Repentance that Leads to Life

Today’s reading is Acts 11.

Let’s face it. Acts 11:18 is weird. I mean, I would understand it more easily if they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted life.” Or “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted salvation.” Instead, they glorified God saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance.” Yes, they go on to point out that it is repentance that leads to life. But, for just a moment, stop and consider what was granted the Gentiles. They were not granted unconditional salvation. They were not granted unconditional life. Rather, God granted them access to the pathway that leads to life. They still had to choose to get on it. Gentiles are also allowed to repent. And when they do repent, they also get life. Since I am a Gentile, that is good news for me. Have you repented? Have you given your allegiance over to Jesus Christ? If we can help you with that, please, let us know in the comments below.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 11.

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Repent and Be Baptized

Today’s reading is Acts 2.

Here it is, the first proclamation of the post-resurrection gospel. Jesus was raised from the dead and is King. He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord, the King. “But what are we to do,” the crowds cry out. This is not polite plea for more information. This is no quiet request to know how to get saved. This is a desperate cry. “We killed the King, what are we to do?” Do you think they expected Peter to have a response? Don’t you know they expected to hear, “Well, nothing. I mean, what could you do? You killed the Messiah. You’re toast.” That, however, is not what they heard. Peter responded by saying, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Here is the very first time people responded to the gospel message that Jesus was the resurrected Lord and King. What was the response? Repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins. Every other story we read in Acts about forgiveness, salvation, submission to King Jesus is predicated on this very first explanation of the gateway into the kingdom. It’s odd to me. Many people today will turn to all kinds of passages to explain to people what they should do when they want to surrender to Jesus as king. But they won’t turn to this, the very first time it ever happened for anyone. Why? Because this one doesn’t say what they want it to say. It doesn’t say, “You don’t have to do anything. If you’re chosen, God will do it.” It doesn’t say, “All you have to do is believe.” It doesn’t say, “Repeat this prayer after me.” It says, “Repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins.” May I ask you a very simple question. Have you repented and been baptized for the remission of your sins? That is, have you decided to let Jesus be your King and then been immersed in water in order to let Jesus forgive you? If not, why not surrender to King Jesus the same way the very first kingdom citizens did? Why would you try to accomplish that any other way? There is no way to enter the kingdom but God’s way. Can we help you enter today?

Next week’s reading is Acts 3.

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Please, Forgive Me

Today’s reading is Luke 17.

Since I missed putting up a message this past Monday, I thought I’d give you a bonus weekend message and wrap up this series on Jesus’s incredibly hard teaching on forgiveness. And, apologies up front. It will be a little longer than usual.

In the earlier messages we focused on the person Jesus focused on, the person who needs to forgive. There is one draw back to that approach. It ignores the person who needs forgiveness. Perhaps I should say, the one who needs to repent. Sadly, that person is often quick to jump on the one from whom they want to receive forgiveness, twist this teaching, weaponize it, and misuse it in an attempt to actually ignore their own sin all while making the person who may be responsible to forgive look like the bad guy. With that in mind, let’s remember some foundational concepts about repentance and forgiveness. First, as I pointed out to the children in yesterday’s post, notice that Jesus uses the phrase “I repent,” not “I’m sorry.” The statement of “I repent” doesn’t mean I simply feel sorry for what I’ve done or for the consequences. It means I’m going to change my behavior. As I say, “I repent,” I should be willing to say what the behavior change is actually going to be. If I don’t actually plan to change my behavior, can’t even name the behavior that needs to be changed, and am unwilling to commit to the new behavior, then I’m not actually repenting, am I? Second,”I repent” is not a magical phrase that automatically obligates forgiveness. That is, even in Jesus’s teaching, the phrase “I repent” is predicated on actual repentance. “If he repents, forgive him.” Jesus’s follow-up statement about the person coming seven times in a day and saying “I repent” is figure of speech called synecdoche. That is, it is using one part of the process to refer to the whole process. It mentions only the spoken promise of repentance to refer to real repentance. While the person who is forgiving is not granted permission from Jesus to withhold forgiveness until repentance is proven by changed behavior throughout even that day, there are some people adept at saying “I repent” while actually demonstrating they don’t repent at all. For instance: “I’m sorry I yelled at you, honey. I won’t do that anymore. But when the house is a mess when I get home, I just can’t help myself. Why do you make me do that?” Let’s face it, that apologizer said some words of repentance (“I won’t do that anymore”), but also demonstrated that he is not repenting at all. He has actually demonstrated he doesn’t believe his action is a sin, but is the natural and only response to his wife’s action. He is actually declaring she is the one in sin. Further, he is speaking out of both sides of his mouth, saying he will change the behavior while also saying he will only change his behavior if she changes hers. That is neither an actual apology, a correct confession, or remotely real repentance. Third, when asking for forgiveness, we are asking for mercy. Mercy is never owed. In other words, when I am truly asking for forgiveness, I realize I’m asking for something I have absolutely no permission to demand. I cannot remotely view the person I’m asking as if my mere request for it obligates them to give it. Then it wouldn’t be mercy, would it? It may truly be that the person I’m asking forgiveness from is required by God to forgive me. But that is something they owe God, not something they owe me. God can demand it. He can send messengers to teach them about it. But I don’t ever get to be that messenger. I never get to demand forgiveness. I merely get to ask and hope they will respond. Until they do, I need to humbly remember my sins were the cause of this struggle not their lack of forgiveness. The moment I start acting like someone is obligated to forgive me, I’ve ceased asking for forgiveness. I have actually demonstrated I am not really repenting at all. This leads to our fourth foundational concept. I should read this passage for what it says to me, not what it says to the person on the other side of it. In other words, if I am the one who sinned, I shouldn’t take this passage as a sermon to preach to the person whom I want to forgive me. In like manner, if I am the one who is sinned against, I really shouldn’t take it as a sermon to preach against the one who sinned (remembering, of course, part of the lesson it teaches me is I need to love someone enough to rebuke them). Finally, the fifth foundational concept is that forgiveness doesn’t mean there are no consequences. For instance, God forgave David. However, the child still died, Absalom still rebelled and publicly humiliated David by going into his father’s concubines, and on the list of consequences goes. If I embezzle funds from the business my best friend and I started together, when I repent, he may forgive me. However, he is not obligated to maintain the business with me. If I commit adultery, when I repent, my wife may forgive me. However, she is not obligated to stay married to me. When some of us ask for forgiveness, what we really want is the removal of all consequences, then we want to treat the people through whom those consequences come as if they haven’t obeyed God. Granted, this can get very complex, very quickly. Each forgiver has to wrestle with what is simply natural consequences and what is continued acts of punishment. I can’t provide cut and dried rules for you on that one. But, at this point, the person being forgiven needs to remember foundational concept #3. When I’m being forgiven, I don’t get to make demands about what that looks like. I don’t get to treat others like they are obligated to forgive me in a certain way. After all, as we learned above, forgiveness is mercy. Therefore, it is never owed to me.

Monday’s reading is Luke 18.

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Seven Times in a Day

Today’s reading is Luke 17.

But if my brother sins against me seven times in a day, isn’t that an indication he hasn’t really repented? Perhaps. How many times have you committed the same sin against God and then repented and asked for forgiveness? This goes so against the common sense of our age. After all, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me seven times in a day… Certainly, this is not Jesus’s permission for any of us to sin repeatedly so long as we say the obligatory “I repent.” It is Jesus’s instruction to drop the rebuke and the punishment when they declare their repentance, even if this is the seventh time today. Neither is the point that on the eighth time they’re out of luck. Rather, the use of seven here is a symbolic idea of completeness. As in the seventh year all debts were completely forgiven no matter how great, every day we forgive the spiritual debts completely even if it is an unlikely seven times in one day. “But this is so unnatural,” we cry. “No one would ever do this.” Even the apostles, hearing this, begged for Jesus to increase their faith. Of course, Jesus’s response was that they didn’t need an increased faith, they needed to actually act based on the faith they had. No doubt, it is unnatural. In fact, we might, in a sense, say it is supernatural. No one who is disconnected from Jesus will ever pull this off. “But what if someone takes advantage of me?” Perhaps we need to remember that no one has ever lost their soul for being taken advantage of, but we may well lose our souls if we refuse to forgive. After all, our prayer is for God to forgive us the way we forgive others.

Monday’s reading is Luke 18.

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If Your Brother Repents, Forgive Him

Today’s reading is Luke 17.

Because so few understand what it means to rebuke a sinner properly, few understand forgiveness as well. Because of this misunderstanding, I fear many of us focus more on forgiveness as defined by psychologists than as defined by the Bible. For instance, while searching for images to go with this post, I saw a meme that says, “Forgiveness is for you, not for them.” From a psychological standpoint, this sounds deep and profound. The idea is whether or not a person repents, let go of your anger, your frustration, your seething desire for revenge. Quit feeding your negative feelings toward them because it is destroying you on the inside. If you would just learn to forgive, you would be so much more psychologically healthy. The problem with this biblically is that while all those things are emotional and psychological prerequisites to spiritual forgiveness, they are not forgiveness. That is, if you hang on to your anger, your frustration, your desire for revenge, or if you continue to feed your negative feelings toward a person, you will never forgive them, but letting all those go is not forgiveness. After all, when Jesus was on the cross dying as the sacrifice that would pay the debt for the sins of the crowd that shouted, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”, that nailed Him to the cross, that stood their jeering, “Come down and we’ll believe in You,” and He said, “Father forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing,” was He hanging on to anger, frustration, vengeance? Was He feeding His negative feelings toward them? No, obviously not. And yet, He wasn’t forgiving them. The One who had the power to forgive sins on the earth and who had even told people their sins were forgiven while on the earth, didn’t do that on the cross. He didn’t say, “You are forgiven.” He didn’t say, “I forgive you.” He didn’t forgive them, but asked the Father to do so. And the Father did forgive many of them…on the day of Pentecost and in the days and years following (as did Jesus). Whether or not someone repents, we need to let go of our hate, our anger, our grudge-holding, our desire to hurt, our desire to get vengeance. We need to do that because these emotions and desires hurt not only the person we feel them towards, but also hurt us. In fact, as we learned yesterday, the only way to rebuke properly, with the desire to bring someone to repentance is to let go of these things. But, until they have repented, we must continue to warn them, to rebuke them. Until they have repented, their relationship with God is in jeopardy, their soul is in danger. How can we call it love to simply let sin go and allow a person to walk blithely on to eternal destruction? We need to understand that Jesus’s words here in Luke 17:1-4 are not for our psychological health (though that may be a serendipitous byproduct), they are for the salvation of sinners. Sometimes the sinner is us. Sometimes the sinner is someone else. If your brother sins, love him enough to rebuke him. If he repents, love him enough to forgive him.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 17.

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Baptism of Repentance

Today’s reading is Luke 3.

When John baptized people for the forgiveness of their sins, it was not so they could live however they pleased. Rather, it was a baptism of repentance. They were to follow their baptism up with fruit in keeping with the repentance their baptism proclaimed. The crowds were to learn to share with those who had less. The tax collectors were to learn not to take more than they were authorized. The soldiers were to learn not to extort money, but be content with their wages. Ours is also a baptism of repentance for the remission of our sins (Acts 2:38). We do not receive the remission of our sins in order to live however we please. We are to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. As the practical application of this was different for each person at John’s baptism, it will be different for each of us. What does fruit of repentance mean for you? Does it have to do with material contentment? Submission to authority? Humility? Morality? Spiritual focus? What fruit of repentance can you work on today?

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 3.

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Repent and Give God the Glory

Today’s reading is Revelation 16.

Of course, there are some differences, but don’t these bowls of wrath sound familiar? Painful sores, darkness, water turned to blood, hail. Obviously, the Holy Spirit is again calling to mind the plagues of God on Egypt. Further, He is calling to mind Pharaoh’s own hardness of heart that refused to repent and give glory to God. However, notice right in the middle of this the interjection, “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” Does that sound familiar to you? It should. It is a mixture of what Jesus said to the church at Sardis in Revelation 3:2-3 and to the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:18. Smack in the middle of all this judgment coming on the Bride’s enemies, there is a reminder that these messages are for us, the Bride, the church, as well. This is not simply an issue of insiders and outsiders. This is not just an issue of having gone through some entrance requirements, having our name on the role, paying our weekly dues, and now it doesn’t matter how we live. We who make up the Bride are to stand against the enemy as much as God is to judge the enemy. How often do Christians end up turning their back on the Lord because of hardship instead of repenting and giving glory to God. Remember, no matter what, God is the Savior. He is the Lord. He is the deliverer. Even when it looks like He is going to lose, even when we can’t understand why He is behaving as He is, He deserves glory. Whether you are in the church or without, let God’s disciplines accomplish their goal. Do not curse God and die, rather surrender to God and give Him the glory. I promise you, in the end, you’ll be glad you did.

Tomorrow’s reading is Revelation 17.

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Fruit, not Root

Today’s reading is Matthew 3.

One of the aspects of Biblical literature I find interesting is sometimes we see similar metaphors used to make different points. Most of the time, when we see the root and fruit metaphor, the point is the root determines the fruit and the fruit declares the root. However, in today’s reading, John is saying the root is not what matters, the fruit is. Here, the root is about biological descent. Israelites found their roots in Abraham who received the promises. But John says, “It doesn’t matter where your roots are. God is laying an ax to the roots. What matters is your fruit. Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” It doesn’t matter who your parents are. It doesn’t matter what your nationality is. It doesn’t matter where you come from. Jesus is calling us to repentance, but more than just calling us to mentally declare a shift, He is calling us to change and bear fruit in keeping not with our roots but with our repentance. What fruit will you bear today?

Tomorrow’s reading is Matthew 4.

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Forgive Like Paul Like Jesus

Today’s reading is 2 Corinthians 2.

Who is this guy that needs to be forgiven in today’s reading? For the longest time, I’ve just assumed Paul is referring to the fellow who needed to be disciplined in 1 Corinthians 5. It may, in fact, be him. However, in these paragraphs there is an indication that Paul had made a painful visit to Corinth in which whoever this man is caused Paul some direct pain, though Paul was more concerned about the pain and harm inflicted on the congregation. Then Paul claims he is forgiving this man. How can Paul forgive the man in 1 Corinthians 5? The Bible does not speak of a priestly role that grants forgiveness to others for whatever sin they are committing. Whoever this fellow is, he has actually done something specifically to Paul that Paul is saying he forgives. Paul’s point seems to be to the Corinthians that they do not need to withhold love from someone on his account. Rather, he is forgiving that person; they need to forgive and reaffirm their love. In other words, Paul won’t hold the grudge. The man has repented, he now needs to be forgiven and loved. What a picture of the gospel. What a picture of following in Jesus’s footsteps, to forgive and reaffirm my love to the one who has caused me pain. This is living the gospel. Today, I need to forgive like Paul who forgave like Jesus.

Tomorrow’s reading is 2 Corinthians 3.

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Raising the Dead

Today’s reading is Acts 26.

“Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” What an interesting question. Once again, I think of the skeptics today who think the reason Christianity took off is because folks were so superstitious during the Bible times that they would just accept anything. Yet, once again we see that people during the times of the Bible believed exactly what we believe. People don’t come back from the dead. Yet, if God exists, why would it be incredible to think He could make that happen? And this highlights the circular argument some make. Consider the following:

Skeptic: “Jesus wasn’t resurrected because we know that can’t happen.”

Christian: “But if God exists, couldn’t He choose to make an exception to the general rule and raise someone from the dead?”

Skeptic: “But God doesn’t exist, so no one can be raised from the dead.”

Christian: “But doesn’t the historical testimony and evidence that Jesus was raised from the dead suggest God exists?”

Skeptic: “Absolutely not! People don’t rise from the dead, so Jesus’s resurrection can’t be evidence of God’s existence because it simply can’t have happened.”

Christian: “And yet, if God does exist, couldn’t it have happened?”

Skeptic: “But God doesn’t exist, so it can’t have happened.”

On and on the circle goes. Where it stops, nobody knows. But please notice, the above is not an argument based on evidence or testimony, it is based on a philosophical predisposition against God. And Paul is amazed at such a predisposition. So am I.

Monday’s reading is Acts 27.

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