The Two Words of Salvation


The Two Words of Salvation

November 19th, 1978 @ 8:15 AM

Acts 20:20-21

And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 20:20-21

11-19-78    8:15 a.m.


This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church, again welcoming a multitude on radio who are listening to the message entitled The Two Words of Salvation.  In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 20.  And in the middle of the chapter, at verse 17 it says, “And from Miletus,” that is a town on the seashore, “Paul sent to Ephesus, and called for the pastors of the church, the elders of the church” [Acts 20:17]:

 And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I have lived with you . . . serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and trials, which befell me…And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you and taught you publicly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

[Acts 20:18-21]

The apostle there defines the gospel that he preaches in that two words, “Testifying repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 20:21], the two great words of salvation; repentance and faith.

Words can be dynamic and moving, they can be even inflammatory.  In the years of the French Revolution, the watchword of those revolutionaries was, “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.”  Even in our own story of the independence of Texas, the watchword of that battle cry was, “Remember the Alamo!”  But words can also lose their meaning, their dynamic import and nature.  For example, who today would be inflamed by those revolutionary words of the French in the eighteenth century, “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity?”  When I name them, they are just sounds and syllables to us today.  Or who today would be brought to sacrifice in blood and war if I were to cry from this pulpit, “Remember the Alamo!”  People might today think I was referring to some tourist attraction down there in the southern part of Texas.  Words lose their dynamic meaning.

Words also can be perverted.  I am almost amazed, it’s almost unbelievable to me, how modernists, liberals, in the theological world will use the language of Zion, use the words of the Bible and empty them of all of their meaning.  They will use the word “Son of God,” they’ll use the word “divinity,” they will use the word “inspiration”—all the nomenclature and language that we use in delivering the message of Christ—and then empty every one of those words of its primeval meaning.  They mean something else altogether different from what we mean, using the same words.

I find that also in the communist world.  The communists will use the same great national words that we love: democracy, republic, peace, righteousness, social justice.  They’ll use all those words as we have been taught them in history and enjoyed them in our free Western world; but they empty them of their meaning.  It is the People’s Republic of China; it is the Democratic Republic of East Germany; but their idea of democracy, and their idea of a republic, and their idea of peace and social justice is an altogether different world from ours.  Words have a strange way of losing their meaning or being perverted.

Sort of the same thing happens in this message of Christ that Paul preached, “Testifying repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 20:21].  The words, instead of being inflammatory, instead of being miraculously new, instead of being dynamic, a true evangel—euaggelionthey are so trite now and are so much discussed in theological nomenclature that we hardly understand what they mean.  Repentance; just exactly what is that?  And saving faith; what is that?  There was a time, when the gospel was first announced, that those two words had a tremendous moving and marching meaning.  The Gospel of Mark begins like this:

After John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying . . . What is the gospel of the kingdom of God?  Repent ye, and believe the gospel.

[Mark 1:14-15]

There are those two great words, repentance and faith.  But today, our words fall into all kinds of philosophical speculation.  Just exactly what is this repentance?  And just exactly what is this saving faith?  What does a man do in order to be saved, when the Bible asks of him repentance, and belief, faith? [Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21].  That is our sermon today.

The actual word translated “repentance,” metanoia, actually means “a change of mind.”  Literally the word means “a change of mind” and refers to a change of attitude, a change of purpose.  Could I say it? A change of lifestyle, what a man does; it is an active word, not a passive word.  It is a dynamic word, not a lethargic word.  It is a moving, marching word; not a sedentary word.  It refers to something that a man does.  For example, when Jonah came preaching into that vast city of Nineveh, when he came preaching into Nineveh, he said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed!” [Jonah 3:4].  And the story of Jonah says, “And when the king heard that, and the people heard that, they repented,”  and the king dressed in sackcloth, and his most menial servants dressed in sackcloth, and they even placed sackcloth on all of their beasts of burden.  And it says that when God saw that Nineveh repented, “God repented of the evil that He purposed to do to Nineveh” [Jonah 3:5-10].  When Nineveh repented, God repented.  When Nineveh changed, God changed [Jonah 23:10].  And so the Lord said in the twelfth chapter of Matthew, verse 41, “The men of Nineveh shall arise and condemn this generation: because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, a greater than Jonah is here” [Matthew 12:41].  Well, how true that is.  Nobody would compare Jonah with the Lord Jesus Christ.  Repent; it is a change of life, it is a change of attitude, it is a change of mind, it is a change of purpose [Acts 20:21; Jonah 3:4-10].

You have another good illustration of this in the Word of our Lord, “What think ye,” He says, in Matthew 21:

A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work today in my vineyard.  And the boy answered and said, I will not; but afterward he repented, and went—

He changed; he turned around—

But afterward he repented, and went.  And he came to his second boy, and said, Go work in my vineyard.  And the boy said, I will do it, sir; but he did not go.  Whether of them twain did the will of the father?  They said, The first.  So the Lord said . . . John came preaching the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.

[Matthew 21:28-32]

Repent, a turning, a changing; so in all of our lives that word “repentance” means a change of mind, a change of attitude, a change of lifestyle, a change of doing and acting.

I remember before the Second World War, these pacifists were in every pulpit.  That is all I heard when I was a young man going to school, pacifism.  Then in the seventh day of December in 1941, there was that awesome attack on Pearl Harbor.  And then I heard from one end of this land to the other, “I have been a pacifist, but I have changed; I am now ready to defend my country.”  That is repentance.  “I have repented of my former attitude; I have changed.”

I remember a man in Kentucky who was so given over to the defense of the distilleries there.  And upon a day, he helped pry up a man out of the snow and the ice, in a ditch in a little bar on the edge of Louisville.  The man had been drinking, and drinking, and drinking; and deeply and much inebriated, the barkeeper had pushed him out.  Who wants a drunk around where they are selling liquor?  They want to be nice in doing it, and this fellow was an offense to them, so they pushed him out in the night—cold wintertime.  And staggering, why, he had fallen into a ditch!  And the next morning they found him frozen stiff, and this man helped pry him up.  And he said, “When we pried him up, I looked at him: mud frozen all over his face and his body.”  And he said, “I changed.  I am now a dry.  I have repented of my attitude, my persuasion.  I’ve changed.”

I remember a testimony of a gambler.  All of the years of his life heretofore he had made his living gambling.  And in a testimony he said, “Upon a day, I met a little ragged, half-starved boy.  And talking to the lad,” he said,”I learned that he was the son of the man that I had gambled with the night before.  And I had won all of that man’s earnings, his paycheck.  And instead of that man taking his money home, to clothe and to feed the boy and the family, I had won it from him at a gambling table the night before.”  And he said, “When I looked at that ragged, half-starved boy, I changed.  I don’t gamble anymore.  I have repented of my ways.  I’ve changed.”

That is the word metanoeō, translated “repentance.”  And it means the same thing when you pull it over into the kingdom of God.  “I have changed.”  In that day in Ephesus, concerning which Paul is speaking, his testifying to the Jews and the Greeks repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 20:21], it meant the same thing then.  “I have been an idolater.  I have been worshiping in the temple of Diana.  But I’m no idolater anymore.  I am a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I have changed.”  That’s repentance.  “I have repented.”  Or, as typical in those days, every one of those cities had Greek sophists in it.  Sophists; they were men who supposedly had superior wisdom.  And the whole Greek world was filled with Greek sophists; they were philosophical speculators.  And they loved to discuss things, and enter into all kinds of metaphysical possibilities.  So here is a man who would say, “I have been a Greek sophist.  I’ve been a philosophical, metaphysical speculator, but I am no Greek sophist any longer; I am a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I have changed, I am now a Christian.”

And the same word applies to us today.  “I have said no to God; but I say yes to the Lord now.  I have spurned the overtures of mercy; but I have changed, I have opened my heart God-ward.  I have said no to the appeal of the pastor and the preacher; but now I say, ‘Yes, Lord, yes!’  I have changed.  I used to pass by the church and to spurn its appeal.  I didn’t go to the services, and I didn’t listen to the message, but I have changed.  Now when the Lord’s Day comes, I look forward to assembling with God’s people.  I bring my family under the influence of the gospel.  I’m rearing my children in the love of the Lord Jesus.  I have changed.”

That is repentance.  And before I leave this word, it is mandatory that I do it.  It is something God commands me to do [Acts 20:21].  It is not optional whether I change or not.  I am commanded to repent, I am commanded to change [Acts 3:19, 20:21].  I am under God’s authority and mandate to do it.  In the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts, when Paul was preaching on Mars’ Hill, he said, “The times of our ignorance God overlooked; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent, to change” [Acts 17:30].  In the passage that you just read, in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, “These on whom the tower of Siloam fell, you think they are sinners above all others in Jerusalem?  No; except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” [Luke 13:3-5].  “Or those Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices, you think they are sinners above all the other Galileans?  No: but except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish” [Luke 13:1-3].  It is a mandate from God that we repent, that we change toward the Lord.  And the Lord expects that; He demands an answer from us.

I remember one of the most poignant stories I ever read in history.  In the days of the Maccabees, when Antiochus Epiphanes was destroying, seeking to destroy the faith—turn the temple into a house worshiping Jupiter, boiled a sow and poured sows juice all over the holy vessels and altars of the temple—trying to make the Judeans, the Jews, trying to make them worshipers in Greek ceremonial services.  When Antiochus Epiphanes was doing that, he was also seeking to conquer all of the East, and he took his army down and was conquering Egypt, and at that time besieging Alexandria.  His army was before the walls of Alexandria, and he was besieging Alexandria.  As long as Antiochus Epiphanes did his work and his conquest up there, why, Rome didn’t matter.

 But when Antiochus Epiphanes came down into Egypt to conquer Egypt, he was touching the breadbasket of that fledgling city and empire up there in Rome, in the West.  That was their granary, that was their wheat field, down there on the Nile; so the Roman Senate, in 165 BC, the Roman Senate sent  [Gaius Popillius Laenas ] down there to confront Antiochus Epiphanes.  And the Roman legate stood in front of the king and said, “The Roman Senate demands that you desist from this campaign, and lift this siege, and take your army out of Egypt, and return back to Antioch where you came from, or else face war with Roman legions.”  And when Antiochus Epiphanes was confronted with that, he demurred, and asked for time to consider it.  And when he did, [Gaius Popillius Laenas] took his staff, and in the sand drew a circle around Antiochus Epiphanes and said to the king, “Before you get out of that circle, you will give me an answer that I can return to the Roman Senate.”  And of course, facing war with the Roman legions, Antiochus Epiphanes capitulated and took his army, and left Egypt, and vented his anger upon little Judea and Jerusalem.

That same kind of a thing is demanded of us by the Lord.  It is not optional with me, whether I turn or not, whether I change or not, whether I face God or not.  He demands that I do it [Acts 3:19, 20:21].  I am to repent of my sins; I am to change from this world to face God, I am to give God an answer.  God demands it.  That’s an altogether different kind of a thing than the fellow who sits out there and says, “But I don’t feel like it,” or, “I’m not moved to do it,” or, “I don’t have that waiting for experience and expected experience.”  It has nothing to do with any kind of an experience, it has nothing to do with any kind of a feeling, it has nothing to do with any kind of a waiting for a marvelous something from heaven to happen to us to pick us up and set us into the kingdom, or to see a vision of an angel.  No!  What God demands of us is a decision in our heads and in our hearts and in our lives; I am commanded to repent!   I have no choice.  I am to turn my face God-ward and turn my back to sin and the world; that’s the first thing that a man has to do [Acts 3:19, 20:21].

I want to show that to you if I possibly can.  It starts there, in the decision that the man makes in his heart, in what the Book calls “repentance” [Acts 20:21; 2 Peter 3:9].  There’s a little boy seated, let’s say, there’s a little boy seated there in the living room and he’s looking at a comic book.  And the father says, “Son, I want you to do this for me.  I want you to go on this errand for me.”  And the little boy stands up, and he takes that comic book, and he throws it down on the floor, and in anger he says to his father, “Every time I sit down, somebody comes along and wants me to do some crazy thing.”  And the father says to the boy, he says, “Son, that’s not the way it is at all.  This is just something that we ask you to do, a little errand; we want you to go.”

“No,” says the boy, “No!  You just pick on me all the time, every time I want to do something, why, there you are working on me to go do something else.”  And the father says, “Now son, that’s not true.  I just asked you to do this little errand for me.  Now son, you see that book you threw on the floor?  I want you to pick it up very carefully and place it quietly on the table.”  And the boy says, “I will not!”  The father undoes his belt, and he has a set-to with the boy.  And after he gives him a good licking, he says, “Now son, pick up that book and put it on the table.”  And the boy weeps, and he cries, and he doesn’t pick it up.  You see the trouble, the tears, the anguish, the agony, the hurt—where does it come from?  It comes from the recalcitrance, and incorrigibility, and rebellion, and disobedience of that boy.  And before anything can be done in that house, and before any kind of regularity and normality can be established in that home, that boy has to pick up that book and put it on the table.  And if he doesn’t, that home will disintegrate; the father will be a figurehead and the boy will be incorrigible all of his life.  Now that is repentance.  Before God can do anything with us, before there is any first step into the kingdom, there has to be a giving up of our disobedience and our incorrigibility.  There has to be a giving up of our rebellion against God, and that is a decision that you make in your heart.  “Son, pick up that book.”  And when the boy picks it up and places it quietly on the table, then he and his father can work things out.

So it is with us: when I repent, when I ask God for His help to be not disobedient, not self-willed, then things begin to fall in beautiful order and God speaks to me, and I listen to His voice; things come beautifully and in order.  Now that’s the first word, and that’s the beginning word.  I turn aside from my self-will, and I look to God as an obedient servant.  That is repentance [Acts 20:21].

Now, faith [Acts 20:21]: and our time is gone, but I must not conclude without the word “faith.”  You could not find a better way of presenting the meaning of the word “faith” than by the inspired eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews [Hebrews 11:1-40].  Faith: faith no less, is a dynamic word, a moving word, a marching word, a doing word.  Faith is not intellectual ascent or acknowledgment.  I know that Caesar lived.  My, my, the amount of pages I’ve read about Caesar!  Or George Washington; I have intellectual ascent to the life and times of George Washington.  How much have all of us read and heard about George Washington?  But that does not involve faith at all, that’s just intellectual acknowledgement.  “The devils know that there is a God.  They believe,” James says, “and tremble” [James 2:19].  Well, what is this saving faith?

All right, saving faith is first of all a commitment, “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house” [Hebrews 11:7].  That is faith; God said, “I am going to destroy this world by flood.”  Noah believed God, and he built an ark and got on the inside of it [Genesis 6:12-7:7].  That is faith; that is, the Bible says that’s faith.  Why, when Noah built that ark, it was a hundred fifty miles away from any water to float it.  And he must have appeared to his friends, and neighbors, and community as an idiot; building that enormous boat a hundred fifty miles away from the ocean.  But that is faith!  He believed God, and he was moved with fear, and he prepared that ark, and he saved his house [Hebrews 11:7].  He got in it, and brought his wife, and brought his three sons, and their three wives; and that saved Noah [Genesis 7:13, 23].  The same way with us—faith is a commitment, into the ark—and that is a type of Jesus, into the Lord; a commitment to the Lord.

All right, number two: faith is a moving out:

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place he should afterward receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out: not knowing whither he went.  And he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country. . .For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

[Hebrews 11:8-10]

That’s faith!  That is, the Bible says that’s faith; he moved out, he moved!  He was called to go and he went; he obeyed, the Bible says.  That’s faith; walking down that stairway, walking down that stairway, walking down that aisle—that’s faith—it’s moving out.  Man,  you can sit there and be lost if you don’t do something; faith moves out, it has feet, it walks.  It moves.

Third: faith is a wonderful and precious devotion, “By faith Moses, when he was come of years,” when he was a grown man:

Refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, refused to be the prince of Egypt; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy all of the luxuries of Egypt; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt; for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.

[Hebrews 11:24-26]


That’s faith! That is, the Bible says that’s faith.  He identified himself with God’s people, even renouncing the throne of the pharaohs to be numbered among those poor, outcast slaves [Hebrews 11:24-26].  That’s faith.  That’s faith.

You know, I had a poignant illustration of that in my own life one time.  I was in Kharkov, a great heavy machinery city, industrial city, of Russia.  They build their tanks there; they have their vast industrial complexes in Kharkov.  I was in Kharkov and as you know, the Soviet government takes the church, and if it’s possible they will put it out on the edge of town, behind a wall, just in any way to persecute it and hide it away.  Well, I went to the church, the Baptist church, in Kharkov.  And on the edge of town and behind a wall, why, I came to see the Baptist people in the city of Kharkov, and when we went in to the door of the wall, the pastor had his congregation with him.  And when we appeared, why, the pastor stepped out of the front of the church, and he was followed by his deacons, and they were followed by the people of the congregation; their wives, and their children, and their little ones.  And as we walked through that large area behind the wall, why, he was leading his people, walking in front of his people toward us.  Well, walking by my side was the Intourist guide, the state assigned guide of the Russian government.

So as we walked along, facing the coming of that pastor and his people, the guide said to me, he said, “Look at them! Look at them, look how poor they are and look how ignorant they are, such trash”; and spoke in such contempt.  I turned toward him and said, “But these are my people, I am one of them, and I want to be numbered as one of them.  Poor, ignorant trash?  They are God’s people!  They are my Baptist brothers and sisters, they are my Christians in the blood, in the faith, in the Lord.  They belong to me, and I belong to them.”  That’s where my name is inscribed and my life is invested, with the people of God.  That’s what it is to be a Christian; that’s what it is, saving faith [Acts 20:21]:

By faith Moses forsook the blandishments, and pleasures, and sins, and allurements of Egypt, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God; for he endured, as seeing Him that is invisible.

[Hebrews 11:24-27]

Now put them both together [Acts 20:21]: Repentance is, “I have turned my back to the world, and I am turning toward God.”  That’s repentance, “I’ve changed.”  And faith is, “I’m moving out.  I’m coming down that aisle.  I am walking down that stairway.  I am placing my heart, and my life, and my love, and my devotion with the people of God.  I want to be numbered with them.  And when they go to heaven, I want to be raptured with them [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].  All of the trials they endure, I want to share it with them [Hebrews 11:224-27].  I want to be one.  I want to belong to the family of God.”  That’s how it is God saves us.  And that is our humble appeal to your heart this morning.

“This day, this day, I am moving out for God.  This day I am turning, facing the Lord.  This day I am coming into the ark of Jesus.  This day I am numbered among those who love the Lord, put my name on that church roll, put my name in that Book of Life in heaven [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27].  I’m one of you.  I am following the Lord.”

If you will, when we sing this invitation hymn, come and stand by me.  “Pastor, I have decided,” isn’t that what we are preaching about?  That’s repentance:

I have decided to follow Jesus

The world behind me,

the cross before me

No turning back

[“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” S. Sundar Singh]

I have decided.    That is repentance!  And faith is, “Count me in, pastor, I’m one of you” [Acts 20:21].  To bring your family, to bring your sweetheart or your wife, or just one somebody you, while we sing the appeal, make that decision now [Romans 10:9-13], while we stand and while we sing.


Dr. W.
A. Criswell



I.          Introduction

A.  Words
can be dynamic, moving, even inflammatory

Words can also lose their meaning

Words can be perverted, lose their content and connotation

There are two words of salvation – repentance and faith

1.  Once
plain and simple, opening doors to hope and heaven(Mark
1:14-15, Acts 20:20-21, 31)

Now philosophical, speculative descriptions

II.         Repentance

A.  Metanoia – “change
your mind”

to a change of attitude, purpose, lifestyle(Matthew
12:41, 21:28-32, Jonah 3:4-10, 4:2)

B. “Repentance” – “I
have changed”

      1.  Pacifists
change after Pearl Harbor

      2.  Kentucky man changed
from wet to dry

      3.  Professional
gambler changed

C. “Repentance toward
God” – eis

      1.  An idol
worshiper now following footsteps of Jesus

      2.  Greek sophist
now believing in revelation of the true God

      3.  Today, people
passing by the church, now longing to go

      4.  Man with
grocery stores open on Sunday

      5.  Scoffing infidel
prayed for by a pastor, later leads a revival

D.  We are commanded to
repent(Acts 17:30, Luke 13:1-5)

      1.  Antiochus

      2.  Young boy who
angrily throws his comic on the floor

III.        Faith

A.  Is an active
commitment(Hebrews 11:7, Genesis 6:3)

B.  Is
a moving out(Hebrews 11:8-10, 15-16)

C.  Is
a loving devotion(Hebrews 11:24-27)

Kharkov – “I want to be identified with them.”