Repentance Precedes Forgiveness

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   John the Baptist was ordained from before his birth to make the way for the coming ministry of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  His first — and REPEATED — message to all was all about REPENTANCE.  As we read in Matthew 3, “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
   Later in Mark 1, we read that Jesus, also had the same message: “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: REPENT ye, and believe the gospel.’”  Then, let’s look at Matthew 4, where Jesus, starting His earthly ministry, had one primary message to all the people.  This took place after His temptation by Satan in the wilderness.  “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, ‘REPENT: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”’  And even before that, in Matthew 3:8, we read, “BEAR FRUIT, in keeping with REPENTANCE.”
   Indeed, as Jesus sent His disciples out — during and after His time here on earth — the Gospel they preached was likewise one of repentance. Acts 3:19, “Repent, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out.”  2nd Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to REPENTANCE.”
   Today, as in the days after Christ left this earthly realm, we are all without excuse.  Acts 17:30 reminds us, “The times of ignorance, God overlooked, but now He commands ALL PEOPLE EVERYWHERE to REPENT.”
   The  necessity of REPENTANCE is woven throughout Scripture.  In the Old Testament writings of 2nd Chronicles 7, which we all know so well, we read, “If My people, who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways (REPENTANCE) — THEN I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
   It seems to me, in even a rudimentary study of the Scriptures and the Gospels, indeed ALL of God’s Word, REPENTANCE is demanded before forgiveness can be granted by God.  
   It also seems to me that this essential doctrine is woefully missing from today’s version of “Christianity.”  Today, it is no longer a message of “repentance.”  I have heard the old phrase many times that goes: “Church is not supposed to be a museum for saints, but rather a hospital for sinners.”  This may SOUND good, but it is NOT biblical.  The Church is meant to be the House of God... where God’s remnant believers gather to worship, to study and to grow in their faith and be equipped for the work of the ministry.  Then, these saints, who have been saved, mentored, discipled and trained up are to GO OUT and make MORE disciples, at which time, these new disciples are welcomed into the House of God.
   But that phrase I mentioned is PARTLY right... the House of God IS supposed to be filled with saints — but it’s not to be a MUSEUM of saints, but rather a Study Center, a training ground.  The church house is also NOT supposed to be is a “hospital for sinners.”  Unrepentant sinners are NOT part of God’s beloved family, and therefore, by very definition, are NOT part of the Church, the “called out ones.”
   You see, today, I believe we have it all wrong.  Today we are told that we just need to get the unsaved into church (oftentimes through entertainment or other sneaky, worldy “tricks”) —  and then the PASTOR will “get them saved” through his “anointed preaching.”  I find this model nowhere in Scripture.  Rather, it is the trained-up DISCIPLES that go out preaching the Gospel and making more disciples.  It is only AFTER people have repented, turned to Christ for salvation and become children of God, that they become part of God’s holy “Church.”  You see, it’s not the PASTOR’S job to preach the Gospel — the gospel of repentance — it’s OUR job.
   Jesus never turned away a single soul that came to Him in humility and repentance and sorrow for their sins.  He welcomed them with open arms, into the very family of God. But He did not declare SINNERS to be “saved” UNTIL they came to a place of repentance.  THEN they were able to receive forgiveness for the remission of their sins, through the shed blood of Christ on Calvary’s cross.  Suffice to say: God’s love is AVAILABLEto everyone.  He waits with open arms to receive with love and mercy all who will repent and turn to Him. But He does not embrace the unrepentant, haughty, “proud-in-their-carnal-lifestyle” sinner.
   Yes, Scripture does say that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  But that was ONLY to make it POSSIBLEfor sinners to receive God’s incredible gracious gift of eternal life — sins blotted out, dark, hardened hearts now washed white as snow... the sins of the past remembered no more, their names now written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. It is ONLY through humble repentance — a life and heart change — that one can come to God Almighty and be assured of His forgiveness and love.  
   Need more proof:  Psalm 7:12 & 13, “If a person does not repent, God will sharpen His sword; He will bend and string His bow. He will prepare His deadly weapons and shoot His flaming arrows.” This is pretty serious.  It is shameful that in today’s modern “churchianity,” we have so neglected this most important teaching — because REPENTANCE is the very KEY to salvation.  In fact, there can BE no salvation without it.  Instead, I dare say most churches today declare, “Come as you are.  Just like Jesus, we welcome you just as you are.”  First of all, that’s not true.  Jesus did NOT grant forgiveness to people “just the way they were.” Remember the “rich young ruler?”  But today, unfortunately, after they “come’ — just the way they are — they also LEAVE that meeting place, “just as they WERE.”  They may now “feel good” about themselves and their sins, which they’re told God now overlooks, since He “loves everyone UNCONDITIONALLY,” but what they have been told and taught is a lie of the devil.  We’re missing the mark here.  And I dare say, most Christian “leaders” tread VERY lightly on the topics of sin and repentance, for fear of offending someone.
   But unless we understand the magnitude of our sins against a Holy God, we will never understand even our NEED for the Savior, and let’s face it:  it’s not EASY to repent — to turn from the wicked ways we have known and enjoyed all our lives, in favor of something infinitely better... but how will people ever know they need to repent and make those serious changes if nobody ever has the guts to tell them?
   “Be not conformed to this world, but be TRANSFORMED by the renewing of your minds, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  (Romans 12:2).  
   Over the past several months, there has been a terrible rift between myself and an extended family member.  The rift came because of my steadfast stand for the things of God, and this person is an unbeliever.  It was only out of pure LOVE that I shared the truth of God with this person and their family.  I did so in a very loving, humble, and EXTREMELY tender-hearted way.  My demeanor was not one of haughtiness or pride or condemnation, but one of sincere love and concern.  Yet this person has cut me off completely, and wounded me deeply — doing things that they knew would hurt me in the worst possible ways, and the abuse continues, even today.  
   I still WANT to love this person — AND their family.  I stand with open arms of pure, genuine LOVE — to forgive AND FORGET all the evil that was done to me out of hatred and spite. Because I know it was hatred and spite for the things of God...because I represented God to them.   But they presented me with a choice:  choose to keep my mouth shut, choose to keep God OUT of all family gatherings and our entire way of life, and all would be well with them.  Or I could choose God.  Obviously, I will never deny God, and so I was presented with the most difficult test and most impossible choice anyone could ever think up.  For me, it was no choice at all.  And so I have lost this part of my family — a part that I dearly, deeply and sincerely love.
   Now, months later — just as it was when this “showdown” first happened — I stand ready to forgive and forget, to make amends, to fix all this. I welcome this person with open arms of love for them.   And the few people who know the intricate details of this personal story of mine have all agreed, they have never, in their lives, seen someone treat another person so spitefully, so harshly, so utterly disrespectfully as this person has treated me. They all agree that while there are always two sides to every story, having HEARD both sides, they all agree that I have been completely in the “right” on this one, and the other person has acted completely reprehensibly.  
   Yet I am not asking this person to come crawling back to me, on hands and knees, groveling and begging my forgivenes.  In fact, I have made things extremely EASY for them to “fix” the situation.  I have only asked for two things:  1) a simple apology — nothing fancy, just a quick two words (“I’m sorry”) — and 2)for them to TELL me it is OK with them for me to embrace my Christian faith, and to worship the God I serve.  To pray in my own house — even when they are present.  That is all I’ve asked, and this person would immediately receive my full and complete forgiveness, and a heartfelt, tender hug of reconciliation.
   I think God often puts situations like this into our lives as practice, real life examples of the precepts and doctrines found in His Word.... just as I stand ready to embrace and love this person, if only they would sincerely repent of the wrong they have done; GOD stands ready with open arms to embrace and love ALL who will come to Him in humble repentance.
   I also think of all the marriages that are so wounded, so broken, over something very silly. A husband and wife have an argument, and BOTH of them are so prideful, neither will “repent.”  Neither will simply and humbly say, “I’m sorry.”  As a result, hearts are hardened, resentment festers — sometimes for days, weeks, months, and even years.  How sad, when all this could be reconciled so easily, through repentance.  Another real life example God gives us to learn from, if we have eyes to see.
   Many will point to instances in Scripture where Jesus seems to “forgive” others WITHOUT repentance.  But they are not studying the Bible fully in making such claims. They will point to the woman caught in the sin of adultery, when Jesus did not condemn her for that sin.  Yet many seem to forget, she was DEEPLY sorry for her sin — as she knelt and wept at Jesus’ feet, she repented in her heart (perhaps even out loud to Jesus).  And Jesus did NOT condemn her, but rather said with compassion, “Go and sin no more.”
   Then there were the two thieves on the crosses, one on each side of Jesus, as He hung there, in the very throes of death.  One thief had an unrepentant, haughty, prideful heart, and died in his sin, unforgiven.  The other KNEW he was a sinner, and was deeply sorry for his transgressions, and Jesus declared, “Today YOU will be with Me in paradise.”  
   The one area that may seem a bit “cloudy” theologically on this is when Jesus called out to His Father in heaven as He was about to die on that cross, and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  I admit, I was once “stumped” on this one too.  Clearly, Jesus’ murderers were NOT repentant for their murderous hearts.  Yet Jesus asked His Father to not hold the wickedness of His murder against them. How could this be?
   First, I believe God sees the heart of man — and though we know the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked — I believe Jesus, in asking forgiveness for those who tortured, ridiculed, mocked and ultimately killed Him, knew the ignorance in the hearts of those men... He asked His Father that they not be held accountable for THOSE crimes, because they were ignorant; they knew NOT what they were doing.  And doubtless, SOME who witnessed Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection were ultimately saved not so long afterwards, when Peter gave his first sermon shortly after the day of Pentecost. Peter preached to the crowd about all the SINS committed by this ungodly people, and in Acts Chapter 2, starting at verse 37, we read, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’  Peter replied, ‘REPENT and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.’  With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’  Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
   I dare say, there were MANY that day, who listened to the words of Peter — words that most likely would not be allowed to be proclaimed in many of today’s modern “churches” — who were not only THERE at the cross the day Jesus was crucified, but also took part in the mocking, derision, torture and death of our Savior.  BUT WHEN THEY REPENTED, THEN God’s infinite love became available to them.  Our Lord is, indeed, longsuffering and patient and kind, not wanting anyone to perish, but ALL to come to REPENTANCE.  But please remember:  salvation is NOT universal.  You cannot go to God “just as you are,” and then leave “just as you were” and also be justified.  Because REPENTANCE ALWAYS precedes forgiveness.  
   Audio CDs and transcripts of this message are available when you call me at Wisconsin Christian News, (715) 486-8066.  Or email and ask for message number 265.

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