Thursday, 19 April 2018

T The restoration of God's people

What is repentance?

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Let’s take an apple tree as example, since many still believe the forbidden fruit was an apple (although the Word never mentioned what fruit it was). If the apple stands for sin and if you want to get rid of them for once and for all, what do you do? The attitude of most Christians today is to simply pick the apples from the tree. But here’s the thing with apple trees. Pick the apples from the tree and new ones will grow back. Over and over again. The same applies to sin in our lives. There is an old Chinese proverb, that is been widely used in the congregations today, that should describe the process of sin and righteousness. 

Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that this actually describes the mindset of the law. It all depends on you. When you put good thoughts in yourself, you can determine your destiny. But since the process described is so awfully close to the truth, it seems that everyone accepted it as the truth. But I want to expose this as a lie, and I will show you, based on the Word of God, that this process will never help you to your destiny, nor that it can change your character in any way. 

On the day of judgment we will not only be judged on our actions, but more on the condition of our hearts and the contents of our character. The proverb above, the one used in many congregations, tells us to watch our thoughts. If we do that, then everything will line up and go well. That is what the law teaches us. But Jesus shocked a lot people when He said that our thoughts cannot be completely controlled by us. Why? 

For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts…
Matthew 15:19

Here we have our biggest problem. Our hearts. Whether we want it or not, whether we choose to think evil thoughts or not, the heart keeps producing evil thoughts. We can’t avoid it. Every time we make a decision to think, speak and act righteously, the heart steps in and makes a mess of it. The heart gives us evil thoughts. And when the evil thoughts come in, they will affect our words, our deeds etc. So yeah, it is a really great proverb. Together with the statement of Jesus, it shows we have a huge problem. For when we can’t control our thoughts, we can’t control our destiny. 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Matthew 5:8

When we try to stop sinning, based upon our own effort, we will always fail. While we might be able to stop sinning for a period of time, the urge to do it will continue. While we can try to put good thoughts in our mind, the urge to sin will continue. As we’ve mentioned before, even one evil thought makes us guilty already. There is no action we can do that is able to stop the urge, because the root is still intact. We need God, from the very first step. 

The process of repentance starts with acknowledgement. What kind of acknowledgment? 

  1. That Jesus Christ is your Savior and Messiah
  2. That you can’t control your destiny

I will explain these points. When we’re talking about the way to repentance and salvation, there is only one way: Jesus Christ. Without a way, we have no way to reach our destiny. In order to enter in repentance and salvation, we need the truth. There is only one truth: Jesus Christ. The Way and the Truth will lead to life. There is only one life: Jesus Christ. When we enter into life, through the Way and the Truth, because of repentance and salvation, we come at the destination: the Father. But there is only one way to come to the Father: Jesus Christ. 

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
John 14:6

The second point, acknowledging that you can’t control your destiny, is hard for most of us. God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cannot be controlled. Grace cannot be controlled. Even faith cannot be controlled. So what does that make us? Right. Depended.  When we are able to control our thoughts, we can control our destiny. But since our heart is producing evil thoughts, it leads us to one destiny only, being eternal condemnation. So we need grace and we need a lot of it. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

It is the grace of God that saves us. As these Bible verses show, it is a gift of God. That shows us that it cannot be earned. O, but wait. It says that grace comes through faith, so we can earn it! No. Because then it’s not a gift anymore, as the verse says. Even faith is a gift of God. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus is the author and the finisher of our faith. That means that He created faith and gave it to you. It’s His gift, not one of your efforts. Everything that you can do and control involves your initiative. But this grace, and the faith that is needed to receive it, is 100% the initiative of God. Both are His gift. 

When we take a closer look to the word repentance, we see that the Greek word that is being used is “metanoeo”, which can be translated as “change your mind”. First of all, that is something completely different then changing your deeds. Secondly, changing your mind about what? When Peter started to preach on the day of Pentecost, he did not emphasize how bad and sinful the people were or that they needed to stop sinning. He preached about Jesus Christ and the attitude of the people towards Him, meaning that they did not acknowledge Him as the Messiah. In conclusion, this is what happened.

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
Acts 2:36-39

Repentance is changing our mind about Jesus Christ, from rejecting Him as Messiah, to accepting Him as Messiah. That’s where it all starts and that’s where His power is involved as well. That is what Peter was preaching about on the day of Pentecost. But did you know that even repentance is a gift a God? Even that is not an action of your own effort. Acts 5:31 talks about the repentance that God gave to Israel and Acts 11:18 talks about the repentance that God gave to the gentiles. In both verses it speaks about a gift of God, the gift of changing of minds. 

Call for repentance to non-believers

The Biblical definition of a non-believer is someone who has not accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah. They may believe in God, they may even believe in Jesus Christ, but as long as they did not accept Him as the Messiah, they are a non-believer. Peter’s call for repentance was to call the people to change their minds about Jesus Christ, inviting them to accept Him as their Messiah. The remarkable thing was and still is that ‘stop sinning’ or ‘turning away from sin’ was not a requirement for repentance. The only requirement was and is to accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

This may sound theological incorrect, but I ensure you that it isn’t. But by all means, test it yourself, as any man should test any word that is shared. The reason why stopping with sin is not a requirement is because man is not able to do that. Jesus emphasized that by telling the people that sin comes forth from the heart. It is the heart that constantly produces sin, whether you want to or not. So it is meaningless to require people to stop sinning, unless they have the power and ability to change their own heart, which they can’t. Only Jesus can do that. So basically the call for repentance, the call to change our mind, is to accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah and to come to Him as you are, with all your sins, with all sinful behaviors, with all weaknesses, with all the shame, all the pain etc. 

We don’t look for salvation, we look for the Savior. We don’t look for healing, we look for the Healer. We don’t look for deliverance, we look for the Deliverer. We don’t look for restoration, we look for the Restorer. For when we have Him, Jesus Christ, we have all we need. When we follow Him, with our eyes fixed on Him, He will do it all in us. And because of that, we will change. It is His work in us that will decrease sin in our lives. It His work in us that will stop the urge to sin. Nothing and no one else can do that. It is His gift of grace that freely offered to you. You can’t do anything for it but to accept it. At the moment you have to do something for it, it is no longer a gift. The Bible clearly says it is a gift. God the Father offers this gift to you.

When we accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah, we accept the gift of grace that the Father wants to give us. At that moment we have met the only requirement. The Word says that when we have done that, our sins will be erased and that times of refreshing will come to you from the presence of the Lord. And He will send Jesus Christ, your Messiah, to you, as mentioned in Acts 3:19-20. 

Call for repentance to believers

While reading the call for repentance towards non-believers, it almost sounds like an excuse to continue our lives in sin. Unfortunately there are many people who take grace as an excuse to sin. They accept the gift of God and abuse it for their own ‘pleasures’. But the Bible is very clear about this.

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?
Romans 6:1-2

Ah, so after we’ve received grace, we still have to earn it through works? We all have a carnal tendency to respond in a wrong way towards sin. Weird enough many feel the urge to hide for God, after they’ve committed a sin. We withdraw and try to better ourselves, to improve ourselves and to get rid of sin, in order to present us “holy” before the Lord. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I know I did. It doesn’t work. Even when you have become a believer, you still don’t have the power to change your heart, the cause of your sins. 

Our problem is an issue of the heart. Everything starts in our thoughts. Our thoughts have two data feeds, being what enters our thoughts via our senses and what our heart puts in it. So it is a mixed stream of thoughts. As we know, we cannot control the heart. So we can’t control what enters our mind from the heart. But we can determine what stays in our mind and we can determine what we put in it. Still there is an issue left. We can decide what thought to accept and what to reject, but that doesn’t change the condition of our hearts and it doesn’t take the urge to sin away. After all, it’s still our own effort. We need Jesus in every step of the way. 

Whenever the apostles do a call for repentance towards the believers, they never say: “stop committing sin!”. What they do say is: “Let not sin have dominion over you”. There is a big difference between the two of them. They’re not saying that anyone can commit sin, they’re just not focusing on the end result. 

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
John 6:44

But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
James 1:14-15

At one side we have God the Father, drawing us to Him. At the other side we have our heart, drawing us away from God, towards our own desires. So sin is not the cause, it is the fruit. First we are drawn away. Then we are enticed. That all happens in our thoughts. The moment where it starts to go wrong, is the moment when we start to consider the evil thought as an option. It then has the ability to grow further in our minds, until it is conceived. That means we start to deal with it as our truth. Then it is inevitable that it gives birth to sin. That is the moment we start to act based on the thing we’ve accepted as our truth. This is the point where we all find ourselves many times. Still we have the choice to continue to believe and to act in this lie that we’ve accepted as the truth. When we do that, it is considered as persisting in sin. Eventually that will lead to death. 

When the apostles called for repentance, they basically said to change our mind again. Don’t focus on sin, just acknowledge the thing that caused the sin and focus on Jesus. They never told us in any way that we should accept or tolerate sin in our lives. But they acknowledged that we can’t stop on our own effort. Repentance is accepting Jesus Christ as the Messiah (which also shows that we admit to need a Savior), to fix our eyes on Him and to let Him have His way in us, through the Holy Spirit. Fixing our eyes on Jesus is equal to guarding our minds and to bring it in alignment with the Word of God. So whenever the call for repentance is made, it calls for bringing our minds back in alignment with the Word of God: Considering a sin a sin and considering God’s Word as righteousness. Or in other words, not living in ignorance of sin, righteousness and judgment.

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