Facing Up to Repentance
God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.(Romans 2:4)
Why is repentance so seldom preached and so little understood? I believe there are three reasons.
Church historian J. Edwin Orr sums up the first: the appeal of modern evangelism is “not for repentance but for enlistment.” Repentance can be a threatening message- rightly so. The gospel must be bad news of conviction before it can be the good news of redemption. Because that message is unpalatable for many middle-class congregations preoccupied with protecting their affluent lifestyles, many pastors tiptoe warily around the subject.
The result is a watered-down message that, in large part accounts for today’s easy believeiism, Christianity without cost, or “cheap grace” as German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer aptly labeled it a generation ago- grace in which “no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin…a denial of the living word of God, in fact, a denial of the incarnation.”
The second reason repentance is ignored or misunderstood comes much closer to home, as I have discovered: Often we are simply unwilling or unable to accept the reality of personal sin and therefore accept our need for repentance. In our fallen state we have an infinite capacity for justifying whatever acts we commit. Psychologists call this the “self-serving bias” and confirm the truth of William Saroyan’s opening words in one of his novels, Every man is a good man in a bad world…..as he himself knows.”
And this leads to the third reason for our shallow understanding of repentance: Our culture has written sin out of existence. Even Christians who should understand the basic truth that all are heirs of Adam’s fall and this all are sinners influenced, often. blinded by humanist values.
Whatever became of sin? The answer lies within each of us, but to find it we must come face to face with who we really are.
What will heaven be like? We have been given small glimpses about it in the Bible. We read that Paul and later John were shown heaven. Both state that it is a place beyond the ability of human words to describe. John describes heaven in Revelation as a place of worship.
“After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a [war] trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” At once I was in [special communication with] the Spirit; and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with One seated on the throne. And He who sat there appeared like [the crystalline sparkle of] a jasper stone and [the fiery redness of] a sardius stone, and encircling the throne there was a rainbow that looked like [the color of an] emerald. Twenty-four [other] thrones surrounded the throne; and seated on these thrones were twenty-four elders dressed in white clothing, with crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning and [rumbling] sounds and peals of thunder. Seven lamps of fire were burning in front of the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and in front of the throne there was something like a sea or large expanse of glass, like [the clearest] crystal. In the center and around the throne were four living creatures who were full of eyes in front and behind [seeing everything and knowing everything that is around them]. The first living creature was like a lion, the second creature like a calf (ox), the third creature had the face of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes all over and within [underneath their wings]; and day and night they never stop saying, “ Holy, holy, holy [is the] Lord God, the Almighty [the Omnipotent, the Ruler of all], who was and who is and who is to come [the unchanging, eternal God].” Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanksgiving to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and they worship Him who lives forever and ever; and they throw down their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they exist, and were created and brought into being.”
In his description of the New Jerusalem we read thus:
“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven final plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a vast and lofty mountain, and showed me the holy (sanctified) city of Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having God’s glory [filled with His radiant light]. The brilliance of it resembled a rare and very precious jewel, like jasper, shining and clear as crystal. It had a massive and high wall, with twelve [large] gates, and at the gates [were stationed] twelve angels; and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were written. On the east side [there were] three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Christ). The one who was speaking with me had a gold measuring rod to measure the city, and its gates and its wall. The city is laid out as a square, its length being the same as its width; and he measured the city with his rod—twelve thousand stadia (about 1,400 miles); its length and width and height are equal. He measured its wall also—a hundred forty-four cubits (about 200 feet), according to man’s measurements, which are [also] angelic [measurements]. The wall was built of jasper; and the city was pure gold, transparent like clear crystal. The foundation stones of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite (yellow topaz); the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each separate gate was of one single pearl. And the street (broad way) of the city was pure gold, like transparent crystal. I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty [the Omnipotent, the Ruler of all] and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun nor of the moon to give light to it, for the glory (splendor, radiance) of God has illumined it, and the Lamb is its lamp and light. The nations [the redeemed people from the earth] will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring into it their glory. By day ( for there will be no night there ) its gates will never be closed [in fear of evil]; and they will bring the glory (splendor, majesty) and the honor of the nations into it; Then the angel showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Christ), in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer exist anything that is cursed [because sin and illness and death are gone]; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve and worship Him [with great awe and joy and loving devotion]; they will [be privileged to] see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be night; they have no need for lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign [as kings] forever and ever.”
Conspicuously absent is sin and sinners. Loretta Lynn sang a song that said, Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” She was talking about physical death, but these words also capture the essence of repentance and salvation. Heaven will be occupied only by those who have died to self and sin, who have repented of their sins. Repentance is more than regret of the consequences of sin. We may regret the speeding ticket but soon find ourselves exceeding the speed limit again until we are ticketed again and we regret getting the ticket and on and on. Many live this way, with only regret and never repentance which is true change. Salvation is not being recruited to “join the church” socially, but salvation is coming to God through the conviction of the Holy Spirit that we are sinners without hope and we totally rely on Christ Jesus and the cross. We forsake our sins and turn from our evil ways. We accept that what God calls sin is sin without justification or rationalizing or minimizing or comparison to others. We stand in our rags of sin before a holy God and plead not for acceptance but for mercy. We dare not believe that we can enter heaven still trapped and operating in our sinfulness. The mercy and grace of God does not extend to permission to enter heaven with sin in our hearts. I know that for many of us this feels scary, but it is the truth of the Bible. Christ came to redeem us from sin, not to “understand us” but to transform us by His Spirit into His image. God has the final say, not humans, not me and you, but God sets the conditions of entrance into heaven and repentance is a requirement. Being saved and changed to become like Jesus is a must. Lest we consider this harsh, let me pose a question. If I am permitted to go to heaven still practicing my sinful ways and you can go to heaven still practicing your sinful ways and others can go practicing their sinful ways; then how will heaven be any different than the world we live in? Our issue is one of unfairness. We believe God should give us an exception but not give an exception to those who commit sins that are disgusting to us. We forget that our pet sin may be disgusting to others. So God in His justice makes no exceptions and declares the only way to heaven is through Christ. No other religion, no other means and no other way, only through repentance and remission of sin.
14 “Do not let your heart be troubled (afraid, cowardly). Believe [confidently] in God and trust in Him, [have faith, hold on to it, rely on it, keep going and] believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you, because I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and I will take you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also. 4 And [to the place] where I am going, you know the way.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going; so how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the [only] Way [to God] and the [real] Truth and the [real] Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
If we believe the first part of this scripture is true then we must also accept the second part as true, that Christ is the only way to salvation.
Finally, we cannot afford to produce our little list of sins, conveniently leaving out those that require us to repent. We must accept what God, the Creator has called sin as sin.
“But as for the cowards and unbelieving and abominable [who are devoid of character and personal integrity and practice or tolerate immorality], and murderers, and sorcerers [with intoxicating drugs], and idolaters and occultists [who practice and teach false religions], and all the liars [who knowingly deceive and twist truth], their part will be in the lake that blazes with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” and nothing that defiles or profanes or is unwashed will ever enter it, nor anyone who practices abominations [detestable, morally repugnant things] and lying, but only those [will be admitted] whose names have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”
“Now the practices of the sinful nature are clearly evident: they are sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality (total irresponsibility, lack of self-control), idolatry, sorcery, hostility, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions [that promote heresies], envy, drunkenness, riotous behavior, and other things like these. I warn you beforehand, just as I did previously, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
We cry out for change in our world. We may be categorized as “judging” when we proclaim the Word of God even by those who profess to be Christian. These are sobering days that the Bible indicates are the “last days.” Days of distorted truth, toleration and acceptance of sinful conduct and days of evil doing.
“But the [Holy] Spirit explicitly and unmistakably declares that in later times some will turn away from the faith, paying attention instead to deceitful and seductive spirits and doctrines of demons, [misled] by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared as with a branding iron [leaving them incapable of ethical functioning], who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from [certain kinds of] foods which God has created to be gratefully shared by those who believe and have [a clear] knowledge of the truth. But understand this, that in the last days dangerous times [of great stress and trouble] will come [difficult days that will be hard to bear]. For people will be lovers of self [narcissistic, self-focused], lovers of money [impelled by greed], boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy and profane, [and they will be] unloving [devoid of natural human affection, calloused and inhumane], irreconcilable, malicious gossips, devoid of self-control [intemperate, immoral], brutal, haters of good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of [sensual] pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of [outward] godliness (religion), although they have denied its power [for their conduct nullifies their claim of faith]. Avoid such people and keep far away from them.”
1 Timothy 4:1-3,2 Timothy 3:1-5
God has not left us hopeless. He has provided the means, the grace the way for us to enter heaven through Christ Jesus. It begins with us, the change in our world begins with the church, the believers, the children of God. For years now I’ve strived to live the following verses:
“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.”
2 Chronicles 7:13-14
I believe that the Holy Spirit is calling us as a people to repentance and prayer as maybe never in a long time. May we pray for another Great Awakening to visit our land and turn our hearts toward the Lord!
“First of all, then, I urge that petitions (specific requests), prayers, intercessions (prayers for others) and thanksgivings be offered on behalf of all people, for kings and all who are in [positions of] high authority, so that we may live a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This [kind of praying] is good and acceptable and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who wishes all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge and recognition of the [divine] truth. Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger and disputing or quarreling or doubt [in their mind].”
1 Timothy 2:1-4,8
“Rejoice always and delight in your faith; be unceasing and persistent in prayer; in every situation [no matter what the circumstances] be thankful and continually give thanks to God; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench [subdue, or be unresponsive to the working and guidance of] the [Holy] Spirit. Do not scorn or reject gifts of prophecy or prophecies [spoken revelations—words of instruction or exhortation or warning]. But test all things carefully [so you can recognize what is good]. Hold firmly to that which is good. Abstain from every form of evil [withdraw and keep away from it].”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-22
Dr. John Thompson