SORROW WITHOUT REPENTANCE?

Sometimes the world shouts at God, “Leave us alone!” yet down deep they experience a sense of guilt and shame they cannot assuage. Thinking about God may make people feel worse since they already know what they are doing is wrong. They may even feel a kind of sorrow about their behavior, but it does not bring about any lasting changes in behavior.

The apostle Paul called this “the sorrow of the world” (2 Corinthians 7:10). This sorrow may bring a sense of regret. It may make people feel sorrow because they got caught doing something wrong, but rather than bringing about repentance, such sorrow leads only to death. It may even cause them to redouble their efforts not to do it again, but they continue to fall into that action because they are relying on their own strength. “I can be good without God,” they reason.

On the other hand, Paul also spoke about the “godly sorrow” that “worketh repentance to salvation.” So, there are two types of sorrow, but each one brings different results. One person could feel sorrow over an act, and that sorrow causes the person truly to repent. Another person senses sorrow over an act, but for some reason does not repent. The outcome is different in each case. One truly repents and finds salvation. The other feels sorrow, but does not repent.

As we prepare for the Easter season, let’s see how this worked out in the Bible. On the night before Jesus was crucified, Judas led a mob to capture Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. With a kiss, he betrayed Christ to the authorities who ultimately had Christ crucified. That same night when Christ had been taken into custody, Peter followed as far as he could, even into the court area to warm himself near a fire built by the enemies of Christ. Three times people accused him of being a follower of Christ. Three times he denied it. Then the rooster crowed, and he realized that he had done exactly as Christ said he would do.

Now let’s look at the actions of these two men. Both of them sinned against Christ. Both of them sensed regret. Matthew 27:4 records Judas as saying, “I have sinned…for I have betrayed innocent blood.” Notice the guilt he felt. He even confessed his sin and admitted that he betrayed Christ. His reaction was that “he went away and hanged himself” (27:5) instead of seeking Christ’s pardon. Paul calls that “the sorrow of the world” that “worketh death” (2 Cor.7:10). Judas’ sorrow did not lead him to true repentance, salvation, and life, but rather to his end.

On the other hand, when the rooster crowed, Peter remembered Christ’s words regarding his betrayal, and he went out and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75). He realized what he had done. He experienced the godly sorrow that Paul wrote about. That sorrow led Peter to genuine repentance, and he found salvation. That sorrow “work[ed]repentance to salvation” (2 Cor. 7:10). We can only speculate what must have gone through Peter’s mind between the time of the crucifixion and the resurrection. In John’s gospel, however, we find Peter being restored to fellowship with Christ. John 21:15-19 shows Christ tenderly bringing Peter back into the fold and commissioning him to tend Christ’s flock.

Several weeks after that restoration, Peter preached the first sermon of the Church at Pentecost, and three thousand came into the church that one day. Christ accomplished a great feat through Peter’s sorrow and repentance, but when people think of Judas, they only feel disgust. No one names their son Judas, but many have named their sons Peter.

When Paul gave his defense before King Agrippa, he told the king how he preached to the Gentiles that they should repent and do works which give evidence of repentance (Acts 26:20). Repentance should bring about change of actions. When you feel sorrow for your sin, which way will you run, to Christ, or away from Him?

 

Advertisements

Leave Us Alone!

One Sabbath day while Christ was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum, a man possessed by an unclean spirit began to cry out loudly, “Leave us alone! What do we have to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth?” (Luke 4:34). Although this man found himself among the religious at a synagogue service, he himself was still unclean. He was morally corrupt and ceremonially unclean. The authority of Jesus’ teaching elicited a response from the unclean spirit. The spirit cried out for Jesus to go away. Instead of leaving, Jesus rebuked it and told it to leave the man. It obeyed instantly.

The demon recognized Jesus as “the Holy One of God.” It recognized Jesus’ authority to destroy it. The demon also recognized the authority of Christ to cast it out, and it had to leave on Christ’s command.

“Leave us alone!” is the cry of the world today in response to preaching the gospel. It is the cry of morally corrupt people when they sense presence of Christ and it makes them feel uncomfortable. “Don’t tell me how to live. Don’t tell me whom to love!” Rather than changing their corrupt behavior, they scream for Christ to go away. They do not recognize his authority to demand repentance. They do not recognize his authority to obey him. They simply want Christ to leave them alone.

As Noah was constructing the ark in his day, he preached to the people to repent. That preaching lasted one hundred and twenty years. No one repented, and the flood came and took them away (Matthew 24:38-40). In the end, no one was saved except Noah and his family (2 Peter 2:4-6). In the end times, great disasters will come upon the earth, but people will not repent (Revelation 16:9, 11). They will curse God instead. They will say, “Leave us alone!”

In John 3:19-20, Jesus said, “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” People react to Christ in one of two ways. Sensing his presence may bring a sense of conviction that causes them to repent and turn to Christ in faith. Others feel conviction, but rather than repenting, they scream out for Christ to go away. They hate his light because they love their own darkness.

They may not be literally shouting at Christ, but they often shout at his followers. They want nothing to do with Christ. They would prefer to wallow in sin rather than repent. So, they want the church to go away. They want Christians to stop preaching the gospel because it induces guilt. They want to silence the church. In effect, they are saying, “Leave us alone!”

They want the church to remain silent, not to speak on political or moral issues. They like the church as long as it feeds the poor, shelters the homeless, or cares for children. They believe in Christ as long as he promises to give them health or wealth, but they want to be left alone when it comes to moral and ethical demands on personal behavior.

The time will come when they will get their way. People who cry out, “Leave us alone” will one day be left alone. Hebrews 9:27 states, “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” All those people who wanted God to leave them alone will find themselves left alone for eternity. Rather than being in God’s presence with their loved ones, they will find themselves separated from God, friends and family for eternity. They will be utterly alone.

How will you respond to Christ? Will you say, “Leave me alone!” or “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner”? Will you come into the light? The choice is up to you.

 

Years in the Making

 

Bad habits can develop slowly over long periods of time. Small effects accumulate, and a picture that we do not like begins to develop. Suddenly we decide we need to do something about it, and we want immediate results.

One example is weight gain. Here we are one month into the new year and some people have already given up on their resolution to lose weight and get in shape. Perhaps years of bad eating habits, eating junk food, or simply overeating even good food, has led to being overweight. After several years in the making, suddenly we want an instant fix. We go on starvation diets trying to lose weight quickly.

While success may come quickly, it seldom lasts. After a period of strict dieting, we often bounce back into the old habits that led to the weight gain in the first place. A permanent habit change must take place if we are to lose the weight and keep it off. Being overweight is a health issue we need to deal with realistically.

Smoking is another health issue. Whatever reason a person gives for smoking is not valid. There is simply no good, logical reason to smoke cigars, pipes or cigarettes. Now before you come down harshly on me and say that I should be more empathetic because I do not know what smoking is like, I must confess that I did try smoking for a while in the summer of 1972 right before I began high school. I wanted to be cool and accepted, so I listened to my friends’ advice. I tried cigarettes and even those little cigars, but all I got out of it was sick. I could not breathe well, and it affected my ability to swim (I wanted to be like Mark Spitz). So, I quit. I did not care what my friends thought of me. I thought they were foolish for smoking.

After years of smoking, people develop various forms of breathing ailments or even cancer. Suddenly they want prayer for a miracle to overcome lung cancer. They want an instant solution to their problem that has been years in the making. It is not that easy.

As a pastor, I have often dealt with people who bring personal problems to me to solve for them. About twenty years ago, I spent several hours talking to a man who came to me with a marital problem. If I remember correctly, they were not actually married. The main issue was that he had been living with a woman without the formality of marriage. They had a child together out of wedlock. At the time he was talking to me, the girl was about twelve years old. His common-law wife had left him to move in with a deputy sheriff and took the little girl with her. This man came to me wanting me to tell him how to solve his problem so he could get his daughter back.

I asked him if he was a Christian. He said yes. “So, you realize,” I asked him, “that your actions were sinful?” “Yes,” he replied, “But…” He continued to explain to me how the situation had developed, how his wife had left him for another man, and he wanted me to help him find the daughter and get her back.

“You have spent at least thirteen years creating this mess,” I said, “and now after one meeting with me, you want me to tell you how to solve it?” Problems that are years in the making often cannot be solved overnight. The way to solve these problems is to prevent them in the first place. Had this person followed biblical principles, those problems would not have arisen. He would not have been sitting there with me, his life in a shambles, seeking answers as to how to fix it.

Sadly, I never saw that man again. I never did find out how the issue was resolved, if ever. Life holds enough heartache for us even when we live by God’s principles. How much worse things go when we deliberately forsake God’s ways, develop problems, then go seek a pastor or a counselor to tell us how to get a quick fix.

In the devotional magazine, Open Windows, Tan Flippin wrote, “When you choose to travel down the pathway of wisdom instead of taking other routes, life just seems to go more smoothly and you save yourself a lot of headaches and heartaches…we can base our decisions on greed, selfishness, and without forethought and prayer” (LifeWay, 01/20/17). Choose wisely the way in which you will walk, because small decisions made today can affect the very outcome of your life tomorrow. Those problems may be years in the making.