No Other Foundation
Book 2
Needful Truths for Children of Light

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Chapter Two
Repentance


The Contents Of This Chapter


Repentance

Sin is so heinous and spreads so quickly that not even its slightest occurrence can be allowed, tolerated, overlooked, or excused without opening the floodgate of human destruction — a destruction so ferocious it annihilates everything in its path. And though this destruction may seem distant or insignificant at the moment of sin, it will, inevitably, overwhelm both sinner and their victims like a gigantic wall of rushing water.

This news is not new, however. God, using different words, said the same thing to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He used a flood to convey this message to the people of Noah’s day. Fire and brimstone were His means of confirming this message when He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. In giving the Law to Israel, He clearly communicated this same message through His commandments, His promises of blessing for obedience, and His threats of punishment for disobedience. And He brought this message home to the New Testament church when He struck down Ananias and Sapphira for lying. Indeed, there isn’t a culture, nation, people group, community, or family who doesn’t know something about the destructive power of evil on both the practitioners and victims of evil.

Yet foolishly, each one of us has taken part in opening the floodgate of this inescapable and overpowering destruction. Each one of us has selfishly and deliberately done what we know is wrong. We have shamelessly and intentionally chosen the way of sin over the way of virtue. Like spoiled children, we have self-centeredly sought to please ourselves and go our own way without regard for the pain, suffering, damage, and destruction such behavior brings upon God, our family, community, nation, and world.

But who among us wants to admit he is an intentional sinner deliberately doing what he knows is wrong? Who is humble enough to openly admit he has intentionally, and often repeatedly, sought his own good at the expense of others? Who is contrite enough to confess to those he has wronged exactly how he has wronged them and that he is without excuse for the wrong he has done? Who conscientiously strives to identify and then take appropriate action to correct his own specific acts of sin (single occurrences) and long-standing practices of sin (repeated occurrences)? And who has enough personal integrity to acknowledge specific ways and instances where his self-centeredness has contributed to the practice of sin in others and the ultimate destruction of this world?

We prefer to see ourselves as good people with good intentions. So we claim to be good, and even godly, in spite of the fact that we are not as zealous about living up to what we know as we are about expecting others (spouse, children, extended family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, public officials) to live up to what they know.

We judge ourselves by what we wish to be instead of what our daily choices and repetitive behaviors irrefutably proclaim we are. And of course, we are not inclined to ask a family member or friend, and especially not an enemy, to tell us what self-centered, inconsiderate, inconsistent, unkind, and otherwise sinful behavior they see in us. Why? Because we don’t really believe we are that evil, and if we are, we don’t want to know.

Wanting to be seen by others as good people with good intentions, we blame people and circumstances — anything but ourselves — when caught or criticized for doing something wrong. When the criticism stings or cuts too deep, we attack back with equal or greater force — endeavoring to end the confrontation without honestly evaluating the criticism or resolving the difference between ourselves and the confronter. And should our critics continue to tell us what they see, we push them out of our life — protecting ourselves from their words by avoiding them as much as possible.

It isn’t that we are afraid to admit we are sinners. Most of us will admit to that in a general, vague kind of way any and every day of the week. But we do not want to admit we are deliberate sinners intentionally committing specific sins or willfully and repeatedly doing what we know is wrong at the expense of others. We do not want to admit we selfishly seek our own good, and in so doing, unnecessarily harm others. We do not want to admit we employ a double standard whereby we justify doing to others what we do not want done to us. We do not want to admit we distrust God in certain areas and are therefore unwilling to live according to His Word in those areas. And for sure we don’t want to admit we have chosen to go our own way in open disobedience to God’s way, so that we can do for ourselves what we think He can’t or won’t do for us.

Yet not only do we resist admitting to a specific and deliberate involvement in sin, we resist admitting that the sins we commit are vile. According to our own estimation, the sins we commit may be bad, but they are not vile, abominable, detestable, repugnant, or as evil as the sins of some sinners we know. And here again, it isn’t that we are unwilling to admit sin is evil. We zealously affirm that sin is so heinous not even its slightest occurrence can be allowed, tolerated, overlooked, or excused. But what we are really affirming is that other people’s sin is heinous — sins like murder, rape, homosexuality, abortion, adultery, sexual and physical abuse of children, alcoholism, drug addiction, breaking and entering, car theft, job discrimination, oppressive injustice, extreme bigotry, and other people’s actions which make our lives needlessly unpleasant. And of course, we’ve never done, nor would we ever do, such heinous things.

Yet we are just as self-centered, just as committed to doing what we know is wrong, just as willing to treat others as we do not want to be treated, just as openly rebellious against God, and just as disobedient to God’s Word as the murderer, rapist, homosexual, abortionist, adulterer, abuser, alcoholic, drug addict, thief, oppressor, bigot, and the person whose selfishness makes our life more difficult. We may not be guilty of committing the atrocities of the aforementioned sinners, but we are just as guilty of voluntarily and deliberately doing what we know is wrong.

Though we do not commit the supposed big sins, we deliberately and cheerfully commit sin — sins like discreet greed (the selfish use of money and possessions at a level approved by most American Christians), shrewd business practices (the unloving things a business person believes he must do to stay in business), lustful thoughts (hidden adultery, silent immorality), over-eating, workaholism, financial hoarding (making money the god we depend on to give us immediate happiness and a secure future), self-esteem-building pride, self-indulging consumerism, spousal disrespect, denial (refusal to admit or deal with relationship destructive behavior and/or conflicts), double-standard parenting (making our children do what we do not do), control over others (forcing others to do what pleases us), impatience, unkind words (to control, manipulate, hurt, or joke at another’s expense), gossip (passing information which needlessly damages someone’s reputation), unforgiveness, and revenge (getting even, returning evil for evil).

Like the murderer, we cut people out of our life after judging them worthless, or at least of less value than those in our little clique. Like the abuser and oppressor, we try to control others in an effort to make life better for ourselves. Like the abortionist, we terminate relationships that make our lives more difficult, or get in the way of what we want. Like the homosexual and adulterer, we use people for our own gratification, and we hurt those closest to us in our selfish pursuit of happiness. Like the drug addict and alcoholic, we numb ourselves against stress, discouragement, depression, the pain of hurtful relationships, and fear of failure with television, sports, over-eating, shopping, and other such things that numb our mind and dull our senses. Like the thief, we take what doesn’t belong to us (copying computer software, copying music tapes, photo-copying choir music, taking work supplies for home use, cheating on our taxes, etc.). Like the bigot, we are thoughtlessly prejudiced against those who do not agree with us on issues we deem important. And like all of them, we excuse our own sinfulness by putting the blame elsewhere, or by claiming we are less sinful than most people.

Though we know these things are wrong, we avoid calling them sin through relabelling. We label them as necessary, practical, harmless, or circumstantially justifiable. We take comfort in our relabelling because, deep inside, we think God is wrong for calling many of the aforementioned sins, sin. We are not convinced that things so useful and necessary to our well-being, our personal happiness, and our future security could be sinful. We are not convinced these things really hurt others. And if they do, we are convinced the harm done when we do them is negligible compared to the irreversible hurt of murder or rape or adultery. Thus, we conclude that if they are wrong, it’s not because they are evil, but only because God says they are wrong.

How is it that people who clearly know what is wrong when being mistreated, find it so hard to discern right from wrong in regards to their own behavior? Could it be because they look in the wrong place for the answer to the following three questions?

1.     How do we determine what sin is?

2.     How do we decide when we are sinning?

3.     How do we ascertain when we have sinned?

Too many of us rely on the accepted practices of society to provide the basis for answering these questions. This means we make the prevailing attitude of society toward a particular behavior, or category of behaviors, the basis of deciding the what and when of sin. In other words, what they accept as wise or necessary, even though the Bible condemns it as sin, we accept as wise or necessary. What they condemn, we condemn.

Now for Christians, this method of deciding the what and when of sin is heretical. Yet it has been, and continues to be, a popular method in our society, even among the churched. We only need to examine issues like slavery, homosexuality, prejudice and white-flight, consumerism, popular yet dishonest business practices, taking cash for work rendered so we don’t have to pay taxes on it, fashion, bitterness, anger, derogatory words, unresolved conflict within supposedly committed relationships, divorce, and getting even, to see how often this method is employed. And it does not require extensive research to know that many of those who attend church, claim to believe in God, and read the Bible behave much like unbelievers as regards this list of sins.

Truly, deciding the what and when of sin according to the popular, society-based view of right and wrong turns moral issues into best option issues. It unleashes untold suffering and destruction by perverting reason as regards good and evil. It is at best an unreliable method of defining sin. And it confirms its unreliability through its failure to protect the good of each individual and the greater good of all.

Well then, how do we decide what sin is, when we are sinning, or when we have sinned? Many decide these matters on the basis of benefits received from a specific action or behavior pattern.

However, one problem with this method is that we tend to magnify the benefits and trivialize the harm done to those affected by our favorite, most trusted, regularly relied on sins. In fact, we often ignore the destructive effects of sin on ourselves and others. The drug abuser, alcoholic, spouse abuser, adulterer, domineering spouse, absurdly strict parent, aggressive controller, and passive appeaser, are a few examples of this.

Another problem with this method is that we want the sole right to decide if the benefits of certain behaviors outweigh the harm done. In other words, we don’t want those hurt by our sinful deeds to be part of deciding how badly we’ve hurt them. We don’t want anyone’s opinions but our own to tip the scales of justice. Therefore, deciding right and wrong on the basis of benefits received is not a reliable method. It too easily turns wrong into right by obscuring the destructive consequences and highlighting the benefits — especially to self.

So how do we come to a definition of sin which puts and keeps sin’s “what and when” in its proper perspective? The only rational, reasonable, protect-the-good-of-everyone, way to come to such a definition is to go to the source of wisdom, righteousness, and love itself. We must go to God.

God, speaking to us through His Word, says sin is lawlessness. This lawlessness is the result of our choice to be lawless in response to His rightful position of authority over us. (Note: I John 3:4)

As the creator and sovereign lord of the universe, God has made laws by which we are to live. As God’s created beings, as ones under His authority, as children in the home of their Father, we are under obligation to obey His commands. Therefore, sin is willful, conscious rebellion against God and His laws. Sin is the refusal to come under God’s authority and live according to His commandments and principles. Sin is believing that we know more about what is best for us than God, so as to feel justified in doing what God says is wrong.

To further clarify this point, put it in the context of the family. Good parents create rules for the family which promote and protect the good of everyone. Such rules are based on love — love which seeks the good of the child by protecting him from his own foolish, self-centered, and self-destructive predilections. These same rules are intended to set boundaries for the child which protect the good of those who are in any way affected by the choices and behavior of the child. And finally, these rules are intended to create an environment which nurtures caring, meaningful, satisfying relationships within the family, and when possible, between the child and any one outside the home who abides by these rules.

To the child, these rules may seem unreasonable or restrictive at times. To the parent, these rules provide hope for a loving home, an emotionally and mentally healthy process of child development, and a stable future for the family. Whatever restrictions are placed on the child, are placed there for the purpose of promoting and protecting the good of the child and those affected by the child’s words and deeds. Therefore, sin is when a child willfully refuses to obey one or more of his parent’s rules, and in so doing, self-centeredly goes his own way, deliberately does what he has been taught is wrong, and willfully hurts others in the process.

Like a good parent, God has created rules, based on love, by which all humanity is to live. His rules protect us from ourselves — from the self-destructive consequences of our own foolish and selfish inclinations. His rules protect the good of everyone who in any way is affected by our choices and behavior. Finally, His rules create an environment where mutually caring and deeply satisfying relationships are the natural reward of love — a reward which infallibly and unfailingly promotes and protects the good of all.

Therefore, when we disobey God, we are challenging God’s authority by behaving as if we are the rightful and final authority over ourselves. We are showing contempt for God’s wisdom by intentionally rejecting what He says is right so we can do what we think is right for ourselves. We are abandoning love for selfishness and forsaking community-centeredness for self-centeredness. And not only do we neglect the good of others in our pursuit of self-interest, we willfully inflict unnecessary suffering on others in the fulfillment of our self-interest. In fact, we carelessly and uncaringly make life more difficult and painful for everyone affected in any way by our disobedience to God. Truly, sin is lawlessness.

Now when law and love are united, as God has united them, lawlessness is always linked to selfishness. Therefore, sin is selfishness. It is voluntarily and deliberately breaking God’s laws in order to place our own interests, happiness, gratification, protection, and future security before the good of God and the well-being of our fellowman. In other words, sin is law-breaking for the purpose of doing to God and others what we do not want them to do to us. It is refusing to submit to the authority of God so we can look out for our interests and our good without equal regard for the interests of God and the good of others. It is willfully doing what God says is wrong for the sole purpose of pleasing ourselves (or some special interest group of which we are a part). And we are guilty of committing sin when we carelessly neglect to do, or willfully choose not to do, what we know is the right thing to do. (Note: James 4:17)

Therefore, the only just and fitting penalty for sin (for deliberately doing what we know is wrong, and willingly doing it at the expense of others), is banishment. The Bible speaks of this banishment as death — not physical death, but removal forever from God's presence and kingdom and all who love as God loves. The place of banishment is hell. This removal from God, His kingdom, and all who love as He loves, to hell, is a just and fitting penalty because it perfectly fulfills two requirements. First, it satisfies the requirement of punishment for those who willingly and deliberately inflict unnecessary suffering on others through acts of sin. Second, it protects those who live according to God’s rules — loving as God loves — from any further unnecessary suffering at the hands of sinners.

However, though sinners deserve such a harsh penalty for sinning, the penalty presents God with an unwanted problem. Every man and woman who has ever lived or will live (with one exception — Jesus) has sinned. We have all voluntarily and deliberately done what we know is wrong, and we’ve done it at the unjust expense of others. Therefore, all humanity, past, present, and future, stands condemned to eternal banishment in hell. And just as no amount of prior or future goodness on the part of the murderer can restore the murder victim’s life, so no amount of personal goodness can make it as if we never sinned. No amount of personal goodness can remove the fact we did to another what we would not want done to ourselves. So the only way we can satisfy the penalty for sins we’ve committed is to pay it. And the only way to pay it is to be banished to hell for eternity. For this reason, God, the one who judges sinners worthy of eternal damnation, has made a way for us to be freed from the penalty of our sin so that we can live with Him forever.

God’s solution to our sin problem cost Him dearly. It cost Him the torturous death and hell-bound soul of His irreproachable and only Son, Jesus. And though we cannot purchase, earn, or trade anything for God’s solution to our sin problem, we can only receive it at great cost to our self-life (our selfish, self-centered, self-interested, self-focused life).

Now God makes His great salvation (His solution to our sin problem) available to everyone. Yet we will not be of the right mind to receive this great gift for the purpose it is given without seeing ourselves as willful sinners whose sinful behavior has alienated us from God and needs putting away (at least all known sinful behavior) if the broken relationship is to be restored. To see ourselves aright, that is, as willful sinners in need of repentance, we need to come to a rational and accurate understanding of sin. But how can we, who are selfishly-minded from birth, come to a rational and accurate understanding of sin? Consider the following three means by which the truth about sin can be understood. The first two means are available to everyone, everywhere. The third has been, and continues to be available to most, but not all.

Three Means for Understanding Sin

As one of his premier tasks, the Spirit of God relentlessly works to convince sinners to think sensibly about sin, righteousness, and God’s unavoidable judgment of sinners. The Spirit of God performs this task with unrelenting persistence — fighting to bring the light of God’s truth into sin-blinded eyes and minds darkened by self-centeredness. He tirelessly works to bring each one of us to a rational and accurate understanding of sin’s universality, insidiousness, foolishness, and destructiveness. He tenaciously toils to convince us of the wisdom of righteousness (that which is right and just) and the intelligence of doing what we know is right. He relentlessly works in and with our conscience to produce an appropriate and keen sensitivity to sin so that we can know when we are doing something we know is wrong. And he unswervingly calls our attention to the final judgment when God will banish all unrepentant sinners to hell.

This work by God’s Spirit is universal. He works with everyone, regardless of location, nationality, gender, cultural influences, religious background, social status, and economic position. No one, absolutely no one, goes through life without experiencing the illuminating and convicting work of the Holy Spirit regarding sin, righteousness, and the final judgment. Therefore, this is the first and foremost means of coming to a rational and accurate understanding of sin. (Note: John 16:8-11)

The second means by which the truth about sin can be rationally and accurately understood is as universal as the first. This means is our intellect. It leads us to the truth through our dealings with two common sources of information — creation and criticism. The understanding gained through this means may be elementary or unrefined, but it is rational and accurate enough to convince us of what we need to know.

God, as the creator, set us apart from all other living species by creating us with an intellect. Our intellect provides us with the ability to think, reason, conceptualize, and remember. This ability makes it possible for us to come at an understanding of sin from two directions — creation and criticism. (Note: Romans 2:5-16)

All creation reveals inspiring, life-affecting truths about God, His personality, His limitless power, and His divine nature. Through the right use of our intellect, we are able to examine the stars, planets, sun and moon, the earth, plants, animals, and mankind. In so doing, we can discern many things about God’s character and His intentions for humanity. As we use our intellect to further contemplate what we have discovered about God in creation, we gain insight into His supremacy, His worthiness of adoration and praise, His reason for creating our world, His reason for creating humanity in His own image, His primary character traits, and His intentions for mankind. This knowledge, when applied to the issues of life, enables us to form an accurate understanding about right and wrong, and our responsibility in choosing right over wrong. (Note: Romans 1:18-20)

Besides creation, we all have the intellectual ability to criticize others — especially in relation to their treatment of us. Our criticism reveals our expectations of others — as to how we want them to treat us. In other words, we know how we want to be treated, and it is on that basis that we criticize others for not living up to our expectations. When we unite our knowledge of how we want to be treated with the right use of our intellect (ability to think, reason, conceptualize, remember) we are able to figure out how we ought to treat others. Of course, being able to critique the behavior of others means we can critique our own behavior. So, we are equipped with the ability to know when we are acting out of love or self-centeredness; when we are doing what we know is right or what we know is wrong; and if we are treating others as we want to be treated. Therefore, failure to know right from wrong (simply treating others as we want to be treated) is not due to some disability or malfunction of our intellect. It is due to the misuse of our intellect. (Note: Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31)

It has been said that when someone else does something wrong, we most often see it as the result of a moral weakness or defect in that person's character. Yet when we do something wrong, we most often see it as the result of an uncontrollable weakness in ourselves, or a defect in our circumstances, or good intentions gone awry. This is the misuse of intellect perverting criticism for selfish purposes. When others mistreat us, we condemn them and expect them to take full responsibility for their behavior. Yet when we mistreat others, we blame them and/or the circumstances, and expect them to understand why we are only partially responsible, if at all. This is the misuse of intellect re-interpreting reality for selfish purposes.

God’s Word tells us we will be judged according to the severity with which we judge others. The reason for this is, the level of intelligence used to discern right and wrong in others is the level of intelligence available for discerning right and wrong in ourselves. To use our intellect to critique the behavior of others and not our own behavior, leaves us without excuse for choosing to do what we know is wrong. Criticism of others’ treatment of us shows we know what is right, and how to identify wrong behavior. Therefore, it is reasonable for God to hold us accountable to the same degree we hold others accountable. (Note: Romans 2:1-4; Matthew 7:1-5; Jeremiah 17:9-10; Ezekiel 18:30-32; Matthew 7:21-23, 13:40-43; II Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:7-8; Revelation 20:12-15)

Every adult who lives on this earth is capable of having a rational and accurate understanding of sin so that they know the difference between right and wrong. God ensures this through the activity of His Spirit and the intellectual ability He’s given us for discovering truth from creation and criticism. To continue in sin when we can know the difference between right and wrong leaves each and every one of us without a justifiable excuse for doing what we know, or could know, is wrong.

The third means of coming to a rational and accurate understanding of sin is just as much God’s doing as the first two. This means brings us into direct contact with explicit truth. Yet it relies heavily on the work of the Spirit of God and the right use of our intellect.

This third means, contact with explicit truth, has three forms. First, we have the Word of God — the Bible. This is not available to everyone. But for those to whom it is available, it provides a precise definition of sin, a clear presentation of love, examples of right and wrong taken from people’s lives, an in-depth disclosure of what God is like, an indisputable exposure of our sinful nature, an easily understood explanation of what God has done to solve the sin problem, and explicit statements about what we are to do in response to what God has done. Second, God continually sends messengers to proclaim His truth so that all who listen can come to a rational and accurate understanding of sin, righteousness, the coming judgment, the cross, faith, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation to God, holy living, and eternal life. These messengers have been called prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, teachers, and missionaries. Third, God expected Israel, and now expects the Church, to live in such a way that the world can clearly see the difference between right and wrong, love and selfishness, righteousness and sin, godliness and ungodliness, morality and immorality, and justice and injustice. One of the best teachers is example, and the Church (Christians everywhere) is to teach the world, by example, the indisputable difference between right and wrong.

God has intentionally and graciously provided these three means of making it possible for everyone to come to a rational and accurate understanding of sin through: [1] the Holy Spirit, [2] right use of intellect as regards creation and criticism, [3] direct contact with the truth through the Bible, God’s messengers, and Christians everywhere.

Now the question is, what should we do? Or maybe the better question is, what must we do? How should we respond to the truth we know? How does God expect us to respond to the truth we know?

The only reasonable, appropriate, sensible, acceptable, worthy response to truth is to turn from our self-centeredness (the way of sin) and live according to the truth we know (the way of love). This turning and living begins with repentance and conversion.

Toward Repentance

Every one of us is born into a community of communities. Our first, most obvious community, is the family. It can be two parents with one or more children, or a single-parent with one or more children. The second community is the extended family, made up of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Then, we are part of the neighborhood community, the state we live in, the country our state is in, the continent our country is part of, and the world community. By the time we are six years old we have become part of the school community and the special-friends community. As we grow into adulthood, many of us join the workplace community, and most of us start another family community through marriage. Finally, there is God’s community which, from the human perspective, began with Adam and Eve and will last throughout eternity.

In any community, the emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, and relational well-being, present safety, and future security of everyone depends on each individual doing what he knows is right. Therefore, the amount of knowledge an individual has of right and wrong is the degree to which the rest of the community can rightly hold him accountable to promote and protect the good of all by living according to what he knows.

When an individual within a community deliberately does something which he knows is wrong, he demonstrates that, in at least that situation, he values his own happiness more than the well-being of the community at large and any individual directly harmed by his selfish behavior. Such an individual has elevated self-centeredness above community-centeredness, and he has done it at the expense of others.

When an individual repetitively does what he knows is wrong, he demonstrates a commitment to the belief that a self-centered approach to life is better than a community-centered approach. In essence, he believes promoting and protecting his own interests, first and foremost, is more important than ensuring the good of everyone. In fact, he believes his own happiness is so important that, in his mind, it becomes rationally defensible to harm others in the process of looking out for himself. Such an individual is a danger to the well-being, safety, and security of every other member in the community.

Therefore, when an individual deliberately and repeatedly does what he knows is wrong, he makes himself an enemy of the community. This may seem like an overstatement, but consider this: who would deliberately and repeatedly say or do things which cause one or more members of the community to unnecessarily suffer heart-break, despair, rejection, injury, or loss? Would a friend do this? Would someone who loves others as he wants to be loved, do this? No, this is the behavior of an enemy.

The leadership within a community has the responsibility to promote and protect the well-being, safety, and security of each individual in a manner which promotes and protects the good of the entire community. The first step in this process is to create laws, regulations, and restrictions which, when obeyed, promote and protect the public good to the highest degree possible. The second step is to ensure that all are made aware of the rules with the expectation that each one does what he knows is right. The third step is to enforce the rules, when necessary.

There are only two reliable ways to enforce the rules when a community member repeatedly does what he knows is wrong. The first way is to ask the self-centered individual to change his mind (choose to be community minded), so that he changes his behavior (lives in a way which makes the good of every other member of equal or greater importance than the good of self). This change of mind, accompanied by a behavior change in keeping with the change of mind, is called repentance. If the behavior does not change enough to make a difference, it is because the disobedient individual has not genuinely repented (changed his mind from self-centeredness to community-centeredness).

When a disobedient community member resists repentance, the second method of enforcing the rules must be used. The second way to protect the community is to remove the unrepentant individual from the community. Removal is a form of banishment. Its intent is primarily the same as asking a wrongdoer to repent — to protect the good of everyone in the community. But when a repetitively disobedient member refuses to repent, the only choice left by those in authority is to remove the unrepentant member. On the human level, banishment can last until the individual dies (we see this in our judicial system with murderers, drug lords, serial rapists). On an eternal level, that is, in God’s community, banishment always lasts forever.

Sadly, every one of us has chosen to exalt the good of self above the good of others. We are, by nature and by choice, repetitively disobedient community members. We have willfully set aside the community good for our own good. Though we’ve known what is right, we have deliberately done what is wrong — at the expense of others. And we have not sinned just once (done what we’ve known to be wrong), but over and over again. And we’ve not unnecessarily hurt just one person, but many people numerous times. In fact, our assault on other community members is so grievous, we justifiably deserve eternal banishment from God and all who love as God loves.

Fortunately, God does not deal with us, sinners all, according to raw justice. If He did, we would receive what we deserve — banishment forever. No, God sprinkles justice with mercy. Though we deserve banishment, He has done everything necessary, and continues to do everything possible, to bring us to repentance. Why? God wants each of us to repent so we can be reinstated in His community as good members, for eternity.

So to summarize, God’s laws promote and protect the public good to the highest possible degree. Yet without breaking His own laws, God shows us mercy. He is driven to such kindness by His heart-felt longing that we be loving members of His loving community forever. His gift of an intellect, a conscience, messengers (i.e., apostles, prophets, evangelists, preachers), and the Bible not only leads us to a clear understanding of what is right, they lead us to an understanding of His deep, enduring love for each and every one of us. His enforcement of the rules not only reveals absolute justice determined to protect the community good, it reveals absolute justice permeated with a mercy that is doing everything possible to bring us to repentance.

For God, banishment may be necessary for the community good, but it is not an experience He looks forward to, or something He takes pleasure in. His joy, that which He looks forward to and takes pleasure in, is loving relationships among loving individuals within a loving community.

Therefore, God has made a way for us guilty sinners to become part of His community — a community where everyone is always community minded. But to get in, to receive God’s mercy and become a member in God’s community, we must repent. We must change our mind from self-centeredness to community-centeredness. Then we must proceed to live accordingly by replacing self-centeredness with community-minded behavior. Without this kind of repentance, a repentance which produces a changed life, we cannot receive God’s mercy. And without God’s mercy, we remain outside God’s community.

At this point some will surely say that we are saved by faith alone — that repentance is not a needful part. Yet this is not the teaching of the Bible. From the Law, to the Prophets, to John the Baptist, to Jesus Christ, to the disciples, and on into the Church age, repentance has always been a condition, a requirement, a vital first step on the path of salvation, reconciliation to God, and becoming a member of God’s eternal community. Consider the following scriptures and see how consistent they are in stating that repentance is to be our first response to the saving work of God.

II Chronicles 7:14 (NASB) If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

Proverbs 28:13 (NASB) He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.

Isaiah 55:6-7 (NASB) Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.

Ezekiel 33:11 (NASB) “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’”

Matthew 3:1-12 (NASB) Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet, saying, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight!’” Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather belt about his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Matthew 4:17 (NASB) From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Luke 5:31-32 (NASB) And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Luke 13:1-5 (NASB) Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He [Jesus] answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Luke 15:7 (NASB) “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Luke 24:45-47 (NASB) Then He [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

Acts 2:38 (NASB) And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 3:19 (NASB) “Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. . .”

Acts 5:29-32 (NASB) But Peter and the apostles answered and said, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

Acts 8:20-22 (NASB) But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.”

Acts 17:24-31 (NASB) “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things; and He made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His offspring.’ Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

Acts 20:18-21 (NASB) And when they had come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Acts 26:16-20 (NASB) “‘. . . But arise, and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ Consequently, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.”

Romans 2:1-8 (NASB) Therefore you are without excuse, every man of you who passes judgment, for in that you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. And do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment upon those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.

II Timothy 2:24-26 (NASB) And the Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

Hebrews 6:1-2 (NASB) Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

This condition or requirement of repentance for admittance into the community of God does not negate or diminish the cross and grace of God. It is not able to save us from the penalty of sin. It cannot make up for sins committed. But without it, God has no rational, logical, sensible reason to wash our sins away in the blood of Jesus and bring us into His community of believers.

Repentance — A Whole-life Change

In its most general sense, repentance is defined as a change of mind, a thinking again, or a turning of the mind from one direction to another. In relation to becoming a Christian, repentance is turning from rebellion against God and from doing as we please for our own pleasure. And it is turning to the pursuit of a relationship with God of loving communion and companionship (love God supremely) and doing that which promotes and protects the good of everyone affected in any way by our choices and behavior (love our neighbor as ourselves).

Repentance begins in the mind, so it naturally affects the way we think. And because it affects the way we think, it profoundly affects the way we live.

Repentance begins when truth is brought to bear on one’s thinking in a manner which is so unsettling as to promote both disdain and regret over specific wrongs done or how one has generally lived as a sinner. Thus, repentance includes the experience of genuine sorrow over wrongs done and sins deliberately committed. Upon asking God for forgiveness and trusting in Christ from salvation from the power, practice, and penalty of sin, repentance fulfills its purpose by engaging the mind to the degree of directly influencing the new believer’s behavior. To this end, repentance produces planned, purposeful, progressive, measurable efforts to get rid of all known sin and replace the old sinful ways with godly ways. Therefore, repentance results in choices and behavior which, in being distinctly different from that from which we have repented, verify the sincerity of our repentance.

Repentance is not a sense of conviction over sin. Conviction of sin may lead to repentance, but it should not be confused with repentance itself. Repentance is a voluntary choice to change our thinking because the truth has brought us to our senses, irrespective of how we feel. Conviction is an involuntary state of mind based upon feelings of guilt over wrongs done. Many feel convicted over wrongs done without repenting of their interest in wrongdoing.

Again, repentance should not be confused with remorse or sorrow over sin. It is possible to be so emotionally stirred as to feel great sorrow over our sin. We may even condemn ourselves so severely as to feel deep remorse for what we have done. However, neither sorrow nor remorse automatically produces a changed mind so that we willfully take the necessary steps to put away our sinful ways and begin doing what we know is right. Only repentance produces this change of mind.

Repentance is not the same as faith in God, or trusting in Christ for salvation. But, repentance is the only rational response once we come to our senses — once we see that God is right and that we have been cheerfully going our own way in rebellion against Him. Repentance is the most reasonable first step in validating our decision to trust in Christ for salvation from sin. It is something we must do to convince God we want to be reconciled to Him. It is something we have to do to be forgiven by God. Truly, without repentance we are telling God our primary interest is salvation from the penalty of sin, not a reconciled relationship of mutual communion and companionship with Him. Therefore, without repentance we are like an adulterous husband expecting his loving wife to take him back without his having to give up his adulterous relationship.

Before repentance, sin looks very exciting, pleasurable, profitable, self-protective, self-serving, and expedient. Sinners see sin, at least some of the time, as a good solution to some of their problems; as a dependable means of providing future security; and as a dauntless defender against present danger. Indeed, sin’s promise of quick, satisfying results makes it a very enticing choice. After repentance, sin looks repulsive because of the unnecessary and unjust harm it does to God and everyone affected by our sinful choices and behavior. The repentant person knows sin never works better than righteousness, and the rewards of sin are seen as a paltry pittance in comparison with the rewards of loving God supremely and others as oneself. In fact, the repentant person is convinced that sin is a cruel hoax whose promises stand exposed by its unavoidable, though often future, ruinous consequences.

Before repentance, we think of selfishness and the self-serving practices of the world as vital ways and means to make up for God’s deficiencies. We see selfishness and the ways of the world as a means to a quality of life which is not as boring or puritanical as God would have us live. As willful sinners, we like sin’s methods and means for getting the most out of life. After repentance, we clearly see that whatever good there is to be experienced in this life comes from God, and is a result of living according to the Word of God. We are convinced that it is not God who has the deficiencies we must protect ourselves against, but rather our own selfishness and the ways of the world. In fact, we know that selfishness and the ways of the world bait us with immediate gratification only to bring us to ruin through our own stupidity.

Before repentance, God’s requirements seem excessive, His laws seem arbitrarily oppressive, and His punishment of sinners seems unnecessarily harsh. We often think of God as mean-spirited, uncaring, and untrustworthy for allowing and/or causing bad things to happen to us and other seemingly good people. After repentance, we heartily agree with God’s intentions to promote and protect the well-being of everyone. We see that all of God’s commands are motivated by His love for us. We recognize that harsh punishment is necessary if sin is to be stopped and innocent victims protected from unnecessary suffering at the hands of willful sinners. And beyond that, we understand that sin and sinners (and that includes ourselves) are the cause of all the suffering in the world — not God.

Before repentance, God’s Word seems unrealistic, unreasonable, impractical, improbable, and even fictional or mythological. To the sinner, God’s Word is not a reliable, trustworthy source of truth by which he wants to live. After repentance, we are convinced God’s Word is unequivocally wise and necessary for life. We see that it is rational, reasonable, produces its promised results, and is worthy to be trusted as the ultimate authority on how we should live.

These thinking changes concerning sin, selfishness, the world, God, and God’s Word, are the direct result of repentance. When a sinner comes to his senses upon encountering the truth about himself, his sin, the ways of the world, God, and God’s Word, his only reasonable response is to repent. Any other response leaves him in his sin and estranged from God. If he repents, it directly leads to a life which is wholly committed to forsaking all sin and selfishness; which embraces God as completely worthy of his love and trust; and which pursues those things which advance and protect the good of everyone affected by his choices and behavior.

For those who may misconstrue what has just been said by thinking repentance has been misrepresented as sanctification, such is not the case. Repentance is a change of mind. Sanctification is a progressive change of life. We need repentance, salvation from the power and practice of sin, and the indwelling empowerment and work of the Holy Spirit to realistically and effectively pursue sanctification. In other words, though repentance is not equal to sanctification, it is the first requisite step on the path to salvation and sanctification. This change of mind is the human basis on which we not only see, but come to heartily agree with, the need to leave our sinful ways behind and be conformed to the likeness of Christ.

Thinking We Have When We Haven't

We all know what it is to choose self-centeredness, the ways of the world, and sin to promote our own good and get our own way. It is just as clear that for the same self-serving purpose, and from the same self-centered mindset, many join Christianity. For them, loving God supremely and their neighbor as themselves are of minor interest compared to gaining release from sin’s penalty — from eternal damnation in hell.

As members of the Christian religion, they claim to be born again believers who agree with the teachings of the Bible. No doubt, in theory, or in a general way, they do. In practice, however, they ignore those teachings which prevent them from practicing their favorite sins. What they want is a religious experience that gives them sufficient freedom to enjoy the best of this world (which means doing some things they know God says are wrong), and sufficient grace to enjoy Heaven in the life hereafter.

As sincere as these religionists think they are, they have a problem. They have never repented. They genuinely want some of what God is offering. But they also want some of what the sinful world is offering. So, they devote themselves to trying to do the impossible — serve two masters (self and God, sin and righteousness, selfishness and love). In their quest to serve God, they change their minds about some sin, but not the principle of sin, the essence of sin, or sin itself. They are determined to trust in God, but they are equally determined not to trust Him completely. They give serious attention to living according to God’s Word, but selectively so that they are free to live according to their own self-centered interests in some things. Though they change some areas of known sin in their lives, they continue to justify or hide other known areas of sin. What they call being “born again” or “trusting in Jesus for salvation” has far more to do with looking out for their own interests than turning from their sin to serve the living God.

Tom and Alice had been married fifteen years when she found out about Tom’s unfaithfulness. He was seeing a secretary from work during times when he claimed to be working overtime. Alice was heart-broken, and angry. She married Tom with every intention of being married for life — which meant being faithful for life whether things between them were good or bad. She couldn’t understand what would make Tom do such a thing. She didn’t want a divorce, but she was not going to live with Tom under these conditions. So, she called for help because she didn’t know what to do.

By the time I got involved, there was enough hurt and resentment on both sides to last three lifetimes. Trust, in the things that really mattered, was badly damaged and thought to be unrestorable. However, in our first session it became clear neither wanted to lose the good they had built over the years. Both said they wanted to restore love and trust. They each said they wanted to find happiness and fulfillment in the other. By the end of the second session, we were ready to make an agreement that would put Tom and Alice on the road to restoring their badly damaged relationship.

Alice spoke first. She said she would forgive and forget if Tom would end his relationship with the secretary and commit himself to a life of faithfulness to her. She said she would continue counseling to find the things in her life that were making Tom feel unloved — and work diligently at changing them. She said she would open the door for the rebuilding of trust if Tom would come to counseling with her and work on the things in his life which made her feel unloved. And she wanted him to know she felt hopeful they could rebuild and restore their marriage to a condition where both would be deeply satisfied.

Then Tom spoke. He was sorry for all the grief and pain he had caused Alice. He asked for her forgiveness. He said he wanted the relationship to be satisfying to both of them. He was willing to continue the counseling sessions and work on those areas in his life that were hurtful to Alice. Of course, he was excited about her wanting to change for him. For his part, he wanted to regain her trust. He was more than willing to recommit himself to her, and to be faithful to her, with one small exception. He had grown to love the secretary and what she did for him, so much so that he didn’t see how he could totally forsake her. But he wanted Alice to know that his interest in the secretary did not change the fact that he loved Alice, and was committed to her. He believed he was proving his commitment to her by agreeing to all her terms, with just this one small exception. Of course, he was more than willing to compromise on his relationship with the secretary — like only seeing her twice a month and for a maximum of two hours at a time. And naturally, he was certain his offer was fair, and that Alice couldn’t refuse. He ended by assuring her that they could have a great marriage under these conditions, and he looked to me for support.

What could I say? Tom said he was sorry for hurting Alice, and had asked her forgiveness. He was willing to fulfill all of Alice’s requirements for a good marriage, with just one small exception. He was willing to compromise with Alice on the one small thing he was asking for himself. Surely Alice could give a little after asking for so much. Looking at it from Tom’s side it seemed reasonable that Alice should be content with a changed husband who would give almost total commitment, almost complete faithfulness, and almost pure love. After all, Tom was human. Only a fool would expect him to be perfect. And only an ungrateful wife would expect more than a good effort by an imperfect spouse. So I supported him. Wouldn't you?

Before shouting a resounding “NO!!!” think about your relationship with God. Are you asking God to do what Tom asked Alice to do? Are you expecting God to forgive you, take you back with open arms, treat you as if you had done nothing wrong, and be happy with your level of commitment to holiness while you are deliberately holding on to one or more sins that you know are wrong?

If you are, you are asking of God what Tom was asking of Alice. And if you are, you are giving to God what Tom would give to Alice if she accepted his offer — a perverted form of love that is devoted, affectionate, considerate, and ready to serve as long as you can hold on to just a few selfish practices which you deem too necessary to your own happiness, security, and fulfillment to give up.

Most of us know that if Tom is to reconcile with Alice, he must put an end to his relationship with the secretary. Most of us understand that if Tom is to remain faithful to Alice in the future, he must change his mind about infidelity. We know that if he is to love Alice as his wife, and as she deserves to be loved, he must stop treasuring and in fact start hating everything that has anything to do with infidelity. We know that Tom must choose to do what he knows is right, on a day-to-day basis, to build a mutually satisfying relationship with Alice where each loves and trusts the other. And we know that Alice would be a fool to forgive Tom and take him back if he does not make the aforementioned changes. In other words, we know Tom must repent to turn his sinful life around, be forgiven, and have his marriage restored.

Now the simple truth is, if we know Tom must repent to be forgiven and to have his marriage restored, we know we must repent to be forgiven and to have our relationship with God restored. In the same way, if we know Alice would be a fool to take Tom back while he is unwilling to forsake his infidelity, we know God would be a fool to take us back while we remain unwilling to forsake all known sin.

A great servant of God, well known for his missionary and church planting work, wrote about this matter of repentance in a letter to a church where he had ministered. The following is a paraphrase of what he said.

Now I am filled with joy and praise to God, not because you went through a time of sadness and deep sorrow over your conviction of sin, but because your sorrow led to repentance. You experienced the sorrow God wants all deliberate sinners to experience, for He doesn’t want anyone to suffer the destructive consequences of sin. This means the truth upset you in the right way, and you came to your senses. You could have felt the sorrow of embarrassment or anger because I pointed out the wrong you were doing. However, such sorrow would have further hardened your hearts against the truth, leading to more sin, and finally, eternal damnation. But you repented. You sorrowed over your rebellion against God, the evil of your ways, and the unjust harm you were doing to others because of your sin. You changed your thinking and your behavior, without any regrets over what you turned away from. This is the repentance that leads to salvation. And now I see the validation of your repentance in your behavior. What a change in your attitude, words, and deeds! What hatred of sin — even the seemingly insignificant sins! What fear of not becoming all that God saved you to be! What longing to please God in everything! What zeal for doing what you know is right — whatever the cost may be! What integrity, stopping at nothing to make right the wrong you’ve done! In everything you have shown yourselves to be genuinely repentant. (II Corinthians 7:9-11, author’s paraphrase)

Have you repented? Repentance does not automatically produce a perfect life — one that is sinless in every way. However, you have not repented unless you have forsaken your old way of thinking and replaced the old way with a mindset that is determined to forsake all sin and make godly love your whole-life, life-long pursuit. Though the proof of repentance is not in being perfect, it is in your striving to do what you know is right in spite of the difficulties or setbacks encountered along the way. It is proved by your persistent practice of love in all situations and with all people. It is proved by your humble admission of guilt when you do sin, and by your sincere efforts to make things right with everyone hurt by your sin. It is proved by your relentless, whole-life effort to become all that God saved you to be. (Note: I John 2:4-6, 9-11, 29; 3:6-10, 14, 23-24; 4:7-8, 20-21; 5:1-3, 18)

The Bible Speaks

We all know sins we hate — sins that make our skin crawl just to think of someone committing them. These are the sins we would never commit. In fact, there is nothing about them that would tempt us in any way to commit them. On the other hand, we all have sins we treasure — sins which hold the promise of good things otherwise unattainable. These are the sins we want to commit, and we hardly need to be tempted to commit them.

One clear indication we have sought to be born again, sought salvation from sin, and pursued the Christian religion without repenting, is a partial change of mind resulting in only a partial abandonment of our treasured sins. It isn’t that we won’t, or don’t, abandon known sin in our life. But we won’t, and don’t, abandon any more of our treasured sins than is absolutely necessary to maintain the image of being a born-again Christian. Those treasured sins we can hide, or practice openly without losing public approval, we do. This kind of partial change is a clear indication we are attempting to do what is right in living a Christian life without forsaking self-good as our primary interest and self-centeredness as our primary motive. This is not uncommon. Churches today seem to be overflowing with self-centered, selfishly motivated adherents. What does the Bible say about this?

You may be able to speak, as though anointed by the Holy Spirit of God, in unknown earthly and heavenly languages. Yet if you do not love (committed to and working out loving God supremely and your neighbor as yourself), you are still self-centered. If you do not, on a day-to-day basis and in the little as well as big issues of life, make it your goal to seek the good of everyone who in any way is affected by your choices and behavior, you do not yet agree with God about the evil of sin and the way of love. Therefore, all your Spiritual sounding words are nothing more than offensive noise to those who see your hypocrisy. (Note: I Corinthians 13:1)

You may be able to prophecy, or explain the obscure and hard to understand portions of Scripture. You may even have enough faith to work great miracles. Yet if you are holding out on God in some area that you know is sin (especially if you would identify it as wrong in someone else) you love yourself more than God. And if you are willfully and repeatedly choosing self-interest over the good of those nearest and dearest, even in a minor way, you love yourself more than them. Therefore, you are no better than the sinner who wants nothing to do with God and the ways of godliness. (Note: I Corinthians 13:2)

You may give everything you have to provide food, shelter, and clothing for the hungry, the homeless, and the ill-clothed. You may sacrifice your life for some noble cause. Yet if your primary motive is a gratifying sense of accomplishment, the assurance of self-worth, or the praise of others, you’ve done it out of self-love, not the good-of-everyone love. Therefore, whatever benefits you gain from such sacrifice will be temporary — confined to this life. They will have no eternal benefit. God will not reward you in any way since your deeds of kindness are selfishly motivated. (Note: I Corinthians 13:3)

There are many in the Christian religion who not only attend church, they serve the church, read their Bible, pray, give tithes and offerings of money, promote Christianity in their home, try to live a moral life, and invite unbelievers to attend church with them. On the surface these folks seem to take their faith in God seriously. Yet on closer examination, it becomes apparent they are willfully and repeatedly doing some things they know are wrong.

On the judgment day, these seemingly serious Christians will fully expect to be ushered into Heaven. When they discover they are to be banished from God’s presence and kingdom forever, they will be shocked. Pleading with God for a reversal of His decision, they will point to their faith for the supernatural, their service in the Church, and their moral life-style. Yet the only response God can make is that He never knew them — there was no shared relationship of love and trust between them. Why? Because they knowingly, willingly, and even deliberately continued in the practice of certain sins — verifying that they loved their own way too much to go God’s way. No doubt, they hated many sins, but they still loved lawlessness. Therefore, to keep them from infecting Heaven with their lawlessness, and to give them what they deserve, they must be banished to hell. (Note: Matthew 7:21-23)

In Summary

Do not be deceived. You can trust in God for salvation from your sin and seek to live a Christian life for the same selfish reasons you sin. Truly, if you do not repent, you cannot be a Christ-one. If you do not change your mind about:

(1)   sin (not just some sins, but the principle of sin, the essence of sin, all sin — whether known or yet unknown),

(2)   selfishness (not just some selfish ways, but the principle of selfishness, and the hoped-for benefits of selfishness),

(3)   the ways of the world,

(4)   God,

(5)   God’s Word,

then you will never change your primary motive from self-centeredness to love. The best you will do is add parts of Christianity to your well-managed, partially hidden, self-centered, sinful life. The best you can be is a devoutly religious self-ruled sinner.

True repentance deals a death blow to the practice of known sin by dealing a death blow to the mindset which treasures and/or justifies sin. It clears our minds so we can see sin’s true nature — how it ruins us, how it needlessly harms others by making them victims of our sinful choices and behavior, and how it is the root cause of suffering and destruction in our world. It motivates us to hate sin — all sin — other people’s sin, heinous sin, socially acceptable sin, seemingly innocent sin, and our own sin. It sets us on the path of being uncompromisingly committed to removing all sin from our life. And should we sin again, it drives us to take our failure so seriously that we do what is necessary to get back on the path of intending to sin no more.

True repentance gives birth to true love and cheerful, whole-hearted obedience to God. Seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness seems natural when we our mind is set on God and the things of God. When we cognitively know, rationally understand, and cheerfully agree with God and His Word, doing right becomes the obvious, desired choice as we approach each day, deal with people, and work through the daily challenges of life.

Without question, repentance is a precious thing in the sight of God. He did not send Jesus to earth for the sake of the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance. There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Note: Luke 5:32; 15:7, 10)

Have you repented? Because repentance is a change of mind, you must voluntarily and intentionally decide to agree with the truth you know so as to think differently from those who choose lawlessness. This puts the responsibility for repentance and the decision to repent squarely on you. Have you repented? Have you changed your mind concerning sin, selfishness, the ways of the world, God, and God’s Word? Does your behavior validate your repentance?

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