There is an important statement which, of course, has been in the Scriptures all along but which I did not see until Billy Glenn, Jr., pointed it out in a Facebook post a few days ago. In Mark 6:7-11, Jesus sends the disciples out to preach. Then verse 12 says, “So they went out and preached that people should repent.” As Billy pointed out, Jesus did not send them out to preach love. He sent them out to preach repentance.
After Christ’s resurrection, he gives the disciples a Bible lesson. Then he says to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47). Notice that the disciples’ mission was to preach the gospel of repentance, not the gospel of love.
I hear so often nowadays that we should stop preaching the gospel of repentance because telling people that they are sinners only turns people away. Instead, we should be preaching the gospel of love. We should be telling them that we are here to help them with their problems. We should be offering them food and shelter and clothing. We should be telling them that they are basically good people who just need a helping hand. We should be telling them that Jesus loves them just the way they are. And if we love them enough, then they will change.
However, when Jesus sent his disciples out to preach, he did not send them with food to distribute to the hungry and he did not send them with clothing to distribute to the naked. In fact, they did not have enough provisions for themselves. They depended on others to feed and shelter them. Does that mean that Christians should not build soup kitchens to feed the hungry or shelters to house the homeless? Of course not. But those came later. Those came when there were enough Christians to man them. And those Christians became Christians because of the gospel of repentance. And those Christians should be preaching the gospel of repentance to those they serve, not the gospel of love.
Preaching the gospel of love is like telling doctors that they should stop telling their cancer patients that they have cancer. Instead, they should be telling their patients about how healthy the rest of their bodies are and they should be telling them how much their families love them and they should be reminding them how talented they are, etc., as if that will cure the cancer. Most problems do not go away by simply ignoring them. It is true that you cannot help an alcoholic until he acknowledges that he has a problem, but that does not mean that you ignore the problem until he acknowledges it. Sometimes you have to rub his nose in it until he finally admits to it.
However, I can see where the people who push the gospel of love are coming from. We have been commanded to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), but many times those of us who preach the gospel of repentance hate the sinners to whom we are preaching. And many times, especially when we are speaking to homosexuals, we treat them as if they are the worst sinners on earth. While it is true that here on earth some sins carry more serious consequences than others, in God’s eyes a sin is a sin is a sin is a sin. And while it is true that homosexuals cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10), it is also true that those who love and practice a lie are kept outside of the New Jerusalem as well (Rev. 22:15). The fact is all sinners, whether they are homosexuals, liars, thieves, adulterers, gossips, murderers, atheists, or those who have kept the commandments all their lives but cannot give their riches away to the poor and follow Jesus, must repent. Our message should be, “You need to repent of your sins, all of your sins, because if you do not, first of all you will spend eternity in the worst place imaginable and second of all you will miss out on spending eternity in the best place imaginable with the person who loves you the most: your Heavenly Father.”
The fact is, those who preach the gospel of love are only telling people half the truth. They are telling people that Jesus loves them just the way they are, which is true, but that does not mean that he is going to let them get into heaven just the way they are. The complete message is, Jesus loves you just the way you are and because he loves you, he is not going to leave you “just the way you are” because “just the way you are” is killing you and “just the way you are” is sending you to hell and “just the way you are” is keeping you from entering heaven and “just the way you are” is keeping you from spending eternity with Jesus.
Jesus himself told the parable of the king who held a wedding feast for his son (Matt. 22:1-14). The king sent his servants to bring the people he had already invited, but some refused to come and others beat and even killed some of the servants. In his wrath, the king sent his army out to destroy those murderers and their villages. He then sent his servants out again to invite whoever they could find. Once the feast began, the king went in to greet the guests, only to find one who was not wearing a wedding garment. When he asked the man why he was not wearing a wedding garment to a wedding feast, the man was speechless. So the king had the man thrown out and tortured.
The point is everyone was invited but no one could come in “just as they are.” When the servants found these people, they were at home or they were working in their business or they were working in the field. They could not go to the wedding feast in their street clothes or their casual clothes or their work clothes. They had to put off those clothes and put on a wedding garment.
But what if they did not have a wedding garment? What if they were too poor to buy a wedding garment? Or what if they were too poor to get the materials to make a wedding garment? That is probably the problem the man in the parable had: he came to the feast without a garment because he simply did not have one. He was thrown out and tortured because he was speechless. What he could have said was, “My Lord, I know that I should not have come to the feast without a wedding garment, but I do not have one and I did not want to offend my Lord who extended me such a gracious invitation. So, in your mercy, my Lord, may you grant me a garment that I may borrow for just this occasion?” And the king would have gladly not only let the man borrow a garment but would have given him one to keep. In other words, if the man had acknowledged his need, the king would have fulfilled his need and the man would have had the opportunity to see that his king cared for him after all.
Yes, Jesus loves us “just the way we are,” and because he loves us, he has invited us to his wedding feast. But as much as he loves us, he will not let us into the feast without a wedding garment, and if we do enter the feast without a wedding garment, even though he loves us, he will still throw us out into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The problem we have is that none of us can create a wedding garment good enough to get us into the feast. Nor can any of us afford to buy a garment good enough to get us into the feast. That is the beauty of the gospel. When Jesus died on the cross for us, he bought a new wedding garment for each and every one of us. But he is not going to simply distribute one to everybody. He is going to give one only to those who really desire to be at the feast and who acknowledge that their everyday clothes are not good enough to get them into the feast and that they cannot make or get a wedding garment that is good enough to get them into the feast and that only the garment that Jesus provides is good enough to get them in. In short, the only ones who get the garments are the ones who acknowledge that Jesus not only loves them enough to invite them to the feast but also loves them enough to have provided the only way into the feast at great cost to himself.
The gospel of love actually cheapens the love of Jesus. It implies that what Jesus did for us was not a choice; he couldn’t help himself because he just naturally loves everybody. And it implies that he so badly wants people in heaven that he is willing to blink at sin. But if Jesus is willing to blink at sin, why did he die on the cross? And if he is willing to blink at sin, why do the vast majority of people end up in the lake of fire (Matt. 7:13-14)?
The gospel of repentance, on the other hand, actually emphasizes the true value of the love of Jesus. The gospel of repentance tells us that we are sinners, meaning that we have rebelled in one form or another against our Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ all of our lives. Our rebellion has made us enemies of God. We deserve the punishment that the murderers in the parable received. We deserve to be destroyed by God’s wrath and spend eternity in the lake of fire. We don’t deserve to be loved. But our Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ chose to love us anyway. And they proved it by saving us from the wrath we deserve:
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation (Rom. 5:6-11).
We are saved from this wrath by putting our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. This faith makes us one with Christ, which means that his righteousness now becomes our righteousness. Repentance means that we agree in our minds and in our hearts to leave behind the sinfulness that we had been living and start living the righteousness that Christ has now given us, to leave behind that lifestyle of rebellion and start living a lifestyle of obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ, to put off our old sinful rags and put on the new wedding garment that Jesus bought for us. More than that, because we are not only Christ’s guests at the wedding feast, but we are also Christ’s bride, repentance means that we show up at our wedding no longer wearing that dirty, sinful handmaidens’ dress we used to wear every day but wearing “fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:8).
As we learn how to live as the bride of Christ, as we learn how to be one with Christ, as we learn how live in our new garments of righteousness, we learn how to live righteously as Christ lives righteously and we learn how to love as Christ loves. That is why the gospel of repentance is so much better than the gospel of love.