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“Oh, the unspeakable greatness of that exchange,—the Sinless One is condemned, and he who is guilty goes free; the Blessing bears the curse, and the cursed is brought into blessing; the Life dies, and the dead live; the Glory is whelmed in darkness, and he who knew nothing but confusion of face is clothed with glory.” Trailady

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A person God turned around many times.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What repentance is and is not

“And he believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6).

I hear many people say that to be justified, and to have Christ’s imputed righteousness, we must repent. But, while repentance is a preliminary requirement, it isn’t the initial element in the formula for peace with God.

All of Paul’s ruminations on justification begin with Abraham in Genesis 15:6. But what was Abraham doing when righteousness was credited to him? What characteristic of his faith do we see that permitted, and even compelled, the Lord to justly and legally count Abraham’s faith instead of righteousness?

What we see going on is communion between Abraham and the Lord, grappling with the earlier terms of their partnership. It wasn’t enough to Abraham to be made great and be the cause of blessing to every family on earth, as God’s original covenant declared. (Gen. 12:2,3). So there’s discussion between them both. Then we see the Lord leading His servant out under the clear night sky and making a promise to His friend. “And He brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and He said unto him, So shall thy seed be.” (Gen. 15:5).

It was a new and renewed pact, a covenant between best friends, albeit the Creator with His favorite creature. In childlikeness, Abraham’s faith caught the reality of what his Master was offering, and he accepted the covenant and the terms—a son intensely longed for and love for his God. The Lord God was offering nothing less than that which would bring the greatest earthly happiness to His friend. He was conceding to His friend’s complaint; and Abraham was accepting His God’s solution.

This trust in the God who makes promises, and who loves those who work at a relationship with Him, this faith was considered by Christ to be comparable to righteousness. So with Abraham we have the first example of Pauline justification. It was based on relationship, and the love and trust and peace that come out of friendship. What it wasn’t based on, was repentance.

Down in Egypt the Egyptians were living moral, upright lives, humanly speaking. They made sure not to mingle with crude and vulgar and smelly shepherd/agrarian outsiders. “And they set on for him [the prime minister] by himself, and for them [Joseph’s brothers] by themselves, and for the Egyptians, which did eat with him, by themselves: because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination unto the Egyptians.” (Gen. 43:32).

But God’s justification wasn’t for the Egyptians, and He gave them no peace because of their relatively clean living. His justification was going to a shepherd nomad who owned no place to lay his head or to put down his roots. It was a relationship God was looking for, not a clean, moral, exclusive life. And that relationship was surely rewarded by a promise.

So Abraham was justified, not by repentance, but by relationship—by faith in a covenant that God had initiated, and the beautiful terms which He proposed.

But the world is snagged on one gigantic trip hazard: the belief that God only accepts us and blesses us if we will first repent. This runs rampant throughout Christianity and forms the whole cause of departure from their Maker, in every God-given religion, since the days of Cain. But, repentance is not the primary basis of our acceptance or of our justification and peace with God.

Yet we see 1.5 billion Muslims trying to propitiate God by repentance. We see a billion Catholic people trying to do the same by observing the Mass and by doing penance. We see millions of Protestants falling in it, too. And, yes, now even Adventists. Prayer becomes corrupted into the medium for appeasing God, crying out to Him like the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel.

We see the Jews at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem trying to get God’s heart and ear, instead of examining themselves by God’s law given through Moses. And Judaism, the admixture of Hebrew righteousness by faith and pagan righteousness by their own works, was teaching the Jews this 2,500 years ago.

“Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange God.
The Lord will cut off the man that doeth this, the master [the conference leader] and the scholar [the theologian], out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the Lord of hosts [the pastors].
And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with crying out , insomuch that He regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand.” (Mal. 2:11-13). “We have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts.” (Mal. 3:14). It was faked and not of a pure heart; it was not “with good will.” The Lord saw through it all and could not accept it.

After all the open rebellion and licentious paganism Israel had committed and for which they then suffered retribution in Babylonian captivity for 70+ years, they fell right back into it again 100 years later, this time under the appearance of the original Hebrew religion and ceremonies.

“Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me.
The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider.
Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.
Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.”

“Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
When ye come to appear before Me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread My courts?
Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto Me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.” (Isa. 1:2-5,10-13).

Maybe they thought their penance was good enough for God. But, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). It was coming from an unrepentant heart. They were deluded because sin deludes. Our natural hearts which are tainted with sin and love sin can never be a fountain of repentance and sorrow for sin. Unless we come to Jesus and His Spirit is invited in to create in us a heart that hates sin, we cannot repent; we cannot sorrow for our sin and turn away from it.

There are many who have erroneous ideas in regard to the nature of repentance. They think that they cannot come to Christ unless they first repent, and that repentance prepares them for the forgiveness of their sins. It is true that repentance does precede the forgiveness of sins; for it is only the broken and contrite heart that will feel the need of a Saviour. But must the sinner wait until he has repented before he can come to Jesus? Is repentance to be made an obstacle between the sinner and the Saviour? Jesus has said, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." Christ is constantly drawing men to himself, while Satan is as diligently seeking by every imaginable device, to draw men away from their Redeemer. Christ must be revealed to the sinner as the Saviour dying for the sins of the world; and as he beholds the Lamb of God on the cross of Calvary, the mysteries of redemption begin to unfold to his mind, and the goodness of God leads him to repentance. Review and Herald, April 1, 1890 par. 1.

Just here is a point on which many may err, and hence they fail of receiving the help that Christ desires to give them. They think that they cannot come to Christ unless they first repent, and that repentance prepares for the forgiveness of their sins. It is true that repentance does precede the forgiveness of sins; for it is only the broken and contrite heart that will feel the need of a Saviour. But must the sinner wait till he has repented before he can come to Jesus? Is repentance to be made an obstacle between the sinner and the Saviour?
The Bible does not teach that the sinner must repent before he can heed the invitation of Christ, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28. It is the virtue that goes forth from Christ, that leads to genuine repentance. Peter made the matter clear in his statement to the Israelites when he said, "Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins." Acts 5:31. We can no more repent without the Spirit of Christ to awaken the conscience than we can be pardoned without Christ.
Christ is the source of every right impulse. He is the only one that can implant in the heart enmity against sin.
Steps to Christ, p. 26.

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.” (Ps. 51:17). Without a relationship with God, a friendship which Christ has already established with a needy sinner, any weeping that sinners do is not a gift from Christ through that friendship, and comes not from a heart that God can commune with. “The Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Rom. 8:26,27).

Without surrendering to the work of the Spirit on our heart, we serve a different god, even if we live in a Christian setting and sit in a Christian church. “He said also unto me, Turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations that they do.
Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord’s house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz.” (Ez. 8:13, 14). Self-generated penance is an abomination to God. He hates it with perfect hatred.

Yet, because it is done in a church setting, it appears to be connected to Christ. This is the oldest trick in Satan’s book, and he has been succeeding at it for six thousand years. He keeps people from surrendering to the Spirit of God, yet, keeps them in the church. It’s an age-old method of the devil’s. “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.
For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” (Rom. 10:2,3).

Israel departed from the Hebrew religion, passed down from Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. Their continued backsliding into paganism finally led them to fall away from the last revival of true religion under Ezra. That gone, there was not another revival until John the Baptist, but his was more like the nation’s judgment day for all their previous rejections of the truth.

There is only one true test of repentance.

From the very mouth of the Son of God, “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” (Jn. 3:20, 21). “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isa. 8:20).

And there is only one foundation for repentance: a friendship with Christ.

“The Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” (Ex. 33:11).

“And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the friend of God.” (Jas. 2:23).

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