Are you forgiven? I’m not implying, of course, that you’ve committed terrible sins–nor am I suggesting that forgiveness is not available to you if you have. What I am asking, rather, is–when you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and in your heart of hearts, are you right with God? And if you’re not, what does it take to get right with Him? More to the point, how badly do you want His forgiveness and righteousness?
“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1)
Those of us who are familiar with today’s verse cannot help but love it. It is one of the most beautiful declarations of forgiveness in the entirety of God’s Word, yet it is not the “get-out-of-jail-for-free” card some would have it be. While the first part of the verse offers complete forgiveness, it is not unconditional because the second half qualifies it. It clarifies who is “in Christ Jesus” on whom there is no condemnation–those “who do not walk according to the [sinful desires of the] flesh but according to the Spirit [of God].”
One of the many reasons I believe in the message of the Bible is because the more you get to know it, the more you see that everything forms a cohesive message. Verse supports verse and idea builds upon idea. Rather than being a random collection of ancient thoughts and writings, it is God’s comprehensive message to us–regardless of what point in our worlds’s history we currently occupy. And one of its most dominant themes is repentance as a requirement for forgiveness.
Compounding the difficulty of understanding this word is the fact that outside of the Bible or the church, it is no longer in common usage. We just don’t typically say the word “repent” anymore. And because one of the most widely accepted translations into the English language (still frequently used) was the King James Version completed in the year 1611, the words and phrases conveying the concepts God wants us to understand have frequently remained in Shakespearean-era language–and few these days would tackle one of his works without an excellent supplement! Yet even though it is no longer in common usage, we need to understand this word because it is central to forgiveness, and by extension, salvation itself!
Some, of course, might be tempted to interpret repentance as having to clean yourself up before God will accept you–but that isn’t quite right. What after all, can I, a frail human being–who, regardless of the kind of wrong I’ve done or good I’ve failed to accomplish–do to make myself right before a holy God? NOTHING. Absolutely nothing! “Christ in me [the miracle of His Spirit indwelling me, His follower] the hope of glory,” is the only claim of true righteousness I can ever hope for. So, what does repentance actually involve?
If you look the verb “to repent” in The Complete Word Study New Testament (Zodhiates) you see that it comes from the Greek “metanoeo” which is defined as “to repent with regret accompanied by a true change of heart toward God…It signifies a change of mind consequent to retrospection, indicating regret for the course pursued and resulting in a wiser view of the past and future.” The noun “repentance” comes from the word “metanoia” which is defined as “change of mind from evil to good or from worse to better.” So what does it mean to have repentance, or to repent? Rather than meaning I have to DO certain things to be forgiven, repentance means I have to ACKNOWLEDGE certain truths–I have to agree with God’s assessment of the situation and come to an internal change of heart–before I can be forgiven.
Forgiveness is free, but it is not given to those who refuse to repent–who either say they have not sinned, or who will not agree with God that their sin is a transgression, an affront, against His perfect standard of holiness. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” (I John 1:8-10)
Repentance is and always has been a prerequisite to receiving forgiveness from God. “Regret for the course pursued” and “a wiser view of the past and future ” means if I had a chance to do it over again, I’d do it differently. Being forgiven is being made right with God, but how can you be right with God if you are still at odds with Him and resisting Him? You can’t. This one reason why many, I believe, who have been to church and have “had their sins pronounced forgiven” still don’t feel the peace of genuine forgiveness, of truly being right with God. Another reason is that they haven’t fully followed through with restitution.
Restitution is making right a wrong I’ve committed. There are many times when restitution will not be possible, but genuine repentance requires I make things that I can right. Remember the Biblical example of Zacchaeus? “But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house…'” (Luke 19:8-9) Zacchaeus was in a financially successful position because of extortion and inequitable tax collection practices. When he genuinely repented, he acted to correct it, and Jesus’ pronunciation “today salvation has come to this house ” is an acknowledgement of his genuine repentance.
We have cheapened forgiveness by minimizing both the process and the result of repentance God requires in order to forgive us. Remember Jesus and the rich young ruler–could he not just have “accepted Christ in his heart” (as we say these days ) and be saved, rather than walking away “very sorrowful ?” No, he couldn’t, because HE understood “repentance unto salvation”–real repentance that results in forgiveness and thus salvation–produces action. Even though in his heart he wanted righteousness, he did not want it enough to change his life.
So, are you forgiven ? Do you want to be–and do you want it badly enough to act on it? If so, show the evidence of genuine repentance and take comfort in Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)
Help me hunger and thirst for Your righteousness that I may be filled with it! Amen.