Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Repentance, The Gift of God

I’ve been doing some thinking about what repentance looks like so that I can explain it to those trapped in sin and who can’t seem to get out if it.

First of all everything is about God. Because he made us we are responsible to him for everything we think, do, and say. When we set ourselves up as god in our own life we sin and are not in submission to God as God. Even if we know that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, but continue to live as if we didn’t know this, we have need of repentance and salvation may not be ours. Repentance means to change our minds from thinking we are the be all and end all of all things to thinking about things the way God thinks about things. That is to say we change our minds from thinking the way we want to think to thinking the way God wants us to think. Usually, we think of repentance as something we do. We stop sinning and we start doing deeds of righteousness. This is because we do what we think. Or put another way, what we think about God or god comes out our fingertips.

But how does someone who is living as the center of their own little universe come to the place where they can repent? The Bible says that repentance is a gift of God (1 Tim. 2:25). But what if a person knows all the right things to do, but can’t bring himself to do it? He knows he shouldn’t gamble, drink, and stay out all night, but because of everything else in his life (he likes to play the blame game), he finds himself out several times each week living the life or Riley, only to come home and feel terrible guilt the next day. After several months, or years, of this he should realize that he is, what the Bible calls, enslaved to sin. The sin is his master, he cannot stop. What can he do if God has not granted him repentance?

The first thing to note is that the besides saying that repentance is a gift, it also commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). What this means is that while repentance is a gift it is also a command to be obeyed. People who are enslaved to sin must turn their hearts and minds to God if they are to live in Christ and be saved on the last day. They are commanded to repent. The Bible says: “Change your mind.” “Stop thinking that you run your life.” “Take yourself off the throne of your life.” “Submit to God, worship him alone.” “Just do it!”

But how do these things work together? How can a person repent, if God has note granted him repentance? How can you tell a man to repent of his flesh frenzies when God has not drawn him to himself first? The answer I believe is the same answer as the answer to the question about free will and predestination. The Bible says that God is in control of all things. Nothing is outside of his view and plan. Everything that happens happens because God causes it to happen. But at the same time it says that men are responsible for their choices. Men choose to sin or not to sin. In Genesis Joseph told his brothers that the sin they committed against him they meant for evil, but God meant it for good (Gen. 50:20). When you read the Bible, you see this pattern happening over and over again. The passages that tell the story only tell you the human side, but then later you read that the whole thing was orchestrated by God for his own particular purpose. Compare, for example, the accounts of leaders’ involvement with the crucifixion  of Christ with Acts 2:22 and 4:26-28. So God predestines things, and men choose freely to do what they will.

It is the same with repentance. God grants it, and men choose it. A man cannot say, “God has not granted it, therefore I must continue in sin.” No, a man must repent and then after repenting he can say, “I have repented and turned my life over to Christ. God must have given me repentance.”

Another question can be asked about the process that brings a man to his knees before the living God. The answer is that a man must be brought to the end of himself. He must come to the place where he can no longer trust in himself for his security, pride, hope, will, and trust. He must be brought low. But this is not a humiliating kind of coming low. It is not the same kind of thing that might happen to a weak man when facing a strong man where his pride is simply bent to the size or strength of someone else. If it were this kind of humility, it would disappear as soon as the strong man disappeared. The kind of humbling the Bible talks about is the kind that sucks every fiber of insolence and arrogance out of a man because he finds himself in the presence of God almighty, the king of creation.

There are several examples of this kind of experience in the Bible. When Isaiah met God he saw a host of angels and the glory of the Lord shown brightly. And Isaiah was so undone at the sheer majesty and splendor that he fell on his face and cried out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). Another example is when Ezekiel met God. He saw the angels and also fell on his face in the dirt. When men meet God, they lose themselves and become empty of all their pretense of self sufficiency. Paul said, knowing Christ was more important to him than all the pedigrees he had behind his name, more important than anything else in the world (Phil. 3:3-11). The Psalmist says, “Whom have in heaven beside you? The earth has nothing I desire besides you” (Psa. 73:25).

Because of man’s pride, then, repentance requires two things: a situation where a man realizes he isn’t all that he previously thought he was, and a clear view of God. When these two things come together a man humbles himself, lays down his life, and lets God lift him up again.

The original question is how can a man repent? The answer is to ask God to bring you to the end of yourself, and read your bible asking God to reveal himself to you in a way that will cause you to fall on your face in humility. Then, do what comes naturally. When you realize that you aren’t all that you have thought you are and that God is more than you thought you were, your repentance will be a natural response.

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