Rethinking Advent – Joy

This week marks the lighting of the joy (pink) candle. This is the third candle lit, going from expectation of the coming Messiah to longing for His presence now to joy at His appearing. In this world, marked by conflict and division, anger and turmoil, disappointment and despair, we light this candle to proclaim “Jesus came to give us joy unspeakable and full of glory!” Like Mary, we can sing, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Each day this week we need to contemplate on what a great gift of grace has been given to us. The Holy Son of God came to take our sin guilt, came to pay the penalty we owed to the Heavenly Father, came to give us a new birth, a new life, a life to be lived in Him. It is for that reason we rejoice. Our salvation has come. We who believe have been given a new spirit and are being fitted for our new home with Christ.

Yes, life remains difficult. Yes, we mess up day by day. We are still on our journey after all; we haven’t arrived yet. But, we are confident that as we confess our sins and repent of them that we will be forgiven and the grace we ask for will be given to us. We will still encounter sin. We will encounter it in this evil ,fallen world and we will encounter it hiding in our own lives. When we encounter it we can bring back to mind the words of the angel, “You are to name him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. Matthew 1:21”

If you can’t rejoice over that thought this week, then you have nothing to be joyous about. He came to seek and to save those who were lost. He found me. Has He found you?

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The Days of Noah

Recent events in our country have stirred the church into an uproar. People I come into contact with are asking, “What does this mean for the church?”, “How should we respond?”, “Will we see persecution for speaking the truth, will be prosecuted for hate speech for preaching the Bible?”

While I do not pretend to know all the ramifications of the recent Supreme Court decision, I do know this: light shines brighter the darker it is outside. In our work around the globe, I have seen Christians and the Church do far more with less, in much more hostile conditions than the American church even contemplates doing. If we had been busy preaching the gospel without compromise, sharing our lives and beliefs with others, living righteously and not winking and dismissing sin in the Body, we would never have come to this point. Confession of sin and repentance is a foreign language in most churches. Cultural Christianity has been laid bare and found wanting, and all the hand-wringing in the world isn’t going to change things.

Now, more than ever, the Church is to continue her mission — rescuing people from the kingdom of darkness by proclaiming Jesus as the only hope for mankind. We are to be salt and light, exposing evil and flavoring the world with good deeds so that even are enemies are forced to acknowledge that we are beneficial and give glory to our God.

American Christianity has lived in a cocoon for so long, we believed we were never going to face persecution. We believed we were the apple of God’s eye, and He would never let us go through hard times. After all, we are the ones saving the world through our mission efforts. Our mistake was that of Israel. They also believed this and could not fathom God sending them into captivity. They winked at sin and corruption in their midst and believed that they were morally superior to other nations. It took centuries to knock that out of their heads. Seventy years in exile, decades under occupation, finally expulsion from their homeland that God had given to them. What makes us think God will deal with us any differently?

Now is the time for the Church to humbly acknowledge its failings, repent of making itself an idol and go back to our first love, Jesus. We need to do the things we did at the first — mortifying sin in our bodies, following Jesus without regard to cost and rejoicing when we are found worthy to suffer for His name. Our example should be the 3 Hebrews in the Book of Daniel. They did not bow to political correctness, they boldly told the truth, they lived uncompromising lives and when faced with punishment they did not whine or cry but stood fast, willing to endure whatever the penalty was, even if it cost them their life. When we act like they did, the church will once again become a force that will change society.

This, I believe, can be our finest hour. We have a great opportunity to declare our beliefs and to live them out while the world is watching. Let those who come behind us, find us faithful.

I am also reloading a podcast called “The Days of Noah” that I preached some time ago. I find it appropriate at this time.

Excerpt from The 180 Project

The following is an excerpt (unedited) from the second chapter of our work in progress, The 180° Project. Please be in prayer as work continues and the final chapters are being written: 

Riding on a carousel is great fun for thousands of children. Brightly painted horses, enchanting music and shining lights all add to the experience. One can climb on a gaily decorated pony and go up and down while revolving around and around or sit upon a horse transfixed on a pole, forgoing the vertical movement. No matter which one you ride upon, when the carousel stops its spinning you are back where you started. It is a pleasant ride, but one that takes you nowhere.

For many people, a carousel ride is an apt description of their spiritual life. If you have attended the same church regularly for a long time, you have probably observed such people. As a pastor, I have lost track of the number of people caught up on a spiritual carousel, a merry-go-round of misery that they cannot stop.

Week after week, the same individuals are at the altar pouring out the same confessions. “God, I’m sorry I got drunk again Friday night. I won’t do it anymore.” “Lord, I am ashamed of looking at pornography. I promise to never watch it again.” “God, I’m going to clean up my language this week.” “Lord, I’m sorry for…”

There they kneel, pouring out tears Sunday after Sunday, and yet their lifestyle never changes. At the altar they seem so sincere, so broken-hearted but there is no different in their life after they walk out the doors of the church. For many people, coming to the altar only has a placebo effect, the spiritual equivalent to a sugar pill. Their sincerity is short lived because it is emotion based and emotions change mercurially.

They have confessed, but not repented. The difference between the two is enormous, as we shall see in more detail in chapter three, when we break down the elements of biblical repentance. Confession is the first step; it is necessary but it is not biblical repentance.

They are sorry, to an extent. They are sorry that their sin has been exposed, sorry for the repercussions that are following them, the consequences they must now face. They may even want to reform, to stop their destructive habits, but not so much that any real effort is expended. Should God take away their desires for their sinful habits they would be well pleased. For them to exercise self discipline and take responsibility for their actions – well, why should they do that?

If God really cared, they reason, He could heal them, cleanse them, make them strong enough to conquer their demons. God is entreated as a magic genie or cosmic vending machine instead of a holy, righteous, jealous God who expects His followers to grow and mature in faith.

While God can pick you up off the spinning horse and throw you off the carousel the simple reality is that He rarely does. Never in Scripture is complete victory over every temptation instantly granted to anyone. Instead, we are required to submit daily to His Lordship, learning how His grace is sufficient, how His power is more than adequate for any battle we face. One is more likely to hear God say, “Go, and sin no more,” putting the responsibility back on us.

Mankind is called upon to endure as a soldier of the cross, not to ask for wings to fly over the troubles of the world. We are to pick up our cross and follow Jesus daily, not to ask for the cross’ removal.

What we desire is instant sanctification, not on-going reformation. God is at work transforming us day by day into the likeness of His Son. What we want is a short cut devoid of any hard work on our part. Scripture teaches us that God works in us and through us, as well as for us. Until we decide to come aboard the process His way, we will remain frustrated by our lack of spiritual progress.

For far too long, churches have taught a false definition of repentance. As a result, whole generations have grown up without the slightest clue as to what biblical repentance truly is.

Richard Blackaby once made this astute observation:

The problem with (an altar call for rededication) is that it is not biblical. The crux of the gospel message is not a call to rededication, but a call to repentance. John the Baptist preached repentance (Matt. 3:2). Jesus preached repentance, both in His earthly ministry and as the resurrected Lord (Matt. 4:17; Rev. 3:19). If one’s previous commitment did not keep him walking in obedience, a re-commitment is no more likely to make him faithful. The proper response to disobedience is not a commitment to try harder, but brokenness and repentance for rejecting the will of Almighty God. God looks for surrender to His will, not commitment to carry it out. Rather than asking church members to repeatedly promise to try harder, churches must call their people to repent before Holy God.”

The concept of repentance gets muddled up with sorrow, regret, remorse and penance. While elements of each of these things can be present in biblical repentance, there is much more to this concept.

Saying one is sorry (showing remorse) and promising to never do an action again is commendable, but it falls 90̊ short of biblical repentance. Feeling sorrow or regret over the pain or loss one has caused by their actions is a necessary component of biblical repentance, but by themselves they fall completely short of the biblical idea. Doing penance, or making restitution for a wrong is commendable but it doesn’t necessarily include the elements of sorrow or regret. By the same token, one may be sorry they were caught or sorry for the consequences of an action and yet make no attempt to give restitution to the one injured or stolen from. They may also have no remorse over the action itself.

Biblical repentance is a 180̊ change. Not only is one regretful over causing the grievance and ceased the offensive action, but they will replace that action with doing good in its place. Even beyond that, this good will have at its core the desire to serve God through that action.

For example, Scripture tells us not to have coarse or vulgar language coming out of our lips but to speak those things which are edifying or that build one another up in the Lord.

  Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29 NASB

Merely cleaning up one’s language isn’t enough, that is only a 90̊ change. A change for the better, to be sure, but far from the 180̊ change which includes uplifting and encouraging words that the Bible commands us to do.

Another example would be the command to refrain from stealing. Not only are we told not to do this in Ephesians 4:28, but we are told to go to work and provide for others so that others will not be tempted to steal.

 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. NASB

In our two examples, then, biblical repentance looks like this:

Old Habit: Replaced By: For this Purpose:
Vulgar Language Edifying Language Building up others
Stealing Work Helping others

Good Definitions of Repentance

Again, as part of our research in putting together our newest resource, The 180º Project, we have found some good thoughts concerning biblical repentance. Some of these we share below. While not all of these will make it into our final book, all of them are worthy of contemplation. If you run across any that you would like to share with us, please email them to us at taethne@outlook.com.  Please enjoy”

[Repentance] is not a merely intellectual change of mind or mere grief, still less doing penance, but a radical transformation of the entire person, a fundamental turnaround involving mind and action and including overtones of grief, which result in (spiritual) fruit. — D.A. Carson

Repentance is more than just sorrow for the past; repentance is a change of mind and heart, a new life of denying self and serving the Savior as king in self’s place. — J.I. Packer

Remorse precedes true repentance. Changed behavior follows true repentance. But this necessary prelude and postlude of true repentance are not themselves the essence of repentance. True repentance is a denial that anything in us ever would or ever could satisfy God’s holiness or compel His pardon. We humbly concede that we can offer nothing for what He alone can give. Then we rest in His promise to forgive those who humbly seek Him… Repentance, therefore, is fundamentally a humble expression of a desire for a renewed relationship with God – a relationship that we confess can be secured only by His grace. — Bryan Chapell

Our Lord’s idea of repentance is as profound and comprehensive as His conception of righteousness. Of the three words that are used in the Greek Gospels to describe the process, one emphasizes the emotional element of regret, sorrow over the past evil course of life, metamelomaiMatt. 12:29-32; a second expresses reversal of the entire mental attitude, metanoeoMatt. 12:41, Luke 11:32; 15:7, 10; the third denotes a change in the direction of life, one goal being substituted for another, epistrephomaiMatt. 13:15 (and parallels); Luke 17;4, 22:32. Repentance is not limited to any single faculty of the mind: it engages the entire man, intellect, will and affections… Again, in the new life which follows repentance the absolute supremacy of God is the controlling principle. He who repents turns away from the service of mammon and self to the service of God. —Geerhardus Vos

It is one thing to love sin and to force ourselves to quit it; it is another thing to hate sin because love for God is so gripping that the sin no longer appeals. The latter is repentance; the former is reform. It is repentance that God requires. Repentance is “a change of mind.” To love and yet quit it is not the same as hating it and quitting it. Your supposed victory over a sin may be simple displacement. You may love one sin so much (such as your pride) that you will curtail another more embarrassing sin which you also love. This may look spiritual, but there is nothing of God in it. Natural men do it every day. —Jim Elliff

Thoughts on Repentance

Many times repentance is illustrated by having a person walk in one direction and then turn around and walk in the opposite direction. The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines “repent” as “to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life”. Repentance is a change of mind and attitude that involves a conscious turning away from wrong actions, attitudes, thoughts and habits that conflict with a Godly lifestyle and biblical commands, and an intentional turning toward doing that which the Bible says pleases God.
As I reflect upon this, I find that many people do not do a 180 degree turn-around so much as they stop at 90 degrees. By this I mean that they stop doing what is wrong but do not replace it with what is right. One only needs to read the words of John the Baptist or the Apostle Paul to see how incomplete that is. The one who steals is to steal no longer but also to work and earn what he needs. Even more, he is to earn enough so that he has excess in order that he can give to those without so that they no longer are tempted to steal. One is to stop talking with a filthy mouth and bless and edify people instead. We are commanded to not only forgive our enemies but to pray that God blesses them, while blessing them ourselves.
In order to tell is a person is truly repentant, John the Baptist gives the definitive proof – do good works (produce fruit) in keeping with that repentance. Talk is cheap. One can pray seeking forgiveness for one’s wrongdoing but never obtain it because they have no intention of repenting. Repentance is often the forgotten aspect of salvation, in that we are not forgiven by God unless we come to Him with a repentant heart.
I.C. Herendeen says is well, when he states, ” For salvation, “repentance unto life” is just as necessary as is faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. No sinner was ever pardoned while he remained impenitent, while he remained in rebellion against God and His authority, and without submitting himself whole-heartedly to His Lordship. This involves the realization in his heart, wrought therein by the Holy Spirit, of “the sinfulness of sin” (Rom 7:13), of the awfulness of ignoring the claims of God and of defying His authority. Repentance is a “holy horror and hatred of sin, a deep sorrow for it, a contrite acknowledgment of it before God, and a complete hear forsaking of it.To exhort sinners to be saved by “Accepting Christ as their Saviour” without pressing upon them the imperative necessity of repentance is dishonest, and is to falsify God’s terms of salvation, for “Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 17:3) is the Divine dictum. The sinner must either repent or perish, there is no other alternative. And since “All have sinned” (Rom. 3:23) all therefore need to “repent and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15) else they will be “punished with everlasting destruction” (2Thess. 1:9). To delay repentance then is most perilous.”
I end these thoughts with the words of Charles Hodge, a great man of God. He says, “The sure test of the quality of any supposed change of heart will be found in its permanent effects. Whatever, therefore, may have been our inward experience, whatever joy or sorrow we may have felt, unless we bring forth fruits meet for repentance, our experience will profit us nothing. Repentance is incomplete unless it leads to confession and restitution in cases of injury; unless it causes us to forsake not merely outward sins, which others notice, but those which lie concealed in the heart; unless it makes us choose the service of God and live not for ourselves but for Him. There is no duty, which is either more obvious in itself, or more frequently asserted in the Word of God, than that of repentance.”
Let us take heed of the words of John the Baptist and truly repent of sin in our life.

Confession and Repentance – pt 2

As we saw yesterday, confession is taking our repentance and allowing the church to hold us accountable so we do not continue in the same pattern of sin. So often, we forget that we have been saved into the body of Christ. Our actions, both good and bad, reflect on Christ and on the church. What we do in our personal lives is everyone else’s business.

When a person confesses their shortcomings, burdens and sins – the church is then empowered to help them and share their burden as Scripture commands. People aren’t simply to acknowledge another’s confession and say, “I’ll pray for you.” They are to act. For example, if a person was to confess not reading and studying Scripture, another brother or sister should immediately offer to spend time with them weekly in studying the Scripture together. Or, if a person was to confess they had a drinking problem, another brother who has had victory over that sin would offer to counsel, support, hold them accountable. In this way we fulfill the law of Christ.

Confession leads the church into actually living the shared life. In a later post I will answer some common objections but I leave you with this today – does your church practice a healthy discipline of confession? Why not?

Confession and Repentance – pt 1

One of the best definitions of confession I have run across was written by Dr. Richard Krejcir. He writes the following: “Repentance is before God; confession is before God, then having others hold us accountable to our faith. The distinction between confession and repentance is that confession is taking our repentance and telling someone besides God (of course you have to go to Him first and foremost!) to hold us accountable.”

This is an area of Christian discipline I find to be lacking in most people’s lives, and in the life of a church as well. Tomorrow I will continue to develop thoughts on the discipline of confession.