Summary: Genuine repentance requires me to be devoted to God's Word, distinct form the world and dependent on God's work.
Many years ago when I was working for a land development company in Albuquerque I often flew on our company plane. Occasionally I got to sit in the front of the plane in the right hand seat. I’ll never forget one of those occasions when we were flying into Dallas during the summer through some very heavy storms. Visibility was nearly zero so the pilot had to depend on his instruments to fly the plane. Because of the storm, we were constantly off course, either because of the strong winds or because the pilot was trying to avoid the heaviest part of the storms. But by looking at the instruments the pilot could tell exactly how far off course we were and he was able to constantly make course corrections so that we were eventually able to make it to our destination.
A pilot making course corrections is actually a very good picture of what genuine Biblical repentance looks like. For those of you who stayed with us for “Connections” last week, some of what I’m going to share this morning is a review. But this is so important that it won’t hurt any of us to go over some of this again. So although I don’t have time to cover the Biblical concept of repentance in the same amount of detail we did last Sunday in “Connections”, I do want to briefly touch on some of the most important aspects we discussed.
When John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter and Paul – all of whom were Jewish – spoke of repentance, their concept of repentance was in line with the Hebrew understanding of repentance that has its roots in the Old Testament. The primary Hebrew word used to describe the repentance of man in the Old Testament literally means “to turn back” or “to return”. So the Hebrew concept of repentance was that of a man returning to his original state when he had been created by God created His own image.
Therefore in the Hebrew mindset, repentance is much more than just being sorry. It is a change of mind in which we turn away from sin in order to turn back to God and His original design for our lives. And that always requires both a change in our thinking and a change in our conduct. It is what we might call a “spiritual course correction.”
Last week in Nehemiah 9, we saw how the people began that process of repentance. As they read God’s Word, they came to understand just how far off course they were as a people. They certainly hadn’t gotten there all at once. It had taken thousands of years to get to this point. This is a good reminder for us that it’s a lot easier for us to get off course, even far off course, than we might think.
Let’s go back to our illustration of flying. Being off course by only 1 degree doesn’t sound like a lot does it? But being off course by only that small amount results in missing the target landing spot by 92 feet for every mile flown or about one mile for every 60 miles flown. That means that without correction a flight from JFK airport in New York to LAX airport in Los Angeles that is only 1 degree off course would end up being over 40 miles off course. That might very well be the difference between landing on the runway and ending up in the Pacific Ocean.
That is what had happened spiritually to the Jews gathered in Jerusalem that day. As a people, they hadn’t started off very far off course, but over the years as their disobedience persisted and they failed to make the needed course corrections, they had gotten so far off course that now a major course correction was needed.
Once they became aware of that need for a course correction through the reading of God’s Word, the first step was to mourn over their sin and confess that sin to God. That was a necessary first step, but their repentance was far from complete at that point. It wasn’t enough to just turn away from their sin. They still needed to turn back to God. We saw the beginning of that second part of the process last week in the last verse of Nehemiah 9:
“Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests.
(Nehemiah 9:38 ESV)
As we come to chapter 10, we find the details of that covenant. So go ahead and turn there in your Bibles so you can follow along as we examine that passage this morning.
“On the seals are the names of Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah…