reconciliation

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 3 R's of the Gospel

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Some things just can't be improved on. Not that people don't try.

The 3 R's of education—reading, (w)'riting, and (a)'rithmetic—are still essential to a sound, practical education. Various approaches and strategies of learning have been tried, but the basics, and even the old one-room schoolhouse environment, have great merit.

Fads and trends come and go in most areas of life, especially when it comes to diets. The basics of good nutrition, limiting calories, and regular exercise are still fundamental to good health.

So it is with the Christian faith, especially its core—the gospel. Different paradigms and approaches are popular for a time, but the redemptive story of God's love is still the most simple and powerful element of Christianity.

Sharing the gospel

Over the years, I've heard sure-fire ways to share the gospel. The idea being that someone would have to believe once they heard one of these approaches. The problem is one size doesn't fit all.

Another difficulty is being so focused on the approach, we fail to connect with people in a personal way. They sense this and resist or outright reject what we offer.

When I was wandering in spiritual lostness, and under the influence of a mind-altering substance, I was approached by a couple college guys. I was in a different reality and mindset than them.

After sharing their plan of salvation with me, they tried to fend off any resistance I might have. They told me, "You can still have a sports car and be a Christian!" I was not in the least interested since I subscribed to the popular mantra of the day—turn on, tune in, drop out.

As addressed in my book, evangelism and sharing the gospel are too easily reduced to, "Jesus died for your sins." While this statement is true, it doesn't tell the whole story—the gospel story of redemption.

The 3 R's of the gospel

The essential gospel (my version) has three elements— He (Jesus) came, He died, He rose. These three essentials are also expressed in what I'll call the 3 R's of the gospel—relationship, redemption, and restoration.

Although these are echoed throughout the Scriptures, the Apostle John sums up these three elements in his first epistle—

  1. Relationship— 1 John 1:3
  2. Redemption— 1 John 1:7
  3. Restoration— 1 John 2:1-2

Relationship

Relationship with God has always been at the heart of the gospel. For starters, humanity was created in God's image (Gen 1:26, 27). Abraham, the man of faith, was a friend of God and seen as righteous because of his trust in God (James 2:23). And faith itself is about relationship—

Without faith no one can please God. Anyone who comes to God must believe that he is real and that he rewards those who truly want to find him. (Heb 11:6 NCV)

Jesus called His closest followers friends (John 15:15) and was condemned for being a friend to tax collectors and sinners (Matt 11:19)

Relationship with God should always be a priority when sharing the gospel. Relationship is at the heart of redemption.

Redemption

Redemption reveals the heart of God. This is expressed in the first eighteen verses of John (John 1:1-18), which summarizes the whole book of John.

It's easy to get caught up with terminology and definitions when explaining redemption. A simple way to describe it is the act of rescue and reconciliation. This is expressed in 2 Cor 5:17-19.

If our intent in sharing the gospel isn't reconciliation, then we're missing the point—a point illustrated by the three parables of Jesus in Luke 15.

Restoration

I sum up the idea of God's work of restoration as the end which is the beginning again.

What was lost in Eden is restored by Jesus on the cross. The redemptive work of Jesus restores humanity to a state of innocent relational trust, which Adam and Eve knew in the beginning.

This points us toward the end of the age, as seen in the book of Revelation. We look forward to the Lord's return for His restoration of all things (Acts 3:19-21; Rev 21:3-5).

Keep it simple and true

Much more could be said but isn't necessary. Sharing our faith and God's story of redemption should be both simple and true, not clever.

God desires a relationship with all people, and we, His creation, were created for that purpose. Relationship with God comes through faith—trusting in Him and His work of reconciliation on the cross.

Deep down, everyone knows they need restoration. King David declared, "He restores my soul" (Psalm 23:3). This is what a world wandering in darkness seeks, and we followers of Christ are charged with sharing it with them (Matt 28:19; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8).

When was the last time you shared the gospel and your story of faith with someone?

Back on Track Again—Restoration and Correction

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Every life has its ups and downs, twists and turns, and unexpected changes. How we handle these situations has a lot to do with our character and personality, our upbringing and background, and even our temperament.

One of the wisest men in the world, King Solomon of ancient Israel, concluded—

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Eccl 1:2 NIV)

But he realized—

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens... (Eccl 3:1 NIV)

It's impossible to predict with accuracy what the outcome will be in the events of our life. No one can see that far down the line except God and He keeps us in suspense for our own good.

None of us know for certain how we'll react given a set of circumstances. This is one reason we need redemption. A reconciliation that brings restoration. But God's restoration often includes correction to get us back on track with Him.

An accurate prediction

A recurring problem among the apostles—the 12 specially chosen disciples—was an argument over who was the greatest. This is a universal human argument—who's king of the hill?

But Peter was the point man of the twelve, so Jesus expected more of him.

Jesus knew Judas, one of the twelve, would betray Him and warned all His followers about this. He told Peter that the devil would test him in a great way but he was to "strengthen your brothers" after this took place (Luke 22:31-32).

As typical, Peter protested any thought of weakness in himself and boasted he would never deny the Lord even if all the rest deserted Jesus.

“Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33 NIV)

That's you and me. We tend to think of ourselves as the exception to the rule that puts us in the best light.

Then Jesus told Peter something he couldn't imagine happening—

“I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:34 (NIV)

False confidence

Peter's claim turned out to be an empty boast based on false confidence in himself.

As the story unfolds, Jesus is arrested by a mob carrying torches and the once bold disciples ran for their lives. They abandon the one whom they claimed they would follow anywhere no matter the cost.

Peter tries to stay close to where Jesus is held by the Jewish leaders' council but hangs back in an attempt at stealth. His identity is uncovered, first by a servant girl, then by two others who recognize him and his Galilean accent (Luke 22:54-59).

Each time, Peter denies he knows the Lord with increasingly strong words. After the third time, the rooster crows to signal the coming dawn. But for Peter, it's a dark night of the soul.

The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”
And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:61-62 NIV)

The Lord's prediction of Peter's three denials pierces his heart with a loving look from Jesus. How far Peter had fallen in his own estimation of himself!

Peter couldn't meet his own expectations, let alone fulfill the Lord's calling on His life.

But all was not lost. And yet, Peter needed to realize his inability to follow the Lord or fulfill His call on Peter's life by his own effort and strength.

Restoration

As mentioned last week, Jesus restored Peter after his three denials by one question repeated three times. The whole story is found in John 21:1-22 and is worth the read.

Here's a condensed version for the sake of a shorter post.

Reversion

Following the Lord's death and resurrection, Jesus appeared to His followers to reaffirm all He taught. He was teaching them to walk by faith, guided by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:2-3).

But things were different now. Jesus was no longer with them in person or so they thought. So, Peter reverted to his livelihood before Jesus called him. He went fishing.

After fishing all night and catching nothing, Jesus appears on the lake shore but they don't realize it's Him. He calls out to them—

“Friends, haven’t you caught any fish?” They answered him, “No, we haven’t.” He told them, “Throw the net out on the right side of the boat, and you’ll catch some.”
So they threw the net out and were unable to pull it in because so many fish were in it. (John 21:5-6 GW)

Just as when Jesus called Peter to follow Him (Luke 5:1-11), a miraculous catch of fish revealed who stood on the shore. Peter responds in his usual impulsive way. He jumps in the water and swims to shore.

Breakfast on the beach

Jesus waits on the shore with fish grilling over burning coals and a loaf of bread. He invites them to eat breakfast and encourages them to add their fish to the grill.

None of the disciples ask Jesus if it's Him. They knew it it was He in their hearts.

Just as when Jesus fed 5000 people, Jesus gave them fish and bread to eat. This was the third time Jesus appeared to them following His resurrection.

All of this sets the table for Jesus to restore Peter but in an expected way.

Do you love Me?

Jesus asks Peter the same question three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than the other disciples do?” (John 21:15-17 GW)

Each time Peter affirms his love for the Lord but he's grieved that the Lord asks Him three times. Each time the Lord gives Peter a strong exhortation—

"Feed my lambs... Take care of my sheep... Feed my sheep!"

Jesus was restoring Peter after the three denials but He also reaffirmed His call on Peter's life.

This happens a lot. God restores and corrects us at the same time.

We want the restoration but the correction hurts our fragile ego. This is proven out in Peter's case as the story continues.

Follow Me!

Once the three-question restoration and correction process is finished, Jesus tells Peter that his life is not going to end as he chooses. But the Lord's admonition is the same as at the beginning—"Follow Me!"

Again, Peter reacts! He looks to his fellow disciple John and wants to know what will happen with his life. But again, Jesus corrects Him. Make that rebukes him—"...what is that to you? You must follow me.”

This last part of the story illustrates our selfish human nature. We want to know how God deals with everyone else when it's different than what the Lord expects of us.

Why does he or she get to do such and such or not have to do the same as me?

This is where following Jesus requires us to commit our lives to Him and Him alone. Following Jesus is a personal commitment to Him, not a set of beliefs to hold or rules for life.

God's restoration connected to correction

In his well-known Psalm 23, David says of the Lord, "He restores my soul" (Ps 23:3). King David, a man after God's own heart, understood the need for correction and restoration.

David experienced God's correction and restoration after his adulterous encounter with Bathsheba. After, he had Bathsheba's husband Uriah murdered. God's correction was connected to God's restoration of David.

God's restoration isn't just a removal of guilt. When Jesus restores us, He enables us to move forward in life by faith to follow Him. He sets things in order in our life as we follow Him by faith.

Jesus is the One who restores us but we need to trust Him to do this and submit to His leadership in our lives.

This includes His correction to get us back on track with His call on our life.

How are things between you and Jesus?

Are you on track with His call on your life to follow Him?


Here's a link to a message I preached related to this post— Back on Track

The Hope and Restoration Embedded in Judgment

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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 Journey of Faith

Quoting a truth is easier than living it out in real life. Putting truth on a plaque or poster is nice, but it doesn't change a person's life.

Memorization of Scripture is good for retention, but it won't produce transformation in a person's life on its own. What we know in our minds doesn't automatically bring change in our hearts or our self-will.

Truth doesn't bring transformation until it's transferred from thought into action, which requires an active, personal faith.