Allen Jackson - The Power of Repentance
I want to take a few sessions with you and see if we can establish a baseline of Christian practice, not uniformity of translations or the music style, but of the fundamental principles that we embrace as Christ followers. See, inconsistency within the church and amongst the different Christian traditions leads us to confusion and even despair. I'm doing a series of interviews right now with radio stations across the country, and the divergence of how we practice our faith from region to region and state to state is stunning. And it's causing a great deal of frustration within the body of Christ. If there truly is more disruption in front of us, and I believe there is, if the confusion is going to escalate, and I believe it will, it's more important than it's ever been that you understand the fundamentals of what we believe and why, not in a theoretical sense, not in a theoretical sense, but in a practical sense.
So, I want to start in Hebrews chapter 5. We're going to read the concluding verse of chapter 5, verses of chapter 5 and the opening three verses of chapter 6. It's in your notes. It says, "We have much to say about this, but it's hard to explain because you are slow to learn". That's not a compliment at any point in history. The author of Hebrews has said, "I've been given the slow group". "In fact, by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again". Do you understand that the point of learning your faith is that you can share it with someone else? That's a very important component, because that's not the way we've really been orchestrated.
Many of us will say, "Well, that's not my gift. I don't have a teaching gift. You know, I'm a mercy person. I don't like to talk". It isn't about the spiritual gift you identify. Our assignment is to make disciples of all people, which means we take our God story, and we share it with other people. As incomplete as it is, as imperfect as it is, as broken as we may be, we have good news to share with the people around us. And one of the things that I believe has to come out of this season is that God's people wake up to being salt and light. That's the way we get to different outcomes in our schools, in our communities, on our ball fields. We want prayer and faith to become so normative, people are surprised when it's not there. We don't want to be surprised that it showed up. It doesn't want to be bizarre, or unique, or odd, or strange. We want it to become normal.
"You need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again". They've heard it before. "You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness". He's using the imagery of a small child that requires milk, is not prepared for solid food. And he said, as Christ followers, we're not prepared. We just want somebody to feed us. Now, folks, if we'd be honest for a minute, and it gets a little awkward, we understand the childish behavior that occupied our churches before COVID. We were more focused on comfort and convenience than we were fruitfulness. I tell you how you can identify that. Somebody sat in your seat, how'd you feel? Somebody parked in your parking place, or you got here a little late, and all the places close to the building were full.
"Big church. Hate big church". Or maybe we got a worship service that was full, and we asked you to go another time or another sanctuary. "Phhtt". You could tell your own version of that. We've all done it. We've all been engaged in it. We were a long way away from understanding we were here on an assignment. We've been lulled into this imagination that the reason we got together was there was something that someone should do to us, or for us, or on our behalf, someone should provide what we needed or what our family wanted. And if we didn't like it, we'd just rotate 'til we found some place that would or someone who was more interested. And one of the things that I'm delighted about is I believe God is waking us up, that the church is on assignment. We are to be salt and light in the world. We're not to be ministered to. I mean, that's a part of it. We will care for one another, but the quality of the experience you receive is directly proportionate to the quality of the experience you help someone else have.
It's what Paul or the author of Hebrews is talking about. "Who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil". Chapter 6, "Therefore," because of that, "let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity". And now he's going to list six foundation doctrines of the Christian faith. They're pretty straightforward. He said, "Let's go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death," that's one, "faith in God," two, "instructions about baptisms," three, "the laying on of hands," four, "the resurrection of the dead," five, "and eternal judgment," six. "And God permitting, we will do so". He identifies six things that he said are doctrinally foundational to the gospel. I just want to take the first in that list, the repentance from acts that lead to death, or repentance from dead works.
Repentance is not an emotion. It's a decision, and it emerges from our will, and it has very little to do with our emotions. My goal particularly in this session is not to elicit emotion. True conversion, when Jesus truly becomes the cornerstone of your life, it touches your will. I believe one of the challenges we've had in contemporary Christendom, in our culture, at least, is that our conversion hasn't really touched our will. It goes back to the parable of the sower. We looked at that in our previous session. In all those places, there's four options, and three of the four don't sustain the Word of God when it's received. And I think for our conversion to stand the test and to endure in the midst of the turmoil, we have to understand it has to reach that point in our will where we say, "I choose, with my choice, with my decision, with my intent, to honor God in my home and how I do business, and wherever else the Lord takes me".
And faith only emerges in our lives after repentance. Repentance is what leads us to faith. If you need greater faith in your life, greater confidence in God, greater trust in God, I can tell you the pathway, the doorway to that, it's not more biblical knowledge. It's not another Bible study. It's your facility, your comfort, your willingness to practice repentance. See, I think we've imagined that repentance is only for people who are engaged in gross immorality, some dark, deep dive into the occult. Repentance should be a part of the routine of our lives, of our spiritual discipline. James chapter 1. It says, "When he asks, we must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man shouldn't think that he will receive anything from the Lord. He's double-minded, unstable in all he does".
You see, most of the problems that I encounter in the body of Christ, in our community and beyond, emerged from this lack of repentance. We've never really changed our minds with regard to God. We read our Bibles, and we try to decide which parts of it we'll believe, or we think about what we know about our faith, and we try to decide how much of that we're really going to assimilate. You know, maybe the biblical notions on human sexuality and practice are antiquated, and maybe I don't understand enough about first century social customs. And do I really believe God does miracles? And we have this inconsistency. We stand apart from our faith and look at it. We haven't really submitted ourselves to the authority or the lordship of Jesus.
Luke 15 is perhaps the classic biblical picture of repentance. It's the parable of the prodigal son. You know the story. A young man that demanded his inheritance from his father, and he left home and went to a distant place, and then began to live in a way that was almost diametrically opposed to all the values that his father had shown him, until he had blown through all of his money, and then he lost all of his friends, and he finds himself in about the most humiliating place that a young Jewish man could find himself. The only opportunity available to him is to feed the pigs and eat the slop himself. The Jewish people don't eat pork, in case you don't know. So slopping the hogs is just about the lowest job available to him. And in verse 17, there is a sentence that describes repentance. It said, "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death.'"
You see, that's what ungodliness does. It puts your feet on a path, and it gives you momentum and a trajectory that takes you to a place that diminishes you, physically, emotionally, relationally, and every other way. That's what rebellion against God does. But we're oblivious to it. It's why we call it temptation. It's why we call it being blinded. We don't see. How many times have you watched other people making ungodly decisions? And you're watching it, thinking, "That's not gonna end well. That's just not gonna work out well". But I promise you that person isn't thinking, "I'm looking for something I can do that would destroy myself, physically. I was trying to find a way to introduce some great pain to my children. You think this is my best option"?
No. We don't understand. And this young man, it says he came to his senses, and he said, "In my dad's house, the servants are living better than I'm living. What am I thinking? What am I thinking"? "'So, I'll set out and go back to my father and say to him: "I've sinned against heaven and against you. I'm no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men".' So he got up, and he started towards home". You know the story. The grace and the mercy of God, when he was still a long way off, it said his father saw him, and he put his arms around him, and he said, "My son who was dead is alive again". It's a picture of repentance. This isn't for the lost, for the ungodly, for the immoral. This is for us. This is for us. We have stood so far away from God that we've allowed things to be taking place in our schools, in our universities, in our college campuses, in our hospitals. We stood silently and watched 60 million children, 60 million of our children were offered on the altar of convenience. This is our story. God, what has happened?
Look at Jeremiah 15. Do you remember Jeremiah? He's a prophet in Jerusalem. He's a court prophet. He's a prophet in the palace. He's not a farmer like Amos. He doesn't have a fish story like Jonah. They know Jeremiah in the halls of the palace, and they know him in the corridors of the temple. They don't like him, but they know him. And Jeremiah has the rather awkward assignment of saying to the whole nation, "Because of the hardness of your hearts and your stubborn determination to rebel against God, judgment is coming, and an enemy is going to overcome you". How many of you'd like to have that message to deliver? But there's this interesting, Jeremiah 15:1, "The LORD said to me, 'Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people.'"
Now, Moses and Samuel are a couple of heavy hitters in the lineup. Moses spent so much time with the Lord that his face glowed in the dark, folks. Remember the whole deal with the shepherd's staff, and the sea that parted, you got that? And Samuel is the last of the judges, and the one who God sends to anoint the first kings. He's one of the heroes in the Hebrew Bible, far more to the Jewish community than to the Christian community, Samuel is a hero. And God says to Jeremiah, "If Moses and Samuel stood before me, it wouldn't change my attitude towards these people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go! And if they ask you, 'Where shall we go?' tell them, 'This is what the LORD says: Those destined for death, to death: and those for the sword, to the sword; and those for starvation, to starvation; and those for captivity, to captivity.'"
That attitude is a long way away from the attitude and habits of the practice of American evangelicalism in recent decades. I'm a part of that, so I'm not throwing stones. I'm just telling you we're in a new season, and it's time for some new attitudes. I believe we've got to begin to talk to the Lord and with a little bit more integrity. God, am I walking uprightly before you? Is there anything in my life that would cause you not to give permission for me to grow up in you? Is there any place I'm throwing a childish fit, and I'm standing outside of your permission to become all you created me for? I want to honor you with my life.
See, we've been kind of walked into this notion that we want to get our God business done, and make a profession of faith, and be born again, and say that I believe in the new birth, and the conversion, and then maybe we get dipped in a pool, but then after that it's kind of, "Now, God, I'm looking for some reciprocation here. I'm looking for some major blessings to be rained down upon me. I need you to nuke a few enemies. I've got a list here. And I'm expecting to get some promotions pretty quickly in the marketplace and my kids to get some advantages at school, and the one that's not such a great athlete is going to get a much sweeter swing. Come on, God".
Now, I believe God wants to bless us, and prosper us, and bring good things to our lives, but I believe we need a bit of sobriety in how we approach him. So, not just Jeremiah. Ezekiel chapter 14, "The word of the LORD came to me: 'Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply, and I send famine upon it to kill its men and their animals, even if these three men: Noah, Daniel and Job, were in it'". Again, this is not like the B team. I mean, remember Noah. Dude liked boats. Well, only in the beginning of his life. You think Noah ever got on another boat? I don't think Noah even wanted a kayak when he got done with that thing. And I bet they didn't have a lot of house pets either. What do you bet? "Nah, I've been there and done that". "Even if Noah, Daniel and Job were in it, they could only save themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign LORD".
You see, I think we've been a little casual in the way we've used this concept of repentance, and we thought there was no limit to the grace of God. We thought there was no limit to how often we could deny him and how frequently we could be silent, when he intended for us to use our voice. It's an uncomfortable example, but it's a biblical example. Judas, Judas had remorse, but he never changed. He regretted some decisions he made. He recognized the error of his decisions, but he didn't change. Is it possible that there's any degree we have been too casual with this? The scripture seems to suggest to us it's possible to pass the point where you will change. I would give you this encouragement. If you're conscious of an invitation from God, if he's beginning to deal with you on any aspect of your life, your behavior, your personality, whatever it may be, I would encourage you to respond to him.
In fact, biblically, I can tell you this, that despising God's grace elicits his anger. You have room for that? God's grace and God's anger in the same view through a window? That if we treat God's grace casually, presumptively, God doesn't just shrug his shoulders and say, "Well, next time". Hebrews chapter 12... Hebrews 11 is that hall of fame of faith, and Hebrews 12 says, "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy". "Make every effort," that's a pretty inclusive statement. "Make every effort to be holy". Make every effort. How many efforts? Every effort. Leave no stone unturned. Make every effort. And then he goes on to say, "Without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and to defile many".
That intrigues me. Grace, by definition, is not earned. It's not merit based. In fact, if there's any sense of merit attached to it, it isn't grace. Grace is the unearned, undeserved favor or blessing of God. It has nothing to do with what we deserve. So, how could you mess that up? That there's a blessing that you didn't earn and you don't deserve or that God would like you to have. It says, "See to it that no one misses the grace of God". So, the implication is that there are blessings, good things, expressions of the character of God that he would like us to have, that we miss.
Now he's got my attention. "See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and to defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral or godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit his blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears". That's an interesting passage to me, because under this missing the grace of God, he introduces this notion of defiling many, and then the caution against sexual immorality, and then he brings in godless Esau.
There is no record in scripture, there's no listing or reciting in scripture of Esau being sexually immoral. He traded his birthright away because he was hungry. And in the moment, he considered the provision of a meal from his brother, and we'll talk about his brother's character another day. He traded his birthright for a meal because he was hungry, but the author of Hebrews is saying to us it's lumped in there with sexual immorality, which is casual with God's boundaries. In Romans 9, it's not in your notes, but you can check me real easy in the book. Paul in writing to the Romans quotes the prophet Malachi, and he says, "As it is written, Jacob I loved but Esau I hated". He was presumptive towards the things of God. He treated them casually, with indifference, with arrogance.
Again, it's got my attention, because the more you know the Lord, the longer you walk with him, I think the greater the temptation to be that way. I don't, you know, I don't want to treat God that way. Give you one other passage. 2 Corinthians 6, Paul's writing to another church, to a group of believers. He said, "As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain". He's talking to people that are serving the Lord, a group of believers. He said, "I urge you not to receive God's grace in vain". Don't take God's grace casually. "For he says, 'In the time of my favor I heard you, in the day of salvation I helped you. I tell you now is the time of God's favor. Now is the day of salvation.'"
I'll give you an example from what's unfolding around us on this one. The Supreme Court's ruling regarding Roe v. Wade. It didn't abolish abortion in our nation. It simply set Roe aside and said that the states get to make those decisions. It makes more sense than the highest court in the land inventing something in the Constitution that's not there. So now the states get to make a choice, and there's going to be a great divergence of opinion across the states on how we do that. But as God's people in all the states of the nation that we have an opportunity to use our voice and speak on behalf of the sanctity of human life.
We have an opportunity to write a different chapter. You've been watching, as I have been watching, and the voices of dissent, or anger, or resentment, or bitterness, or threat around what's been said have been powerful, and loud, and often repeated, and I'm thinking to myself, we don't want to receive, to me, that ruling was an expression of God's grace. We didn't vote for it, we didn't work for it, we didn't deserve it, we didn't earn it. God simply handed us something for the protection of our children. Now what will we do with God's grace?
Hey, repentance is the doorway to letting faith grow in our hearts. I don't want to just hear the Word of God. I want to do something with it. So, I'd like to close today with a prayer, and it's really an invitation to the Spirit of God. If there's anything within our lives or our life experience that we need to relinquish to the Lord, that the Holy Spirit will help us to know that. You open to that? Let's pray:
Father, I thank you that you love us, that you have a plan for our good and not for our harm. And Holy Spirit, I ask if there's anything within us that would limit what you could do or would do, that you would bring it to our attention. Lord, give us the courage and the faith to lay that down before you in humility. I thank you for what you will do. In Jesus's name, amen.