Is there Any Room for Repentance in Our Modern Preaching?

by Eddie Hyatt on March 24, 2015
In Acts 20:21 Paul said the he preached a two-fold message—repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. In Acts 20:21 Paul said the he preached a two-fold message—repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. (File)

I am not one given to visions, but in 1975, upon graduation from Bible school, I saw a vision of a coming great falling away in the church, followed by an even greater revival. I have lived to see the first part of the vision—the falling away—fulfilled. I believe the second part of the vision—the great revival—could be at the door and tarries, perhaps, until we make some much needed adjustments in how we see and present Jesus.

When I saw the great falling away I heard the words, "Jesus is a means, not an end." I knew immediately and instinctively that the falling away would be characterized, not by a rejection of Jesus, but by Him being preached and embraced as a means to personal happiness rather than as the end or goal for life.

means is "how" we reach a desired end or goal. If my end or goal is to travel from Dallas to New York, there are various means at my disposal for reaching that goal. The means may vary but the end is stationary, for the end is what is important.

In the vision, churches were filled with people who had accepted Jesus, not as the end or goal in life, but as a means for them obtaining their own end of personal happiness and fulfillment. They were like the people in John's Gospel who sought Jesus, not for who He was, but for what they could get from Him.

What's in It for Me?

In the Gospel of John, Jesus chided a large crowd for seeking Him as a means rather than as the end or goal of life. This happened when He multiplied a lad's lunch of 5 loaves and 2 fishes and fed a large multitude. After the miracle, Jesus departed from that area with His disciples. The people, however, were so enthralled by what they had seen and experienced that they crossed the Sea of Tiberius looking for Him.

Their motives, however, were all wrong and Jesus confronted their distorted perception of Him by saying, "Truly, truly I say to you, you seek Me not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled" (John 6:26).

Remember that in John's Gospel, the signs Jesus performs are indicators that point to who He is—His identity. It is thus clear that Jesus recognizes that the people are seeking Him, not for who He is, but for what they can get from Him. They see Jesus as a means for satisfying their personal needs and desires, not the End—the Lord—deserving their love and devotion because of who He is.

This Is Where Repentance Comes In

The preaching of Jesus as a means rather than the end ignores the ramifications of the fall wherein our first parents heeded the serpent's lie that God's command was keeping them from personal happiness and fulfilment in life. They, therefore, declared their independence from God, rejected Him as the ultimate end of life, and replaced Him with their own happiness as the ultimate end, in other words, they themselves became the end and goal of life. They became the first humanists.

Since that time, their posterity—the human race—has been in a continuous search for the means that will bring them to their end, or goal, of personal happiness and fulfilment. A myriad of means have been used (and continue to be used) to try and achieve this end, including entertainment, sports, drugs, power, sex, career, crime, religion, etc.

What is needed, however, is not another means, but a completely different end. This is what the Bible calls "repentance." In Acts 20:21 Paul said the he preached a two-fold message—repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

The word "repent" is from the Greek word metanoeo and literally means "to change the mind." It refers to a radical change of thinking wherein self is no longer the end or goal, but Christ is made the end or goal for life. This was the message preached by Charles G. Finney, the Prince of Revivalists, who described repentance in this manner:

"It consists in the sinner changing his mind, or disposition, in regard to the supreme object of pursuit. It is a change in the end at which he aims and not merely the means of obtaining his end. It is a change from a state of selfishness in which a person prefers his interests above everything else, to that disinterested benevolence that prefers God's happiness and glory, and the interests of His kingdom, to his own private happiness."

It has been estimated that 80 percent of Finney's converts never backslid. In contrast, a follow-up was done on those who responded during a modern evangelistic crusade and it was found that, only six months later, only 5 percent had any sort of meaningful relationship with Christ.

I would suggest that preaching Jesus as a means rather than as the End is one reason we have seen so many people drop out of church and let go of their faith. They accepted Jesus as a means to their own personal happiness, not as the end and goal for their life. So when they encountered tests of faith, it was all too easy to let go of Jesus and try something else, in other words, try another means.

Finding Fulfillment and True Happiness

Jesus and His kingdom are the highest and greatest value in all creation. This is why we only find true meaning in life when we give up self as the end and make Jesus and His kingdom the end. This is the point Jesus made when he said, "Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matt. 16:24-25).

I believe the great revival I saw could be at the door. It tarries, perhaps, until we tweak our message and begin presenting Jesus, not as a mere means for personal happiness, but as the Lord and Master of the universe who calls each and every one of us to an absolute and unconditional surrender to Him and His will. Then, and only then, will we see His kingdom come and His will done on earth as it is in heaven. Only then will we know true happiness and fulfillment.

Eddie L. Hyatt is an author, historian and Bible teacher. He is the founder of The Revive America Project, which is dedicated to reclaiming the vision and restoring the hope for another Great Awakening in America and around the world.