Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Repent! ... and live!!"

Day #181:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - June 27th

Scripture Reading:  Ezekiel 13 - 18 …

"Repent" seems to be a lost word in most circles today, even in the church, where the call to repentance should be part of the Gospel.  John the Baptist called people to repent, to turn from their sin, and Jesus preached, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Luke 4:17).  Jesus told some who thought that God had punished others by causing them to be killed by Pilate or by some other tragedy, "Unless YOU repent, you, too will all perish" (Luke 13:1-5).  And after His death and resurrection Jesus opened the minds of His disciples to understand the Scriptures and explained how the Scriptures predicted that "repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in HIS name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47).

To "repent" means to "turn around; to change your mind," which in turn leads to a change in attitude, in behavior, in the focus of your life, in your identity, in your reason for being here - your mission.  Looking at mankind objectively it is easy to see that mankind is bent on self-exaltation and self-worship that is leading to self-destruction.  But it is not only the natural consequences of our sin that we need to understand, but also the just judgment of God against our sin that we need to acknowledge as inevitable.  As God pronounced His judgment on Judah, as He had on Israel before them, humanity today is not safe from God's wrath and coming judgment.

The words of Ezekiel 13 and 14 send chills down my spine!  God condemns the false prophets for declaring "'Peace,' when there is no peace" (13:10).  Their visions and words were not from God.  "By lying to my people, who listen to lies, you have killed those who should not have died and have spared those who should not live" (13:19).  So countless preachers today offer God's peace and forgiveness to those who have not repented from their sin, who have no desire to turn from their sin and who make a mockery of the cross of Christ by flaunting their sin before the world.  Where is the cry for repentance?!!

"This is what the Sovereign LORD says:  "Repent!  Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!" (14:6).  Oh wait, this is the Old Testament … surely, we are under GRACE today.  Listen to Jude as he writes to the early believers to contend earnestly for the faith that has been entrusted to them.  He warns against false teachers and says, "they are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord" (Jude 4).  God says, "If a country sins against me by being unfaithful …" (14:12).  I think of our own country and grieve over the unfaithfulness of so many who are leaders and even those within the Christian community.  God says, "Even if these three men - Noah, Daniel and Job - were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness" (14:14).

God uses the allegory (a word picture) to describe the unfaithfulness of His people to Him, their "husband."   "I will bring upon you the blood of vengeance of my wrath and jealous anger" (16:38).  Yes, God is a God of vengeance.  He is holding back His full wrath during this "day of salvation" in which we still live, but it will be poured out in full measure upon all who do not repent and believe in Jesus Christ.  On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 the people who were listening to Peter's first sermon were convicted of their sin and asked Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"  Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).

The "gift of the Holy Spirit" is not the Spirit Himself, but what the Spirit DOES within those whom God has chosen to be His people.  Jesus teaches in John 3:3-5 that we are born again by the Spirit of God and given a new mind and a new heart.  We are "regenerated," made new in Christ Jesus, and the evidence of that new life is repentance and faith.  When the Bible says that we are saved "by grace through faith," apart from works, God means that the Holy Spirit transforms the believer from the inside out and the very first sign of that new birth is a change of mind regarding sin and a trusting in Jesus Christ for forgiveness.  The Bible knows nothing of a true faith without true repentance.  Both are the product of the Holy Spirit.

Too many people today are like the prophets of the days of Ezekiel who offered "peace" with God apart from repentance.  You cannot have true faith in Jesus without the desire to turn from your sin to follow the path of righteousness.  God says, "I will establish my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the LORD.  Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation" (16:62-63).  Believers are humble before God because we are always aware of our sin and so always thankful for forgiveness.  We press on, we seek God, we feed on His Word, we rest in His love and grace, for we know ourselves and we know our God.  Repentance is part of our life as followers of Jesus Christ who still live in this world.  We desire to be like Him and know we need Him every moment of every day.

The people left in Jerusalem thought they were being punished for the sins of their fathers, but God makes it clear in Chapter 18 that each will be judged for their own sins and God will save those who repent, who turn from their evil ways and live.  "'Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?' declares the Sovereign LORD.  'Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?'! (18:23).  But how will anyone turn from their sin and be saved?  The answer is:  They won't!  Unless they somehow "get a new heart and a new spirit" (18:31).  And that happens through the work of God's Spirit!

God must do the work that you and I cannot do.  "For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD.  Repent and live!" (18:32).  Praise God that He sends His Spirit to change our hearts, for we could never change them ourselves!  In Acts 11, Peter explained why he had spent time with Gentiles, even eating with them:  "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as He had come on us at the beginning.  Then I remembered what the Lord had said:  'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' So if God gave them the same gift as He gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" ... "When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, 'So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life" (Acts 11:15-18).

Repentance and faith are the gift of God, the work of the Holy Spirit.  It was true in Ezekiel's day and it is true today.  If you desire to turn from sin and follow the path of righteousness, it is because "God is working in you to will and to do His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).  You owe your life and salvation to God.  Live to give Him praise and thanks.  If you claim to know Jesus and to have peace with God, but have no desire to turn from your sin, I pray that God will convict you of your need for repentance and that He will change your heart and mind even now to confess your sin and to seek His forgiveness through the blood of Christ.  God will not turn you away for it is He Himself who has moved you to draw near.

And when you do, when you draw near to the Father through faith in Jesus Christ, you can know ... you can KNOW, that you have peace, for Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up the last day" (John 6:44).  What God has said HE will do ... He WILL do!  And there IS peace ... TRUE peace, for those who repent and believe!!

"O Lord, my God, I acknowledge that there can be no peace with You without repentance.  You love us too much to allow us to remain in bondage to our sin.  Thank You for the work of Your Spirit within me, moving me to repent, to believe in Jesus and to live in obedience to Your Word.  Where I still fall short of Your glory, Father, continue Your work in me, that I may glorify You in all I say and do.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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