Summary: This is the final of a two part series on the New Testment meaning and need for repentance. It is particularly a pastoral call for repentance on the part of the local Church when led to do so by the Holy Spirit.
God’s Commandment to Repent, Part Two
Charing Cross is the geographical center of London, England, and the location of one of the primary railway stations in the city. The name stems from the fact that King Edward I erected a cross on that site in memory of his wife Eleanor after her death in 1290. “All distances in the United Kingdom from London are measured from Charing Cross. This spot is referred to simply as ‘the cross.’ A lost child was one day picked up by a London ‘bobby.’ The child was unable to tell where he lived. Finally, in response to the repeated questions of the bobby, and amid sobs and tears, the little fellow said, ‘If you will take me to the cross I think I can find my way from there.’” [SOURCE: James Brown Pounds, “London’s ‘The Cross’” in Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7, 700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Rockville, Maryland: Assurance Publishers, 1979), 206.] When we repent at the foot of the cross of Jesus, we find eternal forgiveness; we find our way home.
Recall the basic lessons in repentance we discovered from The New Testament last Sunday. Repentance, or the verb “to repent,” means “to think differently; to change one’s mind or purpose.” It always involves a change for the better, an improvement in the repenter. It is a decision that changes one’s entire life, a total “about-face,” a 180 degree turn in direction, “a radical, moral turn of the whole person from sin and self to God.” Because it embraces one’s entire being and personality, repentance is a change in both attitudes of the heart and the outward behavior and actions.
Sin is basically a problem of the heart that requires repenting of wrong attitudes. Sinful acts flow from a sinful heart. Jeremiah 17:9 clearly states our human dilemma, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jesus takes up this same message in Matthew 15:19-20, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make one ’unclean’. . .” Repentance must be a change in heart, a change in attitude.
We all would do well to memorize and live the closing words of Dr. Norman Shawchuck’s prayer of repentance, “This day I pledge to You and to myself that I will begin even now to pursue right thinking and right living, but my God, I need Your help. Amen.” [Source: Norman Shawchuck and Reuben P. Job, A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2003), 318.]
Here is a key point to grasp in Dr. Shawchuck’s prayer: Although repentance is a personal decision, a change in direction on the part of the repenter, a human act, it is rooted in the grace of God. Even though I promise God that “I will begin even now to pursue right thinking and right living,” I can not do that in my own strength and power; I “must have His help.” Paul thoroughly understands that the very act of repentance depends on the grace of God in I Corinthians 12:3b, “. . . no-one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Only the Holy Spirit can lead us to repent and enable us to do so.
Last Sunday we discovered that the New Testament teaches that everyone, sinners, loyal disciples of Jesus, and the Church as a whole are all called to repent. Paul preaching at Athens in Acts 17:30 reminds us, “[God] . . . now commands all people everywhere to repent.” Jesus in Luke 5:32 declares that His mission is “not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” and John in His First Epistle continually reminds us as Christ’s disciples that if the Holy Spirit points out sin in our personal lives, we only receive divine forgiveness when we confess our sin.
We mentioned last week that Jesus personally called the Churches at Ephesus, Pergamum, Sardis, and Laodicea in Revelation Two and Three to repent. In some past appointments I have preached a series of messages on “The Churches of the Revelation.” Every local Church can learn some valuable lessons in ministry and commitment to Jesus Christ from taking a close look at these seven Churches in the Apocalypse.
Perhaps in the coming months, if the Lord so leads, I will get those messages out, revise them, and share that series with us at Trinity, But for the present a quick look at the first Church, the Church at Ephesus can give us some worthy insight as to why the Holy Spirit may call a local Church to repent.
Ephesus had backslidden in her relationship with Jesus. She was not as