ILLUSTRATION: Boy on a Plane

Little Boy Trying to Annoy Female PassengerIn his book “In the Grip of Grace”, Max Lucado tells the story of Billy Jack, a boy he met on a plane who needed extra care and attention.

According to Lucado, Billy Jack would often ask a question, only to get distracted before the listener had a chance to deliver an answer. He described Billy Jack as “a little boy in a big body”.

Billy Jack needed help, and he knew it…

Unashamed of his needs, he didn’t let a flight attendant pass without a reminder: “Don’t forget to look after me.” When they brought the food: “Don’t forget to look after me.” When they brought more drinks: “Don’t forget to look after me.” When any attendant would pass, Billy Jack would urge: “Don’t forget to look after me.” I honestly can’t think of one time Billy Jack didn’t remind the crew that he needed attention. The rest of us didn’t. We never asked for help. We were grown-ups. Sophisticated. Self-reliant. Seasoned travelers. Most of us didn’t even listen to the emergency landing instructions. (Billy Jack asked me to explain them to him).[i]

Lucado went on to explain that Billy Jack was the safest person on the plane. If something went wrong, the flight attendants would have helped him first. Not because he deserved the most help. Not because he was the best behaved passenger on the flight. Not because he had listened the most attentively during the emergency landing instructions. But because Billy Jack was willing to declare that he could not take care of himself. He fully acknowledged his helplessness.

The same is true when it comes to Christianity…

Jesus made it clear that “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15).

A person becomes a Christian not by making a commitment to obey, or by promising to be faithful, but by declaring that they are helpless to obey and unable to be faithful.

Like a child, they declare their needs freely and unashamedly. They recognize that they can’t make it on their own, and cry out for Jesus to save them.

[i] Lucado, Max (2009-07-07). In the Grip of Grace: Your Father Always Caught You. He Still Does. (Kindle Locations 2734-2742). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.


MISUNDERSTANDING: The Definition of Repentance


In order for a person to become a Christian, they need to have both FAITH and REPENTANCE…

Luke 13:3
“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”.

Acts 2:38
And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”.

Acts 17:30
“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent”.


Unfortunately, if you ask people to define the word ‘REPENT’, they will sometimes tell you that it means to ‘TURN MY LIFE AROUND’. And if by this they mean that the alcoholic has to stop being an alcoholic (or at least promise to stop being an alcoholic) before they can become a Christian, then there are all sorts of problems with this definition.


There are at least 5 reasons why we can be sure that ‘repent’ does not mean ‘to turn my life around’…

1. If ‘repent’ means to ‘turn my life around’, how will I know if I’ve turned my life around enough?

Very few unbelievers would ever feel confident that they could turn their life around enough to become a Christian. And those who did feel confident would forever be questioning if they’ve done enough to maintain their new life.

2. The Bible teaches that repentance happens in our mind. Repentance will eventually lead to a ‘change of life’, but it does not mean a ‘change of life’.

Some things to consider…


> Some interpret ‘repent’ to mean that we need to ‘change one’s mind’ about Jesus.
That Jesus isn’t just a good teacher, a healer, a helper or a good person. But He is the Son of God, the Saviour who came to die for our sins and rise again. That He can be trusted to pay for our sin in full.

> Some interpret ‘repent’ to mean that we need to ‘change one’s mind’ about sin. 
To agree with God that my sin is evil. That it destroys my relationship with God and others. That it destroys me. That I deserve judgement because of my sin.

Regardless of which interpretation one holds, most people would agree that becoming a Christian involves ‘changing one’s mind’ about both Jesus and sin.


John the Baptist called people to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). The Apostle Paul said: “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20).

Both these passages show that repentance is something that happens in the mind. It does not include actions. Actions will eventually flow as a result of repentance, but they are not part of repentance.

3. The Bible records several stories of people who were forgiven without having to turn their lives around.

Consider the following examples…

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

What we find…
> The tax collector did not ‘turn his life around’.
> He did not even promise to ‘turn his life around’.
> He simply acknowledged that he was a sinner under the judgement of God (repentance) and cried out for mercy (faith).
> As a result, Jesus said that the tax collector was justified (declared righteous) before God.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

What we find…
> The woman caught in adultery did not ‘turn her life around’.
> She did not even promise to ‘turn her life around’. We can be sure of this because if she had already decided in her heart to turn her life around, Jesus would not have needed to say ‘go now and leave your life of sin’.
> She did not even publicly acknowledge her sin. The assumption is though that while standing naked and exposed, she was more than aware that she was a sinner who deserved judgement (repentance) and looked to Jesus for mercy (faith).
> As a result, Jesus declared ‘neither do I condemn you’.
> Jesus called the woman to leave her life of sin as a response to His forgiveness, not as a prerequisite to His forgiveness.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

What we find…
> The criminal did not ‘turn his life around’. He had no opportunity to do so before he died.
> He did not even promise to ‘turn his life around’. This would have been a ridiculous promise.
> He simply acknowledged that he was a sinner under the judgement of God (repentance) and cried out for mercy (faith).
> As a result, Jesus said that criminal would be with Him in paradise.

4. The purpose of the law is to drive us to Jesus by showing us that we are unable to turn our life around.

Before a person is willing to trust in Jesus to save them, they must first be convinced that they need saving. This is where the law comes in. As we try to obey God’s law, we become more and more aware of our inability to obey. The law exposes our sin and helplessness. It drives us to look for a saviour.

John Stott explains…
“The purpose of the law was, as it were, to lift the lid off man’s respectability and disclose what he is really like underneath – sinful, rebellious, guilty, under the judgement of God, and helpless to save himself”.

Martin Luther put it like this…
“What is this bruising and beating by the hand of the Law to accomplish? This, that we may find the way to grace. The Law is an usher to lead the way to grace. God is the God of the humble, the miserable, the afflicted. It is His nature to exalt the humble, to comfort the sorrowing, to heal the broken-hearted, to justify the sinners, and to save the condemned. The idea that a person can be holy by himself denies God the pleasure of saving sinners. God must therefore first take the sledge-hammer of the Law in His fists and smash the beast of self-righteousness and its brood of self-confidence, self-wisdom, self-righteousness, and self-help. When the conscience has been thoroughly frightened by the Law it welcomes the Gospel of grace with its message of a Saviour who came into the world, not to break the bruised reed, but to preach glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, and to grant forgiveness of sins to all the captives”.

Now if the law’s purpose is to convince us that the one thing we can’t do is obey, how could God possibly expect us to obey his commands as a requirement to becoming a Christian?

Repentance can’t mean ‘to turn our life around’. It can’t even mean to ‘promise to turn our life around’, for the law convinces us that this is a promise we can’t keep.

Repentance is not about bringing something to the table. It’s about realizing that we have nothing to bring to the table. That we are utterly helpless and hopeless before a Holy God, unable to save ourselves. It convinces us that we desperately need a saviour from both the power of sin and the consequences of sin.

5. The Bible teaches that without the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to turn our life around.

One of the most significant problems with thinking that repentance means ‘to turn our life around’ is that it contradicts what the Bible teaches about unbelievers being unable to please God.

Martin Luther explains…
“The following statements are therefore true: “Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works; evil works do not make a wicked man, but a wicked man does evil works.” Consequently it is always necessary that the substance or person himself be good before there can be any good works, and that good works follow and proceed from the good person, as Christ also says, “A good tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit” [Matt. 7:18]. It is clear that the fruits do not bear the tree and that the tree does not grow on the fruits, also that, on the contrary, the trees bear the fruits and the fruits grow on the trees. As it is necessary, therefore, that the trees exist before their fruits and the fruits do not make trees either good or bad, but rather as the trees are, so are the fruits they bear; so a man must first be good or wicked before he does a good or wicked work, and his works do not make him good or wicked, but he himself makes his works either good or wicked”.

What Luther is saying is that it’s impossible to produce good works until a person is first made a Christian.

Some would have concerns with Luther’s view. But the Bible makes it clear that “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Jesus said: I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Therefore it is impossible for a person to ‘turn their life around’ before becoming a Christian. In fact, it’s only when a person becomes a Christian and receives the Holy Spirit that they have any hope of seeing their life turned around. 


F.A.Q: Why do I need to ask for forgiveness if God has already forgiven me?


According to the Bible, once a person becomes a Christian,  because Jesus was condemned on their behalf, they can no longer be condemned for their sin:

Romans 8:1
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”.

Romans 5:9
“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”

2 Corinthians 5:18-19
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ…not counting people’s sins against them”.

So if Jesus copped the punishment for a Christian’s past, present & future sin, deliberate & accidental sin, confessed & unconfessed sin, what is the point of confession?


Just because a Christian can’t be condemned for their sin, doesn’t mean they can’t be affected by sin. There are several reasons for a Christian to continually confess their sin:

Consider the relationship between a father and his child. When the child disobeys his father, he doesn’t get kicked out of the family. The relationship stays intact. The child still belongs to the father. But the quality of their intimacy will be affected. Until the child apologizes to the father for his wrongdoing, there will be tension in their relationship.

In the same way, the Bible teaches that when disobey our Father in Heaven, we don’t get kicked out of the God’s family. The eternal relationship stays intact. We still belong to our Heavenly Father. But the quality of our intimacy will be affected. Until we apologize to our Heavenly Father for our wrongdoing, there will be tension in our relationship.

The Bible seems to indicate that if we fail to confess sin, it will affect God’s decision to answer our prayers:
> “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” (Psalm 66:18).
> “Your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).
> “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives” (James 4:3).

The Bible tells us to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). To be filled with the Holy Spirit means to be controlled or empowered or driven by the Holy Spirit. This happens when we confess our sin to God, acknowledging that we have been trying to control our own lives, and asking Him to take over.

After failing to confess for a prolonged period of time, David eventually comes to realize how personally destructive unconfessed sin can be. In Psalm 32:3-5 he says: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord'”.


MISUNDERSTANDING: We are only forgiven for past, accidental & confessed sin

Suppose you had to participate in the following activity…


Lifetime of Sins

Obviously there will be lots of sins from your past that you’ve forgotten you committed. Obviously it’s impossible to predict what sins you are going to commit in the future. And obviously this table would not be large enough.

But for the sake of the activity, let’s imagine that you were able to fill in the table accurately.


Lifetime of Sins Crossed out

Obviously there will still be many sins not crossed out. Some remain unconfessed because you forgot you committed them. Some remain unconfessed because you did not even realize they were sins. And some remain unconfessed simply because you did not find the time. But whatever the reason, all of us live with unconfessed sin on our record.


Possibility #1
Many people would only place a circle around their past, accidental, confessed sins.

Lifetime of Sins Crossed out & Circle 1

Possibility #2
Others would place a circle around all their past, present and future accidental sins.

Lifetime of Sins Crossed out & Circle 2

Possibility #3
Some would place a circle around all their past, present, future, deliberate & accidental sins.

Lifetime of Sins Crossed out & Circle 3

So which is correct?

If ‘Possibilitiy #1’ is correct, then no one would make it to heaven.

If ‘Possibility #2’ is correct, it also means that no one would make it to heaven because everybody deliberately sins. Despite what some people might think, nearly all sin is deliberate. We sin because we have a sinful nature which loves sin and craves sin.

Therefore, the only option that makes any sense is ‘Possibility #3’. Jesus died on the cross to pay for sin in full. He wants us to be sure that we are forgiven, sure that we are going to heaven and sure that we have escaped God’s condemnation. This can only happen if Jesus has paid for all our past, present, future, accidental & deliberate sin.

The Bible teaches that we are not forgiven because we avoid deliberate sin, or because we confess our sin. But rather we are forgiven if we place our life and eternity in Jesus hands, trusting Him to pay for our sin in full.

“God not only forgives the former sins you have committed; but looks through his fingers and forgives the sins you will yet commit” – Martin Luther



MW_100804_SLSA_IRBRescue_0059Many people believe that a person becomes a Christian by committing their life in obedience to Jesus. As a result, they are never really sure if they are committed enough. But what if becoming a Christian has nothing to do with our commitment to obey Jesus, and everything to do with Jesus’ commitment to save us?

When a lifesaver is rescuing a drowning boy, he doesn’t demand that the boy commit to becoming a better swimmer, or promise that he get swimming lessons. He simply asks the boy to stop trying to save himself and to trust him.

The same is true when it comes to Jesus. When he sees us drowning in our sin and despair, He doesn’t demand that we commit to being obedient. He simply asks us to stop trying to save ourselves, and to entrust our life and eternity into His hands.

Becoming a Christian isn’t about promising to obey. It’s about waving our hands up in the air and declaring our desperate need to be rescued.