11. Repentance & Conviction

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 2 – A Different People

11. Repentance & Conviction

Mk 1:15 ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’

Jn 16:8 when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.

To Recap: In the previous study we examined Jesus’ specific words to Nicodemus, about the kingdom of God, being born again, the (Holy) Spirit, and coming into the place of God’s blessing, having surrendered to Him and having had a life-changing encounter with Him through His Spirit, all made possible through the death of the Son. This followed a previous study that focused on the major difference between a Christian and a non-Christian, that the Christian has been called by God, has been ‘called out’ to become part of this assembly we now call ‘the Church’. But in the last study I did say we would need to look in more depth at the process of this ‘calling’.

A Change of Direction: The starting point for this means we have to examine the word ‘repentance’ which simply means a complete turnabout to create a change of direction. No one will become a Christian (in the Biblical sense, not a sociological sense) unless they had had this change of direction. Now we need to understand this change of direction more fully because it is not just because we liked the idea of the Christian life, we liked the idea of the ethics involved. Someone might join a political party because they hear about and agree with a particular political viewpoint, but that is NOT what happens here. Someone goes into a church building and they like the architecture, they like the beauty they find there, they enjoy the liturgy and go out saying, “This will be my church,” but that doesn’t make them a Christian. Yes, there is a change of direction, but the cause is completely self-centred. For a person to become a Christian, there almost has to become at some point what I can only describe as a revulsion of their self-centredness linked, with an awareness that previously, in reality, they have been godless.

Self-centred godlessness: The apostle Paul nailed it when he was speaking about our pre-Christian lives: “We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat.” (Eph 2:3 Message version) In that he was describing a life where ‘self’ reigned, and God never came into the equation. We might have even appeared ‘nice’ people but the fact was that we were self-centred and godless, and in that we were running in exactly the opposite direction to the way God had designed us to be: Him-centred and thus godly. It is the recognition that we have been living in this way – linked to a growing dissatisfaction about it – that works to start bringing about the other word we are focusing on here – conviction.

Conviction? We don’t realise it at the time, but it is the working of the Holy Spirit who brings about this conviction. As Jesus put it in our verse above. The Message version builds it out: “When he comes, he’ll expose the error of the godless world’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgment: He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin; that righteousness comes from above, where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control; that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted.”  See the key words and phrases.

First there is, “the error of the godless world’s view of sin.”  When we were ‘godless’ we got upset at being called ‘sinners’ and, anyway, who uses that old-fashioned word ‘sin’ any longer, doing right is just what you feel is right? Right? Well, actually, no! The word that the Bible often uses, ‘sin’ means just this – self-centred godlessness that leads to wrong thinking, wrong words and wrong actions that the Bible summarises under the umbrella of one word – unrighteousness. As we start being convicted by the Holy Spirit, we find a growing awareness that this is what we are like, if we can only be honest about it.

We struggle and we argue about it, but deep down He is working to help us face the truth – and we don’t like that truth.  That is conviction and conviction leads on to repentance which involves i) acknowledging this truth, ii) asking God to forgive us for it and iii) asking Him to save us and give us a new life, a new direction, with new power and purpose.

That is what HAS to happen for a person to be ‘born again’. I often say this but it bears repeating, I am sure many of us when we are born again are not fully aware of all these things but the Spirit is bringing them to bear on our will so that we surrender, and the reality and fuller understanding of them only follows afterwards. Sometimes there is an immediate clarity but often it only follows gradually.

Believing in the Cross? But perhaps we ought to pick up more on some of those things in that Message version of Jn 16:8-11. “He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin.” That is at the heart of all this, that these godless lives we’ve been referring to are, in reality, lives that have not believed in Jesus and why he came. The New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus died on the Cross to take our punishment for our sins and up until this time we’ve been talking about, we didn’t see our need, we didn’t realise the extent of our self-centred godlessness that leads to unrighteousness, so we couldn’t see the point of Jesus dying. That simply demonstrated our blindness, the blindness that is part of the expression of Sin in our lives. Sins are the individual acts of our wrong thinking, wrong speaking and wrong doing. Sin is the propensity or tendency that we all have to be self-centred and godless with all the rest following.  Jesus died to take our punishment, remove our guilt and open the way up for us to be restored to God the Father.

I can’t be righteous: However much I try, it is still the old self-centred me, I can never be perfect and, however much I try, failure is going to happen somewhere. Hence Paul spoke of the fact, “that righteousness comes from above”. God decrees us righteous when we simply say, “I believe” (and of course, mean it!) It is about how God views us. When we believe in Jesus as we’ve just been saying, God says we are now assessed as ‘righteous’ in His eyes and as far as judgment of sin is concerned and justice satisfied.

Now of course we know that the rest of our life will be spent changing to ensure our now God-focused lives are righteous in terms of the things we are now thinking, saying and doing, but now Jesus, by his Spirit, is there indwelling us, as we saw in the previous study, and helping and guiding and directing and empowering us to live this new life.

A Relationship: Once this happens, we no longer strive to appease God or win over His approval, because He has now given it the moment we believed. As the Spirit convicted us, as we repented and declared our belief and surrendered our lives to Jesus to save them, take them and lead them from now on, it is now not a matter of ‘following the rules’ but living in a new relationship with the Father and the Son, enabled by the Spirit.  Relationship is all about interaction: we pray, He responds; we need help, He gives it; we need guidance, He gives it; we mess up and ask again for forgiveness, He gives it; we need a fresh start, He gives it.  (We’ll consider this again in more detail in a later study).

THAT is what this Christian life is all about – being convicted by His Spirit, coming to repentance, surrendering our life to Him, believing in Jesus, being led by Him in a living, loving empowered relationship – and receiving a glorious new future, new future meaning all the days we have on this earth and then into eternity. Hallelujah!

A final word: Again, just in case anyone reading this study finds themselves responding, “But I’ve never known this, I’ve never experienced these things or this ‘new birth’ you’ve been referring to”, it is never too late.  Consider the ‘ingredients’ of all this, if I may refer to them like this.

  • First, a recognition that I have been self-centred and godless.
  • Second, a desire to change.
  • Third, a recognition that I need to say sorry to God for this and need His help to change.
  • Fourth, a recognition that Jesus is God’s unique Son who came to die for me in my place (even though I may not fully understand that) and my need to declare that belief.

Fifth, the pathway to God is to come to Him and pray all this out, telling Him you are sorry, telling Him you believe in Jesus, asking Him to forgive you, take your life and lead it, and make you anew. Then leave the rest up to Him. Have a wonderful new life!

Advertisements

86. Saved by Mercy

Meditations in Exodus: 86. Saved by Mercy

Num 16:41  The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. “You have killed the LORD’s people,” they said.

I finished the previous meditation with the following: What more can one say. It is like coming to the end of some great film full of action and suddenly, ‘The End’.  Silence. It is over, but you are left there, standing and wondering. Why were these men so foolish as to mess with God? The death of Korah and company by what appears a limited earthquake or even sink-hole followed by fire, must have been devastating. Yes, Moses had clearly been the Lord’s instrument but the magnitude of what happened was so great that surely there must have been no question that this was an incredible act of God. I finished as I did because it struck me that this is how it must have been, total silence  and horror, but if it was it was short lived.

“The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. “You have killed the LORD’s people,” they said.” (v.41) What was it about this people that made them so blind? Well we said it then and we’ll say it again – Sin. Modern Christianity so often says little about Sin but it is the reason for the Cross. It is inherent in every single person. Before we came to Christ we were held by its power. When we came to Christ he not only justified us, forgave us, cleansed us and adopted us, but he also put his own Holy Spirit within us, power to overcome, power to change us, but without Him we would be the sort of people Paul demonstrates in Romans 7 when he speaks of his old life saying, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:18,19)  Because of this the apostle John wrote, “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19) And if we’re still wondering remember Paul said, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers.” (2 Cor 4:4) There can be no other explanation why these people – the whole community – grumbled against Moses.

Moses and Aaron must have either been outside the Tabernacle or they still used the tent of Meeting outside the camp because we read, “But when the assembly gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron and turned toward the Tent of Meeting, suddenly the cloud covered it and the glory of the LORD appeared. Then Moses and Aaron went to the front of the Tent of Meeting, and the LORD said to Moses, “Get away from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.” And they fell facedown.” (v.42-45) The crowd come to have it out with Moses and turn towards the tent at which point the pillar of cloud appears over it – the Lord has come, He has heard and yet again He tests Moses with His proposal to destroy this people. In fact clearly plague has started to appear in the people (v.46b) so Moses and Aaron fall face down in prayer for a third time.

But the role of the priesthood is to intercede for the people and stand between them and God and so we read, “Then Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put incense in it, along with fire from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the LORD; the plague has started.” So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped. But 14,700 people died from the plague, in addition to those who had died because of Korah. Then Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, for the plague had stopped.” (v.46-50)

The people with their attitude have forfeited the covenant and are in blatant rebellion against God. It is not an unintentional thing (remember the Law we considered recently) but wilful and purposeful. They don’t care. They are the chosen people of the earth, they have been called to be a blessing to the earth, to reveal God to the earth, to be receivers of His blessings and demonstrate His goodness to the world but instead a bunch of them rebel and when terrible judgment falls on them, the rest grumble against God’s servant. How incredible, how bizarre!

But why didn’t God just strike all of them down in a second, for He could have? The answer must be in what followed. The fact that Aaron stepped in with his priestly role with an act of atonement must have been what the Lord was wanting. The lessons are strong and clear. Blatant sin warrants death but even then where there is an intercessor, God will hold back and give another chance for no other reason than He is merciful. Yes, He is! There is no reason why He should hold back at this point. He is almighty God, Creator of the Universe. He has made a perfect world and mankind have thrown it back in His face, so to speak. He could have just wiped out and utterly destroyed the earth. He has the power and might to do that; we are but ants to Him and you and I tread on ants with little thought. Why hasn’t God wiped out this rebellious anthill? Be very clear: we have done nothing to deserve mercy; that is the thing about mercy it is given for no reason other than God chooses to.

Again we fall back to the Lord’s words through Ezekiel: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32) and “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” (Ezek 33:11) THREE times the same message which perhaps the apostle Peter picks up on when he writes, “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)

We have emphasised again and again in these studies the battle that is going on to bring this people through to a place where they can truly be a light to the rest of the world but it is hard work in the face of their constant failures. On the one hand with the human race we have a people made in the likeness of God so often revealing His grace (theologians call it ‘common grace’) so good things are seen in us, but all the time there is this struggle, because of free will, with this propensity to be self-centred and godless. It is an incredible battle that is going on and the only reason we are still alive is the mercy of God. Do a Moses and Aaron and fall on your face and worship the One who is holy, the One who is all powerful, the One who sent His Son to satisfy justice on your behalf, to spare you for no reason other than He wanted to!  That is mercy. We didn’t deserve it but we got it.

30. A Second Repentance?

Meditations in Hebrews 6:    30.  A Second Repentance?

Heb 6:4-6  It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance

Multi-warnings: Remember, our writer has been warning again and again of the possibility of drifting away from God, of allowing your heart to be hardened, and moving back into unbelief.  He did this,

  • first of all, by pointing out how great our salvation was (Ch.2),
  • then by reminding us of the failure and consequences of the Israelites in respect of the Promised Land (Ch.3),
  • then by explaining there is a ‘rest’ still to be taken by faith (Ch.4),
  • and finally by portraying Christ as our high priest who is there for us and understands us (Ch.5).

ALL of this teaching has this background motive, to encourage his readers not to allow themselves to drift away from the Faith.

Real Conversion: In our present passage, he now gives a warning that if you drift away from the Faith it is impossible for there to be a second repentance. Let me explain that. When a person comes to Christ – truly comes – as we have noted before, repentance, true repentance, must be an ingredient inf the coming about of their salvation. A true awareness that they are lost and need Christ to save them is an absolute essential for the new birth to follow.

The outcome is clear cut; they are clearly born again, new people, and the new life that then follows is clearly utterly different from what it was before. There is a new purpose, a new direction, a new power, a new love. It is all utterly new and it all came about following repentance. Without that repentance, that utter conviction, the Holy Spirit would have been unable to do His work of transformation. His guidance, His direction, and His teaching will only be received on ground that has been cleared through repentance. Now this, in the light of our heading over this study, I might call in this context the ‘first repentance’.

A Possible Second Repentance? The question that those who support the ‘once saved, always saved’ position has to be, do you believe in the possibility of a second repentance? Salvation only flows to and in a life of repentance. It is pure semantics, I would suggest, to say that a person is saved when they have purposefully moved into a place of apostasy where they utterly deny any belief and may even mock their former position. Speaking of such people our writer says, It is impossible for those ….. if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance.” (v.4,6) Note the word impossible. Now in what follows the writer explains what “falling away” entails and then why a return is impossible.

What has to be rejected: First of all then, what “falling away” entails.  He speaks of a) “those who have once been enlightened, b) who have tasted the heavenly gift, c) who have shared in the Holy Spirit, d) who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and e) the powers of the coming age.” (v.4,5)  Now let’s look at each of these, but let’s look at what they mean but also actually how each one can be used to encourage us.

a) Enlightened: the reality always is that the person who has been convicted by the Holy Spirit, comes to see the reality of who they are and who Jesus is and what he has done for them. They come to see these truths – they are enlightened. Now when we look back we should remind ourselves of just what took place, the wonder of the revelation we received that brought us to Christ.

b) Tasted heaven: the truth is of course that something of heaven comes down to us – Jesus the Son of God, the Holy Spirit who we’ll come to in a moment, the goodness and love of God that is revealed to us. Once we came through to Christ, this is what we experienced. Again we need to remind ourselves of the reality of this experience; we were not merely enlightened but suddenly everything appeared new, it was like heaven was shining down on us.

c) Shared in the Holy Spirit: being born again’ is a work of the Spirit, being led by Him is a work of the Spirit, being filled is a work of the Spirit. These are not make-believe things, they really happened and we have been transformed and we should not take that for granted but remind ourselves of it again and again.

d) Tasted the goodness of the word of God: from being a dead book, the Bible came alive. There were times when it spoke to us, there were times when it almost shouted the truth at us. We saw the reality of God and His dealing with His people and the wonder of the life of Jesus. It was all there before us on the pages of the Bible, and it thrilled us. Dare we pray for it to do that again?

e) Experienced the power of heaven for the future: previously we had been fearful of death but as we received the revelation from God, as we tasted something of the wonder and goodness of heaven, as the Spirit and the word came alive, so we found ourselves with a strange reassurance about our eternal future, knowing that the present is but a glimmer of the future. Dare we thank Him for that reality and let Him bring it to us afresh?

And Us? Now I wonder how you respond to this list? Are these realities for you or do they suggest that in fact you have not actually ever been born again because each of these things – which should be familiar to every real Christian – are in fact alien to you? Have you been convicted that you need to know the reality of this path, truly coming to Christ through real surrender?

It may be that these things are now somewhat of a shadow of what they have once been. If that is so then the writer’s calls are calls to you to renew your knowledge of Him so all these things become a reality again. The fact that you are reading these words would suggest that you are NOT someone who has fallen away, however shallow your present experience of Him may be. But the warning is there that “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, (etc.) if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance.”

I think we’ll pause there because there is perhaps much yet to say about the reasoning of this which we’ll go into in more depth in the next study. The challenge of the book is to face the reality of our Christian lives in the light of each of these experiences and ensure they are realities for each of us today. May they be real.

44. Faith follows Repentance

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 44.  Faith follows repentance

Acts 20:21    I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

We have moved on from the faith chapter of the Bible, Hebrews 11, and are now picking up specific issues pertaining to faith. We have seen how you can be weak in faith or strong in faith, how you can have little faith, we have seen how faith opens the way for great things to happen, but we’ve also seen how guilt hinders faith, and we have seen how faith needs to be focused on Jesus and lastly we saw how faith becomes ‘visible’. The thing I often find about doing these studies is that the more you do the more they open up other avenues for consideration, things that are often very obvious.

It is to one of these that we now turn and in many ways it is very obvious except as we ponder on it I believe we are going to see things that are not quite so obvious. Our verse above comes from the apostle Paul speaking about how he has preached the Gospel and for it to ‘work’ there are two aspects of it that must come about. The first is repenting and then the second is having faith in Jesus. Now we recently spent a whole study in considering the second aspect, that of focusing our faith on Jesus. I suspect that few of us when we turn to Christ see it as fully as the fourfold layout I provided there but instead we see Jesus in two ways I did not emphasise there – that he must be both Saviour and Lord.

Let’s just pause up with that for a moment or two. For us to receive and enter into the salvation that God has provided for us we must accept Jesus as Saviour otherwise we won’t even get out of the starting gate, so to speak. The whole point is that we are and were sinners who needed saving. We first needed saving because we were guilty and we deserved punishment. We needed Jesus to be our Saviour who takes our punishment on the Cross. But we also needed saving out of the power of sin and we needed help to get free from that and live new lives, and because Jesus took our guilt and punishment the Father could then impart the Holy Spirit or Spirit of Jesus to indwell us to deliver us from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of His Son (Col 1:13)

Jesus saves us from destruction into a new life as a child of God, adopted into God’s family but if we are to know how we are to live and what God wants for us in the years of life we have left on this earth, we also need Jesus to be Lord, the one who guides, directs, teaches and directs us. We cannot fully enter into all He has for us unless we submit to and let Jesus lead us into His will for our individual lives.

Now both those two things are, we said, the second aspect of the two things that are necessary for our lives to ‘work’ as we receive the salvation God offers us through Jesus. The first aspect we said was repentance. Now why is that so important?

Well, the thing about repentance is that it is

  • first of all recognising that we have fallen short of God’s standards, and we were godless, having little or no knowledge of Him because we were self-centred,
  • second, that we are helpless to free ourselves from our state, we have no power to change ourselves to become selfless and godly,
  • third, that without help we are hopeless, we have no future beyond what we now know (because we are helpless to set ourselves free) and
  • fourth, only God can set us free
  • fifth, that we recognise this with sorrow so that
  • sixth, we cry out to Him to forgive us and change us, and
  • seventh, throw ourselves on His mercy to do all these things.

Repentance means all of these things and if we have seen or done less than all of these we will not have fully appreciated Jesus as Saviour and Lord, partly because we have not seen the need and partly because we have not been utterly sincere. Put in a nutshell, so to speak, repentance is the doorway to a life of faith because it is relying on God and not my old life.  When there is true conviction and true repentance each one of us will come to God in a measure of desperation; it is a crisis moment when we reject our old life and its self-centered and godless ways and cry out to God for deliverance. When we did that, He steps in, declares us forgiven, declares us adopted as His children, and puts His Holy Spirit within us to be our new power and direction source…. and so it begins!

Yes, that is just be beginning. The apostle Paul, speaking about his ministry said it was “to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” (Rom 1:5)  We’ve seen above how making Jesus Lord of your life means submitting to his leadership, i.e. being obedient to all he says, and that is faith and flows from faith. Along the way, there will be time and time again when we recognize that for faith to flow we need to repent – reject the path of godless self-centredness and let go again and let him lead the way. I think it was Mother Basilea Schlink, leader of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in  Germany, who wrote a book, ‘Repentance – The Joy-Filled Life’ which suggests that repentance is an ongoing part of the Christian life. It is what we just said, that rejecting the path of godless self-centredness and turning it all over to Jesus to save us and lead us as ongoing Saviour and Lord –  and that is an ongoing life of faith.

22. Water Baptism

Short Meditations in John 3:  22. Water Baptism

Jn 3:23   Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized.

Perhaps the train of thought has been the subject of baptism. Jesus had baptised his own disciples and that takes John the writer to think again of John the Baptist. Note in passing the place where John was baptising was a place where “there was plenty of water.”  The conclusion is inescapable that baptism for them was clearly immersion in the river where it was deep enough for a person to be immersed.

We would mention that baptism in the New Testament was clearly an expression of repentance (Acts 2:38,41), a symbol of the washing of rebirth (Titus 3:5), a symbolic picture of us dying to the old life, being buried with Christ and being raised to new life (Rom 6:4). For this latter to be meaningful, it must indeed be baptism by immersion, baptism of repenting adults.

Now John had mentioned John the Baptist early on in chapter 1 and even there had made the point (probably for those at the time of John’s writing who were a cult following John the Baptist rather than Jesus) that he was NOT the light: There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” (Jn 1:6-8) John was there to point TO the light. John had denied he was the Christ (1:20) but testified that Jesus was the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29), the Son of God (1:34).

Now all this needs saying because of what follows, a division or even sense of competition in John’s disciples and in our verse above we see that “people were constantly coming to be baptized” and we might add – by John. It is early days for Jesus and John is still continuing his ministry so that people are still going to him to be baptized. Something drastic is going to happen that will terminate John’s ministry, and one cannot help wondering if the Lord allowed that because John didn’t know when to stop.

It is a challenge to consider. God gives us something to do but it may only be part of His plan, it may only be a preparation for something that is to follow on, or it may only be for a limited time. But here we are in successful ministry and people continue to be blessed. At that point it is difficult to stop and bury the ministry. Ministry isn’t ministry for the sake of it; it must always be seen in the light of God’s overall strategy. John knew this as we will see: “He must become greater; I must become less.” (Jn 3:30) May that also be our dictum.

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. 

4. Who will respond?

Meditating on the Will of God: 4:  Who will respond?

2Pet 3:9    The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

You may be slightly surprised at the tone or direction of this set of studies on the will of God because we have been very much focusing on how people respond to God, but note that, it is how they ‘respond’ which implies that God initiates, and of course this is what the Bible shows us is the case. God is the initiator, the One who starts everything off, whether it be the act of Creation or the chase after your heart.

We have also been verging on the conversation about the sovereignty of God and whether we have free will and just how much He ‘makes’ or ‘brings about’ His desires. Our suggestion has been that He limits His desires and works within what He knows He can bring about within the human heart. In the previous study we saw that He just hardened the already hard heart of Pharaoh and confirmed him in his role as a foolish immovable sinner who was bringing about his own destruction, which he could have easily avoided.

But we would emphasise what we have just said that the Lord limits His desires and works within what He knows He can bring about within the human heart. To deny this is to deny the meaning of the words so clearly seen in Scripture. For instance, to take our verse above, observe the latter half of it: “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” This is the reason, says the apostle Peter, that the Lord appears slow in bringing judgment on sinners, because He wants to give them every opportunity to repent. As we saw in the Ezekiel verses He takes no pleasure in the death of man but would much rather they repented and were saved. But here is the point: not every sinner is saved and many go to hell when they die.

Just a quick aside here. Those who would say that God chooses who is saved by simple divine random choice imply therefore that some HAVE to be saved and others HAVE to be lost, or to take it logically further, those who go to hell, go there because God stops them coming to repentance (because they say [and we’ll look at this in a later study] repentance is a gift from God).  Now here is my problem with that. The Bible declares God IS love and in that word it implies God always wants the good, the best for every person. A God who actively stops people coming to salvation cannot be a God of love. A God who allows people to choose their destiny, even though He speaks again and again to them, is indeed a God demonstrating love.

So the truth is that not every sinner is saved, even though God would much prefer that they were, but implicit in salvation as we see it in Scripture is the need for the individual to repent, because without repentance they cannot (with their backs turned to Him) receive all His goodness. It is just logically impossible. Note this, that it is not because God doesn’t want to bless them but they refuse to receive His blessing. Just as Pharaoh refused to heed Moses’ warnings and turn to God, so the unrepentant sinner keeps his back to God and refuses the hand that is held out.

But then we come back to this matter of the Lord knowing what He can achieve with the individual. Consider the case of Nebuchadnezzar that we mentioned before. Here is an ungodly, unrighteous, self-centred sinner set in his ways. He is (unwittingly) being used by the Lord, as the prophets amply reveal, to discipline both Israel and the surrounding nations, but the Lord still holds Him accountable for his attitudes. Now the Lord could have simply had him destroyed (as had happened to Sennacherib king of Assyria – Isa 37, esp. v.37,38) but instead He does something else. The king receives a dream and Daniel interprets it: “this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.” (Dan4:24,25) A year later this was fulfilled: “He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.” (Dan 4:33) His sanity was taken from him and for seven years he was an outcast until, “At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.” (Dan 4:34)

The outcome of this experience was a redeemed sinner and he is able to declare, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (Dan 4:37)  What an amazing story! Here was a man who was every bit as violent and powerful as Pharaoh, but the Lord saw and knew the possibility with this man. Yes, God put pressure on both men but only the one repented. The Lord knows exactly what will bring us to our senses but, and the verse from 2 Peter 3 confirms this, not every one will repent. So is the gift of repentance from God the key to it? We’ll consider that in the next study. For the time being, marvel and wonder at the Lord who knows and works to bring people to Himself, and worship Him.