a publication of Life Action Ministries
finding hope in repentance Spring 2012 Volume 43, Issue 2 www.LifeAction.org/revive
FEATURES 6 Your Sword First Jan David Hettinga
A Radical Change of Heart Steven Childers 14 Seven Principles of Repentance
Richard Owen Roberts
18 The Coming Judgment Day Dan Jarvis
20 Progress in the Christian Life Tim Keller
Spirit of Revival
Bedrock of Christianity
The Way Home
Del Fehsenfeld III
23 From the Heart Trust or Tyranny?
Nancy Leigh DeMoss
31 Next Step
Hard Questions Should I bother repenting, if I know I’ll sin again?
A strong warning to the church by A. W. Tozer
Making It Personal
Apply principles discussed in this issue.
Executive Director: Byron Paulus Senior Editor: Del Fehsenfeld III Managing Editor: Daniel W. Jarvis Assistant Editor: Kim Gwin Creative Director: Aaron Paulus Art Director: Tim Ritter Senior Designer: Thomas A. Jones Photography: Katie Bollinger, Tim Ritter istockphoto.com: CribbVisuals, ferrantraite, rdegrie, malerapaso, christianpound, tucko019, Jet-Sky, Bepsimage, track5 Volume 43, Issue 2 Copyright © 2012 by Life Action Ministries. All rights reserved. Revive magazine is published quarterly as God provides, and made available at no cost to those who express a genuine burden for revival. It is financially supported by the gifts of God’s people as they respond to the promptings of His Spirit. Its mission is to ignite movements of revival and authentic Christianity. Life Action does not necessarily endorse the entire philosophy and ministry of all its contributing writers. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts or pay our authors for content. We grant permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be photocopied for use in a local church or group setting, provided copies are unchanged, are distributed free of charge, and indicate Life Action Ministries as the source. Many Revive articles are also available online. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. To purchase additional copies of this issue, be placed on our free mailing list, or contact the editors with feedback or questions: Life Action Ministries • P.O. Box 31 • Buchanan, MI 49107 • 269-697-8600 • info@LifeAction.org • www.LifeAction.org/revive. We do not share subscriber information with other organizations.
SPIRIT OF REVIVAL
Bedrock of Christianity
had just left a promising business career to join the staff of Life Action Ministries. We were in our first week of Staff Training, and one of the speakers challenged us to examine our hearts to see if we really had a spirit of repentance. I’ll never forget hearing him define repentance as the heart attitude that says to God, “Everything I now know to be sin, and everything that You show me in the future to be sin, I am willing to give it all up for Your sake.” I had grown up in a Christian home, made a profession of faith as a child, graduated from a Christian university, and was active in leadership in my church. But deep in my heart, I knew that I had never been born again. For years I had tried to escape the Spirit’s conviction over my lost condition. Now I was faced with the real issue: I had never been willing to repent of going my own way, or to let God have the reins. I wanted to run my own life. For the next twenty-four hours, the heavy hand of God’s conviction weighed down on my heart. I simply could not escape the realization of my desperate need for repentance. Finally, knowing I had no other hope, I slipped out of a service, and there under a tree at our camp, I repented and met God on His terms. That night was the beginning of a whole new life for me, a whole new walk of ongoing repentance marked by unconditional surrender to the lordship of Christ in my life. Oswald Chambers called repentance “the bedrock of Christianity.” I believe that the failure of the American church to understand and embrace the biblical concept of repentance has robbed us of the glory of God in our midst. The revival for which we are believing God must be birthed in genuine repentance. Some years ago, I heard an exile from Romania relate the events leading up to the revival that swept through his homeland in the 70s. In Romania, evangelical believers of various denominations are known as Repenters. This designation is commonly used because of the emphasis placed on repentance at the time of conversion. At the Second Baptist Church in Oradea, where the revival began, God placed a pastor who began to challenge his people regarding their need for repentance. For some six months his message was, “It is time for the Repenters to repent!”
Many Christians were involved in the commonly accepted practice of stealing from the lands that the Communists had confiscated from the people. This pastor called for his people to repent of this and other practices, and to enter into a covenant not to be conformed to the world around them. The Repenters repented. And when they did, God began to unleash the power of His Spirit in an extraordinary way that has continued to this day. Ultimately, God used the revived church in Romania to provide the spiritual and moral impetus for the revolution that released that country from the tyranny of Communist oppression. And so, as is always true, repentance gave birth to freedom. The starting place for revival in Romania must also be the place where we begin. May this cry be heard throughout our churches: “It is time for the Repenters to repent!” The call to repentance must be heard not only by those in our midst whose sin is blatant and known to all; the first to respond to this message ought to be those of us in positions of spiritual leadership and influence. We are the ones who must lead the way in repentance, brokenness, and humility. Then we must lead those who follow us, into a lifestyle of continuous repentance, because that is the pathway of continuous revival. Would you allow God to examine your own heart in relation to this matter? Would you ask Him to personalize the truths of real repentance to your life, and enable you to enter into a richer, deeper level of repentance? Then ask God to grant to His church the gift of repentance. A repenting church will be a revived church. And only a revived Christian can reveal the glory of God to a darkened world. v
A repenting church will be a revived church.
in humble repentance from every sin God reveals to us
with urgency for spiritual recovery and awakening
with other believers in spreading the hope of Christ-centered revival
A Nationwide Call for Spiritual Awakening
To learn more about OneCry and to join the movement, visit 4 LifeAction.org/revive
OneCry is a partnership led by Life Action Ministries ÂŠ2011 OneCry: A Nationwide Call for Spiritual Awakening. All rights reserved.
The Way Home
bscure ski jumper Vinko Bogataj became famous for one of the most spectacular crashes in sports history. For more than a decade, Vinko’s horrific tumble off a ski jump ramp was featured during the opening of ABC’s Wide World of Sports. As Vinko spun wildly off the ramp and violently down the hill into a boundary net, the narrator would follow scenes of “the thrill of victory” with Vinko’s “agony of defeat.” What most people don’t know is that Vinko had fallen . . . on purpose. Right before Vinko’s event, snow had begun to fall, and the ramp had become dangerously fast. Vinko began to calculate just how far he might fly, and after considering the deadly consequences of overshooting the landing area, made one of the toughest decisions of his life—he decided to abort his jump. And that’s how poor Vinko ended up going off the side of the ramp and careening right into sports history. Amazingly, Vinko suffered only a minor concussion from the fall. And he was totally unaware that ABC picked up footage of the incident for their show, until he received a call years later asking him to come as a guest of honor to an anniversary of the show. Now a pop icon, his comment was simply, “Every time I’m on ABC, I crash.” Vinko’s amazing story illustrates the process of repentance. We’ve all pushed off the ski ramp of life. Sin has made life too treacherous for any of us to handle. Headed toward spiritual death, our only hope for salvation is to take the way of escape God has provided for us in Jesus Christ through repentance and faith. But this repentance requires the end of our pride. Everyone watching will know that something went wrong, something we couldn’t handle on our own. Repentance involves at least four things. It begins with realization of our spiritual condition (“I’m travelling too fast”). It means recognition of our spiritual danger (“I’m headed toward certain death”). It requires renunciation of the path we are on (“I won’t continue down this path”). And it ends with resolution to take the only way of escape (“I’m going to turn, even if it hurts!”). Of course, much more is at stake in biblical repentance than an aborted ski jump, a few broken bones, or even the loss of physical life. God’s eternal destiny for the world He created, and more specifically for every human being, is tied to the “change of mind” that is repentance. Will we adjust
our thinking, to see and act from God’s perspective, or will we hold blindly and doggedly to our own? Sadly, many miss the blessings that repentance brings. For a long period in my life, repentance was a negative word. It meant feeling small and guilty, weak and dependent. It required more than I was willing to give. So I developed several coping mechanisms to keep repentance at arm’s length. I justified myself. (After all, plenty of people were much worse than I was!) I blamed others. But mostly I just ignored and avoided the pangs of conscience until they gradually went away and rarely came back. Despite having grown up with believing parents, the result was years of hardness of heart and rejection of the faith. Then in graduate school, my fiancé asked me to go to church with her. I reluctantly agreed for her sake. But while sitting in the back of an old Episcopalian sanctuary week after week listening to stories from the gospel of Mark, I suddenly awoke to the heart of repentance. It wasn’t remorse over a list of rules that I had broken. To my surprise, it came in response to the face of a Person I had somehow missed— Jesus Himself. With every word, attitude, and action, Jesus revealed a captivating picture of the God He knew as Father. In Jesus, this Father had come near, inviting all with ears to hear to change their direction in life and to become His children too. In Jesus, God Himself had made a way back to His heart. And it’s available to anyone. That way is repentance. Yes, repentance is about turning from sin. All the destructive self-centeredness must go. In this sense, repentance costs everything. But mostly, repentance is about turning to Jesus and His way of being human. It’s about reconnecting to everything that is true and right and good. It’s about becoming fully alive, restored to all God intends us to be. That’s why repentance is the most positive word in the universe. We don’t have to continue on a break-neck course toward the ultimate crash. There is a way home. v
Repentance is about turning to Jesus and His way of
Del Fehsenfeld III Senior Editor
Will we give up our resistance
Jan David Hettinga
and bow to the conquering King of heaven?
Your Sword First
t the end of World War II, General Douglas MacArthur was the official representative of the United States, and a highly decorated Japanese admiral represented the Japanese Imperial Forces. The two men met on the deck of the battleship Missouri to sign an agreement that would end the bloodiest war in modern history. As the ceremony came to the actual moment of surrender, the Japanese admiral extended his hand in the familiar gesture of friendship and peace, but General MacArthur refused to take it. He kept his right hand at his side. Sternly he said, “Sir, your sword first, please.” Only after the defeated admiral had handed over his sword would MacArthur agree to grasp his hand. Why did MacArthur ask for the sword first? Because the formal disarming of the enemy was the symbol of surrender. Until the weapon was handed over, the hostilities had not formally ceased. God is after a similar response from those who wish to make peace with Him. Before we can be called friends, we must lay down our weapons of rebellion and cease our struggle against His divine authority. Jesus called this act of surrender repentance, a relinquishing of our right to control our own lives. Biblical repentance is much more than merely feeling sorry about what you’ve done or even admitting your guilt. He is asking
for our “sword”—for the unconditional surrender of our lives to His lordship. Will we give up our resistance and bow to the conquering King of heaven?
What Jesus Called Good News Immediately after Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the desert, He began preaching the good news of the kingdom, declaring, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). His message did not change in three years of public ministry (Luke 4:23; 8:1; Matt. 9:35; 24:14). In fact, the summons to return to life under God’s redeeming leadership is the unifying theme in the different ways Christ presented the gospel. This is illustrated in three familiar examples: the rich young ruler, Nicodemus, and the woman at the well. For the rich young ruler, wealth was the controlling factor in his life, so Jesus simply said, “Sell your possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, and then come follow me” (Luke 18:18). The young man went away sad, but Jesus wouldn’t change the terms of entering the kingdom. Friendship could not be offered until love of money was surrendered.
Nicodemus was a man of prominence and reputation. How revealing it is that he visited Jesus at night, no doubt in an effort to keep his reputation intact (John 3:2). Jesus told Nicodemus that in order to be a part of the kingdom of God, he would have to be “born again” (v. 3). Coming to God as an infant meant being stripped of his own self-righteousness and receiving a supernatural rebirth unrelated to his own effort or achievement. Pride had to be relinquished before Nicodemus could enter God’s kingdom.
had done to the sovereign Lord of the cosmos hit them that the people were overcome and cried out, “What shall we do?” (v. 37). Peter’s immediate Spirit-led response was, “Repent [change sides], 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” (v. 38). Peter issued an unrelenting call to publicly turn away from their rejection of Christ’s authority and to demonstrate their new allegiance through baptism. The apostle Paul also set the message of faith and forgiveness alongside the message of repentance. In Acts 26:17-20, he describes his commission from Christ to King Agrippa: “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” At the end of his life, under guard in Rome, Paul was still preaching this combination of faith, repentance, and the kingdom: “From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus” (Acts 28:23). Repentance was foundational to the gospel of the early church. It was the code word for the act of taking sides with God by surrendering all competing allegiances. What would happen in today’s churches if we asked for such a response? Wouldn’t this be the precondition for the revival we are seeking?
The basic question Jesus asked again and again was, “What do you think you must have more than My rule and reign in your life?” The same issue explains the approach Jesus used with the woman at the well (John 4:7-29). He masterfully cut through her defenses and closed in on the real control issue of her life: relationships with men. When Jesus asked her to call her husband, He exposed her rebellion and search for satisfaction in illicit relationships, and then graciously invited her to surrender her heart unconditionally to Him. The basic question Jesus asked again and again through the gospel was, “What do you think you must have more than My rule and reign in your life?” His point was clear: “Anything else that holds your allegiance keeps you from entering the kingdom of God. Give it up. Surrender to My leadership, and I will take responsibility for all the things you need. Seek My kingdom first, and all these other things will be added to you as well.”
First-Century Impact How does this understanding of Christ’s gospel compare to the message of the early church? Let’s take a look at the first sermon preached by Peter on the day of Pentecost: Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear (Acts 2:29-33). Did you notice how Peter presented the gospel of salvation? First he reviewed the events of the crucifixion and resurrection, but superimposed on the cross was the crown! He identified the Savior as the royal successor not only of David’s throne but also of heaven’s throne. It was when the enormity of what they
The Amazing Grace Escape Clause In America, it’s easy to see that believing in God doesn’t necessarily mean much. The vast majority of people say they believe in God, but it’s abundantly clear that belief makes little discernible difference in their lives. As obvious as this lapse of logic is, few seem to notice it. To believe in an all-powerful, supreme being to whom you owe your very existence, and yet to live as if you are the one in control, somehow feels normal. Research into the retention rates of modern evangelism suggests that only 7% of those who respond to an evangelistic appeal actually follow through, in any measurable way, on their prayer to receive Christ. Even more troubling is the number of conservative evangelicals who have walked away from being obedient to the Lord in pursuit of other masters like entertainment, wealth, or pleasure. One young mother of two recently told me that she had divorced her husband of seven years in order to marry a wonderful Christian man she met at her office. “I’m curious,” I asked, “How did you work this whole thing out in your thinking? You’ve told me you knew divorce was sin. You said your first husband was also a Christian. He didn’t abuse you and wasn’t unfaithful to you. So how did you justify leaving him to marry another man?” “That’s a good question,” she said. “Certainly, I don’t have to tell you about the grace of God.” Then she said something that I’ve often suspected but never actually heard a Christian admit: I intended to ask for forgiveness and come back to the Lord even before I began the affair. It was unthinkable to live my life without Ken. I know my divorce
was wrong in God’s eyes, but it seemed like the best decision at the time. And I haven’t committed the unpardonable sin, you know. Besides, I’m so-o-o happy with my new husband. He’s turning out to be a real man of God. We pray and read the Word together every night, and we just love your church! Where does this kind of thinking and behavior come from? Could it be that this woeful disintegration of commitment to God’s authority is due to the fact that our gospel message often leaves out the fact that Jesus called us to surrender to His rule in order to come into the kingdom of God? George Barna, in Evangelism That Works, wrote the following: I am convinced that much of the difficulty of churchbased evangelism is that we seek decisions for Christ rather than conversions. A decision may be as simple as repeating the “Sinner’s Prayer” with no real followthrough after that act. A conversion, on the other hand, is a total life transformation in which the decision to follow Christ results in a new lifestyle, a new heart for people and for God, and a determination to live for totally different ends. . . . The conclusion I have come to is that churches are so focused on obtaining decisions that they ignore conversions. It is one thing for a person to assent to follow Christ. It is another to then pick up his cross and bear it after making the decision.
What Has Replaced the Good News? The cardinal rule of salesmanship is to concentrate exclusively on the advantages and the benefits of the product. The key to this persuasion process is to create a desire for the product while minimizing the cost. In our zeal to fill church membership rolls and rescue the perishing, could it be that we have succumbed to the same type of marketing strategy in our presentation of the gospel? But what happens to the message of Jesus if the cost is eliminated? Instead of being forced to deal with the issue of control and leadership (my kingdom versus God’s kingdom), a person is asked to “accept” the work of Christ on their behalf. The result is that the gospel is sold with the idea that it will help people get what they want without surrendering what they want to the authority of their Maker. Repentance without Christ’s kingship becomes an awkward idea, and is usually dropped out of the mix. This version of the gospel simply does not have the essential component of humble surrender to Christ’s authority. Since the heart of the sin problem is our self-centered passion to be in control, unless the back of our resistance is broken through repentance, nothing really changes. Grace, the supernatural forgiving love and transforming power of God, is released through the deliberate act of giving up the kingdom of self. Giving up is not a “work.” It is a cessation of resistance. It is the losing wrestler surrendering to the winner.
God repeatedly makes it clear that He resists the proud (those who are full of their own egoism) but gladly gives grace to the humble (Psalm 18:27; James 4:6-10; 1 Peter 5:5-6). Humility is at the heart of repentance. When individuals and churches get into the “good ground” of fresh surrender to their Leader, the fabulous productivity of the life and reign of Christ flourishes in the church and spills over into our communities. It is the faithful proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom that breaks up the hard ground of rebellious hearts and invites sinners to embrace a new life by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The “Fix” in Crucifixion Jesus’ mission on earth was to provide access to the kingdom of God for all who would repent of their insurrection and revolt against the Creator. He did this by substituting Himself as the lightning rod for God’s righteous indignation and justice. Without question, God’s offer of reentry into the realm of His eternal kingdom is only available through the work of the cross. Yet Jesus did not call the cross or His death and resurrection the good news. For Jesus, the kingdom was the good news. The magnificent work of the cross is the beginning. Atonement, reconciliation, redemption, justification, and propitiation are all essential ingredients of the gospel, but the theme of the good news is the rest, freedom, peace, and value of living life under the leadership of the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth. Genuine faith restores God to the place of genuine authority in a person’s life. The work of Christ on the cross was intended by God to resolve the authority problem with which each of us was born. It not only delivers us from the penalty of sin, it breaks the bondage of sin’s power. It was the method God used to restore self-centered rebels to willing ambassadors. This is the “fix” in crucifixion. Have you ever dealt with the authority issue in your own life? Are you allowing Christ to reign in your heart through faith? If you find yourself continuing your pursuit and love of the world, it’s likely you’ve continued to build a kingdom of your own that competes constantly with Christ’s. In such a life, Christianity becomes a façade behind which the ancient enemy of self-will still thrives. A Christianity that fails to make you an obedient follower of Jesus is not the real thing. But it can inoculate you against catching the real “kingdom fever.” Today, bow before the Maker of heaven and earth. Welcome His leadership and love as He incorporates your life into His kingdom. v Adapted from Follow Me, copyright © 1996 by Jan David Hettinga. Used by permission of NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO. All rights reserved. For copies of the book, call 800-366-7788 or visit www.NavPress.com.
Radical CH of heart
HANGE When Jesus calls us to repent, he is not calling us to beat up on ourselves or merely to clean up our lives. Instead, he is calling us to a radical change of heart. According to Scripture, our root problem is not an external, behavioral problem—it’s a problem of the heart. This is why all the counterfeit remedies inevitably leave us unchanged and in denial or despair, because they all bypass the heart.
REPENTANCE: Turning Heart Affections Away from Idols The reason our hearts are not more transformed is because we have allowed them to be captured by idols that steal our affection away from God. The apostle John makes this point in the very last verse of 1 John. Here the apostle purposefully concludes his masterful 105-verse letter on how to live in vital fellowship with Christ, with these words: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” Repenting of our idolatry actually sums up what true spirituality really is. Because God created man to be a worshiper, we are always worshiping something, whether we realize it or not. This is why we should always see the essential character of our sin as heart idolatry. The first and second commandments, “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not make for yourself an idol” (Exodus 20:3-4), are meant to remind us of the very dangerous and natural tendency we all have to worship idols. An idol is making something or someone other than Jesus Christ our true source of happiness or fulfillment. We all have to live for something. We all have a “personal center,” an ultimate value through which we see all of life. For some of us it is approval, reputation, or success. For others it is comfort or control, pleasure or power. For some it is possessions or sex or money or a relationship. Idols can even be good causes, such as making an impact or having a happy home or a good marriage or obedient children. What makes something an idol is that we believe our lives are meaningless without it. Whatever we live for has great power over us. If someone blocks our idol from us, we can be enraged with anger. If our
idol is threatened, we can be paralyzed with fear. If we lose our idol, we can be driven into utter despair. This is because the idols we worship give us our sense of worth or righteousness. When we allow the affections of our hearts to be captured by such idols, the outcome is always the same—a lack of God’s transforming power and presence in our lives. So repentance should not be seen as merely changing our external behavior but primarily as a willingness to pull our heart affections and trust away from our idols. The great English theologian John Owen teaches that one of the reasons we don’t experience more of God’s power and presence in our lives is because we have not sufficiently studied the idolatries of our own hearts. For years I confessed to God my recurring sin of anxiety that was destroying me physically. But I saw very little change until I began to see and repent of the internal sin of idolatry that was the root of the external sin of worry. To my surprise, I discovered that my core problem was not primarily the external sin of worry but the internal, idolatrous sin of seeking the approval of others as the source of my righteousness or worth. The great evangelist George Whitefield taught that to know God’s power, we must learn not only what it means to repent of our sins but also to repent of our righteousness.1 The late John Gerstner is reported to have said, “It is not so much our sins that keep us from God as our damnable good works.” Once we have identified a heart idol, repentance involves not only confessing it, but also taking radical action against it, sapping the life-dominating power it has over us. In Romans 13:14 (esv), Paul writes, “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” All that is idolatrous to us must have its vivid appeal drained away. But repentance is only half of our responsibility in transformation. It’s the negative, defensive side of the equation. We turn now to the positive, offensive strategy—faith in the gospel.
FAITH: Turning Heart Affections to Jesus Christ The reason Jesus commands us to repent and believe the gospel is because he knows that faith in the gospel is the mysterious means God ordains through which the power of his victory as our king is meant to flow in and through our lives and our churches. The good news of the kingdom is that our king has won a marvelous victory for us. Through his sinless life, sacrificial death as our substitute, resurrection, and ascension, he has not only conquered death for us, removing its penalty, but he has also conquered sin’s power over us. As our warrior-king, he has entered into battle against all the enemy forces (the world, the flesh, and the devil) that wage war against our souls, and he has conquered their reigning power over us forever. Now, through repentance and faith, God means for us to tap into the powerful victory of our king so that we might be transformed into true worshipers of God and more authentic lovers of people. The reason God calls us to pull our affections off our heart idols through repentance is so that we can place those same affections on Jesus Christ through faith. The apostle Paul has this positive side of the change equation in mind when he writes, “Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:1-2). In Paul’s thought, the process of gospel transformation always involves this ongoing, two-fold dynamic of repentance and faith. Through repentance we are always to be pulling our affections off of our idols. Through faith we are always to be placing our affections on Christ. The Puritans describe this concept of setting our affections on Christ as developing spiritual-mindedness. They teach that we must be even more radical about setting our affections on Christ than we are about removing our affections from our idols. Robert Murray McCheyne puts it well when he says, “Do not take up your time so much with studying your own heart as with studying Christ’s heart. For one look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.”2 In Galatians 6:14, Paul gives us a fascinating glimpse into how his faith in the gospel transformed him, when he writes, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” John Stott writes, Paul’s whole world was in orbit around the cross. It filled his vision, illumined his life, warmed his spirit. He “gloried” in it. It meant more to him than anything else. This Greek word translated here as “boast” has no exact equivalent in English. It means to glory in, trust in, rejoice in, revel in, live for. In a word, our glory is our obsession.3
Some of us are obsessed with gaining approval or recognition. Others are obsessed with experiencing comfort or pleasure or happiness. Some are obsessed with gaining control or power or possessions, or with building a reputation or gaining success as the world defines it. The apostle Paul was also obsessed. But his obsession was with Christ and the cross. In his obsession with the cross, Paul experienced the transforming power of the gospel to crucify the dominating power of his sinful nature and the idolatrous lure of the world. Only when we learn how to glory in the cross and not in our idols will we ever experience the true liberating power of the gospel. Only when Jesus Christ becomes more attractive to us than the pleasures of sin will our hearts ever be set free. The enslaving power of sin will never dissipate until a greater affection of the heart replaces it. This is why we must learn to pray like the old hymn writer William Cowper: The dearest idol I have known, Whate’er that idol be, Help me to tear it from Thy throne And worship only Thee.4 v George Whitefield, “The Method of Grace” in George Whitefield’s Sermons (New Ipswich, NH: Pietan Publications, 1976), 2:108-122. 2 Robert Murray McCheyne, Memoirs of McCheyne: Including His Letter and Messages, Andrew Bonar, ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1947), 93. 3 John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986), 349. 4 William Cowper and John Newton, “O for a Closer Walk with God” in Trinity Hymnal (Philadelphia, PA: Great Commission Publications, 1990), 534. 1
Adapted from the article “True Spirituality: The Transforming Power of the Gospel,” copyright © Steven L. Childers. Used by permission of Global Church Advancement, www.GCA.cc.
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Repentance Richard Owen Roberts
Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:45-47).
very failure in repentance robs heaven of one of the joys that rightfully belongs there.
There is neither need nor room for speculation about repentance; God’s Word is clear. The following principles are evident as we open the Scriptures on this critical topic.
IS A GIFT FROM GOD
Repentance is not a natural trait that lies dormant, just waiting to be aroused and utilized. Peter recognized this when he saw the kingdom expanding: “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:17-18). Paul encouraged church leaders faithfully teaching the truth to those who believe falsehood, “. . . if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
IS NOT A SINGLE ACT BUT AN ONGOING AND CONTINUAL ATTITUDE
It is common to hear someone describing repentance as a past accomplishment, saying things like, “I repented when I was eighteen years old,” or, “You don’t need to worry about me, I’m all right with God. I repented twelve years ago.”
If someone comes to me with a report about repentance sometime in their past, I want to cry out, “So what? Who cares what happened years ago?” It is never enough to say, “I repented.” You must be able to say, “I am repentant. Day in and day out, month after month, year after year, unceasingly, I live as a repentant person. I live in the spirit and attitude of repentance.” Tragically, our churches seem full of people who can testify to the occasion on which they repented, yet sin has the upper hand in their lives. Every time another false convert of this sort is added to the church, the church’s usefulness in the world withers a little more. Multitudes cannot believe in Christ because they cannot see past the hypocrisy of the many who profess Christ but live for Satan! The call of Scripture is not Pharaohlike, to make some temporary concession to Christ in hopes of heading off impending calamity; or Shimei-like, to acknowledge sin in hopes of securing the future. The Bible demands a permanent turnaround. Repentance must last as long as breath. Oh, the pity of those who can tell you the day and the hour they accepted Christ, yet have no ongoing repentance and faith.
IS NOT WHAT YOU DO FOR YOURSELF BUT WHAT YOU DO FOR GOD
Have you learned the distinction between the repentance that is for yourself and the repentance that is for God? Eternity hangs in the balance. Here is a test: Suppose you were to hear God say, “I want you to realize that I am holding your life on the end of a very thin thread that is dangling over the pit of hell. Look down and you will see! In a few moments I am going to release My hold, and you will go to your sinner’s reward. But just before I drop you, I want to ask if you have any last words you wish to speak to Me?” What would you say? “You can’t do this to me! It isn’t fair! I deserve heaven. You can’t send me to hell.” Or would you say, “Before You release me, I want to tell You how much I love You and how grateful I am that You have kept me from my just deserts all these years. I know that I deserve hell, but I want to tell You how truly sorry I am to have been such a terrible sinner. If there is any way a person in hell can love and serve God, I am going to love and serve You, for You alone are God and worthy of all my praise and devotion.”
You might have repented a thousand times of specific sins, but it is not until you repent of what you are that true repentance begins.
because we are sinners. David’s declaration in Psalm 51:5 is immediately relevant: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” He was certainly not blaming his mother for his problems. Nor was he suggesting that the sex act between his parents that resulted in his conception was sin. Rather, he was declaring what all wise men know: we are born sinners. We begin life under sin’s curse. Every evil deed of our lives is immediately tied to the sin nature with which we were born. Sin has a vise-like grip on our lives. It has contaminated everything we are and do. You might have repented a thousand times of specific sins you have committed, but it is not until you repent of what you are that true repentance begins.
IS TURNING NOT MERELY FROM WHAT YOU HAVE DONE BUT FROM WHAT YOU ARE
Our great problem is not merely that we have sinned but that we are sinners. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin
Repentance DEALS NOT MERELY WITH THE FRUITS OF SIN BUT WITH THE VERY ROOTS
If one repents merely of the fruits of sin, the roots will continue to produce more fruits. Take as an illustration sexual sins. God Himself created sex. He holds in His own reserve the unalienable right of determining its acceptable and unacceptable usage. He has spelled these matters out very clearly in the Bible. Why would anyone violate God’s rights? Why? Pride! A married woman abandons her wedding vows and commits adultery, and justifies herself by saying, “Not even God Himself would expect me to be faithful to that dumb brute to whom I am married. I have my rights. I deserve better than him.” A high school student fornicates with a casual friend and justifies it by saying, “Everybody’s doing it.” Pride is a root sin, giving rise to countless others. I was once asked to speak with a choir director. To my consternation, we had hardly been seated before she began to shred the character of the organist and to advise me of all the troubles of the church. I tried to stop her, but without success. When she had thoroughly riddled this other woman’s character, she went on to make mincemeat of the man who led the congregational singing. Again I tried to stop her, but without success. Finally she slowed down enough for me to say, “You are a marvelous choir director, aren’t you?” She looked at me in amazement and said, “I thought you were a gentleman. I can hardly believe that you would mock me.” “If you knew me,” I replied, “you would know that I am not mocking you. You are a marvelous choir director. I was sitting on the front row when you marched the choir in. Even Napoleon had no better command of his troops than you had of that choir. When they sang, I could scarcely believe the excellent quality of the music. You are a very fine choir director.” “Well, thank you, Mr. Roberts,” she said, “that is very kind of you to say. I know that I am a good choir director.” “Yes, indeed you are. But I wonder if you realize that little tiny you, all by yourself, with absolutely no help from anybody else, has all that it takes to completely destroy your church.” She gasped, “How can you say such a thing?”
“I say it because you serve God with your gifts but without the graces of Jesus Christ. There is never ever a more dangerous person in any church than the immensely gifted person who uses his or her gifts but knows nothing consequential of grace. God doesn’t need your gifts, but He is willing to accept them and use them if they are saturated with His grace. Without His grace, your gifts are a curse to the church. You need to repent of the very roots of sin in your life.” Many people who think they have repented of obvious sins still need to repent of the root sins. As an illustration, a careful perusal of the subject of pride throughout the Bible will bring to light the fact that pride is the father of all kinds of sins, such as lies, exaggerations, divisiveness, prejudice, and so forth. We know that one can confess having told a lie without ever repenting of being a liar. One can acknowledge guilt in exaggerating and yet never repent of the pride that made them do it. Unbelief is behind the murmuring and complaining that is so much a part of many lives. No amount of confession of the evil of these outward sins is going to make any difference until the root of unbelief is eliminated. Rebellion is often manifested in overt misconduct, such as the abuse of alcohol and drugs. But until this root is eliminated, fruit will keep appearing, even though it changes variety, shape, and size. I ask you again, have you ever really repented of the roots of sin in your life? Remember, it is His glory even more than your eternal welfare that is at stake.
If one repents merely of the fruits of sin, the roots will continue to produce more fruits.
IS NOT SECRET BUT OPEN
Throughout my life I have encountered people who have insisted that repentance is a very personal matter and that they are unwilling to talk to anyone about it. But in order to properly conclude that repentance is purely personal, it must first be demonstrated that sin is purely personal. Evil thoughts may not always lead to overtly evil deeds, but they always lessen the sinner’s ability to fulfill God’s purpose for his life, and thus his sinful thoughts work to the harm of others. You have never sinned a single sin in your entire life that was not committed against someone. So if sin is never purely personal, then neither is repentance.
While repentance must be first and foremost toward God, it cannot stop there. The range of repentance must be as broad as the impact of your sin. Because you have sinned against others as well as against God, you must be repentant toward them as well. Pastors who have allowed some secret sin in their lives have sinned against their congregations in doing so. Deacons and elders who sin privately are sinning against the congregation that put them in office. Maybe you are a Sunday school teacher. Any sin that you tolerate in your life is not merely against God but against your students, because they deserve to have a teacher who lives what he or she teaches. When a statesman sins, he sins against those who elected him. When an employee lives in sin, he lessens his usefulness to his employer. Whenever there is sin in our lives, someone is damaged by that sin. Thus, it is foolish to say that repentance is merely a personal matter.
IS BOTH NEGATIVE AND POSITIVE
Repentance does involve turning from all sin and dead works, but it must be more than that. It requires turning to the living and true God by faith in Jesus Christ, and filling the life with appropriate deeds of righteousness. Consider the clear words the prophet Daniel spoke to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon: “Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by doing righteousness, and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity” (Daniel 4:27). Tragically, Nebuchadnezzar, although he had grown to greatly respect Daniel, gave inadequate consideration to his godly counsel. He did not turn from his sins by doing righteousness, and he did not show mercy to the poor.
you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.” Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like the cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws (Daniel 4:29-33). There are many who suppose themselves Christians because they think they cannot be charged with any specific violations of known laws. The scriptural focus, however, is not merely on the sinfulness of doing wrong but on the grievous wickedness of failing to do right. God insists that we both cease to do evil and learn to do good. This is the concept that lies behind John the Baptist’s words, “Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). This is what Paul had in mind when he insisted that we “should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:20). v Adapted from chapter 5 of Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, copyright © 2002 by Richard Owen Roberts. Published by Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
Twelve months later he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. The king reflected and said, “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and
JUDGMENT DAY O
ne word less popular than repentance in the modern church is the word judgment.
Not judgment in the sense of people looking down on you for getting a tattoo or spanking your children. Not, “Stop judging me while I live like a pagan,” or, “You’re one of those judgmental Pharisees, aren’t you?” Judgments of this sort are alive and well, both among those who dispense them and those who deserve them. But the one Judgment we should be most concerned with is the one we most often neglect. Perhaps that’s because it is too terrible to consider. The Day of Judgment. It’s the Day when each one of us will give a full accounting of our lifetime to God. It’s the Day that comes at the end of the End. The Day when, in naked silence, we kneel before the White Throne of Christ—the sheep and the goats, the wheat and the tares, the righteous and the unrighteous. It’s the Day the books will be opened, the Day that many who thought they would go to heaven find out that they won’t. Secrets will be exposed. Blessings and curses will be proclaimed, with eternal finality. Justice will be done. It is the Day toward which all others are marching. If I don’t happen to meet you in this life, I’ll see you there. But you’ll have to excuse me for not introducing myself in that moment. I’ll only be focused on one Person. He will be the focus of all creation, as He rightfully should have been all along. He will judge. Preparing for Judgment Day ought to be the highest priority of our lives. If all of what we are and all of what we do culminates then and there, you and I had better think this through. We don’t want to be among the “many” self-deceived goodworks-doers whose relationship with Christ was one-sided. For them, Judgment Day holds in store a devastating surprise (Matthew 7:21-24). Curiously, when the apostle Paul stood among the wise men of Athens and proclaimed the gospel, He didn’t pontificate on the nature of grace, or even the great salvation that comes by faith. He didn’t offer assurances of
Each one of us will give a full accounting of our lifetime to God.
by Dan Jarvis
renewed hope or helpful wisdom. He didn’t even mercifully offer the principles of a happier marriage to the Stoics or Platonics, who undoubtedly could have used such Christian advice. Paul stood up, told them of the mighty unseen Creator as contrasted with the many idols of the city, and then offered this invitation: In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31). Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:5). Or think of Peter, emerging from a fiery prayer meeting to boldly confront the crowds in Jerusalem about their cold-blooded murder of God’s Messiah. When the wide-eyed and fear-struck masses saw the catastrophic nature of their wickedness, they asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38).
the “deeper life.” Repentance is the very core of any true response to the gospel. Turning from evil to wholeheartedly serve my living God is exactly what the Bible says I must do to be ready for the Day of Judgment. Not just academically believing in Jesus. Not just agreeing with God or joining a church. But turning. And surrendering. And offering. In one word: repentance! Even more, for the fallen or backslidden or lukewarm or loveless, the prescription is the same. Repentance is the absolute prerequisite and post-requisite of revival! Every time I read the book of Revelation, I am captivated by the simple message of such a “complicated and symbolic” book. People have their theories about the End, their charts and graphs, their interpretations, their sequences of various bowls or trumpets or beasts or horsemen. All of that makes for worthy study. But don’t lose sight of the one Day that matters most. The Day when heaven and earth will flee from His presence, when all the world will stand helpless and hopeful before His all-powerful, all-seeing majesty. Unspeakable glory, rolling thunder, penetrating brightness, absolute truth, terrifying awe. The Day of Judgment. It is coming. Repent, or perish. v Dan Jarvis is a pastor in Medina, OH, and Managing Editor of Revive magazine.
Repentance isn’t something to be saved for later, to be added to my Christian résumé at some future date when I choose to enter
Key Words in Becoming a Christian If you have never given your life to Christ and said, “Yes, Lord!” to His merciful and patient call to your heart, will you do so today? Consider these “key words” and the Scriptures noted by each. Then, voice your decision to God in prayer.
Repent “God, I agree with You about my sins, and today I turn away from them, desiring instead to offer my life to You.” Read 1 John 1:9; Isaiah 55:7; and Psalm 51.
Believe “Jesus, I choose to trust You, with my soul, with my future, with everything. Based on what You accomplished on the cross and in Your resurrection, I put my faith in You as the only way for me to be saved.” Read John 3:16; Romans 3:21-26; and Ephesians 2:8-9.
Follow “Lord, I recognize Your right to rule in my life, and I gladly accept it. I am excited to study the Bible and begin a life of obedience to and love for You.” Read Luke 9:23-25, 57-62; Romans 12:1-2; and Ephesians 4:17-32.
Progress in the
Christian Life M
artin Luther opened the Reformation by nailing “The Ninety-Five Theses” to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral. The very
first of the theses was: “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ . . . willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” On the surface, this looks a little bleak! Luther seems to be saying Christians will never be making much progress. But of course that wasn’t Luther’s point at all. He was saying that repentance is the way we make progress in the Christian life. Indeed, pervasive, all-of-life repentance is the best sign that we are growing deeply and rapidly into the character of Jesus.
Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
The Transformation of Repentance It is important to consider how the gospel affects and transforms the act of repentance. In “religion,” the purpose of repentance is basically to keep God happy so he will continue to bless you and answer your prayers. This means that “religious repentance” is selfish, self-righteous, and bitter all the way to the bottom. But in the gospel, the purpose of repentance is to repeatedly tap into the joy of our union with Christ in order to weaken our need to do anything contrary to God’s heart.
“Religious” repentance is selfish. In religion, we only are sorry for sin because of its consequences to us. It will bring us punishment—and we want to avoid that. So we repent. But the gospel tells us that sin can’t ultimately bring us into condemnation (Rom. 8:1). Its heinousness is therefore what it does to God—it displeases and dishonors him. Thus, in religion, repentance is self-centered; the gospel makes it Godcentered. In religion we are mainly sorry for the consequences of sin, but in the gospel we are sorry for the sin itself. “Religious” repentance is self-righteous. Repentance can easily become a form of “atoning” for the sin, and often serves as a form of self-flagellation in which we convince God (and ourselves) that we are so truly miserable and regretful that we deserve to be forgiven. In the gospel, however, we know that Jesus suffered and was miserable for our sin. We do not have to make ourselves suffer in order to merit forgiveness. We simply receive the forgiveness earned by Christ. First John 1:9 says that God forgives us because he is “just.” That is a remarkable statement. It would be unjust of God to ever deny us forgiveness, because Jesus earned our acceptance! In religion, we earn our forgiveness with our repentance, but in the gospel we just receive it. “Religious” repentance is bitter. In religion, our only hope is to live a good enough life for God to bless us. Therefore, every instance of sin and repentance is traumatic, unnatural, and horribly threatening. Only under great duress does a religious person admit they have sinned, because their only hope is their moral goodness. But in the gospel, the knowledge of our acceptance in Christ makes it easier to admit we are flawed (because we know we won’t be cast off if we confess the true depths of our sinfulness). Our hope is in Christ’s righteousness, not our own, so it is not so traumatic to admit our weaknesses and lapses. In religion, we repent less and less often. But the more accepted and loved in the gospel we feel, the more and more often we will be repenting. And though, of course, there is always some bitterness in any repentance, in the gospel there is ultimately a sweetness. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. The more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. On the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and selfdefenses and admit the true dimensions of your sin. The sin under all other sins is a lack of joy in Christ.
The Disciplines of Gospel-Repentance If you clearly understand these two different ways to go about repentance, then (and only then!) you can profit greatly from a regular and exacting discipline of self-examination and repentance. I’ve found that the practices of the eighteenth-century Methodist leaders George Whitefield and John Wesley have been helpful to me here. In a January 9, 1738, letter to a friend, George Whitefield laid out an order for regular repentance. (He ordinarily did his inventory at night.) He wrote, “God, give me a deep humility and a burning love, a well-guided zeal and a single eye, and then let men and devils do their worst!” Here is one way to use this order in gospel-grounded repentance:
Deep humility (vs. pride) Have I looked down on anyone? Have I been too stung by criticism? Have I felt snubbed and ignored? Repent like this: Consider the free grace of Jesus until I sense 1) decreasing disdain (since I am a sinner too), and 2) decreasing pain over criticism (since I should not value human approval over God’s love). In light of his grace, I can let go of time needed to keep up a good image—it is too great a burden and now unnecessary. Consider free grace until I experience grateful, restful joy.
Burning love (vs. indifference) Have I spoken or thought unkindly of anyone? Am I justifying myself by caricaturing (in my mind) someone else? Have I been impatient and irritable? Have I been self-absorbed and indifferent and inattentive to people? Repent like this: Consider the free grace of Jesus until there is 1) no coldness or unkindness (think of the sacrificial love of Christ for me), 2) no impatience (think of his patience with me), and 3) no indifference. Consider free grace until I show warmth and affection. God was infinitely patient and attentive to me, out of grace.
Wise courage (vs. anxiety) Have I avoided people or tasks that I know I should face? Have I been anxious and worried? Have I failed to be circumspect? Have I been rash and impulsive? Repent like this: Consider the free grace of Jesus until there is 1) no cowardly avoidance of hard things (since Jesus faced evil for me), and 2) no anxious or rash behavior (since Jesus’ death proves God cares for and will watch over me). It takes pride to be anxious; I am not wise enough to know how my life should go. Consider free grace until I experience calm thoughtfulness and strategic boldness.
Godly motivations (a “single eye”) Am I doing what I am doing for God’s glory and the good of others, or am I being driven by fears, need for approval, love of comfort and ease, need for control, hunger for acclaim and power, or the “fear of man”? Am I looking at anyone with envy? Am I giving in to any of even the first motions of lust or gluttony? Am I spending my time on urgent things rather than important things because of these inordinate desires? Repent like this: How does Jesus provide what I am looking for in these other things? Pray: “O Lord Jesus, make me happy enough in you to avoid sin, and wise enough in you to avoid danger, that I may always do what is right in your sight. In your name I pray, amen.” v Published under the title “All of Life Is Repentance,” an article by Rev. Tim Keller found at www.Redeemer.com. All rights reserved.
FROM THE HEART
Trust or Tyranny?
surrender all . . .”; “Christ is all I need. . . .” The words
roll off our lips as we sing them in church. But it’s not so easy to choose to place ourselves in a position where we have to find out if He really is all we need. Our natural tendency is to hold on tightly, to try to protect and preserve whatever we think we can’t live without. We are afraid that if we surrender everything to God—our health, material possessions, family, reputation, career plans, all our rights, our future—He might take us up on it! Many of our fears about relinquishing total control of our lives to God fall into four categories. If I surrender everything to Him, what about . . . Provision—Will I have what I need? Pleasure—Will I be happy? Protection—Will I (and those I love) be safe? Personal relationships—Will my relational needs be met? The pages of Scripture are salted with the stories of men and women who risked everything to follow Christ. Sometimes we think of these people as if they were merely lifeless figures in a wax museum; we forget that they were real people who had to deal with real-life issues. Take Abraham, for example. We think of him as a superhero—a man of towering faith. And he was. Yet he faced many of the same issues and fears that we struggle with. Over and over again, in order to move forward in his relationship with God, Abraham was called to make a fresh surrender to God. To do so required that he let go, relinquish control, step out on a limb, and trust a God he could not see. When an unseen, unknown God spoke and told Abram (as he was known at the time) to venture out and leave behind everything that was familiar and comfortable, he was faced with a choice: to stay or to go. The biblical record does not tell us to what extent, if any, Abram wrestled with his decision. All we know is that he went (Gen. 12:1-4). He chose friendship with God over all human relationships, earthly attachments, and visible security. It was faith in the character and promises of God that enabled Abraham and his wife, Sarah, to embrace an itinerant lifestyle—living in tents—for more than twenty-five years. It was faith in the promises of God that sustained the couple through decades of infertility and unfulfilled longings.
It was faith in the promises of God that motivated Abram to surrender the best land option to his nephew Lot and to trust that God would provide a suitable inheritance for him (13:1-11). It was the character and the promises of God that gave Abram courage (at the age of seventy-five!) to take on the massive military machine of the allied kings of the East, in order to rescue his errant nephew (chapter 14). When Abram was tempted to fear reprisals from the defeated kings, God bolstered his faith with a rehearsal of His promises: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward” (15:1). What was God saying? I am your protection and your provision; if you have Me, you have all you need. So . . . trust Me! The surrender points that Abraham faced over the course of his life may be similar to some you have faced: leaving family and friends behind and moving to a new city where you didn’t know a soul . . . making choices to sacrifice your own interests for the sake of others . . . staying engaged with and pursuing the heart of a rebellious relative . . . living with infertility . . . turning down a lucrative offer that you know is not pleasing to God . . . giving up the life of a child. If we do not trust God’s promises and, therefore, do not step out in faith and surrender, we will ultimately find ourselves in bondage to the very things we refuse to surrender. We will end up being controlled by that which we are seeking to keep within our own control. Trust or tyranny. That is the choice. Trust the promises of God—which will free you to live joyfully under His loving lordship—or live under the tyranny of that which you will not surrender. God wants us to experience provision, pleasure, protection, and personal relationships. But He wants us to seek them in the only place they can be found—in Him. He doesn’t want us to settle for substitutes. v
If you have Me, you have all you need. So . . . trust Me!
Nancy Leigh DeMoss
Revive Our Hearts Radio Host
? ? ?
Hard Questions Should I bother repenting, if I know I’ll sin again?
“Oh, God, I cheated. I am so sorry. I really mean it this time. I am truly repentant.” “Oh, God, I lied. I am so sorry. I’ll try harder not to do that anymore. I am truly repentant.” “Oh, God, I just fell into the trap of pornography again. I am so, so sorry. I promise I’ll stop. I repent!”
ound and round we go on the merry-go-round
of sin and confession. But it’s hard to keep saying we are sorry when our subsequent choices to sin again seemingly prove that we aren’t.
I’ve heard people express it this way: “I’m tired of saying I’m sorry over and over. I feel guilty and hypocritical.” But sorrow and guilt aren’t the problem. Sin is! Instead of being tired of feeling bad, we should be tired of sin itself. Repentance is not feeling bad about a sin and its consequences; that is merely an active conscience. Repentance means to “change the mind.” The Greek term for repentance implies a conversion—a complete turnaround in one’s thinking, commitments, and lifestyle. Repentance is closely linked to another Greek term, metamorphosis—to transform. When one repents [a change in mind], transformation [a change in form] takes place (Romans 12:1-2). Repentance is about something intrinsic to our inner character. Repentance changes what makes life meaningful and what we believe will truly satisfy us.
Repentance Is a Trust Issue We struggle with temptation because we struggle with trusting God. Satan casts doubt on God’s Word and character,
Dr. Richard Fisher
then tempts us with appealing lies and empty promises. And like Eve, when we question God’s love, our faith falters, and we bite. The truth is that surrendering to sin feels easier than surrendering to God. In the moment of temptation, we think we’ll be satisfied if we just go ahead and sin, and deal with the effects later. Of course, the guilt we carry and the consequences we face are much worse than we expect. No matter how many times we sin, the Bible calls us to repent—to be in the habit of repenting. Refusing to repent is a sign of arrogance, replacing God’s vision with our own selfcentered dream. But that’s exactly why we’re all in this mess to begin with! Repentance keeps our hearts humble and receptive to God’s work. It helps us see the world for what it is: to see our sinfulness and need of transformation; to appreciate what God is doing in and through us; to catch a glimpse of our destiny with God. A humble, repentant heart gives us an accurate vision of life. Only then can we see that it’s possible and worth it to walk with God and become what He wants us to be. We want our minds changed so that God’s love, not the world, defines us. When Paul wrestled with the dilemma of recurring sin in his life, he cried out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue
me from this body of death?” He then answered the question: “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25). God has done His part to deal with this struggle. The reason we keep on repenting, even if we suspect we will sin again in the future, is because we want our hearts to be washed daily by Christ’s forgiveness. And we want God to continue His transforming work in us. In short, we keep on repenting because we are trusting that God Himself will conform us to the image of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). This process requires persevering humility and faith. Just as it takes time for a coach to develop a raw recruit into a seasoned ball player, so we “press on” in a life of repentance, so that we can attain the prize God has promised in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-16).
Repentance is NOT . . . . . . just confession – “Okay, it’s bad, and I did it.” . . . just sorrow – “I’m sorry I did it.” . . . just a feeling of guilt – “Oops, you caught me. I did it, and I feel guilty.” . . . just a litany of words to get God off my back. . . . just an escape from consequences. For further study, see 2 Corinthians 7:10; Ezekiel 18:30-32; and Isaiah 55:7. v Dr. Richard Fisher has served as a professor and regional director with Moody Bible Institute.
A Lawyer Warns the Unrepentant
epentance was a key theme during the First and Second Great Awakenings. Prominent ministers of the Great Awakenings, such as George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Asahel Nettleton, and lawyer-turned-revivalist Charles Finney, drove home the necessity of repentance and regeneration to thousands of listeners. The following is an example of the kind of preaching on repentance that pierced hearts. True to legal form, Finney would construct a powerful case for revival and then offer closing arguments calling sinners to turn to Christ, like this one from 1851: Once more: you are in danger of dying in your sins every moment; and if you do not die in your sins, you are in danger of sinning away your day of grace. There is such a thing as selling your birthright. Recollect the case of Esau. “Take heed,” said the Apostle, “lest there be among you a profane person as Esau, who for a morsel of meat sold his birthright; for ye know, that when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected, although he sought it carefully and with tears.” Yes, he found no “space for repentance.” What was this designed to teach? Some do not admit there is such a thing as sinning away the day of grace; but what else could the Apostle mean? Ah, sinner! God says to you, “Now repent, that your sins may be blotted out”; but, mark me, if you say, “I will not,” you must take the consequences. You have no right to ask God to forgive you, until you do repent; and your delay tempts God, and virtually tells him, that because he is so forbearing, you will tempt him a little longer. He has spared you a great while; and because he has done so, you think you will venture to abuse him still. You care nothing for the “right” of the matter: you are only anxious to secure the salvation of your own soul, which you mean to attend to before you die; but you mean to consult your own convenience as to time. You mean to set about it when you have accomplished all your schemes, worn yourself out with sin; and the mere smoking wick of the expiring lamp of life you will throw in the face of your Maker, and leap over the crater of hell, and get into heaven! That is it, you think. The blasphemy, if any, is yours, and not mine. Charles Finney, from his lecture “Repentance: Its Nature, Grounds, Necessity, and Infinite Importance” (1851).
ViewPoint I Call It Heresy! A. W. Tozer was among the most powerful and prophetic preachers of the twentieth century. He issued a strong warning to the Church in his work I Call It Heresy!, which takes aim at those who were neglecting the call to repentance. 1897–1963
A. W. Tozer
e have over-emphasized the psychology
incidental to the fact that he is a fugitive from justice and a
of the sinner’s condition. We spend much time
rebel against law.
describing the woe of the sinner, the grief of the sinner, and the great burden he carries. He does have all of these, but
So it is with sinners. Certainly they are heartbroken, and
we have over-emphasized them until we forget the principal
they carry a heavy load. The Bible takes full account of
fact—that the sinner is actually a rebel against properly
these things; but they are incidental to the fact that the
reason the sinner is what he is, is because he has rebelled against the laws of God, and he is
That is what makes sin, sin. We are rebels. We are sons of disobedience. Sin is the breaking of the law, and we
The reason the sinner is what his is, is because he
of God while we are sinners. By way of illustration, sup-
It is that which constitutes the nature of sin—not the fact that he carries a heavy load of misery and
are in rebellion and we are fugitives from the just laws
a fugitive from divine judgment.
has rebelled against
sadness and guilt. These things
the laws of God.
the sinful nature, but the root of
pose a man escapes from
constitute only the outcropping of sin is rebellion against God. Does not the sinner say: “I belong to
prison. Certainly he will have grief. He is going to be in pain
myself—I owe allegiance to no one unless I choose to give
after bumping logs and stones and fences as he crawls and
it!” That is the essence of sin.
hides away in the dark. He is going to be hungry and cold and weary. His beard will grow long, and he will be tired and
But thankfully, salvation reverses that and restores the
cramped and cold—all of these will happen, but they are
former relationship so that the first thing the returning
sinner does is to confess: “Father, I have sinned against
Today, we let them say they are saved no matter how imper-
heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called
fect and incomplete the transaction, with the proviso that
your son; make me like one of your hired men” (Luke
the deeper Christian life can be tacked on at some time
in the future.
Thus, in repentance, we reverse that relationship, and we
Can it be that we really think we do not owe Jesus Christ our
fully submit to the Word of God and the will of God, as obedi-
obedience? We have owed Him obedience ever since the
second we cried out to Him for salvation, and if we do not give Him that obedience, I have reason to wonder if we are
We have no basis to believe that we can come casually and sprightly to the Lord Jesus and say, “I have come for some help, Lord Jesus. I understand that you are the Savior, so I am going to believe and be saved, and then I am going to turn away and think about the other matters
You will not get help in
I see things and I hear of things
that way, for the Lord will
As I watch them operate within
not save those whom He cannot command!
that Christian people are doing. the profession of Christianity, I do raise the question of whether they have indeed been truly converted.
of lordship and allegiance
Brethren, I believe it is the result
and obedience at some time
of faulty teaching to begin with.
in the future.”
They thought of the Lord as a hospital and Jesus as chief of staff to fix up poor sinners that had gotten into trouble!
I warn you, you will not get help from Him in that way, for the Lord will not save those whom He cannot command!
“Fix me up, Lord,” they have insisted, “so that I can go on my own way!”
He will not divide His offices. You cannot believe on a halfChrist. We take Him for what He is—the anointed Savior
That is bad teaching, Brethren. It is filled with self-deception.
and Lord who is King of kings and Lord of lords! He would
Let us look to Jesus our Lord, high, holy, wearing the crowns,
not be who He is if He saved us and called us and chose
Lord of lords and King of all, having a perfect right to com-
us without the understanding that He can also guide and
mand full obedience from all of His saved people! v
control our lives. Brethren, I believe in the deeper Christian life and experience—oh yes! But I believe we are mistaken when we try to add the deeper life to an imperfect salvation, obtained
*Charles Finney and John Wesley were two revivalists who preached during America’s Great Awakenings in the 1700s and 1800s. Adapted from chapter 1 of I Call It Heresy! by A. W. Tozer, published by Christian Publications in 1991. All rights reserved.
imperfectly by an imperfect concept of the whole thing. Under the working of the Spirit of God through such men as Finney and Wesley*, no one would ever dare to rise in a meeting and say “I am a Christian” if he had not surrendered his whole being to God and taken Jesus Christ as his Lord. It was only then that he could say, “I am saved!”
Making It Turning from Sin What mercy God shows in calling us to repent! Turning from sin to Him is not only for His glory but also for our own good. The following questions can be helpful in evaluating your level of repentance and your ongoing commitment to Christ. Which best describes your feelings about sin? o I love to sin, and I don’t feel much guilt unless it hurts another person. o I enjoy sinning, but I feel embarrassed when others find out what I do. o I have chosen to turn from sin, but I’m constantly going back to it. o I hate sinning, and I truly want to live in a way that honors God. Repentance involves both “putting off” sin and “putting on” righteousness (Ephesians 4:20-32). It also means confessing our sin to others to receive prayer (James 5:16). What specific sinful behaviors have you stopped, and what holy habits have you replaced them with? (For example: Stopped Internet pornography. Started memorizing Bible verses). Also, who knows of your repentance and is praying for you? I have given up:
I have started:
This person knows:
__________________________ __________________________ __________________________ __________________________ __________________________ __________________________ __________________________ __________________________ __________________________ __________________________ __________________________ __________________________ Repentance is an act, but it’s also an ongoing process. Even having repented, I know that these sins still linger in my heart (check all that apply):
o Complaining o Arguing
o Unkindness o Idolatry
o Laziness o Lying
o Drunkenness o Gossip o Ungratefulness
o Evil thoughts
o Addiction o Other ______________
What is stopping me from living a fully obedient life? o The friends I spend time with encourage me to sin/compromise. o The programs and movies I watch involve a lot of sinful behavior. o The music I listen to takes my thoughts away from purity and God’s purposes. o My schedule is so full that I don’t spend time reading God’s Word or praying much. o I don’t make time to faithfully participate in church or a small group fellowship. o I have unfiltered Internet access on my computer or mobile devices. o I am addicted to a sinful behavior but am embarrassed to admit it. o I keep believing that I will change at some point in the future. o I really haven’t decided to stop a particular sin; I am choosing to keep it in my life. In the space below, write a prayer of confession and repentance regarding the sins remaining in your life. ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________
Turning to God Leaving a lifestyle of sin is only part of repentance—that is what I must turn from. Turning to God and to the life He created me to enjoy is also involved (James 4:7-10). Why do I want to turn to God? o He loves me, and I want to love Him in return. o His ways are better than mine. o He is the Judge whom I should fear and respect. o He is my Creator and Savior. o He has called me to be His child. o He will be glorified as I obey Him. In your own words, write down the reasons the following verses give for turning to the Lord. Isaiah 30:15 _____________________________________________________________________________ Jeremiah 8:4-13 __________________________________________________________________________ Matthew 3:2 _____________________________________________________________________________ Acts 3:19 ________________________________________________________________________________
Acts 17:30-31 ____________________________________________________________________________ Romans 2:4 _____________________________________________________________________________ 2 Peter 3:9 ______________________________________________________________________________ Revelation 2:5 ___________________________________________________________________________ Turning to God, and the ongoing repentance involved in the lives of His people, involves basic disciplines that keep us strong in our commitment to Him. On a scale of 1â€“5, evaluate yourself in the following areas: ___ Reading the Bible daily
___ Praying from my heart
___ Attending church
___ Praying with other believers
___ Singing praises to God
___ Confessing my sins daily
___ Fasting as God leads
___ Sharing my faith
___ Serving people
___ Attending Bible studies
___ Memorizing Bible verses
___ Scheduling times of silence and solitude
___ Accountability with another Christian
___ Setting aside one day a week for rest
At the most basic level, repentance is changing my mind about sin, desiring to follow Godâ€™s ways instead of my own. From there, a lifestyle of repentance involves my turning from everything that God shows me to be sin, so that I am free to fulfill His purposes for my life. In the space below, write a prayer asking God for His strength to continue a life of repentance and surrender to Him. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________
Lifetime Surrender Kneeling in the grass behind my house, I repented. And
even though I was only eleven years old, I knew what I was doing. “Lord, You can have my life. I want to follow You.” Many of us have prayed similar prayers. We’ve told God of our commitment, of our desire, of our surrender. But how will we finish what we’ve started? We don’t want to be like the man Jesus warned about in Luke 9:62, who put his hand to the plow and then looked back! By God’s grace Life Action’s founder, Del Fehsenfeld Jr., finished his life well. Although he died young at the age of 42, he left a rich spiritual legacy. For perspective, I thought I’d turn to an excerpt from his book, Ablaze with His Glory, for our next step.
Daniel W. Jarvis
Of course, making this kind of deep, lifetime commitment to Jesus does not guarantee instant spiritual perfection. Our once-and-for-all surrender to God must be activated and appropriated daily. But it is the initial, total commitment that forms a basis for subsequent obedience. Have you ever waved the white flag of surrender to the Lord Jesus? Are you building your life on the foundation of a non-negotiable commitment to the lordship of Christ and the authority of Scripture? If so, then every minute of your day, every dollar of your income, every ounce of your strength, mind, will, and emotions all belong to Him. He makes all the decisions. Our responsibility and privilege is merely to let Him use us to carry out His desires. A complete, lifetime surrender to Jesus allows His full, abundant, supernatural life to be released in us, setting us free from the power of temptation, sin, and self. The hymn writer expressed it well:
I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back. The Old Testament illustrates total commitment with
the concept of a bondservant. Under the law, a master could not own a slave more than six years. In the seventh year, all slaves had to be released. However, a special provision was made if a slaved loved his master and wished to make a voluntary, lifetime commitment to his service. This slave would express his desire to his master. In response, his master would use a sharp tool to pierce a permanent hole in the ear of his slave. That hole forever marked the man as a bondservant. His was not an eight-hour-a-day job. He was on call twenty-four hours a day. He did not have a contract; he had no guaranteed income or benefits. The bondservant was totally at the mercy of his master to provide adequately for his needs. His only concern as a bondservant was to be available and obedient.
Though none go with me, still I will follow; no turning back. The world behind me, the cross before me; no turning back; no turning back.
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