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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Shape of Our Life Together

Last Sunday our church had a “101” seminar. We were talking about some of the basics of our body life. None of them are novel, even if we use some atypical words to describe some of it.

We won’t be spending a lot of time talking about our assembly of worship, not because it isn’t foundational, but because we always review and remember it at the beginning of every year.

But make no mistake, worshiping the Triune God—through faith in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins according to Scripture, was buried, and who rose again on the third day, by the Spirit who dwells in us as the guarantee of our eternal inheritance—that’s where the shape of our life together comes together. That shape includes repentance.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As believers we need regular cleansing (John 13:10), and if we say we’ve not sinned we make God a liar (1 John 1:8-10). It is sin, unacknowledged let alone defended, that destroys fellowship and causes hurt/harm to a believer and to the whole church body.

Many of you are here because someone else refused to confess his sins, and often that was a leader or pastor in another church. Jesus is the only Man who never sinned, so we don’t expect perfection from one another the same way. But we do expect honesty, humility, and a desire to seek reconciliation. Sometimes we can let love cover sins, and sometimes people get offended when they shouldn’t. But there are times when we need to make it right by repentance.

We cannot expect God to bless us if we carry sin and death in our hearts, and there is too much race to run to carry sin around (Hebrews 12:1).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

See, Hate, and Leave

Repentance is a gift of God. Peter rejoiced that God gave repentance to Israel (Acts 5:31) and later the apostles rejoiced that God granted repentance to the Gentiles (Acts 11:18). God sovereignly lets us see sin in its ugliness and gives us a heart to hate it and leave it. That is a gift.

Repentance is a discipline. You can get better at it, and the more mature you are, the less the time you’ll need between sinning and then acknowledging and turning from that sin.

Repentance is a blessing. If sin is what separates us from God–and it is, if sin is what spoils our consciences–and it is, if sin is what stops up the flow of joy–and it is, then repenting from sin belongs with reconciliation, cleansing, and a renewed spirit.

Every Lord’s Day we are brought to reckon with our need for repentance. The battle to mortify our sin is not finished, even though Christ’s sacrifice to atone for our sin is. As part of our worship we acknowledge that we, in our flesh, are powerless against sin, but that when we call on the Lord we will be saved.

It may be hard to rank the most important or necessary part of our liturgy. But our confession of sin belongs as part of our worship, and ought to be part of our walk.

Martin Luther captured this in the first of his 95 Theses:

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.

To the Laodiceans, the Amen, said:

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. (Revelation 3:19)

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Vocabulary of Repentance

We owe some of our most cherished vocabulary to the Reformers. This is Reformation Sunday, the Sunday closest to October 31st when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses against the sale of indulgences. It is good for us to be thankful for God’s use of faithful men.

William Tyndale was the first man to translate the New Testament into English from Greek. John Wycliffe hand-wrote copies from Latin into English, but Tyndale had access to the Greek New Testament thanks to Erasmus, and his printed English copies created a firestorm.

One of his most important word choices came in Acts 2:38. After Peter preached on Pentecost, the men asked what they could do to be saved. The Catholic Church taught that Peter replied, “Do penance.” It’s based on the Latin word, Pœnitentiam. Tyndale translated Peter’s reply, “Repent” (based on Μετανοήσατε).

There’s no need to remember Tyndale every time we repent. However, it is good for our humility and our gratitude to remember that we’ve been delivered from numerous gross errors and heavy religious burdens because of men who loved God and His Word more than their own lives.

Never once have you come to this part of our liturgy on Sunday morning and heard that you must confess your sins to a priest who takes your confession for you to God. You are exhorted to confess, and the heart may resist, but when you confess, it is directly to God through Christ. No man is in the middle, Christ alone is the mediator. And on no occasion have you heard that, due to your sin, you must punish yourself, or pay God money, or travel to see a religious site, or work off your penalty.

When you realize your sin, what should you do? Confess your sin, repent from it, trust in Christ, and your forgiveness is by grace alone.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Freedom from Confusion Is a Gift

Those who believe in the sovereignty of God ought to be the most kind instead of belligerent, and the most patient instead of panicked, in discussions with those who disagree. This is true logically; it is inconsistent to act as if you make the difference while saying that God makes the difference. So it is an issue of being consistent. It is also an issue of obeying God’s command.

the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. (2 Timothy 2:24–25)

Act in accordance with your doctrine, and that doctrine is displayed in the next sentence. As the Lord’s servant behaves himself, “God may perhaps grant them repentance.” Turning from sin is a gift of God, a work of His independent grace.

But what particularly interests me is the result of repentance. “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.”

Repentance precedes knowledge. Sin is blindness,. and God gives the gift of open eyes. Sin is willful error, and God gives the gift of hating falsehood. Sin is slavery to lies, and God gives the gift of freedom from confusion.

This is God’s work in unbelievers, those who are caught in “the snare of the devil,” those who were “captured by him to do his will.”

As it applies to spiritually dead men repenting toward a knowledge of the truth, let us not forget that spiritually alive men still need to repent, and our repentance will result in knowing more truth. We are rescued from the devil’s stranglehold, but we are not without need of correction. Sometimes our sin makes us stupid, and we learn when we turn.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Bucket Worth of Behavior

Repentance is both a change of thinking and a change in action. It is both abstract and concrete. Because of the internal part, which is both necessary and first, it may be tempting to treat repentance as an invisible thing. True repentance takes place in the heart, but is that all we can know?

Repentance is internal but it is not invisible, at least not indefinitely. Repentance on the inside—again, where it must begin—will work itself out. It will be external and so it will be visible. A fruit tree may be healthy without producing fruit, but only for a time. Likewise, the sap of repentance will produce a bucket worth of behavior.

John the Baptist used this type of terminology when he addressed a crowd that came to him to be baptized. He called them a “brood of vipers,” and he admonished them,

Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. (Luke 3:8 ESV)

There ought to be fruits, plural, and fruits “in keeping with” or “worthy of” (KJV) or consistent with a change of mind.

It’s not as if they had done nothing at all. They came to John, they said they wanted to be baptized by John. But he knew that more was necessary. When they asked, “Like what?” he told them to share their clothing and food with the needy (verse 11), that the tax collectors should be honest (verse 12) and that soldiers should not use their force for personal gain (verse 13).

The point is, we can’t lift up our desires to first place, or seek our own advantage, or use our opportunities to serve self. Selfishness is what we need to repent from, and it will be obvious to others.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Stiff-arming the Truth

Though a short exhortation always precedes the act of confession in our Lord’s Day worship, why not place confession after the sermon? Imagine the large variety of sins that could be harvested by spending more time in the Bible field. More Spirit-inspired truth gives the Spirit more tools to dig for deep rooted sins.

There’s nothing wrong with liturgy in a different order. Revelation provides reasons to repent so presumably more revelation leads to more reasons leads to more repentance. But just as often God describes the reverse: repentance leads to accepting the truth.

Peter and James both assume that a Christian must deal with sin before consuming the Word. “Putting away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” crave the spiritual milk (1 Peter 2:1-2). Likewise, “putting away all filthiness and rampant wickedness, receive the implanted word” (James 1:21). Sin spoils our appetite for Scripture. Sin stiff-arms the truth.

Paul presented the order even more plainly to Timothy as he explained the process for persuading opponents. Correct opponents with gentleness and “God may perhaps grant repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25). He isn’t describing the proper order of a Sunday worship service, but the principle applies. Repentance enables knowledge.

Which comes first: the understanding of truth or repentance from sin? Sometimes we don’t need more information or another sermon before we change. Sometimes we can’t see the truth because we’re clutching sin patches over our eyes. What sights we’ll see from the place of repentance.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Our Pile of Sin

Sin is not sweet. We shouldn’t ever look at it, or look back at it, with nostalgia. Confession is not a time for warming ourselves by the fire with a cup of hot cocoa telling a wistful story about the time when we blew it, and doesn’t it just take us all back to a happier time? And, hey, look how transparent we were!

Sin is gross. We should be gentle with babies when they soil their pants. But we should be gentle as we clean off the mess. I realize that some Christians still can’t seem to explain why it stinks everywhere they go. They aren’t acknowledging their mess, they don’t ever confess their sin. But it is also possible to run around holding our pile of sin under everyone’s nose. “Isn’t this great?” No, it’s disgusting.

Sometimes I confess my own sin publicly, occasionally during our weekly time of exhortation, maybe as an application from something the in sermon, even at a Men to Men or Life to Life meeting. Isn’t that showboating? It could be. If I did it to attract attention to myself it would be wrong. If I did it without actual repentance that would also be wrong.

I try to do it so that it’s clear that persons need to repent. We can study what the Bible says about confession, but then we need to do what it says. Confession is a doctrine that we must practice. Even persons in positions of leadership and authority need to confess; men and husbands and fathers and pastors sin. I need to repent of my sins more than I need to be an expert at seeing the sin of the other guy. I never had an example, so it can be helpful to see what repentance might look like. But the sin is ugly. My sin stinks. Sometimes I confess in public so that you know I know it’s good to kill it.

We don’t need sympathy for our sin. We need a Savior from it. Don’t confess your struggles here, or in a small group setting, or on your blog, or over coffee because you think it’s a treasure to show it to everyone. That’s not necessarily more honest, it may just spread the stink around.