Grace & Peace


Friday, May 31, 2019

Repentance - No Gamble

 (Note: This post pertains to believers) 

   Due to the significance of and the confusion in the church surrounding the word "repentance," I chose to include this chapter to help clarify some of the misunderstandings surrounding this topic.

I believe Jesus Himself offered one of the best definitions of the word "repentance" when He stated in Matthew 12:41 that the men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah. I grew up in a denomination that loosely taught that the prophet Jonah went in and told the people of Ninevah to repent. In this famous Bible story, a big fish swallows Jonah and later deposits him alive on the shore. Perhaps, as a young person, you heard the story explained this way, too. When Jesus said the men of Ninevah repented at the preaching of Jonah, we must ask ourselves, what exactly did the prophet Jonah preach to them and how did the people of Ninevah respond?

This story is revealed in the book of Jonah, found in the Old Testament. It's a short book, only four chapters in length, yet it has much to say concerning many topics. The book of Jonah describes the city of Ninevah as having more than one hundred and twenty thousand people who could not tell their right hand from their left (see Jonah 4:11). God had told the prophet Jonah to "go to the great city of Ninevah and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." (Jonah 1:2 NIV)  The reluctancy of the prophet Jonah to heed God's request to go to the people of Ninevah is a fascinating study, but I wish to focus on what took place when he (Jonah) finally did obey God's request and how the people of Ninevah responded.

The Bible tells us, "Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, 'Go to the great city of Ninevah and proclaim to it the message I give you.'" (Jonah 3:1-2 NIV)  The city of Ninevah was of such a size that it required three days for the prophet Jonah to traverse it. As he did, the message of God Jonah proclaimed to the people of Ninevah was simply this, "Forty more days and Ninevah will be overturned." (Jonah 3:4b NIV) When Jesus said that the men of Ninevah repented at the preaching of Jonah, this is what the people heard; "Forty more days and Ninevah will be overturned."  We are then told in the verse that follows, "The Ninevites believed God."  (Jonah 3:5a NIV) 

Trusting God to be Merciful

What this scripture is saying is that the people of Ninevah believed that what the prophet Jonah was speaking to them were, in fact, God's words. This belief on the part of the king of Ninevah moved the king to decree a time of fasting and a time of calling out to God for all of Ninevah's people. What was spoken by the king of Ninevah in the entirety of this decree reveals his uncertainty of God's character. The king went on to say, "Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from His fierce anger so that we will not perish." (Jonah 3:8b-9 NIV) 

The king, in doing and saying this, took a chance on God's mercy. Perhaps some fled the city. The word of God does not tell us if this was so, but the king could have chosen to flee if he had wanted to. In the king's uncertainty, he took a gamble on God's character, which ultimately revealed a merciful God. Repenting, for the king and the people of Ninevah, did not mean coming to God and confessing all their evil behavior, but relying on God's merciful character and nature. Relying on God, or looking to the faithfulness of God's character, is putting your hope and trust in God and believing in His inherent goodness. (see Heb. 3:12, Rom. 2:4) 

The prophet Jonah was an Old Testament prophet, which meant he was under the Old Covenant law; yet God's nature never changes. The difference for us now is that we are under the New Covenant, and the work of the cross has delivered us from the law and the penalty of breaking the law. God's mercy is extended toward all who rely on Him. This is the certainty we have in Christ. 

It's interesting to note that even God repented in the story of Jonah (remember, repentance means to change the direction of your thinking). Scripture tells us, "When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He has threatened." (Jonah 3:10 NIV) God had relented as the king of Ninevah had hoped. He (God) changed the direction of His thinking, yet the whole time God was without sin. 

So it is for us who are born-again. We are the righteousness of God and God is no longer holding our sin against us. We've received an imputed righteousness or a right-standing with God that is apart from the works of the law or our own merit and human effort. As born-again saints, we are no longer under the condemnation of the law, and if we fail, we are free from the punishment of the law that the Old Testament Hebrews were under. Our consciences remain clean. This is the glorious liberty we have been delivered into. 

Hebrews 3:12 (KJV) says, "Take heed. brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God." 

Romans 2:4 (NKJV) says, "Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?" 

*This is an excerpt from my book, Gates: Thanksgiving Papers, chapter 4. 

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Thanks, David