Friday, April 13, 2018

THE CYCLE OF REPENTANCE

This article summarizes a sermon series about the elements of repentance which are essential for spiritual growth. The first time I learned that‭ ‬repentance‭ should be an ongoing activity in the Christian’s life was in‭ ‬a small book by‭ ‬M.‭ ‬Basilea Schlink.‭ ‬Here’s a meaningful quote from her about this concept:
Because my repentance at conversion did not continue as a daily experience,‭ ‬my love for Jesus grew lukewarm.‭ ‬Only penitent sinners—to whom forgiveness is given—are on fire with love for Jesus.‭ ‬So I can tell you that a life without daily repentance is spiritually poor.‭ ‬It has no joy or power and is totally lacking in fruit.‭ ‬Heaven is not‭ “‬at hand‭” ‬in such a life.‭ (‬REPENTANCE‭ ‬-‭ ‬The Joy-filled Life,‭ ‬Zondervan,‭ ‬1968,‭ ‬p.‭ ‬10‭)
In the New Testament,‭ ‬metanoia is the Greek word translated‭ “‬repentance.‭” ‬It means‭ “‬a change of mind.‭” ‬But repentance works as a dynamic process with several consecutive components that form a cycle.‭ ‬As Christians,‭ ‬our initial entry into this cycle culminates by inviting Jesus into our hearts.‭ ‬Afterwards,‭ ‬His‭ ‬indwelling presence makes this‭ ‬cycle of repentance‭ ‬an ongoing pathway for spiritual growth.


Our starting point in the cycle is our ongoing faith-commitment to fellowship with our living Lord Who dwells within us.‭ ‬Relational intimacy with Jesus is the momentum launching us into the changes facilitated by this cycle.‭ ‬After new birth in Christ,‭ ‬our proper attitude is‭ ‬not to stay the same,‭ ‬but to‭ ‬conform our‭ ‬thinking‭ ‬to His:‭ “‬Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,‭” ‬(Philippians‭ ‬2:5,‭ ‬NIV‭)‬.‭ ‬He is our internal standard for thought and behavior.‭ ‬External legalistic standards and uniform religious practices fall short of what our inner communion with Christ personally reveals.‭ ‬Union with Him automatically highlights the specific areas in our lives where we need further changes in how we think and how we live.

Our indwelling‭ ‬Lord won’t‭ ‬let us read Scripture merely‭ ‬for information.‭ ‬How‭ ‬Jesus lived and what He taught‭ ‬‬take on a new personal meaning.‭ ‬His life and His truth recorded in the written‭ ‬Word have now become the Life and‭ ‬the‭ ‬Truth‭ ‬inhabiting us as the Living Word.‭ ‬Worldly thinking and lazy living can lull us into spiritual lethargy.‭ ‬But our ongoing commitment to Christ within us motivates change and keeps us moving forward.‭ ‬In Ephesians‭ ‬4:22-24‭ (‬ESV‭)‬,‭ ‬Paul describes the direction of transformation:‭ ‬it’s‭ “‬to put off your old self,‭ ‬which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,‭ ‬and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,‭ ‬and to put on the new self,‭ ‬created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.‭” ‬This‭ “‬new self‭” ‬is really our‭ ‬true human self in the‭ “‬likeness of God.‭” ‬When our relational union with Christ confronts stagnation in our spiritual growth,‭ ‬the Holy Spirit takes over to complete the confrontation with His special work of conviction.

Jesus promised us help in‭ ‬John‭ ‬14:26‭ (‬KJV‭)‬,‭ “‬But the Comforter,‭ ‬which is the Holy Ghost,‭ ‬whom the Father will send in my name,‭ ‬he shall teach you all things,‭ ‬and bring all things to your remembrance,‭ ‬whatsoever I have said unto you.‭” ‬In His teaching ministry,‭ ‬the Holy Spirit‭ ‬doesn‭’‬t‭ ‬behave as‭ ‬a classroom instructor‭ ‬would,‭ ‬following a rigid,‭ ‬general curriculum.‭ ‬He is more like a personal Tutor,‭ ‬designing‭ ‬special lesson-plans for each individual believer.‭ ‬But‭ ‬a major focus in all‭ ‬the Holy Spirit‭’‬s teaching is‭ ‬to‭ ‬bring Jesus to our‭ “‬remembrance‭”‬ and‭ ‬to‭ ‬remind‭ ‬us of‭ ‬both‭ ‬what He‭ ‬has taught‭ ‬in the Gospels and what He has specifically‭ “‬said‭” ‬to us‭ ‬as individuals.‭ ‬This puts the ball in our court,‭ ‬allowing us to respond appropriately to‭ ‬the Comforter’s conviction.

The‭ “‬worldly sorrow‭” ‬from sin’s consequences is not the proper heart-response of true repentance.‭ “‬Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret,‭ ‬but worldly sorrow brings death,‭” (‬2‭ ‬Corinthians‭ ‬7:10,‭ ‬NIV‭)‬.‭ ‬Confronted by Christ and convicted by the Holy Spirit,‭ ‬the conscience is led into‭ “‬godly sorrow,‭” ‬which is God’s own attitude toward sin and the basis of His‭ ‬wrath‭ ‬against it.‭ ‬God is‭ ‬broken up over our sin,‭ ‬and He wants us on the same page with Him.‭ “‬The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit‭; ‬a broken and contrite heart,‭ ‬O God,‭ ‬you will not despise,‭” (‬Psalm‭ ‬51:17,‭ ‬NIV‭)‬.‭ ‬In Hebrew,‭ ‬the word‭ “‬contrite‭” ‬literally means‭ ‬collapsed.‭ ‬The best portrait of God’s own contrition was displayed in Gethsemane.‭ ‬There,‭ ‬Jesus‭ ‬collapsed in His human spirit over what would soon be sin’s remedy.‭ “‬God made him who had no sin to be sin for us,‭ ‬so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,‭” (‬2‭ ‬Corinthians‭ ‬5:21,‭ ‬NIV‭)‬.‭ ‬By far the best way to gain‭ “‬a broken and contrite heart‭” ‬over our own moral failings is to meditate deeply on Christ’s struggle in facing the Cross and His anguish in becoming‭ “‬sin for us‭” ‬upon it.‭ ‬If our faith in Christ is authentic,‭ ‬that meditation will bring‭ “‬godly sorrow‭” ‬for anything in our lives displeasing to God. ‬But contrition is not an endpoint.‭ ‬It must be confessed with our lips.

One of the most‭ ‬gracious promises‭ ‬in the Bible for Christian growth is this:‭ “‬If we confess our sins,‭ ‬he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,‭” ‬(1‭ ‬John‭ ‬1:9,‭ ‬NIV‭)‬.‭ ‬In‭ ‬Hebrew, to‭ ‬confess ‭means‭ ‬to throw down,‭ ‬implying that what’s thrown down is in plain sight.‭ To make a true confession,‭ ‬we‭ ‬must‭ ‬speak about our sins‭ ‬the same way God‭ ‬sees them.‭ ‬This is‭ ‬pictured in Psalm‭ ‬90:8‭ (‬NIV‭)‬,‭ “‬You have set our iniquities before you,‭ ‬our secret sins in the light of your presence.‭” ‬The New Testament word‭ ‬to confess,‭ ‬which means‭ ‬to agree,‭ ‬or literally,‭ ‬to have the same reasoning,‭ ‬makes this‭ ‬need to be in agreement with God‭ ‬even more clear.‭ ‬But once we’ve‭ ‬thrown down our sins in His sight,‭ ‬we also need to confess our‭ ‬trust in God’s‭ “‬faithful‭” ‬character.‭ ‬If we are convinced of our sin but not convinced that He‭ “‬will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,‭” ‬we may sink emotionally into a bog of despair.‭ ‬Just as we fully trusted in God’s love and power to save us,‭ ‬when we called upon Jesus the first time,‭ ‬so we must fully believe that God‭ ‬will pardon and purify us when we‭ “‬confess our sins‭” committed in our Christian walks. ‬Stating our faith in what He has said about Himself and what He promises to do in us is crucial for proceeding to a complete change of mind and behavior.

The fact that Jesus told Peter in Luke‭ ‬22:32b‭ (‬KJV‭)‬,‭ “‬when thou art converted,‭ ‬strengthen thy brethren,‭” ‬shows that conversion is not just for unbelievers.‭ ‬In a few short hours,‭ ‬Peter denied faith in Jesus three times,‭ ‬but he did‭ ‬return to that faith.‭ ‬In both the Old and New Testaments,‭ ‬the word‭ ‬conversion means a‭ ‬turning again.‭ ‬Jeremiah exhorted God’s people in Lamentations‭ ‬3:40‭ (‬ESV‭)‬,‭ “‬Let us test and examine our ways,‭ ‬and return to the LORD‭!‬” The Christian life is lived by following Jesus.‭ ‬If we get out of step with Him,‭ ‬we must‭ “‬return to the LORD‭!‬” We do not have far to go,‭ ‬because He now indwells us.‭ ‬Similar to Jeremiah’s exhortation is Paul’s‭ ‬admonition‭ ‬in‭ ‬2‭ ‬Corinthians‭ ‬13:5‭ (‬NIV‭)‬,‭ “‬Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith‭; ‬test yourselves.‭ ‬Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless,‭ ‬of course,‭ ‬you fail the test‭?‬” The Scriptures give us many criteria for self-examination,‭ ‬but the return path always brings us back to‭ ‬Jesus within ‬Who never stops saying, “‬Follow Me.‭” ‬The complete‭ ‬turn around—the comprehensive conversion—is not a list of rules or token observances.‭ ‬It’s‭ ‬the transformed life that can only be found in our union with Christ. Paul ‬described its impact in Galatians‭ ‬2:20‭ (‬NIV‭)‬,‭ “‬I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live,‭ ‬but Christ lives in me.‭ ‬The life I live in the body,‭ ‬I live by faith in the Son of God,‭ ‬who loved me and gave himself for me.‭”

When we have moved full circle through this cycle of repentance,‭ ‬we come back to where we started,‭ ‬although now at a new level of maturity in Christ.‭ ‬Yet our commitment to communion with‭ ‬our living,‭ ‬indwelling‭ ‬Savior will not allow us to‭ ‬stay there.‭ ‬As we move closer to Jesus,‭ ‬we will see other areas‭ ‬in our lives‭ ‬that need change.‭ ‬The attitude expressed by Paul in Philippians‭ ‬3:12-14‭ (‬NIV‭) ‬will help us maintain this ‬forward‭ ‬momentum:
Not that I have already obtained all this,‭ ‬or have already been made perfect,‭ ‬but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.‭ ‬Brothers,‭ ‬I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.‭ ‬But one thing I do:‭ ‬Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,‭ ‬I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
We must not linger in regret for former deficits and failures,‭ ‬which have been confessed and forgiven.‭ ‬Neither must we think we’ve finally arrived.‭ ‬But‭ “‬forgetting what is behind‭” ‬in both previous defeats and present victories,‭ ‬we must keep on keeping on,‭ ‬“press[ing‭] ‬toward the goal.‭” ‬Jesus is that goal‭! ‬He is our momentum‭! ‬This cycle of repentance revolves around Him,‭ ‬leading us ever closer in our union with Him,‭ “‬until‭” ‬as Paul says in Ephesians‭ ‬4:13‭ (‬NIV‭), “‬we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature,‭ ‬attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

There is no real conclusion to this cycle of repentance during our earthly journeys, unless we stop growing in Christ. But I wrote a poem to be a concluding review of the cycle:

CYCLE OF REPENTANCE

Complacency confronted by the Word
must meet the Comforter’s convicting weight.
If wooing from that Spirit’s Voice is heard,
the conscience and contrition soon will mate.
Convinced of sin, believing lips confess.
Convinced of grace, the same sing praise and bless.

Repentance (metanoia) means “to change”
our way of thinking, planning, how we talk.
We turn, transform, renew or rearrange,
converting comprehensively our walk
full circle in communion with the Son,
committed to the new life He’s begun.

— David L. Hatton, 3/19/2018

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*(Outlines and recordings of the three sermons I preached in this series are available on my website’s sermon page near the bottom of the list:
66-03-02 - Exploring the Depths of Repentance - 02/11/2018-mp3
43-16-03 - The Comforter's Conviction - 02/25/2018-mp3
50-03-04 - Commitment to Communion - 03/25/2018-mp3)

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