by Roger Alcaraz
Back in high school, I would always sign my close friends’ yearbooks with a message, and somewhere in that message would be the words, “Don’t ever change.” That was because, in my mind, that was the greatest compliment or sign of love that I could give. It’s like saying “You’re perfect just the way you are.” It was only after I became a Christian, I realized how wrong I was.
Nobody is perfect, and the gospel we proclaim is not only about the forgiveness of sins, but about repentance. “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:46-47).
Repentance is a complete change of heart that grieves over sin and, in response, seeks to live a changed life. It’s turning your feelings, thoughts, and actions away from sin and toward Christ. This has always been the heart of the gospel call. We often think of evangelism as preaching the forgiveness of sins, but Christ has told us to also preach repentance. Why? Because without repentance, there is no forgiveness of sins. Yet repentance is perhaps the single most neglected aspect of contemporary evangelism, especially in an age when it’s all about accepting people as they are and just letting them be. This nation teaches that if you want to show love to someone, you must accept them as they are, without changing them.
Now, I’m not arguing that acceptance is bad. But there is definitely a good way and a bad way to practice it. If a doctor had a patient with diabetes, and the doctor accepted his patient without wanting him to change, that’s bad. But consider Scripture and how the heart of mankind is desperately sick and how mankind is heading to Hell. Would accepting people without any desire for change be what’s best for them?
Coaches tell their athletes to change all of the time. Parents tell their children to change all the time. If you saw a child practically inhaling sugar, and the parent casually said, “Let him be,” you would say, “You’re a bad parent.” And so if calling for change is the mark of a good parent, and it’s the mark of a good coach, isn’t it also the mark of good friend?
The world has believed that calling someone to change is unloving, but as I consider my life, it’s quite the opposite. The people who have loved me the most were the people who called me to change. And the greater test of love isn’t whether a person accepts you as you are; love is demonstrated when, as a person seeks change and growth another, that they bear with them with gentleness and patience. So we’re not beating people over the head with the command to repent and believe. We’re urgent yet patient, firm yet gentle, always seeking what’s best for them based on the truth of Scripture.
And so while the world might look at our gospel of repentance and say, “Why can’t I just keep living how I’ve always lived?” you can say, “Because I love you too much.” If your friend were planning to rob a bank and you knew that this bank was an impenetrable fortress guarded by hundreds of police officers, you would probably tell your friend to stop or else he’ll be thrown in prison. And he might object and say, “I thought you supported me. Can’t you just let me be me?” And if you were a good friend, you would say, “No.”
But would you be quicker to warn people of prison than you would of Hell? We have to remember that as each person dies, they will stand before the God who created them and have to give an account for their entire life. Everything will be exposed before God as he determines their fate. How sad would it be for people to stand before God and think, “I had Christian friends. Why didn’t they tell me I would be here one day?” Therefore, let us warn the world of their fate if they do not turn away from their sins and turn to Christ. It is a loving thing to turn them away from fire.