James Merritt - Seismic Shift
We're going to talk about a topic today that frankly most churches today won't touch. They don't talk about it. You never hear it mentioned. It's a word that's very rarely heard in the church anymore. I listen to a lot of, we used to call them preachers. Now we call them communicators. And I listen to a lot of communicators. I never, ever hear a communicator talk about what I'm gonna talk about today. They never, ever use this word. Now, it doesn't bother me, because I know that I'm in good company when I talk about this because the first word that Jesus ever used in the first sermon he ever preached was this word. And Jesus even said if you don't do what this word commands you to do, you can't have a relationship with God.
It doesn't matter how religious you are or how good you are, how often you attend church, whether or not you give to a church, whether or not you serve in a church. None of those things matter. If you don't do what this word commands you to do, Jesus himself said you cannot have a relationship with God. And if you do have a relationship with God, Jesus said, this is something you really have to do on a continuous basis if you're gonna maintain fellowship with God. And the word we're gonna talk about today is the word "repent". Now, I want you to say that word out loud, okay? Repent. Turn to the person next to you and say, "Repent". Yeah, it'll make you feel like a preacher, okay?
Now, let me just tell you, let me tell you what you think of when you hear this word, and it's why we don't use it. You think about these guys that wear these sandwich boards. You know, they walk up and down streets, and they got this word, you know, "Turn or Burn". They got, you know, a flame on the back, and they've got, you know, in fact, some of them even look like the devil, okay? And so you get this word, and you say, "Man, I just, I cannot believe". You may have brought a neighbor with you today and said, "I can't even believe this. I bring this neighbor, and now you're gonna talk about repent". Well, let me just, hang in there. Let me just kind of tell you why and why we're doing this. Jesus commanded in Luke 24:47, listen to this, "And that", what's that word? Say it real loud. "Repentance".
All right. So this is what Jesus, it's not what I said. It's what he said. Jesus said, "I want repentance and forgiveness of sins to be proclaimed in my name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem". Now, this one of the things that kind of sets us a little bit apart. You can go to any church in Atlanta today, almost any church that halfway even preaches the Bible. And there are a lot of churches that preach the Bible. I'm not throwing down on any church. You go to any church in Atlanta today, one thing you'll probably hear, most likely. They'll talk about Jesus is the savior of the world, Jesus died on the cross, Jesus paid for our sins, and if you'll ask Jesus to forgive you, he will forgive you. You'll hear that in almost any church. But you know what you won't hear in 99% of the churches today? You won't hear that word right there. Never hear it.
I listen to communicators all the time. Never hear that word. It is never even mentioned. And yet if I'm gonna preach what Jesus preached, I have to preach repentance. And so there may be some preachers out there that are gonna be listening to this message later on, so let me just kind of put you on hold for a minute and just say a word to all my fellow preachers out there. If you're not preaching repentance, you're not preaching what Jesus told you to preach. You're not preaching what Jesus told you to preach. One of these days, I've got to give an account as to what I preach in this, to every sermon, I've got to give an account. And if I don't preach repentance, one of these days, Jesus is gonna look at me and he's gonna say, "You know, James, you talked about forgiveness, and you talked about grace, and you talked about love, and you talked about mercy, but you never talked about repentance. And I believe I even put that first".
So when I preach on repentance, I'm just doing what Jesus told me to do. This is the take away: when we turn to God, we turn from sin. There's no debate, no discussion. You can't do one without the other. When we turn to God, we turn from sin. And that turn from sin is called repentance. And see, here's the problem. There are some of you right now here on our campus or you're at the Mill Creek campus or you're watching by live stream right now, and you think you've dealt with your sin. You think it's all good because you've confessed it to God. But you got a problem, and you know what that problem is, right? You keep repeating the same mistake. You confess what you've done wrong and then go back and do it again. You confess what you've done wrong. You go back and do it again. You hurt somebody. You offend somebody.
You say, "Okay, I'm sorry I hurt you. I'm sorry I offended you. I won't do that anymore". Then you go back and you do it again. And you keep wondering why. "Why is it that I keep confessing and nothing really happens? Why do I continue to do this, and why do I continue to feel guilty"? It's because you've never repented. Confession alone won't do it. You've got to repent. There are some of you in this room right now, you're a Christian, you love Jesus, you know Jesus, but you're living a totally defeated Christian life. You know deep down, you're not hitting on all eight cylinders spiritually. You know deep down, you're not getting all out of the Christian life you ought to get and God's certainly not getting all out of you he ought to get. And you can't kind of figure it out, and the reason why is, you've never experienced this seismic shift that's the only real remedy for your fault.
Let me illustrate it to you this way. If you're going down a street and you decide you're gonna turn off that street, doesn't matter whether you turn right or left; I don't care. If you go down a street, if you turn left or right, the moment you turn onto one street, you just turned off the other street. You can't turn onto one street and stay on the other street. You turn on one, you got to get off the other one. Same thing is true with God. You cannot come to God and say, "God, I'm coming to you today, but I'm holding on to my sin". If you get off one street, you got to get off the other. You can't stay on the same street. So the question is, how do you do that? How do you repent? What does that mean?
All right, here we go. Ready? Boom, here we go. Number one. We must truly realize our sin. That's step one. We've got to truly realize our sin. Now, Paul does the church a big favor. They didn't like it at the time, but Paul knows what I know and what you need to know, and that is, when somebody's living in sin, I'm talking about a brother or sister. I don't mean somebody, you know, that's lost, because they ought to be living in sin. That's what they do, right? But if you know a brother or a sister in the family of God and they're living in sin, somebody that claims to be a Christian, Paul says you do a loving thing when you go to that person, in humility but in love, and you confront them and let them know exactly what they've done.
That's what Paul did. Paul goes to this church, and he said, "Look, I'm your spiritual father. I led many of you to Christ. I helped form this church. I helped to get you started. And I'm telling you right now, you are not doing the right thing. There is sin in the church. You've not dealt with it. You've got a biblical responsibility to deal with it. I am asking you to deal with it, and I'm gonna tell you exactly how to deal with it". Well, he was kind of afraid. "I burned bridges. They got mad. They're not speaking to me. They rejected me. They turned their back on me". So he sends Titus. Titus says, "Hey, good news, Paul. They not only love you. They know they did wrong. They've done the right thing. They've corrected the problem. And they want you to know they can't wait to see you again". Right?
So far, so good. Then Paul says something very strange to this church, real strange. Listen, verse 8. "For even if I made you grieve with my letter", that's the letter he wrote in 1 Corinthians, "I don't regret it". Wait a minute. Let me get this straight. You made them sad and you made them mad, but you're happy about it. "I don't regret it". All right. "Though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a little while". Now, that's kind of odd. Paul says, "You know, it bothers me that I really made you cry, but not really. It bothered me that I broke your heart, but I got over it. Took me half a baby aspirin to go to sleep. I mean, it really did not bother me at all". And you say, "Well, okay, what was Paul saying"? Here's what he was saying. He was saying, "You know what"? He said, "Grief and sorrow are signs of a broken heart". And he said, "It is a wonderful thing that when you sin, you have a broken heart".
Let me tell you why this is such a big deal. When we sin, we ought to have a broken heart for one reason, because our sin breaks the heart of God. And Paul said, "Even though it hurt me to hurt you, it actually made me glad that you were hurt, and let me tell you why. Because the fact that you were hurt, the fact that you were grieved, the fact that you sorrow tells me you realized your sin. You realized what you had done was wrong. You realized it was sin. You realized you had committed sin. And that is a good thing". And let me tell you why that's so important for us. This is a little bit deep, but listen. When the concept of sin is diminished, the practice of sin is increased. When the practice of sin is increased, the guilt and the shame over sin disappears.
Now, I don't know if you realize this or not. I've lived long enough to see it. We're living today in a culture where, by and large, shame and guilt over sin has become basically a thing of the past. Someone has well said, "Sin that used to sneak down the back alley now struts up the Main Street". Why is that? I told you last week. Because sin is no longer a sin. Sin is a mistake. Sin's a faulty judgment. Sin's a miscalculation. Listen, you don't apologize for a mistake. A mistake's a mistake. You apologize for sin. And that shouldn't really surprise anyone, because until you realize sin for what it is and call it what it is, you will never take the proper steps to get forgiveness and have your fellowship with God restored.
And by the way, let me just be honest. I know there are some of you out there right now, and you're struggling with a stronghold in your life. You're tired of the guilt trip you're on. You fess up to your mess-up, but you keep messing up. And you just can't seem to get off this treadmill of temptation, and you keep going back and doing the same thing. Well, step one is, you've got to confess it for what it is, "Lord, this is a stronghold in my life; I need you to help me break this in my life", or else you'll never get on the road to redemption. So step one is, we got to truly realize our sin. All right, step two. We must sincerely regret our sin. We realize our sin. Then we regret our sin.
Now, I'm gonna say something that I know is very obvious. There's something desperately wrong with somebody that can hurt people and it doesn't bother them. These terrorists over there, these gutless cowards that are beheading people over there in Syria, in a way, I feel sorry for them. I'm gonna tell you something. A man's to be pitied that can do what they're doing and go to sleep at night and that not bother them, that can eat and think they're doing God a favor. I mean, that's really kind of a sad situation. And anybody would say this. If you're a normal person with a normal conscience and you do something wrong, you ought to feel sorry about it. But then Paul does something that's so unusual and so amazing. He said, "You know what? There's actually two kinds of sorrow over sin". He said, "There is a type of sorrow that leads to the freeway of forgiveness, but then there's a type of sorrow that leads to a dead end, to death".
Now, listen to what he says beginning in verse 9. He says, "As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved", he said, "I'm not sorry that you were sorry; I'm glad you were", "but because you were grieved into", what's that word, "repenting. For you felt a godly grief", We'll come back to that in a moment. "For you felt a godly grief so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief", there's that phrase again, "produces", what, "a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death". Now, Paul says something that a lot of us have never thought about. There's a big difference between worldly grief and godly grief, worldly sorrow and godly sorrow.
Now, let me give you an illustration here, and I want all of us to be honest, okay? All of us be honest right now. Looking back in your life, have you ever been caught, ever, doing something that you should not have done? You were caught doing something wrong, listen, but you weren't sorry that you were doing what you were doing. You were sorry that you got caught for doing what you were doing. Now, can I get a witness to that? Hold your hand up. And if you don't hold your hand up right now, you are a liar. You're lying through your teeth. Okay? Everybody in this room would say that. Everybody in this room, you can think back, there was a time you were doing something wrong, you knew it was wrong, no doubt it was wrong, you got caught, but you were not grieved and hurt and sorry and sad because you got caught doing the wrong thing. You weren't sorry because you were doing the wrong thing. You were sorry because you got caught.
Paul said, "That's not the kind of sorrow that's gonna cut it. That's not the kind of sorrow that's gonna work". Now, you're sitting there, and you may be saying, "Well, can I ask you a question, Pastor? How do I know if that's the kind of sorrow that I have? How do I know that I've got a worldly sorrow and not a godly sorrow"? There are some sure tell signs, surefire marks that's the kind of sorrow you've got. Let me give an example. For example, worldly sorrow will lead to denial. Worldly sorrow will make you say something like this: "Well, everybody does it". Or here's one of my favorite ones: "That really isn't me". News flash: it is. Yeah, that really is you. What's down in the well comes up in the bucket. Yeah, that's you. It really is you.
Or, "You know, I've thought about it. It's just not that big of a deal". Or, "I just don't think what I did is really all that bad". That's worldly sorrow. Here's another one. It leads to despair. Here's a mark of worldly sorrow. You do something wrong, you get caught doing something wrong, and all of a sudden, you are so sorry; you are so brokenhearted. You know why? Because of the consequences that you know you've got to suffer because you got caught. So here's what worldly sorrow says: "Oh, no, I'm gonna lose my marriage. Oh, no, I'm gonna lose my job. Oh, no, I'm gonna lose my kids. Oh, no, I'm going to jail". Because when you're full of worldly sorrow, here's all you can think аbout: you think about what your sin has done to you.
And then, even worse, Paul said there's a worldly sorrow that leads to death, because here's what Paul said. Whenever we sin, whenever we do something wrong and then we try to explain it or we try to justify it or we try to excuse it or we try to deny it, it kills our conscience, it kills our soul, and it blocks us from the very thing that we need to do in order to get forgiveness and have fellowship with God. I'm not saying that people don't truly feel sorry for their sin in a very worldly way. Paul didn't say that. Paul said, "Look, I'm not saying that worldly sorrow is not real sorrow. What I'm saying is, it's the wrong kind of sorrow 'cause it does not lead to repentance".
Great illustration: Judas. Judas is the classic biblical illustration of what it means to have worldly sorrow. Judas denies Jesus, 30 pieces of silver. After he denies Jesus, he realizes he has done wrong. He's genuinely remorseful. He is sorry. His heart was broken. I have no doubt he was really, in a worldly way, very sorry for what he did. Remember what he does? He goes to the priest, you know, and he tells, "Man, I've done the wrong thing". But then what happens? He commits suicide. His worldly sorrow led to death. Instead of going to the one that hung on a cross, he goes and hangs himself on a tree. Here's the way his life ended. You know the story, Matthew 24. He goes to the priest, says, "Look, I have sinned," no doubt he really meant it. He knows, "I've blown it; it's my fault", "By betraying innocent blood, and throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed and he went and hanged himself".
Now, I did something I thought was kind of interesting. I went back and changed that. And I want you to imagine that instead of reading the way I just read it, what if it had read this way: "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood, and throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed and went and repented and asked for forgiveness". Do you think his story would have ended differently? Do you think he might be in heaven today? Do you think he would have found the forgiveness he was looking for? Absolutely. Well, why didn't he? 'Cause he didn't have a godly sorrow. He had a worldly sorrow. And listen. If you don't hear anything else I say, here's what I want you to hear.
Now, this is hard, and this is tough, but I want you to hear this. The next time you blow it, the next time you do wrong, the next time you're the one that messed it up, you're the one that caused the rupture in the relationship, God does not want you feeling sorry for yourself. God wants you feeling sorry for your sin. God does not want you feeling sorry because of what your sin may do to you. He wants you to feel sorry for what your sin has done to him. God doesn't want you to feel sorry because you've broken your heart. He wants you to feel sorry because you've broken his heart. That is a godly grief. In the original Greek language, it means an according-to-God grief.
See, worldly grief has you as the focus. Godly grief has God as the focus. So let me put it to you this way. Worldly grief says, "Oops, I broke the law". Godly grief says, "Oh, God, I broke your heart". Worldly grief says, "What's gonna happen to me"? Godly grief says, "God, what have I done to you"? And there's a difference between tears that leave you where you are and tears that move you where you need to be. Now, I'm gonna skip over a couple things 'cause I want to kind of get to this third point, 'cause there's one last thing we have to do, and that is, we must fully repent of our sin. We must fully repent of our sin. I'm gonna get, this is real brief. Listen up. There is something wrong with people, we've already said this, they do wrong to people. They feel no remorse, no regret, no shame. But we've already said, now, there are two different kinds of sorrow. There's a divine sorrow, and there's a deadly sorrow.
Paul says, "All right, let me remind you of the difference". He says, "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death". Now, this is where you've got to really hang with me, because if this is a big deal to Jesus, and it is, if it's a big deal to us, and it ought to be, then I want you to walk out of here in a moment and truly understand what repentance is. So if somebody were to come up to you and they were to say, "Hey, I want to repent, but I don't even know how to do it or what that means," I want you to be able to explain exactly what that is. Because there are a lot of you that don't even understand repentance. You think you have, and you haven't.
So let me give you an example. Repentance involves or includes conviction. You got to realize that you've sinned. However, you can be genuinely convinced you've done wrong and convicted that you've done wrong, but that's not repentance. Repentance involves confession. Yes, if you're gonna repent, one of the things you have to do, we've already said, you've got to confess. However, you can confess openly, you can confess publicly that you've done wrong, but if that's all you do, that's not repentance. Repentance involves contrition. Yes, you ought to feel sorry. When you've done wrong, there ought to be a broken heart with it. You really feel sorry that you've done wrong. However, you can genuinely feel sorry and be grieved over your sin. You can say, "I'm so sorry I hurt you; I'm so sorry that I caused this fracture," but that alone is not repentance.
Okay, you ready? Repentance always involves change. Change, not just confession, not just conviction, not just contrition. Repentance always involves change. Real repentance involves a spiritual change. 'Cause you say, "Well, how do I know if I've really repented"? It's real easy. When you change your mind and you change your heart, you change your direction. When you change your mind and you change your heart, you change your direction. You do an about-face. You do a 180. Just like Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery. You remember what he said to her? "I don't condemn you". "Really"? "No, you're forgiven. Wait. Wait. Time-out. Don't leave. Go and sin no more". What was he saying to her? "Repent. Whatever you did that brought you in here, don't let me see you in here again".
You repent. If you're really sorry for what you've done and God's really worked in your heart, there will be a change of direction in your life. So I'm gonna wrap all this up by talking now to two different groups of people. There are some of you in this room right now, and you think you've done everything necessary on the outside to make sure you're right with God. You go to church, or you've joined a church. You've been baptized. You grew up religious. You are religious. You work in the church, or you have worked in the church. You've given money to the church, or you give money to the church. But there's something that bothers you. And you know what bothers you? There's never really been a change in your life. You signed the cards. You jumped in the baptistery. You did this. You did that. You do all the right things you need to do today. But somehow you know, "In my life, there's never been a real change".
I know what your problem is. You've never repented. And then there are others of us in this room, and really, you do love Jesus, you do know Jesus, and you want to live for Jesus. But here's your problem. You've got this little pet sin, and you kind of keep it hidden in a closet. Maybe it's pornography. Maybe it's greed. Maybe it's bitterness. And the reason why, even though we're Christians, even though we are, even though we know the Lord, we're not experiencing the joy and the freedom and the excitement we ought to have is because we refuse to repent. So here's what I want to ask you to do. This is cheesy, but just bear with me. Everybody take out an imaginary mirror right now and just hold it right in front of you. Okay, everybody do that. You got a mirror. You're looking yourself in the mirror, okay?
Here's the question I want you to ask right now. You're looking yourself in the mirror. Here's the question I want you to ask right now. "Is there anything that I need to truly repent of in my life in order to have a 100% uninterrupted fellowship with God? Is there anything in my life I need to truly repent of in order to have a 100% uninterrupted fellowship with God"? So if you're here today and you've never trusted in Christ as your Lord and savior, I am not gonna stand up here and simply tell you all you got to do is just "believe in Jesus" and you'll be good to go. There are a lot of people who believe in Jesus who are not good to go, because there's two sides to that coin. Faith is one side. Repentance is the other. When you turn to, you turn from. So here's what I'm gonna say, and then we're gonna say amen.
Don't be like the wife that I read about, and before she supposedly converted to Christ, she was just hellacious to live with. She nagged her husband. She berated her husband. She criticized her husband. She put her husband down. She just sucked all the life out of him. She came home from church one day, and she said to her husband, "I have become a Christian". He was so excited. He was so pumped. He said, "Man, this is awesome. Things have got to get better". The only problem was, nothing changed. She kept nagging him, and she kept berating him, and she kept putting him down, and she kept criticizing him. And finally one day, he looked at her and he said, "You know, I don't mind that you've been born again. I just wish you hadn't been born again as yourself". When you repent, truly repent, there is a seismic shift that will take place in your heart, and you can't and won't ever be the same again.