Gaither videos, The Food Channel, and cable news programs constitute a very high percentage of the television time allowance in the Strunk household. Now, to be honest, we’re not always hanging on every word (unless it’s those glorious Gaither videos). Many times, the television serves as little more than background noise. Such was the case a couple of weeks ago when, after a big lunch, we were in a near food coma in our living room chairs. My eyelids were somewhere between half and three quarters closed when I heard the host of the news program that was playing introduce a well-known Christian leader. For the first few minutes my slumber made it a struggle to pay much attention. However, my ears perked up when the interviewer asked the pastor, “What did he think America needed most?” I watch enough of these news shows to know that seldom do people of faith get such an open ended question that could allow for opportunity to preach the gospel to a national secular audience. However, instead of quoting John 3:16 (or any other Bible verse) or even speaking the name of the Lord, the clergyman responded by saying, “Well, times are tough, the economy is bad, what America needs most is hope!” The interview ended. Disappointed, I again reclined back in my chair. But, just before going back to my buffet-induced sleep, I thought of what one word I would have said if asked that same question. The one that came to my mind was “repentance.” WhatAmericaneeds most, or at least what the American writing this newsletter needs most, is repentance. Without repentance there is no forgiveness, there is no salvation, there is no hope If I gave that answer to the question, I don’t know if they’d give me time to expound any more (we’d probably have to go to commercial break or something and I would likely be replaced before coming back on air), but if I were given a chance to go on for awhile, I might define repentance in the following ways.
Repentance Is The Recognition And Confession Of Sin… “Sin” is a word that has gone out of style in today’s world. People make “mistakes”, they have “shortcomings”, they commit “indiscretions”, they are “misguided”, they have “personal failings”, they engage in “inappropriate” behaviors, they have “lapses in judgment” and the list of euphemisms used to describe the act of doing what we know to be wrong could go on and on. Why don’t we use the old fashioned word…”SIN”?! I mean, it’s shorter! It takes less breath to utter than do its halfhearted replacements. It takes up less space on a printed page as well (you probably won’t even have to use spellcheck when you type it!). Well, I’ll give you at least one reason why we don’t use the old-fashioned word. All the replacements for “sin” discount human responsibility to some degree. They give us a way of justifying our behavior because we didn’t mean to do it, or because others have done worse, or because we’re only human, or because we were uninformed and the list of excuses is as long as it is feeble. But when we use the word “sin” it implies that we have been caught dead to rights doing wrong, we are responsible, we have hearts that are wicked, minds that are deceitful, hands that have worked iniquity, and feet that have run to evil. We don’t want to call sin for what it is because that would necessitate something having to be done about it…Acts 2:37-38 is an excellent illustration of this point. Peter is preaching what many consider to be the first Christian sermon on the Day of Pentecost in the city of Jerusalem. This is the same town where Jesus had been crucified, buried, and resurrected a mere fifty days earlier. The Apostle tells the people that they are guilty of calling for the murder of Jesus, the only sinless One who ever lived, the One who fulfilled all of the Old Testament scriptures of the Messiah-Redeemer to come. They were pricked in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, and what they once did not recognize as sin, now they did. The wrong they once would have denied, now they confessed. They asked Peter, “what must we do to be saved?” to which he responded “Repent…” Repentance is recognizing and confessing sin.
Repentance Is Being Sorrowful For Sin…There once was a mom who confronted her young son about getting into the cookie jar sometime during the night. She had put three chocolate chip cookies in the jar just before retiring for the evening and when she woke up the next morning there was only one. The mom was ready when the young boy came out of his room. Before she could say a word with her mouth, her eyes noticed a layer of chocolate around her son’s lips. “What do you have to say for yourself young man?” “About what?”, the boy replied. “There were three cookies in this jar when I went to bed last night and now there’s only one!” The son teared up and sadly declared, “I’m so sorry mom…It was dark last night, I thought I’d got them all!” Was the young man sorrowful for his sin? Not hardly!…But, before we judge him too harshly, how many times have we seen a powerful politician or a corporate crook or a salacious superstar break down in front of the cameras, not because they did wrong, but because they got caught?! Truth be told, they’d probably have done more if they knew they could have gotten away with it…Once again, however, before we get carried away trying to get the splinter out of their eyes (the infamous “they”), let’s try to be sure that the log is out of our own. Are we sorry for our sin only when we get caught? Do tears fill our eyes only when the consequences are imminent or do we sincerely have sorrow because we have transgressed the perfect law of a holy God? Would we be just as remorseful if no one ever found out as we are when they do? Would we be filled with as much regret if there were no consequences of reaping what we sow as we are when the harvest comes rushing in?…The Apostle Paul teaches that we should be sorrowful for our sin, for breaking God’s heart as well as His commandments. This godly sorrow does not lead to self-condemnation or self-justification, but rather to honest repentance, thrusting one’s self solely on the grace of God, leading to spiritual restoration (2 Cor. 7:8-9). Repentance is being sorrowful for sin.
Repentance Is Forsaking Sin…The first Thursday in May is set aside as the National Day of Prayer in the United States. One of the verses that you can be sure to hear during this time (though it is often taken out of context) is 2 Chronicles 7:14. The familiar passage was part of God’s response to Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple. The king’s petition to the Lord prophesied that there would come a day when the people who had put forth so much effort to construct the grandest edifice for worship ever conceived would turn away from the One to whom it was dedicated. Solomon wisely asked God if He would forgive His people when they sinned if they would turn towards the Temple and repent. The Lord responded by saying that He would indeed forgive “if My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Notice that “turning from wicked ways” was part of the deal, just saying I’m sorry was not enough. Granted, we cannot forsake sin apart from the aid and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. That having been said, actions speak louder than words. A sorrowful confession of sin without a genuine desire and diligent effort not to repeat it falls far short of genuine repentance. Repentance is forsaking sin.
Repentance Is Hatred Of Sin…One of the first contemporary singers I came to know and love as a teenager was a man known to the Christian market only by his first name, Carman. Known primarily for his story/talking songs he came to the zenith of his popularity in the late eighties and early nineties with hits such as “The Champion”, “Revival In The Land”, “Satan, Bite The Dust”, and “America Again.” Carman was one of the first Christian artists to have his songs translated into music videos, many of his albums went gold and platinum, and he may still have the record for the largest Christian concert of all time, packing Texas Stadium with over 50,000 attendees. Being so popular brought many temptations. In the midst of one of the greatest temptations (concerning going secular with his music if memory serves), Carman asked a group of confidants to fast and pray. Towards the end of this time of testing, the decision being made to remain faithful to his call, he wrote a song called “Hunger For Holiness.” The opening verse still rings in my ears even after two decades, “there’s a silent war that rages deep within me, my lower nature fights to dominate, my spirit man is poised and locked in battle, with the carnal side of me I’ve grown to hate…” Recognizing sin, especially your own sin, and hating it did not have its origins with Carman. The Apostle Paul expressed this same sentiment in the seventh chapter of Romans concluding with, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” As we grow in the Lord, we will not only recognize and confess sin, not only feel sorry for it and forsake it, but we will learn to hate it and know that Jesus is the only way for forgiveness and freedom of it. Repentance is hatred of sin.