Then the Lord said to Cain,
“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?
If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?
But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door;
it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
Genesis 4:6-7 NIV
In Part 1 of Worth the Walk, took a brief look at the role sincere repentance plays in maintaining a healthy spiritual relationship in the life of a Christ-follower.
We looked into the life of Cain as defined by his murdering his brother Abel and gathered from his responses to God’s questions in Genesis 4that he felt – or certainly showed – no remorse in knowing his Creator knew what had gone on in the field that day until he learned of consequences he’d face for his actions (Genesis 4:1-16).
So it bears repeating he that Cain – like many humans today – didn’t regret the offense he committed so much; what he actually regretted was the accountability he faced because of the offense.
It also bears repeating that a dangerous difference distinguishes between those two attitudes when it comes to cultivating a sincere relationship with God. And I say with concerned love for our culture that the message of this danger is going increasingly ignored in this age when it desperately needs to be heard. So often, we’re instructed to believe/repent/be baptized. And there are indeed the scripturally sound first steps toward living the Christian life (Acts 2:38). But the thing is that the process – particularly the call to repent– contains heart-work that so often goes uncovered.
Over the next two weeks, therefore, some choices that Cain faces in Genesis 4and how his response to them affect his life. His responses to the first two, we can safely say, were unwise ones:
- To be or not to be … jealous. Intentionally or not, Cain chose to fan the flame of jealousy that sparked when God rejected his offering but accepted Abel’s. Think of the sheer stupidity of his choice. Cain is jealous of Abel because Cain withheld his own best offering and God called him on it. Abel had nothing to do with the backlash Cain received.
- To murder or not to murder. Obviously, Cain missed this one by a mile when he chose to fan the aforementioned jealousy until it drove him to kill his brother.
It’s absolutely true that replacing either of these choices with their wise alternatives – choosing smash the jealousy bug and certainly choosing not to harm his brother – would’ve gracefully redirected the path of his life.
Granted, no human has the ability to say whether or how one good decision might have rewritten any part of Scripture, but I have a theory about a third unwise choice in this account. I believe, in fact, that this one sealed the deal concerning Cain’s fate.
And I believe that you and I can learn from his grave mistake.
Instead of taking the divine opportunity to own up to his guilt even after his second unwise choice, Cain chose to take an attitude with God…and it wasn’t a good one (see Genesis 4:9).
Oh Cain. Cain, Cain, Cain! All you had to do when God asked about your brother was to show some sincere remorse. To genuinely recognize, repent and turn away from those jealous and violent tendencies. Had your heart been truly fixed on God, I’d be willing to guarantee that your relationship with Him could and would have been restored to a level you’d treasure above all others there, then, in that moment.
And to anyone reading this, the same opportunity is available to you when Jesus Christ is your Savior. A solid understanding of repentance is absolutely fundamental to biblical Christianity as well as to your very soul. Consider that Hebrews 6:1 discusses repentance from acts that lead to death as the first of six elementary truths of God’s word. Repentance is a part of the very foundationof the true Christian faith and is way too important to be glossed over or neglected to any degree.
In other words, every Christ-follower – actually, everyone – had better be getting serious with repentance.
And, look, I get it: no one is born with an inherent knowledge of what repentance actually is. But I also get Paul’s drift in Acts 17:30 when he says that these times of [past] ignorance God has overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.”
He’s telling me I’d better be getting serious with my repentance. And it’s my experience with Paul that when he speaks, I’m wise to listen. Have you experienced that too? Good; then let’s take some time together to take in ten of the most important factors – five this week, five next week – that define repentance as you and I should see and act on it.
Factor 1: It’s All About Change.
Ancient and modern dictionaries alike tell us that to repentmeans to change, to have a change of mind. In spiritual terms, this change of mind entails two willful actions: a turning from sin and a turning to God (see An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). This change of mind is a change of one’s attitude as well as mental perspective that results in a change in behavior. It means turning from the way of life that is contrary to God’s law, and turning to the way of life that is defined by God’s law. This definition consists chiefly of the Ten Commandments, but includes other commandments, statutes, and judgments. True repentance surrenders one’s entire life to God’s will as expressed in His revealed Word. It calls for the putting away of sinful activities defined by the commandments, and adopting a mindset of holiness.
Repentance begins with a change of mind and results in a change of conduct (Acts 3:19). Turn to God by accepting His terms and provisions, and then follow through with action; the two actions are so interwoven that one cannot be separated from the other. The internal quality we call repentance is an attitude influencing the way we behave. It motivates us to obey God’s commandments and accept His provisions for salvation. Similarly, putting God’s instructions to practice influences our attitudes; it encourages the attitude known as repentance.
Factor 2: It’s About the Heart of the Gospel.
John the Baptist knew how to get to the heart of Christ’s Gospel; for him, it all came down to repentance. He urged his listeners to repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 3:2) So did his Cousin: From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The apostle Paul went to the Jews and Greeks alike preaching the kingdom of God, a message of repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21, 25).
Notice how, in each case, the call for repentance is linked to the message of the Kingdom of God. These statements summarize the message John, Jesus, and Paul preach. This comparison demonstrates that the call to repentance is at the heart and core of the Gospel.
Think of it from a perspective of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount: Matthew summarizes the Savior’s preaching ministry with this one line: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Everything Jesus taught relates to repentance and the Kingdom in one way or another, which makes sense in light of the fact that, as a prominent theologian points out, “the good news of the Kingdom is a message of repentance.”
Factor 3: It Shapes the Great Commission.
Since the message Jesus commands His followers to take to the world is the message He brought, Factor 3 aligns closely with Factor 2. Take a look at the Great Commission” Christ left for His disciples in Matthew 28:18–20:
And Jesus came and spoke to [the disciples], saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
As the Son of God, Christ has all authority…in heaven and earthas acquired from God the Father. Further, Christ exercises His authority on earth through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of disciples like you and me. Despite the fact that Jesus is now bodily absent from the earth, His work continues through His disciples. His Spirit is present within us, and through us He continues calling for repentance in preparation for the Kingdom of God.
Jesus says, in fact, that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47). The message of repentance and remission of sinsbegan to be proclaimed in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, when Peter preached a powerful message showing that Jesus was the promised Messiah. He concluded his message by admonishing listeners to repent and be baptized for the remission of sinsand the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
Factor 4: It’s About Obedience.
As previously mentioned, the apostle Paul minces no words in his statement that these [past] times of ignorance God overlooked, but now [through the preaching of the gospel] commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). There is a blatant truth that we will all face at some point – either now or at the Judgment Seat of Christ: the accountability to which God holds a person for his or her life stands in direct proportion to the person’s knowledge of truth. Paul made thus statement originally to the Greek population of Athens; his point being that – although God had overlooked many of their idolatrous customs of the past because of widespread deception, ignorance, and superstition – there was no longer a cause or excuse for such exceptions. With the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom being proclaimed, and the light of truth has cleared confusion. God therefore commands all men everywhereto turn to Him in repentance, regardless of nationality, race or creed.
Now admittedly, there’s still an overabundance of deception and superstition in the world. Does that mean, though, that God is no longer calling men to repentance? Or, based upon technological advancements that constantly allow the Gospel to permeate more and more obscure places around the globe, does it mean that the church still has much work to do with many more tools available? God’s command to repent is directly related to how well the church does its job. The preaching of the Word is precisely how God commands all men to repent.
Because, make no mistake: God’s command to repent demands a response. Those who have ears to hear the command have a choice set before them: they can choose to obey God by repenting of their sins and accepting His provisions and conditions, or they can refuse to obey Him and go on living life the way they want to, thereby resisting the very grace that brought them the opportunity for salvation in the first place.
Please, please don’t miss this all-important fact: grace absolutely can be resisted and rejected, but woe to those who choose this path. The choice God sets before you, me and every human beingis as real a choice as the one He set before the people of Israel when He commanded them to obey His law and warned them of the consequences of breaking the covenant in Deuteronomy 30:19:
I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.
Today, if you hear God’s call to repentance, you have the same choice set before you. His Own Heart prays that you’ll choose life!
Factor 5: It’s a Gift.
Yes, you read that sentence correctly. God commands repentance; but in a wonderfully divine paradox, repentance is a gift of God. And if a gift is forced on someone, it’s not a gift at all. The gift of repentance is no exception to that rule. God does not and will not force anyone to repent; instead, He simply makes the opportunity to repent available to anyone wise enough to accept it.
God the Father exalted Jesus His Son to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:31). When certain Jewish Christians witnessed the conversion of Cornelius and his household, they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Acts 11:18). And Paul hopes that – through Timothy’s efforts in correcting certain offenders, God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth (2 Timothy 2:25).
One theologian asks and answers a common question in this quote:
But how does the process work? Through what means does God “grant them repentance”? God, through His Spirit, leads a person to an awareness of both sin and righteousness, thus enabling Him to “hear” the command to repent. Jesus promised that, after His departure, the Holy Spirit would come and “convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:8-11). The Spirit convicts the world of sin and righteousness through the church’s preaching of the good news.
God often uses the circumstances of day-to-day life in bestowing upon us the gift of repentance. The gift may come through the positive Christian example of a neighbor, or from reading a booklet on an intriguing biblical topic, or from watching a movie like the Kendrick Brothers’ Overcomer. It may even reach us through a chain of events spanning weeks, months, years. Shocking events in the news, such as the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, may be the catalyst that enables a person to receive God’s gift of repentance. On the other hand, positive events, such as people coming together to help relieve the suffering of others, may have an awakening effect through which God can bestow the gift of repentance.
Praise God for His supernatural ability and willingness to use the events of life – from the mundane to the massive – to awaken people to their need of repentance and its nurturing of their personal relationship with Him.