Thursday, 19 April 2018

T The restoration of God's people

The steps of true repentance

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Repentance is not a way to earn our salvation. The initiative always comes from God. It is His aim to give us live abundantly. His character is to save, to heal, to deliver and to restore. Everything He does and everything He offers comes forth from that motivation. Do you remember the old Chinese proverb at the beginning of the previous chapter? I described how that is the mindset of the law. Now I want to show you the mindset of grace and what a good response does with it. In this whole process, in every step that is taken, it is God Who is drawing us to Himself. He is pulling us in. 

State of unawareness or ignorance

We all start at the state of unawareness or ignorance of sin. For unbelievers this is in general, for believers this is still at several points, until the Holy Spirit wants to deal with it. The Holy Spirit wants to deal with every area of our life, to expose all sins. Each and every one of us stays in this position, until the Holy Spirit starts to deal with it, in general for unbelievers, on different areas that need cleansing for believers. 

Faith through hearing the Word of God

Everything starts with a word, especially in the Kingdom of God. Nothing happens without a word. We can receive His Words through preaching or through the Bible. Both are a gift of God. No preacher can preach, unless they are sent (Romans 10:15), so the initiative comes from God. What do they preach? The Word of God. So the Word comes to us through preaching (verbal or written) or because we read the Word of God ourselves. In many cases He will also use the Word which had already been sown in our hearts, and bring it back in our memory. The Word itself is also a gift of God, still not an initiative of man. 

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17

Conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment

When the Word comes to us, the Holy Spirit works along with it. He is the One opening our eyes and exposing the sins He wants to deal with, He exposes the righteousness as the blueprint of how it should be and He exposes the judgment, leaving us the option to judge ourselves or to be judged. 

And when He (the Holy Spirit) has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
John 16:8-11

Again this is God’s initiative, nothing of our own. You can’t be convinced of sin, unless He shows it to you. How does He do that? Let me start by telling you that He will NEVER do that through accusation and by laying a burden of guilt upon your shoulders. Anyone and anything that does that is NOT of God. To avoid doubt or confusion, let me immediately tell you why this is not of God. The question you need to ask yourself is: “To what aim is this being done?” When you are standing in court and when you’re being accused and when a burden of guilt is put upon your shoulders, it has only the aim to get you condemned. So accusation and guilt have everything to do with punishment. Jesus Christ is not on the side of the prosecutor, nor is He the prosecutor. It is satan who has that role. Jesus is on your side, as your Lawyer, as your Mediator and as your Redeemer. 

Then how does He do it? There are several ways He is convincing us. The least “popular” one is anguish. Deep sorrow and grief. I’m talking about the sort that goes deep in our hearts. It is an inner pain about our condition. Yet it is totally different then the sort of anguish, sorrow, pain and grief this world knows. The more we realize how serious our condition is, the more serious we will deal with it. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul says that this Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation. This is a work of the Holy Spirit. When this happens, pay attention! He is trying to help you, not to condemn you. It will produce diligence, regret, resent, fear, vehement desire, zeal and vindication in you, according to 2 Corinthians 7:11. It is the most deep and effective way of conviction, with the most effective fruits. But He can also choose His longsuffering (2 Peter 3:9) or His kindness (Romans 2:4) to lead us to repentance. 

Conviction is custom work. The Holy Spirit will look at our situation and the condition of our hearts. Based on what He sees, He decides what is needed to help you to forgiveness, healing, deliverance and restoration as fast as possible. Don’t resist it, for resisting will only cause the process to last longer. Let Him have His way and move along with it. Keep in mind that He has your best interest in mind while doing all of this. The ultimate aim is that this process will change your heart, if you respond in the right way. 

Changing your mind a.k.a. repentance

When you arrive at this point, you are aware of your condition and of the sin(s) in your life. The Holy Spirit revealed sin, righteousness and judgment to you on this matter and because of that you are able to understand it. That offers you the tremendous grace of having the ability to make a decision, based on the Truth. So what are we going to do next?

At this stage we are invited to change our way of thinking. For unbelievers it is the invitation to change their minds about Jesus Christ, from rejecting Him as Messiah and Savior, to accepting Him. For believers it is changing our way of thinking, to bring in back in alignment with the Word of God. This means making God’s Word the standard for your life, so that it becomes your standard as well. What is God’s attitude towards sin?

I will return again to My place till they plead guilty. Then they will seek My face; In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.
Hosea 5:15

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
1 John 1:8-10

When God’s Word is the standard for our lives, we also consider our wrong doings as sins. We have two options, being to judge ourselves or to be judged. We can change our way by presenting our case before God now and to plead guilty of sin now. God only responds if we plead guilty. If we do no plead guilty, God will hide Himself for us, for it is considered as the sin of pride. We need to humble ourselves before Him, confess our sins and plead guilty. After that, a remarkable thing happens. Then He will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Not only that, but by doing so His Word stays in us. But by not pleading guilty, His Word will leave us. As we know from John 1:1, the Word is Christ and Christ is the Word. So His Word leaving us equals Jesus leaving us, for by not pleading guilty, we make Him a liar. 

Now here comes the ‘scary’ part. When our sins are forgiven, we want to avoid falling for sin again. The law makes us try over and over again, with failure as result. Grace doesn’t make us try to stop sinning, it demands us to give up control. It is not you who conquers sin, it is Jesus in you. So while you focus on Jesus, He will focus on the sin. It is His Spirit in us that has the strength to overcome it all. How?

And they overcame him (satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.
Revelation 12:11

They did not overcame him by keeping the law, nor by trying to stop sinning. We will overcome by the blood of the Lamb, which cleanses us from sin, and by the word of our testimony. That will result in loving God above ourselves, even above our own lives. It is the place of dependency, without us having control. Having control means trying to keep the law on your own effort, in order to ensure your destiny. You can’t have both. The only two options are:

  1. Grace, dependent, without control
  2. The law, independent, with control

There are no areas in between. But only grace will lead us to life. That grace comes to us as a gift and can only be accepted, not bought or deserved. But 1 John 1:8-10 also shows us another crucial point: the word in us. I’d like to add John 1:1 to that, where it says that Jesus is the Word and the Word is Jesus.  

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 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. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
John 15:5-8

This is all about relationship because God is all about relationship. The key Jesus gave was to abide in Him as He abides in us. How do we do that? Through His Word. Whenever we read the Word, hear the Word or meditate on the Word, we have a personal encounter with Jesus. He is the Word. Only the Word of God has the power to change you. It is the Word that sets the blood of Jesus into action to cleanse you (John 15:3). It is the Word that will cause us to have a relationship with Jesus, because of which we can abide in Him and because of which He abides in us. Then He becomes a shield about us and He will lift up your head (Psalm 3:3). The more you are in His Word (reading, hearing, meditating), the more it will work in you and through you. It needs to become the standard for your life.

Again, repentance is not a way to deserve salvation. More than that, even repentance is a gift of God that can only be accepted (Acts 5:31, Acts 11:18). It is not our initiative, we can’t deserve it and we certainly can’t buy it by money or good works. The only thing we can do is to respond in a way that pleases God. That response is to change our mind about sins. We take the standard of God’s Word, we choose to believe that as the only Truth and we hate the sin. Hating sin is NOT an emotion, it is a decision. Some may still love the sin by emotions and are unable to turn that off. Make a decision to hate the sin. Be persistent in that decision as you are persistent in making the Word of God the standard for your life. 

Then we ask Him for the grace to overcome the sin and we apply the keys that Jesus gave in Matthew 7:7. We ask, we search in His Word and we knock on the door by staying persistent. You don’t ask to receive, you don’t search to find and you don’t knock to get the door opened. That is not your objective. The objective is to ask, to search and to knock, not to get results, but to be obedient. Results are not they key, obedience is. Our focus is Jesus. 

As we start to respond to the repentance that God gives us, He will listen to hear the decisions we make. But He will do more than that. He will also search our hearts to see if it matches our words. We can proclaim all the socially acceptable answers, but we can’t fool God. He only responds to genuine decisions. He wants realness. When our words are a match with what lives inside our hearts, He will change us from the inside out. That is real change and the sort of change that lasts. Is your heart not in the right condition yet? Only the Word of God can change that. Feed your thoughts with His Words. Sow it in your heart. It will move your heart to the position where it will match your words. Then we need to do what may be the hardest part. We give up control. We no longer try to change ourselves, but we let Him change us through His Word and by His Holy Spirit.

Your way of speaking changes

The first fruit that will appear is that your way of speaking will change. When your thinking changes, your speaking changes. This is an incredible important step, for words contain power of life and death. 

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
Proverbs 18:21

When your speaking changes, it means that the rudder of your life is setting a new course, even if nothing else changed yet. Words are the building blocks in the spiritual realm and they set things in motion in the spiritual realm, until it is established there. When it is established in the spiritual realm, it becomes visible in the natural. This is 100% the result of the initiative of God, not a work of our own. When you notice that your way of speaking isn’t in alignment with the Word of God yet, consider what you put into your thoughts.  

Your way of acting changes

As we walk in the Word and in the Spirit, our way of speaking changes and sets a new course for our lives. If we have sown to the Spirit (Galatians 6:7-8), then it will cause fruits to become visible. 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Galatians 5:22-23

Like any fruit, it will start small, as a seed, and it will grow bigger. This is the work of God in you. The more care and attention you spent on it by what you sow, the more it will grow. The Word says that when His seed comes in us, grows and remains in us, that it will disable us to commit sin (1 John 3:9). But again, this is a process we have to surrender to. It needs to grow. In 2 Corinthians 13:5 we are challenged to test ourselves to see if we recognize (the fruit of) Jesus in our lives. If not, the Word says that we fail the test or that we are un-tested. 

Rooting through tribulations

At this point the old Chinese proverb says “watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character”. That would actually make it easy, but that’s not how it works with the work of God in us, since it’s not our initiative. It is also remarkable that the word that is mentioned in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to describe “failing the test” or “disqualified”, can also be translated as “un-tested”. 

When the seed of the Word and the Spirit in us begins to grow, it changes our way of speaking and our way of acting slowly starts to change along with it. But what we have then is a small vulnerable fruit. It is a fruit, but it is an un-tested fruit. Only a few Christians are aware of this, but trials are actually needed in order to make us mature Christians. Even more, without trials you will never reach spiritual maturity. Why are they needed? Because tribulations will produce an incredible important fruit in our lives: perseverance. Have you ever noticed that the strongest trees had to endure the hardest storms? The harder the storms, the deeper the root will go. At first the tree will be moved by the storms, but the more it matures, the deeper the root goes, the more steadfast it becomes. Without the storms, that would never happen. The root would remain small and any heavy storm would cause it to fall. But the strong trees are just as big below the surface as they are above it. In the natural each fruit becomes subject to storms as soon as it becomes visible above the surface. It is the same with spiritual fruits. As soon as spiritual fruits become visible, they’ll become subject to the storms of testing and trials. When the fruit of perseverance is produced, that is what will produce character, not our habits. 

we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character…
Romans 5:5

It is easy to love those who love us, just as it is easy to be joyful in good times and peaceful in times of peace. But the rooting takes places at the hardest moments, where we face people who seemingly cannot be loved and take you to the limits of your patience, or perhaps beyond that. Just as we need to be able to find joy in the midst of grief, peace in the midst of war, longsuffering in the midst of impatience, kindness in the midst of unkindness, goodness in the midst of evil, faithfulness in the midst of unfaithfulness, gentleness in the midst of rudeness and self-control in the midst of an unhinged generation. Each test will not just test a little bit, but will take us to the limits. 

God will never tempt us, for there is no evil in Him (James 1:13). But He does allow us to be tempted, in order for us to be tested. The book of Job shows us how this process takes place in the spiritual realms. God didn’t test Job, but He allowed satan to test him. The same happens today. It may not be as far reaching as with Job, but we all will be subject to trials. As I always say, everyone has a ‘breaking point’ and will fall, whether that is one time or several times. Do I mean falling for sins? Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Let’s stop pretending that we are blameless and perfect, and let’s face the reality here. 

As far as I have seen and found, there are three reasons why we can be stuck in one of more sins. The first one is one that I learned in a congregation that I was part of and through the books of Derek Prince, being demonic bondage and curses. Those evil forces are very real, which I have personally experienced in the time after I had (literally) surrendered my life to satan, but also in the time after I had (also literally) surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. In this case you can’t stop committing sin, because you are bound to it. The second one are the trials that we are subject to, which I just described. The third one I also described earlier. It is our own heart (James 1:14). 

Our heart produces an urge to commit sins. As soon as God gives us the grace of repentance, and we go through the process of change, fruits will start to come up. When we enter the phase where we are being tried, not everything will disappear right away. The Truth we have learned needs to root. That may mean that the urge to sin will still continue during the time of testing and trials. Then what is the difference? Excellent question! The difference is the way we respond to sin. The process of testing and trials is meant to teach us how to apply the Truth to our situations. So the same sins will be presented to us time after time. And we may even fall again time after time. But with the help of the Word of God and the help of our Friend, the Holy Spirit, we now learn to apply the Truth. Sometimes we get it right away, sometimes it goes step by step. This is the same as with the example I gave about the tree. At first we will be moved by the storms and fall for sins. But as the storms become harder, and sometimes seemingly impossible to overcome, we need to do the same thing as the tree does: digging deeper. We do that by staying in His Word, following the instructions of the Holy Spirit, and by letting God’s Word be the standard for our lives. This is not about you remain standing during the storms, it is about responding well when you fall and letting Him do the change in you. Through it all you need to realize that it is all His grace and power, doing the work in you. The only thing we are expected to do is to stay in His Word and to use His Word to respond to our situations. As soon as we have learned how to do that, the testing and trials will end. Like the tree that has deeply entrenched, you will then also be able to remain standing. Steadfast.  All because of Jesus. But the testing will continue and will never stop, until you have reached that point. How long these tests and trials will take depends on how deep you dig in His Word. 

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
James 5:7-8

If you are in testing and trials right now, and if it doesn’t seem to end, you can simply ask the Holy Spirit to teach you what you need to learn, or to show you the cause of the problem. Keep in mind that silence is also an answer. When He tells you nothing, it means that you have to dig deeper in the Word, to continue your search for answers. The promise remains standing: those who search will find and those who knock will have the door be opened to them. Just don’t give up!

The contents of character

As Romans 5:5 so beautifully says, tribulations are producing perseverance and that perseverance is producing our character. That is not just another character, but a Godly character. Build by Jesus. Made in Heaven. It is this character that is a combination of traits and qualities, distinguishing us from the world, in a way that should make the world jealous. It is not some sort of big bang that bursts out once in a while, it is consistent, moral and integer behavior. 

Galatians 5:22 sums up a list of the contents of what our character should become. These contents are the fruit of the work of the Holy Spirit in us and He will work through the whole process to mature those fruits. These are the fruits:

  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness 
  • Meekness
  • Self-restraint

We often assume that we have to work hard in order to get all these fruits, but as the previous steps are showing, it is all God’s initiative. It is His work in us, not our work. The only thing we can do is to respond well to it. Once the fruits start to come up, it will produce works. But those works are not our work, but the work of God through us. So grace is not exactly about doing nothing. At first we will have to wait and pray, search the Word, wait longer, search, wait a bit more etc. Then these things are starting to be ‘added to us’ and the work begins. That work is mainly ‘responding well’ at first and becomes more as the fruits mature. When we enter heaven, it are those fruits that we will be judged/evaluated on. 

A hope that doesn’t disappoint

Hope has a lot to do with having the right expectations, but also with confidence and trust. Hope is something we desire for and consider possible. What we desire for and what we expect in life tells a  lot about us as a person. Those things tell us exactly where our focus is. 

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.
Proverbs 13:12

A very familiar verse from Proverbs. At some or many points in our lives, we’ve all experienced disappointments. When we think back to those moments, we all can tell why we were disappointed. Our expectation didn’t came to pass. And if that happens long enough, it makes our heart sick. But it also tells us that there were areas in our lives where we didn’t focus on Jesus, but on the matter itself. Jesus may have been involved, but He was not the focus. Those are the areas where we did not yet surrendered control. These parts of our lives need repentance as well, meaning that we need to change our mind, our way of thinking, about the situations. We have believed a lie of the enemy and need to find God’s truth about it. Behind every lie is a fear, and behind every fear is an idol. When God’s Word is the standard, all that matters is what He says.

Romans 5 tells us that when we have been through tribulations, we have the fruit of perseverance. That perseverance, that is produced by tribulations, produces character. But then it continues and it says that that type of character, that is tested, will produce a hope that will not disappoint. Why? Because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who was given to us. When our focus is right and is on Jesus Christ, through it all it will give you the only sort of hope that doesn’t fail, because of the love of God. 

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:14-19

Maybe you were raised in a congregation where they’ve told you that the love of God is too big to understand and that we can’t possibly grasp what His love is or means. My friend, that is a lie. As you can see in the verses above, the love of God can be understood and grasped in full measure. The Holy Spirit loves to pour the love of God into our hearts. But the key to our understanding, being enabled to grasp it, is being rooted and grounded in His love. That means it involves testing and tribulations. But through it all, the fruits will grow and become strong. The hope that then rises will be so steadfast and such an insurance, that this hope will never disappoint you.

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