Category Archives: Repentance

Sin, Repentance and Judging Others

Some discussions just seem odd to me. One such oddity goes along these lines (and it seems to happen over and over, especially on social media, so this is not a reference to one particular discussion). Person A: “People who engage in this activity are in sin and need to repent.” (What the specific sin is differs from case to case, and it is irrelevant for this point.). Person B responds: “We shouldn’t judge others because we are all sinners who need forgiveness.”

By this response, person B sweeps away the point made by person A because we all sin and we don’t want to be judgmental of others. Now it is true that we all need forgiveness, and it is doubtful that many will deny this; no one is claiming perfection here. However, that does not negate the fact that we still need to call attention to sin and the need to repent. Recognizing that we are all guilty of sin is not a reason to think, “Therefore we should never tell anyone else that they ought to repent.”

Consider the case of Isaiah, who, overwhelmed by God’s glory, confessed his own sinfulness and the sinfulness of those around him. Upon receiving forgiveness, he was then ready to go preach to stubborn people who wouldn’t listen to the message of repentance (Isa. 6). The point is that Isaiah did not refrain from preaching about sin and repentance based upon the fact that he himself needed forgiveness.

How do we know we are all sinners who need to repent unless someone first tells us about sin and God’s will for repentance (2 Pet. 3:9; Acts 17:30-31)? Shall we just assume everyone knows this before they are told? If we are all sinners who need to repent, then someone told us at some point, and this assumes an understanding of sin and repentance. Shall we not give others this same message at the risk of sounding too judgmental? Shall our fear of sounding judgmental overcome our need to love others enough to present God’s message to them? Are we showing real love if we ignore the sin, fail to point people toward repentance, and just embrace their situation no matter what? Is that the godly thing to do? Jesus didn’t die in order to silence the message of repentance. His death provides the hope that is attached to the message, and we need to be preaching it with clarity.

The gospel is about grace and forgiveness, but knowing about that grace only works when we first understand why we need grace and forgiveness. If we don’t know about the sin, we won’t know about our need to repent. If we don’t know of our need to repent, we won’t know we need grace and mercy. Again, how can someone say, “We shouldn’t judge” based on the fact that we are all sinners, unless that person first knows the problem of sin? If not careful, the “we shouldn’t judge” mantra can become a mask that veils the fullness of the gospel.

We are not being self-righteously judgmental by expressing what God has said about sin and repentance; we are being true to His word. Our message is not, “You need to repent and I never have to.” We are all indeed in the same boat. We can show the problem of sin while recognizing our own guilt and need for God. We can do this with humility and grace. We can speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Calling out sin and the need to repent is not automatically unloving and self-righteous, and we must not assume that one who calls attention to sin is being some kind of prudish, holier-than-thou hypocrite. (We could point out that Person B is, in fact, judging person A for the perceived sin of being judgmental, with the implication that he ought to repent and quit being judgmental. Is that ironically unloving and judgmental?)

Paul knew of his own sins, but that didn’t stop him from rebuking Peter (Gal. 2). Peter surely was aware of his own weaknesses, but that didn’t stop him from rebuking Simon (Acts 8). Both Paul and Peter repented of sins, but they still told others what was necessary.

Show love. Show grace. Show kindness. But don’t, for a moment, think that these are in contradiction to calling out sin for what it is and pointing people to God’s message of repentance. Yet while doing this, let’s never stop short of sharing the answer to the problem — the blood of Jesus through which we find grace and forgiveness. Repentance is not an end in itself; salvation is the goal. Our purpose in calling out sin and showing the need to repent is not to condemn, but to point the way to that relationship with Christ in which there is “no condemnation” (Rom. 8:1-2).

“Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…” (Acts 3:19). — By Doy Moyer

Save Your Tears

Contained within Luke is an event exclusive to his gospel account. Pilate has granted permission to crucify Jesus and now begins the slow, circuitous procession through the streets of Jerusalem to a hill known as Golgotha. Behind Jesus walks a large crowd of people. Though the crowd consists of a wide variety of people, Luke focuses our attention on a group of women “mourning and lamenting Him” (Luke 23:27). Though some question their motives (were they “professional” mourners present at every execution?), the text appears to treat their sympathy as sincere. Though exhausted and enduring intense pain, Jesus chooses to interact with these weeping women.

“But Jesus turning to them said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’, and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry’” (Luke 23:28-31).

It’s a strange message from a man on His way to die. What adds to the intrigue is that these are the only recorded words of Jesus while en route to Golgotha. While the other gospels provide us with Jesus’ words during His trials and His time upon the cross-only Luke tells us what He said in between the hall of Pilate and the site of execution. And what He says is revealing.

Tears of worldly sorrow: As these women follow Jesus, tears of empathy flow down their cheeks. Their grief seems genuine. It’s comforting to know that the hatred expressed by so many was not harbored by everyone. Yet, according to Jesus they weep for the wrong reason.

These were not dedicated disciples, but mere sympathizers. Their tears flowed because of His physical experience. They focused on the “what” of His suffering while totally missing the “why.” They weren’t lamenting the sins of their leaders in condemning an innocent man. They weren’t crying over the injustice perpetrated by Pilate. They weren’t sorrowful for the hostile attitudes of the hateful crowds who called for His blood. Their cheeks weren’t moistened because they saw Israel rejecting her Messiah. Their tears had everything to do with sympathy and nothing to do with sorrowing over sin. Worldly sorrow caused them to weep. Godly sorrow would have moved them to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10).

Jesus’ continuing concern: Even during His journey to the cross, Jesus was working selflessly to open their tear-filled eyes to the real tragedy that lay before them-they weep for the wrong person. Yes, Jesus would suffer greatly, but His vindication would come through the resurrection. But for those who rejected the significance of His death, their fate would be divine judgment and eternal condemnation.

From the cross forward, the dark cloud of judgment hung over Jerusalem. Eventually, in A.D. 70, the wrath of God would be poured out on this rebellious people. In capsule form, Jesus reminds them of what He had previously taught-the destruction of Jerusalem and the downfall of Judaism (Matt. 24:1ff; Luke 21:3ff). What was happening to Him physically was terrible, but even worse would be the physical and spiritual misery experienced by the Jews as a result of their rejection of God’s plan. When Roman armies surrounded the city, it would completely reverse previously held opinions. Barrenness, once viewed as a humiliating curse, would now become a great of blessing as they escaped the agony involved in seeing their offspring tormented. Future events will be so devastating that the quick death of a mountain crushing their bodies would be preferable to the slow, methodical horror of a siege. Even on His way to the cross, Jesus is trying to get them to see clearly-and thus be moved to alter the course of their lives.

Green trees don’t burn like dry ones do: It is within this context that Jesus utters His puzzling question. The green tree is Jesus in His sinless innocence; the dry, Jerusalem in her utter sinfulness. If the guiltless Jesus suffers like this, what kind of torment awaits those responsible for His death? If the One offering His life as a ransom endured this kind of anguish, what will happen to those who intentionally refuse the redemption He offers? The green tree would ultimately survive the flame. The dry would eventually be consumed. As these women followed Jesus to the cross, they were right to be moved by His impending agony. But according to Jesus Himself, the real tragedy wasn’t what was happening to Him in the present, but what would happen to them in the future. Should they cling to their inadequate perceptions of His identity, suffering and death, they would be better served to save the tears for themselves.

– Terry Slack

Repentance: A Happy Ending

His name was Jackson. He was a fine old gentleman. He wore a Hoss Cartwright hat, sat on the second seat on the right hand side at the services, and was almost always there. He was a fine Bible student, even able to argue for the truth with his friends at the “spit and whittle club” downtown. But he was not a Christian.

He had heard some of the best preachers on the Plains. He always listened attentively, with great interest, and was appreciative of the speaker’s efforts. Actually he knew more Bible than many people who had been Christians for many years. But he was not a Christian.

Once, after we had just concluded a fine gospel meeting, I asked my Dad, “Dad, why do you think old Mr. Jackson does not obey the gospel? He knows enough truth to save the world and yet he has never done anything about it. Why do you suppose that is?” With that special glint in his eye that made you know he knew the answer, he said, “Well, he just never has repented.”

Dad was right. Again. Mr. Jackson knew. He understood. He could even stand for truth. But he just never had repented.

Repentance is a misunderstood concept. Many people think of it as turning from sin. And it does have to do that, but it is the predicate for it, not the turning itself. In Acts 3:19 (ASV), Peter says, “Repent, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out.” The turning follows the repentance. That’s why Jackson had not turned, he had not repented in order that he might turn.
Repentance, then, is neither just sorrow for sin nor is it the turning from sin. It lies between the two. Repentance is the change of a man’s will with regard to sin. Prompted by godly sorrow, it results in a reformation of life. While it is true that there is no repentance in the absence of godly sorrow and while it is equally true that there is no real repentance if there is not a resultant change of conduct, repentance is actually neither of these. It is the decision to do better.

Repentance is the predicate for all manner of good changes. It will cause one to obey the gospel (Acts 2:38). It brings about a clearing of oneself; encourages righteous indignation toward ungodliness; promotes a fear of judgment; demands a desire to do good; directs a zeal for right, a spirit of revenge against evil (see 2 Cor. 7:11).

Repentance is the forgotten command in this age. We do not hear enough about it. It deserves better treatment, a greater exposure than it presently receives. Repentance is necessary to reformation. Perhaps if we taught more about it, maybe if we spoke more often in a way so as to convict men of sin so as to show them the need of it, we would see more people obey the gospel, more wayward members decide to do better, more daily devotion to right living. We sometimes forget that repentance is a constant need for each of us.

My little story has a happy ending. Before he died, Mr. Jackson finally repented, was baptized, and spent his last days as a faithful and dedicated child of God. And all because he finally repented. – Dee Bowman
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Repentance is not just a ritual. “So rend your heart, and not your garments” and “return to the Lord your God” (Joel 2:13).” It was customary among the Jews to express their emotions in very public, visible ways. To this day in middle eastern cultures, when a family member dies, there may be public weeping and wailing; throwing dust in the air; beating the breast and the rendering of garments. The problem to be noted here is, the emotion must not be ritualized and confused with true repentance. The fact that someone may cry in public or come down an aisle doesn’t assure wholehearted repentance. Repentance is a personal decision to leave sin behind and come to God. It is a decision of heart, productive of good fruit. It may be accompanied by some open expression, but the essence of the matter lies in the heart and the results in life. – Warren E. Berkley

Sackcloth and Ashes

Most of us won’t fully appreciate the following illustration from brother Turner, but we can try to imagine it, or remember some of the stories your dad and granddad used to tell. This article is about repentance and the humility of heart and the sensitivity to sin that needs to be present in our minds when we need God’s forgiveness, which is — often. bj

Did you ever wear a starchy feed-sack shirt? (I mean a real one, not the store-bought kind you see now-a-days.) Scratchy, ain’t they? Can’t you just imagine one made out of tow-sack? (Grass-sack, for some of us.) Well, wearing sackcloth had a special meaning at one time.

King Ahab, stirred by Jezebel, was an evil man. But when Elijah told him the dogs would eat Jezebel, he “rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly.” And God said, “because he humbleth himself before me” judgment upon his house will be postponed (1 Kings 21:27-29).

When Mordicai wished to mourn the plight of the Jews, he “put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a bitter cry” (Esther 4:1-f.)

Then, in Nineveh, when the people heard the prophet foretell their doom they “proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth;” and Jesus said “they repented at the preaching of Jonas” (Matt 12:41).

Humility (of self-censure), mourning, submissiveness, and the like are graphically represented in this early wearing of “sackcloth and ashes.”
It said clearly, “I am nothing–my former robes of purple (Isa 37:1) were but tents of pride– I need help.” Little wonder such conduct, as we have mentioned, was associated with repentance — and Christ could say of Tyre and Sidon, “they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matt 11:21). Abject humility, while not “repentance,” is certainly an essential ingredient. We wonder if the whole of “sackcloth and ashes” should not also be included?

It is not the symbol itself to which we refer. We suspect many would wear the sack, who had not yet put on the things for which it stood. But when we see the casual way in which repentance is treated — a sort of academic pause between faith and baptism — there is little resemblance to the spirit of “sackcloth and ashes.” The substance should far surpass the shadow– must do so if it is real. Do you see such “fruits meet for repentance” today? (cf. Matt 4:8)

Years ago a young lady came forward, wanting to be baptized. I said something about the jolt she must feel in knowing that her sins could be washed away; and she looked at me in astonishment. “Sins??” She seemed shocked that I would suggest such a thing. That is “sackcloth and ashes”!? A backsliding saint is encouraged to “make correction.” His situation is an embarrassing one, and makes for a “sticky situation” among friends, so he “comes back to the church,” or he “makes acknowledgment” to the church. This is “sackcloth and ashes” before the Lord!? Are we kidding ourselves!?

Our inability to see and judge the heart of man should provoke charity; and I am aware that external signs and symbols may be most hypocritical. This article is completely misunderstood if you think I am calling for “demonstrations” of repentance. But I challenge you to consider the lesson contained in the ancient “sackcloth and ashes” and apply it to your life.

— By Robert Turner

Carla’s Pumpkin

Carla’s Pumpkins and Gospel Seed

My wife picked our pumpkins this past week–early.  Last Fall our pumpkin got pushed over into the flower bed to rot, where it was forgotten.  In the Spring we spaded the soil in the planter and set out flowers, not realizing that we were also planting pumpkin seeds.   Of course, we were intrigued when the vines sprang up, and even more so when we saw the pumpkins developing on the vine.  However, four months of growth is a lot for pumpkin vines, and they were getting unwieldly.  That’s the story behind our two pumpkins and their early harvest.

Jesus said that the seed of the kingdom is “the word of God” (Luke 8).  Like those pumpkin seeds, the word planted in the right heart will grow a Christian.  A person’s conversion might be a surprise to the one who planted the gospel, perhaps springing up in some unlikely place.

You may have heard of such conversions resulting from the simple gospel message presented in a tract left by a concerned Christian; the conversion that resulted from a short radio sermon; or a family conversion sprouting from a preacher’s invitation to the lady at the convenience store.  The sowing of the seed of God’s word is not in vain.

The following is from my old biology text book: “A dry seed is almost in a state of suspended animation.  Although it may appear to be dead, its metabolic processes continue at extremely slow rates.  Lotus seeds hundreds of years old, when exposed to the right environmental conditions, have germinated and produced healthy seedlings.” (The Nature of Life, p. 270, Koob & Boggs, Ad. – Wes., Reading, Mass.)God’s word is the same.  It may not appear to unbelievers to be alive, however, it is as alive and vigorous today as it was in the first Century, producing the same spiritual seedlings.

Furthermore, like kudzu which came from Asia and ravages the southern United States, God’s word will produce Christians in countries other than its native land.  Jesus’ commission to His disciples is to preach the gospel to all the nations (Mark 16:15; Matt 28:1-20).  However, as kudzu does not grow in colder climates, even so God’s word does not germinate in the wrong kinds of hearts–not that sinners have no choice in the matter, but rather that every person decides what he or she will allow to grow in the heart.

First, God’s word requires INFORMED HEARTS to bring forth fruit.  To be informed, one must hear the gospel.  Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God’.  Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (John 6:45).  As locust seeds require moisture, heat, and oxygen to germinate, God’s word requires a listening heart free from prejudice, distraction, or apathy.  Searching the Scriptures produces “noble-minded” hearts because the listeners are simply informed (Acts 17:11).

Second, a BELIEVING HEART is required.  James explains the kind of faith which pleases God in James chapter 2.  He says that “the demons believe and tremble,” pointing out that proper faith moves one toward faithfulness to God, of which the demons were not.  “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (Jas 2:26).  When one asks the question, “What must I do to be saved” (Acts 16:30; 9:6; 2:37), one is showing his or her desire to have a believing heart in the gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:16).

Third, only HUMBLE HEARTS produce Christians.  Jesus said, “Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3).  Repentance–giving up sin and turning to spiritual service — requires humility.  The rich young ruler refused to give up his covetousness to follow Christ (Matt 19).  King Agrippa refused to accept the lowly cross of Christ (Matt 26).  The apostle Paul spoke of those “whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame — who set their mind on earthly things” (Phil 3:19).  God’s word has little place in proud, unyielding hearts.

Fourth, a BRAVE HEART is needed to make the good confession (Matt 16:15, 16; 1 Tim 6:12-13).  The teenager who walks away from his pot-smoking friends; or the former alcoholic who shuns his old drinking buddies, the converted fornicator who explains to his past associates that Christians cannot practice sin; all show the gravity of the Good Confession.  Brave hearts take a stand for right.

Fifth, obeying the gospel produces an UNCONDEMNED HEART.  “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (1 John 3:21).  When one’s sins are forgiven he knows that he is justified before God, uncondemn-ed.  That forgiveness comes at baptism.  “Repent, and be baptized every one of you…for the remission of sins…” (Acts 2:38).  “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16.  See also Rom 6:3, 4).

Further, when one continues in obedience, he has assurance of God’s favor.  “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9) not that he literally cannot sin (1 John 1:7-10), but rather that when a good heart knows God’s will it cannot conscientiously or habitually transgress.  Thus, the obedient, cleansed heart will be an uncondemned heart, producing a child of God.Now, different seeds produce different plants.  Jesus said, “Every plant which My Father hath not planted shall be rooted up” (Matt 15:13).  He said, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees”, their love of money (Luke 12:1).  Jesus said, “If anyone does not abide in me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6).  Please, let every soul demand the simple word of God as the spiritual rule in life.  Unlike the creeds and traditions of men, only the gospel is unchanging, only the gospel is God’s power unto salvation (Rom 1:16, 17). – George Hutto, in Centerview Tidings, Vol. 17, No 32