A Radical Change

September 13, 1998 / No. 2906

Dear Radio friends,

In Psalm 51 David expresses a very beautiful prayer. We may versify his prayer this way: Gracious God, my heart renew; make my spirit right and true.

I would like to talk again about the biblical truth of repentance and what true repentance is. Last week, you will remember, we looked at the words of the prophet Joel in chapter 2:12, 13. Please read those verses once again.

Those verses give to us a rich teaching on the truth of repentance. It tells us what the nature of true repentance is: a radical change of the heart. It gives to us the incentives that God gives for true repentance to His children: the knowledge that He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness. I would like to continue our consideration of this verse of Scripture for a few moments in this broadcast.

The Lord God says there to us: “Turn ye even to me with all your heart.” Repentance, then, is a turning from one thing to another. It is a radical change in the direction or the outgoings of your heart. That cherished sin which you thought you could not live without, which you thought was so pleasurable, over which your flesh would weep that it would ever be put away from you-you turn your back to that sin as repulsive and you turn now to God from whom you had turned away. Formerly you had thought that God’s ways were too hard. Formerly you considered God as One against whom you harbored enmity. Your heart said, “Who is Jehovah that I should obey Him?” In repentance, now, your heart goes out to this same God as lovely. You hate what you once loved, namely, sin and your sinful nature. And you love what you once hated, namely, God and His truth.

It is a radical change. It is the most radical change that could ever be produced. No longer is your heart pointed spiritually towards darkness. Now it is pointed to the light of God. You see, this repentance is not something merely on the surface. But this repentance is something that involves the very deepest part of us – our hearts. It is when the direction of our hearts is pointed away from sin toward the living God. That is what Joel says. “Turn ye even to me with all your heart.”

This means that repentance is a work of God’s grace. To be turned unto the Lord your God means that Jehovah has graciously come to you, that Jehovah has come to you in such a way that He has changed the direction of the love of your heart from sin unto God. That means that all of our sins have to do with God. Sin is not simply a turning unto evil in itself. But it is always a turning away from God. It is not simply choosing an evil friend and being neutral to God. It is not just entertaining evil thoughts and saying nothing about God. But sin always involves a deliberate turning of our back to God. Isaiah says, “We all as sheep have gone astray. We have turned everyone to our own way.” We turn away from God to our own way. Now repentance is that daily grace of God to turn us away from the direction that we would choose; to give us to see what that direction really is as sinful and displeasing to God; to turn our hearts unto God; and to give us to see Him for who He is, who He truly is in all of His goodness and grace and mercy. Turn to Me is the call of God.

That means that repentance involves these elements. There is, first of all, a stop. When you call your little child who is walking down the sidewalk, running away from you, and you see on the sidewalk in front of the child that there is broken glass, you call to your child, “Turn to me!” The first thing you mean to say to that child is: “Stop! Don’t take any more steps that way! Cease! Going that way is the way of danger. Stop!” The next thing is “Turn.” The child must face the opposite direction, put his back to the way that he wanted to go, and turn to the direction he should go. Then, “Return to me,” that is, leave undone what you were going to do in sin. Leave it undone and now do what you should have been doing in Jesus Christ. Repentance is a spiritual reconstruction of our thinking. It is putting us in the right direction of heart, away from sin, and unto God. It gives to us correct thoughts about God.

We read in I Thessalonians 1:9 that this was the nature of the repentance that God had given unto the Thessalonians. There the apostle Paul says these words: “For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” They turned to God. They turned to serve the living and the true God. That involved turning away from their idols. But, principally, the work of God’s grace in them was to turn them to God as being the object of their heart and their desires. It is a radical change. Once we regarded God’s laws as cruel and evil. Once, perhaps, we gloried in the fact that we could treat His laws with indifference. We disregarded God’s throne rights. Now that law of God becomes our delight. We no longer pride ourselves in our indifference to God but we glory in love for God. The throne of God is the place before which we bow.

You see, true repentance makes a man theocentric in his thinking. That word means “God-centered.” That is the mark of true repentance. Think about it. The mark of true repentance is the love of God. That was in Joseph. You remember that Joseph as a young man was sold as a slave into Egypt. There he was tempted by Potiphar’s wife, who wanted to commit adultery with him. He ran away from her saying these words: “How can I do this evil and sin against God?” The nature of repentance is not only that we see sin, but now we see God as the great One whom we must love and obey.

But repentance is not only a change in thinking about God. It is also a change in thinking about sin. God’s grace operates in us so that we leave our sins as a foul thing. Sins which were as dear as our right hand and our right eye we now pluck out and cast away. We forsake that way. We view it as foul and loathsome. That lust, fornication, greed now becomes a loathsome thing to us. It is a change of masters. The apostle Paul says in Romans 6, Ye who were the servants of sin are now become the servants of righteousness.

Still more. Repentance is a change about ourselves. The seriousness of sin is that God is dethroned and man is enthroned upon our own hearts. Now man considers himself as God, and his lusts and desires as his god which he must serve. Ephesians 2:3 says, “Among whom we also had our conversation in times past in the lust of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the mind.” But when repentance comes into our lives by the grace of God, then we live no more unto ourselves (II Cor. 5:14), but we hear the call of discipleship: If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself, said Jesus, take up his cross, and follow Me.

Still more. Repentance is a change in thoughts about righteousness. Of ourselves, we are very self-righteous. We think that perhaps a few improvements would be nice and maybe even necessary. But at root we are OK and we are self-righteous. We read in Romans 10:3 that we would go about to establish our own righteousness before God. Every sinner is a Pharisee who has a very high opinion of himself. And every man, as a Pharisee, counts his works as being something with which he can barter with God at least for better treatment than someone else. But when repentance comes, then one begins to see those works upon which he trusted as being dung, as being nothing but sin. How can I be accepted of God? I cannot in myself form any righteousness. I cannot form any works which will be received of God to bring me into His presence. But the only righteousness that I could possibly have which could make me acceptable before God is the righteousness that God gives in Jesus Christ His Son. That is repentance. It is a change of heart and mind about God, about sin, about myself, and about righteousness.

That true repentance, that inward change of God, that drastic change is now. True repentance is an immediate response of obedience. Joel says, “Therefore also now, saith the LORD God, turn ye even to me with all your heart.” Now!

What does that word “now” mean? Obviously the prophet Joel had been speaking of the approaching judgments of God. He had taken the trumpet of God into his hand and declared the day of Jehovah, the coming of God’s judgments. Therefore now, yes, to delay would expose you to even more of the severe chastenings and judgments of God against impenitent sinners.

But there is another reason for now. Now, because you have no right to count on tomorrow. The sinner always says: Tomorrow. But you have no right to count on tomorrow. Now! Seek ye the Lord while He may be found; call ye upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts. And let him return unto the Lord, for He will have mercy upon him; and to our God for He will abundantly pardon (Is. 55). Now!

Still more, repentance is now because to delay in sin hardens you in sin. To delay in sin is a sinful thing. To go on in sin only makes that sin harder and deeper. It is like having your feet sunken into concrete and allowing it to solidify. What is around your ankles now in your sin will soon be up to your thighs and soon to your neck to choke you. Sin which is unrepented of becomes like concrete.

So the Word of God is the same word that was spoken to Samson: Up, arise, get thee out, Samson. The Philistines are upon you! Why tarriest thou? Will you sleep and have your hair cut off so that at last you will be impotent and unable to move? Now! Before the vines and roots of your sin take fast hold upon you. Young man, that lust that you think is a plaything is a strong demon to press you and to pin you to the ground and to ensnare your whole life. That lie, boy or girl, is like a vine which will soon cover the walls of your house. You will always be lying. Put it away. Young girl, that vanity, that lust for attention, that jealousy that you have against another girl will soon become like a dagger that you are going to take and thrust into the back of another girl who is prettier than you. Now. Now! Will a man sleep on the second story of his house when the first floor is ablaze in fire? Get out! Repent now.

But all true repentance is now. You do not plan repentance. You cannot rend your heart and turn to God and at the same moment you say, I’ll do it tomorrow. If you plan your repentance, it means that your sin enslaves you, and the spirit of repentance is not within you at that moment. To say, Well, on Wednesday, or Tuesday … first of all I want to enjoy it one more time. When I get married I’ll change. When I am thirty-five, then … then. Later I’ll change. That thinking cannot exist in a heart that is torn over sins. The heart which is torn over sins is standing before the terror of sin and loving God. Therefore all repentance is now. Turn now! The broken and the humbled turn now, not tomorrow. Not sermons which you hear which are like April showers soon gone, then back to life as it was. Is that the way you listen to sermons? Turn to me, saith the Lord your God, with all your heart. Rend your heart. Turn in weeping and mourning until sin appears sin and until God appears God in all of His loveliness and goodness. We never turn.

How much true repentance is there in our lives? When we stand in the light of this call of God, much of our repentance is such a shallow thing. How small is the beginning of the work of grace within us and how difficult and how rare is true repentance. This is the true Christian life. The true Christian life is not as though sin is no longer an issue. That is not an accurate display of the Christian life. Sin remains the struggle, the struggle of faith. And it is by grace alone that we repent. The work of grace is to turn me from the darling of my heart, my sin, to the one against whom, by nature, I would be filled with enmity. True repentance is found upon one’s knees before God daily: “Lord, be merciful to me the sinner.” “Turn me, O Lord, and I shall be turned.” Hear the Word of the Lord. Turn ye now unto me, saith the Lord God, with all your heart. Rend your heart and not your garments.

What is your greatest misery? What is your greatest good? It is God’s grace in Jesus Christ that changes how we would answer those two questions. God’s grace gives me to answer the first question, What is my greatest misery? My greatest misery is what I thought was so good, sin. Sin is my greatest misery. And my greatest good? It is the living God: Psalm 73, Having Thee on earth there is nought that I could yet desire. That is true repentance.

Turn ever more and more unto the Lord your God, for He is merciful and gracious. To God be the glory for the grace of true repentance.

Let us pray.

Father, we have heard Thy Word and we have come to see again that we are dependent upon Thy work in our hearts – a work which is always performed through Thy holy Word. Send forth Thy Word as an arrow into our heart to expose our sins. Send forth Thy Word as a balm and as an ointment of grace to bind up our broken hearts and to give us to know the forgiveness of sins, and to give to us a true repentance, acceptable in Thy sight. Amen.