Article of Faith #8 – Repentance
Date: Sunday, July 18, 2004
Author: Rev. Jonathan K. Twitchell
It’s an ongoing battle at the Twitchell household. We have a great number of beautiful songbirds that come to our birdfeeders in the front yard: goldfinches, house finches, red-winged blackbirds, orioles, and cardinals are accompanied by chickadees, mourning doves, blue jays. We tolerate the cowbirds, crows, and grackles, but we draw the line when it comes to squirrels and chipmunks.
We have one chipmunk that lives under the front steps. Since he lives under the steps, his entire life (during the summer) consists of running out to the birdfeeder, filling his cheeks with birdseed, and running back under the steps to deposit his collection into his winter stash. He’ll make trip after trip after trip, stuffing his cheeks with birdseed and spitting it out under the steps. I’m pretty sure that his entire life (during the winter) consists simply of sleeping and going to his pantry for food.
It was kind of cute last year, but this year he’s brought his friends over too, and we’ve counted at least four different chipmunks living off of the generosity of the Twitchell household. While the chipmunks are cute, the squirrels are simply a nuisance. They are simply pigs! One squirrel hangs upside down for 10-minutes at a time eating black sunflower seed from the feeder. We have a suet cage which hangs on the tree with suet cakes in it. Well, I should say that we used to have a suet cage hanging on the tree. That was until the squirrels figured out how to break the chain on the cage and carry it away so they could devour its contents in peace. We looked for the suet cage, but couldn’t find it and bought another one. Wouldn’t you know that they broke that one as well? This time we found it, hosed it off, and hung it up again (not wanting to spend any more money on another suet cage. They broke it a third time and ran off with it. We looked for it, couldn’t find it, and decided that was the end of feeding suet to the birds. Well, wouldn’t you know, that this week when I went out to mow the lawn, the suet cage was back lying under the tree again. I have images in my mind of those pesky squirrels cleaning out the suet and then deciding to bring the cage back to us in hopes that we would refill the cage and hang it back on the tree. Forget it! No more suet until winter comes and the squirrels go away!
We’ve tried everything to deal with the squirrel problem. We’ve tried that “Squirrel Away” powder that is made of some sort of pepper irritant. It doesn’t seem to work. Melody got so fed up with them a couple of weeks ago that I went to the toy store and bought her a super soaker water gun. And so now when we see a squirrel or chipmunk, we go to the closet, grab the Liquidator 200 and begin firing at the squirrels. Boy can they run! It’s to the point where they’ll run away just because the door opens.
But, as often as we squirt streams of water at the greedy little rodents, they come right back. You see, they were scared, perhaps even sorry they got caught, but there was no repentance, for their behavior did not change. Try as we might, I doubt we will ever encourage these squirrels and chipmunks to change their erring ways.
Those of you who have been parents of teenagers fully understand the difference between “being sorry they were caught” and being “repentant.” A teenager might stay out past curfew, get caught, and be “sorry.” But, the following weekend, they do the same thing—their behavior has not changed—they have not repented.
Four Greek words are used in the New Testament which are translated in English as repent or repentance: metanoeo, metamelomai, metanoia, ametameletos. The most common of those are metanoeo and metanoia, both of which mean a change of mind, or to think differently. Repentance is not merely “feeling sorry,” but is a change in the very way we think about sin. Some have said that it is a “one-eighty,” or an “about face” in our attitudes and behaviors. Instead of being drawn to sin, repentance causes us to be repulsed by sin. This change in our thoughts and attitudes works itself out in a change of behavior. The squirrel no longer comes to the feeder, and the teenager no longer stays out past curfew.
Paul illustrates this difference between “being sorry” and repentance in Second Corinthians 7, verse 8-11:
8Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it–I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while– 9yet 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. 10Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.
Sorrow (or being sorry) is not the same as repentance, and yet it leads to repentance. When we are truly sorrowful about our sinful thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors, then we are more prepared to repent and turn from those behaviors.
The Eighth Article of Faith in the Church of the Nazarene is entitled “Repentance.” You can find it in the inside flap of your bulletin, with the supporting scriptures. We are taking time this summer to focus on a systematic study of our beliefs and doctrines. Many of us in this community of faith (myself included) did not grow up as Nazarenes. Some of us did not grow up in a Christian household. And, even those of us who have been Christians since the age of five can use a refresher of the basic doctrines of the Christian Faith . And so, we have committed to a systematic study of the Articles of Faith, that we might better understand the scriptural teachings of the Church.
#8: Repentance—We believe that repentance, which is a sincere and thorough change of the mind in regard to sin, involving a sense of personal guilt and a voluntary turning away from sin, is demanded of all who have by act or purpose become sinners against God. The Spirit of God gives to all who will repent the gracious help of penitence of heart and hope of mercy, that they may believe unto pardon and spiritual life.
Before we look at the various scripture references, I want to point out one item in this Article which stems from our discussion on God’s Grace last week. Note that “The Spirit of God gives to all who will repent the gracious help of penitence of heart and hope of mercy.” Even your repentance is not something that comes from you, it is a gift of God—evidence of His grace (unmerited favor) at work in your life. We spoke last week of how each step in the process of Salvation comes about because we respond to the grace which God has given to us. God initiates, we respond. As we walk in the grace that He gives to us, he offers more grace. Our responsibility is to respond to the Divinely initiated grace. Even our ability to repent and believe is a gift of God—lest anyone should boast. Acts 5:31 tells us that “God exalted [ Jesus ] to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel .” Did you hear that? Jesus “gives repentance and forgiveness.” It’s not that we give repentance in exchange for forgiveness, but Jesus —by Grace —gives us the ability to repent, to turn from our sins. This is an ability that we do not possess on our own, being corrupted by the state of Original Sin.
Remember that Sin is that which separates us from God. Sin breaks the law of love, breaking our relationship with the Creator. Since each one of us was born in the State of Original Sin, each one of us was born with a need for repentance. Each one of us was in need of turning from our own selfish desires to seek instead to glorify God with our lives.
Perhaps one of the most dramatic stories of repentance in the Bible is that of the Apostle Paul. Prior to his conversion experience, he persecuted Christians. After his conversion, he became one of the most active evangelists, preachers, and authors known to the early church. Acts chapter 26 recounts his testimony in the courtroom of King Agrippa:
1Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: 2“King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, 3and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.
4“The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. 5They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. 6And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. 7This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me. 8Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?
9“I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.
12“On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
15“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
16” ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. 17I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
19“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. 21That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen– 23that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”
May God add His blessing to the reading of His word.
Saul, the persecutor of the Church, turned into a great missionary. That is true repentance. That is a complete change in heart, mind, and soul…working itself out in a change in behavior. That’s what the Grace of God can do, if we respond to His grace calling out to us. That is a “one-eighty”—a complete turn-around.
Jesus speaks of this sort of drastic change when He says to Paul: “I am sending you to them 18to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” To turn from darkness to light—from Satan to God. It’s a complete change in perspective, a new outlook on life. Not only did Paul experience this change, but he went on to preach it to others. In his own words, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” Repentance is more than feeling sorry—but Godly sorrow does lead to Repentance, which leads to forgiveness. That is the Gift of God—His Grace at work in our lives. Our repentance is made evident in the change in our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. The truth of the Gospel is that we are transformed (changed) more and more into the Image of God.
So, Melody and I are not the only ones who have troubles with rodents eating the birdseed. My father really felt that the chipmunks at his house were not only eating the birdseed, but sitting on the railing, looking in the window and mocking him as they did so. He got so fed up with the pests that he went out and bought an air powered pellet gun to take care of his chipmunk problem. Now, my father is a very patient man (he must have been…having raised four sons), but he appears to have no patience left when it comes to chipmunks eating his birdseed. Now, the difference between a squirt-gun and a pellet gun is this…the pellet gun leaves no room for repentance. There is no opportunity for a chipmunk to change his behavior after having been hit in the head with a pellet.
I’m grateful that God doesn’t use pellet guns to discipline his children, but is very patient with us. Second Peter 3:9 tells us that “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.”
And yet, we are not to take advantage of God’s patience, for there is coming a day when Jesus shall return to judge the living and the dead. Acts 17:30 tells us that “30In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
God’s patience is not simply that we should continue to live in sin. His grace is not given simply to allow us to carry on the way we always have. No, God’s grace and patience are leading us to repentance and righteousness. Romans 2 verse 4 cautions us against taking God’s grace for granted: “4Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”
The “Good News” today is this: For those who repent, forgiveness is granted. We are not bound to our sin, but God freely offers grace to all—enabling us to repent—to turn away from sin and selfishness, and to turn toward God and the light. Ezekiel 33 tells us what happens for those who repent: “14And if I say to the wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right- 15if he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil, he will surely live; he will not die. 16None of the sins he has committed will be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he will surely live.” Repentance precedes forgiveness, which precedes life.
This morning we conclude our service with a time of prayer. As we sing our prayer chorus, I invite you to come and join me here at this altar. Come with your thanksgivings and praises, come with your burdens and intercessions, but come prepared to spend time in the presence of God, allowing Him to “change your mind”—to give you the gift of repentance, that you might be transformed more and more into His image. Would you stand with me as we prepare our hearts for prayer, and as we sing, would you come to these altars to spend time with the Lord in prayer?
Benediction: I Thess 5:23May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.