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Edited from a message delivered at the "Heart-Cry for Revival" Conference near Asheville, North Carolina, May 23-27, 2000. Richard Owen Roberts is founder and president of International Awakening Ministries, Wheaton, Illinois.
There is very little said these days in the church on the subject of repentance, and in many circles, what little is said is not accurate. Even in cases where it is accurate, it is said in such an inconsequential fashion that nobody catches the real consequence of the issue of repentance.
There are many places where they teach and preach that repentance has nothing whatsoever to do with salvation. I have been told by listeners when I finished speaking in various places on repentance, "You dont seem to realize, Mr. Roberts, repentance is a work, and were not saved by works; were saved by faith alone." Nonsense. It is impossible to believe when you are going in the wrong direction. Repentance is mandatory to salvation. You must turn from your sins, and you must turn to Jesus Christ. You cannot turn to Christ unless you have turned from your sins.
It is also apparent that to repent and not believe would be a travesty indeed. It would put a person in a position similar to the situation Christ described when He spoke of seven demons being cast out of someone, and the place swept and garnished, but because nothing came in to take the place of the demons that were expelled, his last state was worse than his first (Matthew 12:42-45). Repentance and faith are wed together, never to be divorced.
Wherever you have a church that is negligent on the subject of repentance, you have a very erroneous and grievous situation. Every preacher reading this ought to be pleading with God: "Give me, Lord, a new sense of the urgency of repentance, so that I can preach it with vigor and power, and that the Holy Spirit will use it to change my congregation.
I ask you if you have ever weighed carefully the significance, not alone of personal repentance, but of corporate repentance. It should be obvious to all of us that just as individuals sin, so corporate entities sin. I almost never hear anyone say anything consequential on the subject of corporate repentance. The few who do say something about it tend, sometimes at least, to make it more the public confession of private sin.
One of the aberrations in recent years accompanying revival efforts is that people are invited and urged and pled with even, to make a public confession of a private sin. You may feel there is face value in that, but whatever value you place on it, surely you must not confuse it with corporate confession of corporate sin and corporate repentance.
As each individual sins, so each entity sins, and by entity Im being inclusive. A married couple is an entity. A married couple with children is another entity. There is the extended family. Theres the local church, the school, the business. Whatever the entity, just as each individual sins, so each entity sins.
The passage Second Chronicles 7:14, is not directed to individuals. Indeed, most of the passages in Scripture on the subject of revival are not directed to individuals but to a corporate entity. When youre using Second Chronicles 7:14, it is never enough to find some individuals who are responsive to that and to think that God is now under obligation to do something in relation to healing the land. It is when the people of God corporately humble themselves and pray and seek His face and turn from their wicked ways, that we begin to approach what is called for in the passage. But today we dont see any real response to that on the part of churches nationwide.
It is never enough to think in terms of repentance and the individual; you must think in terms of the corporate entity. When you go away from this conference, dont merely take joy in the fact that you yourself have come to a deeper level of repentance--thank God that will be true for many of you--but burden your heart immensely for the corporate entities in which you are involved, and realize that they, too, must come to repentance.
SEVEN MYTHS OF REPENTANCE
Myth Number One: Repentance equals sorrow. This is a very prominent myth. Many people think they have come to repentance because they have been overwhelmed with sorrow. Others are fearful they have not repented, because they see some around them weeping profusely, and they say, "Ive never wept like that. Maybe I dont know true repentance."
Tears have their place. Im not speaking depreciatingly of tears. I would to God there were more tears in our meetings, and more tears in my own life. I think tears are an urgent need, but we dare not equate sorrow and repentance. They are not the same thing. Often those who express sorrow are not expressing sorrow over sin, but sorrow over having been caught in sin.
Several years ago we had a wonderful touch of the Holy Spirit on certain campuses across the nation, in some fifty schools it is estimated. Many tears were shed, and many students stood and confessed unspeakable sins. They did so in a flood of tears with absolute sincerity, but thats not the same as repentance. Many of those dear students were drawn back into the web of their iniquity because unwisely they were led to believe that sorrow equals repentance.
Myth Number Two: Repentance and self-defense can exist together. Whenever you find a person who is seemingly repentant and yet he or she is busily defending himself or herself, you know that it is not repentance. Take for instance King Saul, who was commanded to go and utterly slay the Amalekites (1 Samuel, chapter 15). Instead, he spared the best of the sheep and the goats and some of the gold, and he spared Agag the king.
When God spoke to Samuel the prophet, He said, "King Saul has disobeyed me; go down and confront him." When Samuel confronted Saul, Saul said, "Why, I have done what the Lord commanded me."
Samuel said, "What then is the meaning of this bleating of the sheep and the goats in my ear?"
"Oh," said Saul, "you have to understand that the people preserved the best of the sheep and the goats." And he was told, "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (verse 22).
When he couldnt squirm out of it any longer, Saul cried out, "Oh, I have sinned, but the people made me do it." Repentance and self-defense never go together. When the prophet turned and started to walk away from King Saul, King Saul reached out and grabbed hold of his garment. Samuel kept walking and the garment tore.
Then Samuel turned back and said to Saul, "Just as you have torn my garment, just so has God torn the kingdom from you and given it to a neighbor who is better than yourself."
Saul blurted out, "Oh, I have sinned, but dont tell the people and the elders." Samuel was wiser than some of us. Samuel knew that there was no repentance in King Saul because he was linking repentance and self-defense.
When a public figure repents, the whole of his public should know it. If you sin, and your public doesnt know whether youve repented or not, you have some repentance yet to deal with. Repentance and self-defense never exist together.
Myth Number Three: Repentance can be selective; one can pick and choose the things from which they repent. When anyone resorts to selective repentance, the tendency is to repent of the glaring matters, the things of which everyone knows he is guilty. There is no potential for selectivity in genuine repentance. Even if someone in your church is caught in adultery and sheds buckets of tears, and makes no self-defense, and admits openly and candidly to an adulterous relationship, it is not necessarily repentance. You have to be sure that the underlying cause of adultery has been turned from, and that cause in most instances is pride.
Take as an example, a woman who forsakes her three children and her husband and runs off with a local university professor. When she is confronted by the church, she at first says, "Well, if you knew that beastly fellow Im married to, youd understand." But the church is very earnest in bringing her to repentance and so finally she says, "Well, I admit that I did the wrong thing." Do we then rejoice? Id want to get underneath and discover whether she had turned from the pride that made her think she didnt need to be bound to this miserable man.
Im thinking now of a pastor who invited me to conduct a series of meetings, and one of the first things I discovered was that he was in an adulterous relationship. All week long as I confronted him with his sin, the tears flowed. But I was convinced he never came to repentance. Recently, twelve years after the original event, he tracked down where I was preaching and came every night to the meetings. The last night he said to me, "I have come to the awareness that all of my attempts to repent of adultery have been without meaning because underneath it all is pride."
Then with tears coursing down his face he said, "Do you think there is any hope for me?" I said, "Only God knows," because I didnt see any evidence that his pride was broken. One of the myths of repentance is that one can be selective.
Myth Number Four: Repentance is purely personal. Sin is not personal! Sin is always against somebody. If you ask what is the very essence of sin, you come to the certain determination that the essence of sin is self. Sin is me against you; you against me; me against God; us against God. Sin is very purely personal. Sin is always against somebody. Even the secret sins of the heart, which some people imagine are against nobody but themselves, are nonetheless against God.
The great evil of all sin consists of the fact that it is against God. Thats why in Psalm 51 David cried out, "Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight." Wait a minute, David, you sinned against Bathsheba; you sinned against her husband; you sinned against a whole nation; you sinned against your own family. How can you say "Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight?"
Ah, thats what youre bound to say when you come to recognize that the great evil of all sin is that it is against God. So when you come to repentance, it is not enough to secretly repent; it is not enough to engage in some serious work with God concerning your own life. Your sin has been against somebody. Sure, there are times when it is solely against God, but there are pastors who have allowed some secret sin in their lives and in doing so, have sinned perpetually against their congregation.
You have never dealt adequately with sin in repentance unless you come clean before your congregation. There are deacons who are regularly sinning against the congregation that has put them in the office. To say that repentance is purely personal is a mythological statement.
Myth Number Five: Repentance consists of turning from the evil I have done. This is what is usually taught. No, it is deeper than that. Why did David say in Psalm 51, "In sin did my mother conceive me"? Was he pinning the blame for his adultery and his murder on his mother? No indeed. He was acknowledging that his problem was not merely what he had done; his problem was what he was. When one comes to repentance, it is never enough to repent of what youve done. You must repent of what you are.
We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. When we come to repentance, we must repent of what we are, that we are shot through with sin, that we were born in sin and that sin has a vice grip over our lives. You can repent a thousand times of the things that you have done, and if you have never repented of what you are, you have still to repent.
Myth Number Six: Repentance is a single act. A person comes to a conference like this, or to his church on a Sunday morning, where the Spirit is using the Word of God like a very sharp sword. His heart is pierced; his sin is apparent. He determines then and there to repent and so he makes some overt action against that sin. He turns from it.
Someone comes to me and says, "I want you to understand that twelve years ago I repented" or "Two nights ago I repented." Its never enough to say, "I repented." I must be able to say, "I am repentant--day in, day out, year after year, unceasingly, I live in the spirit of repentance."
Our churches are loaded down with people who can testify to the occasion in which they repented, and yet sin has shot through their lives. They are utterly worthless as witnesses of the grace of God. They do vast damage in the church because they think that repentance is something that occurs in a point of time.
No, repentance is an ongoing spirit and attitude. We live consistently in repentance, just as we must live consistently in faith. Oh, the pity of the millions in America who can tell you the day and the hour they accepted Christ, and yet they have no ongoing faith. Both faith and repentance are continual. They must not cease. It is only a myth when one clings to something in the past.
Myth Number Seven: Repentance is an act of self-preservation. In a typical evangelistic meeting, certain things are dangled in front of the congregation--threats, if you will, frightening things, things to be avoided. In some cases something is said on the subject of hell, and repentance and faith are offered as a means of escaping the penalty of hell. Other times the appeal is based on loneliness. "Youre here tonight and you have had the greatest and most profound disappointment of your life, because the man to whom you entrusted yourself in entirety has betrayed your confidence and has forsaken you. You are alone. Come to Christ and get a friend."
Christ is the greatest of friends. But self-preservation is not repentance. One may begin moving in the direction of God in some selfish fashion, like seeking to escape hell, but if that is where it ends, it ends before it becomes genuine repentance. Repentance is not something I do for myself; repentance is something I do for God.
Why are our churches loaded up with dead wood, people who will not lift a finger on behalf of the Kingdom of God? Why do we see so much burnout among pastors? Why are so many who are not burned out bone weary, wondering if it is worth the struggle? It is because they are dealing with all kinds of unrepentant people who are trying to use God for their own advantage. True repentance is when one comes to the end of himself and stops using others, including God, and he becomes a person who is dead to self, and then in faith, alive to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do any of these myths hit you? Is it possible that what youve been thinking of as repentance is none other than a grievous myth? And what about your church? Is it possible that the real problem in your church is that people in your church are people who have embraced myths rather than reality and have been deprived of the glories of Jesus Christ in their own souls, because you have allowed them to cling to some myth, instead of helping them come to genuine repentance?