|Vol. 14 No. 3 March 2012||
T. Pierce Brown (deceased)
Most of us who preach the Gospel have urged upon our hearers the necessity of repentance, quoting Luke 13:3 as proof of such necessity in obedience to that Gospel. Surely there is no question that repentance is a key point in conversion, for without it, baptism is useless, and if one is penitent, the desire to be baptized is a certainty for one properly taught.
Probably most of us also have realized that a text out of context is but a pretext. We surely know that in teaching a person the way of salvation, we should also teach him to handle the Word of God with honesty and care. We teach a person to distinguish between the statements and commands of Christ that applied to the apostles or the Jews of His day and those that apply to us. If we do not, we should.
There is no question that repentance is a vital part of the plan of salvation. The question is: Does the fact that Jesus commands or commends it in Luke 13:3 prove it to be part of God’s plan for us to be saved? This is a day in which many ridicule “proof texts.” It is my strong conviction that we should have a “proof text” (authority) for everything we teach or practice in religious matters. However, are the verses under consideration the proof texts we need in telling a man what to do to be saved today?
Look at the context, subject matter and occasion on which Jesus said, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Was He talking about how to be born again, added to the church, justified, reconciled to God in Christ? It is true that we will be lost if we do not repent, but does verse 3 prove it? If Jesus had said, “Except ye repent and begin to keep the Sabbath day holy, ye shall perish,” what would you do with the passage?
It is true that there was but one church purchased by the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28) and to which all the saved are added (Acts 2:47), but does that find proof in the fact that Noah only built one ark? It is true that one is saved at the point of baptism, but do you prove it by relating the story of Naaman the leper?
If Christ is here giving one of the steps in the plan of salvation, let us assert that truth. If not, may it not be that we do a disservice to His cause if we sound as if He is? Would it not be more fitting to use this verse to show that the principles of our salvation are the same as the principles of salvation in all dispensations, whether the salvation was from bondage in Egypt, from the furnace of fire, from a den of lions or from leprosy?
When you use Jonah’s message to Nineveh, do you use it to prove anything about the plan of salvation? Do you prove baptism essential to salvation by the story of Naaman? If so, even a “trine immersion” would not do! He dipped seven times! If you are in the habit of quoting Malachi 3:10 for your authority on giving, as most denominational preachers seem to be, then these suggestions may not mean much to you. Yet, if you understand that the command, “Bring the tithes to the storehouse” does not authorize dropping something into a basket on the first day of the week, you may appreciate my point. The principle taught by Malachi is still true, but we are not to use the command to prove that we should contribute.
I am simply trying to emphasize that even those of us who have been preaching for many years may need to be reminded, and to remind others, of the value of learning how to use the teachings of the Bible properly. We seem to have no problem with a passage such as Luke 17:14, “Go show yourselves unto the priest.” We know that it was not a command that relates to our cleansing. Does the “perish” of Luke 13:3 refer to our being lost eternally if we do not repent in obedience to the Gospel? Surely, one cannot read it thoughtfully without being aware that although it is true that if we do not repent, we will perish in hell, this is not what Jesus is teaching in Luke 13:3-5.
The Bible says about Judas, “he went away and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:5). Jesus says, “Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:37). He also said, “What thou doest, do quickly” (John 13:27). It is proper for me to quote them, for they are Scripture, but is it proper for me to connect them as if they were related and binding on us? Let us try to make sure we teach others to handle aright the Word of God and then practice what we preach!