ThoughtShades FrameWork

Essays, Themes, Opinions

Constructs, Practical Ideas, Applications

Poetry, Impression Writing

Sermons, Devotions

Personal Revelations, Illustrations

Viewpoint: Politics, Contemporary Issues, Editorials


Choice Offerings by Others

Powered by Squarespace
« The New Ten Commandments | Main | Growth—or No Growth? What Do You Say? »

Do We Have Repentance Wrong?

In recent months, I have heard rumblings from the ministry about the discipleship drought.  It seems that more and more emphasis has been placed on evangelism and initial conversions, and less and less mention of discipleship.  One elder, Stan Gleason, tweeted, “Jesus said of His disciples ‘I kept them because I was with them.’ If you stay with your disciples you won’t lose them.” (John 17:12).  He also wrote, “Converting one person per day over 30 years = 10,950, but making one disciple per year and those disciples making disciples = 1,000,000,000.”  A well-known Christian author, Frank Viola, recently wrote a book entitled, “Discipleship in Crisis: 9 Reasons Why Discipleship Isn’t Working Today.”  In my observation as a pastor and organization official, I have to agree with these assessments.  The front door to our churches is wide open; but the back door is open even wider.  It is time to take a sobering look at this state of affairs.

The deep crisis in discipleship that the church suffers today may be directly related to a profound misunderstanding about repentance.  Far too many people take the step of baptism before they truly repent.  I understand that much of the conversion experience is subjective; how can we know (and therefore, how can we judge) whether or not a person is sincere before submitting to baptism?  I have believed and preached for years that the deeper the repentance, the deeper the conversion.  And yet, this statement itself is suspect.  Can we have a moderate conversion?  Are there percentages or grading curves that can measure the depth of repentance?  Can one be saved halfway?  How about three-fourths born again and one-fourth lost?  There are those who are “almost persuaded,” but are there those who are almost saved? 

This brings us to a seminal issue regarding repentance, and it may hold the key to this discussion.  A false argument has been debated for centuries over a phrase in Jonah 3:10 that says God repented.  Some think that God must have done something wrong if He was forced to repent.  Others have said that God was at least guilty of making a mistake, if not a moral miscue, that required repentance.  This has led to some speculation that God might be wrong about other things as well, like abortion, same-sex marriage or other actions that have moral implications, and that God may repent over these pronouncements in the Scriptures.  In fact, some have abandoned almost all vestiges of discipleship, turning the church into a feel-good, no-rules collection of doctrinally diverse individuals. 

Let’s clear the premise up immediately.  God exists in moral perfection.  In Him, there is no sin.  He cannot lie.   If these statements are true, then it is impossible for God to do wrong.  The Psalmist said, “The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD’S throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.  The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.  Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.  For the righteous LORD loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright.”  Psalm 11:4-7. 

So, what do we make of the expression that God repented?  There is no question about the wording of the verse.  God did repent.  The confusion that enters into our thinking is that sin must precede repentance.  Not true, especially in this case.  God simply saw that Nineveh, at the behest of their king, showed great remorse over their wickedness and stopped it.  They fasted, prayed, sacrificed animals and turned from their evil and violence.  Therefore, it was no longer necessary that they be destroyed.  God simply retracted His threatened judgment in the light of the Ninevites response. 

“So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.  For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.  And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:  But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.  Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?  And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.”  Jonah 3:5-10. 

Three paramount principles emerge from this verse.  1) We can change the mind of God through our actions; 2) God cannot be manipulated by our feelings and emotions; and, 3) true repentance is incomplete without the change of behavior.  Looking at this scripture from the standpoint of our initial encounter with God, the problem of the discipleship crisis comes clearly into focus.  Let me put it into “street language.”  In repentance, God doesn’t “mess around!”

First, we can change the mind of God through our actions.  I contend that God operates within the context of human behavior.  If we will, then He will.  “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”  2 Chronicle 7:14.  If this is not possible—if God has pre-determined his plan of action toward us without regard to our behavior—then what is the purpose of prayer?  The fact is that God purposefully solicits and invites us to submit to his conditions.  This is a remarkable truth.  Although Jonah did not mention the possibility of repentance in his short, eight word sermon to Nineveh, the king must have understood what he should do.  Perhaps he had prior knowledge of the God of the Hebrews, or else he knew instinctively to repent. 

How does this work?  Because God is omniscient, He knows the sincerity of our hearts and designs his response accordingly. Jeremiah 17:10 says, “I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.”  When we do His will, he rewards us with blessing as promised in His Word.  If we cast His will aside in favor of our own will, He leaves us to our own devices. 

The second principle is that, unlike man, God will not be manipulated by our feelings and emotions.  This fact shatters the insidious attempts of people to make God conform to man’s decadent culture with all its attendant lusts, wicked acts and corrupt behavior.  Esau discovered this when he tried to subvert the mind of God.  For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.”  Hebrews 12:17.  Traditionally, the church has associated repentance with the mourners’ bench, prayers of remorse, and demonstrations of extreme sorrow at the altar.  When those who hear the gospel for the first time, or who succumb to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, or who are deeply moved by the preached Word of God exhibit their response with a display of emotion, we rejoice.  We equate their visible outburst with repentance.  A close look at the scriptures, however, reveals no such reaction of the part of God.  God is looking for actions, not words.  “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.  For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” Galatians 6:7-8. This is a bedrock principle, and God follows it without variation, regardless of the circumstances involved. 

Jesus specifically speaks to this attempt to manipulate God.  “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”  Matthew 7:21-23.  Sometimes, people try to fool God by shedding tears.  Sometimes, they think up some good work and perform it to try to convince God of their sincerity.  But, whether it’s false humility, manufactured benevolence, flattery, hollow sacrifice or repetitive prayers, God sees through it all.  The qualifying criteria for repentance is the same as it was with John, the Baptist.  He said, “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.”  Matthew 3:8. 

Finally, real repentance is incomplete without the change of behavior.  If this is not true, then the new birth experience has lost its meaning.  Conversion must entail an actual, visible, marked change in a person’s life.  There can be no doubt about this if we read the scriptures with intellectual integrity. 

We must adopt moral purity.  Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing ; and I will receive you.” 2 Corinthians 6:17. 

We must forsake sensual, carnal living.  “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

      We must deliberately, intentionally abandon our ways and adopt God’s ways.  “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17.  If we were to list all the scriptures that illustrate this point, we would quote nearly half of the New Testament.  Let’s allow the Apostle Peter to have the last word.  “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you.” 1 Peter 4:1-4.

We have repentance wrong if we think it is only to feel sorry for our sins.  We have repentance wrong if we see it only as a formality with little real meaning.  We have repentance wrong if we do not allow it to precipitate a radical change in our behavior, our life’s direction, our values and our decisions.  Without this emphatic first step towards conversion, we can never experience the full impact of living the Christ life.  Discipleship begins with complete repentance.












PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>