God, I Need Your Help with Repentance

Too often our repentance falls short and we wind up in the same sins all over again. God reveals to us that real repentance doesn’t come from out effort but through the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Real, lasting change comes by the power of God.

 

Here is the text of Monday’s sermon on the same text:

God Help Me with Repentance

Did you ever wonder how disappointed God must have been with the people of Israel? Consider all of the things he did for them:  He rescued them from slavery, he performed miracles to feed them and provide water for them. He led them to the promised land. He gave them his laws and the prophecies about the Messiah. He made them his people and protected them, blessed them, and made them his own.

For all these blessings he was met with grumbling and complaining. His chosen people rebelled against his perfect law. They spent more time trying to be like their unbelieving neighbors than they did trying to display the love of their Savior God.

They needed to repent, and often.

The problem was that they weren’t very good at it. They usually didn’t see the need and when they did, they were driven by so much selfishness that they were incapable of real repentance. Many would say the appropriate words, especially when times were hard. Most would bring the required sacrifices to the temple as ordered. But few offered their hearts. Even fewer offered their lives.

They aren’t alone in that kind of failure either. Jesus urged his people to repent during his ministry, but very few people actually did. His command to repent also comes to us. Our need for repentance is no less today than theirs was centuries ago. God’s command for a world to repent still rings in our consciences and in his Word. We still sin. We still take God’s blessings for granted. And we still, far too often, spend more time and energy do everything that our unbelieving neighbors do than trying to display the love of God. Our lives tend to be filled with selfishness and sin.

We need to repent.

The Problem with Repentance

There are many hindrances to real repentance. Ezekiel chapter 18 helps us to understand them. This chapter is sandwiched between two chapters of judgment and condemnation. The nation of Israel had left God and defied his commands. They had spurned his invitation to return to him. They had rejected his prophets and deserved whatever punishment was coming to them.

But in this chapter, God reaches out to an obstinate people, a people who thought they had no need for God and his grace. Much like our own culture, they looked for answers among man-made solutions rather than seeking the mercy and the wisdom of God. As it is today, Satan spreads ignorance and deceit among a people who need God’s grace but don’t know it.

The First Problem – Verses  1-2

            The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:

“ ‘The parents eat sour grapes,

and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

 

The proverb identifies the first problem with repentance: The idea that “I’m not guilty!” that God is somehow punishing the wrong people.

When we hear about the need for divine justice or entertain the desire for God to come and punish the evil, how often do we think that we’re the evil people? How often do we consider the idea that God should punish us?

Satan spends a lot of time trying to convince us that other people are worse than we are. Whenever he is successful, we start to believe that we don’t really need repentance. We believe that repentance is for the evil, and therefore, somehow, not for us.

The people of Israel were blaming their ancestors for their problems instead of examining themselves and repenting of their sin. Sometimes we’re so convinced that we’re not the problem, that other people are, that repentance doesn’t even gets started.

God’s Answer – Verses 3-4

                “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.

God’s answer to that particular deception is the Law. He has made the Law a bright, clear, highly unpleasant mirror that shows us exactly what we need to see about ourselves. Like looking at ourselves in the mirror on a rough morning, we see what we truly are. The Law shows us our sins, our rebellion and our self indulgence. We can see three things about ourselves in these two verses that will help us repent:

First, God is sovereign. His will overrides any plans or any schemes anyone may have against him. He declares that the proverb will no longer be quoted in Israel. The people of Israel have no say in it. What God decrees is what happens. The proverb will cease under one of two circumstances: either the people will recognize their sin and repent, or they will punished when the wrath of God is revealed.

We need to repent.

Second, we belong to God. We are not free agents who have a choice to belong to whomever we please. We are not free to decide for ourselves what is wrong and what is right. We belong to God. We are subject to his judgment and we will all stand before his judgment throne.

We need to repent.

Third, the one who sins will die. Judgment is as certain as death. Our sins are deadly to our earthly life and fatal to our eternal souls. The wages of sin are death. That stark immutable truth dominates our future and our eternity. Unless we can escape sin, we will not escape death.

We need to repent.

The Second Problem – verses 25-26

                25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? 26 If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die.

The words of the people identify the second problem: people believe that God is not fair. After setting themselves on God’s judgment throne, they begin to judge the Almighty God. Their knowledge is miniscule, their wisdom laughable in the presence of God’s eternal, omniscient wisdom, but they still do it. They judge God by their own standards using the extremely limited information available to them.

Did you ever hear people say that God is unjust to allow innocent people to suffer? Did you ever hear them ask that, if God is almighty, why doesn’t he step in to stop disasters and rescue every person who is in need?

The fascinating thing about that line of reasoning is that we tend to condemn God based on our own ignorance: since we can’t figure out why God does things beyond our understanding, since we don’t have the answers, God must be wrong? What kind of sense does that make? We’re the ones who don’t understand. We’re the ones who can’t see what tomorrow brings. We’re the ones who can’t see into people’s hearts and minds, yet we still have the temerity to think that we know more than God!

We need to repent.

God reminds us to look at our own culture to see the evil, the greed, and the injustice that is rife among us. All we have to do is look around us as the things we do understand and we will realize that it is not God who is unjust. We are.

We need to repent.

Even good people sin. Even the righteous turn from their righteousness and commit sin. We know that because we do that. We know that our good intentions are insufficient to keep us to the path of God’s will. We know it because we experience it. We wake up in the morning with every intention of dedicating ourselves to God, of finally conquering the sin that infests our life. And we fail. We failed yesterday and we failed again today.

We need to repent.

God’s Answer – Verses 27-28

                27 But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. 28 Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die.

God’s answer to our inability to lead a holy life is to repent.  To turn away from sin and death and turn to God’s perfect will and his word.

Repentance means to change. We change two things: our attitudes and our actions. We know, of course, that real, permanent change is beyond our abilities. If we could do it by our own strength and desire, we would have done it already.

Still, repentance is God’s answer.  So that apparent impossibility brings us back to the previous problem.

The Second Problem (again) – Verses 29-30

                29 Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?

30 “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.

Our sinful nature still protests that God cannot be fair in demanding from us what we cannot do! We think: If I cannot carry out God’s commands, if I am incapable of meeting his demands, then he must be unfair!

Here God reminds us that the problem is not with God’s justice, it is with our own sin. God’s judgment is just and fair: The one who sins is the one who will die. The problem is not that God might possibly be unjust, because he never is. The problem is that we definitely are unjust! If God were to judge us according to our own ways, according to our thoughts and attitudes, our sinful desires and actions, none of us would survive it. We would all be judged guilty and condemned to eternal death.

God’s Power in Repentance – Verses 31-32

31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

The problem with repentance lies in our own weakness. Our problem also lies in believing that our repentance depends on us, our own strength, conviction and attempts. But none of those are sufficient for the task. So how do we repent?

In these final verses, God points us to the power of the Gospel He begins with the Law: “Rid yourselves of all the offenses that you have committed.” But he doesn’t stop there. The Law is necessary to prepare us for the Gospel. Without the Law we would stumble over the deceptions of Satan which scream that God is unfair and that he’s punishing the wrong people. The Law is necessary to reveal our own hearts and the sin that infests them.

We need to repent. But we need to understand that true repentance requires an act of God! Look at the words “Get a new heart and a new spirit.” God tells us that we cannot simply remove the evil from our lives. We need to replace it with something else, something pure and good, something that will change us forever. We need to replace the evil in us with the righteousness of Christ. Not a righteousness that comes from trying harder, but a righteousness that is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

True repentance requires the Gospel! Without the Gospel, the evil that we purge just comes back again. By the Gospel, our sin is replace by Jesus’ righteousness. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are given a new heart and a new spirit – Not created by our own effort, but by an act of God.

We need to remember that true repentance is based on the sacrifice of our Savior on the cross at Golgotha. It is the will of God that saves us, not our own. It is the power of God that changes us, not our good intentions. It is God’s grace that brings us life, not our trying harder.

We need to repent, but not by ourselves. We repent in the power and the light of the good news of the Gospel. We turn to our Savior to be washed clean. We are filled with the Holy Spirit to stay that way, not by our works, but by  his forgiveness.

We need God’s help with repentance because only his power is sufficient to cleanse my heart and straighten out my life. We thank God that his forgiveness does not depend on our efforts, but on his completed work at the cross.

True repentance comes at the cross where Jesus takes our sins away and fills us with his righteousness. Thank you, God, for making me whole.

Amen.

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