John the Baptist, in Matthew 3.8 states, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” It is to this end that I write what many before me have done and will continue to do long after I go should Christ tarry. Repentance is an issue that is widely regarded as important, but even more so naively ignored in its application. The culture of our day seeks not only to have an increased self-esteem, but the pulpit, as it tickles our ears, has become little more than a self help program that gives us steps to better improve ourselves. There are still churches that are bastions against this sort of compromise, but they are far too few. Still, as John states in the gospel of Matthew, there is indeed fruit to be had with repentance. But what exactly does he mean here?
I believe it is obvious today that we do not understand repentance because we do not understand the gospel. We do not understand, submit, or have faith to believe that the gospel literally transforms us, from the point of regenerating our hearts to the final act of glorification for the glory of God alone. It washes us anew, places a new heart in us, clothes us in righteousness for the glory of Christ, and circumcises our hearts for God’s glory. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe, to the Jew first and then to the Gentiles for God’s glory. What is more, we who were once alienated and at enmity with God are now accepted as sons and daughters through Christ alone, and as such not only is our conversation now in heaven, along with our citizenship, but we are to “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3.12-17).”
It is precisely because of the reality of the gospel administered to our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can indeed repent in the first place. We must understand that anyone who does not believe in Christ for eternal life can undergo the change that I will be talking about; for it is impossible without the aid and direction of the Holy Spirit as He illuminates the precious Word of God. This is true in all matters of repentance. A man or woman without Christ can no more repent in this fashion than they can fly to the moon unaided. I am not sure if this is something you have tried to do before; flying to the moon. Try it. Let me know how you do.
What aspect of repentance am I discussing here? I am not talking about the repentance unto life, but the repentance of a believer in Jesus Christ before, during, and after a sin act. Repentance is a gift to us; it isn’t a matter of reconciling to God through our repentance for that has been done through Christ alone. It is, however, a matter of strengthening our feeble bodies for the glory of God.
Through the ages there has been a massive amount of material written on the subject of repentance yet what I find to be more often the case is that Christians are simply not reading them. Perhaps the material may be outdated by some standards, others may see the massive tomes given to the subject, and still others simply are not aware that it needs to be searched out and studied. Isn’t repentance simply a matter of turning from sin? Isn’t it simply confessing our sins to our Awesome God who is ready and quick to forgive? There also is a terrible misconception going around today in some churches that repentance perhaps is not needed; haven’t we a savior who has already forgiven us our sins? Isn’t it a matter of asking for forgiveness and getting on with our life?
In repentance, one of the most important things for us to know is that we are not the physicians; the Holy Spirit is. I often get sick during the winter months; in fact, I get sick many times. As such, because of my compromised immune system from the three liver transplants I have endured, I desperately need antibiotics even for the most simple of illnesses. I simply do not have the antibodies to fight off things like others do due to my immune suppressive medications I take daily. As such, even though I may know a lot about illnesses, I can’t simply call a doctor up on the phone and say, “Hey doc, would you mind prescribing me medication A? I am getting sick again.” The reality is that I have to go through all the trouble of getting into the car even though I am sick, I have to wait my turn at the office and fill out the necessary paperwork, watch a few shows on the television that I’d never watch at home because I can never find the controller at the doctors’ office, and wait yet again in the cold office to see the doctor, reading magazines about health or National Geographic. He tends to do similar things, not the magazine reading part, but before he can prescribe me a medication, he must understand my history and my illness. As much as I’d like to be the doctor and just prescribe it myself, I simply am not. Likewise, in repentance, we want to prescribe the proper punishment or “drug” that would help us recover from the sin quicker. The reality is, we have to wait upon the Holy Spirit to do the work and to give us only what He can; the power of God to rid us of sin. This isn’t a set of “hoops” that we have to jump through as if we just needed to say a prayer over and over again and then we’d be okay. There is no such thing as red tape when it comes to the heart of the Father; I believe repentance is a gift for us, and as it is worked out in us, works out the sin in us as well.
WHY WRITE THIS?
My goal in writing this is twofold; primarily to honor Christ as King and Lord and secondarily to make simple and available to any one of the greatest gifts to the true Church of Jesus Christ; that of the gift of Repentance. It is said that there is no greater essential, save faith itself, then this incredible doctrine. To apply it is to apply a weapon against ourselves and to obtain a potential measure of victory through the power of the Holy Spirit. And don’t we all want this? Do we all look upon the majesty of Christ with awe and wonder? I was praying the other night, because I’m so holy (I’m sorry, you should know I am very sarcastic), and we had this amazing session in my garage with a few other men in my life. I felt angels around us in a chorus, not really, but the presence of God was tangible. I didn’t want to stop praying; none of us did. The presence and awe of God moved us and changed us; to come into the presence and knowledge of God is to be transformed. The Lord is a transformational God; to not change is to not understand the mighty work He has done through His Son, Jesus Christ. Oh we had such a sweet time! How could we leave without desperately, violently, pursuing holiness and doing everything in our power to present our bodies as living sacrifices to our King? Because He is with us, because of His absolutely perfect worth, we desire to change. Rid us of this sin in our lives Lord! We fall down in grace, because we fail, but our hearts are rent; let us do everything in our power to pursue holiness! Repentance is a gift; so let’s apply this mighty weapon against ourselves!
My purpose on writing this is something different than the goal for though the goal of it may be the glory of Christ, and though the purpose of it is consumed in the glory of Christ, I too know that there are significant practical reasons why I write this. I write it so that you may have weapons to fight both your flesh and the enemy in all temptations. How does repentance help in battling sin and temptation? For starters, I believe with all my heart that repentance, and a life of repentance, creates an environment in our lives where the Holy Spirit is pleased to move and work. So many times I find in my conversing with students and adults that though they seek to honor Christ in their lives, there has been such a travesty and failure in the grieving of the Holy Spirit living and dwelling in them, that to hear and be affective for the Kingdom of God would be rather impossible save the impossible elements of God’s grace alone. We don’t want God to have to work against us in order to accomplish His work; we want to work with God in accomplishing His will; repentance is part of the process that is terribly neglected, but so vital in working with God. Either way God’s will is done, whether we repent or not; but how much better is it for those who would work with the Almighty rather than beating the air to no avail?
As I begin this, let me use an example recently on one Sunday afternoon that somewhat expedited the need in my heart to write this. I had preached on Nehemiah 1.1-4, and as Nehemiah’s heart was wrenched and had a Spirit Attack upon hearing news of the state of Jerusalem and the testimony of the Jewish nation to the people of the world, I spoke somewhat on the reality of mourning for days. I had mentioned rather truthfully of the broken walls in our homes and in our neighborhoods, and how our hearts too needed to have a Spirit Attack. Though we cannot create this ourselves, we can create an environment where the Spirit of God is pleased to move. This being stated, I then defined what repentance was and our need to first lay the stones of repentance first at the foot of the cross and at the feet of those whom we have wronged. We then went into a sweet time of communion and repentance.
After the morning ended, a wonderfully kind gentlemen pulled me aside only to exclaim in confusion why more young people were not attending this service and why it wasn’t “packed full of people.” He stated that he believed in no short order people’s desire to hear about how they can be encouraged and sent on their way was of greater need, rather than preaching on sin and repentance, and that I needed to preach more like Joel Olsteen in order to attract people. My mouth dropped. Never had anyone told me this before; most people knew of my completely opposite methodology to ministry.
I have incredible conviction in my life that this generation does not need to be “encouraged and sent on their way.” They do not need to hear from the pulpit ways to make them feel better; they can get that nonsense from pop music and from the cinema. I believe strongly that this generation is tired of the fluff that is out there, and is desperately seeking the real truth; not the corner store $1.50 magazine truth that seems to be so prevalent. We are a zombie mass moving further and further into numbness; going through life hoping just to feel something real. Christ is the everlasting and only real there is. And believe it or not, this truth is lasting and is the only thing that draws true believers. I am also under the conviction that the church does not need to seek self-esteem by boosting attendance. God’s blessing over a church does not always equate with masses of people; more than not in this day and age it does equate with compromise from the pulpit and that’s not something to be proud of. There are large churches that follow the Spirit of God, but they are few and far between.
This leads me to the point of all this. What is crucial at this stage in your life as you embark on a faith that is not your parents and a faith that will last till the end? What is the biggest struggle we all face daily, yet know so little about? It is sin, plain and simple, and in all forms. Oh, but someone could argue that we all know well about sin, and because of the conviction in our lives, we would rather do well to not dwell on it thank you very much. In the future I would like to write on the reality of sin, the ugliness of it, and the destructive work of it. But for now, I feel pressed upon my heart to write on equipping you on this incredible reality and gift of repentance. It is not to be feared or pushed aside. It is not to be rushed through like some commercial during a football game nor is it something to wallow in. Think of repentance in this way as a long hot shower full of minerals and Spirit chemicals to wash of the paint, blood, and grime we have accumulated from the world.