So, what’s the answer? If we are stuck in a distant country, and we shouldn’t rely on our own understanding for either the situation or the way out, how do we break free? How do we leave the distant country? The answer is in repentance.
Today, we are going to break this term, repentance, apart, bit by bit. The latter strikes me as a term that people throw around, but don’t necessarily grasp. For example, picture this conversation:
“How do you turn back to God?”
“How do you repent?”
“You turn back to God.”
I don’t know about you, but this circular logic is unhelpful to me and my walk. Today, friend, we are going to spend time with how to repent. We are going to break it down into three necessary, sequential steps. Others may frame out repentance differently, and they probably aren’t wrong. They may just be looking at the concept slightly differently.
OK…three steps to repent…ready?
We acknowledge that we have the choice to turn toward God. Consider this quote from John Wesley referencing Matthew 23:27:
The power of the Lord is present to heal them but they will not be healed they reject the council the merciful council of God against themselves and therefore they are without excuse because God would save them but they would not be saved.John Wesley
God is there, ready to welcome us back and forgive us, whether we actually come back or not. His presence is independent of our decision. The choice is ours, and acknowledging that reality is the first step toward repentance.
Once we make the choice to disembark from our distant country, we stop where we are and turn toward God. We do that by asking for forgiveness. This second step is actually a 3-fold motion of stopping, doing an about face, and propelling toward.
Verse 21 is a blueprint for biblical repentance:
The son says, “Father I have sinned against heaven and before you.”Luke 15:21
He doesn’t justify his wrongdoing or blame the father for however the father acted to begin with which caused to him to want to leave. The younger son simply owns his actions, but notice that he admits his sin was against his father AND against God. True repentance involves a vertical admission of guilt to God and a horizontal admission to those affected.
Once we acknowledge we have a choice and then we actually choose to stop, about face, and go toward God, there’s one more step. This is the one that I personally think gets overlooked most often, and its sometimes not included in repentance discussions at all. Ready for it?
We have to accept the forgiveness that God so freely gives. If the other two steps don’t trip us up, this one definitely can. For some reason, we can struggle with accepting the free grace and forgiveness that our Lord lovingly offers the repentant sinner. Perhaps we think we are not worthy. Perhaps we think we need to be more “holy” before we can accept the gift. Perhaps…fill in your own blank here…
Friends, we will never be made “holy” on our own. We NEED the help of the Holy Spirit, and we actively invite Him into our lives every time we ask for forgiveness. The Spirit is who will help make us more holy than we were in the far country, in our sin.
Receiving forgiveness requires a total willingness to let God be God and do all the healing, restoring, and renewing.
Remember the example from the younger son we spoke about yesterday? Nothing he could have come up with could have been as sufficient as what His father had in mind. Try as he might on his own, all his self-concocted plans were ill equipped to foster the perfect freedom His father’s plan intrinsically created margin for. As long as we want to do even a part of our problem solving on our own, we end up with limiting and partial solutions, such as becoming a hired servant.
Sometimes it can be hard to fathom how God embraces all sinners when they repent. How can that be? What if I have that one sin that is just too great for Him? What if I turned away from Him for too long? What if… (none of these are possible btw)
Here’s the deal: to God, all of our sin is the same. It’s sin. Different sins can carry differing consequences, but in terms of severity of the actual sin, it makes no difference to our God when we repent. His free grace more than sufficiently covers ALL sin!
Let us please understand this truth: we can never sin so much that God won’t accept us. Nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus. Because God is the primary party offended by our sin, he is also the sole authority to restore and forgive us, which he will do every time. It’s important for us to realize that the depth of our sin can never be greater than the love of Jesus.
These are hard concepts to understand, but here are two visuals which have helped me.
First, think about a city’s skyline. From a typical vantage point, perhaps on a bridge, we would observe structures of various heights scattered across the skyline. But what about from above? Looking down, one would just see the tops of buildings, with none visibly taller or shorter than the rest. We typically see our sins as the varied skyscrapers, monuments, and buildings noticeable on the silhouetted version of a skyline. But, alas, our our heavenly Father does not. He has a different perspective more akin to the “from above view” that is infinitely more indiscriminate.
Secondly, imagine a beach with three differently sized holes. Perhaps there’s some of those tiny holes from the bubbles popping when the tide rolls back. Then, perhaps there’s a child digging by the shore. A little further down the coast are some teens digging a hole large enough to bury a friend in. What happens when the tide comes in? All those holes get filled back in, don’t they? The ocean completely covers all the holes, regardless of the size they were before the tide came. And so it is with our God and our sins.
These visuals are by no means perfect, but I do hope they help you to conceptualize some of these ideas related to sin and forgiveness if that is something you struggled with before. Of course, we can always turn to the Bible for the absolute Truth on such matters as well!
Tomorrow we will wrap up our discussion of the younger brother by pointing out one more incredibly important parallel. It’s something that I never picked up on before until I really started studying the story more intently. It just might blow you away!
Did you know I created a worship playlist just for this series!
Celebrate a good, good Father who is always calling and welcoming his children home!
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