Allen Jackson - The Practice of Repentance - Part 1
Hey, it's an honor to be with you today. With the help of the Spirit of God, we're learning how to flourish in the midst of some pretty significant trouble. Today we're going to look at a biblical principle. It's a foundational idea in our New Testament, and to be honest it's been lost a good bit or at least set aside. It's the practice of repentance not for the pagans, not for the ungodly, but for the people of God to incorporate repentance into our daily lives as a part of our discipleship plan. It's the doorway to faith. It's the doorway to boldness. It's the doorway to confidence in God. It will change the outcomes of our lives. If you need greater faith, then we need to understand how to repent more effectively. Grab your Bible and a notepad, but most of all open your heart.
Now, we're working through a little study under the theme of how to thrive in the midst of big trouble. Big trouble is the vernacular. It's just the plain English word for the biblical word, "tribulation," and I suspect many of you know that the Bible ends with this story of a great tribulation at the end of the age that will ultimately be resolved by the return of our king. But between where we are and that ultimate trouble, there will be expressions of trouble and disruption. The Bible describes it in the language of the beginning of birth pains, and I grew up watching lots of different things be birthed and I can tell you once that process is initiated those birth pains continue to increase in both frequency and intensity.
So I would submit to you that the pandemic that introduced to us a news, it's kind of a reset, to use that word not in the way it's often used, but everything changed. If you haven't figured that out yet, folks, we're not going back to that previous world. And I'm not reluctant, I'm saddened by that. I think God is moving in the most unique of ways and I want to participate with him, but I also think we're going to have to understand how to flourish in seasons of disruption. We saw churches across our nation and around the world closed, and I believe there will be future attempts to disrupt churches and communities of worship. I don't think it'll be a virus, but there'll be some other pretense for that. We're going to have to know how to flourish in some new ways. And so that's really the point of this little series.
You know, I will freely acknowledge I continue to be shocked, amazed, surprised, whatever words you want to plug in there, caught off guard when I watch the rate of change of things happening around us. Things that I used to imagine would take place over decades seem to happen within the context of a week now. I can give you one example, and to be honest I think a great deal of the reasoning for that is I was asleep. Sleep is a normal part of your healthy lifestyle; but when you're asleep you're unaware, you're unconcerned, and you're uninvolved. You don't know what's going on, and I think there's been a lot going on that I was asleep to and I take it as an expression of God's mercy that I'm a bit more awake. But when I watch the rapid advance of the discussion around gender confusion; it's not based in logic, it's not based in good science, it's based on ideology and a worldview. But the momentum it is gaining and the degree to which it's influencing our culture and the speed at which that is happening is just almost beyond my imagination.
We have departments in the universities, we have segments of the finest medical institutions in our nation responding to a perceived need to help young people process gender transformation. We have widespread governmental advocacy throughout that rather immense bureaucracy. That doesn't happen in a week or two or a month. It's even influencing our military. It's just stunning to me the speed at which it's happening and the breadth of the discussion. I don't have a better excuse than I've been asleep. You can't put those things in place and implement them as quickly as we're watching them break into the open. And I would submit to you it's going to take a determined, persistent response from us to let our biblical worldview stand in the public square to confront that. It's not a new thing. It's not a new idea. We shouldn't imagine that it's some new depravity at the beginning of the 21st century and the world's plunged into something we've never seen before.
If you're doing the daily Bible reading with... I hope you are. You don't have to follow our plan, but you need to be systematically reading through your Bible or you're just simply not prepared. But if you are reading it with us, we're working through the Book of Deuteronomy right now. Isn't that a happy, clappy book? Well, it's not... yesterday was the blessed Abraham, Deuteronomy 28. We read the blessings. Those first 12 verses are pretty high-octane stuff. You're blessed in the city, in the field; when you sit, and when you stand; when you come in, and when you go out. I'm like, "That's for me". But then you finish that chapter. Two-thirds of it is the curses, and you're like, "Ooh, I don't want to get in that pool". But earlier in the week we were reading some of the laws of Moses, and I remember these are being read or written for the Hebrew slaves. They've been hundreds of years in Egypt. They've seen all of the depravity of Egypt and the idolatry of Egypt and the religions of Egypt, and they're on their way to the Promised Land.
So God said, "This is what it looks like to be a holy people, a godly people". And included in that list, if you were reading it, it said men shouldn't wear women's clothes. I read that and I thought, "Who knew"? It's not like a 21st-century thing. Human character really hasn't changed. Our adversary doesn't really have a new game plan. We have those same struggles within us. It's been a point of confusion. I learned a principle of biblical interpretation long ago, when I was in formal study set. You know, they said if there is a biblical prohibition that gives you instructions when your ox gores your neighbor, that you can be certain there was a persistent problem with oxen who gored neighbors or it would have never made it into the book. Well, if Moses is giving them instructions on who should wear what kind of clothing, I promise you it was a deal.
So we're not watching anything different. The question is, do we have the courage to adopt a biblical worldview and talk about it? I believe we will. I've been encouraging you for months now to watch, to listen, to think; and to be willing to act, not angry, not violent, not belligerently, but consistently. So we're taking these few sessions trying to put together kind of a toolkit that will help us flourish, and I believe flourish is a possibility in the midst of the turmoil and the confusion. We've just started a season of economic turmoil. It's going to get worse before it gets better because the choices we're making are not fueling stability, and it's not about a party or a politician. Don't fall into that trap. Our leaders have been making these decisions for a long, long time.
If you think a politician is going to fix us, you need to spend more time on your knees. There may be a solution that comes through some political system, but the origination of it will be the change in the hearts of God's people. Amen. So Hebrews chapter 6. We're going to read the first three verses. "Let's leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity". That's our goal. We want to grow up in Jesus. You can sit in church all your life and never grow up. We've talked about this before. You do not want to show up at the pearly gates and meet St. Peter wearing Pampers with a pacifier. Can we agree on that? We want to grow up in the Lord? Eight or ten of you do. I understand that sentiment. You know, when I was a young person, my parent, I'd come to these life stages, and they were talking about some change of behavior. They'd always say, "You know, this is about maturing".
I don't ever remember thinking one of those points was a good thing. They wanted me to have a job. I was maturing. I didn't want a job. I wanted to hang out with my friends. Got my driver's license. They would help me mature if I paid for gas. I didn't want to pay for gas. I was quite happy to be a kept man. Didn't hurt my ego at all. I was good with that. No, no, it was about my maturing. You know, God wants us to grow up too, and I'm not much more interested in that sometimes. So the author of Hebrews was challenging his audience. He said, "It's time to go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation". And he's going to list six things that are foundational to growing up in your faith. "The foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment".
There are six things listed there. And then he says God permitting we'll do that. We're going to walk through those six things and see if we can incorporate those into our understanding. In a previous session, a couple of sessions back, we said that Jesus was the chief cornerstone of our faith. That's a biblical notion, not just mine, not our denomination, not the translation of the Bible we read, not the style of worship we prefer, not the wardrobe of the presenter. Jesus is the foundation of our faith. Okay? There, you have no point of entrance into the kingdom of God apart from Jesus. Jesus said it. "No one comes to the Father except through me".
If you enter in through any other gate, you're a charlatan. There's no other way in. He said he is the way, the truth, and the life. There's a lot of ambivalence in the larger church world these days when we talk about the uniqueness of Jesus. "Well, aren't there many ways to God"? No, as a matter of fact there aren't, and we're going to have the boldness not only to say that, we're going to have to have the wisdom to understand it or we will be caught up in deception because deception is growing at an alarming rate and it's influencing traditional expressions of church. Well, to that personal foundation because Jesus is a very personal thing, you don't need a pastor or a priest or a denomination or formal theological training to get to know Jesus. You have to decide that you believe he's the Messiah and choose him as Lord of your life.
That is the entry point into the kingdom of God. But once you've done that we're not finished, and there's a little confusion, I think, around that. I mean, people all the time say, "Pastor, you know, all I need is Jesus. I got Jesus, and that's all I need. I don't need a church. I don't need anybody encouraging me to worship. I don't need a group of...I just need Jesus. Just me and Jesus is all I need". Well, bless your pointy head. There's a level at which that's a true statement. You don't need a pastor or a priest or a church or ecclesiastical architecture to find your way into the kingdom of God, but the Scripture is equally clear that maturity and growing up in the Lord requires community. And we won't do that alone, and one of the reasons for that is we learn about our faith from one another. We need help to grow beyond my perspectives and my experiences and my limits and the circumstances of my life journey, and together we are stronger.
So these six things identify for us a doctrinal foundation for our faith, and we've been a little sloppy. We've had the good fortune of living in a place where for the most part a Judeo-Christian worldview informed our legal system and our educational system and, we didn't have to pay much attention to it because it was written into the founding documents of our nation and influenced our legal systems, but we've moved away from that a great deal and we're in a time where, I believe, you need to understand the foundational doctrines or you can pretty easily be pushed aside into some troubling perspective or another. So we started with repentance in our previous session, and I want to... we didn't quite finish it.
So I want to try in this session just to give you a little more practical approach to that. I don't have time to recapitulate everything we did. You have to go back and listen. It's archived out there on Facebook, or the apps, or the websites, or you can put on an aluminum hat and stand outside and probably find it if you just turn in the right direction. It's in a lot of places. But it isn't just about theoretical. What do we do with this notion of repentance? Repentance is a tool for Christ followers, for mature Christ followers. It's not a need for the pagans. I mean, it's certainly a part of the journey that we would invite them towards, but it's not something that's beyond us. It's not something we've grown beyond or we don't need.
Repentance, we looked at in detail, it's a change of how you think and a change of how you walk, and you need both of those. Repentance has to reach all the way to your will. If you're not converted all the way to your will, you're not finished yet. You're like one of those destinations in the parable of the sower where the farmer sows the seed in the different paths and it doesn't make it to maturity in three of the four options. You can hear the gospel, you can embrace the gospel, you can be an advocate for the gospel; but not have the depth in order to maintain that faith, and repentance is a very important part of this journey. The beginning of the foundation for maturity is the practice of repentance. Not an experience with it, the practice of it. In fact, biblically repentance precedes faith. If you want your faith to grow, your confidence in God to grow, repentance as a part of your daily routine will have to grow.
I don't really believe there is true faith without repentance. I can give you some examples from some of our biblical heroes. John the Baptist, in Matthew chapter 3 it says, "In those days, John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.' This was he who was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him.'" Jesus's cousin, he has a ministry that precedes Jesus. A supernatural circumstance to his birth, not quite as dramatic as the one in Jesus's case but paralleling one another. Their stories are.
John has the assignment to prepare the Israelites for the coming of their Messiah, and his message is one of repentance. God's covenant people living in the land that he promised them, with a temple in the midst of the city of Jerusalem and the aroma of the daily sacrifice lifting into the air around them, John's message is, "All of those things are not sufficient. You need to repent". I give you that 'cause we'll point to our churches and our habits of attending churches and we know the words to the choruses, and we're trying to stay out of gross expressions of ungodliness and immorality and so we imagine that the problems we face are because someone else needs to be different. And I believe if we're going to prepare ourselves for the coming and the return of our Messiah, that God's people will have to hear the message of our need of repentance. We have to change. John prepared the way of the Lord by calling God's people back to repentance.
So a fundamental, big rock idea is we've got to stop imagining if the pagans would just change our world would get better. If the light would get brighter, there'd be less darkness. But the message didn't stop with John the Baptist. It continued with Jesus. In Mark chapter 1, "After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 'The time has come,' he said. 'The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.'" Jesus's first directive was not to believe but to repent. You see, I think we have created the idea amongst people who interact with church and faith and religion, that we can come to God without repentance. I mean, no real deep sense of remorse or realignment. We can kind of assimilate God into our belief system. We'll just incorporate attending church with all the other things we're doing.
Maybe we'll add a dash of Bible reading or we'll incorporate some additional vocabulary words so we've got a little bit of a Christianese vocabulary that we can whip out when we're in a group of people that prefer those words, but certainly not a significant change of thought or a significant change of behavior. That hasn't really been essential to our message because we haven't wanted to offend anybody, we haven't wanted to be perceived as being judgmental or critical. We have focused on what God will do for us. We've had a good sales pitch about the blessings of God and the goodness of God and the abundance of God, and I believe those things, but we've said very little about what God requires of us. And be certain of this. There are requirements of us.
The ground at the foot of the cross is level. Everyone is welcome regardless of race, gender, education, economic status, IQ. Everybody's welcome. Everybody's welcome, and it's an expression of grace. We didn't earn it. We don't deserve it. It's not based on merit. But for Jesus to be Lord of your life means we have to yield our will to him, and he's Lord of everything or he's not Lord of anything. There's a cost. We have to lay our lives down. It's not my life anymore. It's not my calendar anymore. It's not even my money anymore. I serve at his pleasure. My days come from him. My breath today is a gift from God. We don't start there. We grow up into that, we learn to yield, but it's an important part of the message. Jesus's message never really changed.
In Luke chapter 24, to put it into chronology, this is post-resurrection. So 3 years of public ministry, all of the suffering, his resurrection. He gathers with the disciples. "He told them, 'This is what was written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.'" The gospel is a message of repentance and forgiveness of sins, and that starts with us. Doesn't stop there. On the day of Pentecost as the church goes public, Jesus in Acts chapter 1 ascending back to heaven. Acts chapter 2, the church takes this step forward into the public arena in Jerusalem, absent Jesus's physical presence. The crowd gathers in response to the moving of the Spirit, and Peter addresses them. He tells them the Jesus story as he knows it, and it says, "When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'What shall we do?'" And Peter replied, "Go to church and join a committee".
Well, I mean in the original language. "Peter replied, '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.'" That's the first time we have a public record of an audience being presented with the gospel when they responded with this question: "What should we do? What should we do"? How many times have we heard that question in the last 3 years? "What should we do? Churches are closed. What should we do? There's a pandemic. What should we do? Our kids can't go to school. What should we do? We don't trust sources that we trusted not too long ago. What should we do? We're confused by the information streams that we're getting. What should we do"? And Peter responds to them.
These are the covenant people of God, God's chosen people uniquely blessed with an inheritance that we're still watching be fulfilled today two millennia later. And Peter says, "Repent and be baptized". In fact, I think that little three-step process is a pretty good message in every generation. Repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit. The message didn't change. In Paul's ministry in Acts 17, says, "In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent". He's in a pagan city. He said, "God's overlooked the behaviors that you're demonstrating historically, but it's a new day. He sent his son, and the message of the good news about his son is that you can repent and enter the kingdom of God".
You can't get into the kingdom of God without repentance. You can't grow up in the kingdom of God without a change of thought and a change of behavior. You won't study your way to maturity. You may need some information to grow up, but the information will lead you to an attitude change and a behavior change, and the summary term for that is repentance. He goes on to say, "'He set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he's appointed. He's given proof of all this to all men by raising him from the dead.' And when they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered".
Things haven't changed that much. "You had me up until that resurrection part". And then they began to mock him. Jesus is not only our Savior, he's the Judge. And if you don't meet him as Savior, I assure you you'll meet him as Judge. You see, the ultimate issue in righteousness is judgment. We don't like to pay attention to righteousness. It's a big old religious word. You know, "What's it mean? Why do I care"? Because if you don't get it right, you'll face judgment and you'll care about that. Repentance, change of how we think, a change of how we behave. Paul's message never changed.
Repentance is about a change of thought and a change of direction. If there's anything that's become real to me since we first met COVID a couple of years ago, it's the need to change how we have thought. The practices of the previous season have not been effective. Darkness has escalated. God's inviting us to a new response to him. Let's pray:
Father, help us to think in alignment with you, to lay down our traditions and our habits and say yes to you as never before. I thank you for what you're doing. In Jesus's name, amen.