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Genuine Repentance

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Genuine Repentance

1 John 1:9

December 7, 2008

Today we’re going to study one of those big biblical words which often goes misunderstood, but before we start let me read a passage from “Experiencing God Day-by-Day.”

The reading for October 13 was entitled, “No Secrets” and the key Scripture Luke 8:17, says: For nothing is concealed that won’t be revealed, and nothing hidden that won’t be made known and come to light.

Blackaby goes on to say: One of Satan's subtle deceptions is that you can do things in secret that will never be revealed. This is simply not so. The Bible stresses that everything done in darkness will one day be brought to light. So before you commit yourself to do anything questionable, seriously ask yourself, “Am I willing for those around me to know what I am about to do? Am I willing for God to watch me participate in this activity?”

The knowledge that God sees what we do, the certainty that we are accountable for every word and action, ought to dissuade us from sin (2 Cor. 5:10). But we can become so alienated from God that even this knowledge does not deter us. God promises that He will publicly expose our sin so that we must give an account to others for our actions. Ultimately, everything we do will be exposed on judgment day.

Still, some people believe they can sin against God, their families, their employers, or their friends and never be discovered. God has provided a safeguard against sin: the certainty of disclosure. Scripture commands us to expose the deeds of darkness as we become aware of them (Eph. 5:11). As Christians we are to be the light that dispels darkness in our world. Sin cannot continue in the Christian's experience, for light cannot dwell with darkness. The only insurance against having your sins exposed is living a blameless life.

At one point in my life, I had a dream that God used in my life. At the time I was having a dry place spiritually. I started praying for something and I got to where it became begging God. Beware of begging God for things, or sending the message to God that there is something you need more than Him, or that He is HeHnot enough. I know about the promises of Scripture, and about "…whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours" (Mark 11:24). I was claiming it, and when it didn’t happen I was disappointed.

And then came the dream that God used. In the dream I saw God working in a powerful way that we only dream about. I saw God moving like a river washing across our land. I stood there watching and was filled with so much joy, real joy, soul satisfaction. It eclipsed everything that I might have previously called joy. When I got out of bed, I had a sermon outline in my mind. It had the following five points:

The first one is "God on the throne: a picture of holiness." We have to come back to that. We have lost the high and exalted view of God. God is indescribable glory. He dwells in unapproachable light. No one can see God and live. Our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31). We have to come back to God on the throne: a picture of holiness. Is God on the throne in your life? Is He Lord of all? Remember: Either He is Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all!

The second thing my dream showed me is "Sin in the mirror: a picture of brokenness." In the evangelical church we relegate sin to the newspaper or the neighborhood, and we spot sin everywhere but in the mirror where we look at ourselves. Most Christians are poor at seeing their own sin. You ask the average Christian, "What’s next on God’s agenda for sanctification in your life? What is God working on in your life right now?" They answer: "I don’t know." Sin in the mirror: a picture of brokenness. Ask yourself now, “What is God working on in me right now?” God is always either disciplining or pruning. He disciplines if you are doing something wrong; He prunes if you are doing something right. In “Secrets of the Vine”, Wilkinson gives a little chart/checklist which you will find interesting if you’re willing to look hard in the mirror! Are you?

The third point is "Self in the dirt: a picture of repentance." We want to go higher with God, but we don’t want to go lower. So we never get to the heart of the matter. Isaiah called our gifts to God, "vain oblations", meaning worthless,(1:13). Self in the dirt is getting down to earth. How about your own self? Self in the dirt: a picture of repentance. Repentance is always turning away from sin and self, and turning to God. It is always the cry of the prophets: repent, the day of the Lord is near. Nearer now than ever! Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will life you up (James 4:10). Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Luke 18:14).

Number four in my dream is "Christ on the cross: a picture of grace." Grace, undeserved merit, is awesome as the remedy for a problem that we see and acknowledge. Grace is the remedy for sin. It is a remedy for disease. When you see sin in the mirror and self in the dirt, grace is amazing, and grace is only through the cross. That Christ my God shouldst die for me!! God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense – that’s grace!

The final point which came out of God’s nighttime vision to me is "Spirit in control: a picture of power." The Lord gave Hosea 6:1-3 as a theme for this teaching: "Come, let us return to the Lord; for He has torn us, that He may heal us; He has struck us down, and He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him. Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;" and I love this promise: "His going out is sure as the dawn." Did the sun come up this morning? God is going forth to work in the world everyday, isn’t He?

He is in control. He has the power of these five pictures. The one I want to go back to and delve into this morning is: "Self in the dirt: a picture of repentance." The Biblical definition of repentance is turning away from sin, turning to God, and resolving to remain turned toward God. Although the dictionary may throw a heaping helping of regret and reform into its definition, according to God, as we will see this morning, regret and reform are results nor definitions of repentance. Repentance is the funnel through which all revival flows. You want your heart stirred? You want to get to a better place with God? Start with repentance. The word revival is not in the Bible but verb revive is. "Revive us, and we will call upon Your name" (Psalm 80:18). "Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, and revive me in Your ways" (Psalm 119:37). "I am exceedingly afflicted; revive me, O Lord, according to Your word" (Psalm 119:107.

Repentance is the first step in revival. So today we will discover what genuine repentance is, repentance that leads to revival and restoration. Second Corinthians 7 is a classic New Testament passage on repentance. The main theme of verses 8-11 is: repentance is good.

The Corinthian church was a problem church in the New Testament. They were worldly; they were divisive; they were carnal. Paul wrote letters to the Corinthians, two of which we have, and he made multiple visits to them. They were breaking Paul’s heart. Here in 2 Corinthians 7:8 Paul is talking about a letter that he had written: "For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it – though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while."

In the strong letter he had written to the struggling church in Corinth, Paul confronted many of their spiritual and moral problems. Suffice to say. He wanted them to “Stop it! Cut it out!" He loved them and he knew it was hard for them to hear his harsh words. Apparently he had some moments of doubt. "Did I say too much? Was I too hard on them? I love them. I don’t want to push them away." If you have ever been in that place it breaks your heart - a straying child, a sinning Christian friend?. You don’t want to say too much. Galatians 6:1 says we are to restore gently and lovingly and humbly.

 But they needed to hear this and someone had to speak to them. Paul said that they were wounded by the truth "only for a while." Why? The Holy Spirit penetrated their hearts and they received conviction over sin and repented. Paul said, "I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting" (v. 9). In other words, Paul said, "I am so glad now I said what I said. It was hard for a while. I didn’t want to lose you, but now I can see that the Holy Spirit used my words to bring conviction and it broke your heart. Now you have repented and I love the fact that God did that." That is the key: repentance: they turned from their sin.

The message in the mouth of every biblical messenger was repentance. You can’t miss that in the Old Testament. Every prophet was preaching the same message: "Repent!" Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Joel preached it: "Repent!" The same message was preached over and over and over. Why? Because this is the funnel through which all grace flows! If God can get us to a place of repentance, everything after that will be blessing. Until He gets us to that place, our service for Him is ineffective, our growth stunted.

Some object that "revival people" always preach repentance from the Old Testament. Go to the New Testament. How about John the Baptist? On what was he preaching? "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3:2). What about the disciples? Mark 6:12 tells us "they went out and proclaimed that people should repent." Luke 15:7 says that there will be "more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."

How about the early church? On the day of Pentecost, over 3,000 people were converted. What was the subject then? "Repent!" That was the subject in Acts chapter 2. And in Acts 3:19-20: "Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord." You want times of refreshing, do you? Repent, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come! Acts 17:30 tells us: "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent."  If you want to be restored to a right relationship with God – repent!

You say, "A lot of what you are saying is the message of the apostles. That’s not the heart of Jesus for me." Read Revelation 2:5 and 2:16: "Therefore repent," Jesus said. "If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of My mouth." Turn to  Revelation 3:19 with me now. What does Jesus say? "Those whom I love I correct, discipline" – what would He say in today’s Church? "Those I love, I bless? I pamper? Those I love, I favor with all sorts of wonderful things?" That’s not Jesus. "Those whom I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent." That is the Lord’s heart for us today, that we would come to a place of genuine repentance.

I don’t think most people know what repentance is. So then, what is it? Most people are living their Christian life leaning heavily on the sanctification process. The sanctification process is what God does in us to make us holy. It is His work and He is faithful to do it (2Thess 5:23-24) He set us apart to be like His Son, and as I’ve so often heard, “He ain’t finished with me yet.” But while we are waiting to be perfected by God, we give ourselves a quick scrub every so often using 1 John 1:9. Turn to it with me now. : "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." "If we confess our sins…" – do you know what it means? I heard a Bible scholar say once that to confess means to say what God says. What does God say about sin? He says it’s sin. So, what do I say? "It’s sin, God. I’m sorry, God, I sinned again. First John 1:9 says, ‘…He is faithful and just to forgive us.’ Sorry, God. Sorry." What a paltry understanding of confession!

Before you can ever say what God says about sin, you need to see what God sees. Part of genuine repentance is seeing what God sees. You have never truly confessed unless you have preceded it with repentance. Confession is easy if it follows the extremely difficult work of repentance. If repentance were easy, everyone would be doing it. Most Christians are trapped in a cycle of sin, confess, sin, confess, sin, claiming the grace of 1 John 1:9 – but not changing. Repentance is seeing our sin the way God sees it and turning from it. That is not an easy thing to do. If we are continually sinning and confessing, maybe we haven’t turned our back on that sin. That would be cheap grace. Paul says in Romans 6:11, “ Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of His wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? And that’s what we’re doing if we continually confess the same sin. Psalm 66:18 calls that: cherished sin.” Does that sound like genuine repentance?

Repentance is change in every way at every level. Repentance is change of job or change of where I live or change of friends or change socks. Repentance is change in the place where it is needed most. Repentance is change within my heart, mind, and will – the way I think about sin, the way I see sin, the way I feel about sin. Repentance doesn’t lead to change; repentance is the change. Repentance is recognition of sin for what it is, followed by heartfelt sorrow, culminating in a change of behavior. You don’t repent and repent and repent and repent about the same things over and over. It is not that we can’t fall back into something occasionally, but repentance is true change. I don’t think about sin the same way anymore. I think of it the same way God thinks about it. Gossip is abhorrent to God; therefore gossip is abhorrent to me. God hates sin; therefore I hate sin.

Repentance is my mind, my emotions and my will; it is the totality of who I am. To demonstrate this, let’s think about the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). He stole his inheritance and ended up moving in with the pigs. Then all of a sudden, the Bible says that he came to his senses. He had a change of mind. The Bible says that repentance is a deed wrought by God. It is doing what God wants. John 3:21 says: But those who do what is right come to the light gladly, so everyone can see that they are doing what God wants.". You can’t do this by yourself. Acts 5:31 says, "God exalted Him [Jesus] to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins." God gives this to you. Acts 11:18 says, "When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.’"  The New Living Translation says God gave the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life. Did you hear that? Repentance is a privilege granted to God’s children! Being able to turn from your sin and live sin-free is a favor God grants His elect. Praise the Lord!

In 2 Timothy 2:25 we find a classic passage on repentance being God’s work. Paul says concerning the Lord’s servants: "… gently teach those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people's hearts, and they will believe the truth. ..." If you or someone you love is trapped in sin, you or that person may not see it. When that prodigal son was in that pigsty and he came to his senses, God opened the eyes of his heart and mind. All of a sudden he looked around and thought, "What am I doing here?" So first of all, he had a change of mind. Then he had a change of heart. He had this feeling: "I am no longer worthy to be called a son. I deserve to be a slave." He felt differently about himself. Earlier he was puffed up, but then he humbly came to his senses and deflated. His mind and his heart were changed, but there is another part about repentance. When real repentance is happening, already the will is beginning to form a plan. "I will arise. I will go to my father. I will say to my father...." When a person is truly repentant, you don’t have to tell that one what to do. He or she will figure it out with God’s help. God does the work in the mind, in the emotions, in the will.

Every blessing God wants to pour out to us comes through this funnel of repentance; repentance in me before revival in me. When was the last time God dealt with you over your sin? When was the last time your eyes filled with tears about the unfinished work of sanctification in your own life? When was the last time God broke your heart with the gap between Jesus and you? You want revival? Repentance is where that starts – turning from sin to God.

God’s Spirit is like a surgeon who says, "That cancer has to go." Let’s root it out!”

The first cancer the Holy Spirit wants to root out is pride, the second is pleasure and the third is your priorities. Under the pride category it could be pride about your position. You want to be known. You want to be recognized. You have a position and you are anxious for others to know who you are or what you have accomplished. You have the cancer of pride. Pride is anti-God; where pride is, God is not.

Right beside pride of position is prestige – my status. I need applause, I need recognition. Then pride of power. You may say "I don’t need position and prestige; I have power. I rule my house." Powering up over others, using my influence unduly is pride. God is able to humble those who walk in pride. James 4:10 tells us to humble ourselves, so God can lift us up. Humble yourself before God has to!

There is another cancer to root out: the sin of pleasure. Pleasures are not wrong but wanting them in the wrong amount or at the wrong time, or with the wrong person makes pleasure into sin. The first in the pleasure category is sex: my needs come first, when I want them, the way I want them, what I want. It could be sin. And secondly pleasure derived from a substance, legal and illegal. "I have to have this." Do not be under the power of anything other than God, not a person, not a situation, not a substance legal or illegal. By God’s grace as a follower of Jesus, I will not be under the power of anything. If I am, it is sin.

Next is the cancer of "stuff." We have our priorities screwed up. We tell ourselves, I know for sure I will be happy when I have that car, that home, that trip. On one side we have people who think that having things is evil, and they get ready to take monastic vows. That doesn’t lead to godliness; that is legalism. And on the other side we have the prosperity theology, people who think that blessing and wealth are the same thing. I heard someone say once that we are to be rich because Jesus was rich. After all, He had a treasurer. Both legalism and liberalism are out of balance. We need balance. Psalm 62:10 says, "…if riches increase, set not your heart on them." It is not wrong to have things; it is wrong when things have you! God will not share the throne with anyone. When I think that stuff can make me happy and satisfy me, it is idolatry. And if it is idolatry, it is sin.

Another cancer  of priorities is the good that is left undone. James said that if you know to do good and you don’t do it, it is sin (Jas. 4:17). My first priority is to take care of myself. My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and to not take care of myself – to overeat, to under - exercise, overwork, worry or stress or over - entertain, is not balanced, to live in an unhealthy way – is sin. I have to take care of myself. I want to serve God for as many days as He will give me

Besides looking after my body, another priority is relationships. People matter to God. Be loving, kind, forgiving. To harbor in my heart resentment or unforgiveness is a cancer in the soul, and it is sin. We need to repent of it. "I’m wrong, God, I can’t hold that over her. I have to release her from it. Forgive me.”

I’ve been saving the best for last – our ultimate priority is God first. God first in my day, first in the first day of the week, first in the highest priority of my life. "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Ex. 20:3). Matthew 6:33 says “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”

Revival is just a dream until we get specific and repent about specific sins. Not, "O God, I want to be a better Christian." We need to repent from each and every sin that separates us from God.

Now let’s see what the Bible says are some signs of repentance. Luke 3:8 says: "Bear fruits in keeping with repentance." When repentance is in your heart, there is fruit that is going to be on your tree – love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. Jesus said, "You will know them by their fruit" (Matt. 7:20). We can know if a person is repenting, maybe not right away but eventually by the fruit they produce. That is why Acts 26:20 says, "… all must turn from their sins and turn to God—and prove they have changed by the good things they do."

From 2 Corinthians 7, we see five marks of genuine repentance. Turn to chapter seven now and we will look at them together. The first mark of true repentance is grief over sin. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10: "…for you felt a godly grief…For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation." The feelings accompanying repentance should be "grief." Now, not all grief is repentance. The Apostle Paul says there is a worldly grief or a worldly sorrow, like "Sorry I got caught," "Sorry I" versus true heart sadness over what I have done to God. Genuine repentance begins with a godly grief, soul anguish. That’s the first mark of true repentance.

The second mark is repulsion toward sin. Look at verse 11: "See what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you." The truly repentant heart is earnest, it is diligent. "I am done with my gossipy mouth Lord." "I am done with my lustful eye." "I am sickened by my addition." Notice in verse 11: "What indignation," a feeling of strong displeasure. The thing once desired becomes repulsive to you. "I don’t desire that anymore. I despise it." So one of the fruits of repentance is a repulsion. "I used to like that? Now it sickens me." That’s when "make no provision for the flesh" becomes a reality (Rom. 13:14).

The third characteristic of genuine repentance is restitution to others. Notice also in 2 Corinthians 7:11 Paul says, "…but also what eagerness to clear yourselves." It is the idea of fixing the fallout of my sin. When you are really repentant, you can’t wait to set the matter right with the people you have injured. "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all" (Rom. 12:18). God forgive us for claiming to be right with Him and raising holy hands to Him, but having no regard whatsoever for the way that our sin has affected others. Verse 11 says, "At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter." You have done everything that could have been asked of you. You have sought to see the relationship restored. This may not always be possible. You cannot undo an abortion or a divorce once your spouse remarries. You cannot turn back the clock if your children have grown and left home and you did not live a godly example

There are other regretful sins which may not be made right: an angry outburst, an alcoholic binge leading to fetal alcohol syndrome, a homosexual tryst, a private pornography, a repeated gluttony. Look at Esau (Heb. 12:16-17). He sought repentance diligently with tears. Why? He profaned his birthright for a morsel of food. He sinned against his inheritance. You say, "Can it be too late?" Yes. The Spirit of God will not always strive with all men (Gen. 6:3). "Is it too late for me?" Sometimes restitution is very difficult. How do you make restitution for an opportunity squandered? How do you make restitution for a pleasure consumed? That’s why sin is so serious.

Thank God there is good news also. A fourth mark of true repentance is revival toward God. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7:11, "…what fear, what longing, what zeal." Fear is the attitude of the heart that seeks a right relationship with God. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psa. 111:10). When you are living in a state of non-repentance, you don’t fear God. You do what you want. But when you repent, you have this fear upon you, fear of being in a wrong relationship with God, fear of losing His favor, fear of doing something to discredit His name or to forfeit His blessing.

Paul says, That is revival! And it came from repentance. Zeal is an overall passion for the things of the Lord, renewed interest after a period of indifference or decline. That is revival toward God: fear, longing, zeal.

The final characteristic of genuine repentance is moving forward, not looking back. Notice that it says in 2 Corinthians 7:9: "…you suffered no loss through us." Paul is not wasting their time. He is not talking about some trivial point that doesn’t lead to God’s best. If you get this work of repentance done, your life will higher planes. The highest plane is clearly stated in verse 10: "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret." If godly grief produces a repentance without regret, what does worldly grief produce? Regret. Repentance is not dwelling on the past. Repentance is life-changing. Repentance is, "God help me for the rest of my life. It’s going to be different and there is nothing that will get in my way."

How serious are you about righteousness? Make no provision for the flesh. None! The awesome thing about repentance is that it produces a genuine sorrow. Worldly sorrow produces grief and regret. Genuine, godly sorrow is looking ahead to what your life is going to be. "You can be different, you can be changed, you can be revived if you repent…."

Now, I believe you can cultivate a repentant heart. You can seek the Lord. "…break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that He may come and rain righteousness upon you" (Hos.10:12), and "You will seek Me and find Me. When you seek Me with all your heart, I will be found by you" (Jer. 29:13). You can seek God for repentance. If you ask Him for bread will He give you a stone? God is not reluctant to grant repentance. Grief over sin and repulsion toward sin are the first two evidences of true repentance.

I invite you to think about your specific sins. And I urge you to repent – turn from sin; turn to God.

Let’s pray: Lord, prick our heart about these things. Am I guilty? Am I like this? God, would you break my heart over this? Would you give me faith to believe that You honor genuine repentance so that I could be different? Could I break the cycle of sin, confess, sin, confess – that has trapped me for so long? Could You by Your Spirit obliterate the rationalizations that have held me in this place? Forgive me, God, for comparing myself to others when You are the standard. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts! The whole earth is filled with Your glory! Amen!

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