My wife has a hoodie from when she played volleyball in high school. On the back it has a simple drawing of a volleyball and a net. It says, "Put the round thing over the net thing". You could say that's the whole point of volleyball - put the round thing over the net thing. But a good volleyball coach will zero in on different aspects of the game. A good coach will focus on serving, digging, setting and spiking the ball. As a team learns the finer points of playing volleyball, they become better at "putting the round thing over the net thing".
Repentance can also be described in simple terms like this. Repentance is turning away from sin, and trusting in God for forgiveness. But our God is a better coach than that. So, in His Word He helps us to zero in on the different aspects of repentance.
Each of our Bible readings for today is somehow connected to the topic of repentance.
Like I said, repentance can be described as simply turning away from sin, and trusting in God for forgiveness. But that simple summary makes it sound as if repentance were a one time event. It's not. Repentance is more like and attitude. You could says that repentance is the ongoing philosophy of the Christian life.
Think about it like this. If you're sailing on the ocean, you can't just set your course and go to sleep. Once your ship is pointed in the right direction, you have to keep plotting the course. Wind and currents and all sorts of factors will push your ship off course. If you don't keep steering back on course, you're going to end up somewhere you don't want to be. Quite possibly in real danger of running aground or getting lost.
In the same way, repentance is constantly steering back on the course of God's will. If we Christians don't pay attention, inner sins and outer circumstances may shipwreck our faith.
Let me give you one more illustration. Each of us was born sinful. We have an inner sinful nature that isn't in line with God's Will. This sinful nature makes us like a car that has faulty alignment. You've probably experienced this before. As you drive down the road, the car pulls to the left. So, you have to constantly compensate, pulling the wheel the other way. Otherwise you're going to go off the road. Again, this is repentance. Constantly working against our inner sinful nature, keeping on the road of faith.
Since an attitude of repentance has to come from God, let's begin today by asking Him to bless our study of His Word.
Prayer: Father in heaven, open up our hearts to your Word. Give us understanding as we read, and help the lessons we learn today to stay with us as we travel toward our final destination - Your side. Strengthen our faith in the Savior which you sent to take all our sins away, and give us strength to live lives characterized by an attitude of on-going repentance.
Old Testament: Numbers 21:4-9 (ESV)
4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6 Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
Here we see the Ancient Israelite people blown off course.
First they forgot how God had blessed them in the past. Not so long ago they were slaves in Egypt. They were being oppressed by a Pharaoh who forced them to make bricks for his building projects. This same Pharaoh was afraid that the Israelites might ally themselves with a foreign invasion force, so he decided to weaken the nation by ordering all the newborn male children to be cast into the Nile.
But long ago, God had promised Abraham that the Savior of the world would be born from his descendants, the Israelites. So, when Israel cried out for help, God heard them. And through Moses, God freed the people from slavery and set them on the path to a land of their own.
The Israelites not only forgot how God had blessed them in the past, they also forgot His promises concerning the future. Instead they focused on the immediate present, and blamed God and Moses for their current problems.
This was sin. And they were not sorry about their grumbling. So, God sent them a stern rebuke.
Sometimes this is what is required to move sinners to repentance. Sometimes we need to hit the bumpy edge of the road before we wake up to the fact that we're drifting. And so God sends us bumps.
In this case, the Israelites woke up real quick. There were snakes everywhere, and people were dying. Not all misfortunes are the result of impenitent sin, but the Israelites recognized that their situation this time WAS. And so they turned back to God and to Moses, and expressed that they were indeed sorry for their sins of rebellious grumbling.
One of the main things we learn here is that suffering paves the way for repentance. But here we also see that repentance toward God is followed by God's grace and deliverance.
Like it says in First John...
" 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8-9 ESV).It's also important to note the way that the Israelites expressed their repentance. They said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken AGAINST THE LORD AND AGAINST YOU." They didn't just say, "We're sorry we grumbled, because snake bites really hurt". They said, "We have sinned... AGAINST THE LORD." That's what true repentance is. When we say, "Hey, this thing I did was wrong. It was a sin against God that I don't ever want to do again".
Psalm of the Day: Psalm 38 (NIV)
A PSALM OF DAVID. A PETITION.
1 LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
2 Your arrows have pierced me,
and your hand has come down on me.
3 Because of your wrath there is no health in my body;
there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin.
4 My guilt has overwhelmed me
like a burden too heavy to bear.
5 My wounds fester and are loathsome
because of my sinful folly.
6 I am bowed down and brought very low;
all day long I go about mourning.
7 My back is filled with searing pain;
there is no health in my body.
8 I am feeble and utterly crushed;
I groan in anguish of heart.
9 All my longings lie open before you, Lord;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart pounds, my strength fails me;
even the light has gone from my eyes.
11 My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds;
my neighbors stay far away.
12 Those who want to kill me set their traps,
those who would harm me talk of my ruin;
all day long they scheme and lie.
13 I am like the deaf, who cannot hear,
like the mute, who cannot speak;
14 I have become like one who does not hear,
whose mouth can offer no reply.
15 LORD, I wait for you;
you will answer, Lord my God.
16 For I said, “Do not let them gloat
or exalt themselves over me when my feet slip.”
17 For I am about to fall,
and my pain is ever with me.
18 I confess my iniquity;
I am troubled by my sin.
19 Many have become my enemies without cause;
those who hate me without reason are numerous.
20 Those who repay my good with evil
lodge accusations against me,
though I seek only to do what is good.
21 LORD, do not forsake me;
do not be far from me, my God.
22 Come quickly to help me,
my Lord and my Savior.
In our last reading, the Israelite people perceived that the fiery serpents had come because of their sinful grumbling. In Psalm 38 the Psalm writer recognizes that his current suffering is ALSO a result of his sins. Notably, David accepts this rebuke from the Lord. Obviously he's not enjoying it, but he accepts it.
This is a characteristic of the repentant heart. It accepts punishment from God and isn't bitter toward God's rebuke. Solomon sought to instill this attitude in his son when he wrote...
" 11 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline,▬
and do not resent his rebuke,
12 because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in" (Proverbs 3:11-12 NIV).
Have you ever cut yourself with a knife while washing a sink full of dishes? I was taught to wash the knives separately so you know what's in the sink and can be extra careful. That's good advice. But, after a while, you get a little lax. Oh well, I'll just thrown those knives in with the rest of the dishes. It'll be fine.
Now, if you get a little nick, you probably won't alter your strategy. But if you get a nice, deep felt-the-blade-sliding-into-my-flesh cut, then you're more likely alter your approach in the future.
This is the same principle God uses. Sometimes he lets us feel the earthly consequences of our sins for a while to open our eyes to a particular sin, and to help us remember to change our ways in the future.
Before we move on, I'd like to point out one more important thing we see here in Psalm 38. In the last verse, David writes...
"Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Savior" (Psalm 38:22 NIV).David recognizes and confesses his sins to God. He accepts the rebuke that God is sending his way. And he doesn't lose faith. He continues to trust that God WILL deliver him in time. And knowing that God loves him, David prays that his deliverance will come soon.
When talking about repentance, we need to remember that it IS turning AWAY from sin, but it's also turning TO the LORD - and expecting and praying for his sure deliverance.
Gospel History: John 3:14-21 (NKJV)
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 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. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
18 He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.
In this reading, Jesus references our Old Testament reading about the bronze serpent. Let's revisit that event one more time.
The people grumbled against God. God sent fiery serpents into their camp. The people recognized that they had been sinning against God by grumbling against Him.
They sinned. God rebuked. They repented. But up to that point they hadn't been rescued yet. Moses had to make the bronze serpent and put it up on the pole first, THEN whoever looked at it - lived.
I'm rehearsing the story because it brings out one CRUCIAL point about repentance: repentance doesn't save. Being sorry about your sins doesn't erase them.
Think about it. In our criminal justice system, being sorry about a crime doesn't mean you don't have to go to jail. Imagine if it did! You murdered someone? But you're truly sorry? Okay, no punishment is needed. That wouldn't be justice. For justice to happen, crime must be punished, regardless of how repentant the criminal is.
When Jesus started preaching, His message was...
"... repent AND BELIEVE IN THE GOSPEL" (Mark 1:15 ESV).Repentance paves the way for sinners to see their Savior. But if Jesus hadn't suffered the punishment for our sins, we would remain guilty, and schedule for eternal punishment in hell.
But Jesus was lifted up, just like the serpent in the wilderness. He was lifted up on the cross of Calvary. And there He did indeed feel the punishment for each and every one of our sins. And all who look to Him for forgiveness receive it in full.
Now, earlier I described repentance as an attitude instead of a one time act. In this way, repentance is like a diet. Going on a diet isn't a one time act. If you don't keep on following your chosen meal schedule, you're not on a diet.
In verse 20, Jesus says...
"20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God" (John 3:20-21 NKJV).Jesus is describing the attitude or the philosophy of two people. The impenitent sinner and the repentant sinner. The impenitent sinner embraces sin as his way of life. The penitent sinner embraces God's way as his way of life.
The takeaway is twofold. The impenitent sinner CANNOT BE forgiven because he doesn't WANT to be forgiven. He wants to keep on sinning.
The penitent sinner CANNOT BE CONDEMNED because even though he sins every day, he struggles against those sins and brings them to God's Son for cleansing.
When people see the life of the penitent sinner, they see clearly that God is at work in that person's life. Not that the penitent sinner is perfect - not at all. But the penitent sinner is forgiven, and is being guided away from the darkness of on-going sin and into the daylight of an on-going attitude of repentance.
Before we move on, I want to just highlight one fact about our salvation. Our sins aren't forgiven because we get really good at avoiding sin. The snake bitten people who looked at the bronze serpent were healed, just like that. In the same way, all who trust in Jesus for forgiveness are forgiven, just like that. Jesus simply says that whoever TRUSTS in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. Our salvation is a FAITH thing, not a works thing. This fact will be brought out strongly in our last reading.
NT Letter: Ephesians 2:4-10 (NKJV)
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
So far, the letter readings that we've had this Lent have directed our attention to the power of the Cross. But here, Paul directs us to the power of Christ's resurrection from the dead.
Because Jesus suffered and died on the cross, our punishment for sin has been used up. It can no longer fall on us because it fell on Jesus.
When God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, He was putting His stamp of approval on the sacrifice that Jesus offered for you and me. God doesn't raise liars from the dead, so, Jesus' resurrection means He was who He said He was, and our sins are now forgiven through faith in Him.
If you scan over this section of verses from Ephesians 2, one thing you'll notice is that God is doing all the work. When it comes to our salvation, God simply doesn't allow us to do any of the work.
Let's read over the text again. Note how it's all God doing things for us. MERCY is undeserved kindness extended because of pity. GRACE is undeserved love extended just because. God says it's HIS LOVE FOR US that made Him raise us from spiritual death to spiritual life in Christ Jesus. He's the SAVER we're the ones being saved. He's doing this to SHOW US his grace and kindness.
And then comes that line where it says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith" (Ephesians 2:8 NKJV). And some people say, "See, that's the part we do. We have to choose to believe in Him." But God says, WRONG! I even give FAITH TO YOU! Faith comes from God, not your own works. God says, "You are MY workmanship. I created you in the beginning and through the Gospel I have recreated you in Christ."
About the only thing that God doesn't do here is found in the last verse. There it says...
"...we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10 NKJV).In other places the Holy Spirit describes the good works of the Christian as fruits of faith. Things that grow and flourish in the rich soil of faith in Christ. God doesn't do our fruits of faith for us. But He just about does. Paul says that God "prepared them beforehand that we should walk in them". Like a parent who lays out their child's clothes so they don't look silly when they get dressed for the day, God laid out good works for us to walk in through life.
After God has restored us to His side through faith in Christ's cross, He has good things for us to do. These things don't have any impact on our salvation - Jesus already got that part done for us. We're forgiven. But, in the fruits of faith we find further blessings.
In Galatians 5 it says...
" 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV).▬
Repentance isn't our work. It's the work of God in our lives. But, like I said earlier, repentance isn't just turning away from sin, it's also turning to God in faith. Trusting that through Jesus our sins have been forgiven, just like God promised.
When we're turned to see God through the eyes of faith, we see that all of this has been God's doing, not ours. His gift, not our work.
And this realization empowers us to step out into our lives every day with confidence. God has blessed us in the past. Our sins stand forgiven now. His promise for the future is sure in Christ. And He gives us a path of further blessing to follow in this life.
Sometimes we color repentance dark and grey. As if it's us beating ourselves up over sin. That's not repentance. Not complete repentance anyway. Repentance is only black at the beginning when we see our sins. But then it turns to light and joy as we see our Savior.
May God bless us so we always see our sins, turn away from them, and trust in Christ as our great Savior. May God bless us so that we run with lightness and joy along the paths which our great God and Savior has set before us.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.