Saturday, March 17, 2018

Repentance and Time

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

This verse answers the question that all Christians have from time to time: why does not God just wrap it up?  Why does he linger in ending this fallen world once and for all?  Can't he see things keep getting worse?  Can't he just put the world out of its misery?  We are ready for eternal life, the main story, to get started.  We are tired of the world, the flesh, and the devil rearing their ugly heads at every turn.  This is torture!  Come on, God! Wrap it up!

But the verse in question is deep in thoughtful ideas about this subject.  For instance

1) There is a difference between slowness and patience. Slowness implies that we are waiting for God.  Patience implies that God is waiting for us.  Slowness implies a lack of understanding of the way reality works.  Patience implies that the gospel is a firm reality in present life and must be responded to by each individual.  These words of scripture stir up our sincere minds.  Are our sincere thoughts stirred? Do we have a sincerity about the truth that is necessary for a solid faith? How do we stir up that sincerity?  We read the scriptures, of course.  The Bible is the surest way to stir up a sincere mind.  Insincere minds will reject its words.  Sincere minds will be stimulated.  Our faith must be sincere to be accepted by God.  We can't just say we believe.  We must believe with all our hearts, soul, strength and mind.

2) Both Old and New Testaments are equally important. God is the same God in both.  The New Testament helps explain the difficult parts of the Old Testament, but that does not make the Old Testament any less vital.  In fact, it makes the older texts more vital.  The Old Testament, we are told, is a different religion.  Or, we are told, God changed from the Old to New.  Being immersed in both will inform our souls that there is no change in our Lord.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

3) At the same time, the unbelieving world will continually attack the scriptures as being false.  They do this by attacking primarily the Old Testament, although they do attack both testaments.  How we react to the Bible is a great divider.  More and more people are taking sides for and against the Word of God.  More people who said previously that they believed--and who still say that they believe--are casting down the validity and veracity of the sacred scriptures.  Actual confessing Christians say that they are not necessary.  And yet they are the only texts that stir up the sincere Christian mind.  How do we react to God's Word?  I think the great dividing line will fall on the Bible and what it says about the truth.  We will face God and confess to believing his whole Word, not just the parts we liked.  They who reject the Bible reject Christ and reject all of the faith.

4) God does not wish any to perish. Alas, many will.  The world attacks the truth that is found in God. The world confidently stays lost to God and perishes. Confessing Christians reject God's word and perish.  The world laughingly rejects God's son and perishes.  So many perish.  It breaks the heart in two. But God does not wish any to perish, and so he provides time: not slow time but patient time, so that all will have a chance to accept or reject the gospel. We have grown up in a world where lies are intensely affirmed as true, and we aren't even aware of a possible alternative until God's Spirit unlocks true truth for us.  In Peter's time--and our own--the world denies any catastrophic events in earth's past.  The world denies the flood.  Peter tells us that believing that the flood happened is important, because it (1) reveals the nature of everything and (2) gives us promise that something catastrophic will happen again.  Remember slowness v. patience?  Patience is more hopeful, because at the end of God's patience comes catastrophe.  At the end of slowness comes catastrophe, too, but with patience comes a purpose.  God is being patient with us, because he wishes that none will perish.

5) The sincere mind, stirred up by the scriptures, the knowledge of truth, knowing that a catastrophe will come, and an awareness of God's patience, realizing that he wishes none to perish--all these things should give us hope for the gospel.  But we must never forget that the true gospel involves repentance.  God wishes that none perish but that all come to repentance in this patient time he is giving us.  Because the gospel involves repentance, it involves something to repent of.  The gospel always must include sin, something to repent of, or else those who hear this "half" gospel will be lost forever.  Repentance means you know that you are guilty of sins against God, sins that you would never be able to atone for.  Repentance means admitting that you are guilty before a holy God, and this repentance only occurs when one knows the truth that can only be found in Jesus Christ.  He took the punishment we deserve.  He atoned where we could not.  We cannot atone for our own sins.  He atoned for the sins of the whole world of those who believe in him.  This belief--this true faith--a faith only found with a sincere mind, stirred up by the scriptures--this faith brings us to repentance.  This faith saves us.

God is not being slow.  He is being patient, so that you will find yourself on the correct side of the dividing line--the repentant side.  Read the scriptures for yourself.  See what they say about your hopeless condition.  Read what they say about the only one who can save you.  Stir up your sincere mind and allow God's spirit to drive you to your knees in repentance.  The catastrophe will come, and it will come like a thief in the night, at a time when we least expect it.  All will end.  You could be washing the dishes.  You could be driving to the grocery store.  You could be walking the beach.  We won't know when the catastrophe will come, when everything will be burned up.  Now is the time for salvation, now is the time for repentance and belief in the one, true God and his son Jesus Christ.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Repentance and the Kingdom

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 4:17

Jesus repeats these words of John the Baptist when he begins his ministry in earnest. Within this simple sentence is packed the gospel message, if we choose to see it:

1) The word "repent" begins the sentence.  This is from the Lord's own mouth.  Many content that it was an addition to the gospel added by church fathers. Here it is coming from Christ himself. Many contend that repentance is a work that needs to be performed before God can save you. From careful study and even experience, we see that repentance and faith go together: you cannot have one without the other. If one does not have faith in Jesus Christ for the deliverance from and forgiveness of sins, he will not repent.  Repentance is an immediate and continual fruit of the Spirit of God communing with one's soul.

2) The last word in the English sentence is actually the second word in the Greek sentence.  The word means "is drawing near" and the NASB uses "at hand", which gives an impression that the kingdom is "within one's reach."  Now, this does not mean that we are capable of taking the kingdom of heaven under our own power, but it does imply an action on our part, an action that comes as a fruit of faith, and that is grasping the kingdom of heaven.  But "is drawing near" is very good, too, because it implies that God is the one doing the drawing.  We were not looking for the kingdom of heaven, because we are ensnared by sin, and we do not want it.  However, it draws near to us anyway, because God will have us.

3) Now that we have repentance and "at hand" in place.  It's time to look at what we are getting.  Repentance is the turning of the heart from one kingdom to another.  God has drawn his kingdom of heaven near.  We are to repent, which means to alter our course from the one toward destruction to the new path of everlasting life.  What kingdom have we been born into?  Well, the kingdom of Satan, of course.  Christ calls him the prince of this world.  We gave it to him by disobeying God and allowing ourselves to be ensnared by the devil.  Now, all people are born into this unholy kingdom.  What do we do?  Well, there is nothing to do.  We are in an insurmountable bind.

4) But God has brought the kingdom of heaven near to us, and what happens is we switch our allegiance from one kingdom to the other--from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of heaven--through repentance, and repentance is a gift of God by faith.  Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world, and just previously in this chapter, Jesus was offered, by Satan, the kingdoms of the world, because they were his to give. Jesus taught us how to pray, "thy kingdom come."  When Jesus shares the parable of the wheat and tares, he explains, "as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one."  He lays the two kingdoms out for clarity.

5) This sounds so easy.  Repent to turn from the kingdom of destruction, wherein you stay at your own peril, to the kingdom of eternal life.  And yet, we don't do it, because we don't fancy ourselves to be in need of repentance.  This is the curse we live under: not only lives of destructive sin but a complete denial of our sinfulness.  The Holy Spirit not only makes us aware of our sin but give us the means to repent against it.

6) When the kingdom draws near to us, several things happen.  First, we are made aware of our sin and our need for a savior.  Second, we are made aware of our savior as the only means of our escape from the kingdom of destruction.  Third, we are given the faith to believe the savior. Fourth, our faith gives us the ability to repent and turn from the ugly kingdom to the beautiful kingdom.  Finally, as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, we pray for the people who refuse to repent and who remain in the old city.  We are aware of their predicament, we pray that we won't slip into their predicament, and if we feel ourselves stumble, we are quick to confess our sins and receive Christ's continual forgiveness for our sins, made possible by his death on the cross, a substitute death for the one we deserve.

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  It has drawn near, and it is within your grasp.  Put your faith in the savior and repent.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Repentance and Rebellion

"They have refused to repent." Jeremiah 5:3g

At the end of Genesis 18, the Lord tells Abraham of his intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, because of its thorough wickedness.  Abraham begs him to spare the cities, if he can find 50 righteous men.  God agrees, but after a comical exchange (at least it would be if it weren't so tragic), Abraham haggles him down to ten righteous men.  As we find out, God destroys Sodom, Gomorrah, and the nearby cities, because he is unable to find ten righteous men.  This definitely is tragic, but these are pagan nations. In Jeremiah 5, God is telling Jeremiah about Jerusalem, and his words sound eerily similar.  This is not a bunch of pagan cities; this is God's own city, Jerusalem. We can shake our heads at the ungodly of this world, the heathen, but within the church are many who are not regenerate, and if this passage is any indication, the unregenerate are many and the saved few.  From this passage in Jeremiah we learn...

1) Try as we might, it seems impossible to find a regenerate person.  We have enough tears praying for and pleading for the people outside the church, but we can search throughout the church and find many that seem just as lost. First John reads that one of the signs of a true Christian is that he likes hanging out with and discussing God with other Christians.  Are there many that we can share lengthy discussions about God with in the church? Does it not seem that congregants want to talk about anything BUT God?  And Jesus Christ is way off topic, it seems. Subjective Christianity seems to be the norm these days.  But, we shouldn't be surprised.  Repentance is not taught in our churches.  That is why God tells Jeremiah to, "roam to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and look now and take note."  There is no specific denomination that is pure.  There is no sect of Christianity that has complete knowledge of God.  The true, invisible church stretches across all boundaries, consists of individuals, and it is the only church that God can see.  We have to preach to the unconverted and "converted" alike, as if no one were saved.  However, we must show love as if everyone were saved.  We cannot just let someone stay lost, as if they deserved it and we didn't.  We all deserve eternal death.

2) Look at the marketplace of ideas and find that not many know what true Christianity even IS. So many contradictory theological ideas permeate the world we know. Heresies abound, especially those that have been conquered in the past.  They rear their ugly heads again and again, as if they were new and fresh and cutting-edge.  The same deadly sins run rampant within the church as they do outside.  God tells Jeremiah to, "seek in her open squares, if you can find a man, if there is one who does justice, who seeks truth, then I will pardon her." Here we hearken back to God's discussion with Abraham.  Can we find a man who does justice?  Can we find a man who seeks the truth?  Notice that the two go together.  We have many in the world, inside and outside the church, who strive for social justice, but the truth of Christ is nowhere to be found near them.  Likewise, we have many who know ABOUT Jesus, who study and learn all about him, but their hearts remain turned inward, and they don't know what to do with such knowledge.  They haven't been inspired by the Lord toward good works.  They have no urge to share or live the gospel to anyone.  Or the gospel they share is a secular invention that sounds like Christianity but does not come from the scriptures.  God's church is saved, indeed, but the church that we see with our eyes is not the church that God sees with his.

3) The visible church speaks highly of God and pretends to follow his precepts, but God tells Jeremiah that this swearing is a false one.  We cannot assume that anyone who speaks of Jesus in an uplifting way is a Christian.  It seems logical, but experience and the confirmation of God's word tells us that many in the church are hypocrites.  Indeed all of us are, especially me, in many ways, but the true Christian tries to walk upright, to be righteous, and when he fails--as he inevitably will do--he repents, because God's Spirit brings him to his knees.  Each time, living righteously comes easier, and yet still he fails, but then repentance comes easier, too.

4) God knows his people.  His eyes seek out the truth.  His Spirit abides in those whom he loves.  He disciplines his children, but his wrath abides on those who are not his children.  Discipline draws a child TOWARD the parent, but the enemy of God is driven away from the one who created him.  God allows his children to be smitten, and they are sanctified.  God allows the unregenerate to be smitten, and the hate for him builds.  They do not weaken.  They stand proudly upright and look their maker in the eye with defiance.  They clench their jaws against him.  He consumes them with truth that burns like fire, but the unregenerate refuse to hear, to learn.  They make their faces harder than rock.  They refuse to repent.

5) Just as there is no distinction between individuals in Christ, there are no people groups who are excluded from salvation--all one needs is a true faith in Jesus--so there is no distinction between the unregenerate.  Jeremiah figures that perhaps the poor and uneducated person is merely unable to understand the great gift that God has extended to his people.  Surely the great, smart ones will know the way of the Lord and his ordinances.  God responds in the negative.  They, too, have broken their bonds.  They have, like Adam, placed themselves upon the pedestal of self-idolatry.  They only live for themselves.  No one type of person is exempt from sin.  The rich fall short just as the poor.  The World has an excuse, because it does not know God (even though in their heart of hearts they do know God, and so they do not have an excuse), but the people in the Church have no such excuse, because they've heard the gospel, they have rejected it, and yet they pretend to be saved.  They hang around as if salvation could be contracted from others in the group, like an illness.

Here's the solution to this problem: all of us deserve everlasting death, but God sent his son, Jesus Christ, not to the hypocrites, because they don't need to be saved, in their own minds.  They are doing just fine, these pretenders. No, Jesus came to the broken sinners of the world, the ones who admit they have sin in their souls.  He came to save sinners, and the sinners drew to him.  Indeed, sinners who know they are sinners, who understand their condition and their fate, draw near to Christ when they feel his presence.  The hypocrites, the ones who say they have no sin, grumble when they see sinners coming to Christ.  Why should Christ come to THEM? Aren't WE his church?  Aren't we the ones who are God's chosen people?  An unrepentant sinner who has been in the church all his life and who believes that he is on the fast track to heaven, he doesn't understand why Jesus would choose people he wouldn't have anything to do with himself.

Jesus responds: these are lost sheep, each going his own way, and the Lord himself has gone out of his way, in much pain and suffering, to condescend to these lost sheep of Israel, and he has sought them out, and he has found them, and he has not lost a single one.  The sheep who aren't "lost" (which is nonsense, because all are lost, it's just that many don't believe it) watch in awe as the Lord searches the whole earth for his own.  The sheep from a different flock, who don't hear the Lord's voice, because their shepherd is another, scoff at the foolishness of Christ in seeking after those losers. He takes the lost sheep from the ends of the earth, the darkness where it had kept its head for years, since birth, and he picks it up, immobilizes it by checking its limbs, and he puts it over his shoulders and carries it back to the rest of his flock in his fold.  And all the angels in heaven rejoice when they discover that the Lord has achieved his purpose in saving what was lost.  That salvation involves repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  It doesn't matter if you are outside the church or in the church, if you don't have faith in Christ, you won't repent, you won't want to repent, or you think you have already repented, when you actually haven't.  Repentance is the primary sign of faith, and without faith one isn't saved.  Don't think you're saved just because you're "out to pasture" in the church. A saved sheep is one that was once lost but now is found.  He is a rebel who has laid down his arms and comes willingly to the king's court in sorrow and penitence.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Repentance in Dust and Ashes

"Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes." Job 42:6

Job is one of the most compelling books of the Bible, because we can identify with Job's misery, we all have friends who try to give us bad advice, and we are baffled as to what God's plan with our lives actually is.  Job was a near-perfect man who pleased God, but God allowed Satan to cause him to fall, to test his faith.  Job struggles for dear life, philosophizes and soliloquizes up a storm, and in the end he perseveres, because he does not curse God.  However, God chastises him at the end of the book.  Why?  Because merely questioning God's motives is sin.  Even the most pure human being on Earth is still a sinner, because the mere act of questioning God shows disrespect for the one, perfect being. Indeed, this is the problem we all have today.  Our culture has poisoned us to believe that innocent questioning of the perfect God is safe and even desired by him.  Yes, he is perfect love, and so he tolerates our failings and shortcomings, but the incessant objections from mankind are still sinful.  So, even nigh-perfect Job, after almost forty chapters of struggle with God's motives, gets a mighty earful of chastisement and heavenly wisdom about how far short he has fallen from understanding the true God. Job finally responds to God's reprimand with several points that we should all take to heart:

1) He now knows that God can do all things. We say we believe that, but do we really? God can literally do all things, and he has done all things. We talk about Science v. God. I've got news: God invented science. Anything a scientist discovers, God already knows, because he created it.  Any book you read with information in it: that information was already known by God.  That information wouldn't exist without God.  Also, he knows all things that a scientist cannot discover: what lies in the human heart, how all creatures think and move and be, and whether someone has a true, saving faith or not.  There are no rogue atoms.  Not one thing behaves in a certain way without God directing it.

2) No purpose of God is thwarted. Everything may seem to go south continually, but God is using every circumstance to his purposes.  He works all things for good for those who love him.  He makes no error.  It may seem that he does, and so we question his motives, but he does not, so we shouldn't. If a young Christian dies, that person has eternal life.  If a young, unrepentant sinner dies, another unrepentant sinner may then repent.  God knows every soul that is his, and so everything is orchestrated to draw his souls toward him or push lost souls away.  We make the free choices on this earthly plane, but the pig picture, the grand plan is only knowable by God, and it will not be thwarted.

3) We pretend to be wiser than we are.  Job quotes the Lord back to him: "Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?" A little learning is a dangerous thing, because we think we know more than we do.  Even so, much of the time, we don't even have the "little" learning.  We just heard something from someone, somewhere and we just assumed it to be true.  All the false knowledge we have about God, the World, the Universe: it all accumulates until our minds are completely filled with nonsense.  Socrates said, "he is wisest who knows he does not know."  God's first words to us when we stand before him may be, "what were you thinking?"

4) Not only do we declare what we do not understand, but the truth is more wonderful than we can imagine. We would rather perpetuate the weak lie than proclaim the glorious truth.  We focus on how we feel about things than rather what we think about things.  The emotional response is the one we favor, and the truth is not in us.  God is truth.  Sin makes the watered-down lie more appealing to us, because the truth is more astonishing than we can comprehend.  God is light and in him is no darkness at all.  His perfection eludes us, and we then conclude that he has deception.  We judge God, proclaiming him to be beneath us, when in fact we are so far beneath him that the darkness we are in looks like light to us.

5) We must humble ourselves to God. We must listen to God through is Word.  He speaks clearly when we listen.  When we earnestly seek his instruction, it is readily available.  The problem is that we don't listen; we don't earnestly seek his instruction.  We hear about God from others and the picture we get of God is incomplete and sullied, spoiled.  Only through God's word to we get a clear picture of our Lord.  Only through God's Word do we see the one we are to worship clearly.  The Bible provides the clearest picture of God that exists on Earth.  Only in heaven will we see him perfectly.

Retract your weak ideas about God!  Recant the false attributes you have assigned to him.  Repent for the evil in your hearts.  We are dust and to dust we shall return.  We deserve to be ashes at the base of a fiery pit.  However, God, in his mercy, does not destroy us as we deserve.  His goodness manifests itself in our savior Jesus Christ.  When we compare what he has done for us on the cross with what we say and think about him in return, our only recourse is to repent in dust and ashes and beg forgiveness.  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Repentance and Intercession

"God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should repent." Numbers 23:19

These words are spoken by Balaam to Balak, king of Moab.  Balak brought Balaam to his land to curse the Israelites.  Balaam has been commanded to speak evil of Israel.  We know that Israel consists of sinners, guilty sinners, and yet the Lord continually gives Balaam only blessings to say.  They are the Lord's people, regardless of their internal state.  His righteousness covers them, covers their sin, just as snow covers the black ground.  Again and again Balaak tries to get this prophet to curse them, and yet he can only bless them.

In the midst of his second blessing, Balaam says that "God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should repent."  From this we learn

1) God is sin-free.  In him is light and no darkness at all.  We, on the other hand, are sinners.  We have darkness, and this darkness does not allow us access into his heavenly presence.  However, he sent his son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for this darkness in us, as if he himself were the sinner.  Jesus was the perfect man, the blemish-free lamb, without spot or fault, and so his death satisfies the payment for the sins of all of God's elect.  God's righteousness is imputed to us, and our sin is imputed to God.  This is why it is a good thing that God does not lie, and there is no guile in him.  Otherwise, how can he give us his righteousness?

2) God does not repent, nor does he need to, because he makes no mistakes, and once again, he has no sin. But we need to repent, and it is the hardest thing to do in the world, because our indwelling sin prevents us from repentance.  Too much pride remains within us.  However, Christ intercedes on our behalf for us, and his Spirit repents for us, bring our full selves to repentance.  We are weak and unable to repent.  We cannot even pray as we should.  This is why Christ intercedes for us, because we cannot do it ourselves.  Christ prayed perfectly, and he taught us how to pray, even though he did not need to pray, "forgive us our sins."  His prayers, like his righteousness, is transferred to us, as our sinful selfishness is imputed to him.

3) John tried to prevent Jesus from undergoing his baptism of repentance in the river Jordan, but Jesus answered him, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. (Matthew 3:15)"  Why did Jesus undertake a baptism of repentance?  He was sin-free.  He had nothing to repent of.  But we, his children, have much to repent of, and so, like his death, his baptism of repentance is applied to us, as our sin is applied to him.  This baptism, like his other obedience to the law, is part of his righteousness, and all of his righteousness is applied to his elect, not just some.  To fulfill all righteousness is to fill all of the righteousness to its maximum capacity, leaving nothing out.  All of Christ's righteousness gets applied, so that the Father can welcome us into his kingdom as glorified, little Christs who are covered by his sanctified blood.

God did not need to send his Son to die on our behalf.  The incarnation was not necessary, but it was God's good pleasure to save his elect and thereby show his glory to the world.  God doesn't need us.  He made us for himself, but he is not empty without us.  The incarnation is God choosing to save his people, even though he didn't need to.  Likewise, the Crucifixion was not necessary.  He could have allowed all mankind to be lost to eternal death forever, but it was his good pleasure to save his people from eternal ruin.  Finally, he doesn't need to intercede for us, to continue us on a path of righteousness, to repent on our behalf, and yet he does, so that we can be sanctified in life.  All three of these things show God's great love for his people.  He didn't need to do any of these things, but he chose to, because he loves us, and he never lies.  He spoke in his Word that it is his will to save us, and to not let one of us be lost. He speaks the truth.