Rend Your Heart, Not Your Garments

September 6, 1998 / No. 2905

The Reformed Witness Hour is a program which, by the grace of God, unashamedly brings to you God’s Word.

The call of God’s Word today is the call to you for true repentance. Really, that is always the calling of God’s Word so long as the Lord tarries in His coming. Before the Lord Jesus Christ comes at the end of the world to take the world in judgment, the call of the gospel and God’s Word is: Repent and believe. A call to sincere, real, and daily repentance.

God’s Word, the Bible, makes plain that without repentance you shall not see God. You shall not see God in His favor or light. There shall be no heaven, but only a fearful looking for the judgment. Without this repentance as a daily experience, no one can have the assurance of God’s presence now in this life. No matter how successful, no matter how happy, no matter how it may appear outwardly in your life that you have it all together, you cannot have God’s blessing or presence without heartfelt repentance. God’s presence and blessing is conveyed to you and to me only in the way of the grace of God which produces a heart of repentance. The Bible says, A broken heart and a contrite spirit Thou, O God, wilt not despise.

So today we bring again the Word of God, praying that His Word will work in you and in us both to will and to do according to God’s good pleasure. That word is found in Joel 2:12, 13. “Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.”

With the word “therefore” the prophet Joel indicates that this is what he had in view in all that he had spoken thus far in his prophecy. In chapter 1 of the book of Joel (you may read it for yourself at your leisure), the prophet sought to jar a spiritually indifferent people who had received the most severe chastenings of God. A devastating plague, drought, and famine had descended upon them, and Joel called them to consider God and their ways before Him. It was a people in Joel’s day who were miserable in their life. They felt their misery in their throat which was parched, and their stomach which was empty. But they did not find their misery in their hearts over their sins.

So Joel continued to call them to congregational repentance. He called upon the priests, the spiritual leaders, to lead the people of God in repentance. And he counseled the people of God to cry unto God out of a heart which was stricken over sin. And he chided those people in the last part of chapter 1 because, he says, they were in reality dumber than an ox and cattle, for God says He could hear the cries of the cattle and of the oxen, for the drought had caused them to bellow to the heavens for water. But God did not hear the cries of His people stricken in sorrow.

Then in chapter 2 of the prophecy, the verses 1-11, Joel took the trumpet in his hand and he blew an alarm in Zion, an alarm of the coming day of Jehovah, a day of judgment and of darkness upon unrepentant sinners. He said it would be figured in a swarm of locusts. He said it is like the Lord’s army of locusts invading a land, irresistible, leaving destruction. A plague of grasshoppers, climbing up over walls and through windows, would teach the people that God’s judgments against sin can never be shut out, they can never be escaped. They will catch up to you in mercy. Turn from your sins or justice shall catch you. Therefore, the call of Jehovah to His people now is this: “Turn unto Me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping. Rend your hearts, not your garments.”

Do you hear the call of the gospel of Jesus Christ right now? God’s grace calls you to one kind of life: daily, true, complete repentance. There is no other Christian life. Do not say this call is not intended for you. If you say, “Well, that’s good for others, but I’m not all that bad,” then you are deceived. If you say, “Well, that’s good for others but I’m a Christian and beyond all that stuff now,” then you have never heard the gospel in your heart. And you have never been given to know yourself and the fact that your sin must be for you a daily struggle. This call is addressed to the people of God: Turn unto the Lord your God! Those who have been brought into His kingdom of light and glory are called to rend their hearts and to turn in daily repentance to God.

True repentance is a rending of the heart, not merely of the garments. The prophet is telling us that the grace of repentance is something that God works within the heart. God tears the heart in grief and sorrow over sin found within it. He exposes that sin to our eyes so that our heart is broken up in sorrow.

Repentance is not, first of all, or merely, an outward change or improvement of one’s actions, words, and attitudes, but it is primarily an inward change of one’s heart toward sin. Repentance is a grace of God. That is, it proceeds from the power of God who comes to touch the heart and to humble the heart before Him. Repentance is not only an outward change of your behavior. It is that, but it is not only that. It is not first of all that. It is not merely that you quit doing this or that because others know and it has brought you lots of misery. You clean up your act while your heart remains the same. But it is inward, a heart-work, so that the direction and the impulse of your heart is changed toward sin (sin which you really cherished) and God (whom you really resented and hated). Now sin brings shame, a burden, and grief. And you would now serve and obey and love God. Unless it is of the heart, it is not the grace of repentance. It is behavior modification. It is merely putting a bandaid over your belly to heal a bleeding ulcer.

Joel warns against a repentance which is merely outward. He says, Rend your heart, not your garments. In the Old Testament, if we are going to understand this properly, the outward signs of a heavy heart were very prominent. The people of Israel (the Jews of the Old Testament) showed their grief in very visible ways. They were not stuffy. They were not reserved. They were not a stiff-upper-lipped people. They would rend their garments, they would tear their clothes. They would put on sackcloth (a sticky cloth), they would cover their head with ashes, they would pull out their hair, they would smite their thigh, they would beat their chest.

Now Joel does not mean to forbid the outward expressions of true repentance. When he says, Rend your hearts, not your garments, he does not outlaw outward expressions of the grief of heart. In fact, he says in the verse, Turn with fasting and weeping and mourning. God has made a very close relationship of your soul and heart and body. Very often we wear our heart in our very outward, physical demeanor. Often our heart can be seen in our eyes and in our face. The eye is created to weep. The face and cheek muscles are created to reveal a downcast or happy heart. Shoulders can stoop or stand erect. When your heart is broken in sorrow over sin, then, also in your outward bearing, you will be stripped of pride. The most important thing for you as you come to church or come to the Word of God is not that there is no wrinkle in your dress and no hair out of place. God did not make us stones or blocks of wood. That means that a broken heart will be revealed in our posture and in our conduct. And it also means that our heart can be reflected in our very face and eyes.

But Joel means this: Do not let your repentance consist merely in the exterior. Do not believe that God is fooled by drama, by playacting. It must not be hypocritical, it must not be staged. But your repentance must be that of the heart. Rend your heart, not your garments. Do not fool yourself into thinking that repentance is simply that you feel bad and can weep floods of tears over what has happened to you and over what you have done. Remember that Esau wept too when he was cheated by Jacob out of his inheritance. Hebrews 12 tells us that he sought the earthly blessing, the earthly inheritance, with tears. He felt horrible. But he found no repentance. Judas Iscariot, of him we read that he repented himself. He had a change of mind. He thought differently over what he did. He cast down the money before the priests and he went and hanged himself for betraying the Son of God. He could not live with what he had done. Yet, for all of that, Jesus says in John 17 that he was a son of perdition, of destruction. He did not rend his heart before God. The sorrow which worketh repentance, an abiding repentance, is not staged tears. It is not even feeling very bad and miserable. But it is a rending of the heart before God.

Be warned. Be warned by the Word of God today. There are counterfeit repentances. There is the devil’s delusion. When someone says, “Oh, it will be different now. I’ve learned, never again!” Beware.

Augustine, one of the great leaders of the early church, wrote these words: “Repentance damns many.”

Repentance is not simply learning that sin is very painful and enslaving. It is that, yes. And true repentance includes that, yes. But it is something more. It is the rending of heart before God. If the knowledge that sin is painful and brings ruin constituted repentance, then hell would be filled with repentant sinners, for there the rages of sin and the rewards of a life lived for self are shown in the flames which cannot be quenched. It must be that sin is not only painful but sin is also sinful to you.

Repentance is, further, not simply the leaving of many sinful ways. It is the leaving of sinful ways, make no mistake about that. But it is something more than that. Repentance is not simply that we say, “Well, I am willing to part with some sins, especially the ones that are proving very dangerous to me, or the ones that I can no longer enjoy, but let me cleave to pet sins, sins that are more dear to me than a child.” The prophet Joel says to us, “Turn with all your heart.” Either sin is now viewed as your enemy, or your heart tolerates it. Do not be as Lot, who said to one of the angels as he was called to flee the cities of the plain, “But could not I turn aside to that city? It is a little one.”

Repentance is not simply seeing the errors of your big sins and holding on to what you consider your little ones. It is not simply, “Well, I’ll give in on my curfew with my parents. I’ll be home on time. But I’m going to hold on to my lying to them where I have been.” It is not simply “Well, I’ll turn the TV off when it shows filth, but I will keep the lewd magazines under my bed.” It’s not just “Well, I’ll wear a nice smile before their face, but I still don’t like them and I’ll think about them what I want.” That is bartering with God. That is coming to God with one hand washed and the other hand clutching a clinched fist of evil behind your back. Repentance is not this.

Nor is repentance the same as a resolution built upon the strength of your own will. Repentance is much more than simply saying that you are resolved to put this out of your life because you see what it is doing to you. “I am resolved to quit drinking, it is out of hand.” “I am resolved to quit running with a bad crowd.” “I’m resolved to quit beating my wife.” “I’m resolved to break with my bad habits.” Even if these resolutions stick (and seldom do they when they are built on our own strength), but even when by force of will and character a man changes, that is not necessarily repentance towards God. Once again, if it is centered in yourself, in self-love and in self-preservation and in your pride, then all it is is a channeling of sin into areas which are more acceptable to society, less dishonoring to yourself and your public appearance.

And this the devil enjoys because he knows that our worst sin is always pride. He enjoys it when a man says, “I am going to turn from this outwardly evil and wicked way. I am resolved to turn.” The devil enjoys it when one’s pride is wounded when others look down upon him, and he changes in order to save his own face before men. Oh the devil enjoys that! The devil considers it the crowning achievement of his work when he has Pharisees who come to the temple and pray, “God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are.”

Repentance is the rending of the heart. It is God tearing your heart open. It is to be given a sight of your sin, not sin as it is far off in the world, not sin simply accepted in society today. Yes, that is shameful and God will judge that. Not simply to spy out the faults that you see in others, but it is God opening your eyes to see the sin within you and to know the plague of your own heart and to say with David, “I am evil, born in sin. Thou desirest truth within.”

That sin is first of all the matter of what I am. It is first of all a matter that concerns God. To rend your heart is to be filled with grief over sin as it is an offense to God. “Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned.” “God be merciful to me, the sinner.” There was a torn heart in the publican who came to the temple. “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” He saw God, who God was. And he saw himself as the sinner. That is where true repentance begins.

It is not simply the admission, “I have sinned.” Pharaoh used those words to Moses. Nebuchadnezzar used those words to Daniel. Judas Iscariot used those words. With a little honesty all must admit that they have sinned. “Yes, I’ve messed up – not always done things correctly.” No, that is not true repentance.

Repentance is to admit that I am by nature, of myself, a sinful person. When God rends the heart, He does two things. He gives you to see your sin as against God. Secondly, He gives you to see that your sin is not only in what you have done but in what you are of yourself.

He rends the heart to expose the evil, in order that the precious balm of Gilead, the blood of Jesus Christ, might cleanse us of all our sins, renew us in the assurance of forgiveness, and give us to serve our God.

Rend your heart, not your garments.

God bless His Word to us.

Let us pray.

Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. And we pray that it might now enter into our hearts with power and conviction. Wilt Thou bring forth that true, sincere, and daily repentance before God. Amen.