Category Archives: Repentance

God so loved the world

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:  15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.  16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John. 3:14-17)

In Numbers 21, there is an account of the children of Israel traveling through the wilderness. As usual, they were rebelling against God, angry with him, and constantly complaining. God sent poisonous serpents among them and many of them were dying.

Moses made intercession for the nation, and God told him to do something rather strange:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” (Num. 21:8 NKJ)

Moses made the serpent, put it on a pole and walked through the camp. Everyone who looked at the serpent lived.

Jesus reminded Nicodemus of this story. Jesus was teaching this highly educated and respected bible scholar something about the kingdom of God that was impossible for Nicodemus – or any of us – to see, unless we are born again by the spirit of God.

It is natural for us as image-bearers of God, to ask the question, “Am I right before God?” We all seek to determine whether we are worthy to enter the kingdom of God – or, to put it in our modern terms, whether we are saved and will enter the new heavens and the new earth when Jesus comes again. Especially those who have been brought up in the church, as Nicodemus was.

Those of you who were raised in the church, who attended Sunday School and sat through sermons, have you asked that question? “Will I be ready to meet the Lord when he comes again?”

Do I belong to him? Or, as Nicodemus would have put it, “Am I worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven?”

Naturally speaking, we look to ourselves to answer that question. Am I holy enough? Have I done enough good things? Do I know the answers to the questions? Have I had a “Christ experience in the heart?”

Early in the history of our country, the Congregationalists of New England focused on regeneration. People were taught to look at the regeneration experience to determine if they were born again. This led to the abuses of the Revivalists and eventually to the heretic Charles Finney – looking for bigger and better experiences. Finney made the excitement of the revival a means of grace, and denied the necessity of atonement.

Nicodemus would have looked to his law-keeping.

But Jesus cuts through all of that. He reminds Nicodemus of the rather strange account in Numbers.

Do you remember Nicodemus? How did our fathers live through that and not die of the poison? They looked outside of themselves to a serpent that God provided. It was put up on a pole.

You could look to your heart, but all that was there was poison and death. Life is outside of yourself.

And Jesus went on. In the same way that God loved his nation Israel, God also loved the world. The same way that God told Moses to lift up the serpent, the Son of Man will also be lifted up.

“That whosoever looks to him would not perish of the poison that is destroying them – sin – but have life without end.”

The point is this: salvation is outside of ourselves. It isn’t in our hearts, in our good intentions, in our good works, in how much we desire God, in how much we love God or love one another –

In fact, it isn’t in ourselves at all. Certainly, new life will affect behavior. But new life isn’t found in how well we behave or how we feel.

Are you cast down and anxious? Look to Christ.

Are you doubting and fearful? Look to Christ.

Are you struggling with sin? Look to Christ.

Do you doubt whether it is possible to be saved if you have done too many horrible things? Look to Christ.

Do you see him with the eyes of faith? He is nailed to the cross and dying. He is bearing your poison and will die from it. Your crimes are nailed above his head in the sight of God. Your doubts and fears, your sins and crimes, your thorns and thistles – all of your poison – is nailed to his cross.

And when he rises from the dead, do you see him? Do you see how he left all your sins in the tomb? All of your fears and doubts are buried with him. The old dying man of greed, hatred, unbelief, is buried with him. And his sacrifice was accepted by God. He rose from the dead! The Holy One of God did not see corruption, so that you might know for certain that in him is life.

Look to him and live. Quit looking to yourself.

Your hope of salvation is not in whether your faith is strong enough, whether your experience was spectacular enough, whether your works are good enough. All you will find there is poison.  Your savior is not found in your heart or in your faith or in your experience, or in your works. Your savior is found in heaven at the right hand of God. He was crucified, dead and buried for us. He rose from the dead for us. He ascended into heaven for us. And will come from there to judge the living and the dead. Look to him where he is, and live.

Believe the record of the apostles, and live. Look to him in the word and sacrament, and live. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved.

Look to Christ and live.

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Filed under Gospel, Repentance, Sin and Grace

The Samaritan Woman

17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband:
18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.
19 The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.
20 Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.
(Joh 4:17-20 KJV)

 

Jesus and this Samaritan woman were having a conversation about water. Jesus invited the woman to ask for living water – that is, water that gives life, that quenches thirst permanently – and the woman asks for it.

Then Jesus tells her to call her husband. The standard interpretation is that Jesus is confronting her fornication, and the woman gets uncomfortable with that and changes the subject. That was how I always viewed it, until I started asking questions of the text.

If this is what Jesus was doing, why did he allow her to change the subject? Shouldn’t he have pressed on until she repented?

Then I understood something. Jesus knows the heart, but we have to ask questions. Jesus knows perfectly what is going on, but we need to explore.

The assumption that Jesus is confronting her sinful fornication is the assumption made by men from the perspective of men. If this was a man that Jesus was talking to, then the assumption is that the man has kicked out his wife five times looking for a younger or prettier model. We get that. But in that day, a wife didn’t have many options. Where would she go? How would she feed herself? What will she do?

Further, a wife didn’t divorce her husband; a husband divorced his wife. And this happened to her five times. She continued to marry the same kind of man, a man who didn’t know how to love, and continued to reap the same results – just as she kept coming to the well to drink the water. Eventually, she thirsted again.

Her quest for acceptance, security, intimacy and love led her to seek out the same kind of man over and over again. Eventually she gave up, decided that she wasn’t worthy of the dignity of marriage and simply let the sixth man use her as he saw fit. That was all she was worth. Her deepest longing would never be filled. But Jesus would change all of that.

Jesus, seeing the heart, knew that her problem was a problem of worship. She sought her healing and worth in the arms of men – one marriage after another; and she was discarded, one after another, by the same type of man. She thought that the next time her thirst would be filled. But that dream was as futile as thinking that water from the well would quench her thirst forever and she would never have to draw again.  The reason we have to keep drawing water from the well is that the water of the earth can’t ever fill what we thirst for. The problem with the woman wasn’t lust and fornication. It was a problem of worship. The god she worshiped had her in hard bondage, a never ending cycle of abuse, degradation, and despair, until finally she required nothing, demanded nothing, and allowed herself to be used and discarded as a useless thing.

But Jesus saw a prodigal daughter, a woman in God’s image, and restored her in the area she needed the most: the area of worship. Jesus didn’t allow her to change the subject. We just need to see what the subject WAS. The subject they were talking about was thirst, and Jesus pinpointed her true thirst with one simple question: “Go call your husband, and come here.”

When true worship is restored, the bondage and cycle of degradation and abuse cease. He came to proclaim deliverance to the prisoners, not to harp on women like a Pharisee. He came to bind up the brokenhearted, and he saw in the women one who was brokenhearted. He didn’t stop at the outside of the cup; he went to the heart.

Did Jesus confront her sin? Yes, of course he did. But her sin wasn’t that she was a fornicating tramp who didn’t know how to keep a husband. That’s reading into the text what isn’t there. Her sin was deeper than that. It was a problem of worship.

Jesus didn’t let her off the hook on that one. He pointed his finger right at it, then when she confessed that he was right (“I perceive that you are a prophet”), he continued to do what he told her he would do, and gave her living water. But instead of falsely accusing her of something that she didn’t do, he went right to the heart of the issue, because it wasn’t his intention to further degrade her and humiliate her, it was his intention to restore fellowship with God, and this fellowship must be in spirit and in truth.

If we wish to evangelize as Jesus did, we have to learn to know people. Jesus saw the heart, but we have to ask questions and learn how to listen. Then we need to point them to the only one that can give living water. Too often I fear we settle for telling everyone what is wrong with them – but we usually get that part wrong. The heart of the matter is worship. We need to get to the heart, and that can only come with time and patience.

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Filed under Gospel, Hope, Repentance

A Godly Abuser? Really?

I recently read this comment on “A Cry for Justice“:

You would be amazed at how many pastors in thriving ministries abuse their wives, are involved in pornography or other sexual sins. Men of God are not perfect.

Really?

I continue to be astounded at these kinds of things. A “godly pastor who abuses his wife” is a lot like saying “a reprobate Christian” a “square circle”, or “waterless water”. It makes no sense.

Since Christians are the salt of the earth, it is no wonder that words have become meaningless in our society. Postmodernism isn’t just something that “others” believe. It started right in the church! If this statement is true: “a godly minister who abuses his wife” , then words have no meaning. If a man can self-identify as a Christian even though he has all the marks of the devil, then how can we protest if a man wants to self-identify as a woman? Isn’t it the same thing?

But if we want to uphold reality, we have to say, “No; you are a man. You have all the parts of a man, and your self-identity is false.”

Don’t we then also have to say, “No. You are not a godly man. You are not a Christian. You have all the parts of a son of Belial. Your self-identity is false”

The bible says that a reviler and a drunkard will not inherit eternal life.

10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. (1Co 6:10 KJV)

It can’t say it any clearer. You can be one or the other. Christians inherit eternal life. Revilers do not. Therefore, revilers are not Christians. Pretty simple syllogism. If you revile your wife and kids, if you drink and hit your wife and children, if you sexually abuse human beings made in God’s image YOU ARE NOT A CHRISTIAN! Flee from the wrath to come. Do not be deceived. The wrath of God is coming because of these exact things!

The same evil exists in these statements:
“He’s working on his marriage.”
“He’s trying to change.”

Ugh. Why are these statements acceptable? Would we use them with a murderer?

“He’s working on not killing people.”

“He’s working on not raping and pillaging.”

“He’s working on not robbing liquor stores and gunpoint.”
I once knew of a man who was confronted by his church for his adulterous relationship and he said, “Can I taper off?” Why is this any different. You don’t “work on not abusing your wife!” I can’t believe I have to even write that!!!!!

The fact is this: You are either a Christian or you are not. You are either a child of the devil or a child of God. You don’t “work on it”. You either are or not!

In the words of Yoda, “There is no try. Do. Or do not.” (I can’t believe I just quoted Yoda. How sad is it that Yoda is wiser than so many church leaders!)

Please remember this. Jesus came to give you rest. You should be safe and at rest at home and in the church. If you are not, please flee and join with the people of God.

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Filed under Abuse, Repentance

The Pastor’s Great Struggle

13 He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him. (Pro 18:13)

I have had fellowship with many pastors. I also am a pastor. I have had lunch with pastors, talked with pastors, and have even at times tried to reason with pastors as pastors have also tried to reason with me.

There is one particular sin that I see in myself and continually fight against. I think it is probably endemic among pastors, to our shame.

We don’t listen.

We think we do. We nod and go Mmmhmmm a lot. But if the story goes on to long, we want to finish it. If the problem is clear in the first three words, we want to give the answer and get on with things. This is also  my great shame, for which I continuously repent.

We thought we were validated by the early nouthetic counselors: The problem is sin; the solution is repentance. There. Don’t waste any more of my time. I already told you what to do.

But we never listened. It took me years of repentance to begin to understand that most people don’t actually get to the real problem the first time they meet with the pastor. They are simply testing the water to see if we listen.

We usually fail that test and the sheep scurry away. We then wonder why no one talks to us. They don’t talk because we don’t listen.

Reformed pastors, to which tribe I belong,  seem to struggle with this to a greater extent. I don’t know why, but I think I might have a few clues. We are usually well-read, full of book-knowledge, and love to see the inner workings of the great truths of scripture. We are usually well-acquainted with original languages, and have a high regard for the authority and inspiration of scripture. All of these things are great and to be greatly desired. But the devil never rests and sin turns our strengths into folly.

We already know everything, so we don’t need to listen. We already know what the problem is, so we don’t need to hear.

But the Bible doesn’t call this “an area to work on.” Nor does it call this “a weakness”.  It calls this folly and a shame to us.

Shame on us every time we fail to listen. Shame on us every time we don’t hear.

We fail to hear in so many ways: The language of a childhood victim of sexual abuse goes beyond words, but we usually don’t stick around long enough to hear.

We silence the voice of the victims of domestic abuse by repeating the mantra, “God hates divorce.”

The voice of the abuser is decidedly different, for it comes disguised as a sheep.

The voice of those who are hurting and poor and in trouble shout at us all around. We would far rather stand on the corner and shout gospel platitudes than actually listen to them.

If we would open our ears to hear, we would begin to make some sense to the cacophony around us. The voice of the proud, saying, “I am, and there is none like me.”

The voice of the hurt, building barriers around her heart to stop any more pain.

The voice of the oppressed, whispering in the corner.

We don’t hear the matter because we don’t want to. It rattles our windows and shakes our floors and makes our house unsteady. It is an unwanted visitor brought to us by sin and the power of the devil and we think that if we shut our eyes and stop our ears and ignore it perhaps it will politely go away and let us get back to our books.

But

13 Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard. (Pro 21:13)

That should stop us in our tracks. When we refuse to hear the cry of the ones without strength, God will eventually stop HIS ears when WE cry to Him!

Also implied is the great truth that we ourselves, we pastors who have “so much knowledge” (sarcasm alert), who have everything all together – are just as needy, just as poor, just as helpless as that poor and oppressed one – we ALSO will cry out, and we will be heard to the extent that we heard those who cried to us. This should strike fear into our hearts.

Fellow pastors, we don’t need to do better. We need to repent. We need to learn to hear the cry of the poor and repent of all the times we were too busy, too uncomfortable, too unsure, too occupied with “important things”, to hear.

When we have shut our mouths long enough to listen, then we must open our mouths to speak.

8 Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.
9 Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.
(Pro 31:8-9 KJV)

The phrase translated “such as are appointed to die” is literally “children of vanishing.” They are the ones who are so easily ignored, the ones who suffer quietly because they have been unheard for so long. They are the ones who don’t meet your eye, withdraw into the corner, whisper so low they are hard to hear.

They vanish and are forgotten – except that their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life and He entrusted them to your care and commanded you to hear them and then open your mouth to defend them, to plead their cause.

Yes, it will be uncomfortable. Yes, it will rattle the very foundation of the nice and neat theological house that you built. Yes, the Enemy won’t give up without a fight.

But it is God’s fight, and He commanded you to fight it. And the day will come when you will stand before God and give an account of every idle word. You will be called to account for your listening skills. You will be called to account for your willingness to open your mouth.

Don’t delay. Learn to hear. Learn to speak. Learn to listen.

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Filed under Pastoral ministry, Repentance

Why we should have learned our catechism…

I don’t know the Duggars. Quite frankly, I’m a bit tired of hearing about them. Two weeks back, I had a vague notion about them having a bunch of kids and some kind of reality show. I wish that was still all that I knew.

But there is something quite disturbing in the air. I deal with it all the time. I have heard it repeated over and over again. It rears its ugly head every time a new scandal erupts. And it is utterly false.

It is the idea that repentance is the same thing as a carefully crafted statement accompanied by tears.

We forget that the first tears of remorse that we shed were by Cain. Esau wept tears of remorse.

In fact, Paul himself said that sorrow is NOT the same as repentance:

9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.
10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. (2Co 7:9-10 KJV)

His prayer was that the sorrow of the Corinthians would LEAD to repentance. Sorrow is something quite different than repentance.

Of course, this is no new insight. It was first published in 1583 in the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q&A 88: In how many things does true repentance consist? In two things: the dying of the old man and the quickening of the new.

Q&A 89: What is the dying of the old man? Heartfelt sorrow for sin, causing us to hate and turn from it always more and more.

Q&A 90: What is the quickening of the new man? Heartfelt joy in God through Christ, causing us to take delight in living according to the will of God in all good works.

Notice how beautifully repentance restores life! It is not the same as manipulation in order to gain an earthly goal. It is not a carefully planned statement calculated to make the consequences of your sin to go away. It is heartfelt hatred of sin because it is sin and it is always coupled with a heartfelt joy in doing all of God’s will  – everything written in the law – because that law expresses the will of God, whom we love and serve.

Though we lose every earthly delight, though we are the offscouring of the world, though we are ridiculed and reproached – or worse, ignored – we will take immense joy in knowing that our God is glorified by our quiet and peaceable lives.

I can think of no greater waste of time, at this point, in the countless comments concerning whether or not Josh Duggar has truly repented or not. I don’t care, having never met him and not being given the responsibility to shepherd him.

My biggest concern is that the false doctrine surrounding him and the Village church and every single person that falls into sin be stopped.

Quit thinking that your carefully planned, or even spontaneous, tears are the same as repentance. To repent is to turn away from sin because it is sin and turn towards the living God, because He alone is worthy of worship and honor and obedience. He alone is beautiful and worthy of our adoration and love.

Wipe away your tears; quit blathering into the camera; quit trying to convince me just how sorry you are. Everyone is sorry. Adam and Eve were sorry, and hid in the bushes trying to hide themselves from God. You don’t need to be sorry. You need to repent. You don’t need to convince me, your elders, your pastor,or the world of how sorry you are. You need to repent. Repentance may or may not include tears, but it certainly isn’t the same thing.

Repentance is never a tool to get the victims of your heinous sins to quit calling you on it.

It isn’t a tool to get out of earthly consequences.

True repentance has only one object: to see the smiling face of our heavenly Father. Turn away from the rot and filth of every idol, and seek his face for we know that he is a God who abundantly pardons.

This is also why true repentance cannot ever be the work of natural man. Even David, when he finally understood this, cried out for the Holy Spirit to purge him, make him clean, create in him a new heart. The heart that we all have is ugly and hateful, no matter how many millions say how holy and wise we are. We don’t need the acclaim of men; we don’t need to convince the world. We need a new heart, because God is not mocked. All things are open in the eyes of the One with whom we have to do.

6 Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
(Isa 55:6-7 KJV)

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