How Repentance Helps to Keep the Church From Scandal

Ah repentance. We talk about it every Sunday when the pastor concludes his service with a plea for all the sinners out there to, “Repent and believe.” Though repentance remains forever linked with faith, salvation, and the singing of Just As I Am, the doctrine has implications far beyond the concerns of the individual pondering whether or not he has he ticket to heaven. It is that. But it is much more. The doctrine of turning from sin to follow Christ defines the Church and serves as an important paradigm through which Christians view themselves and the world. As John the Baptist noted in Matthew 3:1-2, it is the preaching of the repentance of sin that corrects the crookedness of the universe and ushers in the kingdom of God. Repentance guides men and women into the Church, preserves their membership in the kingdom of God, and protects the righteous witness of the God’s people. If the Church loses its grip upon the doctrine of repentance, its distinctive edges of truth will disintegrate into the mushiness of self-expression. The Church will become the world replete with all of the world’s scandals.

To keep the Church from dissolving into the world, the God’s people must follow John the Baptist and champion the doctrine of repentance, noting both its cost and scope.

1. The Danger of No Repentance

Matthew reports that John’s ministry consisted of the preaching of repentance and of the baptism of sinners. Though he wore very basic clothes, ate bugs, and set up shop in the middle of nowhere, people flocked to John. Matthew 3:5-6 says,

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Matthew 3:5-6

John found success through focusing upon the gospel. But is such success still possible?

As the world wrestles with social, economic, political, health, and racial concerns, many in the church feel a pull to abandon the preaching of the gospel for the purpose of dealing with the real problems of the age. They question the validity of calling sinners who lack food, the right to vote in fair elections, and meaningful healthcare to repentance. They believe society must change before people can change. Thus, they abandon the clear preaching of the gospel to organize protests, to form apologetic conferences, and to hand out food. As they dive into urban centers, the doctrines of repentance drift from view. Their new converts are baptized into the waters of popular opinion, confessing their politics.  Repentance becomes an afterthought that is never resurrected.  

Lacking repentance, these churches become the spiritual reflection of their community’s wishes. They replace the will of God with the will of the local majority, a majority that has never repented of sin. Being blinded by their hearts and Satan, the well-intended social majority never accurately diagnoses sins or puts forward remedies that change hearts. When the Church follows the world in an effort to reach the world by addressing its most pressing problems, the Church will fail to gain the world’s respect and to gift the world meaningful change. Christians that have never turned from evil will in turn find themselves unable to help society turn from evil.

 2. The Danger of Cheap Repentance

Often the secular world scoffs at the idea of repentance because spiritual heart change appears to produce no earthly benefits. It is simply a nod of the head, a mental confession, that can be made with the flip of the coin. After all, who doesn’t want to make grandma happy and secure a get-out-of-jail-free card?

This perception of repentance proves to be a caricature of John’s repentance. When John’s hearers emerged from the waters of baptism, they were changed people. Those who had accumulated great wealth were to clothe the poor and to feed the hungry (Lk 3:11). Government employees were called to stop exploiting the tax-code. Police officers and soldiers were told to stop extorting the weak and vulnerable, finding contentment in their wages. The repentance of sin brings about reform and justice in the individual heart. Then that heart brings the principles of the gospel to bear on his home, work, and political spheres. Whenever a true Christians sits down at his cubical, steps into his mechanics bay, or puts on his badge, the world should become a little more just, loving, and good.

Sadly, the repentance found in many churches today does not lead to such change. Instead of calling their listeners to demonstratively turn from their sins, more than one undiscerning pastor has called his congregation to bow its heads and close its eyes. He then asks those who would like to repent to raise their hand. After that, the pastor leads those secret followers in a formulaic repeat-after-me prayer. When the prayer is over, the pastor praises the soul for having embraced Jesus. The eyes are then opened, and the final song is sung.  

Nothing else is asked of the soul. The church community knows nothing of the profession and no expectation of righteous living is placed upon the person who just prayed the prayer. Aside from the silent assent to the sinner’s prayer and feeling a little pressure towards the waters of baptism, the soul leaves as he came, unchanged. The pastor made no mention of how the newly converted sinner needs to go home and love his wife. The fruit of repentance has been bushed aside in an effort to win converts.

Unfortunately, mental repentance divorced from works proves to be no repentance. As James 2:18-19 makes clear, “But someone will say,

You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

James 2: 18-19

The practice of cheap repentance will ruin the local congregation. Instead of thinking it odd that Sally steals from her boss or that Jerry is having an affair while attending church, the church simply looks the other way. Everyone struggles. No one has ever been disciplined or put out of the Church. Why start now? Who are we to say that their mental affirmation of Jesus was not real? Consequently, the pastor keeps asking people to close their eyes and sin thrives. Only when the perversions of the church attract the attention of the media or law enforcement does she stop and call for some form of limited repentance in an effort to save face.

To avoid scandal and to hold leaders accountable, the Church must call all of its members and guest to repentance.

3. The Danger of Limited Repentance

John the Baptist respected no man or woman’s social status. He called both the poor and the wealthy, the weak and the powerful, the pagans and the religious to repentance. He called out the arrogant pastors and theologians of his day, labeling them a “brood of vipers.” Stepping into politics, he reproved Herod for all the evil things he had done (Lk 3:18). John feared God and preached.

Sadly, many in the Church will not call all their listeners to repentance. They are happy to call the poor lady strung out on drugs, the youth passed out from his latest drinking binge, and the tattooed guy making ends meet at the corner gas station to faith. If they reject the church’s message, the pastor and his congregation lose neither social capital nor income. But when the woman who owns the biggest factory in town regularly insults and belittles the members of her Sunday School class, the pastor will not speak up and risk losing her ‘generous’ tithe. When the well-liked contractor dumps his wife for the secretary, the elders will not call him to holiness, fearing his parents and others would get mad and leave the church. And when the popular pastor gets caught in bed with a member of the youth group, everyone looks the other way, fearing a public scandal will drive away members and send the budget crashing. Instead of calling the Pharisees and the Herods of today to repent, the church invites them to dinner for the purpose of ‘expanding the kingdom.’

But in the process of expanding the kingdom, the local church loses the gospel of repentance. Once it is lost, the leaders of the church will resemble the leaders of the world, replete with their sexual and financial scandals. The congregation soon follows its leaders. The members will downplay the sin in their lives while fixating upon the sins of others. The sanctifying power of the gospel will be replaced with earthly benchmarks that measure personal wealth and prestige. When the local church limits repentance to the ‘untouchables of society,’ it ultimately loses its gospel distinctiveness and becomes a moralist country club with religious decoration. The fear of man restrains the faithful preaching of the gospel and destroys the church.

Conclusion

John came preaching the repentance of sin. Men and women found salvation. The Church sprang forth through Jesus thrived. That salvation can still transform lives and sustain souls today.

Will we preach it?

The Faith That Moves Mountains: Do You Have It?

faith-mountainsDo you have faith? Do you have life changing, mountain moving faith?

When Jan Crouch was twelve years old, her pet chicken was run over by a car. She and her friend prayed for the little bird in Jesus name, and the bird was resurrected. The famous teacher and healer, Benny Hinn, told people on October 19, 1999 that he would raise their loved ones from the dead if they would roll their loved ones’ caskets infront to a T.V.

The saga continues. Everywhere we go, we hear that our problems can be solved by having more faith. If we have the faith to move mountains, then we can be certain will we get our dream home, our spouse will return, and we will overcome our cancer. We can do all this and more if we have the mountain moving faith that Jesus talks about in Mark 11:20-25. Jesus told us in Mark 11:23 “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.” This is an incredible faith. This is a faith we should all long to have. But if we do not have this great faith, this faith that can bring chickens back to life, we must ask, “how do we get it?

But before we answer that question, we must answer another more pressing question. What is our faith in? What are we to believe in? The text tells us in back in verse 22: “Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God.” The object of our faith and the power behind this mountain moving faith is God. It is not us, but God.

Often we misunderstand this fundamental nature of faith. Instead of placing our faith in God and his work on the cross, we place our faith in ourselves. We trust in our ability to manipulate God. We think that great faith equals some sort of mental disposition often expressed through prayer that will force God to work. We trust in our ability to persuade God to give us a new home, an awesome spouse, or a miraculous healing. We view this great faith like the hit-bell game found at state fairs. We grab the black harmer of faith and slam it down on the metal platform sending the little ball flying upwards to the bell. If we do not hit the bell, we swing again and again. We may take a brief break to go to one of the religious conferences held in the main pavilion on positive thinking or prayer in an effort to exercise our faith muscles. Then we come back and start swinging until that metal balls finally zips upward with enough speed to ring the bell for the world to hear. We ultimately believe that if we have enough faith in ourselves to force God to work, he will work.

To put it another way, we keep putting quarter after quarter into the vending machine believing that our efforts will eventually cause the machine to give us an ice, cold Coke. In both instances, the object of our faith is not God. The object of our faith is our ability and our works.

But Christ is not talking about such man centered faith.  He is not talking about raising chickens or about showing revivals in mortuaries. The faith to move mountains is not based upon us and our works but upon Christ.

What does the faith to move mountains truly look like? What does trusting in Christ look like? Those who have the faith to move mountains believe God’s words are true and regularly forgive others.

The whole conversation about faith is set against the back drop of Jesus’ words coming true. Jesus curses a fig tree in Mark 11:14 and Peter remarks that the fig tree is dead in verse 21. The remark about Jesus’ word coming true causes Jesus to launch into a discourse on faith. Jesus is placing mountain moving faith within the context of his word coming true. Jesus is not promising us that we will get everything we selfishly desire (new car, dream home, great health, kind spouse, beautiful kids) if we have enough faith. This is not his point at all. He is saying that if we trust in him, his word will come true.

Given a predisposition to charismatic thought, we tend to think that claiming God’s Word can be still be a name-it and claim-it endeavor. We can claim our mountains and have faith in God that he will throw them into the Sea.

Again this is not what Jesus is telling his disciples. He is speaking hyperbolically. Though there is some debate about which mountain Jesus is referring, the text seems to indicate that he is speaking about the temple mount. He was walking into Jerusalem by way of the Mount of Olives. The temple mount would have clearly been in view. He is saying that the temple could be tossed into the sea if we have faith. Jesus is not speaking literally. Jesus could have tossed the temple mountain into the Sea. He created the world and sustains the world. All of nature obeys him (Col 1:16-18). Every bird, mountain, and star awaits his command. But Jesus never tossed any mountain into any sea or ocean during his lifetime. Jesus is not telling us to command literal mountains, illness, or people by faith.

Jesus is commanding us to trust his Word. He is saying that believing in his Word trumps the sacrificial system. The temple is no longer needed and can be cast into the sea because God reigns and lives. God’s Word comes true.

True faith consist in believing the words of God up to the point where we know they will come true. True faith is the porn addict trusting God for purity and receiving it. True faith is the worry wart trusting God for all her needs and receiving confidence in the character of God. True faith is the liar trusting Christ for the power to speak truth and becoming truthful. Truth faith that moves mountains results in men and women becoming more like Christ.

We can recover from cancer without Christ working miraculously. We can manipulate our spouse into coming home without Christ doing a work in our heart. And, we can get the promotion at work without faith in God’s sovereignty.

But we cannot grow in our faith without Christ. We cannot grow in our love without Christ. We cannot get victory over our pride without Christ. We cannot become new creatures without the help of Christ. True faith is a faith that trust Christ to makes us into his image. True faith is a faith based upon the work of God that is defined by a confidence that God’s Word will come true.

And true faith lacks doubt. The word to doubt in verse 23 meanings to weigh or measure. To doubt means we are still analyzing God’s Word comparing it to Dr. Phil, Buddha, humanism, and the spiritual advice of our coworker who is really into yoga these days. Doubting means we give God a chance, but we are not sure if his word will come true. We are not sure if God really can help us overcome our drug addiction and our poor money management skills. We doubt that God’s Word will come true. We doubt that the power to change, the power to move the mountains in our life rest in Christ. We doubt, we second guess, and we are quick to mix in all kinds of worldly ideas into our quest because we do not trust God.

We are not supposed to doubt. We are supposed to believe. And we believe on the finished work of Christ. The fig tree is dead. Christ died for our sins and is alive. His word has come true. We should believe it without doubting. And when we do, we have all that we ask. “It will be done for him.” Christ will accomplish his word. He will change us. “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours”(vs. 24).

He may not remove our cancer, but he will give us the patience to walk through the trial well. God make not change our spouse, but he will grow our love. Christ may not give us more money, but he will grow our contentment in him. He will do the impossible. He will makes us more into his image.

To have the faith that moves mountains is to have the faith that believes God’s Word will comes to pass.

But our faith will not have just a vertical dimension. True faith has a horizontal element; it effects how we interact with our friends and neighbors. Those who have the faith to move mountains are quick to forgive. Jesus says, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (vs.25). The presence of the faith that moves mountains is not found in how many Chickens you bring back to life. The faith is evidence by Christ radically changing your life and in your radically choosing to forgive those who sin against you.

If you have the faith to move mountains, you will be quick to forgive others. When we forgive others, we are not saying we have not been hurt. We are not saying that harsh words, that infidelity, that betrayed trust, that stolen money, and dashed hopes do not hurt. We legitimately have been hurt. We have something against the one who has offended us.

Rather, we forgive in spite of the hurt because we desire to be right with God. We forgive because we have been forgiven much and because we desperately want God to continue to forgive us. We forgive because we realize that we (like the people who have sinned against us) our sinners. We realize that we are not morally superior than those who have hurt us. Like our enemies, we daily sin. We daily offend God and others. We daily need forgiveness. Those who have been redeemed understand this reality. They understand that their best thoughts and works apart from Christ are filthily rags. They understand that they are sinners who daily need and experience grace. And because God has forgiven them, they forgive others. They have seen God forgive them and radically change their lives. They know that God must continue to work in their hearts for them to have growth.

Thus, they forgive others because they daily need the grace of God.

Truth faith is not measured by the number of cancer patients we cure. The faith that moves mountains is not measured by our ability to attain money, health, or success. The faith that moves mountains is based upon Christ. This faith is a faith that believes that God’s Word will come true in our life. It is marked by spiritual mountains being moved and by us having forgiveness. This is the faith to move mountains.

Do you have it? Is God’s Word at work in your life and are you forgiving others?

New Year’s Resolutions: From Failure To Compassion

failureI do not want to get all of you new dieters, runners, and organizers depressed. But the odds of your New Year’s Resolution coming true are not in your favor. (Sorry Hunger Game Fans.) Eight percent. That’s right. According to Statistic Brain only 8% of those self-starters will accomplish their 2017 mid-night goals by 2018. In other words if you and nine of your best friends all made resolutions, there is a chance that all ten of you will fail. How’s that for 2017?  Yikes!

Change is hard. And substantial, demonstrative character change is all but impossible when left up to you and me. Sure we might be able to put aside soda for 365 days, but we cannot be nicer, kinder, or wiser on our own. Such goals always end in disappointment. Perhaps this is why 51% of us completely forgo all pretense at change and didn’t even bother to make a New Year’s resolution.

So what do all these dour New Year’s Eve stats have to do with parenting? Everything.

We tend to get angry, disappointed, and loud with our children because they fail to change. Our kids fail to understand that biting the furniture is bad idea; they fail to see that skipping their homework is foolish; and, they fail to grasp arguing over their choirs is pointless. In short, our kids refuse to change. We tell them again and again to do better, to trust more, or to listen close. And yet, they still refuse to comply to our standards, to our hopes, and to our goals. And when we have had enough, we lose it. We shout, pound our fist, and begin the lecture series anew, wondering, “Why won’t those losers change?”

Sadly, we don’t have to look far for the reason. We just have to peer inside our own hearts.

The reason our kids do not change is the same reason we cannot achieve our New Year’s Resolutions. We are all sinners in need of God’s grace. We cannot change ourselves. We cannot make ourselves better people on our own. Likewise, our kids are powerless to change themselves. They are powerless to change their hearts.

When our kids mess up for the umpteenth time, we should not get mad. We should not blow up. Rather, we should extend mercy and grace as we correct them. We need to approach our children with humble hearts that our ready to forgive. As the Scripture says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Eph. 4:32. Nothing your children have done or will do, we compare to what God has done for us.

parentingGod has forgiven us. And now, we can forgive our kids over and over again. We can patiently contend with them, seeking to lead them to Christ. And though the days can appear dark (horrible dark at times) we know that we can survive, because parenting is not up to us. God is working through us. He gives us to the power to hold our tongue, to ask our children’s forgiveness for our sin, and to patiently endure our kids’ new haircut.As Pastor and author Paul David Tripp said,

If your eyes ever see and your ears ever hear the sin, weakness, and failure of your children, it is never a hassle, never an interruption, never an accident; it is always grace. God loves your children and has put them in a family of faith, and he will reveal the need of their hearts to you so that you can be his tool of rescue and transformation. 

If we try to parent in our own strength, our parent success rate will probably resemble that our New Year’s resolutions. But if we rely upon our heavenly Father recognizing that we are sinners in need of mercy parenting smaller sinners in need of mercy, we will succeed. We will succeed in becoming more patient, kind, and wise. The more we look to Christ and meditate and him and his work, the more we will become like Christ! Are you ready to shift your focus from you and your kids to the God of the universe?