Read John 3:3.
Q. After Jesus' baptism and temptation in the wilderness, when he began his public ministry, what was His Message? The forgiveness of sins? Yes. But was the forgiveness of sins the whole thrust of His message? No.
A. Read Matt. 3:2 and Matt. 4:17. What did both John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah proclaim? "REPENT AND BELIEVE THE GOSPEL, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND."
If we are saved by faith, through no action on our own behalf, then where does repentance fit in? There has been a traditional saying in the Church, "repentance before faith." Where does this fit in with God's grace? Repentance and faith are the two sides of the same coin; to say we will repent after salvation is no faith at all. But to repent first before salvation is an act of faith on our part. The very instant we repent, we receive salvation. Faith is not just an intellectual assent to the Gospel message; no, faith is a verb, an action word. And the action we perform is repentance. Still, where does repentance fit in with the grace of God? There is another phrase used by the Church, "Prevenient Grace." This refers to the biblical truth that no one comes to God unless God draws them. This is God's grace. When God draws us, we chose to repent and believe. All of this occurs within God's grace.
If you disagree, you might site Acts 16:31 as a verse that supports that repentance has no place in the salvation plan of God. After all, when the jailer asked Paul what he must do to be saved, Paul's answer was "Believe and you will be saved, both you and your household." Paul gave him no verbal instructions as to repentance or any other action the jailer was to perform. Yet how did the jailer respond? First he took Paul and Silas to his own house and tended their wounds, probably inflicted by that very jailer, or those under his direction. Then he and his household were baptized, no doubt confessing and repenting of their sins as Paul officiated. If there had been no repentance, there would have been no salvation.
The Gospel proclamation is a two part message: one part refers to our action (repentance), the other refers to God's action. God's action first consists of forgiving us for our deliberate acts of disobedience to His commands. Secondly He sanctifies us. Sanctification begins immediately after salvation. Eph 1:13 tells us that at the very instance we truly believe, the Holy Spirit enters our hearts. Now remember what we said Jesus preached: "Repent and believe the Gospel, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." What is this Kingdom? Is Jesus referring to His Second Coming? In part. But more than that. When the Holy Spirit enters our hearts, The Kingdom of Heaven is instituted within us. That Kingdom is the rule and reign of God in us! It is Jesus living out the Christian life through us! How does Rom. 14: 17 define the Kingdom? Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit! Jesus lives in our hearts through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and we reflect Jesus to the world by being conformed to his image.
What does the Kingdom look like in us? Read Matt. 13: 31-33. These two very short parables describe the life and growth of the Kingdom in us. The first compares the Kingdom to the mustard seed, the smallest of seeds. As the tree grows after the seed is planted, it becomes so big the the birds come and rest in its shade. In our lives, as the Kingdom grows in us (and all Kingdoms wish to expand), as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, as we refuse to allow sin to hamper or stop completely the growth of the Kingdom in us, we reflect the image of Jesus to the world. The Kingdom expands until it possesses all of us. We are still individual men and women, but the Holy Spirit manifests Jesus to the world through our sanctified personalities. And just as the birds rest in the shade of the tree, the world sees something in us it does not have but would like to possess. And so they are drawn to us, not fully knowing what they are seeking. In the second parable, just as the leaven takes over the woman's entire meal, the Kingdom of Heaven expands in us till we are entirely God's. (There is a point where the Kingdom expands so that Jesus possesses all of us; we are fully His. We have put sin and the old man to death. This is entire sanctification. I will not go into this in detail now; this is another sermon. This is a subject that will be dealt with much more in the future on this blog.)
Why is this good news? Read Matt. 13: 28-30. We who are heavy laden, heavy with our sins and our attempts to live life in our own strength, are to find rest in Jesus. (This is not a request, but a command.) His yoke is easy and His burden is light. A yoke is a farming instrument that allows a beast of burden, usually an ox, to plow a field. When the yoke is fitted right upon the animal, the animal is enabled to pull a weight far greater than it could pull on its own. If the yoke is fitted correctly, the animal will not feel the extra weight it is pulling. The yoke allows the animal to operate in a strength greater than its own. When the Kingdom of God enters us, and is allowed to expand, we know our sins have been forgiven and we no longer have to try to please God in our own strength. As we cooperate with the Holy Spirit by obeying His commands and not allowing sin in our lives, we allow the Holy Spirit to live out the Christian life within us. This is not always easy. Yet this is what Jesus means by telling us his yoke is easy and burden light. The Kingdom is the Holy Spirit operating in us. The Holy Spirit's strength, the strength of the third person of the Trinity, is what we rest in. Our part is to allow the Spirit to do His work in our lives. It doesn't matter how sinful we were in the past. God loves us and wants to forgive our sins so we may have fellowship with Him. But ultimately, it is not about ourselves. God wants to set up His Kingdom in us so that He may draw all those in our lives who will come to Him only through us. We can never be too sinful that God will not forgive us our sins. Not only does He love us, He wants to use us to reach the world. Its not all about us, and that is good news!
This is not a message we can ignore when we proclaim the Gospel. Look at John 3:3 again. If we are not born again, we shall never see the Kingdom of God. For all the importance of being born again, being born again is just the beginning of our eternal life with the Triune God. It is the means to the ultimate end: the Kingdom of God. Some pastors proudly proclaim that every message they preach in their church is about being born again. Unfortunately these pastors, well meaning it must be admitted, are short-changing their congregations. They preach the forgiveness of sins, but not the Kingdom of God, the Holy Spirit residing in us to give us the power to please God. This is the source of ceaseless, unnecessary battles with sin in the body of Christ.
How important is the message of the Kingdom? How important was this message in the Gospel proclamation of the early Church? In Acts 1:4 , Jesus told His disciples to remain in Jerusalem, not to carry out the Great Commission until they receive THE PROMISE OF THE FATHER. They had to wait for the Holy Spirit to fill them, to institute the Kingdom of God in them. The Jews of this era were not ignorant about the promise of the Holy Spirit. They knew of the prophecy contained in Joel 2:28-32. They knew there would be a day when God would write the Law on their hearts. What they did not know was that the promise of the Father was Christ in us, the hope of glory. Was this teaching concerning the Kingdom a consistent element of the Apostles teaching? See Acts 8:12, 19:8, 20:25, 28:23. Also use a concordance to consult the Epistles.
A great saint from the past, William Law, once declared that to preach the New Testament without reference to the person and power of the Holy Spirit was akin to preaching the Old Testament without reference to Jesus. The Kingdom is not something we can choose to ignore. If we preach the Gospel without reference to it, we have not preached the full Gospel. In our individual witnessing, if we ignore the message of the Kingdom, we have not presented the full Gospel. The Gospel of the Kingdom is that those who repent and are saved receive the Kingdom, and the power of the Kingdom to overcome sin and walk in a way that pleases God!