5. The Gift of Repentance?

Meditating on the Will of God: 5:  The GIFT of Repentance?

Rom 2:4  Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

We made reference in the previous study to what is often referred to as “the gift of repentance” but the truth is that that phrase never occurs in scripture. What the Bible does do is show us a God who does things that are meant to lead us to repentance. Repentance is an act of the will whereby the sinner turns around and turns away from their sin, confessing it and acknowledging their need of God’s help.

Note the elements of what we have just said. Repentance involves change, a change of heart and attitude and then, subsequently, of lifestyle. Second it is an act of the will, it is something we choose to do. Third it is an acknowledgement of wrong and, fourth, a desire to turn from that wrong. Fifth, it recognizes our own human inability to change and therefore our need of God’s help to bring about that desired change. We cannot do it on our own. We can desire to, we can want to, we can determine to, but unless God acts on us by His Holy Spirit, we cannot bring about that change in reality. Thus we find within those elements a combination of the work of God and the desire of man.

Our verse above shows us one of the things that should bring us to our senses and to repentance. God expresses “kindness, tolerance and patience” and the foolish sinner  construes these as God’s weakness, whereas as we saw in the previous study from Peter’s first letter and third chapter, God holding back His judgment is simply Him giving us further opportunity to repent. We should realise that the time ahead of us may be limited and come to our senses and repent. That’s why He is giving us this time.

What other things work in us to bring us to repentance. Consider the apostle Paul’s words: “yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Cor 7:9,10) One of the elements of repentance we noted above is expressed here as sorrow.  Now what was it that caused sorrow in these Corinthians? It was Paul’s words in his previous letter.  The word of God comes to us and convicts us, the truth is placed before us and we are moved by it as the Holy Spirit applies it forcibly within us. 

Suddenly the word before us seems to take on a new life and power and it impacts us. The effect it has is sorrow within us. We realise our failure and our need to bring about change and our need of God’s help. This sorrow is godly sorrow, sorrow brought about by God, and Paul says it is good because of the end result it brings about, our repentance. There is also a counterfeit sorrow. Yes, it is a genuine sorrow but its source and effect are not godly. It is what Paul calls ‘worldly sorrow’, a sorrow that is self-centred, a sorrow that I have been found out and revealed for what I am, and it is a sorrow that grieves that I am being exposed. This sorrow, which we said is self-centred, does not bring repentance but simply an inner grievance and that quenches the Spirit and cuts off spiritual life.

When Paul was instructing Timothy in his role as a leader he said, “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Tim 2:25,26). Here there were people who opposed the Gospel. Paul reminds us that such people are blinded by Satan to do his bidding. As Timothy brings God’s word to these people it is “in the hope” (it is not guaranteed) that this word will have impact in them and will bring them repentance. Now the word in the original  there rendered ‘repentance’ has a meaning more like ‘conversion’ but of course conversion involves repentance.

To speak of God “granting” them repentance simply recognizes the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing conviction. The process involves God speaking to the individual – although they are not aware that that is what is happening at the time – and as they take note He leads them on to a place where they find that the truth is so strong that it stirs a strong emotion within them for the need of change, that we call repentance.  The truth is that there will be many who ‘hear’ His words calling to them but they will not respond and so do not come to the point of conviction. Why some respond and some don’t is a mystery.  The responders get led by the Spirit to a point of conviction and with that comes repentance. God’s help IS needed for the process that leads to conversion but that does not mean He holds back help to stop others, simply they have not asked for it, for at some point they drew back and turned away and refused to heed His calling voice.

The reality is that we may (we do) have a responsibility to respond to the voice of God but when we do, even then it is the work of God that makes us new people, and that was not because we deserved it but simply because loves to give it freely: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus ….” (Eph 2:8-10)  We can come to crisis but unless God would move, we are stuck there at the crisis point, still not able to move. As the apostle Peter preached he declared, quoting the prophet Joel, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”  (Acts 2:21) – He convicts, we repent and cry out – He does the rest. Yes, we have a responsibility to respond to God’s voice, but once we do, it is all the work of God to bring that initial change in us. Thereafter it is a partnership that requires our acquiescence to His leading, and that we’ll look at in the days ahead. 

25. The Lord

Lessons from Israel: No.25 : It was the Lord

Ex 15:1 Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD: “I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea.

There are mysteries about the acts of God. Sometimes His activities are very clear and other times not so clear. In Britain in this first decade of the twenty first century, Christians are rather coy or low key about speaking of the Lord’s acts for fear of being derided by the unbelieving majority, but it isn’t like that everywhere in the world. In fact it wasn’t like that at this point of history with Israel, for Moses and Israel knew without a doubt what had happened to them and so they made it into a song: God had delivered them and God had destroyed Pharaoh and his army. Of that they were quite sure.

It is a funny thing but the unbelief of sinful self-centredness always seems to be looking for explanations that rule God out and try to find a ‘natural’ reason. In today’s age atheistic scientists torture themselves mentally and do mental gymnastics to deny God. They have scientific laws that simply say for there to be movement there has to be an originating force. Then they try to explain the origin of the world by a ‘big bang’ but cannot climb over the intellectual impossibility of such a thing without an originating force because logically you cannot create a bang (of any size) that creates matter when there is absolutely nothing beforehand. The only logical answer is to acknowledge God made everything.

I used to have a friend who tried to explain away the fall of the walls of Jericho by pointing out that an army has to break step when crossing a bridge because of the vibrations set up by co-ordinated marching. The only problem is that Israel weren’t a trained or disciplined army, they weren’t marching over a rigid structure and Joshua wasn’t a trained army leader.

Then we have the people who maintain that the story we have recently read couldn’t have happened because, they maintain, the Red Sea or Reed Sea was only inches deep at that point. Well that just makes it an even bigger miracle that a whole army perished in a few inches of water! Why do we have to constantly try to deny these things, why do we have to constantly try to deny the Lord’s involvement. Merely because we understand a little of thermal movements causing changes in weather, do we have to try and explain away storms that the Bible say God brings to thwart the enemies of His people.

Sometimes the word of God is very specific about God’s activity, for example, the LORD had closed up every womb in Abimelech’s household because of Abraham’s wife Sarah.” (Gen 20:18) As a means of discipline to draw the king’s attention to something wrong, the Lord did this. How? I haven’t a clue. Sometimes the judgment or discipline of the Lord is stated without explanation, for example, “fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.” (Num 16:35). Again, how that happened I don’t know, but some catastrophic fire or lightning killed these men and it was clearly attributed to the Lord. Perhaps we don’t like attributing it to the Lord because we don’t like talking about punishment or justice or thinking through the bigger picture, or simply we don’t like talking about people’s guilt or of being held accountable by the Lord. In a day when every man does what is right in his own eyes, such language is uncomfortable.

Sometimes in Scripture we have references to the Lord having closed the womb of a particular woman. We’ve already seen it as a form of judgment or discipline but sometimes it just is stated without any moral judgment – e.g. Hannah (1 Sam 1:5,6). At other times women were just barren and it is not attributed to the Lord – e.g. Sarai (Gen 11:30), Rachel (Gen 25:21), and Elizabeth (Lk 1:7), i.e. they are just things that happen in a Fallen World. Now there is the truth: sometimes God acts to bring discipline or judgment; sometimes He seems to act for much wider purposes that only become clear in the fullness of time, and sometimes things just go wrong in this world that has to cope with the presence of Sin and Satan.

Possibly, therefore, when things appear to go wrong we would do well to seek the Lord and ask, “Lord, why is this happening? Are you trying to teach me something? Have I brought this on myself, or is this just one of those things that happens in a world that goes wrong?”  And even more, “Lord, please grant me your grace and wisdom to cope with this as you would want me to.”

There are often cynical comments made by atheists about Christians who seem to have an open communication with God and who attribute a lot of ordinary things to God. Well, we are called to be childlike and I would much rather people attribute good things to God and praise and thank Him for them, even if He didn’t specifically move to bring them. James said that every good and perfect gift comes from God (Jas 1:17) and I would rather give thanks to God for everything that comes along that is good, rather than keep quiet. God has made this world and made us in such a way that we can enjoy it, so let’s thank Him for every time we have enjoyment – in whatever way it comes. I like the comment of a friend of mine many years ago: “I feel sorry for atheists who, when something really good happens, have no one to thank.” We are made to be thankful and we are frustrated when we cannot give thanks. We harmonise with heaven when we realise the goodness of God and praise and thank Him for being recipients of it. Let’s be a people of praise and thanks!

Unusual Provision

WALKING WITH GOD. No.37

1 Kings 17:6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.

The subject of the provision of God is both varied and exciting, and it takes us away from the gloom of the kings as we look in these next four days at the walk with God as it comes to us through incidents in Elijah’s life. Elijah was a prophet who had dealings with the very ungodly and unrighteous king, Ahab (1 Kings 17:1). He has just pronounced a three year drought for Israel and the Lord has told him to leave the area and go to a place east of the Jordan. This was not a day of social security and so the question of food or drink was a very real one, especially when you are in desert areas.

Now the first thing to note is that Elijah had clearly had a word from the Lord about the drought, and he had now clearly had a word from the Lord about where he should go. He is clearly, therefore, serving the Lord and being obedient to the Lord. He is in a good place with the Lord and so, even though the geographical location and climate are inhospitable, he can still trust the Lord to look after him. In this he is quite different from a number of other Biblical examples who ‘ran for the hills’ of a foreign country when a famine came, instead of seeking the Lord (e.g. Abram – Gen 12:10, Isaac – Gen 26:1, and Elimelech – Ruth 1:1,2).

The fact that he goes to this ravine, miles from anywhere in a time of famine, would appear humanly at least to be simply foolish. It will be the last place to get food, but it is the place where the Lord has said to go and therefore he trusts the Lord to provide for him there, especially as he has been told by the Lord that He will provide for him in that place. In our walk with the Lord we are called to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7) and so there will be times when the word of the Lord will come to us to lead us into circumstances that leave us wondering about how we will cope. Don’t worry, He will.

The second thing to consider is the way of God’s provision. There have been some who have suggested that ‘ravens’ is a nickname for a certain group of nomadic Arabs, but whether it is that or literally the birds of that name, it is still a strange and most unusual form of provision that you could not have planned or guaranteed beforehand. In that these scavenging birds dropped him food morning and evening on a regular basis, sufficient to keep him alive, is a small miracle. However we normally tend to use the word ‘miracle’ to apply to something that is completely contrary to nature. Ravens doing this is fairly common to them and so we would prefer here to refer to this as a remarkably unusual provision of food for Elijah, rather than a miracle that we will see tomorrow. Why are we making this distinction? Because God does use natural but unusual means of providing for His people. Let’s consider this question of provision more widely.

Why should we need God’s provision? Well usually it is when all other provision has run out. There is a sense that ALL our food and drink is God’s provision, but having accepted that normal daily life provision is part of God’s design, there are times when that provision seems lacking, for example when there is a famine. Now a famine, in Israel’s case (and possibly in a wider world sense), is an indication of the blessing of God being withheld because of the sin of the nation (see Deut 28:15-19), but although the nation will be suffering this story tells us that God can still provide for His faithful people even in the midst of a famine.

So famines come and God will provide for His faithful people, but if you try and think how that provision will come, you won’t be able to do it, because the Lord does it through a means that you will probably have never thought of. It happens in a variety of ways. One of the famous stories of provision is the story of the Schaeffer family who established L’Abri in Switzerland . They trusted the Lord and again and again and again, He prompted people to send them money, sufficient to meet the needs of the hour. The Lord obviously doesn’t do this for everyone, simply those He has called into a position where they will need such provision. Many Christians through the years have been able testify that as they came to the end of their resources as they served the Lord, suddenly there was unusual provision, provision that came through a natural source, but a very unusual and completely unexpected source. Miracles? Yes, in as far as they are things prompted by God so that where there were no resources there are now resources, but these are ways of provision that come through natural means.

This is a story and a concept that appears to be only for certain special people, but in our walk with God, I wonder if, in respect of our money, we have an attitude that means we are open to the Lord leading us to give money away to bless others? Are we open to be the ‘unusual resource’ that the Lord will use to provide for another person? This is as much a faith action as being on the end as the receiver of the unusual gift. Some of us might then worry, but I haven’t much money so what would happen if the Lord asked me to give to another? You suddenly move from the role of giver to receiver, you become an Elijah where you trust that if the Lord has prompted you to give, He will provide for you afterwards. Fun isn’t it, this life of faith!