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?

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.

Easter Giveaway — Audio Book

For a limited time, Ta Ethne is giving away a free audio copy of The 180 Project: The Power of Biblical Repentance.  Fill out the contact form (substituting your information, of course) and request a free audio book, then find and follow us on twitter. There are only 25 copies available during this free promotion so get yours now. Once they are gone, they are gone.

The Power of Biblical Repentance

Yes, The 180º Project has been delayed for a few months now. Good news is that it is headed into the final stretches and will be ready for editing by the end of July. To whet your appetite, here is an excerpt from the book — Enjoy.

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

 

Biblical repentance has, at its end goal, a purpose that God uses to witness of His saving power to a watching world. As people see a transformation take place in a life, a metamorphosis of character and lifestyle, God is glorified. The Bible verse, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 NASB) comes to mind as we explore the heart of Biblical repentance. The good works are not done for recognition. They are not done out of pride. They stem from a heart so completely changed a person cannot help but to do them. They flow from gratitude for God’s grace. They flow from love that channels through them from God to their fellow man. Biblical repentance paves the way for the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit to be manifested in the world.

A person is no longer a thief and more than a reformed thief – he is now a philanthropist. Another person is no longer a foul-mouthed shrew, but an encouraging, uplifting motivator of those in distress. A third is no longer an abuser and manipulator of people but a champion for the oppressed, spending their time and energy in providing justice for those with no voice.

All of these things begin with a broken, repentant heart that is open to receiving the transforming power of God’s Spirit. What makes the transformation different is the purpose and motive behind the new behavior that is occurring. Everything is now done so that the recipients of the changed behavior do not just enjoy the benefits, but that they are actively being drawn towards the love of God (if an unbeliever) or deeper into the love of God (if they are already a Christian).

God doesn’t just change a heart so a person becomes better but so that he or she becomes an instrument drawing all mankind to Himself so His power is displayed. One word, above all others, captures this transformation. That word is metamorphosis.

The phenomenal transformations of a caterpillar into a butterfly and a tadpole into a frog may be the best illustrations of the 180̊ shift biblical repentance brings about in a person. This metamorphosis is spoken of several times in Scripture.

 

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NASB

 

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Titus 3:5-6 NASB

 

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2 NASB

 

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.       2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB

 

These verses, among others, show us the glorious reality of a life that is now completely different than what it used to be. They show us the delightful possibility of what a life can become, if only one allows the Holy Spirit to rule and reign. The Apostle Paul himself is an excellent example of a transformed life. From a brutal persecutor of the Christian faith, Paul is metamorphosized into a tireless champion and propagator of the Gospel. The very institution he was trying to destroy finds much of its foundational beliefs expounded and clarified by Paul. Such a remarkable transformation is evidence of a changed life.

This type of story is repeated over and over throughout the Scriptures. Jacob transforms from a liar and a cheat into a patriarch of great faith. Manassah goes from being one of the most wicked kings Israel ever knew to instituting religious reform. Peter, who cowardly denies knowing the Lord on the night of His arrest, boldly becomes the leader of the fledgling church and goes to his own martyrdom proclaiming his faith.

At the heart of every Biblical story of a transformed life is a repentant attitude. There is a conviction of wrong-doing, a remorse for causing pain and suffering, a crying out to God for forgiveness and an empowerment by the Holy Spirit to do wonderful works in His name.

Biblical repentance is more than sorrow and more than regret. It is more than remorse and more than penance. It is more than a sincere person crying out of distress over a ruinous lifestyle, powerless to keep from falling back into sinful habits. It is more than a penitent crying out, week after week at the altar over the same mistakes, trapped in a merry-go-round of deceit. Biblical repentance leads to a changed life that is fundamentally different in character than what it used to be. It has been transformed by the power of God. The old has passed away, it is no longer there, haunting a person. The new has come, filled with the joy of the Lord’s salvation.

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

Why Jonah Is Relevant To The Western Church

The book of Jonah has much to say to contemporary Christians. Those in the Western Church should particularly take the time to re-examine their own lives in light of the teachings found in this powerful story. Let me illustrate some of the lessons we can find in Jonah.

1) Jonah shows us our failure to share God’s concerns for the salvation of others.  Why else would the Western church spend so much time and money on itself and not on evangelizing those who have yet to hear the gospel? Why else would Christianity be shrinking in the Western world? We have failed to preach the good news of the kingdom – repentance of sin. Yes I believe that salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9) and that He has elected those He will save. I also believe He has elected us, His servants, to be the means by which that salvation is offered. Otherwise He would simply take us to heaven the moment we were born again. We are called to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. Why has it taken 2,000 years and we still have thousands of unreached, unengaged people groups on our planet? The church needs to call a worldwide fast and solemn assembly for repenting to God of our blatant disregard of a simple command. As Jonah was unconcerned for the spiritual needs of the Ninevites, we are unconcerned with the spiritual needs of much of the world.

2) Jonah shows us our failure to value souls more than gourds. A mere pittance is spent by the church on missions compared with the latest gadgets, gizmos and large sanctuaries here at home. Instead of using those blessings to penetrate the darkness we have become enamored with our toys and value them more than souls. If it took all we had, if we had to bankrupt every church to see one soul come to salvation, it would be a bargain. A soul is of unbelievable worth – in fact, a human soul is worth the price of God’s Son dying to redeem it.

3) Jonah shows us our failure to let the love of God cast out our hatred of men. Just as Jonah believed the Ninevites deserved punishment (which, in fact, they did) we believe certain people are deserving of punishment. What we fail to realize is that all of have been given grace, shown unmerited mercy and favor with God who expects us to show that same kind of love and mercy to all people. This includes those trapped in Islam, spiritualism, Buddhism and all the other religious and political belief systems that exist. We cannot pick and choose who is deserving and yet we do — just crunch the number of missionaries to Sub-Saharan Africa versus the Middle East or those to South America versus SE Asia. We cannot play it safe and only concentrate on “safe” countries. God is no respecter of persons and neither should we be. Instead of that great Caribbean 10 day trip to play religious tourist, what about Bhutan or Japan where it takes actual courage to evangelize? Like Jonah faced going to Assyria?

4) Jonah shows us that our personal responsibility is to be involved in the saving of souls. If one gets nothing else out of the book of Jonah, this should slam you between the eyes. We are called by God to proclaim the good news to everyone. A Savior has come to the world. Forgiveness of sins is possible. A new life is being offered by God to all who will respond. And we are guaranteed by Scripture to see people from every tribe, tongue and nation accept this message. This is what gives us hope to go to Assyria and beyond, in the knowledge that God’s Word will not return void when it is sent out

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