Sunday, March 22, 2009

Whatever Happened to Repentance?

Years ago, when we lived in Chicago, I attended a women's Bible study, and we studied the book of Hebrews. One day the leader, a bright, multi-talented woman, spoke on Hebrews 10:26: "For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries." 

Can these words be more clear? Apparently they didn't fit with the speaker's worldview, because she explained that this verse applies to unbelievers who hear the gospel and refuse to accept Christ. Really? The author of Hebrews is addressing Hebrew believers, and he uses the pronoun "we." The entire book of Hebrews exhorts believers to stay spiritually alert and walk in faith. 

This woman stood up in front of a group of about 300 people and essentially told them: "Don't worry; this doesn't apply to you since most of you ladies have probably recited the 'sinner's prayer' at some point in your lives. You go right ahead and sin with impunity (as long as you stick with socially acceptable sins, of course)." 

Now don't get me wrong--I find her worldview far more palatable than what the Bible actually teaches on the subject. I want her to be right, and I've spent over fifteen years trying to convince myself that what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace" in The Cost of Discipleship is enough. But there are just too many Bible passages that flatly contradict such a notion. That Bible study teacher's theology is a version of the worldly attitude mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:32: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." The "Christianized" worldly attitude is: "Let us eat and drink [i.e., live however we want], because we have a ticket to heaven."

Whatever happened to "repent and believe"? Now it's "believe and join the culture war." We are no longer taught to see sin as a serious problem. How can we seek the cure when we're not aware of any disease. Statistics say that Christians are indistinguishable from the rest of the population, and I'd venture a guess it's because we feel no need to seek deliverance from sin. Our religion often changes nothing in our lives except, perhaps, where we spend our Sunday mornings and how we vote.  

Last week a noticed an interesting thread on the religion forum on Amazon, and I was procrastinating on doing taxes and other things, so I decided to join in. I found out that at least one of the atheists knew the Bible really well and had stopped believing because Christianity didn't seem to "work." Very rarely did he see the miracle of regeneration. Most of the atheists on the thread seemed very responsive to the things I said, even though I tried not to downplay the "cost of discipleship." Ironically, it was the watered-down version of Christianity they objected to.

How very sad to think that we may be turning others away from the truth by not fully embracing it ourselves! There is a dying world out there that desperately needs hope, and people look to us to see if the gospel has the power to do what it purports to do. I want to pause here and say that I'm preaching to myself more than anyone (which is appropriate, since I'm probably the only one reading this).

God loves us far too much to leave us in our sins. Philippians 2:12-13 says, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." This doesn't mean that we are to be afraid of God, nor does it mean that we are to save ourselves. "Fear and trembling" means: "This is important, people! Take it seriously." We must be persistent in our surrender to the Holy Spirit's work in our lives. There is no room for complacency in the life of a believer. Even if the prevailing attitude is that sanctification is optional, Matthew 7:13 tells us that there's no safety in numbers. But the good news is that Jesus did not come to judge us, but to save us.

We will never be perfect in this life, but we have to keep growing. As Brother Lawrence says: "Not to advance in the spiritual life is to go back. But those who have the gale of the Holy Spirit go forward even in sleep." 

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