Have you ever assumed you would be invited to an event only to discover that your weren’t? We assume that our cars will start, our homes will be safe, and that we won’t be the one to get the Covid virus. So we don’t wear masks, avoid restaurants, or stop hugging our friends. We have seen the effect of living our lives on auto-pilot, taking much for granted. We also presume that God will approve of our choices, thoughts, and conduct toward others. Many people automatically think of heaven as a place of eternal rest—a place to get away from the pain, troubles, griefs, anxieties, and suffering of this life–that equates to a kind of undisturbed void. Other people work anxiously to earn their entrance into heaven, imagining it to be an eternal soft pillow for their heads. But heaven is not that. It is a place of temporary rest until Christians live out the rest of eternity with God on the new earth with new heavens. (See 2 Peter 3:13.) There is no such thing as “salvation by death,” which I call the assumption that all “acceptable” people will go to heaven. The Bible teaches that the only way to enter the kingdom of heaven is by repentance and personal belief in Jesus Christ in this life. Let this devotion be a reminder for us to teach others that repentance of unbelief in Christ is necessary to enter God’s kingdom now.
An Invitation to Stop Working for Salvation
John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus by “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4) “The state of the Jews was then very corrupt, all sorts of men were grown very wicked; and though there was a generation among them, who were righteous in their own eyes, and needed no repentance; yet John calls upon them all, without any distinction, to repent; and hereby tacitly strikes at the doctrine of justification by works, which they had embraced, to which the doctrine of repentance is directly opposite…The Jews had imbibed many bad notions. The Pharisees held the traditions of the elders, and the doctrine of justification by the works of the law; and the Sadducees denied the resurrection of the dead; and it was a prevailing opinion among them all, and seems to be what is particularly struck at by John, that the Messiah would be a temporal king, and set up an earthly kingdom in this world. Wherefore he exhorts them to change their minds, to relinquish this notion; assuring them, that though he would be a king, and would have a kingdom, which was near at hand, yet it would be a heavenly, and not an earthly one…Nor ought the Jews above all people to object to John’s method of preaching; since they make repentance absolutely necessary to the revelation of the Messiah and his kingdom, and redemption by him…” (1) Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple leaves no question about the need for God’s people to repent: “…if they repent with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their captivity to which they were carried captive, and pray toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen and the house that I have built for your name, then hear from heaven Your dwelling place their prayer and their pleas, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you. (2 Chronicles 6:38-39)
An Invitation to Enter God’s Kingdom
Jesus began his ministry with the same invitation to repent. “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mark 1:14-15; Matthew 3:3; 4:17) The kingdom of God (the kingdom of heaven) represents the time when “spiritual and internal grace would be communicated to many, in whose hearts it would reign and make them [ready] for the kingdom of glory; and because the whole economy of the Gospel, the doctrines and ordinances of it are from heaven.” (2) “These verses summarize Jesus’ preaching ministry. The gospel is the ‘good news’ that the kingdom of God is at hand, meaning that God’s rule over people’s hearts and lives is now being established, and people should repent and believe in the gospel. The kingdom is more than simply the rule of the Spirit within people since the kingdom will ultimately include the restoration of all creation (see Rev. 21:1).” (3) And all this is a work of God, not of man.
An Invitation to Change
Living in America, or other developed country, it’s easy to assume that we will have all that we need or even want for our daily substance and pleasure. Take the Covid vaccine—many people assume that everyone offered the vaccine will take it, but there are a considerable number of people who will refuse it for specific reasons. Then most who get both vaccinations assume that we are fully protected, but we are not. Our assumptions and presumptions lead to false conclusions for practical matters and spiritually. The only way to check our spiritual misconceptions is to know what the Bible says and understand the depth of Jesus’s teaching on his gospel. “Observe the great truths Christ preached. By repentance we give glory to our Creator whom we have offended; by faith we give glory to our Redeemer who came to save us from our sins. Christ has joined these two together, and let no man think to put them asunder.” (4) “The doctrine he preached was repentance; ‘Repent ye.’ The word here used, implies a total alteration in the mind, a change in the judgment, disposition, and affection, another and a better bias of the soul. Consider your ways, change your minds: you have thought amiss; think again, and think aright. True penitents have other thoughts of God and Christ, sin and holiness, of this world and the other, than they had. The change of the mind produces a change of the way [they live]. That is gospel repentance, which flows from a sight of Christ, from a sense of his love, and from hopes of pardon and forgiveness through him. It is a great encouragement to us to repent; repent, for your sins shall be pardoned upon your repentance.” (5) Here is a lovely invitation and the only way to enter the kingdom of heaven is by repentance and personal belief in Jesus Christ in this life. Unfortunately, we tend to separate repentance from salvation by our legalistic view of it, as if we can transform our behavior on our own—as if we are saved by grace and sanctified by our works. R. C. Sproul offers a better way to understand penitence. “To have truly repented does not mean we are perfect; it means we are looking daily to Christ and seeking more and more to deny sin and to live according to His way.” (6)
An Invitation to Spend Eternity With God
So what is heaven? It is a place of rest, purity, peace, and holiness where Christians wait for the new world under God’s perfect rule. Now is the time to practice living under his rule today, through humble repentance for thinking that we deserve that future or earn it in any way. Our first repentance should lead us to a holy, unpretentious view of God’s invitation to rest in him now and forever through Christ’s righteousness. Our initial, saving encounter with Jesus reminds us that we are wrong about God until we turn our back to the world and our face to him. We probably didn’t understand what Christ did for and to us at salvation, so let’s not automatically assume that our friends, family, and neighbors understand the connection between repentance and heaven. But now we know that the only way to enter the kingdom of heaven is by repentance and personal belief in Jesus Christ in this life. Why not invite others to learn to repent of unbelief in Christ as the only and necessary way to enter God’s kingdom? “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:5-7)
Related Scripture: 1 Kings 8:46-51; 2 Chronicles 6:37-38; Ezekiel 14:6-11; 18:30; John 4:14.
1. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Matthew 3:2, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/matthew-3.html
2. Gill, Ibid.
3. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Mark 1:14–15, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
4. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Mark 1:14-22, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/mark-1.html
5. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Matthew 3:2, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/matthew-3.html
6. Sproul, R. C., Ligonier Ministries, “Repentance Required,” https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/repentance-required/
January 30, 2021