Summary: Repentance: 1. involves a genuine sorrow for sin. 2. includes a genuine turning from sin. 3. results in a genuine love for God.
Recent research is confirming that the moral condition of the United States is in serious decline. An article released by the Barna Research Group, which surveyed people on what they considered morally acceptable behavior, states: “Of the ten moral behaviors evaluated, a majority of Americans believed that each of three activities were ‘morally acceptable.’ Those included gambling (61%), co-habitation [living with another person before marriage] (60%), and sexual fantasies (59%). Nearly half of the adult population felt that two other behaviors were morally acceptable: having an abortion (45%) and having a sexual relationship with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse (42%). About one-third of the population gave the stamp of approval to pornography (38%), profanity (36%), drunkenness (35%) and homosexual sex (30%).” Something is seriously wrong if that many people find those behaviors acceptable.
The good news is that 74% of Americans are concerned about the moral condition of the country. The bad news is that they don’t seem to know how to remedy it. The research shows that people today do not make their moral decisions based on the Bible as the moral authority, rather they make decisions based on how practical their decisions are. I recently had a conversation with a woman who said that the morality of the Bible just did not work in today’s world. She indicated that it would be nice if it did, but that it simply was not the pragmatic way to live. She was corroborating the findings of Barna who says, “When asked the basis on which they form their moral choices, nearly half of all adults (44%) cited their desire to do whatever will bring them the most pleasing or satisfying results.” This is the age of situational ethics and relativistic morality.
The conclusion of Barna is that the church has failed to teach its own people a standard of morality and point to the Bible as the source of moral authority. I agree. We have been so anxious to make the Christian Gospel palatable to the world that we have been afraid to preach the clear ethic of the Scriptures and call the world to repentance. What many in the church need to understand is that we are not to try to keep up with the world’s standards and adapt to the culture, we are to stand over against the current culture and call it to repentance. Revival does not come by adapting the unchanging message of Christ to the current subjective standards of the world; revival comes when people understand that they have sinned and are in need of a Savior.
As I have been reading and rereading the book of Acts, I am impressed that the apostles had one central call which they repeated over and over: the call to repentance and new life in Christ. What exactly do we mean by repentance? First of all: Repentance involves a genuine sorrow for sin. It is a phenomenon of American culture that we have a sense of entitlement — of course God forgives us, that is what he is supposed to do. It is as if we say, “God loves to forgive and I love to sin, so we have a very good thing going.” It does not matter how egregiously we have sinned, we hardly have a twinge of conscience, and act as though God does not care. We ignore repentance and expect forgiveness. We sin casually and carelessly. We fully expect that we will ultimately go to heaven regardless. But as Peter was preaching in the book of Acts, he said: “When God raised up his servant [Jesus], he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways” (Acts 3:26). You can never turn from your sin if you do not regret your sin and understand that it was sin.
Have you noticed that no one wants to admit they have done anything wrong anymore? All the way from Saddam Hussein to the street thug to the person in the pulpit or pew. We plead “not guilty” and we have a complete list of reasons why we are not morally culpable. But repentance involves a genuine sorrow for sin. Paul wrote to the Corinthians saying, “Your sorrow led you to repentance. . . . Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). We need to recapture a godly sorrow for our sin. In fact, without it we cannot be made right with God, because if we do not have genuine sorrow, it means we do not understand our sin — what it has done to us and others, and how it has grieved the heart of God.
Several years ago Dr. Karl Menninger, a clinical Psychiatrist, wrote a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin? Some began to refer to him as “psychiatrist turned prophet,” because he was calling upon the church to join him in an effort to turn the culture around by addressing the issues of moral confusion and disorder. Menninger suddenly realized that the whole concept of sin was fading from our culture. How is it that we don’t “get it” when it comes to sin? Do you realize that there is no difference in the divorce rate between those who attend church regularly and those who do not attend at all? And when it comes to sexual morality there is little difference between those who are a part of a church and those in the world. The problem is that we are far more influenced by our culture than we realize. We have been brainwashed by the world. TV and movies have made immorality the norm, so that people now feel no restraint or guilt when they indulge in sexual sin. Sometimes I just want to make really simplistic statements like, “You do realize that it is wrong to be in a sexual relationship with someone without the commitment of marriage, don’t you?” I feel like I have to say that to a variety of people: young couples planning on being married, middle-aged divorcees and even senior citizens. Please understand that God’s standard of morality does not change just because society’s ideas have changed and we have a new consensual morality. We do not want to be among those who were described by Paul when he said, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (Romans 1:25).