You who know me know that I can’t stand lessons or sermons or advice that tells me that I need to be a certain way. Don’t tell me I need to love people more, I already know that. Tell me how to change my heart so that I will love people more. Advice that aims at changing my behavior first is a short-cut, it’s shallow, it breeds legalism, and it’s ultimately fruitless and futile–most importantly, it’s lacking grace. As a pastor I need to stop demanding behavior and start shepherding hearts toward a grace-filled life. The first step in doing this is repentance.
Repentance is the act of turning from sin toward obedience to God, motivated out of love for God. For many of us, the act of repentance is very easy in concept, but incredibly difficult–borderline impossible–in deed. Why? Because repentance involves much more than the will. According to Paul in 1 Corinthians, “for godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what EARNESTNESS this godly grief has produced in you, but also what EAGERNESS to clear yourselves, what INDIGNATION, what FEAR, what LONGING, what ZEAL, what PUNISHMENT…”
Earnestness for reconciliation, eagerness for restoration, indignation at our sin, fear of its consequences, longing for righteousness, zeal in pursuing it, willingness to endure punishment for it– these are not acts of the will. I cannot will myself to feel these things. So how can I come to this state of repentance? If we are to turn from our sins in repentance, what must we do?
Paul gives us a great hint in Romans 2:4 “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” God’s kindness to humanity in Jesus Christ, that is the GOSPEL, is what leads humanity to true repentance, which results in a changed heart. Knowing, understanding, and experiencing God’s grace to us, through Christ, will lead us to repentance. The grace of the gospel is the most practical and useful message for all people of all ages, because it leads us to repentance.
And true repentance is what changes our lives.
The Point: BECOME AN EXPERT ON THE GOSPEL (know what exactly Jesus did for you and how his death burial and resurrection affects you TODAY)