Archives For Repentance

Me and My Ninety-Nine

Tim Brister —  June 14, 2014 — 2 Comments

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
(Luke 15:1-7 ESV)

One of the challenges I face when it comes to maturing as a disciple of Jesus is working through passages familiar to my head (knowledge) but unengaged in my heart (life change). The parable in Luke 15:1-7 is a classic example, and one where I am learning to grow in joy-inspired repentance.

We know how the story goes. A man loses one of his sheep and does whatever it takes to find that sheep. But when I dwell on this passage a little more and the unaddressed realities in my heart, a couple of things come to my mind. First, am I the kind of person who is not even aware of when a sheep is lost? Do I pay enough attention to the “sheep who are not of this fold” (John 10:16) to acknowledge when one is lost? Second, am I the kind of person who secretly tells myself, “Well, I only lost one. At least I still have the other ninety-nine. Why make the effort to go after the one who is lost anyway? Is that not a bad stewardship of my time and energy?”

In the past, I made it easy to identify with the man in this story who acts heroically to find the lost sheep. A big reason for that has to do with the superficial allowance I give myself in engaging the text merely in an intellectual manner. I agree to the truths that are communicated in the text, but I fail to discover whether my life is in line with the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14). To my own embarrassment, I am far more competent in exegeting a text of Scripture than exegeting the subtext of my own heart.

Let’s face it. Me and my ninety-nine is not bad after all, if we are playing the numbers game. From a pragmatic standpoint, I am efficient with my time and energy. I am leveraging my limited resources and stewarding them for the maximum outcome possible. The only problem with this thinking is the point Jesus makes in this story (and with His life). There is joy to be had for finding the lost. There is joy to be shared in inviting others to enter into that celebration. There is repentance to be remembered when the story of the good news of the sheep being found becomes greater than the sheep being lost. And all of this because in the one, the man found a mission to embrace that caused him to leave everything behind until the rescue was made. Too often, I am comfortable with the ritual of remaining with the righteous ninety-nine than the risk of rescuing the one needing repentance and the reward of joy that comes as the fruit of that risk.

Would you join me in learning to be faithful to the one by taking ownership of the rescue mission therein? I long to be able to say, “Rejoice with me.” But before that, I need to believe the joy in finding the one that was lost is of far greater value than the comforting of remaining with me and my ninety-nine.

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Thursdays are normally my day off, and due the crazy week that it had been so far, I was particularly look forward to a little break from the grind. However, things did not go according to plan. Sick children, doctors appointments, and some urgent ministerial demands quickly made it another stressful day. By lunch time, I was ready to take a nap!

My toddler boys usually nap in mid-afternoon, which gives me time to relax or run a few errands. In this case, I decided to visit the local pizza shop as part of my weekly routine. I have come to know the owner quite well, and he has a habit of asking about my wife and kids. It doesn’t hurt that the pizza is quite good, too.

After a lonely, quiet lunch, I made spurious decision to get a haircut. I go to one of those places where you never know who will cut your hair or what kind of haircut you will get. I’ve been going there for sometime and have come to know many of the folks who work there, except that the turnover seems excessively high (which usually does not bode well of the business). I walked into a fairly empty joint. I looked forward to a quick and easy cut so I could get back to family duties back home. The lady got my name and number and told me it would be just a few minutes.

Fifteen minutes later she came back to the front, having forgotten she registered me already. I began to get frustrated by what appeared to be obvious customer service failure. I gave her my name and number, and to my disappointment, she said she would be cutting my hair. Not exactly how I was wanting things to go.

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At the very heart of the Lord’s Prayer is the petition, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Like so many other familiar passages of Scripture, I fear that there are myriads of truths that fail to be apprehended due to our contemptible satisfaction of superficial understanding.  Such has been the case for me regarding these petitions of our Lord.

One of the remarkable things I’ve been learning lately is how the gospel interconnects kingdom come and the Father’s will being done on earth.  The gospel intertwines this petition precisely because the response these realties demand are that of repentance and faith.

Whenever Jesus preaches about the kingdom, the action invariable associated with it is to repent.  The arrival of His kingdom means the removal of your kingdom.  The arrival of His reign means the surrender of your rights.  His position on the throne of your life necessitates the crushing of all idols and rivals to Him as Lord and King.  With the inauguration of the kingdom in the life of a believer, there is a corresponding denunciation of the kingdom we had built with ourselves at the center.   Simply put, when the King is present, our rights are absent.  We repent. We look away from ourselves.  We turn from our rebellious, treasonous ways. We renounce all our self-righteous deeds.  We gladly submit and surrender our lives to His sweet sovereignty as the one who alone has the right to govern our lives.

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Atmospheric Repentance

Tim Brister —  August 17, 2011 — 2 Comments

That’s a new term I learned from Dr. David Powlison after watching the video below.  Atmospheric repentance is based on the initial cry of the Reformation as articulated by Martin Luther in the first of his 95 Thesis:

When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

The point is that the expectation of every follower of Christ is to experience Godward change and transformation that begins with the heart.  The means by which we become more and more like Christ is through repentance and faith as the gospel mode of operation.  Christians are commonly called “believers” because of faith in Jesus Christ.  Christians should also commonly be called “repenters” because we are daily turning from sin and self-reign to glad submission to the reign and rule of Christ as King.  Our response to Christ is simultaneously a repenting faith or believing repentance, and when that characterizes the predisposition of a follower of Christ, it is atmospheric.

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Reflecting on the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 makes me think about the temptation to legislate morality by arbitrarily judging which sinners we think are most “savable.”  If the Temple that day were a typical Sunday morning, I presume most churches would cater to the man with moral superiority.  He shows interest in religion and shows a genuine desire to “get right” with God. We cater because he is most like us, over against the other scandalous men like adulterers, extortioners, and tax collectors.  After all, they don’t come across all that “receptive” in the seeker kind of way.  No, this latter group classifies people less savable, so we think, because their lives are really jacked up.  They are far from the kingdom while the moral man like us is “not far from the kingdom.”

Perhaps because we feel encouraged by the moral man’s sincere attempts of being good, we tend to ease off on the gospel.  After all, he is not as bad a sinner as the rest of the guys who really need a healthy preaching of the gospel, right?  I would submit to you just the opposite is true.  Those we think are “not far from the kingdom” are really farther than we think because they have convinced themselves they are not as bad as they really are, and therefore the good news for sinners is substituted for good advice for those who simply need a little self-help.

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This morning, I enjoyed another meeting with two young men of Grace (my A-team) at Panera talking about being faithful to apply the gospel to our own heart.  If I truly know myself, we will be quick to confess that the worst sinner in the room at any given time is me.  Therefore, there is no one who needs the gospel more than me.  This may sound really selfish, but faithfully preaching the gospel to myself is actually what enables me to share it faithfully to others.  When my heart is renewed in the gospel and utterly satisfied with all that God is for me in Jesus Christ, then the joyful overflow of the gospel’s work will enlarge my affections for the lost and loose my tongue to share of the amazing mercies found in Him.

The gospel should never be like that computer file stuck in your hard drive that has not been accessed in over a year so that it is impossible to find.  Instead, when the gospel is retrieved time and again on a regular basis, it be readily accessed to share and for others to “download” for themselves.  If we believe that the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16) we cannot limit that transforming work to a brief period at the beginning of a Christian life.  For those who are being saved, it is the power of God unto salvation in an ongoing basis as we see more of God’s excellencies, expose our sinful depravity, and increasingly exult in the glories of Jesus Christ who is for us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.

Let me give you a personal example from this morning . . .

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A couple of days ago, I pitched this question to folks on Twitter and Facebook.  The disagreements on the issue of forgiveness is not one that is divided between conservatives and liberals but between conservatives and conservatives.  Since forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian faith and that we are to forgive as God has forgiven us in Christ (Eph. 4:32), then it is important that understand why and how we should forgive one another.

The Issues

The fundamental issue is whether forgiveness is unconditional (not dependent upon the repentance of the offender) or conditional (granted only when the offender has repented and asked for it).  Both camps would argue that repentance is necessary for reconciliation between the offender and offended parties, but those in the unconditional camp would argue that repentance is not required for forgiveness.  In order, then, it would look something like this:

Sin/Offense –> Forgiveness –>Repentance –> Reconciliation (Unconditional)
Sin/Offense –> Repentance –> Forgiveness –> Reconciliation (Conditional)

As you can see, the key issue is the role that repentance plays in differentiating granting forgiveness and actual reconciliation between two people. Let me attempt to provide the case for each position, as best I can understand them.

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Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people. Because heaven is a prepared place, our Christian lives should be characterized by rejoicing and anticipating being with the Lord.  Because heaven is for a prepared people our Christian lives should be characterized by repentance and turning away from ourselves.  Therefore, the Christian life is both one of rejoicing and repentance, at the same time.  In fact, it could be said that, though we mourn over and hate our sin, our repentance should be joyful knowing that God has promised bring to fulfillment that which he began in us, namely the glorification of His Son in us.  There is no genuine joy without thorough repentance, and genuine repentance ought to bring about increasing joy as sin is displaced and we draw nearer to Jesus.

We often call Christians “believers”.  “We are a gathering of believers . . .” but Christians are also “repenters,” so why don’t refer to a gathering of repenters?  Our response to the gospel at conversion is both – a repenting faith or believing repentance, and our response to the gospel from that moment on is the same.  The more we behold Jesus by faith as seen in the gospel, the more we are transformed into His image from one degree of glory to another.  If there are no degrees of glory being experienced on earth, then what, pray tell, would such a professing Christian claim to experience in heaven?  The very degrees of glory we experience in the daily transformation of our lives through repentance and faith are meant to be a foretaste of the fullness of glory to be seen when we are “taken up into glory.”  To miss it here is to forfeit it there.

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“With every increase of mercy you receive from God there will be an accompanying increase of responsibility. . . . As you grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and receive more and more of His mercies with each passing day, your repentance must keep pace.  Any failure here is an open demonstration of a lack of love and appreciation for the boundless mercies of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Tragic is the case of any individual whose repentance does not increase with the gifts and graces of God he daily receives.”

– Richard Owen Roberts, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, 297.

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“[Repentance] is perpetual. . . . The Christian is a new person in Christ, but he is imperfectly renewed.  He has died to sin and has been raised to new life.  But this mortification and vivification continue throughout the whole course of his life on earth.  We are no longer what we once were, but we are not yet what God calls us to become; and as long as that is the case we are called to an ongoing battle for holiness.

[ . . .] Repentance does not merely begin the Christian life.  According to Scripture, the Christian life is repentance from beginning to end!  So long as the believer is simul justus et peccator (at the same time righteous and yet a sinner), it can be no other way.

[ . . .] True repentance can never be reduced to a single act only found at the beginning of the Christian life.  It arises in the context of our union with Jesus Christ; and since its goal is our restoration into the image of Christ, it involves the ongoing practical outworking of our union with Christ in his death and resurrection–what Calvin calls mortification and vivification–that is, being conformed to Christ crucified and risen.”

– Sinclair Ferguson, The Grace of Repentance, 20, 28, 30.

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