I remember when I was in university I was a pretty good test-taker. I was the king of multiple choice. I was only a little less confident when I wrote essays - I could at least sound like i knew what I was talking about, even if I didn’t exactly know.I was also pretty efficient when I took tests, and would often be one of the first ones finished, so it was no surprise when I took my first year history class midterm at the UW, that I was the fist one to complete the test and hand in my bluebook. I packed up my bag and quietly left the room, careful to not disturb the others who were completing their tests. i had a couple of friends in the course, so I waited in the hallway for them to finish. And I waited. And I waited. No one else came out. And I waited some more. 20 minutes before the first person left the room. Finally my friends completed the txt and met me outside. “We were so mad at you!” they said. “How did you finish so quickly?” “I guess I just knew the answers.” “But you left before we even got to the second page!”
Second page! “What do you mean the second page?” I hadn’t turned the paper over, and had only completed half of the test.
In Acts chapter 19, the Apostle Paul comes to Ephesus, and encounters two groups of people who are trying to life some pale imitation of the Christian faith, for they each only possess and practice half of the gospel, to their frustration and indeed to their destruction. One group has heard the word of repentance, but knows nothing of the Spirit-empowered life. The other group tries to imitate the power of the Spirit, but has not first submitted to the word of repentance. the word of repentance which we proclaim, and the power of the Spirit in which we proclaim it are inseparable - two sides of the same coin.
Spirit-less Repentance is Not Christianity
Acts 19:1 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
Upon Paul’s return to Ephesus he meets this group of people, about twelve men in all but possibly women as well, who had heard and responded positively to part of the gospel. They are called disciples, but it is quite clear that they are not to be considered yet as Christian disciples, but we find out in the text that they are disciples of John the baptist. That is, they had gone out to John when he was calling out to Israel to repent for the kingdom of the Lord is at hand. They heard call to repent and submitted to John’s baptism. Yet apparently, they must have left the region shortly thereafter, because they demonstrate that they have not heard of anything past John’ baptism.
Now can you imagine the state of these poor disciples. They’ve heard one half of the gospel presentation, but only half. They have heard that the kingdom of God is coming soon, and that they must live lives of repentance, but that is all. I can imagine they are fairly miserable by the time Paul meets them, because imagine if the only part of the gospel you heard was, God is coming in judgement and you must repent. That’s fine on the first day, you go into the water and are baptized demonstrating your repentance and embrace of John’s message. But what about the second day. And the third day. And months go by and your wondering when the kingdom will come, but worse than that your seeing that as much as you want to live a life of repentance, you are unable to do so. Daily your flesh battles against your soul so that you do want you do not wish to do. And miserably you fail again and again, even though you’ve dedicated yourself to a life of repentance. These guys may have been Paul’s inspiration for Romans 7:
15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Rom. 7:21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
I repent, I repent, I repent, but when is it enough - I need power to live! And so Paul asks, “did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” and they are like, what are you talking about?
An Paul realizes - these aren’t Christians. They’ve only heard the bad news of guilt and sin and repentance, but they haven’t heard the good news. They haven’t yet heard of the Saviour who came to forgive them of their sins. They haven’t heard that he died for their sins, a perfect sacrifice, once and for all. They haven’t heard that he rose again from the dead demonstrating his victory over sin and death, and they haven’t heard that he has poured out the Holy Spirit upon all who come to him by faith, so that they may live a holy life. They’ve heard only half of the gospel. And so he preaches Jesus to them, after which they receive water baptism and the Holy Spirit.
This must have been such a relief to them! Imagine only knowing the repentance half of the gospel, but not the forgiveness and and the freedom half of the gospel. You can almost understand that when the Spirit came upon them they burst forth in prayer and prophesy. What a release.
So we must be careful that we do not merely preach repentance with out offering hope and power, but we also must be careful of the opposite - promising hope and power without preaching repentance. Skip down to verse 13
Repentance-free Spirituality is Not Christianity
13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled.
Now notice, these Jewish exorcists are not interested in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, they have no interest in his message of repentance and they definitely are not followers of Christ, they only want his power, to use the power of God like a magic potion, a cure all for suffering. And man, this is terrifying. They begin to try to mimic the ministry of Paul and drive out evil spirits in the name of Jesus, but they don’t follow Jesus themselves. They think its all a game, until the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. Imagine how horrifying the voice of the spirit when it says, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” The only think more horrifying then hearing a demon say this, would be that it echoes the words of Christ himself:
Matt. 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Listen, we can be hard on the sons of Sceva and how they tried to prosper off of the power of God while minimizing Christ, but this still happens within Christianity all the time. People promising power and healing and deliverance and prosperity, without also preaching repentance, and sin, and the work of Christ on our behalf.
We Preach Repentance In the Power of the Spirit
Acts 19:8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
Acts 19:11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.
Tucked between the reports of John’s disciples and the sons of Sceva, is the ministry of Paul. Look how carefully he preaches the Gospel, three months in the synagogue, line by line through the Torah demonstrating that Jesus is the Christ, the one foretold to do away with sin, and then he spends two years publicly preaching the word of the Lord in the hall of Tyrannus, so that all hear, both Jews and Greeks. He uses reason, and persuasion, and bold proclamation. But simultanously, the power of the Spirit is demonstrated through him, the signs of an apostle he calls them elsewhere, that people might observe the power of God in him. Now we’re not apostles, and so we can’t expect to demonstrates the Spirit’s power in the same way, but as we preach the gospel, we have to preach and demonstrate both sides of the coin.
We need to lead people through the valley of their sin and guilt before a holy God, before leading them to the mountain of the Spirit-filled life in Christ.
The Word and Spirit Together Are Mighty to Save
18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.
This is what revival looks like when it is true revival accompanied by repentance and the power of the spirit. They confess and renounce their former ways, because life in Christ is better. their repentance is tangible - they burn through what was equivalent to the wealth of two of their lifetimes. The revival in the city becomes so great that later in the chapter, a silversmith named Demitirius gathers all the idol makers in the city together and we hear that it is affecting their bottom line - they are using business left and right because people are turning to God, and they fear that even the great temple to the goddess Artemis might be shut down. Their business is threatened and they stir up a crowd, dragging some of the Christians in front of them, and for at least two hours holding them hostage while they shouted them down. Yet the Christians were let go, because the clerk of the city could find no evidence that the Christians were directly attacking the temple, because they weren’t. They were preaching repentance and the power of the Spirit. See they weren’t trying to directly shut the temples down, that wasn’t there mission; however, they were doing something even more devastating to the temples, they were cutting off demand.
When we preach repentance and the power of the spirit, we are doing something far more than political activism or community service, or social engagement. Some Christians use all there energy in shutting down abortion mills, but what if we were able to cut off the supply, and the abortion mills closed there doors because people were living in repentance and the power of the Spirit. People are worried, what’s going to happen when marijuana is legalized next year - what if we were able to cut off the supply by preaching repentance and the power of the spirit. We want to stop human trafficking and the exploitation of women in the sex trade - we’ve got to cut off the supply through repentance and the power of the spirit. You want to shut down white supremes movements - cut off their supply through preaching repentance and the power of the Spirit. We long for a more just, a more equitable, a more safe community, and we have the answer in the gospel to cut off the supply to all these social ills, and we keep it in.
Join me in praying for revival to come to Ottawa. That churches and Christians in those churches would preach the gospel, the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ, in the power of the Spirit that works in and through us.