A drunk man who smelled like beer sat down on a subway seat next to a priest. The man’s tie was stained, his face was plastered with red lipstick, and a half empty bottle of gin was sticking out of his torn coat pocket. He opened his newspaper and began reading. After a few minutes the man turned to the priest and asked, “Say, Father, what causes arthritis?” “My Son, it’s caused by loose living, being with cheap, wicked women, too much alcohol, and a contempt for your fellow man.”
Well, I’ll be!” the drunk muttered, returning to his paper. The priest, thinking about what he had said, nudged the man and apologized. “I’m very sorry. I didn’t mean to come on so strong. How long have you had arthritis?” “I don’t have it, Father. I was just reading here that the Pope does.”
Tonight, we continue our current Sunday evening sermon series- 6 Steps of Grace. Author Max Lucado says, “The meaning of life. The wasted years of life. The poor choices of life. God answers the mess of life with one word: ‘grace.’” Grace is the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.
Over these 6 weeks, we are walking along the spiritual timeline of God’s grace- what it looks like and how we achieve it. 6 steps that, if followed, lead to a better awareness of, appreciation for and connection to God’s grace. The first week, we focused on the fact that the first stop on that timeline was hearing. Not simply listening…but hearing. Last week, we looked at believing. Hearing is essential…but it’s not enough. We have to also believe. Faith is the key that unlocks the door.
Once we have heard and believed, the next step is becoming aware of our sins- repenting.
Question #1- How would YOU define “repentance”?
Dictionary.com defines repentance as “feeling sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.” So repentance centers on awareness- awareness that what we are doing is sinful- not pleasing to God and contrary to His ways. There’s nothing heavier than the weight of sin in our lives. It’s debilitating. It’s crushing. What a relief to know that the burden can be lifted if we repent. We come to God to be cleansed of our sins.
Question #2- Is repentance necessary for forgiveness?
Luke 5:29-32 Then Levi gave a huge dinner for Jesus at his house. A large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and their teachers of the law complained to Jesus’ disciples. They said, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Jesus answered them, “Those who are healthy don’t need a doctor. Sick people do. I have not come to get those who think they are right with God to follow me. I have come to get sinners to turn away from their sins.”
A young woman had a really tough final exam scheduled for the next day in her religion class. So she did what every self-respecting college student does- she studied all night. When she arrived at class the next morning, the teacher walked in and said, “Let’s do a quick review before the test.” As the class reviewed, the professor soon brought up issues the young woman knew they hadn’t covered in class. Her hand went up, “We didn’t cover that information before.” The teacher picked up the text book and said, “Everything we are talking about is in the book. And as we stated at the beginning of the semester, you are responsible for everything in the book.” Sadly, no one in the class could argue with that, as much as they wanted to!
Then- it was time to take the test. He had the class put everything away except for a writing utensil. He then began to pass out the test. And as it was being passed out, the professor said, “Leave your test face down on the desk. I’ll tell you when to turn it over and start.” Two minutes later, the tests were all handed out and the class heard those fearful and fateful words, “You may begin.” When the young woman turned the test over, she was amazed to find that…every answer was already filled in! The test was…done. A note at the bottom of the last page said, “Your Final Exam is now over. All your answers are correct. You have been blessed with an ’A’ on your final exam.” The young woman looked around the room- several other students had found the note at the back of the test and all looked as astonished as she felt! Once everyone was looking at him, the professor simply said, “You passed the test for one reason and one reason only- the one who created the test took it for you. You have just experienced…GRACE.” Grace is unmerited favour, getting something we don’t deserve.
We often fail to do what we truly believe in. Instead, we do what is convenient, then repent. Likewise, many people repent of their sins by thanking God that they aren’t as wicked as their neighbors.
But true repentance is making a U-turn. The word “repent” in the Greek- metanoeó- literally means to change your mind. It’s to turn away from doing something wrong. It’s NOT repentance if it doesn’t include actually stopping the bad behavior. To truly repent of something, you need to go into deep into the corners of your heart, open it wide, expose it to the bright light of day and force yourself to deal with it.
Repentance isn’t a way of twisting God’s arm so that He’ll forgive us. It’s not about saying the right words and doing the right actions so that God will obey us and forgive us. It’s important to understand that repentance, in and of itself, isn’t enough…and it doesn’t demand a response from God. It requires the next step, which we’ll look at next week- confession.
Repentance is a movement of God’s Holy Spirit. And repentance is nothing short of a miracle. When we repent of our wrongdoing, it’s the first step toward God helping us get back where we should have been in the first place.
Question #3- How do you know when something you have done…or left undone…requires repentance?
Giant of the faith Martin Luther said, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.”
Be thankful that Jesus is still knocking at the door of your heart. For some, He’s been knocking so long that His knuckles are calloused. I think he’s worn impressions of his knuckles on our heart’s doors! Often, God knocks on our heart, encouraging us to open up to Him. Sadly, the only response He sees is the shades going down and the blinds closing. God promises that if we get serious and repent, if we will simply open the door…He’ll come in and change us.
No matter how far we run from God, Jesus continues to knock at the door of our heart. The longer we ignore the knock, the harder it is for us to respond to it. Is Jesus knocking on the door of your heart? Is there something in your life that you need to repent of? Repent of your sins and stop doing the things that you used to do. We have God’s promise that when we repent, He’ll forgive us and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.