[Luke 17:3-5 “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. “And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”] Last time I spoke on forgiveness, this time a related topic: repentance. Forgiveness is connected with repentance: “If He repents, forgive him” Last time I showed how foundational forgiveness is, we are utterly dependent upon it – but forgiveness in turn is dependent upon repentance. William Booth founder of the Salvation Army said: “In answer to your inquiry, I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century (that would have been the 20th century) will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and heaven without hell.” How prophetic those words turned out to be.
- Religion without the Holy Ghost [P] – there is the form of religion, but where is the Spirit of God! There is a whole chunk of the church, what we would call the traditional church, that is dead and mere form – carrying on the ritual and ceremony, totally devoid of the Spirit of God. But also the evangelical movement is guilty of embracing a merely rational concept of the faith – reduced it all to a few key doctrines that if we say “Ahah” to we are saved. Where is the being born from above by the Spirit of God?! It is not a merely mental process, agreeing with a few Biblical truths. It is a new creation, born of imperishable seed! New life, born of the Spirit of God!
- Christianity without Christ [P] – the ruling god is humanism and it has infected the Church! Seen most evidently among liberals it is a doing of good: humanism expressed in devotion to helping the poor, sick and helpless. Men like Albert Schweitzer who was utterly committed to the concept of the sanctity of life. Now helping the poor and helpless is good and an inevitable outflow of the life of Christ in His people. But if flows only out of concern for human kind, it is humanism. We help people but we do not tell them of Christ. There are missions to the Jews who forbid mentioning Christ – leave them without hope, fail to hold out to them the way of life! It is exhorting people to live the Christian ethic, be good people, without the indwelling Life that makes that possible.
- Forgiveness without repentance [P] – It is the same religion of humanism that has this message of infinite tolerance – God is love, He will forgive. God’s grace covers all – just come to Jesus and He will forgive. There is no requirement of repentance. We carry on as we always have, and presume on God’s grace.
- Salvation without regeneration [P] – at heart there is a spineless and insipid niceness that doesn’t want to offend. Just let people see how nice we are, that we are just like them. Have a social club get to know them, have them come along to church. Put on good music, good coffee, a meal or two – people enjoy the company, the sympathy, the help and they become part of the fellowship. They think they are “saved” but they have never been born again! There is no new creation! New life – they are the same as ever they were.
- Politics without God [P] – Today it is ridiculous to even think that God might be included! Nobody even expects it. But at the time William Booth spoke there were fine evangelical prime ministers like Disraeli and Gladstone. Society changing politicians like Wilberforce whose faith dictated their political action in abolishing slavery.
- Heaven without hell [P] – Again it is that demon of humanism that dictates that we preach an inoffensive message: we don’t tell people they are evil, we don’t mention sin or it’s penalty. We are not to mention a God of judgement, only a God of love. We are not to tell of man’s destiny without Christ! I’ve been to funerals where all the comforting verses about heaven are read – but the person who had died had no time for God, made no pretentions to be a Christian. We speak of heaven but not about hell. We teach Bible in Schools and are forbidden to even mention hell. How can there be a Gospel without knowing the good news of what they can be delivered from?!!
William Booth was tragically correct; but it is number 3 that I want to focus on [P] – because repentance is seldom preached today, yet it is the heart of the Gospel. There was a man, a prophet who came just before Jesus to get the people prepared for His message: John the Baptist. He came with a message burning within him, a message that came directly from God Himself. Jesus called him the greatest man born of a woman. What was this vital message that he proclaimed? [Matthew 3:1-3 Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (it is near! Imminent!) For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight!’ ”] [P] Mark and Luke say that he preached a repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It was urgent people had to turn around – why? Because the Kingdom of God was about to come! The King was coming! John came, and soon after Jesus Himself came preaching, the One He said that was mightier than him – what was His message? He had come down from heaven, born as a human being in order to communicate God’s message to man. This was extraordinary lengths that God had gone to – there was a vital message to tell people! What was it? [Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”] It is exactly the same message that John had proclaimed. This was the vital Good News, the Gospel – the Kingdom was about to come! People had to get ready. Let me say to you now that the return of the King is imminent! There are signs all around that the time is drawing near – earthquakes, and not just in Christchurch; abnormal weather patterns – it is not due to cows’ flatulence – there is a God who controls the earth and the heavens and He is seeking to get our attention. Things are not going to continue as they always have done. This world and its administration are nearing their end. It is not the end yet but these are signs of the beginning of the end. Jesus is going to return as King. His Father said to Him: [Hebrews 1:13 “Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet”] All those opposed to Jesus will be vanquished and Jesus will be installed as Ruler over all. This is what God says: [Psalm 2:6-12 “But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain.” “I will surely tell of the decree of יְהוָה: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You. ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession. ‘You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.’ ” Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship יְהוָה with reverence and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!]. The trouble is that we are used to democracy and think that it is the righteous form of government – democracy is where we all have our say, we make the decisions; think we have the right to determine the course we take! No, it is not democracy – it is monarchy. Not like the one we have: a face on the back of a coin, or who opens buildings and launches ships – a mere figurehead. This King rules! He says what goes and it is a harsh, firm and ruthless reign for those who oppose Him – He rules with a rod of iron, He shatters His opponents like pottery, His wrath is soon kindled. Yet it says blessed are those who take refuge in Him – for those who do not oppose Him but submit to His rule, who do homage to Him. You can oppose the King and His rule – and you will be destroyed. Or you can repent, turn around, place your faith in Him and find His kindness. His way results in LIFE – life in all its fullness, eternal life, the very life of Jesus Himself! Jesus IS coming to rule and reign as King – this is GOOD NEWS – but only if you repent and believe. John proclaimed it, Jesus preached it [Mark 1:14-15 Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”], so did the early church [Acts 2:38 “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.] – Paul said: [Acts 20:20-21 I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.] – The consistent message was repent and believe for the Kingdom of God is near! This is the Gospel; How do you come to God? How do you become a Christian, a child of God, enter the Kingdom? What do we say? – “Come forward” “Raise your hand” “Look me in the eye” “Pray the sinners prayer” “Ask Jesus into your heart” – Just tell me where any one of these is mentioned in the Bible! Tell me where any of this was ever done by Jesus, John, the apostles or anyone else in the New Testament! Well what did they say? Two things: repent and believe – and always repent before believe. [Acts 3:19-20 “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you,] So what is this repentance that is so vital?
Last time I was preaching out at Rolleston prison, I spoke on repentance. Now Rolleston is where the railway junction leading to the West Coast is – so I talked a bit about railways. If the points are set in the wrong direction you end up at the wrong destination. And that is what we all have done we have gone the wrong way. [Isaiah 53:6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, (we are on the wrong track!) each of us has turned to his own way!] And therein is the heart of our mistake! We all choose our “own way”. We may be kind, we may be loving, we may be humane and altruistic – but it is still our own way. We labour under the misapprehension that our life is our own. We speak of “my life” – but it isn’t! God created you, made you – made you for Himself, for His purpose, for His glory, to do as He wishes. We are to do as He directs – the very fact that we make the choice is our fundamental mistake, because it reveals that we think that we are in control. Right at the beginning of the history of man, Adam did it; he chose to be independent of God – and all of his descendants have done the same. The fact is: I am not my own! The earth is the יְהוָה’s and everything in it (that includes you and me). All of us are on the wrong track. We are all going to end up the wrong destination, the terminus of death! So what happens when you take the wrong track? The only solution is to turn the locomotive around – and I had John draw this great picture to illustrate. [P] There, at the end of the line they put the engine on the turntable and turn it around 180o. That is the meaning of the Hebrew word שׁוּב – translated “repent” – you have to “shove” the locomotive to turn it around. But the New Testament recording John’s, Jesus’ and the apostles’ preaching was written, not in Hebrew but Greek. The word used for repent was: μετανοεω [P] – meta denotes a change of place or condition [P]; and noeo is to exercise the mind [P], think, comprehend. So to μετανοεω is to change the mind, relent – a complete turnaround in your way of thinking. Not “Oh I’ve changed my mind” but to have a complete transformation in your whole way of thinking. Theologically, it involves regret or sorrow, accompanied by a true change of heart toward God. It is to be distinguished from regret. The Bible doesn’t talk about telling God we are sorry for what we have done wrong – Judas was sorry that he had betrayed Jesus, Esau was regretted that he had sold his rights as first born – but both remained condemned [Hebrews 12:17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.]. Our whole way of thinking is wrong because it centres around man, around us, not on God’s will and purpose – we need a fundamental change in the way we think [Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.] (testimony of my turning from my own philosophy). But μετανοεω derives its moral content not from Greek but from Jewish thought – it is turning from sin and turning to God. The primary sense in Judaism is always a change in man’s attitude toward God and in the conduct of life. A complete change in direction [P]; and a complete renewing of our thinking [P]. Repentance is not an emotion, a feeling sorry for what you have done; it is a total change in your thinking and a total change in the direction of your life – a complete turn around. So let’s get a taste of John’s preaching of repentance: [P] [Luke 3:7-17 So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? “Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. “Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (that is speaking of coming judgement) And the crowds were questioning him, saying, “Then what shall we do?” And he would answer and say to them, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.” And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.” Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” (see how very practical repentance is?) Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he was the Messiaht, John answered and said to them all, “As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. “His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (again speaking of coming judgement)] The message was that God is coming in judgement and is going to destroy all that was not in line with His rule. When the people asked for practical details of what it meant to repent, what they were to do – John told them to turn from what they were doing, to share with those who didn’t have anything – think of the other person, not yourself; not to do what they habitually did: tax-collectors taking more than they should, soldiers using force – it was turning from their present way of living and living as God would have them. Repentance was turning, returning – it is the way back to God. Solomon prayed this at the inauguration of the temple: [1 Kings 8:46-50 “When they sin against You (for there is no man who does not sin) and You are angry with them and deliver them to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near; if they take thought in the land where they have been taken captive, and repent and make supplication to You in the land of those who have taken them captive, saying, ‘We have sinned and have committed iniquity, we have acted wickedly’; (confession) if they return(repent) to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies who have taken them captive, and pray to You toward their land which You have given to their fathers, the city which You have chosen, and the house which I have built for Your name; then hear their prayer and their supplication in heaven Your dwelling place, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people who have sinned against You and all their transgressions which they have transgressed against You, and make them objects of compassion before those who have taken them captive, that they may have compassion on them.] Forgiveness is contingent upon repentance. Repentance is the way back to God. Our sin has cut us off from Him, the soul that sins dies. That is the just sentence of יְהוָה upon sin. But He does not want men to die – and the way to avoid this final and irrevocable sentence is through repentance [Ezekiel 18:32 “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord יְהוָה. “Therefore, repent and live.”] Repentance is the gateway to salvation: [Isaiah 30:15 For thus the Lord יְהוָה, the Holy One of Israel, has said, “In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.” But you were not willing.] It is through repentance that there is redemption and righteousness: [Isaiah 1:27 Zion will be redeemed with justice and her repentant ones with righteousness.] I want to give two stories of repentance: one actually happened, the other is a parable: [P] [Luke 19:1-10 He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”] I love the story of Zaccheus – he was a little man, much like me – and I am not talking of stature. We all know that tax collectors are not popular – and it was even more so in Jesus’ day. They were considered corrupt, thieves, collaborators, greedy, godless, sinners – they were despised. Why then do the job? One reason only: the money! You did it because it gave you the opportunity to take a cut. To a man, tax-collectors loved money, to accumulate as much as they could. Zaccheus loved money; lived for it, bore alienation for its sake. But he meets Jesus! – and here he is giving it away as fast as he can! He is a changed man – he has turned around! Here is repentance – and it is seen in action. The second story is a parable Jesus told: [P] [Luke 15:11-24 And He said, “A man had two sons. “The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. “And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. “Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. “So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. “And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. “But when he came to his senses, (a change in his thinking) he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! ‘I will get up and go to my father, (a change of direction, action) and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” ’ “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight (confession of sin); I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate. (forgiveness and restoration)] I have said that repentance is turning around is this just “turning over a new leaf”? You may have tried that and you just fallen back again. Do I have to retrace that whole path? How can I ever get back? The answer is you can’t! The way back is impossible! The only One who can get you back is God – you need a miracle! Repentance is not turning over a new leaf, trying to undo all you have done wrong – it is an act that indicates your faith. You cannot get back, it is an appeal to God to save you – by your actions you are saying: “I have gone the wrong way”. Only God can save you. Repentance isn’t trying to do it yourself – but it an act that demonstrates the sincerity of your faith in God to turn you around. It takes a miracle of God, but faith in God is not sitting back with your arms folded waiting for Him to act. God acts in response to a faith that is active, that is real enough to be put into action – in response to our act of repentance. He calls for repentance – when He sees it He steps in. God sees and responds to that act of faith, that repentance, and saves. You cannot undo what has been done, but God can create you anew – [2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.]. This is not patching up a rotten life, it is a new life. That old life had the sentence of death on it – that is God’s judicial ruling on those who have taken the wrong gone their own way. That sentence has to be carried out. The Good News is that Jesus carried out that sentence for us – it says in that verse in [Isaiah 53:6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but יְהוָה has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.]. It says [1 Peter 2:24 He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness;] If we die with Him, we will also be raised to life with Him. Not us living, but the resurrection life of Jesus the Messiah. It is a reliance upon Jesus’ righteousness, His death and resurrection that leads to this new life, this new creation. We are made completely new. It is no longer I that lives but Christ lives in me. This life is the gift of God to those who believe in the death and resurrection of His Son. But the way to this life, to receiving this gift, is through repentance and faith. But I have a concern – it is all well and good to speak about repentance – I can explain it’s meaning, look at Greek and Hebrew, find the references – a very correct Bible study – and yet not convey the heart and spirit of the message of repentance. Next to judgement, it is the hardest thing to preach – why? Because the essence of the message is to tell people that they are going the wrong way [P]. And people don’t like to hear that! Why do we men not ask for directions or use a map? We like to think that we are going the right way, we don’t deliberately take the wrong path. But [Proverbs 16:25 There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.] YOU NEED TO TURN AROUND! Stop! Go back! There is an urgency and an imperative – that is the heart of the message of repentance. You are going the wrong way! I have likened it to a big gently flowing river – there are people in a grassy field alongside with trees by the banks. It is a beautiful summer’s day and a lovely spot. What better than to enjoy the river: go swimming or boating. But there is a warning sign saying do not enter the water it is dangerous. There are signs like that by Shag rock but I’ve seen people swim across – they think they can get away with it. And so people ignore the sign. There they are boating down the river, enjoying it – you shout from the bank to warn them but they just laugh at you. But the flow quickens, there are rapids – but those in the canoes just laugh, enjoying the thrill of the ride. On and on they go. The rapids are now a bit scary, but they can’t fight the current and get to shore. Then to their horror they hear the roar and see the spray and foam as the Niagara river flows over the abyss. It is too late! They did not heed the warning. That is the message of repentance – turn around before it is too late! [P] Forgiveness without repentance – that is what we see, we will tolerate and conciliate, accept all, forgive all. But forgiveness is contingent upon repentance – a turn around in behaviour and mindset. There is a requirement first for repentance, only then can forgiveness flow.