Unless we learn what it means to repent we will not see a mighty move of God in the church. Personally we should learn to practice confession that ultimately brings us to repentance. So let us today focus on that repentance. John the Baptist message focused on repentance. All he preached was repent, repent and repent! And through that season he also baptized Jesus. Remember Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days.
God begins to show us how Jesus dealt with temptations. God shows us where authority is and where our power comes from. And Jesus came out of that and preached His first public sermon in Mark 1:15, “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
The word ‘repent’ was a word that was used that day although it was a military term. That word means a complete change of life or fault. And unless there is repentance a person cannot believe in the Gospel. It is a step of faith. It does not mean you get it all right, it does not mean that you are a perfect believer. In fact that never happens. But that means there is a step towards Christ that includes repentance.
Jesus said this Himself, and if you do not trust the Christ from the bible you cannot trust in the gospel. Repentance in the military means to make an about face. Imagine a military man or woman marching in one direction and turning around and going back in the opposite direction. That is what that word repent is all about. Repentance is the first step towards the gospel, but it is much more than that.
Repentance is designed to be a natural part of a believer’s life. It is that relationship with God where when we recognize sin in our life we turn and we move in a different direction. That is repentance and that shows that we have a healthy relationship with God. So many people have had religious experiences that have made us bitter. So we want nothing to do with God because we have never genuinely repented.
The nation Israel had decided that God's will for them was a self-generated righteousness. All God wants is a legalistic thing, where you are showing this outward attitude of love, but not what is in your heart. And that way you were generating your own kind of self-righteousness. And that whole system of legalism was maintained by men known as the Pharisees. But God requires inward repentance.
Jesus said, do you think you are going to please God by keeping all these rules? If you have even thought of these things in your heart you have already committed them and sinned. You can't keep God's laws. Romans 3:20 says, "By the deeds of the flesh or by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified." You can't be justified by works. Ephesians 2 says, "Not by works lest any man should boast.”
Because after you repent, your heart is changed, your mind changes, and your life changes. And we begin to see the things of God in an entirely different light. Has there been a time in your life where you repented? You turned away from the church but now after repentance everything changed. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; all things have become new.”
That is authentic salvation! Anything less that that just leaves you empty and unfulfilled. It leaves you hating the things of God, it leaves you hating the church and hating the pastor. Listen to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The lack of repentance is the root cause of having no power in the church in this materialistic and self-indulgent age. There can be no spiritual power in a non-repentant church.”
This is so relevant, because repentance never gets old. Repentance never becomes useless, because repentance is never something that we can push aside. It will always be one of the deepest needs of each person and of the church and our world. And as long as we live we need to continue to repent because we continually sin. So the foundational key for truly embracing the gospel is repentance!
If that is in the first sermon of Jesus Christ, that is really important for the church, right? So let us make something clear. To understand better what repentance really is, let us study what repentance is not. To acknowledge a few things that you have done wrong during your lifetime and confess that to a priest is not repentance. So let us look at a few examples. Repentance is not remorse.
Satan has deceived most churches by letting them think that if there is remorse over what they have done in their lives that that is repentance and they are good to go in their relationship with God. That is absolutely false. Remorse is saying I am sorry for the consequences of my actions, but I am not sorry about the sin itself. That is the sorrow that the world knows, that produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
That kind of sense of remorse only brings death to us, death to our soul, and death to our spirit but God wants you to have life. Jesus said in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” God wants you to have passion in your life. God wants you to be on fire for the things of God. God wants you to love the things that He loves.
God wants you to walk with Him with incredible joy, peace and satisfaction. Not because you are going to do what you want to do, but because you know that you have been in the presence of God. Look at the prodigal son, he was sorry, but if he had not left the pigs enclosure nothing would have happened. If there would not have been a change in his life, he would have stayed with the pigs with his remorse.
He had to get out of the pigpen and go home to the father. Remorse is not enough to become repentance. Remorse is a focus on yourself, but repentance is a focus on God. With repentance we recognize the holiness of God. We recognize how worldly we are and we see ourselves in light of this beautiful and awesome God which drives us to a holy and biblical repentance.
Repentance is not regret. I think most of us have some regret in our lives. We know there are things that we should have done better. As a parent I know there are things that I wished I would have handled better. But repentance is not regret. It is not I wish I could have lived my life over, or I wish I had not done that. Listen, what is done is done and we can’t take it back.
Judas had regrets, but he had no repentance. In fact the bible says that Judas hung himself, but was that repentance? I do not think so. Some people are debating whether or not Judas repented or not. But here is person who showed in his life’s end that he had only regrets. And without true repentance there is no place in heaven for him. And with true repentance there always will be forgiveness from God.
Repentance is not reform. Reform says I am going to live better. I am going to live right. I am going to correct some things in my life. I will change things that I am going to do. Do you know what that is? That is a works approach to salvation. That is saying that I am going to improve my life, I will try to do some things that will please God by my own strength in my own way.
If you just could reform your life, why have the cross? Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? Why did Jesus Christ have to be beaten beyond recognition and suffer and be mocked by the world on that cross until He died? Why did He have to be buried in that grave and then God had to resurrect Him in 3 days if you just could reform yourself? What does it mean to have a right relationship with God?
Repentance is not religion. The world is full of religion. There are people all over the world today that are gathering to be religious. And they are practicing religion which may include remorse, regret and reform. If the practice of religion would save us, why was the cross necessary for salvation? Why did Jesus have to go through so much suffering? Buildings all over are filled with people with empty hearts.
It is more important that these people be filled with something than being empty. All religion does is drive you deeper into a hole. On the other hand, a relationship with Jesus Christ will set your soul on fire. It will bring joy to your life, passion and purpose to your life. And you do not have to follow the cultural trends next week. If you fix your eyes on Jesus you will know that He is your only hope.
Look at Psalm 51:1-12, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against You, You only, have I sinned,”
“and done this evil in Your sight, that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. 6 Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
“8 Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice. 9 Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.”
God has been changing me and as I’m growing older I realize that my confessions of sin are lacking. I cannot generalize it, I have to be more specific about my sins. Often we treat repentance as if we just need to admit that we have failed to alleviate our guilt. But if we look closely at Psalm 51, what does the bible say repentance is? Repentance is a turning away from sin and a turning toward God.
Now open up your hearts, is that your experience when you are thinking about repentance? Are you turning from your sin and turning to God? Do you know that repentance cultivates a deep joy? Why? Because the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. God does not allow me to wallow too long in sin. He deals with me on a regular basis. Because when I open up the bible every morning, God begins to speak to me.
And that often brings me to a need for repentance. So how do we grow in that joy? How do we get that pattern of repentance? Number one: own your sin. Here begins the cycle of repentance. In the first three verses of Psalm 51, David owns his sin. David admits that this is his fault, his doing, his words and when that does not agree with Word of God, he is wrong. I wish that the modern church could embrace that.
It does not matter what passion I have, if it does not agree with God’s Word, I am wrong. Transgression means intentional rebellion against God. We all know what sin is but we mostly chose not to admit that, don’t we? The bible says in 1 John 1:8, that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. What kind of a person are you? Are you truthful or do you lie a lot?
David uses the word iniquity which is a distortion of what it should be. He is saying that this was his sin of choice. People like to distort the truth, they say they did not plan on doing it. But people tend to change things a little bit so they don’t look so bad. And then there is that word sin which means missing the mark that God set. The example is neglecting to do what God has commanded us to do.
What is the mark? It is God’s plan, it is God’s design. It is not our design, it is God’s. We cannot minimize or excuse our actions, David owned it. So what are we to do? We must recognize that our sanctification process is ongoing and we need to repent. Number two: confess your sin. Remember 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
We need a healthy regular routine of confession of sin. You do not have to come to church and sit behind some screen and confess your sin to some priest. The Bible says that there is one mediator between God and men and that it is Jesus Christ. And if you have a relationship with the man Christ Jesus, all you have to do is to open your heart and talk to Him.
Jesus is always ready to listen. He already knows exactly what your problem is. Don’t feel ashamed, He watched you do whatever sin you want to confess. In fact, when He was hanging on the cross with those nails driven into His body, He was watching you do it. And He loved you anyway. He loved you not because you look great on social media, where you created a cool worldly image of yourself.
Jesus knows it all. And despite that He still loves you. And you don’t have to wait in line to do a confession. At the very moment the Holy Spirit deals with your heart, the very moment that you realize that you have sinned, just tell Jesus everything. Repentance is always difficult and the difficulty grows greater with delay. Do you know why some of you rarely repent?
Because you have a warehouse full of unconfessed sin that you have never dealt with. And you think if you get started it is going to be a very long day. If you start, watch God take that load of your shoulders, watch Him lighten your burden, and watch God unite your heart with His heart. Number three, trust His grace. Do not fear. We can rest in His grace. Grace is one of the most beautiful words in any language.
Psalm 51 begins with David appealing to God for forgiveness based on what he knows of God’s character. That He is merciful, and full of lovingkindness. When we come before God full of repentance we do so because of His covenant with us through Christ. God does not change, He saved you and He will forgive you. Number four: reject the temptation to justify or rationalize.
I am responsible to you but I am not responsible for you. There will come a day where I will stand before the Lord and give an account for everything I did or did not say to the church as your pastor. And that is what drives me to genuine biblical repentance again and again. I want to stay as close to the glory of God as I possibly can. Because all sin is ultimately against God.
Number five: Allow God to wreck you, then restore you. This is where people struggle the most. Most people try to avoid at all cost from being wrecked in any way. Self-preservation seems to be the god of choice in this modern world. But is that biblical? David said in verse 8, “Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice.” Notice what David said, the bones which You have broken.
David understood that God loved him enough to crush him. And it was in that crushing that David looked up and cried out to God. If you all your life just build your kingdom and protect yourself where you are comfortable and happy and not let anything destroy that, you will never experience the joy and the gladness of God’s love. Listen, when God confronts us with our sins it is always painful.
It is painful to acknowledge that we are broken, but that is what repentance is. You cannot fix it. But repentance ultimately will benefit you more than you will ever think. David writes in verse 7, cleanse with hyssop and I shall be clean, whiter than snow. He knows that blood alone could make him clean. What he doesn’t know is how this exactly is being done. But we do, right? We have the full revelation of Jesus, it is called the bible.
Hebrews 9:26 says, “This Jesus who once at the end of the ages, has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” Listen, Jesus will heal you and Jesus will restore you. If sin is not bitter, Christ will not be sweet. Maybe your struggle is that you do not see sin as bitter. To become God’s church we all need to repent all the time, Amen? Let us pray.