Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.( Revelation 3:3)
Repentance is much more than regret, more than deep sorrow for past sins. The biblical word for repentance literally means “a change of mind.” One church scholar describes it as “ that mighty change in mind, heart, and life, wrought by the Spirit of God.”
This repentance is replete with radical implications, for a fundamental change of mind not only turns us from the sinful past, but transforms our life plan, values, ethics, and actions as we begin to see the world through God’s eyes rather than ours. That kind of transformation requires the ultimate surrender of self.
The call to repentance- individual and corporate- is one of the most consistent themes of Scripture. The demand for repentance is clear in God’s command to Moses(Leviticus 26:40-41), and its broken-hearted reality and passion flows from David’s eloquent prayer of contrition in Psalm 51. It is the constant refrain of the prophets.
Repentance is the keynote of the New Testament as well. It is John the Baptist’s single message; “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 3:2). And according to Mark’s Gospel, “Repent and believe in the gospel” were among Jesus’ first public words. And His last earthly instructions to His disciples included the directive “that repentance and forgiveness of sin should be proclaimed in his name to all nations”(Luke 24:47)
Repentance is an indispensable part of the conversion process that takes place under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. But repentance is also a continuing state of mind. Believers are told, for example, to “prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20).
Without a continuing repentant attitude- a persistent desire to turn away from our own nature and seek God’s nature- Christian growth is impossible; loving God is impossible.
I was asked recently if I believed there was hope for America and the world. Referencing the COVID-19, the rioting and hatred, the unrest and conflict among nations along with the economy and family breakdown and the many things that are plaguing our world, the questioner wondered if there was any possible solution to all these things. My response was and is that yes there is hope and yes there is a solution to all these things. Whether we can find that hope or whether we will engage in the work to bring all this about remains to be seen.
Let me be clear in this matter. In all this, there is no human power, ability, intellect, or means to resolve these things. Let us not pin our hope on some human form of help whether that form be through political change( no matter who is elected president and no matter what they promise, they have no fix), whether it is round table or town hall meetings with both side represented in talks( think about how long talks have been happening in the Middle East), or whether by some means a vaccine is found for the virus(so far nothing has been promising), we are beyond human help.
When we turn to the Bible, God’s Word, we are given the clear solution to all these things. While it is a simple truth, it is most difficult to implement. Listen the the words of 2 Chronicles:
“Then the Lord appeared to Solomon by night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. If I shut up the heavens so that no rain falls, or if I command locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence and plague among My people, and My people, who are called by My Name, humble themselves, and pray and seek (crave, require as a necessity) My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear [them] from heaven, and forgive their sin and heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer offered in this place. For now I have chosen and sanctified and set apart for My purpose this house that My Name may be here forever, and My eyes and My heart will be here perpetually. As for you [Solomon], if you will walk before me as your father David walked, and do everything that I have commanded you, and observe My statutes and My ordinances, then I will establish your royal throne just as I covenanted with your father David, saying, ‘You will not fail to have a man as ruler in Israel.’ “But if you [people] turn away and abandon My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and you go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will uproot Israel from My land which I have given them; and I will cast this house, which I have consecrated for My Name, out of My sight, and will make it a proverb and an object of scorn among all nations. And as for this house, which was so exalted, everyone who passes by it will be astonished and appalled and say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ Then people will say, ‘It is because they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and they adopted other gods, and worshiped them and served them; therefore He has brought all this adversity and evil on them.’”
2 Chronicles 7:12-22
Let’s break it down. “If my people” clearly defines who God is speaking to, His people, us. For whatever reason, God has chosen to work through His church and only His church in this present age. That may be scary but it is true. When I speak of the church, I’m not speaking of the organization but of the organism, the people, the living Body of Christ, you and me. We dare not relegate such an important place to the elusive organized bureaucracy with all its political and human designed rituals and theologies. We must identify ourselves, individuals, people who have been born again through repentance and forgiveness as the church. And since we can only be the church through the new birth and all who have experienced that new birth are the church, we cannot lay the blame nor the task of revival, restoration, and awakening upon any other than ourselves.
Next, “will humble themselves” says that there is no place for pride, arrogance or self-righteousness in this process. Again we dare not lay the responsibility for the condition of this world on others. We have no ground to elevate ourselves above others as though we somehow have achieved a spiritually elevated place for such did the Pharisees do. Though we may be “deeper” or “more spiritually mature” we must understand that as a member of the Body of Christ, we are inseparable from the other members and therefore we identify with them and are equally responsible for their conduct. As Ben Franklin said, “We all hang together or we will surely hang separately.”
Then, “seek my face and pray” says we must place our entire hope in the mercy and grace of God. It was this cry that got God’s attention when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt so He delivered them. It was prayer that Jehoshaphat used when the nation of Israel was hopelessly surrounded by those who were determined to destroy them and gave them deliverance. It is the cry of blind Bartemaus who cried out to Jesus and who received his sight. It is the heart engaged, desperate plea for help and deliverance that captures the attention of God and thus gives relief to that heart. And it will be this cry of a desperate people who see the change so needed in our world.
Further, we are to “turn from their(our) wicked ways”, in other words repent, acknowledge that our ways that ignore God and His ways and turn to our own ways and set our own value systems is wicked. We are to come to God in full surrender, nothing less will do. We are to seek out His way and His desires for us as His people. We are to confess our personal sins, our corporate sins, and our national sins and repent and abandon these things. We must let the Word of God establish “rights” and wrongs” and cease to rationalize or justify human conduct that is contrary to the teachings of the whole Bible and not selectively choose which verses to keep and which to mark through in practice.
Chronicles tells us that God says, (if we do these things) “I will hear from heaven, and forgive their sin and heal their land”. This is the great promise of God. If you will, then I will. We know that God keeps His promises so the only question is will we do these things.
What I’m suggesting is radical for this day. It supposes that we will actually practice what the Bible teaches. It assumes that in these desperate times there will be a people so grieved over the condition of things that they will be radically moved to pray, to seek God’s face with intensity, and to ask the Holy Spirit to search their hearts for any wicked thing and if so discovered to repent with tears and sincerity. They will trust that if they do these things, God will forgive our sin and heal our land. I’m asking you to join me in this Biblical path of renewal and restoration of our land.
Dr. John Thompson