justice

Repentance—Not Just for Unconverted Sinners

The word repent and the idea of repentance conjures stereotypical images. Perhaps you imagine someone with a half-crazed look wearing a signboard with the word emblazoned on it— REPENT!

People familiar with the Bible might imagine one of the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah or John the Baptizer, whose ministry directly preceded and announced the public ministry of Jesus.

John was not a mainstream kind of person. He wore rough clothing, ate locusts and honey, and lived outside the city limits. If you wanted to hear him, you went to him. He didn't do house calls, and his message was direct and impartial (Matt 3:1-12).

It's time to ditch the stereotypes and misconceptions about repentance.

Strong reactions

Last week I posted Repentance—the Heart of the Matter. I wanted to reframe the concept of repentance in a more biblical sense than what is typically thought or expressed by others.

The word repent stirs all sorts of responses. Not all are helpful. Why do the words repent and repentance stir strong reactions? Perhaps the word itself is misunderstood.

This is a follow-up to my previous post but more directed at the value of repentance for Christian believers. The topic of repentance is more typically considered in light of those who are nonbelievers or unconverted—those who are not Christians.

And yet, much of the biblical focus on repentance is directed towards those who believe in God and claim to be His people. The Old Testament is full of examples.

The word repent stirs all sorts of responses—not all are helpful

The meaning of words

Most of the time, we get our understanding of words by how they're used. The words, "Oh, I love you," are understood based on how they're said. It depends on the intent of the speaker—is it spoken with romantic passion or sarcasm? Different intent and tone result in different reactions.

So, it's good to find the original meaning of a word, then understand it within its context. I'll give some biblical examples of this later. But first, some definitions from their Greek origins.

  • Vines Expository Dictionary defines repent (the verb)—to perceive afterwords, and repentance (the noun)—afterthought or change of mind.
  • MR Vincent sheds more light on the subject saying, repentance is the "result of perceiving or observing," or "to think differently after." After what? He points us to what the apostle Paul says in 2 Cor 7:10—Godly sorrow brings repentance....

Repentance is the outcome and action of godly sorrow.

Another perspective

Most often, the idea of repentance is understood as turning away from sin. Yes, but why? If repentance is to "think differently after" as MR Vincent puts it, then we ought to consider what precedes this change in thought and behavior.

This understanding, coupled with biblical examples, helps me see repentance as turning to God, which causes us to turn away from sin and our former way of life. I pointed this out last week.

Most often, the idea of repentance is understood as turning away from sin

If you look at the three parables in Luke 15, each focuses on what was lost and found—a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son (Luke 15:7, 10, 24, 33). The simple truth of each parable reminds us of the rejoicing in heaven "over one sinner who repents."

In the longer (third) parable, the lost son realizes his situation would be better if he were accepted as a mere servant in his father's household (Luke 15:17-24). The father gives him a very different reception than expected or warranted (see Luke 15:28-32).

God's perspective or our own?

Someone might ask, "Does it really matter? Isn't the idea to change your ways?" This is where our problem lies. We often see repentance as something we need to do.

I've heard many preach and teach this perspective, but is this what we read in the Scriptures? Again, I addressed this in my previous post.

Is repentance based on our own effort to change or a response to God's mercy and grace after experiencing God's kindness?

Is repentance our effort to change or a response to God's mercy and grace?

The message of Jesus—Repent!

When Jesus began His public ministry, His message was one of repentance (Matt 4:17). This also was the message John the Baptizer (Matt 3:2, 8). John spoke to the religious and non-religious in a tone that carried a sense of judgment.

Repentance takes place when our mind and actions change after an initial hardness of heart

But when Jesus was confronted with a situation that demanded justice, He showed mercy to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11). The woman's accusers wanted Jesus to condemn her.

But after Jesus wrote on the ground in front of the men accusing her, they quietly left one by one. Then Jesus said to her— 

“Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:10-11 NKJV)

More examples

Another example of this change of mind after is seen in the parable of the two sons (Matt 21:28-32). This parable illustrates the same mindset of changing the mind and action after the initial response of these two sons to their father.

It also gives insight into how the message of repentance Jesus declared was received by various people—tax collectors, prostitutes, and the Jewish leaders. Those who knew their life was not right with God received it well but the religious leaders rejected His message.

Again, in one of the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, Jesus tells the church at Ephesus they had abandoned their first love and needed to repent.

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Rev 2:4-5 ESV)
The idea of repentance is a turning back to God as our first love.

A final thought

Repentance is something we all need to practice. It's not just the act of turning away from sin, but turning to God so we may turn from sin. None of us are without sin, no matter how long we've had a personal relationship with God through His grace.

Repentance is something we all need to practice—believers and nonbelievers

In fact, once we have a relationship with Jesus because we experience His forgiveness and the renewal of His Spirit in us (Titus 3:4-7) as we turn to Him in repentance. But believers are to put sin to death, not just turn away from it (Col 3:5). But that's another topic for another time.

Repentance is our response to God's kindness and goodness, not our own effort at goodness. Our own efforts at producing righteousness will meet with repeated failure (Rom 7:15-25). 

But when we turn to God first, He will guide us out of our battle with sin—our selfish nature—(Gal 5:16) and bring transformation from the inside out (2 Cor 3:18).

Repentance is our response to God's kindness and goodness not our effort to be good

I find the need to practice repentance on a daily basis—how about you?

Repentance—the Heart of the Matter

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"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 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?

A Stolen Lamb

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unsplash.com_RLong

Injustice is just so... unjust! It's a wrong that demands to be made right. When it happens to us, those close to us, or the innocent and defenseless it stirs up anger inside of us and we want some type of justice done.

The greater the indifference or wrong on the part of the offender, the stronger the reaction and demand for justice. Sadly, we can be unaware of our own indifference, even a heartlessness when we cause heartache or wrong others. What's worse is when we are numb and hardened to the cries of the victims of injustice.

But it never goes unnoticed. One person, who is able to bring about true and full justice, not only sees it but holds each one of us accountable for our life.

2 men and a parable

Parables are often associated with Jesus but they are common throughout history in many cultures. Solomon, King David's son through Bathsheba, used several parables in his writing in the book of Proverbs.

Before King Solomon was born, the prophet Nathan told King David a telling parable. One he would never forget. It's found in 2 Samuel 12:1-4 (GW). It begins, “There were two men in a certain city. One was rich, and the other was poor."

The contrast and injustice become more clear as the parable unfolds. It tells of a wealthy man with many flocks who took the pet lamb of a poor man to feed a visitor.

The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cows, but the poor man had only one little female lamb that he had bought. He raised her, and she grew up in his home with his children. She would eat his food and drink from his cup. She rested in his arms and was like a daughter.
Now, a visitor came to the rich man. The rich man thought it would be a pity to take one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler. So he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared her for the traveler. (2 Sam 12:2-4 GW)

As Jesus often did with His parables, Nathan used the parable to convey a simple truth but with a catch. As David heard the parable he responded in an immediate and strong way (2 Sam 12:5-6 GW). In doing so, he convicted himself of his own sin.

The back story

One important factor for understanding parables is the setting for the parable itself. It often reveals why the parable is told. We need to read the story in the previous chapter (2 Sam 11) to understand why this parable impacts David the way it does.

David was the great warrior king of Israel but he chose to stay back and send his army to battle without him. One day after a nap, David took a stroll on his rooftop and saw a beautiful woman bathing. Her name was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.

The enemy of our souls had set a trap and David fell for it.

A thwarted deception

David ignored this woman's marriage and had her brought to his palace. When she became pregnant, David tried to cover his sin. He called her husband home from the war thinking Uriah would sleep with his wife while at home and assume he impregnated his wife.

But things did not go as expected (2 Sam 11:8-13). David did not count on Uriah's loyalty to his soldiers and his honorable character, which was greater than his king.

An unnecessary death

The reactions of the very first encounter with the clever adversary of our soul are seen in David's next decision—the murder of Uriah.

King David instructs his general Joab to put Uriah on the front line of battle then pull back from him. He took advantage of Uriah's loyal and honest character (2 Sam 11:14-17). And so, Uriah's unnecessary death was the consequence of David's ill-fated attempt to cover his sin.

The indictment

“You are the man!” Nathan told David. “This is what the Lord God of Israel says: I anointed you king over Israel and rescued you from Saul. I gave you your master Saul’s house and his wives. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if this weren’t enough, I would have given you even more." (2 Sam 12:7-8 GW)

What we see of David in this story lurks in all of us. His reaction to Nathan's parable reflects our natural unredeemed self.

We condemn ourselves when we cry out for justice on others without realizing our own wrongness and our need for mercy.

None of us are as innocent as we may think. None of us will avoid true justice—the accounting of our life before the One True and Righteous Judge. But we all need His mercy!

Judgment and restoration

Next week, I'll look into the consequences—the judgment—of David's sin with Bathsheba and Uriah and his response to it. It just might surprise you!

Judgment is a part of God's redemptive story. It's like drawing a line for what God says is acceptable in His eyes. It's not mere punishment. It has a purpose. God desires for His judgment to lead to correction and restoration.

Until then—

What bothers you most about David's actions?

His weakness of temptation, the adultery, the attempt to cover his sin, the murder of Uriah, or David's calculating hardness of heart? Why and which do you relate to most?

What we condemn in others is often what dwells in our own heart.