Updated: Aug 27, 2019
It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. 1 Timothy 1:15
He is glorified and you and I can delight in him in ways the world can never provide joy and delight.
This year at Unity we are in a theme of Going in the Gospel and we are striving to not only fulfill what the great commission calls us to do (commands us to do, as faithful followers of Christ), but to fulfill it rightly. In doing that, we have taken this three year approach:
Year One - Knowing the Gospel
Year Two - Growing in the Gospel
Year Three (this year) - Going in the Gospel
Part of that journey is going through the book of Acts. And so, we are together looking at what it means as a follower of Christ to be going in the gospel. If you've got your Bibles, go ahead and turn to Acts 5:31 and pull out that listening guide.
I've entitled today's message, "The Role of Repentance" in this series of hot topics. We do this every year at Unity during the summer months because it's so disjointed with people in and out. We kind of take a topical approach, and this year, rather than looking at hot topics of our culture, we're looking at hot topics in relation to our follow-ship as followers of Christ.
I want to focus on the role of repentance because we don't talk a whole lot about repentance or repenting. For many hearing these words, we may have repented on the day that we repented of our sins and accepted Christ as our savior, repenting of sin and self, and we really don't think much more about repentance. It's not necessarily a part of our everyday vernacular as believers. Well, my goal this morning is to change that.
We're going to be looking again at Peter's defense to the Sanhedrin in Acts 5. There is a statement in here dealing with this subject of repentance right in the middle of verse 31.
"He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins." Acts 5:31
This was the message preached as the Apostles were going in the gospel starting in Jerusalem. As Jesus told them at the end of Luke's gospel, they were to proclaim this message of repentance and forgiveness of sin, and it's going to start in Jerusalem.That's what we've been seeing in the book of Acts.
Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Luke 24:45-47
So before we begin, to clarify everything, I want to ask these questions:
"What is the call to repent?" and "Why is there this call to repent?"
Had not Israel already repented as part of their sacrificial system? As they brought their sacrifices, they were repenting of their sin and offering an atonement for their sin. What was the point of this message to grant them repentance of sin?
What about us today? We've repented in the past, so why do we need to be focused on repentance today? That's what I hope to answer.
Before we get to that, let's clarify the term repentance and look at it from a biblical perspective. You can go to the English dictionary and you can look up the word and it'll be close, but I want to talk about what a biblical repentance looks like. I want to give you this definition to carry with us as we go through this message.
Now we can say that we've repented of something, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we are being biblical. We can repent or show remorse that we've done an action and we're not going to do that anymore (at least that's our desire). But biblical repentance changes your mind to the point that it affects your attitude and your perspective. And when your attitude and your perspective are changed, your behavior follows. So biblical repentance -what's called for in the gospel- is for us to repent of our sins in this way.
Israel was to repent of their sin even though they'd been offering all of these animal sacrifices for centuries, from Moses' time to our time in Acts 5 the message of the Gospel was still to repent. As a matter of fact, we can go all the way back to Acts 2 and see Peter's first sermon at Pentecost when the people say, "what shall we do?" Peter says, repent and be baptized. He tells them to repent!
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. to repent. Acts 2:38
Then again Acts 3:19 calls for repentance.
Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. Acts 3:19
Again in Acts 26:20 when he's giving his defense of his ministry before King Agrippa, Paul brings in the element of repentance.
So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. Acts 26:19-20
It's a part of the gospel message. As we go as messengers of Christ for the proclamation of the gospel, we must include repentance of sin. And lastly, Acts 20:21, in his farewell message to the elders in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul tells them about his ministry sharing Christ, and part of that sharing of Christ includes calling people to repent of their sins.
Solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 20:21
And so, I want us to talk about repentance. Biblically, it means a change of one's mind and heart to the point that it changes your person, your attitude, and what you do. There are two more points I want us to look at on this topic of repentance.
This is why repentance isn't really something we think about or talk about. When I repent, I am affirming and making an acknowledgement that I know I'm not where I should be and I know I'm not where I am meant to be. Take Israel, for instance. Who were they? God's Word says that they were His chosen people. There's a reason God chose them, but we can see how they clashed with the fact that the Promised One was going to be sent. And he was sent! Christ Jesus whom (according to Peter's message in Acts 2) they crucified instead of allowing him to be their Messiah. They crucified him because he didn't fit the bill, but when they were confronted with this truth they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "brethren, what shall we do?"
Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:36-38
When they were convicted by this message, that the one that they had crucified literally was their Messiah, they were pricked to the heart, it says, pierced with conviction. And Peter told them what was next; to repent, to acknowledge you aren't where you should be. You should have recognized Jesus for who he is, but hope is not lost because now you can repent of where you are and be where you should be by being baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Here he clearly says baptized in the name of Jesus. Literally telling Israel to acknowledge Him for who He is and pledge your commitment, your devotion, to Him as your Lord and Savior, to be immersed in Jesus. Then you will have forgiveness of sin and then you'll receive the gift of the Holy Spirit that we've talked about in weeks gone by.
So that was Israel, but what about us today? The scripture says that the church is the body of Christ. We are the children of God. In his first epistle, Peter goes so far as to give us the same acknowledged identity that Moses did to Israel. That we are a chosen people. We are a peculiar people. We are the possession of God, we are priestly people. We're unique, we're the children of God. We may not know how to be, but we're a work in progress just as that last song so beautifully communicated. And whenever we're confronted by God's word, with the reality of who we are and Whose we are, and how we should be responding to this wonderful gift of salvation we have to ask ourselves, "Am I responding rightly? Am I living as a child of God?"
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1Peter 2:9-10
Thankfully, God doesn't leave us alone. He's at work in us. He's given us the wonderful gift of his word. He's given us in his infinite wisdom, a community of believers so that we can gather together systematically to be reminded of who we are and learn about what that means and what that looks like as we reason together in the scripture, and learn together from the word, growing in the word together. We have to ask ourselves, how are we doing? Are we recognizing Jesus for who he is in every area of our life? Are we seeing the full potential of God's grace gift in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? And when I say potential, I mean all that it has to offer.
Christian arrives at the cross in John Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress
This morning in our Life Group we're studying Pilgrim's Progress and we reached the point where young Christian had reached the cross at the top of the sepulcher where his burden falls off, and we talked about how that's where so many people stop in their relationship with God. That's all they were after. "If I can just get rid of this guilt, this burden of my sin". And the scripture says right here, if we repent, we'll have forgiveness of our sin (Acts 3:19), but that is not the end of the relationship.
If we acknowledge with the change of mind to see sin as God sees it, and we respond to the conviction that God has brought to our heart, then we'll have forgiveness of sin because of the finished work of Christ. Where He became our propitiation, where He died for our sin, where He bore the punishment for our sin. And the wonderful truth is He didn't stay dead. He showed that He paid that debt in full by dying, but then taking up His life again, and today He lives at the right hand of the father and we await His return because we're His kids. We're His heirs, joint heirs. We are the bride, the body of Christ. Will we acknowledge our need to cultivate and nurture our relationship with Christ? Will we acknowledge our need to move forward towards all that God has for us? This leads us to our next point:
Whenever you and I are confronted with the truths of God's word, that's a work of God. Interestingly, the root word for the Greek word for repent is mind. It's interesting how whenever we come to repentance, something turns on. We are enlightened in our mind. We see a truth. Our eyes are opened. This is what we prayed for this morning in our prayer time before Life Groups, but that should always be our prayer. We should be asking God to open our minds to his word, to his truth, because we are here to hear from him so that we can see him more clearly and so we can see who we are in Christ more clearly. And if that's not your interest, I would go so far as to say -with great love- you're still lost and you need to be asking God to open your eyes to his truth, because that's exactly what he did for Israel and we're going to see how he's doing that for the church today.
There are three sub points I want to bring under this "opening of the mind and the heart to God's word":
1. The Revelation of God
2. The Revelation of God's Work
3. The Revelation of God's Will
Why the focus on God's word? Because God's word is where God gives us the revelation of Himself, the revelation of God. Romans 1:20 is clear that you and I have a general revelation in God's creation. Edward's went so far as to describe creation as the stage upon which God is revealing all of His glory. If you don't see enough of that, just watch the wildlife or look at the animal channels. Look at the human body, the detail, and the intricacies and the balance! The unbelieving world says this just happened by chance, but we know different and we are given, by God, a general revelation to see a creator. We are the handy work of that creator and humanity is uniquely different.
Let me share with you what's so unique about us. Yes, we are created in the image of God and part of the uniqueness that comes with being created in the image of God is that we are conscious beings. Conscious to the point that we can, even in our fallen state, be enlightened to the fact that God is, and we can grow in a relationship with Him. Not just acknowledging that He is creator, but we can know Him as our Father who art in heaven and know His mercies, and know His grace, and know that He loves us, and know He's doing a work in us that He will finish. God has blessed us, given us this gift to enlighten our minds.
You can see this same revelation to Israel in Exodus 6:7
Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. Exodus 6:7
Here God is bringing word to Moses and Moses is taking it to the people of Israel so that they can know God. For 400+ years, they had been in Egypt, surrounded by paganism, worship of idols, and now the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has come to them through Moses with a revelation, a message that they are His people.
Notice what he says about them in verse 7 "then I will take you for my people" (that's their identity) "and I will be your God" (not all these gods of Egypt)"and you shall know that I am the LORD your God". There's a reason that "LORD" is in all caps, it's because now the people of Israel have been given a personal covenant name of God.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob never called God Yahweh, but now Israel, being born out of bondage, are moving into an intimate relationship with not just their creator, but their redeemer, their savior, Yahweh. Moses acknowledges that Yahweh is the one who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. Moses was speaking God's word. As you read that chapter you'll see the Lord revealing himself. He is faithful! The God who kept his word and his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even 430 years later, God hasn't forgotten, God doesn't forget. This is important for us to see as a church because we have some preachers today saying that the old testament is not necessary in the church today. I differ! I argue back! I differ because we can see Christ all the way through the old testament. We're going to take a close look at this in January, if the Lord tarries. We're going to start going through the book of Exodus and we're going to do more than just see Moses and the children of Israel, and their encounters with God as they are delivered to the promised land. I want to share with you how Christ is foreshadowed in Exodus because, in essence, God sent His son like Moses to deliver us from our burden of sin.
Notice what John says in John 1:18, the great theological chapter of the Gospel of John.
No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. John 1:18
When John talks about "the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the father" he is speaking about the Logos who became flesh and dwelt among us, he is talking about Jesus. So in God's infinite wisdom, with all that happened in the Old Testament and all the misunderstanding and the dropping of the ball of righteousness with Israel, now God says, "I'm gonna make it a little more clear, I am going to come in my son, I'm going to take on human flesh and dwell amongst you so that you can see me". Not the literal facial features of Him, but the character of Him, the nature of Him. And we see that through the gospel accounts of Jesus' Earthly Ministry. Now God is revealed in His son and we as a church have learned that, as we go in the Gospel, we must share the revelation of God in His son through the revelation of God's Word, for there is the authority.
But again, we find a problem because even though Israel had what they had of God's revelation, and even though the church today has what she has with God's written Word, we still fall short of knowing God like we should. One of the reasons for this is that we don't know Him like we should. So in our shortcomings, we come up with our own ideas of how God is. I heard one speaker make the comment that "one of the challenges and problems with the church today, and one of the reasons that we're not seeing a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in our communities, in our bodies of faith, is because the gospel that we present is one that says that God is just a 'God of love' and all He wants you to do is to embrace His love." God is love. According to God's word, He is love. But the Bible says that the ones who receive that love are His kids. If you're not born again, if you're not a child of God, the Bible says that you're an enemy of God, you're a child of wrath. So we need to see how God has worked to change that reality, and that's what scripture clearly shows us. That's our second sub point:
God is not a passive God waiting to see what you're going to do so that He can respond to it. No, God is at work. He's intentional. Israel was going to learn that. Take a look at Exodus 19:3-6.
Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: 'You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” Exodus 19:3-6
These are the words. This is the revelation Moses was to bring to Israel to remind them that I AM the one that delivers you from your burdens. I AM the one that saved you and I saved you for a purpose. I saved you to be my people. I saved you to be my own possession, a treasured possession. Let me put that in perspective. We've got some young people in here, but many of us knew what it was like to be a child in a home. We all had parents, for the most part. Compare when you were in the home and you were in the good graces of your parents with when you were acting rebellious and not in the good graces of your parents, which was more pleasurable in your home? The good graces! When I was living as my parents' child, obediently, knowing that they're the ones that God has put in my life to take care of me, to provide for me, it was wonderful to be a child in that home.
And that's what God was telling Israel. If you'll acknowledge who you are and live like who you are, it's going to be a wonderful life. And by the time you get to Deuteronomy 31 you can see he lays it out. "If you will be that child of mine faithfully, all of these blessings will be poured out on you, but if you push back against me, if you choose not to obey me, then there'll be consequences." There will be not just chastisement, but, for Israel, the curses that were laid out. Some would say, "Well, that's kinda harsh", but when you elevate the holiness and the righteousness of God and the sovereignty and the authority of the true and living God, any rebellion against Him, any push back against Him is huge. It cannot be tolerated. It would be like you're carrying a crate of Nitroglycerin; the rule of Nitroglycerin is that it has to be stable, you can decide you don't care about that rule and you can run around and shake it all up, but there's going to be dire consequences because the principle that governs reality is that Nitroglycerin is unstable and must be carefully carried or there is a Kaboom! All of us know of life situations where there is no ground for error, but all of that falls miserably short of illustrating that Almighty God cannot be rebelled against. Israel was going to show that to the rest of the world.
For us today, in the New Testament, what is the work of God being revealed to us in His word? Look at John 3:16, a passage so familiar:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16
"For God so loved the world that he gave" (didn't offer, didn't try to sell) "His only begotten son" (unique, one of a kind) "that whoever believes in him," (whoever trusts him, and "trust" means with your life) "shall not perish," (shall not die, shall not be separated from a holy God) "but will have eternal life."
How do we know this? Because God's word tells us and God's word goes so far to reveal to us his work and what eternal life is. God's word defines eternal life as delighting in the Lord because you know Him, not as a happy fishing ground on the other side of death where you're going to spend eternity doing whatever you like to do!
This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. John 17:3
John 17:3 is Jesus speaking. This is Jesus revealing the father, revealing who God is and the work that He's doing. That word "know" is not just to know in our minds, but it's a "know" of intimate communal community relationship, which takes me to our third sub point.
What is God's will for my life? We hear that a lot. You may have said that lately. You may wonder "what's the point of all of this?" God's word, again, reveals to us the will of God and let's us see the importance of repentance.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them. Revelation 21:3
The dwelling place of God is among men, and this is a picture of the new heaven and the new earth. God's plan of redemption. Historical redemptive history has already gone past and now we're at the climax. We've reached the goal. Thus God's will for the Tabernacle of God is among men and He, He, God would dwell among them. They shall be his people.
You see that constant thread going all the way through the scripture and even when we get to the end. What is it? They shall be His people and God, Himself (I love that personal pronoun, "God, Himself") will be among them. God's will is for us to have more than what Adam and Eve had in the garden before the fall. God's will is that we will be His people, His children, and we will dwell with Him. We will commune with Him.
So you say "what's that got to do with repentance?" Repentance is called for today because this eternal life is associated with the Gospel where we are called to repent of our sins. Clearly we've read of repentance in Peter's recorded sermons, and Jesus himself said that the repentance of sin was to be proclaimed, thus we will have forgiveness of sin.
What is it that separates us from God, in the beginning? It's sin. One might say, "I'm going to repent of sin, now God can be my father who art in heaven and I can be as child. So everything is good." Well, it's getting there. But if the will of God is to dwell amongst us (and that phrase "to be amongst us", means that we are to be in a close communal relationship), I believe the call to repentance that is needed in the church for many who have repented of their sins is a call to repent of the sin. And "the sin" is the mindset that thinks "I came to Christ, I received forgiveness of my sins, this is all it's about. I've been saved. So now I'm not going to hell. I'm going to be saved and one day I'm going to heaven. But in the meantime I'm going to try to get through life the best I can."
Eternal life begins the moment you become a child of God and eternal life means that you know Him and He knows you and you have a relationship with Him. When you start thinking about who God is (for example, some Life Groups have looked at The Attributes of God and Behold your God), and getting to know God, the more you know Him, the more joy you can have to realize whose child you are.
I don't know about you, but the more I've pursued that, the more I want to know my Father who art in heaven. And the more I know, the more amazed I stand in His presence, the more I realize I am loved by the true and living God. I've been adopted into His family and I have too casually gone through life every day. Maybe you even need to repent of the fact that you haven't even given Him a thought this particular day when every day you should acknowledge that you are a child of God and thank Him for that. Know that He walks with you and He wants to talk with you, like the old hymn said.
He's given you the gift of His word. He's given you the ability to read so that you can get to know Him! Some you thought, "well I've learned to read in school because that was the goal." Listen, God was at work even in that early upbringing where you were learning to read and the reason he wanted you to read is so that you could get to see Him in His word. And you thought reading was a pain! Reading is a gift, like repentance is a gift. When we see these, we see where we were meant to be and where we ought to be, and we want to be where we ought to be because that's where the joy is! There I can begin to see, though still dimly, what it means to be a child of the living God. What it means to be The Church.
I am convinced, after 30 years of ministry and ministering to the body of Christ and ministering to those professing to be followers of Christ, either one of two things:
1. We have a lot of spiritual babies still in diapers who need to know who God is.
2. We have a lot of folks professing to be believers, but have yet to come to the conviction that they're sinners who need a savior, and following that enlightenment and that confession comes true, biblical repentance where there is a change of the mind, there is a change of attitude, and there is a change of the heart that changes the life. To reiterate, the point that I want you to get today is the call to repentance that implies that we don't see God for who He is because we're not in the word. I pray that you repent of not getting in God's word daily, and you're not just reading for the sake of your intellect, but you're reading to know Him, because He wants you to know Him. He's gone to great lengths for you to know Him and so you can begin to see who's child you are and the joy that that can bring you.