Jeremiah 3:12 (NIV)
12 Go, proclaim this message toward the north:
“‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord,
‘I will frown on you no longer,
for I am faithful,’ declares the Lord,
‘I will not be angry forever.
Romans 10:17 (NIV)
17Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.
Galatians 5:22–23 (NIV)
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
As time goes by even the most meaningful moment of our past history fades in our memory and loses some of its significance. We change with time and the many and various influences which encroach on our lives.
Something which was important to us in our youth is no longer important. Someone with whom we had a close relationship in our 20’s, we no longer recognise or desire to spend time with.
Our attitudes and values change. We may “think nostalgically of the wonderful” moments of our past: driving the car for the first time on our own, our first real job, our wedding and the birth of our first child.
All of these things are important and meaningful, impacting our life today - yet we don’t want to remain in those moments for the rest of our lives. Nothing we do today can recreate the atmosphere of those moments which gave them their special excitement.
Our enthusiasm has been worn down by the multiplicity of life’s complications so that our preservation of “the moment” does not rule our lives and actions – even though “the moment” may have changed us from what and who we were to what and who we are now. For much of our lives there has been drudgery and dreariness, the routine ordinary and the boring.
This seems equally true of our life with God and the fellowship we have with His people. All of the amazing Christians of the past have described times “of dryness, of boredom, of doubt, even of despair.” Luther had his struggles and even Mother Theresa recorded in letters her spiritual desperation.
I remember periods of times in my life, when growing up, our family were more engrossed in the world than in what God was doing. In particular, our participation in the life of the church slipped from time to time as we seemed to be forever attending dog shows around the country on Sundays.
We’ve all seen or experienced gradual personal erosion of “enthusiasm and commitment”. Some who were totally committed to their relationship with God, who found in Him all their strength and comfort, became side-tracked, drifting away from their faith and the community which supported them.
Even leaders in the church have experienced this fading of involvement and faith, worship and fellowship to the point where they separate themselves from the worshipping community.
Those who leave, slipping quietly out the back door, may be replaced by new and enthusiastic Christians - the life of the congregation continues.
Forell asks, “…what does it mean to a once faithful servant of God that they now have another master? What does it mean to a person who once was travelling toward the city of God that they are now bogged down in cares about money, power, and status, facing into quite another direction than the Kingdom of God which they were seeking once upon a time?”
The drifting away from active faith in Christ is a depressing situation. But there is hope. The Augsburg Confession Article XII on “Repentance” says that the situation is far from hopeless:
“Our churches teach that there is forgiveness of sins for those who have fallen after Baptism whenever they are converted. The Church ought to impart Absolution to those who return to repentance [Jeremiah 3:12].” McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 38). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
As God says in Jeremiah 3:12:
“‘Return, faithless Israel,’ …,
‘I will frown on you no longer,
for I am faithful,’ …,
‘I will not be angry forever.
“‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord, repentance is all that is needed for someone who has turned or veered away from God to the way of despair and hopelessness. The Augsburg Confession goes on to say:
“Now, strictly speaking, repentance consists of two parts. One part is contrition, that is, terrors striking the conscience through the knowledge of sin. The other part is faith, which is born of the Gospel [Romans 10:17] or the Absolution and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven. It comforts the conscience and delivers it from terror.” McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 38). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
We are assured of the good news comes to us in Romans 10:17 17Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.
Repentance is always a possibility. To illustrate this we can think of insurance companies who say that their help is as simple as a phone call away. In order to repent you don’t even need the cost of a phone call.
What you do need is the courage to look in the mirror of Gods Law. You need to courage to face up to the truth, look at yourself honestly. If you have a serious car accident you need to acknowledge that your car is a “write off”, people have been hurt and you need help.
Should you, in the scenario of the car accident, not face up to the fact that a serious accident has occurred and walk away from the wreck, the accident and all its implications, your insurance company cannot help you. Before they come to your assistance, you have to face up to the facts.
God presents the facts of our lives to us in His Word.
Article XII of the Augsburg Confession is about facing the facts of a life without God. Forell says, It is a life without meaning absorbed in trivialities and pretentions.”
The froth and bubble of a life without God signifies nothing – it may temporarily cover up the loneliness and despair of sin, it may lead to escape into mind and body numbing substances (alcohol, marijuana, and or other drugs) or we may try and hide ourselves from God in the busy-ness of work or some other obsession - or in extreme cases, seek the despair of suicide.
Sooner or later sorrow or terror will get to all who are far from God – perhaps both sorrow and terror together.
The Augsburg Confession helps us to see that we can overcome our addictions, un-helpful habits and lifestyles, and every sin which leads to death if we believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ and receive the benefits of what He has done for us on the cross.
God knows all of us and all our struggles with sin. As Forell says,
“We do not have to pretend anything. He (God) has forgiven us and loves us nevertheless. We do not even have to pretend faith. If we want to trust God ever so tentatively, if we say, ‘Lord I believe, help my unbelief,’ He will understand us better than we understand ourselves.”
It’s all about faith in God’s steadfast love for us. This faith leads us to receive His love and grow in it so that “… good works are bound to follow, which are the fruit of repentance [Galatians 5:22–23]. McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 38). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
As we read in Galatians 5:22-23: 22… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
The person who doesn’t share these fruits may find that their life has meaning by terrorising their employees and their victims reaction of fear to the terrorising, but, they can find in the Gospel a new place to start really living with purpose.
The person who interferes with their children’s lives, making their own life and the lives of their children miserable, does not have to live this way anymore should that person receive Christ’s Word and meaning for their life.
The teenager who feels unloved and seeks fulfilment in promiscuous sexual encounters, hoping to find love ends, in despair and self-loathing unless they accept themselves as a child of God rather than an object of others desires.
There are no conditions to God’s love – He loves everyone as they are - He wants to help them become the people He created them to be in and through a living relationship with Jesus Christ.
Forell reminds us that Repentance is not an act we do to earn God’s love – it is recognising that God does love us despite our leaving God out of our lives and the choices we make.
“God loved us while we were undeserving and He wants us to accept His love without regard for our self-evaluation.”
Our repentance, the renewal of our lives is not something which happens once – it must happen all the time. The Augsburg Confession also points out the false ideas and teachings commonly accepted in regard to repentance:
“Our churches condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that those who have once been justified can lose the Holy Spirit. They also condemn those who argue that some may reach such a state of perfection in this life that they cannot sin. The Novatians also are condemned, who would not absolve those who had fallen after Baptism, though they returned to repentance. McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 38). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
Martin Luther, in His Small Catechism, asks us,
“What does such baptizing with water signify?” And we answer: “It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts. And also it shows that a new man should daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”
This is what repentance is about.