This past week a doctor said that millions and millions of Americans are experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, even though they haven't been directly affected by the events that have taken place on September 11. He said the terrorist attacks are taking their emotional toll on all Americans in all parts of the country, and we cannot afford to neglect dealing with it. This doesn't mean that we should all be on Lithium, but it does mean that we cannot pretend that we are unaffected by the recent tragedy.
In addition to the anger and fear that many people are struggling with right now is a nagging sense of sadness and despair. CNN and TIME reported that in the two weeks after the attack on America doctors prescribed almost 4 million anti-depressants and sleeping aids to people who were having trouble coping with the tragedy - an 8% increase. In New York City alone, there was a 27% increase in prescriptions for sleeping pills.
Strangely enough, most Americans - according to TIME surveys - don't fear that they, or someone in their family, will be exposed to anthrax or will be the target of a terrorist attack. But the fact that such attacks are happening has caused many people to struggle with sadness, depression, and anxiety. It's caused many people, who once felt optimistic about the future, to feel pessimistic about the coming days.
Many people are struggling with a nagging sense of worry, sadness, uneasiness, uncertainty about tomorrow. Our nation's leaders have told us how important it is that we move on with our lives, but, frankly, that's easier said than done. Since September 11, over 300,000 people have lost their jobs, and millions have experienced (at the very least) some kind of economic pinch. Current forecasts aren't particularly encouraging, and, on top of that, we've been told that further attacks on America are inevitable.
What we need to understand is that God uses trials and difficulties to bring His people to repentance. Really, every event of every day is God's call to repentance; to turn away from our sinful nature and turn to him. Whether the sun is shining and the birds are singing or the storm clouds are rolling in, God is calling you to him. Whether you win or lose, whether you succeed or fail, whether you're up or down, God is calling you to him.
I think the words of Jeremiah to the children of Israel are appropriate for us:
Jeremiah 25:5-6 (NKJV) "They said, 'Repent now everyone of his evil way and his evil doings, and dwell in the land that the LORD has given to you and your fathers forever and ever. 6 'Do not go after other gods to serve them and worship them, and do not provoke Me to anger with the works of your hands; and I will not harm you.'
Only as we repent will God be free to bless us.
A few years ago at a preaching conference one of the speakers said, "We need fewer 'feel good' sermons and more 'get right' sermons." The truth is that "get right" sermons are "feel good" sermons, because nothing feels better than being right with God. Feeling good about life begins with repentance. And repentance is something we all need.
A lady told a preacher that the wording of the United Methodist Communion Liturgy offended her, because it says, "We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness...we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart...we have not done your will...we have broken your law...we have not loved our neighbors..." She asked, "Why does the liturgy assume that we're such sinners?" He asked her, "Have you ever prepared for communion when these words weren't personally true?" She paused and said, "Well, no." The pastor said, "That's probably why they're there. If they ever don't apply to you, you don't have to say that part."
The words of this confession apply to all of us, and thus we all need to repent.
The word "repentance" has gotten a bad rap over the years, as if it is a negative thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Repentance is the most positive thing that could ever happen in your life. When you repent, you turn from sin to God. This is not a negative experience! When God calls you to repent, he doesn't shake an angry fist at you, he opens his loving arms to you. We'll expand on that a little later. But I want you to see that repentance is turning from sin to God:
1 Kings 8:47-48 (NKJV) "yet when they come to themselves in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You in the land of those who took them captive, saying, 'We have sinned and done wrong, we have committed wickedness'; 48 "and when they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul..."
Here we see that repentance is returning to God. Ezekiel says that it is turning away from sin:
Ezekiel 14:6 (NKJV) "Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "Repent, turn away from your idols, and turn your faces away from all your abominations.
Folks, America needs to repent, to turn from sin back to God. This is an obvious statement, and we all know that it's true. However, here's the mistake we often make. When a preacher says, "America needs to repent", the congregation often hears a loud "Amen" - and in the back of their mind they're thinking, "That's right. Those people in Hollywood who are making movies that corrupt the moral fiber of our society, they need to repent. Those people who 'play the music on the MTV' and show all those vulgar videos, they need to repent. Those liberal politicians in Washington DC who are trying to legislate God out of public life, they need to repent." Now, all of the above may be true, but the fact is that those people aren't here today, and none of us have any control over whether they repent or not. So listen to me very closely. I'm not calling for the entire nation to repent and turn to God, because the entire nation is not listening to me this morning. But you are. I'm challenging you to hear the words of Scripture and apply them to your life. You have no control over what anyone else does, but you can control what you do. Even if the rest of the world rejects God, you can walk in fellowship with Him.
The Apostle Paul said:
Acts 17:30 (NKJV) "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,
What is Repentance?
The main words in the Greek New Testament for repentance are the noun metanoia ("repentance") and the verb metanoeo ("to repent"). Originally, these Greek words meant: "to change one's mind". But the standard Greek-English dictionary does not list any New Testament passage where the meaning "to change one's mind" actually occurs. Repentance is used most often in scripture to mean: "turn from sin to God". It is to enter into harmonious relations or fellowship with God:
2 Corinthians 12:21 (NKJV) lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness which they have practiced.
Sin is just plain ugly, through and through. It breaks the heart of God and it ruins the lives of people. If you fail to repent of the sin in your life it will ultimately destroy you. And it's not so much a question of God "punishing" you for your sins - sin brings about its own punishment. When a parent tells a child not to touch a hot stove, and the child disobeys and does it anyway, what happens? The child gets burned. Who burned the child? An angry, vindictive parent? No, the hot stove burned the child. The loving parent tried to encourage the child not to touch the stove in the first place. This is why we need to repent, to live in sin is to bring great harm upon ourselves.
Although some of our troubles are not the result of our own sins, the fact is that most of them are. Through our sinful behavior, we make major contributions to our misery. Repentance means that we stop blaming other people for our problems, and we begin to take responsibility for ourselves.
In the Eagles' song "Get Over It", Don Henley sings:
I turn on the tube and what do I see
A whole lotta people cryin' "Don't blame me"
They point their crooked fingers at everybody else
Spend all their time feeling sorry for themselves
Victim of this, victim of that
Your momma's too thin; your daddy's too fat
Get over it!
Sin is a choice. It's always a choice. You can't blame it on your parents, or your personality, or your nationality, or your situation, or on what the other guy did to provoke you. You have to take responsibility for your actions. For example, your father may have had a bad temper, and you may have picked it up from him. Wherever you got it, you're the one that has to deal with it.
Repentance is not a negative experience, it is a positive experience. When you repent, you turn from doing things that are capable only of creating misery in your life, and you turn toward doing things that will create joy and fulfillment in your life. When you repent, you turn away from the things that are bent on destroying your life, and you turn towards the One who has promised to bless your life. "Repent" is not a negative message. When we encourage others to repent, it's not as if we're saying, "Repent, because you are so bad." We're saying "Repent, because God is so good." Repentance is not a punishment, it is a privilege.
Repentance and Salvation:
Now let me ask you a very important question, "Is repentance necessary for salvation? Do you have to turn from sin to be saved?" NO! I was reading a sermon this past week, and the writer said, "Over the last couple of weeks we have been looking at answering the basic question, 'What must I do to be saved?' We have looked at God's Word and have seen that for one to be saved, they MUST have faith, according to many passages like Romans 10:17 and Hebrews 11:6. Last week we looked at the step of confession. Romans 10:9 gives us the importance of confession as a step to salvation. From these last two messages we can see that faith alone is not what it takes to enter the kingdom of heaven. Faith is the first step in the process. Today we are going to look at the third step in God's plan of salvation. That step is repentance. After we look at some of the passages on repentance, you will see that it is an essential step to salvation, no more or no less important than faith and confession." According to this preacher, "repentance" - turning from sin - is necessary for salvation.
Another writer said, "Without repentance, there is no salvation. It is important to know all about repentance. We need to know what repentance is so that we may not be mistaken. It is important to know what repentance is so that it might be brought about in our own lives. Repentance is one thing that man does which affects heaven. All must turn from a life of sin to a life of righteousness if they wish to be saved."
I hope you understand that this is a serious issue. When talking about eternal life, we don't want to be mistaken about how to receive it. Do we? I sure don't!
The four Gospels and Acts present a united front. There is but one condition of eternal salvation; faith alone in Christ alone. The following references from John's Gospel are clear on this point:
John 3:16 (NKJV) "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
John 6:47 (NKJV) "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.
John 11:25 (NKJV) Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.
The Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke) also present faith as the one and only condition. However, they do so less often and less forcefully than John's Gospel. Why? Because the Synoptics are written to people who were already believers. References to the Gospel in them are not central to their purposes. John's Gospel, however, is written primarily to unbelievers. Do you know the primary purpose of John's gospel?
John 20:30-31 (NKJV) And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
"These are written" - this refers to all that John wrote. Why did he write them? "...that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name."
Now think with me, John wrote his gospel specifically to bring people to eternal life. Yet in the gospel of John, "repentance" is never mentioned. If repentance is necessary for salvation, John messed up. But the fact that John didn't mention repentance speaks volumes. He didn't mention it, because it isn't necessary for salvation.
The hermeneutical principle called "the analogy of faith" suggests that we can best understand unclear passages of Scripture by allowing related clear passages to shed light on them. This principle suggests that one should understand the occasional references to the Gospel in the Synoptics in light of the Gospel of John and not vice versa. John's Gospel clearly says that the sole condition of salvation is faith in Christ. That will inform our understanding of any so-called problem passage in the Synoptics.
Some passages from the Synoptics clearly confirm that the sole condition of eternal salvation is faith in Christ:
Luke 8:12 (NKJV) "Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.
The sole condition of salvation given by the Lord here is faith in Him alone. All who believe are saved:
Acts 16:31 (NKJV) So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household."
In direct answer to the question, "What must I do to be saved?", Luke reports Paul's sole condition: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ."
If turning from sin was a condition of salvation, my first question would be, "How much sin do I have to turn from? Which sins do I have to turn from?" Are those good questions to ask? You bet they are. What would the answer be? You really can't give one, because if you say you must turn from all sin, who would be saved? Nobody!
Let me give you a test to see if you understand this:
John 12:42-43 (NKJV) Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
Were these individuals saved? Were they Christians? Many would say, "No", because they did not confess Him. But the Scripture says, "They believed in Him."
Repentance brings fellowship, not salvation.
In the letters to the seven churches, in Revelation, the Lord continually calls believers to repent:
Revelation 3:19-20 (NKJV) "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. 20 "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
"Behold I stand at the door and knock." What does this mean? There are two primary explanations. 1. Salvation - Christ is calling unbelievers to salvation; He is begging them to let him in their heart. 2. Fellowship - Christ is calling believers back into fellowship with himself. Their pride has caused them to lose fellowship.
The first view is not correct; Revelation 3:20 is not a salvation verse. The Bible teaches that the Lord opens the heart so that a person can receive the gospel:
Acts 16:14 (NKJV) "Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul."
Our God is sovereign in every arena, including salvation. Christ is not a weak and helpless deity who begs men to let Him in their heart; He is the sovereign God of the universe who controls all things.
He goes on to say, "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten." The word "chasten" is the Greek paideuo, which means: "to train a child, to educate, practice discipline, correct." Every use of paideuo in the New Testament refers to believers. God only chastens His Children.
After God's warning that He will chasten, He urges the Laodicean's to repent. The word "repent" is the Greek word metanoeo. It is a call to separate from sin and enter back into harmony with God. Repentance results in restored fellowship. The Lord promises that if the Laodiceans repent, He will "dine with" them. The word "dine" is from the Greek word deipneo, which means: "take the principal (or evening) meal". Deipneo is the Greek term for the evening meal at the end of the day when family and friends would gather around the table together. This term is also used in the New Testament for the Lord's Supper. It pictures fellowship, communion. Revelation 3:20 is an invitation for the Laodiceans to repent so that they may fellowship with the Lord. Their fellowship was broken by their lukewarmness and pride.
Repentance is not a single act, but a lifestyle choice. It is a continuous evaluation that I make as I compare my life to God's word and seek to conform to the image of Christ. As I see areas that are drawing my focus away from God's will, I reset my focus on Christ and align my life with His will. It doesn't mean that I beat myself over the head and live in misery, but instead I choose to keep myself aligned to His godly path by focusing on Jesus Christ. He is the author and finisher of our faith. Jesus is the only way to be justified and forgiven so that we can have a vibrant relationship with God, and He is also the finisher of our faith. He is the goal we aim for, and the One who equips us to live the Christian life that is beyond our own abilities. Repentance is to recognize that God's plan is good and my path has no lasting benefit. Martin Luther had it right when he said that every day is a day of repentance
Just in case you feel like you have sinned so much that God is really sick of it and no longer wants a relationship with you, turn with me to Luke 15. No doubt Luke 15 is the greatest chapter on repentance in the entire New Testament, perhaps in the entire Bible:
Luke 15:11 (NKJV) Then He said: "A certain man had two sons.
The Father in this parable represents God, and the sons are believers. When the parable opens, they are sons of their Father, when it closes, they are sons of their Father, and during the parable they are always sons. Believer, once you are a son of God, you are always a son of God:
Galatians 3:26 (NKJV) For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
The parable opens with both sons in fellowship:
Luke 15:12 (NKJV) "And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.' So he divided to them his livelihood.
"Them" is a picture of God providing for us as believers.
Luke 15:13 (NKJV) "And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.
Here the younger brother leaves the fellowship of his Father. He turns from God to sin.
Luke 15:14-16 (NKJV) "But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 "Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 "And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
Here we see God's chastening - "he was in want."
Luke 15:17 (NKJV) "But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
He now realizes his sin and comes to his senses. What brought him to his senses?
2 Corinthians 13:5 (NKJV) Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?; unless indeed you are disqualified.
It might have been self-evaluation. But it may be that we need the help of others so that we see our sin; such as when Nathan confronted David with his sin:
Luke 15:18-19 (NKJV) 'I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 "and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants."'
Here is repentance. He has realized his sin, and he is confessing his sin and turning from it. In effect, the young man decided, "I want to repair the breach between me and my dad. Maybe I can put things right with an apology and by working for him."
This was a good decision. But it was flawed. His father was not interested in making the bargain his son was thinking about. His dad was prepared to receive him freely. His love for his prodigal boy was not conditioned on any kind of pledge to serve on the farm. Restoring harmony with his father was going to be ever so much easier than he had imagined:
Luke 15:20 (NKJV) "And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.
Please mark this. This is God's attitude toward a repentant sinner. Picture God running toward you, he grabs and kisses you. This is the compassionate love of your heavenly father.
Luke 15:21-24 (NKJV) "And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 "But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 'And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 'for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' And they began to be merry.
He greats the child with a robe, a ring and shoes, and he prepares a calf. This is a picture of fellowship. Notice what God says about his son, "this my son was dead and is alive again". Death is separation. This son was separated from the Father by his sin, but now after repentance he is alive again.
This is the joy of repentance, it brings fellowship with God. The prodigal son represents a Christian who has drifted far away from fellowship with the Father, and who likewise decides to "go home." Perhaps the Christian even plans to "make up" for failure by working extra hard for God. But on returning, once again there is the encounter with that same forgiving love first experienced at the moment of salvation-whether that moment was recent, or in the distant past.
It is always the same-whether we are coming to God for the first time or for the hundredth time. The Father is there with open arms and with an open heart to all who come to Him in repentance.
Believer, if you are living in sin - repent. Turn from your sin to God that you may experience the fullness of His fellowship. When you are in fellowship with God, you will be at peace no matter what is going on around you.