Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Good Foundations: Repentance by Dr Ern Baxter.

I began to touch last week on the vital importance of good foundations in the Christian life, when I was writing about the latest volume of the Newfrontiers magazine. Terry Virgo wrote in his Firstline;

"It could be argued, of course, that everything changed on the great resurrection morning when Jesus conquered death for ever, or perhaps on the triumphant day of Pentecost when the powerful Presence of God was poured out on the waiting disciples. New creation began! The long awaited eschatological kingdom was inaugurated!".

Beginnings matter! The old picture is of buttoning up a shirt. If you get the first button wrong then it doesn't matter whether all the other buttons are in the right hole, the whole shirt will be uncomfortable to wear. This was a passion of Ern Baxter's heart and he wrote the following article on "Repentance". I found it in a second hand copy of "Vintage Years - Selected Articles from New Wine's first decade: 1969-1979". So over to Ern:

"Before we discuss the subject of repentance, we first need to stress the importance of good foundations in the Christian life. Most of the problems we encounter as Christians and many impediments to our personal growth derive from our failure to have laid sound foundations at the very beginning. If we were to ask, most believers would probably say, "I've laid a good foundation" and yet in talking to those same people about repentance, it's amazing that most know nothing about it. Whoever brought them to the Lord failed to give them a sound beginning.

"All Have Sinned".

We can't talk about repentance without talking about sin. Although sin is a whole different subject, we must touch on it in discussing repentance because Jesus came, "Not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32). "Repentance from good works" is exactly the way that this part of our "Christian foundation" is described. Dead works proceed from moral seperation and for every man outside of Jesus Christ, everything he does no matter what form sin takes in his life, is constituted dead works. Now you may say, "What do you mean 'the form sin takes'?". In the Roman epistle, Paul speaks of at least three kinds of sinners. First are the gross sinners. Most of us tend to look upon these as the "real" sinners - the homosexual, the immoral person, the idolater. The whole gross, senuous sordid mess of improper human relationships that find expression in the carnal appetites constitutes sin to many people.

But in the second chapter of Romans, Paul goes on to say, "Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest, for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things". Those who boast, "I don't stoop to that kind of human behaviour" I would call, "Philosophical sinners", "Academic sinners" or "intellectual sinners". They're too busy sinning with their brains to sin with their bodies, too busy trafficking in Freud and every other kind of literary unbelief to participate physically in sin. All their sinning takes place in their ivory towers.

Then there is a third class which Paul notes; the religious class and this is a touchy area. Paul said, "Behold thou art called a Jew ..." (Romans 1:17) and then proceeded to expose the hypocrisy of the religious sinner. Years ago I talked to a young Hindu man in India who told me that neither tobacco nor alcohol had ever touched his lips, nor had he ever laid hands on a girl. As he listed all the things he hadn't done, he sounded exactly like Saul of Tarsus, "... touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless". But when I pressed the claims of Jesus Christ upon him, his response was to place his list of external moral accomplishments over and above Jesus Christ. Unwilling to confess the intellectual and "sophisticated" sin in his life, he claimed his own "religion" superseded God's prescribed righteousness. So when we talk about the basic nature of sin, we must realise that a sinner is not always characterised by gross sin.

In the New Testament there are 9 Greek words for sin and 21 lists of sin, consisting of 202 defined sins. Eliminating repetitions, we find 103 specific sins listed. Although it is important to view sin as definitive acts specified in God's word, there is a danger that we may fail to deal with the nature of sin. All works of unregenerate man, whether they be gross sinners, philosophical sinners or religious sinners emanate from moral death and are therefore dead works. They are the works of men dead in trespasses and sin. The essential principle of all sin is selfishness, most comprehensively defined in Isaiah 53:6, "All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all". "Everyone to his own way!". The equivalent in the New Testament is 2 Corinthians 5:15; "... he died for all that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves but unto him which died for them and rose again". Isaiah and Paul are in agreement that sin is essentially; "doing what I want in any given situation as opposed to what God wants me to do in that situation". All of us have fallen into the trap.

"Repentance Defined".

Thank God that we have something to take care of sin; it's called repentance. So having made our point that repentance has to do with sin, we want to speak of repentance itself. In the New Testament there are also two words translated 'repent'. One is similar to the first Old Testament word. It means a feeling of "remorse or regret". It comes very close to remorse but remorse is not necessarily necessary. It just means you feel bad. But the other New Testament word, "metanoeia" means, "a change of mind" or "to have another mind". Actually repentance is changing your mind from what you have believed on any given subject to what God has revealed on that subject. "Metanoeia" is also associated with the word "turn" and implies a personal decision to turn from sin and enter into fellowship with God.

In the contemporary approach to the sinner, there has been too little emphasis on repentance. Not only must the sinner change his mind about God, himself, his actions and the world around him, he must also take definite moral action to implement his change of mind, To further define this process, repentance is the informing and changing of the mind, the stirring and directing of the emotions to urge the required change and the action of the yielded will in turning the whole man away from sin to God.

When we approach a sinner let us never be afraid of making him morally responsible for coming to God. The first time I read the writings of Charles Finney, the great revivalist, I closed them and said, "He's a humanist". I resented the fact that he laid moral responsibility upon men. At that time because of my background, I held the extreme view that man was totally incapable of doing anything. This of course is incorrect. Man is capable of hearing the gospel. Man is capable of making the decision, "I will turn to God". What he is not capable of doing is doing it - it takes the grace of God to actually turn him. But he is capable of deciding to do it and he must be held morally responsible for that decision of will by which he says, "God here I am. Turn me and I shall be turned".

We are indebted to Finney, especially for some of his definitions, which are almost in the ultimate. Here is Finney's definition of repentance, " ... it implies an intellectual and a hearty giving up of all controversy with God upon all and every point. It implies a convicion that God is wholly right and the sinner wholly wrong and a through and hearty abandonment of all excuses and apologies for sin". When Finney says, " ... an intellectual and a hearty giving up of all controversy with God upon all and every point", I appreciate his inclusion of "intellectual". Much evangelical preaching assumes you have to cut off your head in order to believe with your heart. But God talks to our minds, we make decisions with our minds. Repentance likewise speaks to the mind. People who say the mind plays no part in conversion ought to have tremendous revivals in mental institutions.

The "conviction that God is wholly right" establishes a significant ongoing principle. If we accept this principle at the beginning of our Christian lives, then in subseqent encounters with God on any issue, He will be wholly right again. Finney also defines repentance as, "a through and hearty abandonment of all excuses and apologies for sin". That means we must honestly face the gravity and depth of our sin, so that we may appreciate the totality of God's clensing grace. Vance Havner, a well-known Christian author, is quoted as saying, "Today cheap grace is being preached and received by cheap faith resulting in cheap Christians".

Before we go into repentance scripturally, there is one other quote from Havner which provides the delicate balance to what we have thus shared so far. "It is no easy matter so to preach repentance as not to discourage truly humble souls or so to proclaim God's forgiving love as not to encourage presumptiousness and carelessness. ". Where is the balance between confronting a man with, "Mister as a sinner you must wholly agree with God that you are lost and undone and you must turn from your sin" and yet letting him know that "God's love is as wide as the ocean and He will forgive all your sins and save you?". That delicate balance is not easy to maintain! We must preach repentance to those responsive to God without sending them away under a burden of discouragement, while at the same time, not stripping the love of God of its demand for moral responsibility so that the same people go away presuming on God's grace".

Next: 14 Reasons for Repentance and Factors Leading to Repentance.

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