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God’s Call to Repentance
** Watch at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROpEIeCzCk4
With last week’s topic on forgiveness, and as we have been looking at the vital doctrines of the church and Christianity, especially throughout history as to what caused the remnant church to stand out, what I’d like to share with you today is what naturally follow or flow from forgiveness, and that is repentance.
Now, in last week’s message I shared that in order for forgiveness to take place trust needed to be restored, and for this to take place I gave this prescription, and that is, a quality proven measure needs to take place over an extended period of time. Well, that is what is at the heart of repentance, which is basically making right, and whatever that looks like, it’s making right whatever wrong we’ve perpetrated, or that was perpetrated upon us.
Why is this so important and vital? it’s because many believers are trapped in an endless cycle of sinning and confessing with no resolve. Day after day they experience the haunting and persistent accusations by Satan, the accuser, and day after day they cry tears of sorrow, only to find themselves doing all over again what they said they would never do.
This is true for just about every one of us. We all seem to struggle with persistent sin, where we try to do what is right but fail and fall and get up only to fall again. This is something that the Apostle Paul knew well in his own life.
“I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” (Romans 7:19 NLT)
And the cry of our hearts is, “Lord, I want to, need to, and have to change. But how?” And so the question becomes, can we change? Can we break this cycle that finds us in constant despair and discouragement?
And the answer is “Yes.” We can change, and Satan’s accusations and lies against us can be silenced, and the chains that bind us can be broken. And, while society and the church have a lot of different programs and methods to help facilitate this change, God has only one way. It’s through repentance.
And while this is something we obviously know, what I have found is that it is rarely taught or fully understood by most Christians. Therefore, I feel like Peter when he wrote that it was no big thing for him to remind the church about these things while he was still around so that they will not forget after his departure (2 Peter 1:12-15).
What Repentance Means
Now, when it comes to this word, “repentance,” it is something that Bible mentions often, and something that we hear in church a whole lot, but I’m not sure if we know what it means, only because it really isn’t taught all that often; mentioned, yes, but not fully taught.
In reviewing ten books and booklets for new believers, I found only three talking about repentance, and their treatment was anemic at best. One had it in its glossary of terms. Another said, “Repent: Be willing to turn from your sin.” Finally, in a two-hundred-page book for new believers, repentance was only mentioned once with a one-sentence definition.
Let me just say that true repentance takes place when the knowledge of Jesus’s death upon the cross makes its way from our head to our heart. This is when we will experience a true turning away from our sins and the ways of the world, and a turning towards the Lord.
Now, some people think it’s being sorry for our sins. But it means much more than being sorry. It means being sorry enough to quit. Others believe repentance is merely turning away from doing what’s wrong, turning away from sin. But it means not only turning away from sin, but also turning toward God.
Repentance, therefore, isn’t this half-hearted “I’m sorry God,” that most people seem to think it is. And this is what the Apostle Paul makes so very clear.
“Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner … For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10 NKJV)
What’s the difference between being sorry, and having a heartfelt sorrow? Being sorry is being ashamed that we were caught, but not changing or turning toward God.
Godly sorrow that leads to repentance is our heartfelt sorrow over our sinfulness. It is a heartfelt sorrow, that is, a deep sorrow over what we’ve done, and how it has hurt and wounded the heart of God.
Wayne Grudem in his book on systematic theology probably gives the best definition for repentance. He said it is, “A heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ.” (Wayne Grudem)
Repentance is then a key element in our relationship with God. Its importance cannot be overstated, because its meaning can be found throughout both the Old and New Testaments.
In 2 Kings 17:13, the Lord said, “Turn from your evil ways, and keep My commandments and My statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by My servants the prophets” (2 Kings 17:13 NKJV).
Ezekiel said, “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin.’” (Ezekiel 18:30 NKJV)
John the Baptist’s message was simple. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’” (Matthew 3:2 NKJV)
Jesus also made this the heart of his message saying on several occasions, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, (and) “Repent and believe in the gospel.” (Matthew 3:2: 4:17; Mark 1:15 NKJV)
It was also the message of the first church when Peter said in the very first sermon ever preached by the New Testament church saying, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38 NKJV)
And so, I think that it’s safe to say that God’s method of change is through the act of repentance.
But there is an element that we see that is required to show that repentance has truly taken place.
Restitution is the act of restoring what had been taken away. We see this through the prophet Ezekiel.
“If the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has stolen, and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die.” (Ezekiel 33:15 NKJV)
This is lived out for us in the story of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector of Jericho. When Jesus came through the city he stayed at Zacchaeus’s house. During this time Zacchaeus repented of his sinful ways and restored all the monies that he had unlawfully taken. And Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house.” (Luke 19:9).
Restitution, therefore, is about making right whatever wrongs we have done to others. If we’ve stolen, we need to give it back, or make it right. If we’ve lied, we need to tell the truth, or if we’ve injured someone with our words, we need to ask forgiveness.
Seeing this, then I think it is probably safe to say
Repentance Isn’t Easy
We see this in what Paul said about godly sorrow.
“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10 NKJV)
The word sorrow brings out just how difficult repentance is, for it brings with it the idea of pain. It is an internal hurting. It is anguish of the soul, but it is worth it, because repentance, that is, godly sorrow, leads to salvation and eternal life, while just being sorry, or worldly sorrow, leads to eternal death.
A godly sorrow brings with it a brokenness before God and makes us ready for change. We see this in King David and the cry of his heart at his sin of adultery with Bathsheba. In Psalm 51 David lays it all out on the line. He says that just be sorry and offering up the required sacrifices isn’t enough.
“For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart – these, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17 NKJV)
What Does Repentance Look Like
We see an excellent example of biblical repentance and its availability in Jesus’s story of the Prodigal Son. In the story the younger of two sons took the inheritance his father had for him and spent it all on sinful pursuits. After losing all his money and his so-called friends, he hires himself out to a pig farmer. But soon he began to desire the food the pigs were eating. Let me tell you, it really doesn’t get any lower than this.
Acknowledgement of Condition
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger.’” (Luke 15:17 NKJV)
Notice again what Jesus said. He said, “When he came to himself,” that is, the prodigal son acknowledged that things had to change.
Confession of Sin
“I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.’” (Luke 15:18 NKJV)
He confessed, and notice that like King David he knew that his sin was not just against his father, but also against the Lord God Himself. He said, “I have sinned against heaven.”
“I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” (Luke 15:19 NKJV)
He is trying now to make right the wrong he had committed against his father.
As the story ends, when the prodigal son returns, the father runs to him, wraps his arms around him, puts on him brand new cloths, and has a feast in his honor. It is here that I’d like to end our time together and look at the Blessings of Repentance.
The Blessings of Repentance
Repentance is often looked upon as a positive, but with a price. The reality, however, is that repentance is a blessing to those who truly turn from their sin and turn towards God. It’s a positive that brings with it the blessings of refreshment and renewal.
“Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19 NKJV)
Exactly what this refreshing is has been debated, but when compared to what Peter said earlier in his first sermon when he said, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38 NKJV), it seems the times of refreshing refers to the coming presence of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life, and truthfully, there is no better refreshment than the Holy Spirit.
This was also the request of King David when his sin with Bathsheba was found out.
He prayed, “Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.” (Psalm 51:11-12 NKJV)
Observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:11 NKJV)
Everything Paul says is a direct result of the renewal that comes when true repentance is sought after and achieved.
This was the outcome King David was looking for when he prayed for not only the Holy Spirit to remain, but that God would revive and renew his joy. Again, look at what David prayed.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.” (Psalm 51:12 NKJV)
David needed to be renewed, but it didn’t happen until he acknowledged his sin before God, until he became genuinely sorry over the hurts and agony his sins caused others and God, and then purposefully changing the course of his life.
Repentance involves our mental acceptance that we have sinned, and while our sins affects others, it has also hurt and wounded the heart of God. This should produce within us a deep heartfelt sorrow over what we have done, and when we acknowledge our sins, it should literally break and crush our hearts.
But it cannot stop there. This must be followed by a definite course of action where we turn away from our sin and turn directly to the Lord God who forgives and cleanses us, or as we looked at earlier, and that is a quality proven measure over an extended period of time.
But when it comes right down to it, our repentance is nothing short of God’s gracious gift of goodness.
The Apostle Paul said, “Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4 NKJV)
Repentance is therefore vital to a believer’s walk and relationship with God, and we shouldn’t hesitate when convicted by the Holy Spirit to repent.
God’s desire is for His people to repent and turn to Him.
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
Repentance is all about preparing the way for Jesus to come into our hearts. And notice that Peter said that God is longsuffering, that is, He doesn’t want us to miss out on heaven’s blessing.
There’s a story about a student who came to his Rabbi and asked, “Rabbi, when should a man repent?” The rabbi responded, “You need to make sure you repent on the last day of your life.”
The student asked the Rabbi how anyone could ever know when the last day of life will be so they could repent, to which the Rabbi replied, “The answer is simple. Repent now!”
Let’s listen to God’s gift of the Holy Spirit when He tells us of our need to repent and turn back to God. Don’t wait until tomorrow, because today may be our last.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study