Repent or Run
MARCH 8, 2023
You may (or may not) remember a sermon by the Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.
That sermon made two points. The first is don’t mess with God because he is big and scary. The second is Christ is lifted up as a great Savior of the worst of sinners.
If you’ve never stood before God and been afraid, there is a good chance that you’ve been worshipping an idol. And if you’ve never stood before God, and been loved deeply and profoundly when you knew you didn’t deserve it, there is a good chance that you’ve been worshipping an idol too.
Let’s look at Isaiah 6:1-7.
For some context, what exactly is repentance?
People teach (including me for a lot of years) that when you spill the milk, you are forgiven. That’s good. But repentance, in this metaphor, means that you clean up that spilt milk.
That’s not true.
The Greek word for “repentance” describes an attitudinal work in you. A working definition of repentance: Repentance is knowing who you are, who God is, what you’ve done and how you’ve lived…and then taking that to a holy God. After that, the ball is in God’s court.
Repentance isn’t just an act; it’s the lifestyle of the Christian. And there is more. Repentance is also the secret to the potential power of Christians and the church.
A friend of mine, Tal Prince, told me that he had given up on making New Year’s resolutions because he had demonstrated, time and time again, his inability to live up to them. So instead he now makes “New Year’s relinquishments.”
The traditional view of repentance has a far higher view of human nature than the Bible warrants. The fact is we are needy sinners in desperate need of a Savior.
So what happens when we encounter the real God?
Annie Dillard’s book, Holy the Firm, blew me away. Let me give you a quote from it:
“The higher Christian churches, where, if anywhere, I belong, come at God with an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as though people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God. I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed….If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it at any minute. This is the beginning of wisdom.”
Let me give you a truism. An encounter with the real God of the universe solicits only one of two possible responses: repent or run.
“Though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15) was the last good thing Job said about God. The rest is less than laudable. Finally, God had had it: “I will question you, and you will answer me” (Job 40:7). After that, what was Job’s option?
Repent or run.
When Paul encountered God on the road to Damascus, he repented. What else was he going to do?
Repent or run.
The rich young ruler, after Jesus answered his question on what he had to do to inherit eternal life, “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:22).
Repent or run.
Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead and the religious leaders plotted how to kill him (John 11).
Repent or run.
Zacchaeus came down from a tree and had dinner with Jesus, and his life changed (Luke 19).
Repent or run.
What is your response?
Nature of a Holy God
“And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke” (Isaiah 6:4).
God is not your buddy, your co-pilot, or Santa Claus. God is bigger and scarier than you think…and he is bigger and scarier than you can think.
Our problem is that we’ve been worshipping a little god. And little gods do little things.
The Bible is full of stories of men and women encountering the real God and God scaring the spit out of them. Moses. Jeremiah. Job. Hosea.
When Handel composed Messiah, he was broke and for days he remained in his studio. Once Handel completed the “Hallelujah” chorus, he said, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself seated on His throne, with His company of Angels.” That encounter changed the course of Handel’s life and, in fact, the course of history.
I used to pray, “God, show me yourself.” Now that I’m older and somewhat wiser, my prayer is instead, “God, show me as much of yourself as I can stand without being killed.”
So if you’ve been worshipping a nice, small god, for God’s sake and yours, repent.
Horror of Human Sin
“And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’” (Isaiah 6:4-5).
I’m often accused of being antinomian (“against the law,” someone who ignores the law of God and believes it no longer matters) and it’s my own fault. A number of years ago I wrote a book titled Three Free Sins. I wish I had titled it something else. There were so many people who didn’t read any of that book except for its title and said, “I know it. Steve isn’t saved and he encourages sin!”
I am and I don’t.
The truth is that I’m an old, cynical preacher. I’ve cleaned up after more suicides and listened to more confessions than you can imagine. And I’ve looked at my own heart…and it scares me to death. I’m not a good person, but you’ve never met a man who wants to please God more than I do. That’s because I’ve seen what sin has done to the people I love…and in a more existential way, I’ve seen what my own sin has done to me.
The old Puritan prayer says it and if you’ve been a Christian very long you’ve experienced it: “Our sins are too heavy to carry, too real to hide, and too deep to undo.”
I’ve been rereading my friend Dan Allender’s book, Bold Love, for my morning devotions. In a section on God’s wrath, he writes, “The fury of God is against sin. He despises sin and cannot bear it in His presence. Make no mistake, God is ruthless and brutal against sin…God wars against sin, doing battle with the sinner and against the Evil One who continually seeks to lead foolish people into the deception of sin’s relief. God has purposed to destroy the Evil One and eventually every manifestation of evil…”
When you encounter a holy and scary God, you will never be flippant about your sin again. And when you do encounter that God, for God’s sake and yours, repent.
Impossibility of Self-Righteousness
“And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’” (Isaiah 6:5).
Do you know the greatest hindrance to Christians making an impact on the world? It’s not our disobedience, poor theology, or unfaithfulness. It’s self-righteousness and nobody in the world has less about which to be self-righteous than we do. In fact, I feel quite self-righteous in even writing that.
Only those who have been forgiven can forgive. It’s a principle. You can’t forgive and love until you’ve been forgiven and loved, and then only to the degree to which you’ve been forgiven and loved. And we’ve been forgiven and loved unconditionally.
When you encounter the real God, if there is in you even a smidgeon of feeling that you may be bad but others are far worse, for God’s sake and yours, repent.
Incredible News of Redeeming Hope
“And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for’” (Isaiah 6:7).
Let me explain the laughter of Christians: There is a direct correlation between the sorrow you experience over your sins and the joy you experience when you’re forgiven.
We are also “sinners in the hands of a loving Father.” Every debt has been paid. You are forgiven. You are free. You are loved.
When you encounter the real God, if you’re without hope, for God’s sake and yours, repent.
Repent…and run to him.