For free MP3 downloads of sermons by Alan Kraft, visit www.cccgreeley.org. For Alan’s blog, visit www.stoptryingharder.com
A. If you have your Bible, please turn to Jeremiah 3. We are in the midst of a series of messages entitled Behind Closed Doors. In this series we are looking at the issue of sexual sin.
1. We spent the first three weeks in chapter 2 and saw how God speaks very frankly to us about the pain, the shame, the enslavement that sexual sin can bring into our lives.
2. This kind of honest discussion about this subject is so incredibly relevant and yet also rare. Very few people in our society are talking honestly about the spiritual, relational, emotional damage that results from sexual sin.
3. I was watching some news program the other day on television and there was this report on the percentage of people at some particular workplace who look at internet porn. It was a staggering percentage--like 30% or something like that.
4. The report itself was troubling but what was even more disturbing to me was that the newscasters had this joking, "wink, wink" response to it.
B. And then the very next item they dealt with was a horrible sexual abuse situation--and now they were all serious. I was struck by the casual dismissal of one sexual sin, and the complete seriousness about the other--with no connection made between the two.
1. I was talking with a friend in law enforcement who had just analyzed 10 drawings done by children who were victims of sexual abuse. Some of these children were as young as 5 years old.
2. Child victims like this often won’t say anything about what happened but they do draw pictures. My friend said that 8 out of the 10 drawings had a television or a computer with porn playing.
3. The impact of this stuff on our society is staggering--as well as the impact in our own lives. While our society may wink at some of this, God doesn’t.
C. God loves us enough to tell us the truth about the sexual sins we engage in--whether its lust or premarital sex or adultery or whatever. God loves us enough to tell us the truth--not only about the damage these sins can bring into our lives.
1. He also tells us how we can break free from these behaviors that enslave us. How we can live differently. The key to this transformation is a very important word God uses over and over again in chapter 3 as well as the entire book of Jeremiah.
2. It’s the word ’return’. It can also be translated repent. Three times in chapter 3, God says to His people, Return to Me. Return.
3. This is the pathway out of these sexual sins that are destroying our lives and into the mercy of God that can transform our lives.
D. So today I want us to look at this issue of returning or repentance. Now part of our problem with this word repent is that it often has this negative connotation. A God with a stick in his hand who will strike us if we don’t stop what we are doing. It feels oppressive and negative.
1. But as we are going to see today, repentance is anything but oppressive and negative. It is life-giving. It enables us to experience real transformation.
3. So today we are going to look at Jeremiah 3 and try to answer a couple of critical questions about repentance: What is repentance and why is it so important?
I. Let’s start with the question, What is repentance?
A. Let me read beginning in vs 12 of chapter 3.
"Go, proclaim this message toward the north: Return faithless Israel, declares the Lord, ’I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful,’ declares the Lord, ’I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt--you have rebelled against the Lord your God, you have scattered your favors to foreign gods under every spreading tree, and have not obeyed Me," declares the Lord.
1. We see here this word ’return’ used. This word is used some 30 times in the book of Jeremiah.
2. It literally means to turn around, to turn back. It is to return to the original point of departure. In this context here in chapter 3, it has a very strong relational component.
3. For instance in vs 14 we read, "Return faithless people", declares the Lord, "for I am your husband." God is urging them to turn away from these things that are destroying their lives and return to the fullness of r’ship that is theirs to enjoy.
4. So the word literally means to turn.
B. However, if we just left it at that, it would seem that God is simply saying, Stop doing what you are doing. Just stop it. Which doesn’t work because sexual sin is more powerful than our will-power.
1. But unfortunately this is the typical knee jerk response of many Christian people to sexual sin. Just stop that. Which often only drives the sin deeper because now we feel ashamed of our actions and we can’t admit to anyone that we struggle with it.
3. So if we try to define repentance as simply turning away from sin, we end up with a fairly shallow understanding of repentance that doesn’t really transform anyone.
C. But God doesn’t define repentance in this shallow, ’just stop it’ sort of way. In the next verse, vs 13, God gives us a more complete picture of repentance. He shows us what is at the heart of our turning away from our sin. What fuels this turning?
1. Look at the first part of vs 13 "Only acknowledge your guilt." This word ’acknowledge’ is so critically important.
2. The Hebrew word translated acknowledge is actually the word ’yada’ which we often mention around here. The word ’yada’ means to know intimately.
3. It’s the same word used in the OT to describe sexual intercourse. Adam knew his wife Eve. Yada. So this word, in its broader connotation, speaks, not simply of a superficial knowledge of a person or truth but rather an experiential knowledge. A heart engaging knowledge.
D. Now when we understand that, it significantly impacts our perspective on repentance. The heart of repentance is knowing our sin. Having a ’yada’ experience with our sin.
1. Where we know it at a heart level. We see it clearly. We see it the way God sees it. And that seeing, that knowing impacts us.
2. It’s very easy for us as Christians to begin to have a sort of superficial attitude toward our sin. We know we are not perfect, but we’re doing pretty well. And we’re forgiven anyway, so it doesn’t really matter, right?
3. Oh but it does matter. When we become flippant and casual about our sin, it has a significant impact on our experience of the gospel--as we’re going see in a few minutes.
E. But let’s unpack this a bit more. What kind of ’knowing’ does repentance involve? There are a couple of specific things mentioned in this chapter.
1. One, genuine repentance involves knowing the guilt of our sin. Vs 13 "Only acknowledge your guilt--you have rebelled against the Lord your God, you have scattered your favors to foreign gods under every spreading tree and have not obeyed Me, declares the Lord.
2. Sin in its most basic form is rebellion against the Lord our God. It is to run after other gods. Every sin has its root in some form of idolatry, including sexual sin.
3. We’re trying to find affirmation, significance, self esteem in something other than God’s love--in porn, or in sleeping with our boyfriend or whatever.
4. That’s idolatry. It is to say no to this God who loves us and is a spring of living water to our soul, and instead to choose to run after something else instead.
F. Remember God’s words in chapter 2:11 "Has a nation ever changed its gods? Yet they are not gods at all. But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols."
1. Every sin we commit is an incredibly serious affront to a holy God. It is a rejection of Him, a rebellion against Him. Repentance then involves a heartfelt knowing of that.
2. It is to see and know the guilt of our sin before a holy God. I think sometimes we equate confession with repentance when they are not necessarily the same thing.
3. Have you ever heard someone confess to something and you knew they weren’t repentant?
G. I think of former baseball great Pete Rose, who for years would never admit to gambling on baseball--even though everyone knew he had. He was being kept out of the hall of fame because of it.
1. Then finally a few years ago, when his book came out, he admitted to gambling--but even that admission is qualified. He explains that he never bet on inside information or let his bets influence his baseball decisions.
2. He writes, "So in my mind, I wasn’t corrupt. I’m sure that I’m supposed to act all sorry now but you see, I’m just not built that way." There has never been any acknowledgement from him as to the seriousness of what he did. There is no repentance here.
3. Now he makes a pretty easy target but the truth is, all of us have this tendency in our r’ship with God. In fact, when Rose says "I’m just not built that way", he’s actually describing the default position of every one of us.
4. Our instinct is not repentance. The instinct of our flesh is to shift the blame, to minimize the seriousness of the offense. As I mentioned last week, this tendency to say to ourselves, "I may look at porn occasionally but at least I’m not visiting strip clubs."
D. That’s not repentance. We’re not seeing our sin the way God does. We may offer a quick and casual confession, but there is no repentance.
1. Just like I at times do to Raylene when I say or do something that hurts her, and I offer a quick "I’m sorry." But she knows I’m just saying I’m sorry so that we can move on in the discussion. I’m not saying I’m sorry because I really feel the pain of what I caused. I just want to everything to be back to normal.
2. Everyone of us here instinctively knows if someone is just saying "I’m sorry" or if they are genuinely repentant. We know the difference. God does as well.
3. So repentance is to know the guilt of our sin before God. It is to see our sin the way God does.
E. But there is more to repentance than that. In fact, later in this chapter, beginning in vs 22, we see an amazing picture of repentance.
What seems to be happening here is that Jeremiah is offering the people a picture of how God wants them to respond.
1. It’s fairly clear in the chapters that follow that this didn’t actually happen but it does show us an incredible picture of repentance.
2. vs 22 [God says] "Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding."
[then the people respond] "Yes, we will come to you, for you are the Lord our God. Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills and mountains is a deception; surely in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel."
3. Notice here they are not simply acknowledging the guilt of their sin but also the deceptiveness of their sin. "Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills and mountains is a deception."
F. They are seeing their sin for the lie that it is. They are seeing how deceiving it is.
1. Which is such an accurate description of sin, but especially sexual sin. It deceives us. It makes us think that it will bring life and pleasure and fulfillment.
2. But it never comes through on its promises. Which is why we often find ourselves continuing to chase after it--it never completely satisfies. We need a little bit more.
3. When we finally see our sin for the lying scoundrel that it is, it moves us to experience genuine repentance. Again, we are seeing our sin differently.
4. This seeing, this knowing is so crucially important. Suddenly the facade falls off and reality hits. This sexual sin isn’t bringing me any life. This thing is lying to me.
G. And not only that. It’s destroying me. To repent is to see the destructiveness of our sin. Look at the next verse. Vs 24 "From our youth shameful gods have consumed the fruits of our father’s labor--their flocks and herds, their sons and daughters."
1. Man what a vivid picture of what sexual sin does. It not only deceives. It destroys. It consumes. It consumes marriages, dating relationships. It consumes young people’s innocence and identity. It consumes ministries and joy. It’s like a wildfire burning fields that were ready to bear fruit. Now their toast.
2. Here’s what often happens. I’ve experienced it in my own life and I’ve seen it countless times in the lives of others. Until we get to this third aspect of repentance, many times we don’t repent.
3. Remember the Prodigal son is Luke 15. When does he come to his senses? Not in the midst of his wild partying. No. It happens when he has lost everything and is feeding pigs and realizes they are eating better than he is. At that moment, he comes to his senses.
4. Unfortunately, we don’t usually repent when we are getting away with our sin. When it’s not causing us any discernible pain or difficulty. Our porn habit, our sleeping around--we tuck it away in some closet. Maybe we casually confess it to God but we’re not really seeing our sin the way God does.
5. But what inevitably happens is we can’t keep it contained. It becomes a more dominant force in our dating r’ship or in our life. We find ourselves looking for more opportunities to sneak some peaks at porn or to rent a pay per view adult movie.
H. And then something happens. Our spouse catches us looking at porn and is deeply hurt. Or our employer discovers it and our job is on the line.
1. Or our boyfriend with whom we are sexually involved suddenly breaks up with us--and we are devastated. Or perhaps we find out that our girlfriend is pregnant, or we test positive for AIDS. Or we realize that we can’t stop thinking about pornographic images and wanting to see them more.
2. Suddenly the destruction has begun. You can’t keep sexual sin contained. It consumes. Now in those moments--no matter how dark they are-- we are very receptive to something we hadn’t been very receptive to before--repentance.
3. Suddenly we see the deceitfulness of our sin and the destructiveness of it. We see the devastation of our decisions--and it wakes us up to what is really happening.
4. We are seeing our sin differently, and that’s a really good thing. Because it opens a door for us to experience genuine repentance.
I. Now this gets a little tricky because sometimes our repentance and remorse that we feel are not really genuine at all. We’re really only repentant about getting caught. We feel badly because we have been caught and now are embarrassed at what people think of us.
1. It’s still all about us. Restoring our image, getting through the consequences as quickly as possible rather than truly seeing and feeling the weight of our sin.
2. Genuine repentance involves feeling the hurt we caused to the loved ones around us. Feeling the weight of the destruction this has brought into our lives.
3. To repent is to open our heart to God and to others. It’s to resist the urge to defend, minimize, shift the blame. Instead, we feel the full weight of what we have done. We see it for what it is and we are saddened by it.
4. Look at vs 25 "Let us lie down in our shame, and let our disgrace cover us. We have sinned against the Lord our God, both we and our fathers; from our youth till this day we have not obeyed the Lord our God."
J. They are feeling the full weight of what they have done. And because of that, repentance is happening.
1. So how do we experience this? There is no three step formula. But there is something absolutely essential--the Holy Spirit. This is part of the Holy Spirit’s job description. To help us see our sin the way God does.
2. So we can ask Him to help us see. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to see your sin more clearly and to experience the weight of that. This is to be a continual prayer of our heart.
3. Now let me clear: We don’t have to wait until the sin is wreaking havoc in our lives before repentance happens. The still small voice of the Spirit is actively at work in us gently convicting us of sin. The sooner we respond, the better.
4. Now there is another aspect of repentance that is revealed in vs 25. Let US lie down in OUR shame, and let OUR disgrace cover us.
5. Notice how this repentance occurred in the context of community. I have found in my own life that when I try to battle sin on my own and experience repentance on my own, it is so very easy to get pulled back into it.
K. But there is something incredibly powerful about repentance in community. When I share with a close friend or even with my wife what I have done or what I’m struggling with.
1. It is a most difficult thing and yet I have found it to be an incredibly life-giving and powerful thing. To bring it out of hiding and share it with a trusted friend or loved one. It’s like the chains begin to fall off. I literally feel a weight being lifted. It’s that powerful.
2. Some of you men are enslaved to sexual lust and the main reason you can’t break free is because it’s still a secret between you and God. You’re too proud to admit your struggle and its keeping you in chains.
3. We have a group in our church for men struggling with porn. Here we are, a church of 1500 adults in attendance. Guess how many men came last week in the midst of sermon series on sexual sin. How many men came? 3. As long as are too ashamed to admit our secret, we will stay in chains.
4. This is why in James 5:16 we are told: Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
5. Confess your sins to each other. Admit to someone you trust what you have done. Let them extend grace to you and pray for you. James says this is a critical aspect of our healing.
4. If you are struggling in secret, I urge you to let someone you trust know. Confess your sins to each other. I know it is risky, but struggling in secret is far more risky.
5. So we have talked about what repentance is--that it is seeing and acknowledging our sin at a deep level before God and at times before others. Letting the Holy Spirit help us see our sin the way God does.
I. Which leads to a second critically important question: Why? Why is repentance so important?
A. I want us to answer that by looking again at vs 12 "Go, proclaim this message toward the north: ’Return, faithless Israel, declares the Lord, ’I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful, declares the Lord, ’I will not be angry forever.’
1. What we learn here is that genuine repentance--seeing our sin the way God does and acknowledging that---that repentance opens a door for us to experience the one thing that can truly transform us. Mercy.
2. God says return--acknowledge your sin...for I am merciful.
This word merciful is derived from one of the most important words in the OT. The word Hesed, which is the covenant love of God. A love that extends toward us even when we are not fulfilling our end of the love r’ship.
3. God says to us, this is who I am. I am merciful. I am filled with loving kindness and grace toward you. When we repent, we open the door to experience the fullness of God’s mercy.
B. Now this gets a little tricky in that this is an OT passage--written before the cross of Christ. Which is why God uses this language: I will frown on you.
1. In the OT, the nearness of God’s presence was dependent upon the people’s behavior. God would smile at good behavior and frown at sin.
2. But something happened on the cross to change that. When Jesus hung on the cross, he cried out ’My God My God why have your forsaken me.’ You see, at that moment, all of our sin was placed upon Jesus and God was frowning. He had turned His face away.
3. But this is incredible news because it means that for those of us who are in Christ, God will never again frown upon us. He will never again turn His face away. Because all that has been paid in full. We can continually experience His favor, His love, His presence.
C. In fact, God alludes to this very thing a few verses later in vs 16 "In those days, when your numbers have increased greatly in the land," declares the Lord, "men will no longer say, ’The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed nor will another one be made."
1. God is looking ahead to a day when the ark of the covenant will no longer be necessary. The ark of the covenant represented God’s presence in the OT. God is saying there is a day coming when God’s presence will be so with us that it can’t be removed. That’s what Jesus secured on the cross.
2. God doesn’t frown upon our sin and distance Himself from us in our sin, because Christ paid for our sin. Which raises a very important question: Why then should we care about repentance? If it doesn’t impact my relational status before God, why repent?
D. It’s because repentance opens the door for us to more deeply experience this mercy that is already ours. The problem is on our end. It’s not that our sin makes God frown or that it makes Him remove His presence.
1. No. But what happens is, our sin infects our hearts and hardens our hearts which hinders our ability to experience the transforming power of God’s mercy and love.
2. We are blinded to our sin and its impact, even as we are increasingly enslaved by it. So how can we ever break free in our own experience, in our own lives?
3. Through repentance. Because in repentance, we open our hearts wide to experience the incredible mercy of God--which has the power to transform us in a way that nothing else can.
E. Not long ago, someone told me they heard an interview with fairly well known Christian communicator who was asked why in his messages he didn’t ever talk about sin.
1. And his response was, "Oh, people already know they are sinners." Now I understand what he means in that, if any one of us were asked, are you a sinner? We would say, yes. I know I’m not perfect." So his point is, why keep reminding people of something they know?
2. But there is a very significant problem with that. It’s one thing to know about our sin in general. It’s quite another to look at it specifically.
3. For instance, let’s say there is something very hurtful that I continue to do to my wife in our marriage. Now one day a friend who is concerned about my marriage says to me, "Do you realize that this specific thing you are doing is killing your marriage?"
4. And I say to him, "Look I already know I’m not a perfect husband. Why talk specifics? Let’s talk about something positive."
F. Do you see the problem with my response? By ignoring my sin, I can never experience a healthy marriage with my wife. It’s not that she doesn’t love me. And I’m still married to her, but my experience of a healthy marriage is severely impacted.
1. If we prefer a r’ship with God in which repentance is not really a part, in which we broadly acknowledge our sin in a general sense, but never look at it specifically, we are dooming ourselves to a shame-filled, enslaving experience with sexual sin.
2. Because we are closing our heart to God’s mercy. We never experience the incredible power of God meeting us in our places of brokenness and shame.
3. There is something incredibly profound that happens when we acknowledge to God our rebellion and our idolatry and our shame and our messed up lives--and He looks us in the eyes and says, I love you. I love you right there.
4. Think about it this way: Which of these two scenarios would bring about a more significant, deep level transformation in your life?
G. Here’s the first: You come to God and say, "Lord, I see my sin. I see my lust and how it is an affront to you and it is enslaving me. I acknowledge this sin before you." And God says, You jerk. Why are crawling again to me about this.
1. I told you last week to stop and obviously you didn’t. Well I’m sick and tired of this. You go home and read the ten commandments 15 times before you go to bed. Maybe that’ll get it in your thick skull. When you’ve gotten rid of this behavior, then you come to me."
2. That’s one scenario. Here’s the second: You come to God and say, "Lord, I see my sin. I see my lust and how it is an affront to you and it is enslaving me. I acknowledge this sin before you." And God says,
3. "I love you. I’m so glad you are seeing this sin the way I do. It is destroying you. Let My Presence into those places of shame and guilt. I love you even there and want to cleanse and fill those areas with My Spirit. Drink from the living water I offer you. It is far more satisfying than these other activities.
H. Which is more motivating? Which is more life-giving? Which is more transforming?
1. Do you see how a life without repentance is a life removed from God’s mercy? If we are content to live with a broad based, shallow perspective on our sin--"I know I’m a sinner but certainly don’t need to focus on that’--then we will have a very shallow experience of God’s mercy.
2. It’s not that God doesn’t love us. It’s just that we won’t experience it that deeply. We’ll just keep trying hard to do better. We will live a very shallow, superficial spirituality..
3. But when we are willing to embrace genuine repentance--freely acknowledging the depth of our sin and our shame--we experience the unthinkable. The mercy and kindness of Jesus, filling those places.
4. This is a continual posture of the heart--experiencing the depths of God’s mercy in the midst of our brokenness.
5. Are you willing to go there with Jesus? Are you willing to ask the Holy Spirit to help you see and know your guilt, acknowledging the deceptiveness and destructiveness of your sin? Then, are you willing to welcome His mercy into those places?
Alan Kraft is lead pastor of Christ Community Church in Greeley, CO and author of Good News for Those Trying Harder. He is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. To find out more about Alan’s ministry to the spiritually exhausted, check out his website at www.alankraft.net. For free MP3 downloads of sermons by Alan Kraft, visit www.cccgreeley.org. For Alan’s blog, visit www.stoptryingharder.com