A CRUCIAL CONCERN
In our study in Ezra we’ve been tracing Judah’s journey from Babylonian Captivity back to the freedom of living in their homeland of Israel under the wise reign of Persia’s King Cyrus and later, King Artaxerxes. Both understood that the subjects of their Persian Empire were happier and easier to manage in the freedom of their homeland than as slaves in a foreign land, as King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had forced them.
From the last two chapters of Ezra, chapters 9 and 10, we are made aware of Judah’s need for repentance and restoration back to God. The priests and leaders had slipped into major disobedience to God by marrying heathen wives whose influence had turned their hearts away from God.
Assuming responsibility for their sin as their leader; grief-stricken Ezra repented as he poured out his confession to God in Ezra 9:5-15.
Let’s consider, in the light of God’s Word, the matter of repentance in general and what it has to do with salvation. Then we will focus in on the repentance in Ezra’s day.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT REPENTANCE?
Jesus repeats twice in Luke 13:3 and 5 “Except we repent we will perish.”
“God commands all men everywhere to repent.” Acts 17:30
Peter commanded in Acts 3:19 “Repent and be converted that your sins may be blotted out.”
In Romans 2 we are given two motivations to repent.
1. Judgment is inescapable. Romans 2:1-3
2. God’s goodness, patience and longsuffering leads us to repentance
Luke 24:46-49 records that when Jesus met with His disciples in the Upper Room after His resurrection, in His great commission, He included the need to preach repentance as well as the Gospel to all nations, beginning with the Jews
So if salvation is by faith in Christ alone, where does repentance come in?
We’re not saved by anything we do, including repenting and being sorry for our sins. We’re saved by admitting we are lost sinners, unable to do anything to save ourselves. We’re saved by trusting in the blood of Christ which was shed on the cross in full payment for all our sins. Salvation is totally a gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:5-6
Though we’re not saved by repentance, but by faith in Christ alone; we’re not going to see our need of Christ, nor desire salvation until we have seen our gross sinfulness and repented, crying out in our hearts for God’s mercy.
Sorrow over sin and repentance and turning away from sin is largely ignored today by many claiming to be Christians. Instead, people ignore the warnings of repentance and continue in their sins with the attitude that since we are justified by faith and since “no one is perfect”, we are to just ignore sin in our midst and preach a positive message of our standing in Christ.
People are flocking to churches where they are never made to feel guilty because the preacher never deals with sin. When people sin and it is open and obvious for all to see, instead of confessing and repenting of their sins, they are directed to counseling for the problems caused by their sins.
Many Christian counselors ignore sin by giving psychological reasons or excuses for the action of their patients and give psychological methods of dealing with sin-caused problems. Life continues as usual, sin is ignored and nothing changes. At the same time, sin and its sad consequences continue to spread and contaminate everyone it touches.
EXAMPLES OF FALSE REPENTANCE
When Pharaoh of Egypt was confronted by Moses and faced the plagues God sent to Egypt, as recorded in the early chapters of Exodus, Pharaoh “repented” of his sins repeatedly; but it was not a true heart-felt repentance, only a temporary, superficial method of trying to get God off his back and off his land of Egypt.
When Esau repented in Genesis 28, it was not over sorrow of sin, but sorrow because he had forfeited God’s blessing on himself by his carnality. In Hebrews 12:16-17 the writer describes Esau’s repentance as a superficial, emotional sorrow. He had despised his spiritual heritage and actually found no heart repentance whatsoever.
Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus to his enemies, had a heart of stone with no feelings of sorrow whatsoever. Instead of repenting over his sins, he went out and hung himself.
EZRA’S PRAYER OF TRUE REPENTANCE
In Ezra 9:5-15 we read of Ezra’s repentance as a leader of Judah, God’s favored people, who had turned from God to marry heathen spouses. I commented on this in the previous study in this series. Ezra cried out in brokenness and sorrow, “O, My God” as he confessed the sins of his people. Usually revival and turning back to God begins with the leaders. When Ezra repented, the people followed him in repentance towards God. Even the children joined their elders in repenting and turning from their sins.
THE NEED FOR REPENTANCE
First, sins, such as fornication and addiction to pornography, affect our own physical, mental and emotional health. I Corinthians 6:18
Sin is not just our business. Our sins adversely affect our families for generations to come. It also affects our church family.
But most seriously, our sins offend our holy God and cut our fellowship with Him as Psalm 51:4 and Ezra 10:2 teach us.
True repentance causes us to become specific in identifying our sins. In the case of Judah in Ezra’s day, they became specific in confessing their sins of intermarriage with the heathen. To make matters worse, this was going on among those who had the spiritual oversight of the people. To the people’s credit, they sought a Biblical solution to their problems.
We read in chapter ten that they shivered as they stood outside in the cold winter rain and they also trembled at the Word of God, Oh, that we might see that in our churches. Oh, to see people trembling at God’s Word and crying out for God’s mercy. It happened in early America under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards.
Ezra explained to the people that all their marital problems were not going to be solved in one hour standing out in the cold winter rain; so he instructed the leaders to set up appointments with each family and work out the details as they sought God’s will for each family.
SIN COMPLICATES OUR LIVES
Intermarriage with the unsaved, clearly forbidden in God’s Word, can complicate our lives, even though we confess our sins. I Corinthians 7 teaches Christians married to unsaved spouses are to remain married to them, if the unsaved spouse is willing. Though such relationships can tangle up family life, God can work things out for His glory, if Christians are earnestly seeking His will, in spite of the unequal yoke.
So the people in Ezra’s day vowed to obey whatever God’s Word said, regardless of the difficulties in that marital relationship.
THE KEY TO NATIONAL REVIVAL
II Chronicles 7:14 shows us how the repentance of God’s people can lead to a national spiritual awakening. Such revival and blessing begins when God’s people are humbled and broken-hearted over their own sins. Oh, that God would send revival to our nation and to our world! It all starts with you and me as Christians. Are we broken and humbled by our own sins?
LESSONS FROM OUR STUDY OF EZRA
And so we’ve come to the end of our study of the Book of Ezra. What have we learned?
1. God is sovereign in our lives
2. He guides, provides and protects us as His children.
3. His Word must be central to all we do; including our worship and service for Him.
4. True worship is more than an emotional high. True worship leads us to lives of obedience to His Word and separation from evil.
Are we saved simply by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, as Paul answered the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:31? What does repentance have to do with salvation? Can one be saved without repenting of his sins? Let’s go to the Bible to learn what repentance has to do with our salvation. The Greek word for repentance means to have a change of thinking or a change of heart. Repentance is related to conversion. It has the idea of making a 180 degree turn around. We preachers have a way of confusing the vital issue of salvation by using terms that may be misleading. These are good terms if they are properly explained, but I note that they are not usually explained when inviting people to salvation. Some of these invitations include:
Make a commitment.
Commit your life to Christ.
Surrender to Christ.
Give your heart to Christ
.Invite Jesus into your heart.
Come to Christ.
Look to Christ.
Believe that Jesus died for sinners.
Come and follow Christ.
Make Jesus Lord of your life.
Repent and be baptized. This last one, found in Acts 2:38, was Peter’s invitation to his Jewish audience. Today it is sometimes used to lead people into the false doctrine of baptismal regeneration.
It is possible to be led astray into a false assurance of salvation by going forward on an invitation by the preacher to “Come follow Christ.” That could lead a person to pride and self-righteousness as a person tries his best to follow the example and teachings of Christ.
I understand that you could have come forward on one of these invitations and be truly saved. The issue is not the words the preacher used to invite you to salvation. I came forward as a child on the invitation to “invite Jesus into my heart.” If the lady dealing with me had not made salvation crystal clear to me, I might have only had an emotional experience that night as a nine year old.
What is God’s part in salvation?
Salvation is all of God from start to finish. God draws us to Himself. He convicts us of sin. He, in the person of His Son, Jesus, took the full punishment for our sins when He died on the cross and rose from the dead three days later. God leads us to repentance. He justifies us. He sanctifies us. He keeps us saved by His power and one day He will glorify us when we are in His presence.
What must I understand to be saved?
First I must understand that I am a lost sinner, helpless and hopeless to save myself. I must understand that no church and no rites of a church can save me.
Then I must understand that Jesus is God come down to this earth in human flesh to shed His precious blood and die as an offering to God for my sins. As Israelites who were bitten by poisonous snakes in the wilderness were instantly healed of the snake venom by simply looking to a serpent of brass that Moses had fashioned and put up on a pole, so I must simply look to Christ as my Saviour from sin. This is how Jesus explained it to Nicodemus in John 3. He was referring to an incident recorded in Numbers 21.
As a young woman who has fallen in love with a young man who loves her and has called her to be his wife, entrusts herself and her future completely into the hands of her husband in the sacred act of marriage, taking his ring and his name and completely identifying herself with him; so is our relationship with Christ when we are saved. Read carefully Ephesians 5 for this wonderful analogy of salvation to marriage.
To be saved, I believe intellectually that Jesus is God in human flesh and that He died on the cross for my sins. Not only do I believe intellectually, but I trust Him fully with my heart. I receive Him as my Saviour. Read the first three chapters of the Gospel of John for a clear explanation of this. Read also Romans 3:10, 23, 6:23, 10:9-10 and I John 5:11-13. Saving faith comes by reading the Word of God.
If salvation comes by simple faith in Christ, what part then does repentance play in salvation?
We are not saved by confessing our sins. That is required only of Christians when we sin. See I John 1 on this.
Rather, repentance is a total change of thinking and heart attitude. Another term for this is a 180 degree turn around or conversion. In Acts 15:3 we read of the Gentiles who were saved as being converted. They turned from their sins and self-righteousness to Jesus.
In Acts 20:21 we see the link between repentance and faith in Christ. These two steps to salvation go together. This was the message to both Jews and Greeks. It is the message for both Jews and gentiles. Which comes first, repentance or faith in Christ? They go together. Saving faith in Christ is preceded by repentance, and a life of repentance follows faith in Christ.
Christians should repent of sin by confessing it to God as sin whenever they are aware of it. That is illustrated in the story of the Prodigal Son who went astray and then repented and returned to His father. His father gladly received him back into fellowship.
The repentance of the lost is shown in Philippians 3:1-6 There Saul of Tarsus who was renamed Paul after his conversion, recounts life before Christ and then after he had repented and received Christ as his Saviour and Lord. In Philippians 3:7-8 he describes his transformed life. The transformation was the work of our sovereign God who began the work in his heart as he watched Stephen the first Christian martyr die in Acts 6-7. The Holy Spirit began pricking his conscience from that time forward. Acts 9:5.
The glorified, risen Saviour confronted Saul on the Road to Damascus as it is recorded in Acts 9. Saul immediately repented, recognized Jesus, the one he had hated and persecuted, as his Saviour from sin. There never was a more radical transformation of an enemy of Christ as Saul and there has never been a greater Christian than this former enemy of Christ who became the great Apostle Paul who wrote much of the New Testament.
Saul’s repentance was not a fleeting emotional experience. It was a total, radical permanent change of direction and lifestyle that Christ brings about in one who repents and puts his trust in Christ. As Paul describes it in II Corinthians 7:10, repentance is permanent. It is a total 180 degree turn around or conversion. This conversion is mentioned in I Thessalonians 1:9 Psalm 51:13 Matthew 18:3 and Acts 3:19.
What was Paul’s message to the gentile jailer in Acts 16:31?
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved and thy household.” Why did Paul not command him to repent of his sins? Because it was evident that he had already done that. Was he converted? Did he repent? Absolutely. Look at the change in his life as you read the rest of the story in Acts 16. Only a converted, repentant Christian would act this way. In fact, his life was so changed that his entire family followed him in trusting Christ and being baptized as a testimony to their new found faith in Christ. Such repentance results in joy in Heaven. See Luke 15:7
. Can one be a Christian without repenting?
Or to put it another way, is one a Christian who has never had a change of heart that has resulted in a changed life? The answer is NO. When one is trusting in Christ, he is a new creation of God. Old things are passed away. Everything is new about his life. See II Corinthians 5:17. I’m not teaching sinless perfection. We will not be perfect until we are in Heaven. But in the meantime, we have a changed, purified heart that longs to do right and turn from sin. There is no one more miserable than a Christian living in sin.
Who repented or preached repentance?
Job, a man of God, repented of his wrong thinking and wrong attitudes. Job 42:6
Repentance was the message of the Old Testament prophets. See Ezekiel 14:6 18:30-32 Jonah preached repentance to Nineveh, Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:41.
Besides the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist preached it. Luke 3:7-14
Peter preached it at Pentecost. Acts 28 He also taught it in II Peter 3:9
Paul preached it everywhere. Acts 17:30
Jesus preached it in Luke 13:1-5
Preaching repentance is part of the Great Commission. Luke 24:46-51
Christians need to have repentance preached to them. See Jesus’ message to the seven churches of Asia Minor as found in Revelation 2 and 3. Five of those seven churches needed to deal with sin by repenting.
The Christian life that began with repentance and faith in Christ, continues with a life of repentance concerning sin. II Corinthians 7:10
God leads us to repentance. Romans. 2:4. Those who refuse to repent treasure up God’s wrath and their heart grows harder. Romans 2:5.
If you are a Christian and God deals with you about sin in your life, you had better repent now or your heart will grow harder and you may come to the place where you no longer have any desire to repent. Read the solemn warning in Hebrews 12:5-17.
If you are unsaved and God is dealing with you about your sins; repent and turn to Christ now for salvation. II Corinthians 6:1-2
If you are a Christian who has wandered away from God, like the prodigal son in Luke 16, repent; leave the pig pen of sin and come home to your Heavenly Father right now.He’s waiting for you and wants to restore you to full fellowship with Him.