Freedom and Renewal
On July 4 we celebrate
an event that took place over 200 years ago--the birth of a free nation.
How much do you know about the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed
that historic occurrence? Are you aware that the official copy was not
signed by the Continental Congress until August 2, 1776; and that at least
one member, Thomas McKean, didn't add his name to it until 1777? One of
the committeemen, Robert Livingston, who helped frame this symbol of liberty,
never did sign it. Although this famous document declared independence,
it recognized that liberty could not be preserved unless the new nation
acknowledged its dependence upon God. The brave men who initiated and signed
it realized that genuine freedom comes only through reliance upon the Almighty.
There is one word in
the Bible that grants us this genuine freedom offered by Almighty God.
This word stands head and shoulders above all other words of the Bible.
This word is the key to spiritual life, growth and true freedom. It is
the word that makes it possible for us to know the truth that sets us free.
In fact, it is the single word that all the teaching of the Bible revolves
around. The word describes the concept upon which our belief in Christ
is built. Practicing the concept of this word is the only thing that will
keep our minds open to the discovery of truth. This word gives us the ability
to change our minds in any given situation. It is the one thing that we
should pray that God would grant us the ability to do throughout life.
It is "repent".
By analyzing the meaning
of this single word, Martin Luther transformed the religious thought of
his day. For hundreds of years the word "repent" had been construed to
mean "do penance and feel miserable about it." Luther's astounding discovery
was that "repent" did not really mean to do penance but rather, as the
Greek METANOIA indicates, to change your mind, to think again or in a new
way, to look at everything differently. He noted also that when Jesus used
the word, it was always linked with belief: repent and believe. Repenting
and believing are two words married to one another throughout scripture.
A true attitude of repentance keeps our minds open to a healthy discovery
of truth. The ability to change our minds through repentance is the only
thing that will bring spiritual freedom in Christ. (Via InfoSearch Database:
"Illustrations for Preaching" by Clyde Chesnutt. Clergy Journal, Feb 1991.
The gravest mistake
made in religious circles is buying into a view of scripture and becoming
so married to it that it warps our perception of the entire Bible. It is
so easy to learn a little and close your mind to all there is to know.
This is why it is so important to maintain an attitude of repentance as
we seek God. Repentance requires us to look at what we know in light of
what we have just learned and in light of who we are. It gives us an opportunity
to see the truth. It gives us the opportunity to resurrection our spiritual
deadness. Repentance gives us the ability to change directions.
The ability to repent
through godly sorrow is the greatest gift God has bestowed upon each of
us. Repentance is not just turning away from sin it is turning to that
which is right. It is exchanging a wrong way of living for a right way
of living in the process of conversion.
Repentance Is Granted
In Acts 10 God leads
both Peter and Cornelius to see his new direction for their lives. Thus
far their minds are closed to the direction God wishes them take. God wants
both to be in Christ. Up until Acts 10 both Peter and Cornelius knew about
Jesus Christ, but their minds were closed to each other. Both believed
that Jesus was a blessing only for the Jew, while the Gentiles were excluded.
Peter emphasizes in the following verses the Gentiles knew about Jesus
Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does
not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear
him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to
the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ,
who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached--how God anointed
Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around
doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because
God was with him. (NIV)
The words "You know"
were spoken twice in the foregoing scripture. These words emphasized that
Cornelius had heard about Jesus. But he had not been offered the possibility
of turning to Christ through repentance.
In Acts 11 Peter explains
his actions as God led him into the house of the first Gentile convert
to the gospel of Christ. Peter reiterated the visions, the coming of the
Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles.
began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the
beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with
water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' So if God gave them
the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who
was I to think that I could oppose God?"When they heard this, they had
no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has
granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life." (NIV)
God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life." God had
granted repentance and forgiveness of sins to the Jews. (Acts 5:30-32)
Now God has granted the same gift to the Gentiles. Repentance for both
Jew and Gentile was made possible by means of divine intervention. Now
the Gentiles realize that they are granted the gift of repentance.
Not that they were puppets
on a string. Each made the decision to obey, but the ability to repent--to
change their minds about the way they were living--was a gift of God. For
this is the very purpose of the graceful gospel of Christ, to grant us
the choice to return to God through repentance.
There is an anxious
dread of self-reproach and doubt that many face as they approach God's
word. They are afraid to face their failure, guilt and sin. This keeps
many from approaching God. It is not reasonable to allow the fear of facing
ourselves to keep us from reading the Bible. It would make as much sense
to refuse to see the doctor because you think you have cancer. It is true
that the Bible compels us to face ourselves. It enables us to see how God
views the worst diseases of the soul. But the Bible does more than expose
the fatal diseases of the souls; it offers an alternative way of living.
It awakens us to the Great Physician who can cure our sin and bring spiritual
healing through granting us the ability to repent as we adopt a new lifestyle.
us the ability to rethink the way we live. Repentance requires
an awakening of the mind.God awakened Peter and Cornelius. Both were spoken
to in a vision from God. It was necessary for them to understand further
revelation from God on the subject of salvation.
If we are planning to
change the way we are living, it is necessary to see what is wrong with
the way we are living. We must awaken to a new way of living. This is what
the revelation of God is designed to do. It is not written to make us grovel,
but to give us a new direction for living. The Bible is written to give
us a new focus by awakening us to a better way of living. Paul said, "The
hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation
is nearer now than when we first believed." (Romans 13:11 NIV)
Jesus Christ introduces
us to a practical way of living. Jew and Gentile turned to Christ in repentance.
They were required to die to their old way of living and awaken to God's
new direction through Christ. It was in Christ they were offered a new
way of living, but it was repentance that brought them to see the need
for a new life.
Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All
who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not
listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.
He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal
and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it
to the full. (NIV)
we discover the abundant new life in Christ.
Manasseh An Extreme
Case of Repentance
God did not grant
Jew and Gentile repentance because of their goodness. He granted
repentance because of their ungodliness. The Jews had crucified Christ
(Acts 2:36), and the Gentiles had totally denied God. (Romans 1:21-32)
Both were totally committed to a destructive way of living as evidenced
in the following scriptures. One was no better than the other was and neither
were any better than you are.
since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God,
he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.
They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and
depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They
are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they
invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless,
faithless, heartless, and ruthless. Although they know God's righteous
decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue
to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (NIV)
therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at
whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because
you who pass judgment do the same things. (NIV)
In Romans 1:28-32
tells of the plight of the Gentiles who had forsaken the knowledge of God.
In Romans 2:1 Paul applies the same verses to the Jews who were passing
judgement on the Gentiles. Both were enslaved to a futile way of thinking,
but now God has granted repentance to both alike.
Repentance even gives
a man like Milosevic hope for a new life. Manasseh is an extreme example
of a man turning to God.
Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem
from end to end-- besides the sin that he had caused Judah to commit,
so that they did evil in the eyes of the LORD. (NIV)
led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more
evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites.
spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. So the LORD
brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took
Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles
and took him to Babylon. In his distress he sought the favor of the LORD
his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And
when he prayed to him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened
to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then
Manasseh knew that the LORD is God.
he rebuilt the outer wall of the City of David, west of the Gihon spring
in the valley, as far as the entrance of the Fish Gate and encircling the
hill of Ophel; he also made it much higher. He stationed military commanders
in all the fortified cities in Judah. He got rid of the foreign gods and
removed the image from the temple of the LORD, as well as all the altars
he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out
of the city. Then he restored the altar of the LORD and sacrificed fellowship
offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the LORD,
the God of Israel. (NIV)
It is the
gift of repentance that gives us a choice to choose. "Everything
can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms--to choose
one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
(Via InfoSearch Database--Viktor Frankl in Man's Search for Meaning (quoted
in Decision, Mar 1993)
Why is it that we spend
so much money on welfare and illegitimacy? Why is it that we spend so much
money on crime and violence in our streets? Why it is even that we spend
so much money dealing the problems of irresponsible behavior that contribute
to the decline of the health of this nation? We must awaken to the real
problem we face. Money won't solve these problems; social programs do little
to alleviate these problems. We don't have money problems--we have moral
problems. And it's time we stood up and faced the truth!
The spindles of the
magazine rack became prison bars to one-year-old Peter. He had put his
hand between two of them and grasped a white ping pong ball that he wanted.
But as he tried to withdraw it, his clenched fist was too big to pull back
between the wooden bars. Peter had his ball, but as long as he held on
to it, the ball had him. He was trapped.
That's a picture of
our condition apart from Christ. By taking what God's revealed Word prohibits,
we become trapped. Jesus said "whoever commits sin is a slave of sin."
And since we've all sinned, we're all trapped.
Release from this slavery
is simple--but as difficult as letting go of the thing we want most. And
that's our problem with sin. One part of us loves it, yet we hate its enslavement.
(Above illustration from InfoSearch Database.)
"We are slaves of whatever
power we choose to obey. There is no freedom without slavery--they are
different sides of the same coin. Early Christians called themselves servants
or slaves of Christ. Slavery to sin is marked by fear of punishment, guilt
and emptiness. Slavery to Jesus is marked by unselfish choices for the
highest good of God and his creation." (Via InfoSearch Database: "Free
as a slave" by Winkie Pratney. Charisma & Christian Life, Sep 1988.
Repentance for Christians
In Acts 10 & 11
you not only realize that the Gentiles are granted repentance, but you
see the Jewish Christians led to repent as they accept the Gentiles into
Christian fellowship. Peter is compelled to go into Cornelius' house by
a vision from God. Peter realized that repentance is for everybody. Today
when a person walks into a church building for worship service they usually
have a multitude of problems. Problems many churches only hiss at and refuse
to deal with. It will take an attitude of repentance in the church to receive
The possibility for
the church's revival today lies in our willingness to repent. The church
must realize that Christ came to save sinners. The church in Ephesus developed
such an attitude toward the truth that they lost their love for the sinner.
angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds
the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands:
I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that
you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to
be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered
and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I
hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.
Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the
things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove
your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor:
You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has
an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes,
I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise
of God. (NIV)
We must repent and
maintain an attitude of repentance. Where God's conditions are met, we
can be confident that revival will come. The responsibility for revival
rests with us.
repentance is costly. Repentance calls for us to give up all we
are at the present so that we might become all he is calling us to be.
The concept of dying to ourselves and taking up our cross to follow Christ
is indicative of the cost. When we are buried in baptism with Christ we
commit to a life long process of dying to ourselves. Repentance is a commitment
to die daily to ourselves that we might experience a new life in Christ.
live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether
we live or die, we belong to the Lord. (NIV)
by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. (KJV)
been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.
The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved
me and gave himself for me. (NIV)
Freedom was what a young
drug addict named John longed for and yet feared. One night as he sat by
the fire in the home of two Christians, Joanie and Bill Yoder, he said,
"I hate this dependence problem of mine. I know I need to become a really
independent person, but I can't imagine being dependent on nothing!" "Neither
can I," replied Joanie. "Has it ever occurred to you that God might have
created us to be dependent ...on something good?" (InforSearch Database)
Jesus invites us to
exchange our dependencies for the liberating burden of His yoke.
"Lord Jesus, Thou who
art the way, the truth, and the life, hear us as we pray for the truth
that shall make men free. Teach us that liberty is not only to be loved
but also to be lived. Liberty is too precious a thing to be buried in books.
It costs too much to be hoarded. Make us see that our liberty is not the
right to do as we please, but the opportunity to be pleased to do what
is right." (A prayer of Peter Marshall as recorded in the Congressional
Record [quoted in Pulpit Helps, Jan 1995])