A series of spiritual messages on:
THE FAITH IN CHRIST and ITS FUNCTIONING
“…The just shall live by faith.” (Rom.1:17)
- · “Verily, verily, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47)
Continued from #45a – EN
Part 1d: Repentance: Its meaning and importance
I mentioned earlier that we will deal with the subject of repentance “relatively more extensively”. “Relatively” more extensively, because the subject of repentance is so vast, important, delicate and misunderstood that it is not proper to analyze it in the context of this present study, which concerns the importance, the main characteristics of faith and the erroneous teachings, traditions, opinions etc., which prevent its good functioning. We will limit, therefore, ourselves to certain general and basic characteristics of repentance. It suffices, at this point, to mention that John the Baptist, our Lord Jesus Christ, the apostles as well as all the Old Testament prophets never stopped calling people to repent and believe in God. There can be no salvation and comfort of heart without repentance (Mat.5:4; Mark 1:15; Ac.2:38, etc.)
When a person believes sincerely in Christ, that person turns his face to God and, as a consequence, his back to his sins and his idols, and at the same time waits for a glorious future that the love of his God has in store for him “For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” (1Thes.1:9-10). That person loves God that saved him/her and keeps saving him/her from all his/her sins and weaknesses. He/she hates sin that had captured him/her and was leading him/her to eternal perdition. The basic characteristic of this radical change of his/her spirit is that it produces fruits worthy of repentance (Lu.3:8) He/she is not satisfied in words and worshipping manifestations but proceeds in works that honor God. He/she is not only satisfied in admitting his sins but he/she also rejects them. Only in such a way can he/she be blessed: “He that covers his sins shall not prosper: but whoever confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy.” (Prov.28:13). He/she changes radically his/her behavior and his/her whole life.
All those that had this experience show the same reactions/results that the Corinthians demonstrated: “For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you (deep desire to make repair), what clearing of yourselves (desire not to ‘excuse’ yourselves but to render you righteous), what indignation (against yourselves because you let your community being «tainted» by such an abominable sin), what fear (for the consequences of your conduct), what vehement desire (for your restoration before God), what zeal (for your duty and the restoration of the truth and the justice), what vindication (decision to discipline yourselves and to apply discipline in the church)! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” (2Cor.7:11).
Solely in this manner can we prove that godly sorrow that produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted, has created a deep and radical change in us, as well as a proof that we love and respect wholeheartedly the One who was delivered up because of our offenses and was raised because of our justification (Rom.4:25). Let us pray to God so that such repentance and conversion and such purity abide in us! Amen.
An example to be avoided; confession and repentance are not synonymous or identical!
Unfortunately, it should be said that there is a disastrous misunderstanding between confession of sin and repentance. It is well known the verse that says that: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1John 1:9). It is, however, deplorable that this so simple and explicit verse is so often misunderstood. I want to clarify this point with an example: King Saul envied and hated deadly David. God, however, permitted Saul to fall twice into David’s hands, who could very well kill him. David, however, fearing God, did not stretch out his hand to harm him. When Saul realized that David had spared his life, he even cried in front of the two camps, he admitted that David was fairer, recognized that this was to be the future king of the people of Israel but never ceased to hate and seek to kill David. We are not, therefore, permitted to identify and confuse the words “confession” with “repentance”.
When one really repents, he proceeds also in confession and in abandonment of his sins; he does good works. When you admit and confess your sin, this does not constitute a guarantee that you have sincerely repented. Many, or rather all, admit and confess that they are sinners but few are those that reject their wicked acts from their life and get attached to what is good; few are those who hate sin and love truth. Many are those that know the Word of God by heart and they also teach it but who – for the sake of even little personal interest – hold the truth in unrighteousness (Rom.1:18), do against the truth directly or indirectly (2Cor.13:8) and “…do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness…” (Rom.2:8). When they are reproved, they harden their neck; they become, for this reason, spiritually blind. When, however, they accept God’s reproofs either directly from God or from other people, then God opens their spiritual eyes and outpours His Spirit on them: “Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit to you, I will make known my words to you.” (Prov.1:23). God’s reproofs that inspire and give wisdom should be sought and kept!
I would like to refer to Heb.13:20-21 that say: “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Heb.13:20-21 RSV). Therefore, if and when we do what is pleasing in His sight (in this case: the acceptance of His profitable reproofs), then He will also make in us what is pleasing before Him. He will bless us! Let us arm ourselves, therefore, with this humble and receptive spirit that is prompt to accept God’s blessings. If then we ask Him for His inspiration – that is to say, His Holy Spirit – is He going to refuse Him to us? (Lu.11:13). Absolutely not! Our spiritual intelligence is from Him. To Him, then, the glory for ever and ever!!! Amen. God gives His Holy Spirit only to those who obey Him: “And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God has given to them that obey him.” (Ac.5:32)
True repentance is based but on facts
True repentance should not be based on feelings but on facts and on heart’s position! In other words, it must produce fruit worthy of repentance. True repentance should not be confused with the impatience or with the momentary feelings of contrition, which push each other and give a deceitful image of true repentance. King Saul’s tears, his public confession in front of two armies, and the recognition of his sin vis-à-vis David did not profit: What was missing was the fruit worthy of repentance! And, in order to produce fruit of justice, in the form of repentance, one needs time to evaluate the situation, decide and express oneself in a conscious and conscientious confession, in a spirit of mourning, of deep godly sorrow, which work salvation not to be repented of (2Cor.7:10). True repentance never draws back! Repentance is an act of justice: The sinner who admits his sin or fault or error admits, at the same time, the uprightness and the justice of God.
The lack of trust in God’s love and truthfulness constitutes an act of injustice
In reality, injustice towards God is but the lack of faith or trust in Him: “… he that does not believe in God has made him a liar…” (1Jo.5:10). He dishonors God’s veracity, goodness and love for man! Unbelief to God is equal to an act of injustice and faith or trust is equal to an act of justice. Faith and trust in God do justice. Adam and Eve did not believe in God’s love and veracity. They committed an injustice. They dishonored God. Abraham, on the contrary, believed in God’s Word, did an act of justice and honored God, trusting His words and His love. His faith was imputed to him as justice. We also do justice by speaking the truth in our heart (Ps.15:2) about our sins and our sinful nature (Rom.3:4).
The best example of repentance; its characteristic: the acceptance of punishment
I do not know of a better example of this kind of justice, of expressed repentance, than that of the criminal on the cross of Calvary who did it spontaneously. With a humble spirit, he condemned both himself and the other criminal on the cross and said: “And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Lu.23:41). My friends, let us say to the Lord: “Yes, Lord, you are right, and I am wrong…, I am a sinner… but you are holy etc., etc.” I have good grounds to believe that if a man does not do that act of justice of condemning himself, admitting that what he deserved was death and Hell, God cannot forgive him, justify him and render him just. When someone admits, confesses and accepts his sins and the punishment of his sins (Lév.26:40-42) AND rejects his sins (Pr.28:13), he will then and only then obtain the forgiveness of his sins, life, righteousness and honor (Pr.21:21). One does justice when, without complaining, without pitying himself, without excusing himself, without throwing his responsibilities on other people, without pretending to be the victim of others – while he (she) is obviously guilty – accepts the punishment of his sins.
Two verses render this point clear:
- · “Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins? Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD! Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven…” (Lam.3:39-41);
- · “And (if) they [shall] confess their iniquity, and … their unfaithfulness… If then their uncircumcised heart be humbled, and they then accept the punishment of their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant…” (Le.26:40-42).
Let me use one more example of an unacceptable excuse: Cain was not only guilty of having assassinated his brother Abel but he also lied and wanted to refute his responsibility: “…”Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Ge.4:9). How often do we stay away, far off our fellow man’s problem and pain, which sometimes are created or provoked by us? “But whoever has this world’s good, and sees his brother have need, and shuts up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwells the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” (1Jo.3:17-18).
On the contrary, the best example of uprightness is given to us by one of the criminals who were crucified with Jesus. He did not try to justify himself but spoke the truth both in his heart and publicly. He said: “…Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong. Then he said to Jesus, Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom. And Jesus said to him, Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Lu.23:40‑43). What a lesson for us all!!! May God open our eyes and our ears to hear the message coming from this wonderful story! It is only then that we will receive the same blessing that the “honest” criminal enjoyed… However, many of us say: “…Because I am innocent, surely His anger shall turn from me: I have not sinned.” (Jer.2:35). But the Word of God continues and says: “Only acknowledge your iniquity…” (Jer.3:13).
Please, notice that, for the Jews and the Romans, Jesus was a common man worthy to be put to death. On the contrary, for that “honest” criminal Jesus was an innocent man and something more: a divine heavenly King! How was it possible? The “honest” criminal had, on account of his sincerity and of assuming his responsibilities, been the object of a privileged treatment from God: His spiritual eyes were opened to understand that Jesus, the man who was dying on the cross, was the divine heavenly King, and that He could take him to His heavenly kingdom! Incredible but true!!!
I can tell you, on the authority of the Word of God, that the same blessings of spiritual light, of spiritual insight and of heavenly heritage are also for you and me if we are honest, by telling the truth both in our heart and, if necessary, publicly, that is by assuming our responsibilities and guilt!!! Notice, again, the wonderful verse: “Turn at my rebuke; surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you”, or better, as it appears in the Greek text: “I will make you understand my words.” (Pr.1:23).
Repentance is an act of justice; God should never be misunderstood
I believe you remember the case of the two men who went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee was boasting of his “good works” but the tax collector would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ The tax collector’s humble, just and repentant prayer resulted in his justification! (Lu.18:10-14). Repentance is the basic characteristic of a true Christian. A genuine believer, in the first place, accepts himself as morally guilty before God, not alone because he has committed certain sins but because sin dwells in him and that he is a sinner by nature. This act of repentance and confession is an act of justice, which allows God to bless him. God is just and good and merciful! “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1Jo.1:9).
We also do an act of justice when we do not permit the painful conditions, the difficult circumstances of life, as well as our failures to lead us to misunderstand God, turn against God and permit our heart to be offended with God. God is just and good! His acts should not, therefore, be misunderstood. God is good and does not push anybody to sin. God does not do any injustice and does not tempt any person to sin, but each is tempted when he is attracted and pushed by his own lusts and by his own proud and arrogant reflections. Let us tell, dear friend, to the Lord our God: “My Heavenly Father, my Lord God, I cannot understand your ways: Why, for example, you permitted Job to suffer; John the Baptist and James to be beheaded; Peter’s guards to be executed; innocent children to be sold, raped and/or assassinate; natural calamities removing the lives of thousands of people etc., etc. Help me not to misunderstand Υou and not to be offended in Υou… We know that you are holy and righteous, that you know all things, that you love us with an everlasting love, that you are wise in all your doings, that you are almighty and that you cannot lie! Father, many true Christians and giants of faith have passed through painful experiences: They were perplexed but not in despair… (2Cor.4:8). Do not ever permit that I am offended in Υou, Lord, or move away from Υou or that I err and be deceived. Amen!” God has always His reasons for the things He does or permits (Eze.14:23).
Repentance must have a permanent character
Repentance must have a permanent character. If to everything there is a season (Ec.3:1), as regards repentance there is no season. Repentance should be applied every time we grieve God. Repentance is the corner stone of true Christian life… Let us not become like some people, even Christians, who have deleted from their dictionary the words “forgive me”, “excuse me” or “I repent”. This is the reason why the Word of God says: “…unless you repent you will ALL likewise perish.” (Lu.13:3). When the Lord Jesus Christ says ALL, He means ALL without any exception! The expression, “if you do not repent” means “if you do not keep repenting”… We must, therefore, do justice before God and men in the form of an on-going or permanent readiness for repentance!
Excuses that God can accept
God consents to ‘converse’ with those who have true excuses and encourages them. He converses with those who are aware of their true weakness such as their personal incompetence, their lack of social position or, or, or but accept to humble themselves. Here are some examples: God has condescended to converse with Moses (Ex.3:11; 4:1, 10; 4:1‑12); with Gideon (Jud.6:12‑17); with Jeremiah (Jer.1:6‑7); and with Mary, Jesus’ Mother. God has given them explanations, instructions, even proofs, in the form of signs, to encourage them. It is not the proper time to refer to them in detail.
Conclusion: What counts is our motivation! God has no “conversations” with people who live in indifference, in wickedness, in pride, in arrogance etc.
Closing, I would like to put or rather recapitulate some important questions to all of us without exception:
- · Do we do, in the measure that is possible, all that is INDEED possible to us… with the faithfulness due to the Lord and not according to the theory of the “non‑perfect Christian”, which accepts and tolerates many things that the Word of God does not permit? We can escape now with some intelligent excuses before men, BUT, shall we be capable of presenting the same excuses before God’s Judgment Seat?
- · Are we servants who have done all the things we were commanded to do? Are we “unprofitable” servants or are we more than unprofitable? (Lu.17:9‑10). Is it not true that “… to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”? (Jas.4:17)
- · Do we make use of the excuse: “We are weak human beings! It is normal to fall”? If so, then the commandment of God to love Him with all our being and live a holy life is not and cannot be of application! There is and there will be no excuse for not having done our duty in the Lord: “Jesus said to him, If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mrk.9:23). And Paul declared elsewhere, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Php.4:13). So, there is no Christian task that is too difficult or too hard for a true Christian.
- · Do we use our intelligence in order to find some loopholes to our obligations and for the non accomplishment of God’s will in our life?
Dear ones! If our treasure is God’s will, we will never try to find inexcusable excuses! And if God’s fear is in us, we will repent and cry bitterly if we ever fall into sin. If we resist that evil spirit, the evil spirit of taking refuge in excuses, it will flee. Let us not forget that excuses are a kind of lie or hypocrisy. “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1Cor.10:13). Consequently, if we fall into sin there is no excuse. The temptations and testing that God permits in our life are not beyond our strength. In other words, God does not prescribe for us things, which are either too mysterious for us or are far off. They are things, on the contrary, which are very near us, in our mouth and in our heart, that we may do them (Dt.30:11-14). And let us never forget that “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.”!!! (1Th.5:24). BUT let us never forget, also, that there is no forgiveness of sin, without repentance; there is no forgiveness of sin or of false excuses if there is no confession of them (1Jo.1:9); there is no revival without contrition of heart, without repentance, without mourning for our sin, without confession of our sin, without rejecting our sin and without consecration to God! (2Ch.7:14).
If we fear God in our heart, if we hate sin, if we deny ourselves and our interests – in case they go against the will of God – if the Lord and His will are or become our treasure, if our repentance, our trust in Him and in His Word are continuous, profound and sincere, then we do not risk to fall sick of that illness of “excuses” and die spiritually on account of it. If, finally, we love God the LORD our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with our entire mind and our neighbor as ourselves (Lu.10:27), then and only then, we will no more have problems of that kind. On the contrary, the Lord promises to him who keeps the word of perseverance in Him (Re.3:8,10) that He will give: Favor and Power: He will open to him doors that no one will be able to close… power against the enemy, power to do his duty. He will eliminate obstacles and will give authority, assurance and boldness and mainly great faith! He will protect him against temptations; He will give him victory and will make him pillar in His Church. He will not permit that any one removes his crown. His spiritual progress will be manifest to all. He will give him more light and blessings.
“Repent you therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” (Ac.3:19)