Preparing to Receive Christ

Robert Wurtz II

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'” He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” (Luke 3:4-10 ESV)

After 400 years of prophetic silence, God broke into this present world with the voice of John the Baptist — who was foreordained to preach the message of repentance to the Jews in preparation for the advent of Messiah. At the risk of being labeled a “Preparationist” God neglected the basic premise of Reformed Theology by sending the greatest man who ever lived to preach one of the most important messages mankind had ever heard, “REPENT, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” He then arrested Saul on the road to Damascus and commissioned him to preach the same message. This was not the watered down, inert, twice dead version of repentance as it is preached today, but a fiery call to change the mind (agree with God) and turn from all known sin (repentance). At the risk of being shamed (or even corrected) by modern ministers and theologians, God was not afraid to expect people to bring forth real evidence of their change (fruits worthy of repentance). In fact, so vital is this message that when Paul went before Agrippa he told him that he preached this basic message to everyone no matter who it was ( Acts 26:16-23). This is a Biblical fact in spite of those who assail or resist it. The clear implication of the text is that had he not preached repentance, he would have been disobedient to the heavenly vision.

This was not a new message with John the Baptist and Paul the Apostle being its first preacher. God had been calling the people to repentance for centuries. A cursory reading of the Old Testament will establish this fact. Consider the message of Ezekiel to Israel:

When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” (Ezekiel 18:26-32 ESV)

During the diaspora and silent years, the Scribes and Pharisees rose to power. They supplanted the role of the priests whose job was to teach the people God’s word. God’s estimate of them (according to Stephen in Acts 7) was that they always resisted the Holy Spirit. When men take hold of God’s word in a state of resistance of His Spirit they are bound to err greatly. For they will devise many self-serving theologies that accomplish their desires rather than God’s will. It was not just the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees that Jesus rebuked; it was their willingness to make God’s word of no effect by their traditions (teachings). In other words, they often taught the people the exact opposite of what God’s word said. Albeit, they had plenty of proof texts and commentaries of the ancient sages to buttress their beliefs. Jesus overthrew much of it with plain renderings of Old Testament texts and pure common sense.

For example, the Jews thoroughly believed in Unconditional Election (Predestination). It was the cornerstone of their belief system. They believed God predestined Jews to Himself through natural birth. If one was born a Jew then one was a child of Abraham. If one was a child of Abraham one was automatically, “saved.” No need to repent for the Jews — God had already declared them eternally chosen. In reality, their Divine calling and election was not to salvation; but to a grand purpose. They were elected by God to be a light to the Gentiles. Nevertheless, they erred thinking it was to salvation — so to them, repentance was optional. John the Baptist (and Jesus) slammed this doctrine by telling the people that God was able to make children of Abraham out of rocks. There may have been a play on words here because of the hardness of the people. The message of repentance was designed to soften them up (if you will) and prepare them to receive Christ as both their Savior and Lord. In fact, he told them that the ax is now laid to the root of the trees (not the Tree but trees plural) and that every tree (every individual) who does not bring forth good fruit will be cut down and cast into the fire. Jesus (in flagrant disregard of the fact that the expectation of evidence will someday be deemed anathema) contrasted their works with the works of Abraham (John 8:39-40). He concluded that had they truly been of Abraham they would have done the type of works that Abraham did. In other words, their profession and the evidence did not agree.

The writer to the Hebrews takes up this theme as well:

For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation (Hebrews 6:7-9 ESV).

The writer to the Hebrews speaks metaphorically of people being like land and the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Grace) being the rain. This is a picture of God dealing with people to bring about necessary change. God sends His goodness, His word, and the dealings of the Holy Spirit in order to bring about repentance. Figuratively and literally, thorns and thistles are worthless to anything but the fire. This is the plain meaning of the text. They make good kindling, but that’s all. The cultivator (God) expects the land to bring forth good fruit — just as would any farmer. If it does not the only thing to do is to apply fire. Clearly, this is a picture of eternal punishment.

It is a rare thing to hear the word of repentance preached in modern times; so as the old song says, “So you better listen close the first time.” You may never hear it again for the rest of your life. You may even buy into the modern notion that repentance from sin is unnecessary to salvation — in conflict with Moses, the prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul the Apostle. In fact, it would do many of us well to read Acts 26 until we memorized it. Why? Because it is so easy to read the theologians and listen to the teachers who flagrantly contradict everyone from Moses to Paul on the subject.

Acts 26 is nearing the end of Paul’s recorded ministry. He had been warned prophetically on a number of occasions what was waiting for him when he arrived. He insisted on going. Paul testified in court before two Roman leaders Agrippa and Festus (witnesses) about what he preached and what his understanding of the heavenly vision was. There is no need to debate it after this court appearance. Agrippa and Festus wanted to know and we want to know. Paul, what did you preach? His opening is striking. He tells Agrippa, “I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews.” Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.” (Acts 26:-3 ESV) I suggest that we also listen to Paul patiently.

He tells us that he was an exemplary Pharisee. He spoke of how the resurrection is not an unreasonable thing to believe in and that his life once consisted of trying to destroy the Church. He tells next of an extraordinary experience, “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’” (Acts 26:12–14 ESV) Kicking against the goads was a way of saying that Paul had painfully disregarded the dealings of the Holy Spirit — to his own hurt. He continued and then declared his commission and how he had carried it out. He begins with the words of Jesus.
“For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

Paul then explains how he fulfilled (was fulfilling) this commission from the Lord:

“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.”

Notice that the Jews tried to kill him for preaching a John the Baptist style word of repentance. That is, “Change your mind and turn in such a way that there is real evidence of the mind change.” Some people say they agree with God about sin(s) in general or personal but they never turn from it. Actions and words don’t match. Believing is when you do it — not when you give a mere mental assent to it. Clearly, the text implies that there is an expectation that sin be turned from. As the late great Greek scholar, A.T. Robertson noted: See Matthew 3:8 for similar language used concerning John the Baptist. Paul, the greatest of theologians, was an interesting practical preacher.” (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament)

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Paul started in Damascus which indicates that it was immediate. He didn’t wait… he started preaching it right then and there. Persecution followed. However, Paul continues, “To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”” (Acts 26:16–23 ESV)

I have sometimes said that if we can’t accept Paul’s word in Agrippa’s court room how can we claim to believe in the inspiration of scripture? All scripture is given by God and profitable for doctrine, etc. If we can’t receive the narrative in Acts 26 didactically we may as well rip the book of Romans out of the Bible too. Why? Because we can understand nothing of Paul’s ministry if we cannot accept what he said during that hearing with Agrippa. “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” This is John the Baptist all over again.

In modern times we have a great number of people who want salvation and forgiveness, but they don’t want real repentance. Some even want to receive the Holy Spirit, but they don’t want true repentance. God sent John the Baptist (and Paul) to preach to the people so as to make their heart right (compare the Greek word euthus in Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, and Luke 3:4 with Acts 8:21 to understand what “make his paths straight” means). Like Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8:21, they have done many religious things, but their heart is still not right with God. Why? Because they have never been through the process of genuine repentance. We have empirical evidence that this was the way of the New Testament. How? The change that was wrought in the world. What about our world? How are our doctrines and theologies faring? Have we turned our world upside down? Many professing Christians are becoming more liberal by the day. They don’t agree with God. How can we say they repented if they refuse to agree with God?

If we are ever going to see significant change in our churches, cities, and country we have to begin where God began. We too have to come into compliance with the heavenly vision. It wasn’t just for Paul — it is for all of us.

The Manifesting Power of an Age of Antichrist

The Manifesting Power of an Age of Antichrist
Robert Wurtz II
Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us (1 John 2:18–19 NKJV).
It is only right in the sight of God that people who are not genuinely His, but number themselves with those who are, will eventually be exposed as frauds. John says, “… they went out that they might be made manifest” or we would say revealed. Rather than being a child of God and sibling of Christ — they are at last revealed to be of the spirit of antichrist. That is not to say The Antichrist, but antichrist in their disposition and doctrine. They serve and represent a substitute Christ — an invention of their own lusts. Their life is an expression of the carnal mind; a mind that agrees with the spirit of antichrist.
If there has ever been a time when false professors of Christ will be revealed, it is this time. Moral declension has permeated Western Society to the point that many professed believers have confused the love of God with political correctness. Christ is being cast into an idol that reflects and accepts the sin of modern times rather than loving righteousness and hating lawlessness. Multitudes are worshipping this “Jesus idol” as it is more agreeable to their own compromised notions of what Christ ought to be like.
Anytime Christ is being reimagined or reinvented the result will always be an idol; the serving of it idolatry; and the fabricators of it idolators. This is one of the ways the spirit of antichrist is manifesting itself in modern times. It is gathering to itself a host of people who worship a false rendition of Christ — in the name of worshipping the true Christ. Yet we have this clear warning from John for all ages, “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.”
The thing that is exposing the people who John said “are not of us” is this “anything goes” Christianity that is gaining in popularity. It is so appealing to the carnal mind that false professors cannot help but go along with it. What happens? An inordinate emphasis on the love of God is proportional to the desire of false professors to justify or cover their sinful lifestyles. This is why we have such an exaggerated emphasis on the love of God in modern times. It has to be so in order to offset the cognitive dissonance in the hearts of people who want to identify as Christians but also want to keep their sin.
The unrepentant tell themselves that God loves them no matter what. It helps dull the edge of the conviction they feel or the conscience that condemns their behavior. The more they compromise the more they have to emphasize love and grace. Instead of changing to conform to the image of Christ — there is a generation that is changing Christ to conform to their image. It is idolatry. It is a manifestation of the spirit of antichrist in this age.
Yet it was prophesied nearly 2000 years ago, so we shouldn’t be surprised; “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us…” When John penned these words he was dealing with Gnostics that suggested that the body is sinful and therefore it doesn’t matter how much people sin with that body.   They even produced Gnostic writings that sought to distort the truth of New Testament. Why? Generally, it was so they could continue sinning while imagining themselves to be Christians.
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.
Not everyone who names the name of Christ is a true child of God. The circumstances of life will generally reveal whether a person is of God or not. How do they feel about sin? Much is said about love, but do these professors love righteousness? Do they hate lawlessness? Or are they friends of lawlessness and at heart hate righteousness? Listen to their words. Ponder the things they write on social media. Our modern age offers all people an opportunity to express their true inward condition. Satan is greasing the slide. He is making it easy to “come out” and manifest an antichrist position on a host of topics. If it is there — it will eventually be revealed that none of them were of us.

Jesus Defines Repentance

Jesus Defines Repentance

Robert Wurtz II

The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. (Luke 11:32 NKJV)

There is a generation that heaps to itself teachers who tickle the ears saying, “Repentance does not mean ‘turn from sin’ it merely means ‘change your mind.'” In fact, Greek scholars debate among themselves as to the full extent of the word mετανοεῖτε (repent) and as time goes on the definitions become more self-serving. Yet, perhaps we can spare ourselves the debate and simply focus on how our Lord used the word in a well-known sentence. He stated, The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. (Matthew 12:41) Our cognate passage is cited above as Luke 11:32. Jesus described the behavior of the Ninevites as having repented (metenohsan) at the preaching of Jonah.

Our Lord said that Nineveh repented. Clearly, He did not mean to say that they felt sorry for their sins or some other modern definition of repentance. To thoroughly understand our Lord’s concept of repentance (the only person whose definition matters) we must go back and study the book of Jonah. To understand what our response to the advent of Christ ought to be we must contrast the greatness of the man Jonah with the Son of God. If the Pagan Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah, what ought our reaction to be to the preaching of Jesus Christ? That is the import of what is being said.

U turn road warning sign

When Pagans Teach Repentance By Example

Nineveh was one of two capital cities of the Assyrian Empire. They were brutal people beyond comprehension. In fact, the savagery employed by ISIS is a mere taste of the Assyrians atrocities. They celebrated their blood-thirstiness in murals painted on the palace walls. They were hated by their enemies with pure hatred. They had no Bible; no Sunday Schools; no churches; and no religious rituals that honored the One True God. In the words of God… they didn’t know their right hand from their left (Jonah 4:11). Yet they had sense enough to repent at the preaching of Jonah.

Time was running out for the Assyrians of Nineveh, but God still held out hope. He sent Jonah to preach to them… but his hatred was so great that He disobeyed God. He fled on a ship from the face of God rather than preach repentance to the people. God wouldn’t have it. He sent a storm that smote the nerves of all on the ship — until at last, at Jonah’s request, they threw him overboard. God put him through what may have been a death and resurrection to change his mind about preaching to the Assyrians. Three days with no air… he ended up on shore with a new revelation about the sovereignty of God.

Jonah entered the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown (Jonah 3:4). This message offered no hope. There was no compassion in his voice… just a declaration, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. This is instructional. Can you imagine hearing this? Over and over again… Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. The result? So the people of Nineveh believed God. (Jonah 3:5a) This is essential to any persons’ repentance; they have to believe what God is saying. The people of Nineveh believed so as to proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. John the Baptist and Paul would have called this fruits worthy of repentance (Acts 26:20).
No “Pointers”

You will notice that they were not given a checklist of things to repent of. They were left to themselves to sort it out. This tells me that God knows that we know what is offending Him. There is no need for ministers to stand in a pulpit — listing off possibilities. People will sometimes pretend that they don’t know what they need to repent of, etc.; but apparently, God is not buying it. Nineveh is the example. They will rise up in the judgment against us if we pretend we didn’t know better. Very sobering. Can you imagine God calling the Ninevites to testify against the unrepentant? Jesus said it will happen.

The King Vacates the Throne

We have another facet to Nineveh’s example when we read, For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. (Jonah 3:6) Have you ever known of a person to do such a thing when they repented? They didn’t put on their “Sunday best” and go to church. They stripped off anything that could have exalted them. This is utter humiliation and sorrow.

Like the king of Nineveh, we have to come off of the throne of our own life and utterly humble ourselves before the true King. This is the key. This is more than outward things, it is an inward change of attitude. What else did they do? Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. (Jonah 3:9) There is the key component to repentance that is too frequently rejected or ignored… let them turn every one from his evil way. True godly sorrow (sorrow that is God-wards) for sin produces a turning from sin in which the person does not turn back (2 Cor. 7:10).

The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. (Luke 11:32 NKJV)

Million Dollar Renouncements

Million Dollar Renouncements
Robert Wurtz II
Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed. (Acts 19:19, 20)

      Repentance is getting serious when people start renouncing sinful and questionable practices. It is even more serious when the people begin getting rid of sinful things from their lives. I once said, that the famous last words of a Christian are, “I can handle this.” In other words, ‘I can handle’ something in my life that I know is going to become a stumbling block to my ongoing victory. We have to burn the bridges. These people understood this. These are practical things, but no less important.

    I heard a story of an alcoholic that decided he was going to show the Devil that he had the victory. He went and bought a bottle of liquor and pushed it down in his back pocket. He carried this bottle around for a while and before he knew it he had emptied it! (and not on the ground) The story may have been parabolic, but it demonstrates how people can foolishly play with sin. What says the scripture, Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us. (Hebrews 12:1 NKJV) If it is a snare to you, get rid of it! 

Run! 

     Sometimes the only thing to do is to flee from the sin. Humans are creatures of habit and if we are not careful we may give the enemy an occasion to ensnare us again. An old-timey preacher once quoted Romans 14:22b, Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. The context is a little different, but I think the principal applies. Don’t tempt yourself or God. If Jesus would go so far as to say we ought to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand to prevent ourselves from some sin, how much more ought we to pluck some stone of stumbling from our lives?

Sin Not For Sale
Again we read, them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. Notice that they did not sell them. They wanted these evil documents out of circulation. Burning documents in antiquity was a way of repudiating the contents. These so-called Magical Papyri or slips of parchment with symbols or magical sentences written on them were called Ephesia Grammata or Ephesian Letters. These Ephesian Letters were rolled up into tubes and worn as amulets or charms. The Ephesians wanted nothing to do with this stuff. Get it out of my house and out of my life!  

High-Dollar Renouncements

Burning this mass of books and charms could have taken a long tome to accomplish. What is more sobering is the cost. Scholars tell us that they effectively burned fifty-thousand days wages (Keener. IVP Bible Background, P379). These silver coins would have been either the Ephesian drachma or the Roman Denarius.  By today’s standards an average day of pay in America is $184 a day. [1] The range globally is $1 to $200 as a general rule. Conservative estimates of the value of this material is between $750,000 and $1,000,000. If we estimate that a person works typically 255 days in a year (less weekends and holidays) it would represent 196 years worth of work. However we calculate it or examine it, it was a tremendous expense. This is fruits worthy of repentance. 
No Always Blatant Sin

 Sometimes God will call us to get rid of things that are not necessarily sin, but may become a means of stumbling as they bring sinful memories before our minds. The Holy Spirit might deal with us to get rid of something or renounce a certain action because He knows where it is heading. We have to be sensitive to God and swift to obey. This does not mean I can legislate certain things that are my own convictions. We each have to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. 
I recall many years ago when my dad was Born Again and delivered from alcoholism. He immediately took a different route home from work than the old route. Why? Because he used to go by the liquor store every night. He went home and cleared out all the beer from his home. Some months later I came over and the wine collection was sitting on the curb for the garbage. I asked, “What is that doing out there.” He said he had to get rid of it as it reminded him of drinking. Later on I came home and the record collection was on the curb. “Why the record collection?” He said it reminded him of the parties he used to host/attend where drinking and playing records went on. So Elvis and all of his palls were out on the curb. Why? because that’s what you do when you are bent on making sure you can keep your mind on the tracks. If it’s a hindrance, get rid of it. Don’t keep the snake in your pocket. 

Compromise in the Attic

I had a man once tell me that he was upset because he had backslidden and needed to go back and buy all of his death-metal CDs that he destroyed when he got ‘saved.’ He said he thought that the next time he gets saved he would just put the stuff up in the attic in case he backslid again he would not have to incur the expense. This is not repentance. This is ‘premeditated backsliding’. If you think this way you have already decided you are going back to the world, it’s just a matter of when. This is not what the Ephesians had done. They burned the stuff and never looked back. They didn’t put it on EBAY to recover their expenses. Why would they sell another person the thing that enslaved them? Burn it! Get rid of it. Anything that is an encumbrance to your spiritual life needs to be dealt with.      


[1] Data retrieved US Dept. of Labor 2012 http://data.bls.gov/pdq/SurveyOutputServlet

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