I want to talk to you about two very important aspects of repentance:
The longer I walk with Jesus, the more I am convinced repentance is not just for sinners, but also for believers. It is not simply a one-time thing, but something God's people are called to do until Jesus returns.
And I hope to show you that every Christian who maintains a repentant attitude brings upon his life God's special attention. Indeed, repentance opens up something to us that nothing else can. If we walk before the Lord with a repentant heart, we will be inundated with incredible blessings!
But for now, I want to tell you what I believe is absolutely necessary to obtaining a repentant heart. First of all, this type of heart is soft and pliable. It responds to and acts upon godly reproof. It is tender, easily molded by the Holy Spirit.
But the number-one characteristic of a repentant heart - its absolute foundation - is a readiness to acknowledge guilt! It is a willingness to accept blame for wrongdoing - to say, "I am the one, Lord. I have sinned!"
You see, if there is no admitting to sin, there can be no repentance:
"For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of..." (2 Corinthians 7:10).
If you're not willing to acknowledge you're wrong, you're saying you don't need to repent. You see yourself as having done no wrong in the sight of God.
Before Pilate released Jesus into the hands of murderous priests and elders, he wanted the world to know it wasn't his fault. So he called for a basin of water, dipped his hands into it and absolved himself before the angry mob. He declared himself innocent of Christ's blood:
"When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it" (Matthew 27:24).
The phrase "See ye to it" here means, "Make sure you all know my hands are clean. I have done nothing wrong. I am clean from all guilt!"
Of course, Pilate's hands were not clean; he was about to hand over the Son of God to murderers. This kind of thinking shuts a person off from any possibility of repentance. Had a prophet approached Pilate the next day, preaching, "Repent or perish!" the ruler would have been aghast. "Who, me?" he'd have said. "I've done nothing wrong. I have washed my hands of everything. How can I repent when I haven't sinned?"
John writes: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.... If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1 John 1:8, 10).
Now, I was raised in the church, and during my lifetime I have seen many churches split in two. Each party would make an enemy of the other, until finally one group would leave and move down the road to start another church. Then the two parties would hurl curses at each other, gossiping, ridiculing, spreading vicious rumors.
If you were to listen to the justifications each party made, you'd be amazed that no one is to blame. No Christian on either side admits to any wrongdoing. Instead, they look on each other as "the enemy" and wait for God to curse and judge them. They say to their opponents, "You just wait. When people in your church start dropping dead, then you'll know who's right!"
But the truth is, both groups anger the Lord. Like Pilate, neither is in a position to repent - so they end up under His wrath! They become a congregation of the dead, living in a spiritual wilderness. Their families are troubled. They are always at odds with themselves. And it's all because nobody will accept any blame! No one says, "I'm the one who needs to be dealt with. I need prayer!"
Malachi was a prophet sent by God to reprove Israel. Yet each time he went to the people with a strong message, they reacted with mock innocence.
The first time Malachi came to them, he preached, "You have profaned the holiness of the Lord! You know how to weep and cover the altar with your tears. But God has rejected all your sacrifices - because you're in sin!"
The people reacted with total shock. They answered, "But, why? What have we done wrong?"
Malachi answered: "...the Lord... regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand. Ye say, Wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously..." (Malachi 2:13-14).
Their sin was they had been divorcing their wives and marrying heathen women. And all the while they had continued going to the altar, performing all the religious activities, with their hearts full of sin. These men had openly rebelled against God's commands. But they denied it to themselves, saying, "What are you saying? We're clean!"
So Malachi came to them a second time, preaching: "Ye have wearied the Lord with your words..." (Malachi 2:17).
In other words: "You are saying things that have absolutely shocked God. Your profanities have wearied Him!"
Again, the people responded with mock innocence: "...Wherein have we wearied him?..." (same verse).
They said, in essence, "How could we have wearied God? We've done no wrong."
Malachi answered: "...When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?" (same verse).
You see, the people had been encouraging evildoers in the congregation. They knew full well that these rebels were in sin - but they assured them all would be well, that no judgment would fall on them. Simply put, they were blunting God's message - calling evil good, and good evil. Yet they said to Malachi, "Why are you saying this? We are innocent of any wrongdoing."
Again Malachi came back to them, this time crying: "You have robbed God!"
And again the people answered with their stock response: "What do you mean? How have we robbed God?"
Malachi answered: "...In tithes and offerings" (Malachi 3:8).
He said, "You bring only garbage to the Lord's altar! You offer animals for sacrifice that are lame, blind and halt. These aren't the tithes and offerings that belong to God. You are robbing Him of your best!"
Finally, Malachi gave up preaching to them because they wouldn't hear him. The final chapter of this book tells us he bypassed them all and turned to a small, discerning, repentant remnant. These people received his reproof, and their hearts were moved by the Spirit of God. They acted on Malachi's convicting words - and in turn God blessed them mightily!
David continually searched his heart before God. He was quick to cry, "I've sinned, Lord. I stand in need of prayer!" "I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin..." (Psalm 32:5).
Being repentant doesn't mean you simply try to make things right with the person you've wronged. No - it's about making things right with God! God is the One who has been sinned against. Yes, we are to apologize to our brothers and sisters whenever we wrong them. But, more importantly, we are to repent of our sin before God. David said: "For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest" (Psalm 51:3-5).
David believed in conducting heart searchings - in the hard discipline of digging out sin in his heart: "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).
This man continually opened up his heart to God's searchlight. He said, "Lord, come and examine every corner of my life. If I've sinned against You in any way and I don't know it, please - reveal it to me. I repent!"
Perhaps you search your heart as well. Yet you come away from the Spirit's dealings saying, "Thank goodness, I'm clean. I don't have any sin in me." Beloved, you are deceived! Scripture says that all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory "I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins [test the emotions], even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings" (Jeremiah 17:10).
Isaiah confessed: "For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us: for our transgressions are with us; and as for our iniquities, we know them" (Isaiah 59:12).
The prophet was saying, "We know all about our own sins!" Of course God knows when we say or do wrong things. But we know it too!
What are these known transgressions Isaiah was talking about? They are "...lying against the Lord, and departing away from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood" (Isaiah 59:13).
There is one sin from this list we all find easy to justify - and that is "uttering from the heart words of falsehood." This means telling others something you've heard that you believe to be true, yet in fact it is false. You may utter it "from the heart" - yet there's no getting around its falsehood!
Some Christians think they can say virtually anything about anyone as long as they're sincere about it. They reason, "I mean no harm in saying it. It may not be what others think, but I believe it's true with all my heart."
Yet, what if a word from a well-meaning heart is a lie? How could any Christian justify saying it? How could anyone think, "My hands are clean"? Even if some damaging piece of information that's spoken is true, it is truth that has fallen to the ground and been trampled in mud! "Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed" (1 Samuel 2:3).
God knows - and we know - all about our sinful tongues. And He will not tolerate gossip or slander in any form!
Ezra was a godly scribe who loved the law of God and walked circumspectly before Him. He also was a great prayer warrior and a faithful preacher of God's Word. It would be hard to believe this man would need to repent of any sin.
But Ezra's heart broke over all the compromise he witnessed among God's people. When he went to Jerusalem, he saw uncleanness, idolatry, mixed marriages. Of course, none of it was his sin - yet he didn't boast, "Everybody around me may be backsliding, but my heart is right before God!" No! Instead, Ezra cast himself on the ground, weeping and confessing as if the people's sins were his own. He identified himself with God's people - and he shared their shame!
"...Ezra...prayed, and...confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God...he did eat no bread, nor drink water: for he mourned because of the transgression of them that had been carried away" (Ezra 10:1, 6). "...I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God, and said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens" (Ezra 9:5-6).
Ezra confessed not only his own weakness, but the sins of the whole congregation. He mourned, wept and felt the hurt of sin that had spread throughout God's house. I ask you: Do you take repentance that seriously?
Daniel had the same kind of repentant heart. He was a righteous man of prayer and devotion who lived so holy, you wouldn't expect to find him repenting. But Daniel's heart was sensitive to sin - and he too identified with the people's horrible sins "O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee.... We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments: Neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land" (Daniel 9:8-9, 5-6).
Daniel repeatedly used the words we, us, our. He was saying, in essence: "Every one of us is affected!"
The key to it all is found in this verse: "And whiles I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God for the holy mountain of my God" (Daniel 9:20).
Daniel said, "Oh God, deal with me while You're dealing with Your people. If there is any iniquity in my heart, bring it out. Show it to me!"
Beloved, the Lord brought this message home to me in the last few weeks. Word came to me that a very slanderous thing had been said about me. It cut me to the heart, wounding me deeply. I cried for a whole week, asking God, "Why me, Lord?"
The next week I was with a friend, and I began to talk about the slander. I named the person who had slandered me and recounted every evil thing this individual had said. I complained, "It's all a lie from the pit of hell - and I'm hurting!"
That night at home, God's Spirit spoke to me: "How is what you did with your friend any different from what was done to you?" I thought, "What are You saying, Lord?" The Spirit whispered, "You slandered that individual in return, by telling what was done to you. You are just as guilty!"
Everything that had been said to me in private, I had repeated and planted in someone else! Immediately, I fell before the Lord in repentance. And ever since, He has been showing me just how careful I have to be with my words.
Not long before that incident, I had received a call from a pastor in the Midwest. The pastor mentioned a certain evangelist who is a mutual acquaintance of ours. He said, "I have to tell you, Brother David, I'm concerned for this man. He needs prayer, and I'm calling to enlist you to pray. He has totally lost his anointing. And every time I see him, he has lost weight. It's all because he's listening to a woman in our town who has a Jezebel spirit. He's under her spell!"
Suddenly, it dawned on me. This pastor meant well and was truly concerned. But he was slandering our evangelist friend - and I was just as guilty for listening to it all!
The Holy Spirit struck my heart while we were still on the phone. I quickly said to the pastor, "Brother, drop it - don't say another word! Leave it in God's hands." I did not want to pollute my lips or poison my spirit. And I believe if I were to talk to the slandered evangelist today, he would say, "Yes, I know those rumors are circulating, and it hurts me. But, no, this woman is not a witch. She's a godly, praying Christian!"
The awful things I had heard about that man had to be dealt with in my own heart. A seed of distrust had been planted in me, and I still feel the hurt from it. Now the only way for that seed to come out is if I pray for my evangelist friend and love him. Only then will all the garbage be uprooted!
A man in our church approached me recently after a worship service. He said he had been bad-mouthing his former church to people in our congregation. But God convicted him about his slander, and now he was miserable over it. The trouble was, he had just received a call from a man in his former congregation who, even though he still attended the church, wanted to gossip about it. The man told me, "I know when he comes to my house, he's going to want to talk about our old church. But I don't want to hear any more gossip. I'm sick of it!"
Evil seeds of slander bring only hurt - both to the planter and to the listener!
The book of Daniel mentions several benefits for those who have a repentant heart. Indeed, for all who acknowledge their sin, God does the miraculous!
I want to show you just four of the many benefits of repentance. These four things came to Daniel as the result of his heartfelt confession. And each is available to us if we will repent:
1. One benefit is a new and clearer vision of Jesus Christ.
Read what happened after Daniel's repentance: "Then I lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz: His body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude. And I Daniel alone saw the vision..." (Daniel 10:5-7).
Who do you think this person was that Daniel saw in the vision? It was Jesus! What a wonderful benefit the Holy Ghost opened to Daniel when he confessed his sin. He gave him a clear vision of Christ in all His glory!
Please understand: Daniel was not praying for this vision. All he was doing was repenting - confessing and mourning over sin. Jesus took it upon Himself to come to Daniel in this revelation; the Lord initiated it! You see, when we repent and make all things right with God and others, we don't have to seek a revelation. Jesus will manifest Himself to us!
Now, Daniel had friends who were godly also, because he walked only among the righteous. Yet Scripture tells us none of them saw the vision Daniel received: "...the men that were with me saw not the vision; but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves. Therefore I was left alone..." (Daniel 10: 7-8).
A truly repentant heart never has to hide from the Lord - because there is no longer any fear of judgment! If you acknowledge your sins, evidencing godly sorrow and making restitution, you can look confidently into the Master's face. You don't have to quake with fear when you hear the thundering word of reproof - because you'll see Christ in His glory. You'll stand before His flaming eyes while everyone else is fleeing!
2. A second benefit of repentance is the removal of all fear.
"And, behold, an hand touched me... And he said unto me, O Daniel, a man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto thee, and stand upright... Then he said unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words" (Daniel 10:10-12).
Show me a Christian who refuses to acknowledge his sin - who says, "My hands are clean" - and I'll show you someone with a false piety. Such a person puts on a big smile, has a confident walk and boasts that all is well. But it's all a facade! The Bible makes it clear that if anyone hides his sin, that person will not prosper. God lifts His Spirit from him, and his soul is tossed like the waves. His unrepentant heart is full of fear and restlessness!
But show me a repentant Christian - one who is sensitive to sin, willing to be searched, crying out, "I'm guilty, O God!" - and I'll show you one who soon will walk each day without any trace of fear. God will reach His mighty hand into that believer's heart and pluck out all roots of fear. And soon that person will know the immeasurable favor and blessing of God!
"...O Daniel, a man greatly beloved ...stand upright..." (Daniel 10:11).
Jesus told Daniel, "Stand upright, repentant one! I'm going to take away all your fear and trembling. And I'm going to put you on your feet and bless you with My favor!"
Beloved, let God search and examine your heart. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal everything you have said or done that is grievous to Him. Think of anyone you have slandered or gossiped about, and admit how sinful it was. Go to that person, or get on the phone, and make restitution.
Now, it's not enough to say, "If I've wronged you in any way..." That isn't repentance. Repentance is admitting that what you did was a sin! So spill it out. Tell the person exactly what you said or did, and then make it right.
I promise you - if you make all things right, you will release in your life such favor from God as you have never known! The Lord will open your eyes, ears and understanding - and you will be given a revelation of things to come: "...(you will) understand what shall befall thy people in the latter days..." (Daniel 10:14).
3. A third benefit of repentance is a new pair of lips.
Daniel was given new lips that had been touched by God's purging hand: "And, behold, one like the similitude of the sons of men touched my lips: then I opened my mouth, and spake..." (Daniel 10:16).
Now whenever Daniel spoke, he spoke "as unto the Lord"!
Isaiah was a godly man who had issued mighty prophecies. But when he stood before the Lord in all His holiness, this prophet could only say, "...I am a man of unclean lips..." (Isaiah 6:5).
God took coals of fire from the altar, put the tongs on Isaiah's lips, and burned out all dross, self and flesh - everything that was unlike Himself. And He gave Isaiah a new pair of lips! I believe the prophet never again had to have his lips purged.
Yet God does this for every person who repents! Once your tongue and lips are purged, you will never again want to speak anything that is unlike Jesus. The words that flow from you will be pure!
4. Finally, a fourth benefit of repentance is peace and strength.
"...peace be unto thee, be strong, yea, be strong. And when he had spoken unto me, I was strengthened, and said, Let my lord speak; for thou hast strengthened me" (Daniel 10:19).
Daniel's soul was in agony. He had been mourning for sin - praying, fasting, weeping - and it left him flat on his face, totally drained. He moaned: "...my sorrows are turned upon me, and I have retained no strength" (Daniel 10:16).
Then Jesus came to him and touched his body. And suddenly Daniel was flooded with peace and strength. "...O man greatly beloved, fear not: peace be unto thee, be strong, yea, be strong...." (Daniel 10:19).
Jesus told Daniel, "O Daniel, I love you. And I want to give you My peace. Now, stand up and be strong!"
The repentant Christian can be downcast, totally wiped out, overwhelmed by sorrow and weariness. But the Lord always comes to touch his body - to give renewed peace and strength!
I ask you: Do you have a repentant heart? Do you want one? Fall on your knees today and cry out in confession - for yourself, your family, your loved ones, your church. You will receive an incredible revelation of the Lord. You'll begin to speak from pure lips. You'll no longer live in fear of any kind. And you will know peace and strength from God's mighty hand.
Best of all, each of these marvelous benefits will be "loaded" upon you daily: "Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation" (Psalm 68:19).
That is when you will know the joy of walking in repentance. *Hallelujah!*