What leads people to repentance?

This past Saturday, I was at a regional gathering of people from different American Baptist churches.  During one portion of the morning, we sat around tables with each table having a specific topic.  The topic of the table at which I sat was “The Gospel in a rapidly changing culture.”

I believe it was a good conversation, but I asked a question that I would also like to state here.

“What leads a person to repentance?”

Inherent in the topic is the connection of the Gospel with today’s rapidly changing world.  The Gospel is about a relationship with God through Christ which is begun through belief and repentance.

So, the question, “What leads a person to repentance?” is critical to the conversation and the relationship between Gospel and world.

I really didn’t get a whole lot of answers to my question, and I’m wondering if this might be part of the issue.

Over the years, the church has employed different methods in attempts to convince (coerce?) people to repent and believe.  Some of these methods could be characterized as harsh and judgmental and condemning.  Some of these methods could be characterized as utilizing fear and guilt in order to convince someone to repent and believe.  The church has too often been guilty of using religious methods in attempting to convince a person of the need to repent and believe, or believe and repent, whichever you prefer.  While this might see some results at the outset, it quite often ends up with the person walking away at some point in the future.  And people walking away is one cause for the concern found within the church.

So, what does the Bible say leads people to repentance?  And this is crucial for followers of Christ to not only understand, but to also embrace, embody, and live out continuously.  The Apostle Paul says, “Or do you despise the riches of His kindness/goodness and forbearance and long-suffering, not knowing that God’s kindness/goodness leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)

Did you catch it?  It is God’s kindness/goodness, not harshness, not threat of punishment, not guilt, not condescension, not throwing morality in people’s faces, and not condemnation.  And yet so much of the rhetoric people hear and read from the church are just exactly those things.

Should it be any wonder then why the Gospel isn’t resonating with many people?  Because to them, the practical results of the Gospel, this supposed Good News, is no different than what they get from the world.  Additionally, when they see people who have repented and believed going through life not much different from them, meaning stress and anxiety and worry, the lack of real peace, the lack of true contentment and lacking other practical implications from having the nature of Christ as their one and true nature, they see no real benefit for life now.  Therefore, they reject the Gospel as being irrelevant.

There was one additional thing I added to this.  There must be a direct connection between the kindness/goodness demonstrated and the reason/source behind that kindness/goodness.  That means that we must not focus on the macro, but on the micro.  That means that we must not focus our efforts and resources on large or blanket efforts toward a group of people, but on working through new and existing relationships with people as we share ourselves and allow the kindness and goodness of God flow through us to those around us.  Then we must make a connection between that kindness and goodness to God as the reason why we do what we do.

Think about it this way – if people were encouraged, equipped, and resourced to focus on one or two relationships with non Christ followers through which the goodness of God is definitely and practically displayed and connected to God as its source, would the church be struggling for growth?  Even if only 10% of those individuals come to Christ every year and then were taught the same thing, that would be tremendous growth.  A church of 50 adults, in 10 years, would experience a growth of 160%.

The question I would like to end this post with is this – do we truly believe that the Gospel actually is good news?  I ask this question because if the Gospel truly has not direct implications and practical results in this life, how is that good news?

Does the Gospel truly bring the peace of God into a person’s life?  Then why do so many Christians struggle with stress and anxiety and worry and a lack of contentment in life?  Why do so many Christians utter the question, “Why me?” when something bad happens or doesn’t go the way we had hoped?

If the Gospel is good news, but doesn’t have practical realities for living this life, then what’s the point?

And that, unfortunately, is the question way too many who are not followers of Christ ask but never get a satisfactory result.

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