True Repentance 

 

- True repentance is another example. John the Baptist's audience responded to his preaching by being baptized "with the baptism of repentance" (Mk. 1:4); and yet the Lord Jesus built on this by appealing to people to repent because the Kingdom was at hand (Mk. 1:15; Mt. 3:2). Their repentance was therefore only surface level. The Lord cursed the fig tree (cp. Israel) because they had only leaves, an appearance of repentance and spiritual fruit, but actually there was not even the first sign of real fruit on that tree when it was really analyzed. Earlier, Israel had appeared to have fruit, when actually, they didn't have any at all (Hos. 10:1). The man in the parable built his spiritual house, but in fact he didn't get down to the real nitty-gritty of obedience to the Lord's words; and so it miserably, pathetically fell at judgment day. The seriousness of sin becomes de-emphasized in our lives (as it is becoming in our community), until repentance comes to mean a vague twinge of guilt. This, again, was the problem of Old Testament Israel. " They return, but not to the Most High" (Hos. 7:16);  they had the sensation of regret, of turning back- but it wasn't real repentance. A few verses earlier God had commented: “They do not return to the Lord their God” (7:10); but they on a surface level did return to Him. Hosea continues his theme: “Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself” (Hos. 10:1). Did they or did they not bring forth fruit? They did- but only in their own eyes. They felt they had repented, and brought forth spiritual fruit. But not in God’s estimation. And we too can have the sensation of spirituality and even spiritual growth, but only in our own eyes. “Though they called them to the Most High, none at all would exalt him” (Hos. 11:7) in the way which true repentance requires. " Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly" (Jer. 3:10). They did turn back to Yahweh- but not in their heart. Israel rejoiced in the light of John’s teaching- and he taught real, on-your-knees repentance. They thought they’d repented. But the Lord describes John as mourning, and them not mourning in sympathy and response (Lk. 7:32). They rejoiced in the idea of repentance, but never really got down to it. The repentance of Judas is often passed off as a mere change of mind; but I suggest that in a moral sense he did actually repent, in the way we would use the word today, but the repentance was only on the surface- and therefore it wasn't the real thing (Mt. 27:3). At the same time, Peter was going through a true repentance for, in essence, the same sin. The Jews left in the land just after the Babylonian invasion had a sense of guilt, a knowledge that they were sinners and were suffering for their sin; but they had to be exhorted to truly repent: " This is what you are saying: 'Our offences and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can  we live?'. Say to them...I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Ez. 33:10,11 NIV). Like so many a prisoner, so many a Christian, like Judas and Achan, like you and me, they had the sense of desire to come back to God, the detailed realization of wherein they had failed; but not enough real strength of purpose to seriously repent.

- The reforms of the prophets and righteous kings of Judah provide further illustration. Asa and Jehoshaphat removed the high places, but in a sense they didn't (1 Kings 15:14 cp. 2 Chron. 14:5; 17:6 cp. 20:33). We read of how the land was purged of Baal, Sodomites etc.; but in a very short time, we read of another purge being necessary. Hezekiah, Manasseh and Josiah all made major purges within a space of 80 years. Jeremiah therefore condemns the Jews who lived at the time of Josiah's reformation for not knowing God in their hearts. Asa gathered the gold and silver vessels back into the temple- and then went and used them to make a political treaty. He apparently treated them as God's riches, but then in reality he used them as his own (1 Kings 15:18, 15). Many a Western Christian has this very same tendency. We too must ask ourselves whether our spirituality is really just a product of the crowd mentality; as the crowd shouted one day " Hosanna to the Son of David" , a few days later they wanted Jesus to be delivered rather than Barabbas, but within minutes they were persuaded to cry for the crucifixion of the Son of God. Church life, Bible studies, the breaking of bread... inevitably, there is a crowd mentality developed here. There is a feeling of devotion which wells up within us as a community, as an audience, as we sit there, as we stand in praise and worship together. But the real spirituality is far deeper than this. We must seriously ask whether our spirituality, our feelings of devotion, our true repentance, are only stimulated by these meetings?

- John the baptist was a popular preacher. All Jerusalem went out to hear him. Even the hardline Orthodox were baptized by him. People liked his hard line austerity, his criticism of them. They lined up to hear it, and to confess their sins to him. But Jesus interpretted it differently. He said John’s ministry was like children wanting to play at funerals with some other children- so they started weeping, but the others still wouldn’t respond. Jesus came, piping; He wanted them to play weddings. But still they didn’t respond in true repentance (Lk. 7:32-35). The Lord judged that Israel didn’t respond to John; indeed, if they had truly received him, he would have been the Elijah prophet for them (Mt. 11:14 RVmg.). What this teaches is that believers can respond to a tough line, to the ra-ra of an uncompromising moralizing message; and yet not really repent nor accept the Lordship of Jesus in their hearts. Mt. 21:32 states clearly that the Jews generally didn't believe John the Baptist, nor repent. And yet they flocked to him in apparent repentance and were baptized. As we all know, repentance is one of the hardest things to be thoroughly genuine about.