Saturday, August 29, 2015

Why Jesus? Reasons 21-25

Many people want to argue that there is something discriminatory about Jesus' exclusive claims. However, when the facts be told, his exclusive place as the only Savior of the world begs the question of why anyone would refuse such a gift just because it is the only one available.

In this set of reasons regarding the necessity of dealing with Jesus Christ, we consider not only the distinctiveness of his place in all of life, but the effect he has on all who come to God through him.

 While the world says there are many ways to the gods of their design, Jesus is the only way to the only true God. All will be judged by their response to him.

Although we must deal with the exclusivity of Jesus as the way to God, we will never find a more gracious gift to the spiritually impoverished than what is found in Jesus the Christ.

Those who are captive to their sins will find the necessity of coming to Jesus. However, the fact that he frees them from captivity makes the coming completely worthwhile!

People who are tired of their spiritual blindness will not complain that Jesus is the only one who restores their sight. They will thank him that he is able to do so!

When Jesus brings the oppressed to the Father, he also gives them liberty from their oppression. Sinners come to know the time of God's favor, and his freedom from their sin.

© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

Dear Pastor: Sunday's a Comin'

Instruction to Pastors: 
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (II Timothy 4:1-2)
Reprove: identify things of which God disapproves

Rebuke:  confront those who are living the things of which God disapproves

Exhort:  strongly urge to do what God does approve, what pleases God

The source of this preaching and teaching is identified in the preceding sentence: 
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (II Timothy 3:16-17)
Teaching: give instruction in the life of obedient faith

Reproof: identify the things of which God disapproves

Correction: show how to return to the things of which God approves

Training in righteousness: constant interaction in developing strength and maturity in the life of righteousness, including the obedience of faith

As pastors prepare for what they will preach and teach on Sunday, they must “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1), just as described in these passages (or, this one combined passage); and God’s people must pray that the pastors will do as instructed, and congregations will fully receive God’s word for their complete equipping for every good work.

© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Pastoral Pings (Plus) ~ The Patterns of God That Build Our Faith

          There is a pattern in Scripture in which God reveals himself so clearly in material ways we can see, in order to build our trust that he can also do all the spiritual things we cannot see. While life is primarily about how we relate to God in the spiritual realm, God has graciously filled our material home with pictures of who he is, what he is like, and how he works, so we can trust him just as much in one world as the other.
          The creation account in God’s book gives such a detailed account of how God brought everything into existence, including forming man from the dust of the earth.[1] Science confirms the layer upon layer of design, of systems that must have all their parts in order for the whole to work,[2] that believing God’s book is encouraged by far more evidences of creation than honest hearts could ever need.[3] The creation of the heavens and the earth is revealed in the Bible, and revealed to our material senses in all the works of God that surround us, so that there is no doubt we have a Creator.
          All the evidences of the material creation, including the reality that God created human life from the dust of the earth,[4] surrounds us as a great cloud of witnesses that God is just as able to give us new life even out of our dead condition in sin.[5] What he did through Jesus Christ in creation,[6] he will completely do through Jesus Christ in salvation.[7]
          When God’s book tells us that he judged the world with a worldwide flood,[8] his description of how he did this, and the earth’s testimony to this event, give us ample reason to believe everything he says about his coming judgment. When we see the evidence of the flood so well documented in the sedimentary layers that surround the planet, in the vast supply of fossil fuels, in the huge finds of fossils showing rapid burial, our eyes are given so much evidence that God did what his book says he did so we will have faith that he will also do what his book says he will do.
          There is another judgment coming upon the whole earth,[9] and it will take place just as surely as the first has already come and gone. And, of course, the rainbow that follows the rain is a beautiful visible testimony to God’s grace and mercy reminding us of the flood, in order to save us from the coming judgment.[10] It is one more way that a physical, material, revelation, speaks of spiritual things more awesome, wonderful, and amazing, than we can imagine.[11]
          What God’s book calls the “First Covenant,”[12] which came to be associated with Israel and its covenant given through Moses,[13] was presented in terms of material blessings related to Israel’s faithfulness.[14] When Israel walked in faithfulness to this covenant, seeking God instead of the idols of the pagan nations, there were material blessings and prosperity. When Israel rejected its covenant with God, and turned to idols like an unfaithful husband turning to a prostitute, there were material curses and poverty to correspond to their choices. This is well documented. God fulfilled his side of the covenant, relating to Israel based on whatever way Israel was relating to him.[15]
          All the testimony of God’s covenant relationship to Israel, fulfilling both the blessings and curses associated with this covenant, give us all the witness we need that he is just as faithful to his spiritual covenant with his Church.[16] All the spiritual blessings we have in Jesus Christ are ours now,[17] and everything promised for our eternal joy in God’s presence is just as much ours as well.[18]
          The same is true when we speak of the first and second comings of Jesus Christ. In his first coming, there was such a complex array of prophecies completely fulfilled in his birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection, that we have complete assurance God will also accomplish everything he says about Jesus’ return. In his first coming, he presented to the world the gift of love provided in salvation.[19] In his second coming, he will gather to himself all those who received his gift, and judge all those who decided he was unworthy of their love.[20]  What is yet to come is just as certain as all that has already come. What Jesus did for us through his death and resurrection, continues to provide salvation today, both in our return to the image and likeness of Jesus Christ,[21] and our freedom from the coming judgment against sin.[22]
          When people tell me that my faith is blind, I think, “Are you kidding me?” When I look at all the wonders of creation that still work together so amazingly, even though everything is in a thermodynamic state of deterioration, I have a constant display of reasons why I can trust God for unseen things. DNA used to be an unseen thing to us. All the discoveries of nutrients and micronutrients our bodies need, that are not-so-surprisingly supplied in plants, were not seen until recently in history, and yet these fascinating provisions for life are a material testimony to God’s capabilities in spiritual provisions as well. In the same way as people continuously discover new and amazing wonders even in the material realm, we will discover that everything God describes in the spiritual realm will be every bit what he said, and beyond anything we can imagine.
          When I add to this the experience of a daily walk with God, and the Bible’s supremacy in explaining everything to do with life, I have no doubt that God will fulfill all he has promised for this life and the next. The only question for you, the reader, is whether this fulfillment of his whole word will be one of horrifying judgment,[23] or the “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,” because you are “obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”[24]

© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Genesis 1-2.
[2] A wonderful thing aptly named, Irreducible Complexity.
[3] Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20; Revelation 14:7
[4] Genesis 2:7. For those who doubt God did this, consider what our bodies return to when we die.
[5] Ephesians 2:1-3 identifies our deadness in sin; Ephesians 2:4-10 describes God’s work of raising us from the dead, making us alive in Christ, and restoring us to fellowship with him in his work and his ways.
[6] John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-17
[7] Romans 3:24; I Thessalonians 5:9; II Timothy 2:10; II Timothy 3:15; Revelation 12:10
[8] Genesis 6:1-8:22; II Peter 2:4-10
[9] Acts 24:25; II Thessalonians 1:5-12
[10] Genesis 9:8-17 speaks of God’s presentation of the rainbow (his bow).
[11] Revelation 4:3 speaks of the original rainbow surrounding God’s throne.
[12] Hebrews 8:7; 8:13; 9:1, 15, 18.
[13] The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy detail the giving of the Law through Moses.
[14] Deuteronomy 30:19; Malachi 2:2
[15] The whole book of Judges shows the cycle of discipline and judgment when God’s people “did what was right in their own eyes,” and God’s blessing and provision when they returned to their God in repentance and faith.
[16] Jeremiah 31:31; Luke 22:20; II Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 12:24
[17] Ephesians 1:1-14 gives a very condensed example of these spiritual blessings.
[18] Romans 8:28-30 shows the beautiful connection between God working all things for our good now, and declaring the finished work of glorification as good as completed.
[19] John 3:16-18 show how Jesus came to save, not condemn. Romans 5:6-8 shows that Jesus’ death was the glorious demonstration of God’s love to sinners.
[20] Matthew 24:29-31
[21] Ephesians 4:21-24; II Corinthians 3:18; I John 3:2
[22] I Thessalonians 1:10
[23] Revelation 6:15-17
[24] I Peter 1:8-9; I Peter 1:3-9 is a beautiful summary of the salvation we have already received through faith in Jesus Christ, and the reason we have hope of the “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (vs 4). 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Pastoral Panoramic Ponderings ~ Hope Before the Holiness of God

          As my next consideration of “the Gospel for all Sinners,” I began praying about what God’s book means by, “the power of God for salvation.”[1] I want to know the connection between the power of God expressed in the gospel, and the power of God that fills the church in our preaching of the gospel. How can we know how to experience this power of God saving us, and then sending us to make this good news known for the saving of others?
          My thoughts ended up back in an early section of God’s word where one of God’s prophets had a terrifyingly liberating experience with God. It helps me understand something of the power of God that brings salvation to our souls.

1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”[2] 

          What stood out first is that this was all God’s initiative. Isaiah did not say that he asked for this encounter. Rather, he speaks of something God did to him from beginning to end. God revealed himself to Isaiah so he could join God in his work.
          However, when I looked at what Isaiah contributed to the picture, his response to the vision God gave him was to see his poverty of spirit, to mourn his woeful condition, to meekly identify his own inability to do anything about what was wrong with him, and to hunger and thirst to join God in his righteous work.[3] While I do not want to force the Beatitudes into this, I recognize that this is the way God works. The Beatitudes are the blueprint of his work in us. Therefore, it is no accident that Isaiah’s response to God looks the same.
          Isaiah expressed his response to God like this:

· “Woe is me!” (5)
· “For I am lost;” (5)  
· “for I am a man of unclean lips,” (5)  
· “and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;” (5)  
· “for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (5)  

          I see in Isaiah’s response, not only the Beatitudes, but also the way people will respond to the power of God in the gospel. When God came to Isaiah in the power of his holiness, it did not first produce a powerful messenger. It produced a broken man.

“Woe is me!”

          A woe is bad news. It means someone is in trouble. Isaiah had just seen the glory of the Lord, and the result is that he felt woe, distress, impending doom. The glory of God’s holiness did not make him feel safe. It did not make him think he could condone his sin. It did not give him encouragement to list his good works. He knew he was in dire trouble to see God in his glory. He knew he was not acceptable to God in his condition. The vision of God’s holiness terrified him, and he was filled with dread about what the holiness of God would do to him.
          The point is not that Isaiah was about to be blasted off the face of the planet by God’s holiness. It is about the way Isaiah felt when he saw God’s holiness. He was a good man, as good men went in the day. However, he was wrapped up in the culture of his generation, including their distance from God. His admission of woe indicated that he immediately saw a great disparity between him and God. There was no encouragement whatsoever that seeing God in his holiness was a good thing.

“For I am lost;”

          In relation to this vision of God’s holiness, Isaiah felt lost, disconnected, distant from this God. This was not someone he knew. This was not the way he had pictured God. It was not the way he understood God looking at him and his people. He had no sense that he was close to God, or that this holiness was his home, or that he had known this God as he had grown up in the religion of Israel. The only thing such holiness could make him feel was that he was lost to this God.
          It is interesting that, when Isaiah received this vision of God, something many people would have imagined they would have wanted for themselves, it did not make him feel found. It did not have the feeling of God coming to find him. It had the feeling of him being lost. He may have thought he was a good man until then. He may have had the typical mindset of the Jewish people that they were the chosen people of God, so all was well.
          In fact, it reminds me of the religious leaders of Jesus’ time and ministry. They kept discovering that they were out of step with the Messiah. When John came to prepare the way for the Messiah, and he called everyone to repentance, the religious leaders believed they were already good enough, so they would not repent. They had a religion of good works made in their own image, and they were sure they were good enough.
          However, as soon as Isaiah saw God in his holiness, the only thing he could believe is that he was lost from that holy God. He was not close to God. He was not acceptable to God. He was not in intimate fellowship with God. He was not buddy-buddy with God. There was nothing in Isaiah’s heart that made him believe God would be pleased with him.
          This was an early expression of what Jesus said would characterize the world at his coming. Jesus came the first time, not to condemn the world, but to save the world.[4] The second time Jesus comes, although he will gather the elect to be with him forever, he will also execute God’s judgment against the world. Jesus explained it to his disciples like this, “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”[5] When the world sees Jesus coming, they will mourn. While his appearance to his people will be like our hero arriving on the scene to crush our enemies, it will be like the world’s worst fear coming true beyond their wildest imaginings. They will mourn at the utter hopelessness of the situation, and the overwhelming despair of seeing God’s holiness in the face of Jesus Christ.[6]
          In the book of Revelation, the description of Jesus’ coming is stated like this:

15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”[7]

          To see the one who is seated on his throne, and the Lamb who is his image, is to feel the utter terror of God’s holiness. It doesn’t matter how powerful, or sinful, or influential, anyone is in this lifetime, when Jesus comes, no one will stand against the wrath of God toward the unrepentant sin of the world.
          As the Psalm-writer said, “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”[8] I originally learned this verse in the NIV. It reads, “If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?”[9] The point is that, if God kept a record of sins, no one could stand. Isaiah knew this when he saw God’s holiness. If God kept any kind of record of his sins, he stood no chance of standing before that holiness. When Jesus returns, and the world sees the holiness of God on the face of Jesus Christ, and sees that the day of their wrath has come, they will know that no one will stand before them.
          This is why Paul wrote,

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[10]

          Jesus has been so highly exalted, and given the name that stands above every other name, “King of kings, and Lord of lords,”[11] so that, when the world is confronted with the return of Jesus Christ, and they see the wrath of God on the face of the Lamb, they will bow their knee before the judgment of God, and confess with their mouths that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord. It does not matter how much power anyone wields in this earthly life; not even the power that Satan himself exerts in leading the nations astray. He, too, will bow before the Lord Jesus Christ, confess that it has always been Jesus Christ who is Lord, and surrender powerlessly to Jesus’ judgment against him.
          This is the only way that people can know God if they are lost. If they do not come to Jesus before his return, they will feel the weight of lostness, the utter and completely unredeemable lostness of the human soul.

“for I am a man of unclean lips,” (5)  

          Here is why there is woe on Isaiah’s life. Here is why Isaiah felt lost in the presence of God’s holiness. It is because he was “a man of unclean lips.” His approach to God was unclean. What he spoke even in his highest expressions of worship was unclean. What came out of his mouth was unclean and unacceptable.
          This is not talking of some vulgar man who pridefully spouted off all his swearing and cursing. This is talking about a man who was living in the God-given religion of Israel, observing the law, living by the sacrificial system, but had no connection to the holiness of God.
          The only way Isaiah could see himself in relation to God’s holiness was as a man of unclean lips. He could not speak in his defense, because anything he would say would come out of unclean lips. He could not give a defense, or even plead for mercy. All he knew was that he was under the judgment of God’s holiness because of his uncleanness of heart and soul and word and deed.

“and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;” (5)  

          It is very important to recognize this, that Isaiah’s first response to God’s holiness was to understand his own woeful position. However, he was what he was in context of a culture and generation that were unclean in speech and conduct. No matter how much the people approached God in outer ceremony, their hearts were hardened towards God, far away from him, and so the things that came out of their mouths were unclean.
          When Isaiah saw the holiness of God, he did not look to the religion of the day to help him out. He had no hope in turning to the sacrifices, or the worship practices of the day. He knew that the things proceeding from his own mouth were unclean, and that he lived in the midst of a people whose words and expressions were unclean. He had no hope in him, or in anyone around him.

“for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (5)  

          Here is the reason Isaiah felt woe was upon him. This is the reason Isaiah felt lost and condemned. Here is the measure by which Isaiah knew he was guilty of uncleanness himself, and the shared uncleanness of his community. It was that his own eyes saw God. It was with his own yes that he saw “the King, the LORD of hosts,” or “Yahweh of hosts.”
          If people of today asked Isaiah to describe what he saw in heaven, and whether he could affirm or contradict the belief that man is free to approach God through any religion they desire, and to describe God in any way that pleases them, his answer would be, “my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of hosts!”
          In other words, Isaiah would tell people that there is only one God who sits on the throne, and he is holy beyond description, so that no one could ever imagine approaching him on their own merits, or describing him in their own terms. Isaiah would tell us that he is the Holy One, the King, the LORD of all hosts of people, of angels, and of demons. He is LORD over those who are for him, and he is LORD over those who are against him. He is Yahweh, the resplendent one who has no equal. To see him is to instantly know that all we have created in our own minds, and all we have imagined of a god in our own image, and all we have worshiped of creation instead of Creator, is meaningless. In fact, it goes beyond meaningless into an indictment of guilt upon us for seeking anyone and anything besides him.

The beginning of the Gospel for all sinners

          The beginning of the gospel is our lost condition. The gospel is good news in relation to the bad news. The bad news is that we are sinners who will stand before a holy God who causes even righteous and religious men to fall before him in horror at their sinful condition. When Jesus, “the image of the invisible God,”[12] comes to judge the earth, sinners will be horrified at his holiness and his wrath. They will see the face of the holy God who sits on the throne, and of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who radiates the glory of God’s holiness upon a sinful world. They will cry out to the rocks, and the hills, and the mountains, to please cover them so they do not need to see this wrath expressed to them. The nations who have rejected the King of glory will see him coming in glory, no longer to offer salvation, but to execute much deserved judgment.
          The gospel continues to ring through our time, no matter how much or little time is left. It shows us a holy God who cannot be appeased through good works, but so loved the world that he sent us his Son, Jesus Christ, who lovingly laid down his life as the sacrifice for sin. He now forgives all who come to him in the name of Jesus Christ, fleeing the world, the flesh, and the devil, and all the presence, power, and consequences of sin. He welcomes everyone who comes to him on the basis of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, putting their faith in him, trusting in him alone for their salvation.
          Even Isaiah discovered that he could be made completely right with this holy God, not by doing good works, but by experiencing atonement as the gift of God. However, that is a post for another time. Today, let the holiness of God expose your sin in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ who will bring you to the Father for the forgiveness of your sins. As the song-writer declared, But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”[13]

© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Romans 1:16
[2] Isaiah 6:1-8
[3] Once again returning to the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-6
[4] John 3:17
[5] Matthew 24:30
[6] II Corinthians 4:6 shows that all God’s glory is seen in the face of Jesus Christ, including the holiness Isaiah saw.
[7] Revelation 6:15-17
[8] Psalm 130:3-4
[9] Psalm 130:3 (NIV)
[10] Philippians 2:9-11
[11] I Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16
[12] Colossians 1:15
[13] Psalm 130:3-4

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Pastoral Panoramic Ponderings ~ The Good News of Repentance

          The aim of the gospel is conversion, a complete turnaround of life. On one side, this turnaround requires us to leave our life of sin, what we call repentance. On the other side, this turnaround requires entering the kingdom of heaven, what we call faith. When the gospel message pierces our hearts, it gives us this dual-sided response where we want to be done with our sinful life, and we want to enter into the new life of fellowship with God.
          When Jesus gave us the Beatitudes, he indicated a change of heart that felt its poverty of spirit, mourned its sinful condition, meekly acknowledged its own inability to fix what was wrong, and so hungered and thirsted after the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel.[1] This transformation of heart is summarized as repentance in relation to the sin we are leaving behind, and faith in relation to the righteousness of faith we are entering into.
          In this post, I want to focus primarily on the place of repentance, and how this response to the good news makes people want to leave their sin, not justify it, or remain in it.
          The place of repentance in responding to the gospel is expressed like this: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”[2] When Jesus commissioned his disciples to also proclaim the good news of his kingdom, we read, “So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent.”[3] When religious leaders challenged Jesus about what he was doing in spending so much time with “sinners,” he declared, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”[4]
          After Jesus secured our salvation through his death, burial, and resurrection, he commissioned his disciples to take this good news of the gospel throughout the whole world. He told them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”[5] Not only did Jesus proclaim this, but he led his disciples to understand that their participation in making this message known was part of what God had written in his prophetic word.
          The very first time Jesus’ disciples preached the gospel, Peter concluded his message with the instruction, “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.”[6] Later, the apostle Paul identified that a significant part of his ministry was, “…testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”[7] You will recall that it was Paul who declared, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”[8] Because he believed the good news was for all people, both Jew and Greek, he called both Jews and Greeks to the repentance and faith that would bring them into God’s gift of eternal life.
          These Scriptures show that repentance is a significant part of our experience of faith. It is the side of our conversion where we let go of the old in order to embrace the new. It is letting go of the sin that has caused our spiritual death, so we can take hold of the life that is given freely to all who put their faith in Jesus Christ.

Repentance as good news

          Repentance will sound like good news or bad news depending on a few things. If we hate our sin, and hate what sin has done to us and people we love, and the ugliness of sin feels oppressive to us, and we despise the darkness that sin has brought into our lives, then hearing that we can come out of sin through repentance is good news.
          However, if we love our sin, and we love the feeling of sinful pleasures, and we love the excitement of constantly trying new things in our own strength, and the feeling of independence that makes us believe we are in charge of our own destinies, then hearing the call of repentance from sin will sound like bad news.
          If repentance sounds to us like a wonderfully simple way out, an undeserved blessing of God’s grace that we could come out from under our sin through repentance instead of through works, and we hear the invitation of repentance as a powerful message of grace pouring into our hearts, telling us of this wonderful gospel that sets people free from sin when their faith repents of the sinful life they are living, then repentance will feel like very good news.
          However, if repentance sounds like a good work we must perform, where we are required to muster the strength to stop sinning, and we must tell God we are perfectly sorry for all our sins, and we must promise that we will never do those sins ever again, then the oppressive weight of turning away from sin in our own strength will not sound like very good news at all.
          If the thought of knowing the true God of heaven, the God who created us in his own image and likeness, who has loved us with an everlasting love, who so loved the world that he sent his Son to die for us so people from every tribe and nation could believe in Jesus and have eternal life, if the thought of knowing this God is such an irresistible longing within us, then hearing that we can know God by repenting of the sin we are in, rather than fixing the sinfulness of our deceitful and wicked hearts, is very good news.
          However, if the references to God in his creative genius of calling the whole universe into existence, and all the intricate weaving together of the redemptive work of God that prepared the world through covenants with Abraham, and Israel, and advertised the coming redemption through the orchestrating of the prophets singing hope to the generations of God’s people, and all the detailed accounts of Jesus coming into the world, suffering on our behalf, rising from the dead, going to prepare a home for us in heaven, if the thought of knowing this God is nothing to us in comparison to our perception of pleasure from sin, then we will not consider it good news when someone tells us we must repent of our sinful pleasures in order to escape the judgment of God against sin.
          When people argue that there is no remedy for certain sins because the power of sin seems so irresistible, and when they seek to rewrite the Bible to condone their own sins because the thought of salvation from their sin seems repulsive to them, they are not proving that they love sin because of some genetic disposition. Rather, they are proving what God’s word already says, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”[9]
          The issue in people justifying their specific sins as irresistible is not one of genetic disposition, but of heart disposition. People love their darkness because their works are evil. They do not want the light of the gospel to shine into the world because they do not want their sin exposed for what it is. They do not want a Bible that speaks of salvation from sin, but of a God who loves people just as they are in their sin. They want a faith in a man-created Jesus who requires no repentance from sin. They want a Jesus who comes into the world as our friend, to love us, and to make us feel good about ourselves here in the world. They do not want a Savior who delivers from sin.
          On the other hand, when anyone comes under the conviction that whatever they are doing is sin, and yet they know the irresistible power of sin that they cannot break in their own strength, the thought that they could come to the Lord Jesus Christ in a faith that repents of the kingdom of darkness on one side, and enters the kingdom of light on the other side, is wonderful news. This faith does not imagine that repenting is a good work, but one side of the gift of grace. God causes us to despise our sin, and long to be with Jesus in his kingdom.

A stolen lesson from time

          I think of the thief on the cross who changed his mind about Jesus. Jesus did not preach the gospel to him. Jesus did not tell the man to repent and believe the gospel. We do not know what this man already heard about Jesus. There was enough that he knew Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the King of the Jews. He mockingly hoped that Jesus was able to save himself, and save them in the process, but he did not ask for that in faith, or in any kind of repentance over his sin.
          Matthew’s account of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus gives some indication of what these two men would have learned even if that was the first time they had heard of him.[10] They heard many passersby say things like, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”[11] They would have heard the religious leaders mocking Jesus, but with the information included, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”[12]
          We also learn from Matthew’s account that, in the early hours of the ordeal, both “the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.”[13] The two robbers initially agreed. They mimicked whatever mocking they heard from others. This means they had heard that Jesus claimed he could rebuild a destroyed temple in three days, he claimed to be the Son of God, he saved other people, and he claimed to be the King of Israel.
          Luke’s gospel adds a description of what happened later on in the painful hours of the crucifixion. We read that, “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’”[14] However, we then read, “But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”[15]
          This second robber expressed his understanding that the two of them were under the just sentence for their crimes, while Jesus had done nothing wrong. At the very least, after what he had heard from everyone else, he concluded that they were all wrong, and Jesus was innocent of their accusations.
          We discover that this was not mere belief about Jesus, but something had taken place within his soul that turned his beliefs into faith. In such a short time, with so little information about Jesus, he had the faith to ask him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”[16]
          The robber admitted he was guilty and Jesus was innocent. But then he revealed what else he had come to believe. He believed that Jesus had a kingdom, and he believed that Jesus’s crucifixion would not end in death. As Jesus had once told his disciples that Lazarus’s sickness would not end in death,[17] meaning that even though Lazarus would die, that was not the way it would end,[18] so this robber understood that, even though Jesus was clearly dying, and was doing nothing to save himself, that death would not be the end of the story. Jesus had a kingdom, he would “come into” his kingdom, and the thief wanted Jesus to remember him at that time. The fact that this man knew that he too was dying indicated that he expected that both he and Jesus could share life in Jesus’ kingdom after they both had died.
          Jesus’ response to this man’s expression of faith was, “And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’”[19] Jesus clearly recognized that this man wanted to be with him in his kingdom. Although the thief did not confess sin any further than to say that he deserved the just sentence of crucifixion for his thievery, Jesus saw the repentance in his heart. The man’s faith in Jesus may not fit any detailed statement of beliefs, but it indicated an understanding that he wanted to be in Jesus’ kingdom rather than his life of sin.
          We know that God uses this testimony to assure people of what it means that we are saved by grace through faith, and not of any kind of works at all.[20] It confirms that even baptism is not a good work that saves us, although it is a necessary expression of the obedience of faith for anyone who is not being put to death at the moment of their conversion![21]
          My point is that, when people understand the ugliness and deadliness of sin, the good news that their repentance will get them out of the condemnation of sin in a way that no amount of good works could ever accomplish, is wonderful news.

Good news for all sinners

          The proud in spirit, those who love the pleasures of sin, will never think that the gift of repentance is good news. They will never have the faith that they can repent of their life of sin, and enter the life of righteousness by faith, because they have no desire to be done with sin. They know they were born in sin, but they love the darkness because their deeds are evil.
          On the other hand, there are those who also know they were born in sin, and that they have found no remedy to sin, and yet they rejoice at the sound of the gospel. There are people so beaten down by the hopelessness of religion, and their constant failure to live up to some system of good works, that hearing the gospel tell them they could come into the kingdom of heaven through repentance, rather than through good works, is the best thing they have ever heard.
          When Jesus' ministry was characterized by his proclamation, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel,”[22]sinners heard that they could come into the kingdom of God through repentance and faith. Neither repentance or faith is a good work, and neither is able to exist without the other. Repentance without faith in Jesus will not get us out of our sin, and faith without repentance will not get us into the kingdom of God. Instead, it is the experience of faith that causes us to repent of the sinful life we are living, and enter into the kingdom of God by faith, that shows the power of God working for our salvation.
          God’s word to his people tells us that, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”[23]The redemption we honor in Jesus Christ is that which delivers us “from the domain of darkness,” meaning everything to do with our sin, and transfers us from there, “to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” Repentance is the acknowledgement that we want to leave the domain of darkness, and faith is the acknowledgement that we now want to live in the kingdom of God.
          I say these things to clarify that there is no such thing as a Christianity that tries to live in God’s kingdom without leaving behind our sin. Neither is there a genuine relationship with God that keeps trying to deal with sin, but apart from faith in Jesus Christ as our only hope of salvation.
          In Jesus’ day, when sinners heard the gospel, the call to repent and believe the gospel, they understood that they could enter the kingdom of God if they would repent of the kingdom they were living in, and believe in the gospel that was the power of God unto salvation. No sinner who was willing to repent and believe the gospel was ever left in the domain of darkness; and, no sinner who repented and believed the gospel added any good works to the work of redemption Jesus’ completed on the cross.
          Ultimately, the reason it is such good news to repent and believe the gospel is that repentance cuts our ties with that which destroys us in sin, and faith takes hold of that which is freely offered in the Lord Jesus Christ. We must leave the old to enter the new, simple as that. The fact that God’s grace makes us alive so we can do so, magnifies his glorious good news all the more.

© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Matthew 5:3-6
[2] Matthew 3:2; 4:17
[3] Mark 6:12
[4] Luke 5:32
[5] Luke 24:46-48
[6] Acts 2:38
[7] Acts 20:21
[8] Romans 1:16
[9] John 3:19
[10] Matthew 27:38-44
[11] Matthew 27:40
[12] Matthew 27:42-43
[13] Matthew 27:44
[14] Luke 23:39
[15] Luke 23:40-41
[16] Luke 23:42
[19] Luke 23:43
[20] Ephesians 2:8-9
[21] Romans 1:5; 16:26 (Paul’s expression of “the obedience of faith” distinguishes the obedience associated with faith as different than the obedience associated with the law, and settles that obedience does belong to faith, even though that obedience does nothing to earn our salvation. This is consistent with Ephesians 2:8-9 showing that we are saved by grace, through faith, without any works, and Ephesians 2:10 showing that God expects his workmanship, the people he saves, to do the good works he prepared for us.)
[22] Mark 1:15
[23] Colossians 1:13-14