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Gambling With God - Jeremiah 34

When is repentance REALLY repentance?

Jeremiah 34:1-22; Exodus 21:2; Luke 17:1-5; 1 John 2:1-3, 1:5-9; 1 Corinthians 6:1-11; Romans 6:9-14; Titus 2:11-14

Jun 16, 2013 12:00 PM

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Many of us have cell phones.  We text each other with our phones.  We can take pretty good pictures and even videos with our phones.  We can do video conferencing with our phones.  We use our phones as clocks and even alarm clocks.  I have a compass app on my phone so I’ll never get lost.  We can check the weather and the stock market and watch movies on our phones.  And we can make phone calls.

Several years ago, a very interesting and controversial app came out called Confession.

Confession: A Roman Catholic App, is Little i Apps very first application for iPhone™, Android, iPad, and iPod touch®.  Developed for Catholics who frequent the sacrament and those who wish to return.

With a personalized examination of conscience for each user, password protected profiles, and a step-by-step guide to the sacrament, this app invites Catholics to prayerfully prepare for and participate in the Rite of Penance.

The question was then asked if I have this app, “Do I still need a priest?”

Yes.  This app is intended to help a person prepare for the sacrament of Confession with a Catholic priest.  It is not intended to function as a replacement for confession!

I think I’d feel a bit neurotic sitting with my phone and confessing my sins to it.  And recording the whole thing, keeping a list with a running total of how many times I’ve broken each of the ten commandments.  My phone is going to create a customized examination of my conscience?  I never would have thought to do that with a phone.

It is entirely possible to be too focused on one’s own sin and guilt.  Garrison Keillor poked fun at Catholics by means of the Catholic church in his fictitious hometown of Lake Wobegone which went by the name of Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility.  The Confession app would be mandatory in that church.

As crazy as all of this may sound to some of us, I’m not so sure the Confession app is such a bad idea.  Maybe regular times of confession and an examination of my conscience would be a good thing.  While it is true that some people are so “sin-centric” and so guilt-oriented that they carry around an unnecessarily burdensome sense of personal rottenness, the opposite seems to be more prevalent among Evangelicals.

Many Christians seem to seldom take their own sinfulness very seriously.  Far from being “sin-centric”, many become nearly “sin-oblivious”.  And those two extremes are actually easy to run to.  It’s easy to be so burdened with sin that we neglect the sacrifice of Christ that has paid for them.  But it’s also possible to swing too far in the opposite direction and hardly acknowledge the great evil of our sin because “Christ paid it all and He washed me white as snow” and all my sin has been cast into the deepest part of the sea not to be remembered again.  And if God has forgiven me, then who am I to keep dredging it up?  My sin is forgiven and I’ve forgotten it.  What sin?

How do we strike a balance between feeling perpetually responsible for my sin on the one hand, and being virtually oblivious to it on the other?  What does a biblical attitude toward my own sinful behavior look like?  I believe it should look more like the Confession app, and less like Clueless-ness.

Many years ago there was a car commercial which featured an exceedingly nervous driving school instructor and his pupil, a young and very attractive blond woman.  When the instructor urgently informs her to look out for that truck, she replies, “What truck?’  To which he says very, very urgently, ”Behind the bus!”  To which she again replies, “What bus?”  True cluelessness.

The people of Judah show us what cluelessness towards sin looks like in Jeremiah 34.  They enter into what has become a very rare occurrence for them called repentance.  Exodus 21:2 says, When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. They had not done this for many, many years.  But suddenly, King Zedekiah has a rare moment of spiritual conscientiousness and makes a royal proclamation to end the sinful, unending slavery of their fellow Jews.  But then something very, very evil happens:

Read Jeremiah 34.

The repentance of Zedekiah and the people of Judah regarding the setting free of the slaves is like Pharaoh’s “repentance”.  Moses repeatedly said to Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”  When he finally did let the people of Israel leave Egypt, he then “came to his senses” and sent his armies to retrieve them.  It is repentance and re-repentance.  Or anti-repentance.  Or reverse repentance.  When Pharaoh repents of his “repentance”, it reveals his true nature.  That is what Zedekiah and the people of Jerusalem did: They repented of having repented to set their slaves free.  They broke the covenant they made with God.

15 You recently repented and did what was right in my eyes by proclaiming liberty, each to his neighbor, and you made a covenant before me in the house that is called by my name, 16 but then you turned around and profaned my name when each of you took back his male and female slaves, whom you had set free according to their desire, and you brought them into subjection to be your slaves. (Jeremiah 34:15-16 ESV)

Here’s the issue for us: When we sin, and we confess and repent of that sin, and eventually we return to that same sin again, did we ever really repent of it in the first place?  In other words, if we as Christians have sins that are more or less habitual, can we honestly say that we have ever truly repented?  Have we made a covenant to set the slaves free only to enslave them again?  Or better yet, do we promise to turn from our sin through confession and repentance, only to eventually enslave ourselves to it again?  Do we deal with our sin as though we were confessing it to an iPhone and not to God?  Is our confession and repentance genuine if we soon repeat the sin we confessed?

Turn with me please to Luke 17.

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 Pay attention to yourselves!  If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:1-5 ESV)

I can relate to that.  If my “brother” sinned against me seven times in one day and he repented seven times in that same day and asked me to forgive him seven times, I’d be questioning his sincerity after about number three.  It would take a lot of faith to believe this guy was a real “brother”.  It would take a lot of faith to believe any of his repentance was genuine.

I believe Jesus is presenting the disciples with a hypothetical situation in order to illustrate two things:

1) Our unwillingness to forgive those who repeatedly sin against us.  It is hard to forgive repeat offenders because their repentance is questionable.

2) God’s willingness to forgive us EVERY SINGLE TIME we come to Him confessing our sin, repent of it, and ask His forgiveness.  If God is willing to forgive us our innumerable sins, shouldn’t forgive those who trespass against us?  And shouldn’t we be quick to ask His forgiveness of our sins, especially if our sins are many and frequent?  Especially if our guilt is great and the flesh is weak?  This is the nature of God’s grace toward us.  It includes massive forgiveness.

Whenever we repeat a sinful act of which we’ve previously repented, we are in essence repenting of our repentance.  But can we repent even of that?  Can we repent of insincerity in our repentance?

Look with me at 1 John for a moment.

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

One cannot have fellowship with Christ and simultaneously, habitually walk in darkness, in unrepentant sin.  Such a person does not know Christ.

7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

If we live godly lives, in obedience to what Christ has commanded, it is evidence that we have truly believed the gospel and Christ’s blood cleanses, and continues to cleanse us of our sins.  The Greek word translated “cleanses” in this verse is a present indicative active verb.  That means the action being performed by the blood of Christ is a present and continuous action.  We are not only perpetually being forgiven of sins confessed, but also perpetually cleansed of the filth of those sins.

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9 ESV)

That is very good news for those of us who haven’t quite attained to perfection in the Christian walk.  If we confess our sins, based upon Christ’s work on our behalf, God is both faithful and just to both forgive and cleanse us as often as we repent and confess our sins.

2 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. (1 John 2:1-3 ESV)

Consistent obedience, even in the matter of confessing one’s sins, is evidence that we truly know Him as our Savior from our sins.

Q:  But how do we deal with others who sin, sometimes repeatedly, against us? How can we forgive someone who seems to be insincere in his repentance because he keeps on sinning?

A:  What did Jesus teach us to pray?  And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

How often do you want to be forgiven?  Seven times in one day?  Seventy times seven?  Four hundred and ninety times and no more?  We forgive those who sin against us as many times as we need God to forgive us of our sins against Him.  How many is that?

Look with me at 1 Corinthians 6 please.

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world?  And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels?  How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame.  Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. [And if you cannot resolve the conflict among yourselves . . .]  Why not rather suffer wrong?  Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves [would rather go before unbelievers to the civil courts and . . .] wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:1-11 ESV)

Now notice the two points Paul is making here:

  • Once upon a time, you were unbelievers who engaged in all the sins of the world.  But you are not unbelievers any longer.  You were washed, sanctified, and justified by God.  You have been saved from the condemnation of your sins through faith in Christ.
  • Now, as believers, you sometimes have conflicts and grievances against each other that you would rather take to civil court than settle amongst yourselves or allow yourselves to be wronged by your so-called brother.

 

In other words, Christians sometimes sin as Christians.  Sometimes Christians sin against each other.  But they remain Christians.

This is a hard topic and one that needs to be handled carefully.  But the real issue in Jeremiah 34 is disingenuous repentance.  And thus the title of this message.  There are times when we are sorely tempted to question the sincerity of another person’s repentance because they never seem to make a clean break with their sinful behavior.  It is not unlike what the Scriptures speak of as dogs returning to their vomit and washed pigs returning to roll in the mud.  We see that happen in a fellow believer’s life and we naturally have very serious doubts about that person’s salvation or at least their previous repentance.

Have you ever known Christians who seem to constantly struggle, or who may consider themselves addicted to certain sins - alcohol, porn, homosexuality, materialism, substance abuse?  We wonder about such people.  But then we should consider ourselves.  What kinds of sins easily beset us, as Hebrews puts it?  How good are we at being self-disciplined and self-controlled about all kinds of things: time spent in front of the TV or the Internet?  The amount of food we consume?  The types of entertainment we indulge in regularly?  Our wise stewardship of the finances God provides for us?

How well do we hold our tongues and refrain from gossip?  How well do we control our thoughts and reign in the passions that lie just underneath the surface?  How often are we impatient and unkind and unloving and superficial in our repentance of our sin?

How disciplined are we in our repentance of our own sins?  Do we really and truly repent when we sin?  Or do we just go through the motions of repentance calling it repentance, but only until the temptation to indulge comes at us again?  Can that truly be called biblical repentance?  Doesn’t real repentance mean never, ever returning to that sin again?  Well . . .

I pray the Lord will use this illustration to help us understand this sad situation of repentance and repeated sinfulness:

As Christians, we live our lives suspended between two worlds:

  • The old world we left when the Lord saved us and brought us out of darkness to light,
  • And the new and perfect world we’re headed toward (but aren’t there yet) because the Lord saved us.

Sometimes we revisit the old world.  Our break with the darkness is not a complete break and we’re drawn towards it because of the lusts of the flesh, even though we’ve been regenerated by the Spirit of God.  So sometimes it feels like we have one foot on the dock and one foot in the boat.  Sometimes we want to stay but we want to leave at the same time.  Why we would want to have anything to do with our old life as unbelievers is inexplicable.  Not that we want to stay in that old world of unbelief, but we find ourselves wanting to visit on occasion.

The only way we can permanently part company with the world we used to live in is to die.  Then, when we die, we get off the dock, we get in the boat with both feet, leave the fallen world entirely and go to Heaven.

But that’s our quandary.  How do we live in between these worlds?  How do we live as Christians in this third world, this present life that thankfully isn’t what we left behind when the Lord saved us, but it surely isn’t the heavenly world we’ve been promised and for which we long.

It is much easier to live with both feet in one world or the other.  It’s hard living as a Christian in this already/not yet world.  But this is where we live.  For now.  We are not immune to the temptations to sin.  Sometimes we succumb.  But we’re also no longer slaves to sin.  In closing, look with me at Romans 6.

9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:9-14 ESV)

We are no longer under the Law of God that actually provokes the sinful nature in us to sin.  Rather we now are under the power and influence of grace.  The grace of God that saved us is the grace of God that enables us to live godly lives.  We are no longer slaves of sin, powerless to overcome it.  We are granted the power of God’s grace to deal with sin.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.  (Titus 2:11-14 ESV)

Those who presume upon the grace of God, who treat repentance as a light matter, who think the forgiveness of God is an automatic grace granted on demand--such people do not know God.  He recognizes their so-called repentance for what it is: a disingenuous, insincere religious ritual.  God looks at the heart.  Do not gamble with God by thinking what you call repentance must surely be what God calls repentance.  It’s more than an app on your phone, or a robotic phrase repeated after a sinful spree, or a temporary act that has no will to truly turn from sin.

Man looks on the outward appearance, but God is not mocked.  He looks at the heart.  Is your repentance from the heart?  Maybe regular times of confession and an examination of our consciences would be a good thing.


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