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Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Repentance from Dead Works, Part 2

More thoughts on repentance from dead works as an essential part of the gospel and one of the elementary teachings of Yeshua. Evangelism is not like making toast. Discipleship and evangelism entails an ongoing process. Includes excerpts from a blog in which an Evangelical pastor explains why he does not preach repentance. Does repentance mean to “change your mind” or to “turn from sin”?

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Nineteen: Repentance from Dead Works, Part 2
Originally presented on June 8, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Initially, Lancaster took a detour from delving into the deep meaning of the Epistle to the Hebrews to take a closer look at the six elemental principles of our faith as outlined in Hebrews 6:1-3. Since teaching the first principle last week, repentance from dead works, he takes a further detour, traveling a greater distance away from his source material in order to illustrate how far the Evangelical Church has drifted away from the essentials of the Bible.

After his recap of “the milk,” the very, very first thing the Hebrews writer thought that any person needed to know when starting out as a wet-behind-the-ears disciple of Yeshua (Jesus), that is, repentance from sin and turning to God, he tells his audience how difficult the journey of becoming a disciple actually is:

Then a scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.”

Matthew 8:19-22 (NASB)

Notice how Jesus doesn’t make it so easy for someone just to follow him? He seems to push people away. Maybe that’s because being a disciple of the Master is a difficult thing to do. It has many advantages and God wants all people to turn away from sin and return to Him, but it’s not like taking a walk in the park.

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

Luke 9:23 (NASB)

Repentance and salvation isn’t as simple as “Come as you are, believe in me, and you’ll go to Heaven when you die.” Rather, it’s as if Jesus is saying, “Come as you are, pick up your cross, follow me, and prepare to be persecuted.”

This isn’t a terribly popular message in Evangelical Christianity which is why, according to Lancaster, it isn’t preached very much in churches. How does Lancaster know this? He Googled it. No kidding, that’s what he said.

He came across a blog (the link is at the top but I’ll present it again) called EscapeToReality.org owned and operated by someone named Pastor Paul Ellis.

Pastor Paul Ellis
Pastor Paul Ellis

Lancaster said that Pastor Ellis’ blog just came up in the search results and Lancaster doesn’t know a thing about this person except he’s a blogger. Lancaster’s opinion is that if you blog and your material is available on the web, you’re just “asking for it” (which is why Lancaster doesn’t blog and isn’t even on Facebook).

I guess I must be asking for it, too. I’m not sure I’d ever want to have Lancaster comment on my blog given the following, but then again, I hope my content is more doctrinally sound. Lancaster referenced a blog post written by Pastor Ellis in November of 2011 called 3 Reasons Why I Don’t Preach on Repentance (“Turn from Sin”).

Religious people often complain that we grace preachers don’t emphasize repentance sufficiently. It’s true. I hardly emphasize it at all. But then neither did the Apostle John. You’d think if salvation hinged on our repentance then it would be in the gospels but John says nothing about it. Not one word. Neither does he mention repentance in any of his three letters. I guess John must’ve been a grace preacher.

I’d never heard of a category of preachers called “grace preachers” but I guess they stand in opposition to people like Lancaster who do indeed preach repentance.

Lancaster pointed out a couple of things about Ellis’s quote. First, he only draws from the Gospel of John and ignores Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Second, he’s wrong about John.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

John 8:34-36 (NASB)

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

1 John 3:4-10 (NASB)

Apparently, Pastor Ellis missed a few key portions of John’s writings.

And just in case you missed it (as perhaps Ellis has), Jesus really did preach on repentance. It was his central theme:

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 3:2, 4:17, Mark 1:15

You may have to return to Lancaster’s previous definitions of sin and repentance or look at my own series on Teshuva for the following to truly make an impact:

  1. Repentance means to turn from sin
  2. Repentance means to change your mind

Ellis also says:

It (repentance) means different things to different people. But Biblical repentance simply means “change your mind.” You can change your mind about anything, but Jesus called us to change our mind and believe the good news (Mk 1:15).

Your definition of repentance will reveal whether you are living under grace or works. In the Old Testament, sinners repented by bringing a sacrifice of penance and confessing their sins (Num 5:7). But in the new we bring a sacrifice of praise and confess His name (Heb 13:15). We don’t do anything to deal with our sins for Jesus has done it all.

In other words, just sitting around in church is good enough and you don’t even do that. Jesus does it all and we’re saved. No personal accountability is required.

Oh, the three reasons Ellis doesn’t preach repentance. I’ll give you the raw list, but you’ll have to go to his blog to read the full content:

  1. It puts people under the law
  2. It doesn’t lead people to salvation
  3. We’re called to preach the gospel, not repentance

It’s hard to believe Pastor Ellis has even read the whole Bible. He’s saying that repentance just puts people “under the law,” repentance doesn’t lead to salvation, and we are only supposed to preach the gospel as if the message of repentance isn’t at the gospel’s core.

I’m sorry if this sounds snarky or arrogant on my part (and I’ve had a problem with arrogance from time to time), but Ellis’ blog should be named “EscapeFromReality.org.”

Lancaster also has three points, but in this case, they’re three points on why he does preach repentance:

  1. The gospel message calls us to repent (Matthew 3:2, 4:17, Mark 1:15)
  2. Repentance is defined by the Bible as turning away from sin and turning (or returning) to God
  3. Sin is defined by the Bible as a violation of the commandments of God

under the lawI could add a fourth point and I think Lancaster would agree: The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

But how do you preach this message? Actually, Lancaster’s question reminded me of one I asked myself about a month ago. How do you evangelize from a Messianic Jewish point of view?

Lancaster drew a somewhat humorous example to prove his point. Imagine a couple of people from his congregation going door-to-door in the neighborhood:

“Excuse us. We’re from Beth Immanuel just down the street. Can we have a few minutes of your time? Are you a sinner? Do you practice sexual immorality? If so, we have good news for you?”

I don’t think anyone with a message like that would be invited inside for coffee and cookies.

Actually, Lancaster answered his own question, citing a series of teachings he recorded called What About Evangelism (also available in MP3 format), discussing how to evangelize from a Messianic Jewish perspective (and I’ve definitely missed that one).

He made a point that it’s not just the lost who need this message, but the saved. How many “Christians” in churches think they are saved, think they are walking the path of righteousness, but who don’t have a clue about the actual gospel message of the Bible and who, if they’ve repented at all, did so only once when they first came to faith in Christ?

For some people, that could be years or even decades ago.

Lancaster used a “toast” metaphor, but for the sake of time and the length of this blog post, I’ll suggest you read about it in his book Elementary Principles.

Lancaster, by the end of his sermon, seemed satisfied that everyone listening to him had “gotten down” this first foundational principle of faith, this first glass of “milk,” so we can move on to the second one next week.

What Did I Learn?

I learned (I guess it should be obvious) that in some ways, Lancaster remains very Evangelical. He’s a passionate believer in missions and evangelizing the lost. He wants to get the message out to everyone because “God so loved the world.” The fact that he took one additional sermon just to emphasize the desperate importance of continual, ongoing, daily, repentance, constantly picking up our crosses, and following our Master, seems proof of that.

I also wondered, thinking about recent events, if this is one of the reasons for the whole Tent of David mission, which is not just to illuminate Evangelical Christianity on the merits of a Messianic Jewish view of the Bible, but to witness to the “found,” so to speak, who may never have heard the message of repentance of sins before.

what about evangelismLancaster cited something Boaz Michael mentioned to him once about a broadcast interview of the famous megachurch Pastor Joel Osteen (in an earlier version of this blog post, I misquoted Lancaster as saying “Rick Warren”). According to what Lancaster said Boaz told him, Pastor Osteen was asked about the secret of his success, to which Osteen replied, ”The secret to my success is that I never preach about sin.”

But if you don’t preach about sin and repentance, and Lancaster made this very clear, you are misleading your flock and probably condemning them as well. Is that grace?

I thought I’d share some of the comments on Pastor Ellis’ blog post about not preaching repentance, just to emphasize the problem:

Repentance does not save a sinner. If you believe repentance does save, but after seeing the truth and you change your mind, because you realized that it is the blood of Jesus that saves, * then you have repented

Repentance does not forgive sins. If you believe repentance does forgive sins, but after experiencing true forgiveness and you change your mind,because you realized that you have been forgiven and “the blood of Jesus cleanses (continuously)” you of all sin * then you have repented grace and peace

savedbygrace

Thank you! Contemporaries who believe man is dead until regenerated still want to preach repentance to him.

Dean O’Bryan

You know what is interesting is that when I used to preach repentance as a turning from all of your sins was to have another thought nagging me, “How can you say that salvation is apart from works when you are asking man to do something to be saved?”

You rightly pointed out that John never preached repentance, but neither did Paul in the entire book of Romans that had much to say about salvation.

I used to preach Luke 13:5 as proof that one must turn to be saved, but when I read the context was when I realized that being saved from sin was nowhere in the context at all. It was addressing a nation, and not some death, burial and resurrection gospel to be believed. Does not matter what angle you approach Luke 13 from as nothing there is about stopping sins to be saved.

What is sad is how religion will preach the verse that says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” and will change the meaning into, “Believe on the ((((((LORD)))))) Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” They will always shout the word “Lord” and then pause a moment before reading the rest of the verse. They want you to think that Paul was stressing a surrender to the sovereign Lordship of Christ to be saved, as they will claim that Jesus cannot be your Lord until you give up your every sin first.

Dave

In response to one comment, Pastor Ellis said in part:

It starts off in innocence but before you know it you’re listening to talking snakes. Choose life. If saying sorry and making amends brings life and healing, do it (Jas 5:16). If reviewing your sins brings death, suffering and condemnation, don’t.

despairThere are many more such statements but I think you get the point.

I learned that as much as I can experience frustration in the church I currently attend, Pastor does indeed preach repentance of sins and returning to God. If I attended Pastor Ellis’ church, I don’t think I’d do very well there at all.

How many churches out there are preaching “grace” and avoiding “sin” and “repentance” at all costs, including the costs of the souls of their members? Out of some misplaced since of “mercy,” how many “grace preachers” are preventing the people in their churches from repenting and actually returning to God? How many of these believers are still suffering needlessly in their sins or worse, believing that they’re just fine and don’t need to repent at all?

Addendum: I re-read all of Pastor Ellis’ blog post plus a good many of the comments (there are tons of them), particularly comments Ellis wrote. It’s not that he opposes repentance as such, and he even praises repentance, but he gives a rather (in my opinion) simplistic view of what repentance means in terms of our relationship with God through Messiah.

While I believe he is sincere, caring, compassionate, and loves Jesus, I think that like so many Evangelicals, he tends to be “works-phobic” and sees obedience to God by performing the mitzvot (including repentance) and God’s grace as polar opposites rather than co-existing elements in a life of faith.

The comments on that one blog post stretched for over a two year span and they were comments similar to those I’ve experienced on other religious blogs, that is, plenty of strife and theological posturing to go around.

Having read the many opinions expressed in the blog’s comments section, in the end, I don’t believe we’re mere robots who sit around having faith in Jesus and being saved and that’s the extent of our lives as Christians. I believe God wants us to be active participants in our relationship with Him and with each other, including being accountable for our behavior. I don’t think that once we come to faith, it is impossible for us to ever sin again and that we can just “change our minds,” which is a gross over simplification of the concept of Teshuvah (turning from sin and turning to God), and then it’s all good.

God is gracious and He always has been. It wasn’t an invention of Jesus, it’s been God’s nature forever and He’s always been gracious and compassionate to human beings.

Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin…”

Exodus 34:6-7 (NASB)

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4 thoughts on “Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Repentance from Dead Works, Part 2”

  1. I think Pastor Ellis falls under the Hyper Grace category. I have heard that this kind of teaching is becoming very popular. The one person I know that goes to a church that has that kind of teaching says his church, “a kinder introduction to Christianity.” Yet, I don’t agree, in fact I think it just makes it that much worse once someone dedicated to that belief does critically read the bible.

    I honestly don’t know how he separates the Gospel from repentance, that takes some serious Bible reworking to see those as separate. Also, with his view on sacrifices in the old testament, being kind of an, “Oops, I sinned” kind of thing (although this encompasses a lot more of the church than Hyper Grace teachers.) It makes sacrifice cheap, and worthless because of Christ. I don’t know, this kind of view is very foreign to me, I just hope that he really is seeking God, and that he’s not doing too much damage to people.

  2. Unfortunately, at least historically, Christianity is very good at reworking the Bible to say something other than what the original authors (and God) intended. In our modern, convenience-oriented culture, we don’t want to stress people out too much by asking them to actually be accountable for their behavior. That’s what a person would have to do when undergoing the process of Teshuvah, or turning away from sin and back to God.

  3. Ok, there is a huge misunderstanding here, and I wish I had time to get into it. What you are calling “hyper-grace” is simply the acknowledgement that we can’t do it on our own. If your definition of “repentance” is that you must do the work of salvation in your life…and you know as well as I do that many people believe just that, then that version of repentance is completely wrong.

    I really wish I had time to go deeply into this, but I highly recommend “Three Free Sins” by Dr. Steve Brown. You can also listen to his teaching program “Key Life”.

    In short, the point is, we all recognize that salvation is by grace alone, not by works. At least we all do now. At the time of the Reformation those words caused people to die. Now we need to remember and recapture that sanctification is also by grace alone. This is what the so called “hyper-grace” folks are all about. It’s the recognition that we don’t sanctify ourselves any more than we save ourselves.

    Does being saved change our behavior? Absolutely, the same way that our belief in gravity changes our behavior. Either Yeshua’s death on the cross paid for it all, or it paid for nothing. So what is repentance? I think the most important word on repentance is Romans 12:1-2 and the heart of that word is “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. The only way we can present our bodies as an acceptable sacrifice is by not going the way of the world but by being transformed by thinking differently than the world. It is out of our minds that we act.

    At any rate, please read the book, “Three Free Sins”. Then you will have a deeper understanding of what these folks are talking about.

  4. @Dree — I suggest that you’re too tightly focusing on the forensic notion of payment. The term “grace”, from the Greek “charis”, meaning “unconditional favor” or “free gift”, corresponding to the Hebrew ” ‘hesed”, translated as “lovingkindness”, presents us with an open door. We must still walk through that door. If we sit on our respective rumps and fail to walk through to the experiences awaiting us inside, it won’t matter who paid to open that door. In the form of another analogy, if someone pays to acquire and to send us a gift and we simply sit and look at the box without opening it, we will never enjoy the intended gift. The gift is entirely free, but our enjoyment of it depends on opening the box.

    Incidentally, contrary to anyone’s book title, there are no “free sins”. Every falling short of HaShem’s definition of what is good for us, as the humans He created for His beneficial purposes, represents a false step from which we must recover. It represents a step in the wrong direction that can only be recovered if we turn around to face in the right direction.

    Repentance is not any sort of payment for a wrongdoing, and restitution or apology or some other action is sometimes a necessary adjunct to repentance in order for us to acknowledge it or validate it for ourselves. It turns us around so that we are able to look at the gift or the door rather than facing away from it. We have already been given all the power of heaven to enable us to walk through the door, because our Father has been waiting there all along calling out to us and hoping we would turn around and approach. No one is ever required to do it on their own power (they’d likely mess it up if they tried). On the other side of that open door one walks arm-in-arm with HaShem through all the processes of “renewing of [one’s] mind” that accompany sanctification. Some have suggested that, at times, that supportive arm is all that carries us along as we continue to stumble. Nonetheless one may learn to walk as one continues to lean upon that support.

    It seems that some Christians have no appreciation for the works of life or “living works” because they are so focused on the fear and avoidance of the works of death or “dead works”. A key part of that “transforming” mentioned in Rom.12 must include this sort of change in pespective.

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