Grow in real repentance

Sunday, September 27, 2020

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Grow In Real Repentance

We need a real change. Years ago there was a doctor. He worked long hours and cared for his patients. But what got to him was how unwilling—and even seemingly unable they were to change their lives for good. The guy who smoked too much couldn’t seem to stop. The woman who just couldn’t seem to say “no” to that Ben and Jerry’s ice cream couldn’t seem to stop. The woman who loved to run, ran 10 miles a day and couldn’t seem to stop so that her body could rest and heal. His patients needed real changes in their lives. And he agonized over this. Then he went home. He went home to children he didn’t know that well because he worked so much. He went home to a wife who was worn down because she had her own job to work at and she had to manage the home too. And, the irony was that, every day he would go home to this situation, and then the next day he would go to work with no change in his own life. And the reason we look at this doctor to begin with this morning is that we so very often see the change that others need in their lives. But we miss—even deliberately miss the change we need in our own lives. That is where Jesus starts here in these words this morning: 28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 29 “ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered.” (Matt. 21:28–31 NIV11-GKE)

Here Jesus gives the Pharisees that he was preaching to a choice. He ask them, “what seems best to you all?”1 He shows them two sons. One says “no,” but then goes out into the field to work the long hours of the day.2 The second son says, “yes,” but does not go out and work. The Pharisees say, “the first.”

Today, almost 2000 separated from when Jesus speaks these words, would say the same. What good is it when obedience is only words? What we need is real repentance. We need a change in our hearts and extends its way all the way to our hands so that we do what is right. And that makes us ask a question: How do we get real repentance? And the simple, but important truth we need start with is that the answer to that question is “we cannot.” You cannot buy real repentance on Amazon and have it shipped to you. And each one of us, as we came into this world, does not obey our Father in heaven—and does not want to obey him. We cannot get this repentance, this change of heart and hands. Instead it is a gift that God gives to us. Through the power of his word the Holy Spirit created faith in us. And with that faith he gave us repentance—real repentance. So, even though we cannot get it on our own by ourselves, out of his grace God richly gave this repentance to us. And so the next question we will ask and spend the rest of our time on this morning is this: How do I grow in Real Repentance?

Each of us sees the need to have a real change in our lives. But if this real repentance is ours, how can we cause it to grow? And the answer to that question is: God’s word. Through God’s word I see the depth of my sin. But even more than that, through God’s word, the Holy Spirit enables me to grieve over it. I’m watching a show on PBS right now. It’s the true story of a man who married one wife after another and then murdered them for their money. And in one scence, we see him twisting his face so that he can look sincere and caring. He puts on the face. But the face never reaches his heart. That is the opposite of what we want. And God’s word has this amazing ability to breathe life into our cold hearts so that we care about our sin and grieve over it.

We grow in real repentance through God’s word. Through God’s word we see the depth of our sins. But God’s word does so much more. Through God’s word we also see our Savior. Through God’s word we see an amazing Savior who sees how calloused and stubborn our sinful hearts are and dies for them. He sees how willingly we go our own direction, erring sheep that we are, and he forgives us. And even more than that, he builds up this new person in us day by day to not only see what is right, but also to do what is right.

So if we ask the question, How do I grow in Real Repentance, the answer is: through God’s word. But there’s another answer here in these words: 31 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” (Matt. 21:31–32 NIV11-GKE)

We grow in real repentance through God’s word. But we also grow in real repentance with God’s people. As we look at the Pharisees, one of the traps we keep seeing them falling into is that they only hung out with their own people. And when you only hang out with your own group of people it is so easy to miss so much. So these words carry with them the invitation to, yes, first be in God’s word. But they also carry with them the invitation to be among God’s people. And when that happens our lives change. When we are around others we see sins—sins that we do not commit. We see their sins and struggles. And God puts us in a very unique place to see what they do not. And he puts us in the place to struggle along with them, day by day, pointing them to Jesus who gives real repentance. And then, when there are these small victories, when that other person doesn’t see it, we will. And we can let them know of the change—the real repentance God brought to them in their lives.

That’s what I see when I am among God’s people. But that real repentance goes the opposite direction too. When I am among God’s people, I grow. For they see in my my own sins and struggles. And they are there to show me God’s word so that I will grieve over my sin and grasp salvation—true salvation found only in Christ. But they are also there in another very unique way too. When they see areas that we are struggling in and there are these small victories, day by day, they can praise our God in heaven for them. They can share these little victories with us that we probably don’t see at all.

And my dear friends in Christ, that’s how real repentance comes to us and we grow in it. None of us wants to be like that doctor who sees his own ability of his patients to change and then refuses to change himself. Out of his grace God gives us repentance. But we can grow in it. We grow in it through his powerful word. In his word we see how previous our sin is and how great and gracious his salvation is to us. But we also grow among God’s people. We need each other. There is that proverb, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Prov. 27:6 NIV11-GKE). Real repentance only comes from the real power of God’s word shared to us by our fellow Christians who really care. Amen.

1 “ⲧⲓⲇⲉⲩ̇ⲙⲓⲛⲇⲟⲕⲉⲓ” (Matt. 21:28 GNT-WAS)
2 “ⲉⲣⲅⲁⲍⲟⲩ” (Matt. 21:28 GNT-WAS)

Pastor at Immanuel, Steve Bauer

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