walk in the word
“Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, and that times of refreshing may come.” Acts 3:19
Every honest person knows what it is to struggle with sin—to try and fail, to fall and get up again, only to fall again and feel so discouraged. In fact, the apostle Paul himself wrote, “For the good that I want to do, I don’t do; but I practice the very evil that I don’t want to do, the thing I hate” (Romans 7:19).
From this kind of pain eventually we cry, “I want to change. I need to change. Can I change?” And the answer is, “Yes!” No matter how long you’ve been the way you are, trapped in that pattern of defeat, listening to the enemy’s accusations, you can change. But it won’t happen in some flippant three-page transaction. If real heart change was easy, everyone would be doing it. Tragically, we live in a day where people stand behind pulpits and ignore what the Bible says and give little surface patterns for change that only end up frustrating the sincere people of God.
You can change: the accusations can be silenced, the lies can cease, the chains can fall, and the bondage can be broken. You can go to the store and buy fifty different books on how to change; God’s only got one. He changes people one way, and step one is always repentance.
I’ve been digging through the Word this week, getting fired up about what I wanted to tell you about repentance. I was surprised to see how common the thread of repentance is in Scripture. You may have to travel a long way to hear a preacher talk about it today, but God talks about it all the time. The prophets of God stood before the people of God hundreds of times with a one-word sermon: REPENT! Ezekiel 18:30 is a good summary, “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you.”
The idea is this: Sin trips us up. You’ve gotta break those chains and leave them behind. The way to do that is repentance.
John the Baptist proclaimed it: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Luke 15:7 tells us that “there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.” Peter preached it to the early church in Acts 3, “Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, and that times of refreshing may come.” Oh, we need those times of refreshing. But they can only happen when repentance comes first. The role of church leaders, pastors, and teachers is to call people to repentance, “with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance” (2 Timothy 2:25). “God Himself is not willing for any to perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). And then writing to the church in Revelation 2 and 3, the last words we hear from our Savior in Scripture, is the same theme—repentance.
A. W. Tozer said this almost 30 years ago, “We are a sinful people, ladies and gentlemen. Until that knowledge has hit us hard, until it has wounded us, until it has gotten through and past our little theology department, it has done us no good. Lots of us believe in the total sinfulness of man who have never been wounded with the knowledge that we have sinned. Repentance is a wound I pray we all will feel.”
So what exactly is repentance? Literally it means, “rethinking, a change of mind.” Repentance involves our emotions and will, but it begins with a change of mind. All sin has wrong thinking in it. Let me just review some of our self-talk: “Just this once.” “I can handle this.” “I can escape the consequences.” “This is the way I am.” “I’ll just do it, then ask God to forgive me later.” “It’s not wrong.” “I’ll hide it.” These are the mental gymnastics of choosing to sin. Repentance is hauling all those ugly lies up on the table and calling them what they are. When I sin, I deceive myself. When I repent, I turn my mind from that deception.
When repentance happens, it leads to two things. First, confession. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The word “confess” means “to say the same thing.” When I confess my sin, I say what God says about it. But in order to do that, I have to see sin the way He sees it. Confession is far more than flippantly admitting, “Oops, I did it again. You’re right, God, it’s sin. Forgive me and I’ll be on my way.” That is such a far cry from biblical confession, it’s no wonder we wallow in sin the way we do. Our fellowship with God is restored only through real confession.
The second thing that happens when I genuinely repent is I make restitution. Zacheus would be a good example of this (Luke 19:8). The repentant person immediately moves not only to being right with God through confession, but to being right with other people through restitution. If I blow up at my wife and say things I have no business saying, I cannot finish that business alone with God. I have to go to her and ask forgiveness for how I’ve wronged her. When I steal, I give it back. When I lie, I tell the truth. When I injure, I ask forgiveness. I do whatever I can do to make it right on the horizontal level after it is right between me and God. That’s restitution.
Both confession and restitution are easy to understand and terrifically difficult to do. If you have tracked with me up till this point and some voice in the back of your head now says, “whoa, this is tough. Put this off till tomorrow,” I have one more word for you. Today.
I bring you this word of warning. Today, if you hear His voice, don’t harden your heart (Psalm 95:7-8). You don’t know how many chances you’ll have. “Well, how long is too long?” I don’t know; the Bible doesn’t say. But I want to tell you, if you’re asking yourself, “I wonder if I’ve waited too long?” you have. I don’t know where the line is, but I don’t want to live up against it. I don’t want to be like, “I wish I hadn’t rebelled that one last time.” Today is the day of repentance.
Do you need the courage to believe that real, lasting change can take place? Are you ready to do it God’s way? If yes, take a moment and ask “Lord, what is it? Spirit of God, put your hand on that thing of which I need to repent. Forgive me for sitting here, thinking only of the person I wish could hear this message. Lord, it’s for me. Forgive me for my silly surface approach to dealing with my sin. I want the deepest work of Your grace in my heart. Give me courage, I pray, to deal with my sinfulness. In the quietness of this moment, Lord, please put Your hand specifically upon it. Amen.”
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