“Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” — John 7:38
Return to the Ancient Path
by Randall D. Kittle
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“This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” — Jeremiah 6:16

The other day I came across an interesting article that sheds some light on an area that causes a lot of tension in marriages and provides a lot of material for comedians. It looked at the differences between men and women when it comes to getting lost and asking for directions. They discovered that men and women define the term “lost” differently. Women consider themselves lost (or at least in need of help) when they don’t know how to get where they are going, while men don’t consider themselves lost as long as they still know how to get back to some known point — even if it’s all the way back to where they started.

While the article might not help resolve this age-old problem, I do agree with its basic understanding. For example, when my wife and I go hiking in the woods, she’ll often ask me if we’re lost when I don’t feel lost at all. I’m not lost … I know how to retrace my steps and go back to where we began. On the other hand, that’s not really the same as knowing how to get to where we were trying to go.

The real problem with the way men look at being lost is getting them to decide to turn around and go back to a point where they
do know where they are at … before they’re completely lost. Men don’t like to go backwards and lose ground. Yet the truth is that the sooner they turn around, the sooner they’ll be back on track and going in the right direction again.

We Have Lost Our Way
This is exactly what the Church in America needs to do … turn around and go back to where we were before we lose our way completely. Over the last decade, the Church has grown in numbers, but lessened in its effectiveness to reach the lost, influence society, and keep the faith.

In these days, repeated scandals rock the church — often making headlines in the paper or highlighting the evening news. No wonder the church has begun to be openly mocked by the entertainment industry and news media. Studies show that “Christians” in America divorce at about the same rate as those outside the church. We really shouldn’t be surprised, given the shocking absence of morals and modesty amongst “believers.” And now we find many ministries and churches drifting toward an apostate universalistic “Christianity” that believes everyone is saved. Its popular refrain is, “I’m OK, you’re OK. Do whatever you like because the price has been paid.” It is a theology that draws a crowd, but Jesus warned that wide was the way that leads to destruction, while it was the narrow way that leads to life … and He added, few find it (see Matthew 7:13–14).

Foundationless
What some liberal theologians in our days would call “the modernization of Christianity,” I call a drifting away from the faith. It has become so prevalent because the American church while busy building … hasn’t laid a solid foundation. Or perhaps we have just allowed our foundations to be undermined. Listen to the Psalmist cry of despair, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3). Yet with God, there is always hope!

Much of this weak and watered down Christianity in our nation has been caused by not seeing the supremacy of Christ. He is above all things and needs to be worshiped and obeyed by those who are truly His. Jesus is
the foundation for Christianity — He is both Savior and Lord. “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). Jesus is the head of the Church and the only hope for this world. It is imperative we do not bow our knees to the god of tolerance that has become so powerfully entrenched in our society. Jesus declared clearly that He was the way, the truth, and the life, and to make certain it was clear He added, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Jesus is not a way to get to heaven; He is the way. This truth was clearly declared by the Holy Spirit through the early church, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). There is no other cure for sin and no other hope for salvation other than Jesus Christ.

The Foundation for Becoming a Christian
We have also lost the foundation for becoming a believer, which is a word avoided and despised by many who call themselves Christians — repentance. Repentance is the foundation for becoming a Christian. You cannot become a Christian without it! Jesus declared clearly, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Remember, Christianity isn’t about improving a person — cleaning them up and helping them behave a little better. It is about transforming a person. When we become a Christian, we become a “new creation” — not just a better person. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Vance Havner used to put it this way, “If you are what you’ve always been, you are not a Christian. A Christian is a new creation.”

To be “born again” requires believing in God, but it is a lot more than just believing. After all, James 2:19 warns us
“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble!” The Bible tells us we need to repent if we are going to be born again. “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). That is what the lost need … to be converted, made into something new, the old passing away and all that they are becoming brand new. And the Scriptures clearly show us this only happens through repentance.

Repent — the First Word of the Gospel
Repentance is the “first word” of the Gospel. That is the reason New Testament preaching always began with repentance. The New Testament opens with Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist, preparing the way. And what was his message? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2). Then in Matthew 4:17 we see Jesus, the promised messiah, beginning His ministry by proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” The first message of the newly born Church was also a call to repentance. Peter declared, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). What was the message Paul preached on his missionary journeys? “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). And finally, as the Bible draws to a close, we see that repentance was Jesus’ last message to Church, “Repent … or else …” (Revelation 2:5, 16).

Christianity without repentance is “beginningless.” It is like a house without a foundation … a book without its first chapter … a race without a starting line … a marriage without a wedding … a life without a birth.

The word used for repentance in the Old Testament means:
“to turn or return.” Very simply, repentance is turning from our sin, and turning to God. It is an inward change of mind that results in a total outward change of direction. Just as sin is telling God to move over because we are taking over, repentance is falling on our knees so He can take over. Repentance is vitally important, for the sinner must repent before they receive salvation, and the saved must practice repentance if they are to enjoy unbroken fellowship with God.

Repentance involves having
godly sorrow for our sins, confessing them to God, and renouncing them, which means forsaking our sins and our love for them. Proverbs 28:13 says, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” Since God’s purpose in repentance is to turn us around, all genuine repentance will result in a change of direction for our lives. We must deliberately and completely turn (or return) to Jesus in faith, and choose to walk with Him … following His ways.

Viewed in a Negative Light
If repentance is the elementary teaching of the Christian faith that is of first importance, why has it become so neglected? We have downplayed repentance because we see it in a negative light. We have seen repentance as an obligation when it is really a door of opportunity. So many pastors in our days see repentance as a barricade that hinders people from coming to church. While the truth is that repentance is the invitation to the “good news” of the Gospel … the only way to become part of the Church. When we call the lost to repentance, we aren’t trying to demean or belittle them. We are trying to rescue them from certain destruction. If I were to offer you a lifeline when you’re struggling to stay above the water in a wave-filled sea, you could take that as an insult to your swimming abilities. But my motives would be clear: I’m offering to help save your life before it is too late.

According to Romans 2:4, it is not God’s anger but His kindness that leads us to repent,
“… the kindness of God leads you to repentance.” Without His mercy drawing us, we couldn’t even repent of our sins. It is the love and kindness of God that goes out and seeks us. It is the love of God that continues to push the stubborn and rebellious man into a corner until he gives up and surrenders his life of sin and death.

Benefits of Repentance
Perhaps we have also neglected repentance because we have failed to understand its benefits. Let’s look at a few:

• According to Acts 3:19, it is repentance that removes sin and shame. “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out …”

• Repentance also brings us new life — abundant, supernatural, eternal life. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

• It is following repentance we experience the Lord’s refreshing presence. “Repent therefore and be converted … so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

• Repentance makes a way for the Holy Spirit. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

• Repentance causes heaven to rejoice. “… there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).

The American church has wandered away from the path of life long enough, it is time to turn back from where we’re currently heading and return to
“the ancient paths … where the good way is, and walk in it” (Jeremiah 6:16). We need to fortify the foundations of our churches before they erode completely away. The centrality of Christ and the prime importance of repentance need to be re-established in the American Church.

We will only be able to stand at the end of the age if we are vitally connected to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only answer for the world’s ever-increasing need, and the only way to lay hold of the great gift of salvation is repentance. With hope-filled expectation let us offer repentance to a world desperately in need of cleansing from their sin and getting a brand-new start.

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