God's Ageless Ultimatum: The Most Difficult Command
The case of Lazarus and the rich man, (Luke 16:19-31), indicates that men often wait until it is too late to do them any good to desire to obey this most difficult command of God, "repentance." Since in hades there was no way the rich man could get any relief, he desired "father Abraham to send Lazarus to his father's house so he could warn his five brothers lest they also come to this place of torment."
He was informed that one arising from the dead and going back to warn them would not work if they (like he ket) were unwilling to "hear Moses and the prophets," simply meaning if they will not listen to God's word in the written form of the Old Testament, one returning from the dead would not impress them sufficiently to repent. As a preacher friend of mine once said of the rich man "he became very evangelistic when it was too late."
THE MEANING OF "REPENTANCE"
Conviction is not repentence: ( Acts 24:24-25) Felix. (Acts 2:37) Pentecostians. Felix trembled at Paul's teaching concerning righteousness, self control, and the coming judgment. The NKJV says he was terrified. But he said to Paul "go your way for this time; when I have a more convenient time, (season) I will call for you. The divine record has no indication that Felix ever found that convenient time. Having sufficient conviction to cause him to be terrified did not bring about repentance in Felix. In fact the record shows that his calling for Paul time and again was with the hope that Paul would offer bribery money for his release (Acts 24:26-27). After Peter's soul stirring sermon on Pentecost day in Jerusalem to millions of Jews accusing them of killing their own Messiah, touched the hearts of many in his audience to the point that they interrupted his sermon asking "men and brethren, what shall we do? They were told how they must "repent ye, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto (for) the remission of your sins;.." (Acts 2:38). So it is clear that being "pricked or pierced in their hearts" or being convicted of their guilt was not repentance!
Confession is not repentence: Often folks are just sure that repentance has occurred when they admit to their guilt. Not so! A case in point is the Old Testament example of Pharaoh after the 7th plague came upon Egypt (Exodus 9:22-27, 33-34). There had never been such a storm in Egypt since it became a nation as that which God sent upon them. It was hail and fire mingled together. Only the land of Goshen where Israel lived was spared this terrible storm. Old Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, "I have sinned this time. The Lord is righteous, and my people and I are wicked" (V-27). Was this repentance? No! Let's just call it a "horrified confession" of his sinfulness and wickedness, but it was not repentance. When Moses by God's power caused the hail to cease we are told that Pharaoh "sinned yet more; and he hardened his heart, he and his servants" (V-34). He refused to let Israel go.
Let us look at yet another confession made by a man who w anted to curse God's people for the money he was offered by Balak. This man's name was Balaam the son of Beor. Balaam was a prophet of God. It was known of him that "he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed" (Numbers 22:6). Balak was king of the Moabites and he had heard of what had happened to the Amorites as well as Og the king of Bashan whom they had utterly destroyed leaving him no survivor, taking possession of his land. Balak and Moab "was exceedingly afraid of the people because they were many. and Moab was sick with dread because of the children of Israel" (Numbers 22:3). God told Balaam first "You shall not go with them (them being the messengers sent from Balak with money for Balaam to curse Israel) you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed"(Numbers 22:12). The record tells us that Balaam invited these men with the "diviner's fee" into his house for the night while he talked with God about this matter. Balaam was looking for some loophole in the law of God so he could curse Israel and get the reward offered him. He knew and even told them that they should go back to their land for "the Lord has refused to give me permission to go with you" (Numbers 22:7-13).
The rest of the story is very interesting to say the least! After sending several messengers with money to give Balaam if only he would curse Israel, and after inquiring of God repeatedly only to be told "you cannot curse these people for they are blessed." Finally God said to Balaam "rise and go with them but only say what I speak to you" (V-19). So Balaam rose in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab. The record says that "God's anger was aroused because he went..."(V-22). How do you account for this seeming inconsistency? I think parents can all identify with how God felt at this point in time. Balaam continued to go back to God asking permission to curse Israel after being told repeatedly, "no, they are blessed." Balaam wanted the money so badly that finally God said, go ahead and go. The rest of the story tells of Balaam's donkey seeing an angel of the Lord and how he crushed Balaam's foot against the wall and finally lay down. Three times Balaam struck the donkey with a rod. God empowered the donkey to speak, asking him "what have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?" Balaam was so angry that he said, "I wish there was a sword in my hand, for now I would kill you!" Can you imagine a conversation like this between a man and his donkey? The donkey said to Balaam, "Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden, ever since I became yours, to this day? Was I ever disposed to do this to you?" And he said, "No." Then God allowed Balaam to see the angel with a sword drawn in his hand; and he bowed his head and fell flat on his face. The angel said "behold, I have come out to stand against you, because your way is perverse before Me" (V-32). He was told how he was fortunate that He didn't kill him and let the donkey live. Finally Balaam said to the Angel of the Lord, "I have sinned.."(V-34). The story goes on and on. Did Balaam repent? Why, No! His confession was only a hypocritical confession! Later we read in the book of God about this man in two places. What is said of him is certainly not complimentary! In (Jude 11) it says of some ungodly men who were troubling God's people, that they "ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward.." Then in the Revelation letter, the following is said of some in the church at Pergamos; "But I have a few things against you, because you have them there that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication" (Revelation 2:14). It can be seen from reading this that Balaam did succeed in getting his money from Balak evidently. Although God would not allow him to personally curse Israel, he taught Balak how to get God Himself to curse them by enticing them to eat meat sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication.
JOSHUA & ISRAEL'S DEFEAT AT AI
After such a great success in the "battle of Jericho," no doubt Israel was very confident of how future battles against the enemies of God and His people would turn out. When time came to fight against the city of Ai, the people of God said to Joshua, if I may paraphrase them, there's no need to send our whole army to this battle, let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. He sent three thousand of them and they had about thirty six casualties shortly. After this they fled from before the men of Ai. It was said that "the hearts of the people melted and became as water" (V's 3-6)!
Joshua too was very upset. He "tore his clothes, fell to the earth and on his face before the ark of God until the evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads" (V-6). The next few verses show that Joshua is pretty upset with God about this matter. He wonders why God brought them over the Jordan to such a fate as this? He wishes they would have been content to stay on the other side of Jordan! He wonders what he should say when Israel turns its back before its enemies? Why, the Canaanites and all inhabitants of the land will hear about this he says to God, and cut off your name from the earth. Joshua then says, "What will You do for Your great name?" (V's 8-9)? God said to Joshua "Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face?" He informs Joshua of some sins that someone in Israel has committed which involved deception and theft. God says Israel has sinned and broken My covenant. This accounts for your inability to win this battle. He is instructed as to how to find the guilty party and what to do about it when he does. When Acan is brought before him, Joshua admonishes him to confess to God and to tell what he has done and do not hide it. Acan does. He said, "indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I have done: When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. And there they are, hidden in the earth in the midst of my tent, with the silver under it" (Verses 18-21). Acan confessed to his deed, but what kind of a confession was it? It was a hemmed in confession. It was known to Joshua evidently and he could not hide it any longer, he makes an admission of his guilt. What else could he have done at this point in time? Such a confession under those circumstances is no good of course. About anyone will admit to their misdeeds when the facts are made known.
They had the goods on him and he could not deny it! There's no indication that he repented of his deeds. If he did, he and his family still had to pay the consequences. The penalty was death for him and all of his family (V's 22-26). For money he could not spend, and for a garment he could not wear, he paid dearly in this life and perhaps in the life to come as well, along with the entire family.
(1 Samuel 15:3, 9, 13-15, 22-24)
Who isn't familiar with the case of king Saul and the Amalekites? King Amalek and his people had laid an ambush for the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. God said, "I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel.."(1 Samuel 15:1-2). God would accomplish this through king Saul and Israel. He was to destroy them from the face of the earth, man woman, infant and nursing child, ox sheep, camel and donkey (1 Samuel 15:3). After the battle was over and Israel was on their way back, Saul was so proud of himself that he stopped by Carmel and set up a monument for himself and then went on down to Gilgal. Samuel the prophet of God, being apprised by God of what Saul had done prayed for Saul all night. He then went to Saul and Saul said to him, "Blessed are you of the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord." Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear" (V-12-14)? Saul tried to justify his disobedience by saying that they had spared the best of the flocks and herds to offer as sacrifices to God. They had also spared king Agag. The rest they had utterly destroyed (V-9)! Saul also tried to lay this action on the people (V-15).
Samuel said to Saul a fact which all of God's people need to learn, good intentions cannot be substituted for what God has commanded! Samuel said, "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to harken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king" (V's 22-23). Saul admitted that he had sinned in fearing the people and in obeying their voice in this matter (V-24). What shall we call this confession? Remember now that he was so proud of himself that he set up a memorial to this event at Carmel! Can we believe in his sincerity now that he has been severely rebuked when he says I have sinned? We'll call this a half hearted confession. Later in his career this man took his own life. Repentance had not been manifested by Saul. The record says that Samuel never saw Saul again until the day of his death. It also says that God regretted that He ever made Saul king over Israel (V-35).
(Matthew 26:14-16, 21-25; 27:1-5)
From this account in God's word we learn that neither remorse nor a confession of wrong constituted repentance! Judas both confessed his misdeed and was remorseful for what he had done, but he did not repent. No, he went out and committed suicide. I know Judas did not repent for scripture tells us he was lost and hell bound! (Acts 1:15-19, 25).
Sometimes folks think someone has repented when the tears begin to flow down their cheeks. It is possible that there will be some tears involved when repentance has occurred but the very presence of tears isn't in and of itself proof that one has actually repented. What shall we call this confession of sin and remorse in the case of Judas Iscariot? Lets call it hopeless remorse and confession of guilt! Why? because Judas went out and hanged himself.
We have seen some of the things that repentance isn't I think very clearly in this lesson. Now we will see if we can see just as clearly what acceptable biblical repentance involves.
GODLY SORROW WORKETH REPENTANCE...
(2 Corinthians 7:10)
We have seen already that just being sorry isn't repentance. The above passage shows how true repentance is brought about. It is through "godly sorrow." Some folks are very sorry for what they have done. The prisons are full of folks who would fall into this category I am sure. If released from prison, statistics show that the greater portion of them would repeat the deeds which put them behind bars to begin with. Their sorrow in most cases isn't a godly sorrow. They are simply sorry they got caught! Such sorrow will not lead to repentance.
WELL, WHAT IS REPENTANCE?
Our English word "repentance" is translated from a Greek word "metanoia." Repentance is literally "a change of mind, will, or attitude leading to a change of direction." It means to "turn." Those folks at Thessalonica "turned to God from Idols to serve the living and true God" (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
When Peter preached what I call his second gospel sermon recorded in Acts chapter three, he said to those folks that they should "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that yours sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19). The parallel passage to this one is what Peter told another audience of believing Jews when they ask of him and the other apostles on the birthday of Christ's church what they must do (to be saved or forgiven kt)? He said for them to, "repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). It should be obvious from these passages that one isn't converted until one has not only believed on Christ, but until one has also repented and been immersed by Christ's authority!
This change is to be a complete one. It cannot be half hearted and non committal! Just as one must obey from the heart a form of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection to be forgiven from past sins (Romans 6:3-6; 16-18), so it is that one must "cleave to Christ with purpose of heart" (Acts 11:23b). As Saul and his companion Barnabas retraced their steps to places where they had planted the cause of Christ such as Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, it is said that they were "Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:21-22). Here Paul is speaking of heaven itself. When folks were converted to Christ in the first century, they had to give up some things that had been precious to them. This indicates true repentance. So must we today! Repentance demands it. John told the Jews as he prepared them for the then coming kingdom of Christ, "bring forth fruit meet (worthy) of repentance" (Matthew 3:8). See also (Acts 26:20). See what happened at Ephesus when the apostle Paul converted folks to Christ from Idolatry. "Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver" (Acts 19:19).
True discipleship is costly! Jesus taught this to His apostles as he sent them out with the message for the Jews of the then coming kingdom. He said they would be hated, lied about persecuted etc., etc. Only the one who is faithful to the end shall be saved He affirmed (Matthew 10:16-38).
The parallel passages to the above are found in Luke's account of the gospel where Jesus more vividly indicates the cost of true discipleship and urges us to consider if we are willing to pay the price (Luke 14:26-33). The price is also a complete change in our way of thinking, acting, and in our priorities in this life. We must desire initial salvation enough to "obey the gospel" regardless of what anyone says (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; 1 Peter 1:22-25; Acts 2:22-38, 41, 47). Then having been "reconciled unto God in one body by the cross of Christ" (Ephesians 2:11-16), set our mind on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, (Colossians 3:1-5). If we do this says the inspired writer, Paul, "when Christ appears we too shall appear with him in glory" (V-4). We must do as the Old Testament prophet said however, we must "turn from all abominations" (Ezekiel 14:6). What would you think if the one performing a marriage ceremony should ask the man and woman will you leave all others and cleave to this one being faithful to these vows you have made before God and in the presence of these witnesses and one of them said, "well, I will be faithful 95% of the time?" Would that do? You know it would not. Then what about those who when they obey the gospel and are therefore "married to Christ" (Romans 7:4; Ephesians 5:22-33), are only faithful part of the time?
THE MOTIVATION FOR REPENTANCE...
The first thing we should remember it that this is a commandment of Christ. This should be motivation enough, for Jesus said if you love Me, "you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15, 21, 23). Of course we should love Him so deeply because He first loved us, and died so we could live eternally (Romans 5:6-9; Hebrews 2:9; John 3:16-17).
Paul wrote asking the Romans if they did not know that the goodness of God was designed to lead to repentance? (Romans 2:4). But nonetheless, if it does not accomplish this in mankind, the end result is to pay the consequences of eternal separation away from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of His power (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). Some reading this and some hearing the sound of my voice are no doubt in dire need of obeying this most difficult yet imperative commandment. Are you among them. Act now if that is you!
By Ken Thomas
From Expository Files 6.9; September 1999