"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.