Most, if not all of you, who are reading these sermons have had the opportunity of gaining some acquaintance with the Old and New Testament Scriptures. More, you have probably had the opportunity of hearing the gospel preached to you, the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. You have books, perhaps, at home which expound and apply the gospel of Jesus Christ. But now, if I were to ask you to give a verse of the Bible which gives the heart of that gospel in clear words, could you do so? After turning to that verse in the Bible, would you be able to give an explanation of the gospel to someone else? Still more, is the heart of the biblical gospel something that is seen in your life, so that Paul could say of you what he said of the Corinthian church in II Corinthian 3:2, that he did not even need to write or to speak, because the Christians in Corinth were his epistle which could be known and read of men?
You have had the blessing of repeated exposure to the gospel of Jesus Christ: in preaching, in literature, in the home, and in this radio program. Could you now turn to the Scripture and point to one or two simple texts from the Bible and set forth the gospel of your salvation? Still more, is that gospel so held by you that it can be seen in your daily living? Repentance toward God and faith toward Jesus Christ must not be something that you only speak about, but something that you practice in your own life. Nothing less than that is your calling as a Christian. God says in Isaiah 43, Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord.
I am going to point you to a text which puts forth the heart of the biblical gospel. It is found in Acts 20:21. We read, “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In this chapter the apostle Paul is giving a summary of the gospel he had preached while he was in Ephesus. He has gathered around him the elders, the leaders of the church of Ephesus, and is rehearsing to them his ministry of some three years among them. In verses 18 and 19 of that chapter he describes the manner in which he labored among them. He says that it was characterized by lowliness of mind and that he had labored with them with tears. He goes on in verse 20 to tell them of the method that he used. He showed, or declared, to them the gospel. He did not come to share their insights. He did not come to pool their ignorance. No, he had declared, personally and publicly, and from house to house, the gospel. Then, having reviewed how he went about his ministry when he was in Ephesus, he goes on in our text to review the very heart of what the gospel was that he declared. He says that he had testified to Jew and Greek repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. This verse, then, is a summary statement of what the gospel is and what the gospel demand is.
Paul says that he had testified, that is, he had spoken as one who was under oath. His words were those of one who could say, “I solemnly sware to you, in God’s presence, that this is the message of the gospel: Repent toward God and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” That is the call of the gospel right now to you. Do you understand these things? Are you ready to testify of them in your life? Are these things written upon the pages of your life? The testimony of the gospel?
Let us answer three questions.
First of all, to whom are we to testify of the gospel? To whom did Paul testify of the gospel? He says, both to the Jews and also to the Greeks. That is a very common phrase in the New Testament. You will find it in Romans 1:16. There Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believeth, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” That phrase, “to the Jew and to the Greek,” simply means “all mankind regardless of their natural or ethnic distinctions.” Paul testified of the gospel to all men regardless of their national, ethnic, or religious distinctions. He testified to man as man. Or, we may put it this way: He testified to all whom God in His providence brought him. The word “providence” means here the truth that God orders all the events of time, and also orders the steps of the apostle Paul, so that everyone who was brought into contact with Paul, or Paul into contact with him, was controlled by God. So Paul says, All whom the Lord in His providence or power brought before me, whether that person was a Jew or a Greek it made no difference, I testified to them of the gospel. The gospel, then, is to be testified to all men to whom God in His providence, in His power, causes to hear that gospel. The gospel is not preached or testified only to those whom God has elected eternally. It is not my task somehow to go out and find out who those elect are and testify only to them. Oh, no! The testimony of the gospel (follow me very carefully) is not God’s favor or grace to all men. When God has the gospel testified to all men, that is not an evidence of God’s general love for all men. No, the gospel is grace or favor only to those whom God from eternity has loved and chosen. Nevertheless, the gospel must be testified to all and without distinctions. Both to the Jews and also to the Greeks.
To the Jews – that is, men and women who had all the advantages of being born in the nation of Israel, the nation that God, in the Old Testament, formed for Himself. He had given to them the Old Testament Scriptures; sent to them the prophets; ordained for them a form of worship and approach to God. Turn to Romans 9:4, 5 where Paul gives the advantages of the Jews. He says, Who are Israelites to whom pertaineth the adoption and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the law and the service of God and the promises; whose are the fathers and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Paul says, I preach to the Jew, to the people who were surrounded in the Old Testament by the Word of God because the Jew needed the gospel for himself. He was nothing but a sinner.
But also to the Greeks. The Greeks are simply those who, in their generations, have not had the gospel, who are pagans. Some of the Greeks had culture, some were uncultured. Some were barbarian, ignorant, unlearned. And others represented the very cream of Greek philosophy – the cream of high moral standards, very knowledgeable, refined, smooth, suave. But this they had in common: they knew not God. According to Ephesians 4:17-19, they walked in the darkness and vanity of their own mind. They groped about in darkness, not knowing Jesus Christ.
Now the gospel needs to be testified equally to both Jew and Greek. Paul had no double message – not one for the Jew and one for the Greek. Oh, in his approach he took into account who it was that was before him, whether he stood in the presence of a Jew or of a Greek. He says, I made myself servant to all that I might gain the more. Paul adapted himself to the people who were in front of him, making sure that he understood who they were and how they thought and what was their background in life. But it was only a means to one end: to testify of the one inflexible, unchangeable message of the gospel.
Why? The answer is this: Because no matter what earthly distinction sets men apart from each other, and there are many distinctions – racial, cultural, religions – those distinctions are at best superficial. All men are equally ruined and hopeless before God as sinners.
What would be more different than a Jew and a pagan Greek? One could come up with a list of tremendous differences, the whole approach to life, the whole perspective upon life. But God says that those differences, so pronounced and so apparent and so insurmountable by man, are only superficial. Man is basically the same: oriental, western, African, American, white, black, whatever. Man’s similarities are greater than his differences. Man was made by God in Adam. But more importantly yet, all men are fallen in Adam. In Adam all died. Not one race more than another. All have died. All are equally depraved. All nations, all ethnic groups, all men are equally under the sentence of God. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:24). All are born children of wrath even as others (Eph. 2:3). The classic statement is Romans 3:9. There Paul says, “What then? are we (Jews) better than they (Gentiles)? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.” All are under sin. Despite the differences of color, class, learning, and all the other differences, all are equally depraved and hopeless sinners before God.
You see, the gospel is the true leveler of men. The gospel sweeps away all that men would pride themselves in. Those who have been blessed of God by being brought into the grace of God in a Christian home are, of themselves, sinners. Those who have never heard the gospel are, of themselves, nothing but guilty sinners. I testified to Jew and Gentile because the gospel is the only hope to any man or woman, no matter who they are.
What did he testify? That is our second question.
Paul says, I testified repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. There we see that Paul is bringing the gospel down to its most basic elements. He says, the gospel is first of all repentance towards God. That word means “a change of mind.” That is not a surface change of mind. That is not simply an alteration of my thought patterns. That is not simply to say, “Well, repentance is when I wake up and I decide to look at things differently. And I see that much of my life was counter-productive and it is not good to yell at my wife and kids or to drink, or not practice safe-sex. And I see how the Bible can help me get my life straightened up and make me successful and healthy and lead what is called a victorious life.” No! Repentance is a radical change of the heart toward God and toward sin. It is an overhauling of my heart in my attitude toward God and sin. It gives me now to love God and to hate my sins. It is something that affects my life totally – my thoughts, my emotions, my will, my tongue. Repentance toward God!
The original is very forceful. It says, literally, “It is the unto God repentance.” Paul says, I did not simply testify that men should repent, but I testified that they must repent unto God! That repentance has as its primary concern God. Not a man-ward repentance whereby men say, “Well, I got caught and now others know when I am a shame before men.” Yes, that is partially true also of a child of God. But that is not the pith, the heart, of it. Paul says, I did not testify of a self-ward repentance. “I feel bad because of what it did to me.” That is also true. But that is still not the heart. A God-ward repentance; a change of heart toward God. “I see God as my creator whom I have not honored in my life. I see God as the one who gave me life and breath, and I have not returned the love and praise which is due to Him. I see God as the law-giver, whose holy law I have spurned. I see God as the Judge in whose presence I must stand in the last day and to whom I must give an account. And I have not honored Him or given praise to Him. I have lifted up my hand against Him.” You see, the gospel is a God-centered gospel.
Our great problem is not first of all our relationships among men. Yes, the gospel affects those relationships. But that is not the great and first need. Our great need is our relationship to God first. Our great need is not a bandaid on our relationships between men – simply learning new ways of relating to people and of getting a better view of myself. The gospel does address those issues. But my great and primary need, if any of my human relationships are to be changed, is first of all that I be changed toward God. Repentance toward God.
And, secondly, Paul says, “I testified of faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ.” Faith is trust, reliance, commitment unto Jesus Christ. It is spiritual union to Jesus Christ. It is, to say it in the words of II Timothy 1:12, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” Faith is confidence in the risen Savior. Faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ – that is the object of our faith. Faith is not simply in something or other but I am not sure what. It is faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Those words bring to us all that the Bible tells us of the Son of God, the Savior, the Lord, the one who is the Lord of glory, who has humbled Himself even unto death for our sins. Paul says, “I testified of repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior, the Lord of the cross, the Son of God.”
Do you testify of this gospel? Do you know this gospel? Do you live this gospel?
We must have this gospel testified to us by the faithful preaching of the gospel. We must hear that faithful gospel preached to us on the Lord’s day. That is the will of God. But we must also testify of that gospel in our lives. We testify of that gospel in our life by living that gospel, by repenting toward God, and by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.
When God’s grace works within you, He brings you to repentance. And when God’s grace works within you, He gives you faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And you come to the realization that you cannot provide the remedy for your sins. You cannot scour your own heart from your sins. You cannot somehow reach up your hands into the place where God has kept the record of the deeds of men and somehow blot out the record of your sinful deeds. No! God gives you to see that salvation is only through Jesus Christ, as Lord and Savior, your Lord and your Savior.
Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you repent toward God? Is this gospel testified in your deeds and in your life? Those, too, are to be found in those who, by the grace of God, have been brought to Jesus Christ. A God-ward repentance and a faith in Jesus Christ.
Do you have this true repentance – a broken heart over sin, that you have sinned against the Sovereign of the universe? Do you weep over your sins? Have you trembled over the thought that you dared to withhold from God that which was due to Him? That you dared to disobey Him?
Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? That is, that you not only see your sin and your guilt as a great mountain which calls down destruction for you, but that you look away from yourself and see that in Jesus Christ is full salvation. The response to the gospel is this: by God’s wonderful grace, I repent toward God and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Then we, too, will testify of that gospel. A beautiful testimony will flow from our lives. We will say, I do solemnly swear, of the things that I have heard and seen – no, the things that I have even tasted – this is the gospel: repent of your sins. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. And you shall be saved.
Let us pray.
Almighty God and heavenly Father, by Thy grace work the gospel in our hearts that we might be led in repentance and faith. Give also that our lives, as children of God, may be a testimony of that gospel and the very deeds of our life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.