forgiveness

True Repentant Prayer

Photo by  Angello Lopez  on  Unsplash

Photo by Angello Lopez on Unsplash

What does true repentance look like?

As I've written before, the idea of repentance gets turned around from what God desires. Too often it's seen as a person's responsibility to change the direction of their life 180 degrees in the opposite direction.

Although there's truth to that, it puts the cart before the horse. It's backward to think a person needs to straighten out his or her life before they turn to God.

The first step of true repentance is turning towards God. This is the change of direction that's needed! When a person turns toward God they turn their back on what they need to repent of and turn to the one Person who can bring real change— God.

The first step of true repentance is turning towards God

This is the essence of the first three steps of the 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA and similar 12-step programs are geared towards the restoration of a person's life through freedom from addiction.

The goal of biblical repentance is restoration. It should not be an attempt at restitution. It's not about doing good or making good karma. It's about a restored relationship between a person and God.

The goal of biblical repentance is restoration

A story of lust gone wrong

The pursuit of a restored relationship with God is seen in King David's prayer in Psalm 51—a true repentant prayer. The life context of this prayer is found in chapters 11 and 12 of 2 Samuel.

The story of David and Bathsheba is a classic story of lust gone wrong—very wrong. The gist of the story is King David taking advantage of his role as king of Israel, committing adultery, then trying to cover it up.

David and Bathsheba is a classic story of lust gone wrong—very wrong

But God doesn't let David get away with it all, at all. God sends a prophet to David who tells him a parable with a foil—a trap David sets for himself (2 Sam 12:1-7).

The story goes downhill from this point with a tragic turn and later consequences in David's life—but that's, as they say, another story for another time.

A man after God’s heart?

King David was a great leader as a warrior-king but the example of his personal life wasn’t so good. He was an adulterer and murderer. 

He lied and deceived others—even a priest of God. His actions at various points in life brought grave consequences upon the whole nation of Israel—the people who loved him.

And yet, God saw David as a man after His own heart (1 Sam 13:14). What is it about David that God saw as good?

David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51—after his grievous sin with Bathsheba and confrontation by Nathan the prophet—reveals David’s heart and gives insight into true repentance.

What is it about David that God saw as good?

A perfect prayer of repentance

A look at David's prayer of repentance in Psalm 51

  • David's plea for mercy—Psalm 51:1-2
    • see how David appeals to God’s merciful compassion, authority, and power in his life to forgive and “wash” him on the inside—his heart.
  • David's confession of sin—Psalm 51:3-6—
    • David expresses his guilt and acknowledges his sin is ultimately against God—even though it effects many other people.
    • He also acknowledges God’s righteous judgment of his own sinfulness and wrong—that it’s the opposite of what David knew to be right.
  • David begins to request restoration—Psalm 51:7-9—
    • David seeks what is necessary for restoration to take place and acknowledges that only God can forgive and restore him.
  • 6 elements of true repentance and restoration—Psalm 51:10-12—
    • David asks God for a pure heart—a heart free from sin
    • David asks God to renew his spirit—to move from brokenness to wholeness
    • David wants to maintain access into God’s presence
    • David also asks for God’s Spirit to remain with him
    • David asks for a restoration of God’s salvation—God’s assurance of His forgiveness and acceptance in David’s life because of God’s mercy and grace
    • David asks for a willing spirit—he knows God’s restoration requires a willingness on his part to submit his life to God first
  • A glimpse of the benefit of restoration—Psalm 51:13-15—
    • David understands that his own life needs to be in right order before he can tell others of God’s forgiveness and faithfulness.
  • What God doesn't and does desire from us—Psalm 51:16-17—
    • David knows God isn’t interested in what we have to offer Him (sacrifices or offerings) for God desires a brokenness and repentant spirit and heart in us.
  • The resulting benefit of things made right with God—Psalm 51:18-19—
    • David knows that when things are right with God—blessings will follow and a person’s devotion and service to God are acceptable.

Step by step

What true repentance looks like—

David's prayer in Psalm 51 is what true repentance looks like.

First—to turn to God for His forgiveness and restoration—always the first most important step. Then, accept His forgiveness by faith and allow God to work His restoration into your life.

Can you relate to David's struggle and need?

Are you willing to follow his example of repentance?

Repentance—the Heart of the Matter

Photo by  Cristian Newman  on  Unsplash

"You've turned your backs, not your faces, to me" (Jeremiah 2:27 GW). This is what God says to His people through Jeremiah. It's a recurring theme in God's messages through Jeremiah to Judah—the southern kingdom of Israel.

Judah had abandoned the living God for lifeless idols. It wasn't just misplaced worship or foolish religion, it was accompanied with gross immorality and perversion of justice. The behavior of the leaders and people was atrocious. But this wasn't God's main issue.

Although God held His people responsible for their bad behavior, His great lament was how they shunned Him. God spoke through Jeremiah to tell the people they committed two evils. Number one was that they forsook God—the fountain of life-giving water.

My people have done two things wrong. They have abandoned me, the fountain of life-giving water. They have also dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that can’t hold water. (Jer 2:123 GW)

Repentance isn't about behavior

Repentance is not about behavior, but a renewed relationship. It's a matter of reconciliation. It's a matter of the heart.

It's not that bad behavior should be ignored or overlooked, but it is secondary. It should change as a result of a changed relationship, not the other way around. When changed behavior is the focus of repentance, God's intent for it is misplaced.

Relationship has always been primary to God. When Adam and Eve gave in to the serpent's temptation, God looked for them because He knew something was wrong. The entire story of redemption began there.

Repentance is a matter of reconciliation. It's a matter of the heart.

A classic picture of repentance is given in the third of three parables in Luke 15—the Lost Son. The climax is when the lost son returns to his father.

The son's focus is on his own sin, the father looks past the son's sin and filthiness to embrace him and celebrate (Luke 15:11-32).

Forgiveness and restoration

However, we still tend to focus on sin—our own or that of others, and it's lingering effect. That's the picture of the brooding elder son in the parable of Luke 15. We want forgiveness and justice, but often have difficulty accepting forgiveness, or as it's often put, forgiving ourselves

Sadly, when we focus on our own sin or how others have sinned, and the ripple effect of sin—we lose sight of the purpose of forgiveness. 

Forgiveness is granted by God to restore our relationship. It's not a means of satisfying His divine justice or wrath against us. Jesus absorbed the penalty of sin upon Himself.

Forgiveness is granted by God to restore relationship not to satisfy divine justice

Righteousness is relational

Of course, things must be made right, but righteousness itself is relational. It's not a theological concept to be understood. Why did the father celebrate the return of his son? Because— 

"My son was dead and has come back to life. He was lost but has been found" (Luke 15:24 GW).

Repentance isn't our effort to be good but the restoration of our relationship with God. As King David requested in his own prayer of repentance, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation" (Psalm 51:12).

Repentance is not about "turning over a new leaf," as if making a New Year's resolution. It's about returning to God. There are countless examples of this throughout the Bible.

Repentance isn't our effort to be good but the restoration of our relationship with God.

Unfortunately, much well-intentioned teaching and preaching focus on changed behavior as the mark of true repentance.

How about John the Baptist's rebuke at the Jordan River (Matt 3:1-12 GW), you might ask? John spoke of true repentance, not a religious or emotional expression.

Changed behavior is the fruit of genuine repentance, not its essence.

Reconciliation

Redemption is not just forgiveness, it is about reconciliation between God and people. Repentance is returning to God. As God said, "you've turned your backs, not your faces, to me" (Jer 2:27 GW)

God wants people to turn their faces to Him, not their backs. He's not interested in what we can do to make things right because He knows it will fall short and be short-lived.

What repentance is not

Repentance is not remorse, nor emotion, or promises of better behavior. It's a change of heart. A changed heart that leads us back to God, as shown by the lost son in the parable.

Repentance is not behavior modification—"changing our ways" or "making a 180º turn"—on our own, but returning to God—the Father—and receiving His mercy and grace.

Once our relationship is restored—yes, through forgiveness on God's behalf—then true repentance results in a changed life.

Repentance needs to start from the inside—our heart—first. External change—changed behavior—follows our heart change.

When our face is turned to God, our back is turned on sin.

Repentance and redemption

There is no true redemption without genuine repentance. But the essence of repentance is returning to God regardless of any personal cost.

The good news is this—God has covered the cost of failure and sin on the Cross. Our work is to turn our face and trust back to God. Trying to change your behavior on your own is a futile effort and doomed for failure.

There is no true redemption without genuine repentance.

True repentance brings freedom

If you're trying to be a good Christian—stop it! But if you want to turn towards God—go for it!

My wife and I saw the power of repentance and reconciliation in the process of disciplining our young children. First, they needed to realize they did something wrong.

Once it was made clear what they did was wrong, our children's heads dropped and their faces turned sad. They were at a point of repentance.

When a form of correction was applied and a new path of behavior and change of heart was discussed, things were settled and the result was freedom. They were reconciled.

True repentance ought to bring freedom, not brooding or depression.

Going back to the parable in Luke, the father celebrated with the restored son, while the elder son brooded. The elder brother couldn't look past his own expectation of justice and his self-righteousness (Luke 15:28-30).

It's your choice to brood or to rejoice. I prefer joy over whining any day of the week and so does God. How about you?

The Power of Mercy and Love

Over 50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr said that Sunday morning was the most segregated hour in America. This was because of the common racial separation within most churches. Some churches are working to change that but it's still prevalent.

But there's another type of segregation or division in many American churches. It's been around for a long time. It plagued Jesus and contributed to His arrest and crucifixion.

The trouble is, we—the church—say we want to welcome "sinners" into the church but when they come they often don't feel welcome. Probably hundreds of books and conferences and blog posts address the issue but with minimal impact.

Many things contribute to this dilemma but the real issue is the heart of the matter. A simple story involving Jesus, a religious leader, and a sinful woman illustrates it best.

A story within a story

Jesus told many parables, some short and some longer. Each one teaches a simple truth and is told within a specific context. The setting or situation preceding or following the parable gives insight to the purpose of the parable.

We find a short, simple parable in Luke 7:40-43 where the situation is critical for understanding its truth. Here's the parable—

“Two men owed a moneylender some money. One owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other owed him fifty. When they couldn’t pay it back, he was kind enough to cancel their debts. Now, who do you think will love him the most?”

Jesus was invited to Simon the Pharisee's home for a meal. During the meal, a woman with a bad reputation came in looking for Jesus. Simon's inner thoughts scoffed at the idea that Jesus was a prophet, let alone the Messiah because of this woman's attention to Jesus.

This prompts Jesus to tell this short parable of a moneylender forgiving what was owed by these two debtors. The amounts were considerable. The 500 silver coins were equivalent to twenty months of wages while the 50 coins represented two months wages.

The Pharisee answered Jesus' question at the end of the parable, “I suppose the one who had the largest debt canceled.” Jesus agreed but confronted Simon about the Pharisee's self-righteous, judgmental attitude towards the woman.

Those of us in the church too often fit the profile of Simon the Pharisee. We are quick to judge others as less than ourselves and forget the suspended judgment God showed us because of His mercy.

A study of contrasts

The two characters who interact with Jesus are polar opposites. On the surface, Simon the Pharisee represents the religious elite. He was well-learned in the Scriptures and traditions of his faith with an elevated status and reputation.

The sinful woman had a shameful reputation. She was well aware of her diminished status but she knows of Jesus and of His message to repent because the Kingdom of Heaven was near (Matt 4:17).

This woman risked rejection by both Simon and his cohorts and Jesus. After all, she knew what she deserved, unlike the Pharisees who considered themselves to be godly.

Oddly, no one dismisses her. Did she already know Simon and his cohorts from previous encounters? Her many sins (Luke 7:47) were likely known by many men.

Judgment and mercy

This story reveals a powerful picture of judgment and mercy.

Jesus was invited to the home of a prominent religious leader accompanied by other men (Luke 7:49). Women were only present as servers of the food and had little status then.

In those days, people didn't eat at tables with straight-backed chairs but reclined on the floor, often leaning on one arm while eating with the other hand and with their feet extended outward.

The woman approaches Jesus at His feet away from the table of men. At first, she stands weeping then bends down as she wets the Lord's feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, and kissing them with affection and respect.

She opens a vial of expensive aromatic oil and begins to anoint His feet. It's an act of submission and worship. She pours her heart out to Jesus with her tears and the oil.

She was an immoral woman and Simon knew it. So he wonders how Jesus could even allow her to touch Him. Surely this Jesus couldn't be a prophet or the Messiah!

Simon couldn't see beyond her past or her gender. He didn't see her as Jesus did.

The power of mercy and love

The parable's powerful message is revealed as Jesus explains why He told it to Simon (Luke 7:44-47). It exposes the superficiality of Simon's self-righteousness.

This sinful woman with the shameful past showed a respect for Jesus unlike Simon.

Guests were customarily greeted with water to wash their dusty feet, a kiss of acceptance, and oil to anoint their wind-blown hair. Simon offered none of these to Jesus.

This woman washed Jesus' feet with her tears and hair, then kissed and anointed them with oil. Her respect was genuine. Her broken heart pursued Jesus in hope of redemption and she received it.

Simon the Pharisee didn't realize his own need of forgiveness because he was so full of himself. Another parable illustrates the strength of this self-righteous condescension towards others (Luke 18:9-14).

Unmeasured mercy and love

The simple truth of the parable and the whole story is summed up here—

“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” (Luke 7:47 NLT)

God doesn't measure out His mercy and love, we measure it. We limit it based on our measure of others and we see ourselves as an exception to the rule. But this is self-deception.

How have you seen this same condescending attitude in your own heart? I know I've seen it in mine!

God's work of redemption is based on the Lord's nature and the power of His mercy and love. It will always be greater than any religious or spiritual status we think we hold.

This woman humbled herself, sought out and pursued Jesus, risked rejection and humiliation, and poured herself out at the feet of Jesus through her tears, kisses, and expensive fragrant oil.

This is a picture of worshipful surrender and submission to the Lord.

If we say we love Jesus, how can we offer anything less to the Lord than this woman did?

The full story in its context is found in Luke 7:36-50

If you're a follower of Jesus and part of a church fellowship, beware of a hardness of heart towards others creeping in and taking hold. It will limit your full devotion to Jesus and it will be felt by others. Self-righteousness excludes others and gives a distorted image of the Lord.

When we are mindful of how great the Lord's forgiveness is for us, we are less likely to look condescendingly upon others. When we find ourselves drifting towards self-righteousness, it's time to repent—to surrender our heart to the Lord and the power of His mercy and love!


If you're wondering if churches are still racially segregated, here's a post regarding that— The Most Segregated Hour of the Week?

The Hope and Restoration Embedded in Judgment

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unsplash_MWieland

Everyone loves a happy ending to a story. Well, most of us do. But life isn't as full of happy endings as we'd like. That's why we like them and we want to believe there will be a happy ending to our life story.

We all want and need hope. Hope helps us endure life's difficulties and struggles. Hope was implanted in us by God when He created us in His image. It's anchored in trust which was and still is the basis of a relationship with God.

When Adam and Eve forsook trust in God to embrace a lie, it resulted in a severe consequence—the cycle of death began (Gen 2:17). This was God's judgment. They were forewarned of this but chose to ignore it. Yet, embedded within God's judgment is the hope of restoration—a happy ending.

Promises of restoration

Continuing with the story from last week, King David indicts himself in response to Nathan the prophet's parable. Nathan then tells David what the consequences will be for his sin. They are severe but there is hope embedded in Nathan's words.

We see a glimmer of this hope when Nathan tells David, “The Lord has taken away your sin; you will not die." (2 Sam 12:13 GW)

When reading through the Bible and of the many judgments foretold and pronounced throughout, it's easy to overlook the promises of restoration embedded within those judgments. This is part of the redemptive thread woven through the Bible.

Human perceptions are limited. We see judgment as punishment more than as justice. Justice is a balancing of the scales but God sees beyond balancing the scales of right and wrong.

God desires to bring reconciliation and restoration. Restoration reaches beyond justice as God extends His mercy to bring reconciliation.

The ripple effect

David's response to God's judgment upon his sin reveals why David was a man after God's own heart (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22). David didn't blame anyone or any circumstance. He owned his own sin with a repentant heart as expressed in Psalm 51—

I have sinned against you, especially you. I have done what you consider evil. So you hand down justice when you speak, and you are blameless when you judge. (Psa 51:4 GW)

If God forgave David for this sin, why did David need to suffer such great consequences? (2 Sam 12:10-14) What David put in motion by his sin had natural consequences. This is the ripple effect of sin.

Because he was king of Israel—the leader of God's people—the ripple effect of David's grievous sins affected his life and the nation of Israel for many years. This illustrates the law of sowing and reaping (Gal 6:7-8).

The ripple effect of David's sin included (2 Sam 12:10-14)—

  • the sword (warfare) would never leave his household
  • rebellion and division would also rise up against him in an open and shameful way
  • the baby in Bathsheba's womb would die

All of this came to pass, as seen in the following chapters of 2 Samuel.

Where's the hope?

It doesn't seem like there's much of an upside to all of this judgment brought against David, but it can be seen in two ways.

After praying and fasting for seven days for the child to recover from a sickness and live, the child dies (2 Sam 12:15-21). Once again, David's trust in God reveals hope—

As long as the child was alive, I fasted and cried. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But why should I fast now that he’s dead? Can I bring him back? ⌊Someday⌋ I’ll go to him, but he won’t come back to me. (2 Sam 12:22-23 GW)

David understood God's merciful nature and he believed in life beyond death. He speaks of this in Psalms 16:8-11.

Later, David has another child whom God loved. We know him as King Solomon, but the Lord called him Jedidiah—the Lord's beloved. This was a comfort to Bathsheba and a fulfillment of a Messianic prophecy given to David (2 Sam 7:12-16; Matt 1:1, 6).

Repentance leads to restoration

A full understanding of how hope and restoration are embedded in God's judgment with this story requires reading through Psalm 51. It's like a postscript to 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12.

David's steadfast trust shines throughout this psalm of confession. It's not just a confession of sin but of trust. Yes, David confesses his sin and asks for the Lord's cleansing (Psa 51:1-9), yet there's an underlying confidence in God's restoration of his life.

Create a clean heart in me, O God, and renew a faithful spirit within me. Do not force me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore the joy of your salvation to me, and provide me with a spirit of willing obedience. (Psa 51:10-12 GW)

Genuine repentance leads to restoration. Repentance isn't so much a requirement as a pathway to restoration. God is merciful in nature (Psalm 103:8; Luke 6:36) so even hope and restoration are in embedded in His judgment.

What are your thoughts on the idea of hope, restoration, and judgment in light of God's mercy?

Are You Ready?

Photo credit: youinsport.com

Photo credit: youinsport.com

Readiness is important when an important task is at hand. In the book of Second Samuel, a messenger named Ahimaaz (A-hee-ma-oz) wanted to bring a message to King David. His father was an important priest named Zadok whom the King trusted.

However, the news to be sent was not good, so King David’s general, Joab, chose to send a different messenger.

In those days, certain messengers were sent based on the content of the message; one was sent when it was good news, another with bad news, and another who could bring either good or bad news. Ahimaaz was a messenger for good news.

An incomplete message

The story unfolds in the eighteenth chapter of 2nd Samuel after King Absalom died in battle. He was David’s rebellious son who stole the hearts of Israel and staged a coup that sent King David running for his life.

Though Absalom had become his enemy, he was King David’s favored son. Joab knew the news of his son’s death would devastate David, so he wanted to send a more neutral messenger, a Cushite. (1)

However, Ahimaaz, because of his devotion to King David, wanted to bring the message. Joab’s response was, ”Why will you run, my son, since you have no news ready?" (2 Sam 18:22 NKJV) Since Ahimaaz insisted on running, Joab gave him permission.

Ahimaaz out runs the Cushite and arrives first, but is told to stand aside because his message is incomplete—it lacked the news most important to David—news about the life of his son, Absalom.

In many ways, Christian believers are more like Ahimaaz than the Cushite. When delivering the message of God’s story of reconciliation (the gospel), it is often incomplete. The part left out of the gospel is the Lord Jesus’ resurrection.

The resurrection

The resurrection is what guarantees forgiveness from sin, and the believer’s hope in eternal life. It also gives insight into the mystery of this earthly, physical body being changed into a new, indestructible body, which enables a person to enter and live in the presence of God.

Paul reminded the believers in Corinth about the foundation of all he taught them. He exhorted them to continue to believe in the full truth of this gospel and not listen to teaching contrary to it. If they allowed false teaching to influence them, it would jeopardize the work of God’s grace in their lives.

God's story

Additionally, Paul delivered the gospel they heard and received in person. This may seem incidental but is very relevant. The gospel is not just truth about God passed on by any means available, it is God’s story—the personal testimony of God. It relates how God rescued humanity through His Son, Jesus. God's story is most effective when it’s told person to person.

The believers in Corinth heard the gospel preached to them with apostolic authority. God gave this authority to Paul, His apostle, and messenger, to preach the gospel to the Corinthians. It was God’s story relayed by God’s messenger.

Once they received the gospel as true, they began to live their lives in a different way. The foundation of their lives was a new destiny, one of eternal life in the presence of God. Paul exhorted them to continue, not only to believe but to live according to what they believe, “unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15:1, 2).

3 Important truths

Paul reminded them of three things about the resurrection and the gospel (1 Cor 15:1-3)—

  1. It is the most important truth
  2. He personally received the gospel from God
  3. It agreed with the OT Scriptures

First of all, the gospel is the essential foundation for all Christian believers. All other teachings must be considered in light of the gospel. Secondly, Paul passed on what was revealed to him by God. This is what all believers are to do—share with others what God reveals to them.

Lastly, the truth of the gospel is found in the Scriptures given to the chosen people of God, the Jews. The history of God’s first relationships with people is linked with the gospel.

Adam, the first man, had a face-to-face relationship with God prior to sin’s interference. God’s relationship with Abraham was significant because Abraham was considered righteous on the basis of his personal trust in God. Both men and their relationships with God are found in the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Experiencing God's grace

Many of our national staff at Rainbow Village Ministries were staunch Roman Catholic, but they lacked the assurance of eternal life. Entrenched in their religious beliefs and traditions, they refused to consider a personal relationship with God by grace.

Anya (her nickname) was a faithful Roman Catholic who would argue dogmatically against the “Born Again” gospel of grace. (2) But during a women’s retreat hosted by another ministry, Anya came to believe in Jesus in a more personal way—based not on religious conviction, but on God’s grace—His unearned favor. Her testimony for days and weeks later was, “I feel so different inside.”

She experienced a spiritual transformation in her heart that changed her entire life. She continues to live as a born again believer because she experienced God’s favor, acceptance, and resurrection power in her life.

Are you ready?

There are various versions of an urban legend about the vanishing hitchhiker. One of those stories tells of a hitchhiker who announces "the Lord is coming soon!" Then asks, "Are you ready?" When the driver looks to answer him, he's disappeared!

Indeed, we do need to be ready for the Lord's return, whether you're a believer or not.  But there's another readiness all believers need—a readiness to share God's story with others.

This is a major point in my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Unraveling God's Story. Sadly, many believers are like Ahimaaz, their version of the gospel story is incomplete and they're not ready to share God's story of redemption with others.

The resurrection of Christ is essential to understand and include when sharing God's redemptive story with others. But first, you need to be familiar with it yourself so you can communicate it to others in a simple, clear way.

How about you? Are you ready?

Are you ready to share God's Story with others?

Here are some Bible references to help you—

  • The resurrection story— Luke 24:1-12
  • Why the resurrection is important— 1 Corinthians 15:1-24

(1) Reference— 2 Sam 18:19-33– The context of this story makes this distinction more clear. The Cushite (a foreigner) could bring either good or bad news, whereas Ahimaaz was more known for good news (note verse 27).

(2) “Born again” is the common tag for evangelical believers or those of the Protestant faith within the Philippines, as a distinction from Roman Catholicism. This is a reference to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3 and what many evangelicals tell Catholics they need.