problems. We’ve had the swaggers, and the baker’s, and the haggard. We have read about the ‘child molesting’ priests and teachers. We have been through the playboy philosophy. We are now in the homosexual, homophobic age inside and outside the church. Today we are witnessing gay and lesbian pastors in many old mainline denominations.
If the church is ever to recapture the spirit of the New Testament church, it must repent! Spiritual revival will not come to us when we take our sins too lightly. Repentance is hard work! It won’t come to the light hearted. The reason we won’t repent is because we know our lives would have to change. The powerful country preacher Vance Havner has said, “Only a mighty moving of the spirit can clear the scandal and strife in the church today.” And, the moving of the spirit includes repentance.
Repentance is not only the doorway to heaven... it is to be a part of our daily walk with God when we come to Christ. Stop making excuses for your sin. Repentance does not give us more guilt... it takes away the guilt of sin, and brings great salvation.
Paul preached repentance to the educated in Athens, “truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.” Acts 17:30 the lost must repent! Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Matthew 9:13. Backsliding Christians must repent! Paul said, “now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance.” 2 Corinthians 7:9 local churches must also repent! Revelation, chapters 2, 3 our lord called five of the seven churches to repent, or else he would come and remove their lampstands, and they would cease to be light in a darkened world.
Just like repentance is a critical element of salvation, repentance is also a critical element of revival in the church.
While serving as pastor in a small town in northern California in 1960, I received a phone call (the kind pastors don’t like,) early one Sunday morning. The teacher of the teen-age girls could not be there for Sunday school. No one else was available to teach the class, so I had to teach. These girls were meeting on the steps of the baptistery. I will never forget this class. After the lesson in john 3, I asked for a time of commitment with those desiring to accept Jesus as their savior to raise their hands. One girl, sandy Sanderson, responded for prayer and gave her life to Christ.
In morning service that followed, this teen-ager came to the altar, trembling and in tears, to profess her faith in Christ. Amazingly, at the other end of the altar, knelt a tearful, bearded man, a logger, who looked like he just walked out of the woods. He cried out, “I repent, dear Jesus... please forgive me and save me!”
These two people... One so young and one so old, with their act of repentance and faith, started a series of events that would change many lives, the church, and bring revival and salvation to scores in the next few months. Men and women, families, loggers, neighbors and friends would experience the power of the Holy Spirit before God was through. Heaven came down as I have witnessed only a few times in my life. I was privileged to baptize sixty-seven (67) persons who were saved in the next six months. Many more repented of their sin and consecrated their lives to the lord’s work. Others joined by letter from other churches. At least seven men surrendered their lives to the ministry. And, even today, some of their sons are serving as pastor of some of the churches in northern California (including one 12 year old boy who was saved and baptized during this amazing season of refreshing). True repentance brings revival and renewal.
If you go to hell, you have no one to blame but yourself. The way to heaven has been open for 2,000 years. Jesus made that possible for you. Do you need him? Would you come to him today? Would you repent of your sin and, by faith, give you life to Jesus today?
Whether you will repent today... I do not know. But, I do know there is no use to talk about anything else until you get things right with God.
Dr. Glen Clifton
Used by permission
The Race of Life"
by Dr. Glen E. Clifton
1. Dr. Clifton and his wife Dee, have been retired to Florida for 4 years. He has been kept busy preaching up and down the Treasure coast since he moved here. He can be contacted for speaking engagements at (772) 336-3992.
Clifton, Dr. Glen E., Brief Biography