3 benefits of repentance

repent

Repentance. I’ll just come out and say it. It’s a word I don’t like to hear. It’s difficult to talk about. It’s often an awkward topic. It isn’t easy or comfortable or catchy or natural. However, I believe it is one of the biggest things that is lacking in my spiritual life and maybe even in yours.

The Bible is not shy when it comes to talking about repentance. We kind of know this already, right? In fact, it is the most common term and sermon topic in Scripture. “Repentance” or “return to the Lord” is mentioned over 1,000 times in Old Testament alone. The message of repentance was in the mouth of every prophet. Their sermon was like this, “(Clear throat) Good morning congregation. (Deep breath) REPENT! (Awkward silence) Okay. Let’s pray.” That was their message. It was all that needed to be said and heard.

In the New Testament, the message isn’t much different. John the Baptist’s message was: repent (Mark 1:4). The apostles first preached that people should: repent (Mark 6:11). Jesus tender, yet tough, said in his first sermon, “Repent and believe.” (Mark 1:15) Jesus shared the story of the prodigal son, the poster boy of repentance, that heaven rejoices over one sinner who: repents. In Revelation 2:5, Jesus says to the church: repent. As the church goes global in Acts, what was the apostle Peter’s message? “Repent.” (2:38; 3:19) God’s heart from the front cover to the back cover of Scripture that we would be tenderhearted, submissive, quick to respond to the Spirit’s conviction and repent of sin.

2 Corinthians 7, our text today, is the most concentrated teaching on the topic of repentance in the Bible. This is Paul’s listen-up-and-get-ahold-of-this sermon on repentance. The goal of this message is that you and I would repent. I will challenge you to do as God has challenged me to do throughout this text. I want to practice what I preach, but also preach what I practice. Will you join me?

Have you ever had to say a hard thing, confront sin, or call someone to repent? No one wants to do it, but there come times when you have to say hard things. As you come to 2 Corinthians 7, you see Paul had to write some hard things. In a previous, unknown letter, Paul, pleaded with the church to restore a sinful brother. The church rightfully disciplined a man for causing division in the church, but when the discipline worked and he repented, the church held it over the man and was not welcomed back into the fellowship. But now, Paul, in this letter, praises them for doing the hard thing, the right thing. What you and I discover from this text are three amazing benefits of repentance.

1. Repentance is good (vs.8-9).

While not easy, repentance is good. Even Paul had mixed feelings about his letter to Corinth (v.8). On one hand he had regrets (for the grief it caused) but on the other hand he did not have regrets (for the repentance it produced). While at times painful, repentance has its purpose. Just as parents do not enjoy disciplining their children, Paul did not enjoy the sorrow he brought to the church. He did not like seeing them in pain. Yet their pain was “only for a while.” And in this, Paul, rejoiced like a parent who sees their child experience small pain by his hand only to see them escape greater pain by their own hand (v.9).

Repentance is good because God uses the short-lived sorrow to protect you from greater sorrow and greater harm in the future (cf. Hebrews 12:7-11). If Corinth did not repent, the church could have been shattered by its sin and shortage of Christlikeness. Repentance is the funnel through which blessing flows. Lack of repentance brings misery, despair, and as we will see, death.

Repentance is good because it takes stubborn, callused, dull-hearted people and makes them tender towards God’s heart. Remember this: Repentance is a gift from God. The most dangerous thing you can say is, “I will repent when I am ready.” It’s dangerous because only God readies a heart for repentance (cf. Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim.2:25). If you wait until you are ready you will only get hardhearted. Sin is the blockage that kills the heart, but repentance is bypass surgery that God does WITHIN you and it “leads to salvation without regrets” (v.10b). Repentance is that good.

2. Repentance is change (v.10a).

What is true repentance? By definition repentance means change of mind; a turning away from evil to God; a 180 from my hearts desires to God’s heart. Repentance without change is not repentance.

There are three common components of repentance as seen in Scripture. First, there is a recognition of sin. I must recognize that I have sinned. I must see that I have offended God. Yet recognition alone is not repentance. Repentance is not simply regret or remorse or feeling bad about something bad I did. I can feel sorry about something and immediately do it again. Thus Paul compares the difference between godly grief and worldly grief (v.10). Worldly grief is when I feel bad because I looked bad to others. Godly grief is sorrow is when I recognize I have offended God. Grief that leads to repentance is as Charlie Brown would say, “Good grief!” Yet I don’t have to sink into grief because I have received the forgiveness of Christ (1 John 1:9). The sin under all other sin is the lack of joy in Christ, but Jesus was the one who suffered and was miserable for my sin. Repentance is my pathway to joy.

Second, there is repentance of sin. I must admit that I am wrong or have been wrong. This is often the hardest thing to do. Repentance is not mere confession or saying what God says about sin as if that will make God happy with me. Repentance is not about keeping God happy. God is not a magic genie who grants wishes when on his good side. This makes repentance selfish. I don’t please God to get or to escape consequences of sin. I cannot manipulate him nor is he is not obligated to me.

Third, there is a returning to the Lord. I must leave my sin behind. I must come to God. I must make a clean break. I must come to him as I am. I can wallow in the sin-confess-sin-confess cycle trying to do it on my own or I can come to my Lord. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

This is illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son. When you repent, you are like the prodigal son. You don’t have it all together. You are living in the pig style. You come to your senses. You change your mind. You don’t want to think for yourself. You come to the end of yourself. You think about your father. You run back home to him still messy and smelling like the stench. You come as you are. You know you are unworthy to be your fathers son, but the father runs to you, gives you his best robe and throws you a party.

Biblical repentance is recognizing your sin, repenting to it and returning to the Lord. When was the last time you did that?

3. Repentance bears fruit (vs.9,11).

“The reach of our repentance should match the reach of our sin. Private sins demand private repentance. Sins that can be seen by many necessitate a repentance that can be seen by many. And while we ought to forgive each other seven times, and seventy times, and even seven times seventy times, looking for the fruit of repentance is not the same as being unforgiving. Ronald Reagan was right: trust, but verify.” – Keven DeYoung

The beauty of repentance is what it produces. It produces things on the inside that are reflected on the outside. Acts 26:11 says there are “deeds of repentance.” In other words, repentance produces fruit (Matthew 3:8). While the list in 2 Corinthians 7 is not sequential or exhaustive, it gives you a sense of the affects of repentance (vs.9-11).

First, repentance produces godly grief over sin (v.9). “Grief” is soul anguish, a heart wrenching and heart changing emotion. Its a grief that says you can never be the same again. Second, repentance produces revulsion towards sin (v.11) The word used is “earnestness.” What used to please (attracts) you now repulses (detracts) you. Sin sickens you. Third, it produces restitution towards others (v.11b) It produces a desire to “clear yourself,” to make it right, right away with those your sin has injured. Fourth, it produces revival toward God (v.11c) You have a “longing” to walk with God. Fifth, it turns your eyes forward, not backward (vs.8-9). Repentance sees “no loss” and is “without regret.” It walks into the future full of freedom.

Repentance happens both as a process and a crisis. It happens over time and it happens at a point in time. Repentance is not a place I visit or a place I go and get over it. It is the place I live. I must never get over it. I never want to leave it. Just like Disney World. Who wants to leave Disney? Give me a room at the castle! God desires a lifestyle of repentance.

Martin Luther launched the Reformation with hammer and nail, nailing “The Ninety-Five Theses” to the front door of Wittenberg Cathedral. Do you know what the first theses stated? It said, “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” What Luther saw as he unpacked the Scripture is that repentance is the way we progress in the Christian life. Repentance is the fruit you are growing deep and strong and rapid in the character of Christ.

How do you respond when confronted? How do you respond when the Spirit convicts you? How do you respond when you know you are wrong? How do you respond when you have sinned against another person? When was the last time you had godly grief over sin that produced repentance? Don’t wait. Repent. Be free. It is good.

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6 Essentials for Proclaiming the Gospel

proclaim it

I have read dozens of books on evangelism. I have sat in conferences and seminary level courses on how to share my faith. I have equipped churchgoers with tools to present the good news to neighbors, strangers, and foreigners. On paper, I have a lot of knowledge and experience sharing the gospel, but in reality I still feel inadequate when it comes to personal evangelism.

I find the Book of Acts an indispensable and encouraging guide for proclaiming the gospel. It is heads above all other resources on evangelism available today. I am able learn all I need to know to share the gospel in the 21st Century by how 1st Century church did it. Acts is filled with case studies, one of which you and I will study together today. In this case study, I will share six essentials for proclaiming the gospel by plagiarizing another mans sermon, Paul’s sermon that is.

1) Stand in the midst the lost (Acts 17:22a)

Our text begins with “Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus,” literally it means “high place” and it rests above the city of Athens on top of Mars Mill. It was sort of a temple to the human brain, a forum for philosophical talks. Why would Paul stand in the middle of a crowd of philosophical eggheads? To understand Paul’s present situation you need to go back in Acts and hear the undergirding motivation for his trip to Athens (cf. 9:15; 16:10; 17:16ff). What you discover is that Paul has a deep rooted, God-given burden for people to hear the truth about Jesus. His burden for the lost leads him to stand in the midst of the lost.

You might ask, why doesn’t my heart beat for the lost, like Paul? Why do I struggle so much just to love my neighbor? Remember, a burden for the lost is birthed and nourished by the Spirit of God setting your heart blaze for the lost.

Charles Spurgeon said,

“The Holy Spirit will move them by first moving you. If you can rest without their being saved, they will rest, too. But if you are filled with an agony for them, if you cannot bear that they should be lost, you will soon find that they are uneasy, too. I hope you will get into such a state that you will dream about your child or your hearer perishing for lack of Christ, and start up at once and begin to cry, ‘God, give me converts or I die.’ Then you will have converts.”1

Undoubtedly, you have a burning passion for the gospel, however, one must never assume that just because one serves God as a career that you are actually living out the gospel or proclaiming it often and well. When was the last time you stood in the midst of the lost and spoke about Jesus? Does your heart ache for the lost? Will you die if God doesn’t give you converts? Stand among the lost.

2) Know the people to whom you are speaking (17:22b-23a)

Paul was in Athens, the seat of the worlds intelligentsia. It was home to philosophical legends like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno who have influenced human thought ever since. In Paul’s day, Athens was a city in philosophical flux, particularly between two parties of thought: the Epicureans (pleasure seeker) and Stoics (long-sufferer). Both quests for truth were polar opposite, and therefore, truth was thought of as unknowable, yet the people continued to spend their days talking about the newest philosophical fads at Areopagus (v.21). Athens was Starbucks on Steroids!

Paul knew the people to whom he is speaking because as he toured Athens he took good notes. He walked in the shadow of the Acropolis. He saw temples filled with a smorgasbord of gods. Upon invitation by the local philosophers, he said with kindness and clarity, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship…”

Are you a learner of people around you? What do you observe about their beliefs and culture that are different or even similar to yours? How would you describe their God? In their words and deeds, how do you see their beliefs lived out each week? How are they struggling? What questions are they asking? What do you observe?

Now you will never know another culture completely like you know your own, however if you walk around, sit with people, and ask questions you will learn a lot. Yesterday, I sat with a father who lost his 4-year old son through an unexpected accident. The boy who was sleeping on a mat when in the night a car backed over the boy crushing him to death. I regarded many men come to my neighbors mat, greet him politely, and then each guest proceed to repeat short prayers. I heard these prayers at least a dozen times within the 10-minutes that I sat with him. I was broken for him and the others who were praying. I perceived they are very religious.

3) Seize interest in the gospel by using common ground (17:23b)

Interestingly, Paul doesn’t rest with just learning about people and culture, he turns his observations into a provocative statement. Can you imagine ears perking up? Especially, as he says, “I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…” Paul seizes their interest by using the one thing he has in common with the Athenians. What is their common ground? Worship. Paul sees at the heart of Athens is a quest to understand life, a desire to find meaning and significance, and a hunger to worship, even if they did not know exactly what it was they were worshiping. Isn’t that the quest of all men? People want to know what matters most. People want to worship something or someone bigger than them. Worship is at the heart of the matter.

Albert Einstein echoes this in his 1932 credo,

“The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as of all serious endeavour in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all there is.”2

A.W. Tozer clarifies Einstein’s words by saying,

“Worship is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring and awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that Majesty which philosophers call the First Cause (the ultimate truth), but which we call Our Father Who Is in Heaven.”

Paul uses worship as a springboard to say, “This unknown God that you worship. Yeah, I know Him. And you can know Him too. This God you say you cannot know, in Him, I live, I move, I have my entire being.” It’s an audacious statement Paul makes and in a sense he says, “I know God, therefore, I know Ultimate Truth.” How is Paul so confident that God knowable? He met Him on the road to Damascus (cf. 9:5).

I find that the religious culture I live in can be accurately summed up by this phrase, “ignorantly worshipping an unknown God.” My heart is burdened when I see people praying to a God they do not believe is unknowable just to continue with religious traditions and expectations. My neighbor believes that if God wills he will go to paradise one day, but he will never really know the God that He is praying to, but I’m sure that he will always pray. A religious façade has become his god. The form of his worship becomes more important than the one he is worshiping.

Listen, if your faith is not rooted in Jesus Christ, you too are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If your daily life would go on as normal if God were no part of it, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. When your devotion lies in the practices of your church or tradition rather than the person of Jesus Christ, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If your knowledge of how to worship exceeds your knowledge of who you are worshiping, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If the gospel ceased to be your sufficiency, dependency and satisfaction, you are ignorantly worshiping and unknown God.

4) Make sure your message is saturated in Scripture (17:24-29)

Have you noticed that Paul’s sermons are saturated with Scripture? What Paul understands it that the power in a message is always in the Spirit of God through the Scripture. Paul is not the authority, he has another authority. Scriptures are his authority. In short, Paul will use the Scripture to give the Athenians a crash course on God 101. And without a doubt, this is one on the most beautiful treatises on God in all of Scripture.

  • God is the omnipotent Creator (v.24a). Your world begins with God, not you.3
  • God is omnipresent (v.24b). You cannot limit or localize God. He doesn’t dwell in tiny hand-made shrines,4 He dwells in hearts.
  • God is completely self-sufficient (v.25). God doesn’t depend on us; we depend on God for everything.5 This is the most humbling verse in Scripture and a good verse to remember as you serve others.
  • God is sovereign sustainer and ruler (v.26). He is intimately involved within history and geography.6
  • God is a gracious pursuer (v.27; Romans 1:19-20). God has placed within each man a GPS (Godward Pursuit System), a homing beacon that is questing for the Most High.
  • God is a revealer (v.28a). God imprints Himself everywhere, even in secular poetry and art (creation and heart).
  • God is the life-giver (v.28b). God is the Father of all humanity.
  • God is eternally priceless (v.29; Romans 1:22-23). People make idols of God from precious things because they have a high view of God, but He is incomparable to any object or form.

Why does Paul give this treatise on God and His character? Remember, when Paul entered Athens, he was provoked within his spirit when he saw the city full of idols (v.16). He was deeply torn and his heart stirred because the God of Scripture is stirred by idolatry too. God is jealous and angered and does not share His glory with another. He is provoked to crush any substitute, “high place”, or Areopagus in this world and in your lives. God alone desires the high place because He is the Most High God. The Scripture says there is no adequate substitute for the living God.

5) Boldly proclaim the whole gospel: call for repentance (17:30-31a)

As Paul presents the living God to Athens, he doesn’t just say “Believe in Him.” Yes, belief in God is critically important, but it’s not the whole gospel. Many people believe in God, but it doesn’t change their life. That’s why Paul, like Jeremiah, walks into an idolatrous hot bed and proclaims, “Repent!” He says, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed.”

Who is “the man God has appointed to judge the world”? Jesus. Jesus is the blazing center of Paul’s gospel. Jesus is what makes the gospel shine. Athens could no longer claim ignorance or hide from the light. They were now cognizant of Christ, the Judge, and they stood before Him guilty and condemned (just as are those to whom you share the gospel). Yet Paul gave them a life-changing proposition: humble yourselves before Jesus and repent. If not, now, when? When Jesus judges you on the fixed and final day? It is better to face Jesus today as Savior than tomorrow as Judge.

6) Proclaim the gospel expectantly, but leave the results to God (17:31b-34)

Notice the different responses to the gospel? (vs.32-34) Not everybody responds with immediate repentance. Some doubt (mock), some wait to hear more, and some believe. We find out that at least two women were changed by the gospel, including a member of the Areopagus council. Even if no one believed, the mission to Athens wasn’t a failure. God be praised!

God calls us to proclaim the gospel (v.31b); he doesn’t call us to convert people. God holds us responsible for faithfulness; not fruitfulness. He calls us to scatter seeds, water and till peoples souls; not harvest them. Paul was simply a vehicle—a voice box of the truth. It took the Holy Spirit to convince people of that truth, it is the Spirit that opens eyes to have faith in His Son, like Lydia (cf.16:14). Conversion is the work of God and God alone. We can expect results in good faith. So let’s do God’s work in God’s way with God’s power and leave the results to Him.

In high school, I worked at Schmidt Sporting Goods. It was a great high school job. I got sweet deals on new shoes, Packer gear, and I got to watch sports while working. It was also a great opportunity to mingle with many unbelievers. During the evening shift the customer flow would slow and I’d have time to talk to other employees. Sometimes I wondered if I would ever see a breakthrough. No one ever came to church with me. No one repented and turned to Jesus. However, 10-years later, long after our days working together, I got an email from a fellow employee. He shared a story from that summer. He jump out of a boat into a murky lake. Unknowingly the water was shallow and he snapped his neck. As he lay in the hospital paralyzed he recalled our conversations at work, he also had another close friend who was shared the gospel with him regularly. He gave his life Christ that summer. The seed I planted, another watered and tilled, but God opened his eyes and produced a harvest.

You might not see the results of the gospel in your lifetime. Keep sharing. Continue praying. Never give up.

Jesus eats with sinners

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Most religious people would not catch themselves in a biker bar or talking with pimps and prostitutes, but when reading through the Gospels we catch Jesus talking to these kinds of people in these kinds of places often. Why does Jesus hang with sinners? Well, in Luke 5:27-32, Jesus eats with a tax collector and his companions, and it is here you get the answer.

What’s with the tax collector?

I-love-tax-collectorsIn Jesus day, tax collectors were hated. Some things don’t change! They were especially hated then because Israel was under Roman oppression. Certain Jews got the job of collecting taxes for Rome. They were viewed as a traitor or enemy who cheated their own people to get rich. For that reason, they were commonly avoided or the punchline of many bad jokes.

Who are the “tax collectors” in your life? Think of the person you avoid or talk bad about. Is it your beer drinking neighbor who parties too loudly, even on weeknights? Is it girl who is known by her second-rate reputation at your office. Is it the politician you love to bash?

Levi is a tax collector. He’s the guy you love to hate. But he’s also the guy Jesus loves to love. Jesus finds him. He doesn’t avoid him like someone with a virus. He finds him at the tax office counting his coins. Jesus doesn’t come in and blast his character or belittle his profession. He simply says a simple statement expecting a simple answer, “Follow Me.” Amazingly, Levi leaves everything and follows Jesus.

Who’s sick?

Levi’s life changed the day Jesus intersected him at his office. He’s so excited he throw a party. Since tax collectors don’t have many friend their friends are usually other tax collectors. The guest of honor at Levi’s party is Jesus.

Word spread faster than a British tabloid. The religious leaders came to Jesus’ disciples with their list of gripes and complaints. As the Pharisees see it, Jesus is in a lose-lose situation. Sinners are following Him. But Jesus sees it as a win-win. Sinners are following Him. Jesus defends Himself by saying, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (5:31) What did Jesus mean by this?

Jesus directs his words towards the religious leaders. They are (spiritually) sick and don’t even know it. They are like a man who will not admit that he is sick and refuses go to a doctor for help. In their pride, they will suffer defiantly, if not die. Jesus came to bring healing our sin sickness that leads to death. Pride leads to death, but humility leads to the cross.

Will you repent?

Jesus follows up his first statement by saying, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentence.” (5:32; cf. 13:3-5; 15:10; 24:47; Mark 1:15; Acts 5:31) He’s not called to the righteous because they don’t think they have a need for Christ (when they really do!).

Jesus is called to the sinner who knows he is in need of Christ (cf. 1 Tim. 1:15) and humble enough to come to Him for a life transformation. To repent is to humbly turn away from your sin and your self-righteousness and turn towards Jesus and His righteousness. It’s a life-transforming turn.

Do you see the contrast between Levi’s response to Jesus and the religious leaders response to Jesus? Levi follows immediately and throws Jesus a feast. The religious leader grumble, question, and judge. Levi wants Jesus to transform him, but the religious people want Jesus to conform to them. Levi has an attitude of repentance, while the religious leaders think they have no need for repentance. The religious leaders measure their goodness among themselves, while Levi measures His goodness against Jesus. The religious leaders follow their code of conduct, while Levi simply follows Jesus. Being a follower of Christ is much different than being a religious person.

follower of Jesus vs religious person

A good question to ask yourself when reading this text is, Who do I respond like more often Levi or the Pharisee? If I were honest, I would have to say I respond more like the Pharisee. How about you?

So how do I change and love like Jesus loves? First, I must remember I was once like the tax collector to God. I lived the most unlovely life yet I was unconditionally loved by Him. I was infected by the most destructive disease known to man, sin.  I can love my enemies because I was once God’s enemy and He loved me.

Second, repent and run to Jesus Christ. Repentance is your only means of healing. Repent of your pride, repent of hoarding God’s grace, and repent of your hateful attitude towards the tax collectors in your life. When you repent don’t expect life or loving others easier. Sometimes it can be harder. Jesus got Himself killed because of the way He ate.

Third, with the remaining days of your life make it my aim to follow Him, which means eating with sinners too. Extend to all the life-transforming eternity-giving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. No one, including you or the tax collectors in your life, are too sinful to enjoy the pleasure of sitting at Jesus’ table.

is it better to know Jesus or love Jesus?

I grew up in central Wisconsin. As a teenager, I was a big fan of Brett Favre (along with 5 million other people in the State). I know his stats starting from 1992 to present. I would pretend to throw like him my backyard. I’ve read all his Sport Illustrated cover stories. I worked at a Sporting Goods store so I could collect his memorabilia. I can even tell you the name of the town he lives in down south (Kiln, Mississippi). I have never met Brett, yet I feel like we’re buds. I know a lot about Brett Favre (probably more than most of you), but I really don’t know him. I love to watch him fling a football, but I don’t really love him like those closest to him.

Sadly, some in the church think of Jesus like I thought of Brett Favre. Now I am not comparing Jesus to Brett Favre (although I know some fanatics who might). You can be just a fan of Jesus. You can know a little about Him, and love things about Him. But you might not really know Him or love Him as He desires. This leads to the question in the title: Is it better to know Jesus or love Jesus? No, it’s not a trick question, but the answer may surprise you.

When Jesus came He called for faith and followership from the least to the greatest, the poor to the rich, the sinner and the religious. Jesus came to save the good, bad, and ugly. We see this in Luke 7. As we step into the story it begs us to ask another question: Who am I most like in the story?

1. Am I like Simon the Pharisee? He’s got a lot knowledge of God, but no intimacy [Luke 7:36].

In Luke 7, Jesus is invited over for dinner by a Pharisee named Simon [v.36]. Ironically, Simon invited Jesus over just after He scolded the Pharisees for not accepting either John or Himself. And the Pharisees just accused Him of being a party boy with the tax collectors and sinners [7:34]. But Jesus didn’t play favorites. He accepted dinner invitations from the Pharisees too, without asking about their motives [cf. 11:37; 14:1].

What is a Pharisees? In the Bible, they are a group of Jewish religious leaders. In its title, Pharisee, means, “separated ones.”  They built ‘fence laws’ (traditions) around God’s law to help them keep God’s law and to protect their personal image so that they appeared holy and separate from the sinful world. They hung holiness around their neck like Mt. T wore gold chains. Their fence laws were often stricter than God’s law. They were good law keepers and made sure others saw it. Their fence was painted and polished on the outside, but inside it would not meet any inspection codes. Pride and hypocrisy are the failures of fence law’s. They knew a lot about God, but they really didn’t know Him. In Matthew 15:8. Jesus describes the Pharisees as “people who honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.”

Simon invitation to have the traveling rabbi over for a meal would have been considered a religious brownie point. Jesus should have been considered the guest of honor. In the Middle East during those days there were certain rules of etiquette. First, a customary greeting would be given of a kiss on the cheek or hand. To neglect the kiss of greeting would be like having a person come into your home and not saying, “Hello!” or shaking their hand. Second, in a shoeless culture, the washing of feet was mandatory before meals. Normally the host or his servant would wash the feet or at the very least they would give water to the guests to wash their own feet. Third, for an especially distinguished guest, some (inexpensive) olive oil was given for anointing their head.

When Jesus comes to the house of Simon, there is no kiss (greeting), no washing of feet, and no oil for his head. The reason is not certain why Simon did not do these courteous gestures. But from Jesus’ words later on, Simon didn’t really know Him. If Simon really knew who He was he would have honored Jesus more extravagantly.

It’s not that Simon did not know God. He knew a lot about God. As a Pharisee, he spent his life studying the Scriptures. By the age of 12 he had memorized the first 12 books of the Bible. He would squash the kids in your AWANA ministry! By the age of 15 he had memorized the entire Old Testament. Sadly, he committed to memory more than 300 OT prophecies about the coming Messiah, yet he didn’t even realize it is the Messiah who sat at his dinner table. He knew about Jesus, but he didn’t know Jesus.
He’s all knowledge, but no intimacy.

When I graduated from Bible College I had quite the chip on my shoulder. I read the Bible backwards and forwards many times for class. The Bible became a textbook. I knew enough Greek and Hebrew to look smart. I knew the Bible, but my head was the size of a hot air balloon and it was filled with pride. God used a lot of patient people in my first ministry to chisel away at my pride. And it’s still a temptation.

Pharisees often confused knowing God for loving God. In church, it is easy to get this confused too. We build systems that cater towards knowing about God, but not necessarily loving God. We have endless Bible studies with workbook and Bible curriculum with homework. Sermons notes with fill in the blanks. If you grew up in the church, you probably go to Sunday school, where you have a teacher. In the summer the kids may go to Vacation Bible school. All these programs help you know, but not always love God.

Hear me out (before you throw stones); I wholeheartedly encourage studying, teaching, and preaching God’s Word. It is a biblical mandate. It’s my calling. Even our example, Jesus, read and quoted Scripture as proof that He knew God’s Word. The problem isn’t knowledge. The problem is that you can have knowledge without having intimacy. In fact, knowledge can be a false indicator of intimacy. Obviously where there is intimacy there should be a growing knowledge of God, but too often there is knowledge without a growing intimacy.

Think about it this way, the proof that I love my wife is how much I know her. I know what kind of deodorant she uses. I know her favorite kind of Thai food. I know what makes her laugh or cry. So knowledge is part of intimacy, but just because there is knowledge doesn’t mean there is intimacy.
Probably the best biblical word for intimacy is the word “know.” But this knowing goes much deeper than knowledge. The Bible first uses this word to describe a relationship in Genesis 4:1, “Adam knew Eve his wife.” The Hebrew word for “knew” here is the word yada, which means ‘to know completely and to be completely known.’ Unabashedly, Genesis 4:1 is an intimate moment between a husband and wife. It’s a beautiful picture to help see what it really means to know God.

In Psalm 139, David uses this word yada to describe how God knows us, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”

So the word used to describe a husband and wife is also used to describe how God knows you and wants to be known by you. This changes the way I think about knowing God. He’s not interested in a let’s-just-be-friends relationship; a noncommittal dating relationship; or a relationship where you define the terms; He is seeking the kind of commitment and intimacy best illustrated in a marriage relationship. Do you just know about Jesus or do you really know Him? Are you like Simon the Pharisee? He’s got a lot of knowledge of God, but no intimacy

2. Am I like the woman?  She’s got little knowledge of Jesus and lot’s of love [Luke 7:37-38].

While Jesus is eating at Simon’s house a woman comes on the scene. She comes uninvited. To better comprehend the awkwardness of this moment, you must understand that she wasn’t just any woman. She’s “a woman of the city, who was a sinner.” [vs.37] Her reputation negatively precedes her. She’s done bad things that have damaged her reputation. Maybe she slept with her boyfriend, cheated on her husband, is in a same-sex relationship, or was a prostitute in the small town.

We are uncertain the specifics that drew her to Jesus. But in desperation she came to Him at Simon’s dinner party—a dinner she would never be invited to attend nor would she have interest in attending anyways. As she wandered in she felt the condemning glares from “holy men”. Nervous as she might be, she brushes off the glares and stares at Jesus.

Apparently she had heard Jesus teaching, maybe earlier that day. What about Jesus teaching made such an impact? Was it forgiveness? Perhaps while listening to Jesus she thought, “Can He really forgive my shameful past?” Was it redemption? Maybe as Jesus spoke she realized that only He could put back together the broken pieces of her life and make her whole. Was it love? Maybe she wondered, “Certainly Jesus knows how messed up I am; how the guilt of my sin stains me so deeply. Could He love me too?”

What she does next is impulsive, extravagant, and culturally unthinkable, especially to someone who did not know Jesus [v.38]. Can you feel the tension? The woman approaches the dinner table and stands at the feet of Jesus. The table is silent. Everybody is watching. Everybody knows who she is. They are thinking, “What is she doing here?” She looks around at the guests. She gets glares of judgment. She looks at Jesus. He looks at her. She looks to Him in faith seeking forgiveness for her shame. He looks back with a loving smile. She says nothing. Nothing needs to be said.

She is so overwhelmed, tears of repentance rain down. She falls and begins to kiss Jesus’ feet. Her tears begin to drip onto the dirty feet of Jesus. She sees the muddy streaks and suddenly realizes that His feet haven’t been washed. She can’t ask for a towel, so she lets down her hair. The dinner guests gasp out loud at her disgrace. Then she takes a costly alabaster jar of ointment. Perhaps in the past she used it drop-by-drop for many men. But now she empties it. She will not need it anymore. She pours out, her life, on His feet, and she kisses them over and over.

The woman does a gutsy and glorious thing, all at the same time. She faced her sin. Rather than running from it she runs to the only one who can forgive her. She is broken, grieved, and repentant. Her offering of worship is a sweet smelling aroma. In a moment, she moved from a life of shame to a member of the Fellowship of the Unashamed.

When is the last time you had a moment with Jesus like this woman? Repentant? Broken? Honest before God? When’s the last time you’ve poured yourself out before Him? When is the last time the shed tears over your sin and shame? When is the last time you demonstrated unashamed and extravagant worship?
Can you relate to this woman?

This sinful woman is a mentor to us all of a repentant heart and worshipful response towards Jesus. Unlike the Pharisee, who loves himself too much, she sees herself for who she is—a sinner needing forgiveness. Do you remember who you were before Christ? Do you see the seriousness of your sin? The closer I get to Jesus, the more sinful I recognize myself as being. I am the Pharisee when I forget I am like the woman. The woman didn’t know a lot about Jesus, but she knew He could forgive her sins. She didn’t love a bunch of things about Jesus. She really loved Him. Proof of her love was over-the-top worship. Do you love things about Jesus or do you really love Him?

3. Am I like Jesus? He’s got unbiased love and unconditional forgiveness [Luke 7:39-50].

It is easy to look at the two characters of the story and say, “I definitely don’t want to just know God like the Pharisee. I want to love God like the woman.” But you can assume or zoom by the third character in the story—He’s most important. His name is Jesus. He is the main character of not just this story but also the Bible. He is the one you most need to emulate. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” [Ephesians 5:1-2]

Notice how Jesus responds to Simon’s statement whispered under his breath [v.39 “If Jesus were a prophet He would know what kind of woman this sinner she is]. Jesus doesn’t blast him out of his boots by saying, “I heard that! Why would you say such a stupid thing, Simon! How dare you judge me? I am the Judge here.” No. But He doesn’t ignore Simon either. Listen to the tenderness in His voice: “Simon, I have something to say to you…” [v.40] In answer to Simon’s statement, Jesus uses His prophetic powers to read Simon’s heart. He told him a short parable. It is one of the smallest parables of Jesus (only two verses long), but it is hugely significant [vs.41-42].

In summary, a banker loans money to two men, one receives two year’s wages and the other receives two month’s wages. Neither man can pay back the banker. Unexpectedly, the banker shows grace and removes the debts from both their records. When each man should be bankrupt and file chapter 7 they are given a new start to life. Obviously, both gain new affection for the banker. But Jesus asks a crucial question, “Which man loved the banker the most?” Simon being no intellectual slouch has a ready answer [v.43]: “the one with the larger debt.” And Jesus acknowledged Simon has the right answer as a religious person would, but it did not mean he saw he was the one with the small debt.

Jesus’ story is not just for Simon, but it’s for all the ears at Simon’s table (including you and me). What is your place in the parable or Simon’s table? How would you respond to Jesus’ story? Would you sit beside Jesus and acknowledge only a small debt, or would you fall down at His feet and, in tears, begging for the forgiveness you do not deserve?

Now Jesus is ready to make His point [vs.44-47], “Do you (even) see this woman?” Jesus did not dispute the woman’s condition. They both agreed she was sinful. That’s not the point. The point: how acceptable is she before God? Simon is disgusted with her. He is also inhospitable with Jesus. But Jesus lets her touch, kiss, and wash His feet. Why? She loved much. She was a human in need of divine grace. She needed what only Jesus had to give—forgiveness and salvation. Ignoring any reply or reaction from Simon, Jesus spoke to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” [v.48]

Can you hear the dinner party guests gasp again? They began chattering around the table, “How could He forgive sins? That is God’s job. Who does this man Jesus claim to be?” [v.49] Precisely! God. As God, He can forgive. And Jesus’ words here are ultimately what get Him hung on the cross by religious people, like Simon. Again Jesus ignores them, and focuses solely on the woman, “Go on without worry. Live a new life. Your faith has saved you.” [v.50]

Jesus’ words are an invitation to Simon, and us all, to open our eyes to people around us who have been marginalized or ostracized. Before this moment, Simon failed to really see anything at all; he saw neither Jesus nor the woman. He was blind to her act of repentance and love. He only saw her sin. We don’t know if Simon changes. But we do know Jesus loves Simon as much as He loves the woman. He longs for Simon to see her not as a category (sinner) but as a person who, above all else, needs God’s love and forgiveness, “He who is forgiven little, loves little.”

The question of this text remains still remains, who am I most like? Simon? The woman? Jesus? The Pharisee and the woman are both sinners on opposite extremes of the pendulum. And Jesus gives them both what they need. The Pharisee needed truth in love. The woman needed forgiveness and assurance of His love. Jesus’ call to faith reaches out to people society deems as despicable (even the rapist, molester, cereal killer, stripper, or terrorist). But the church, unlike society, must show the sinner the way to Jesus and show His forgiveness and unconditional love. What can we do as a church or followers of Christ?

First, understand that faith often appears in the most unexpected places. It could be at your Sunday lunch and your waitress at Red Lobster, or the guy outside the bar, or the young pregnant gal walking to the clinic, or the uncomfortable and awkward outcast sitting in the pew near you. Let God bring salvation the way He chooses to the people He chooses. God can transform the worst of sinners and the greatest of the religious [cf. 8:1-3].

Second, beware of religious taboos such as never associating with sinners or shooing them away from the church. Yes, there is a place for protecting your church from false teachers, confronting sin, and “being in the world, but not of the world.” But how will they know unless you show love and forgiveness of the Light of the world? Our church creed must read: we are all equal in Christ who is our Head, though messy and sinful we are still His glorious Bride, everyone is welcome, for we are One in Him.

Third, cherish the truth that no one is worthy to receive what Jesus offers the woman. Know your place among the unworthy. What if God sent you a bill every month for your sin, what would you owe God? What would your debt be? Too much! Thank God, He sent Christ to forgive your debt. If you are in Him, He’s paid it all. Don’t you think that Jesus’ coming to earth, being obedient to the Father, even to the point of death on the cross is rather extravagant? My response is to pour out over-the-top gratitude. Be proud to be a member of the Fellowship of the Unashamed.

Fourth, believe Jesus alone has the power and authority to forgive sins and offer salvation. You can be the most religious or most sinful. The distance between you and God is repentance. Respond to Jesus in humble faith and accept His forgiveness and salvation. Today.

Is it better to know Jesus or love Jesus? It is best to know and love Jesus from your head all the way to your heart. Jesus said when asked by a Pharisee the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-40]

from unknown to renown

Today 2.6 billion people are completely unreached with the gospel. They do not have a church or gospel message in their midst. Nearly 4 billion people are unengaged by the gospel. Meanwhile the world’s major religions—Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam—are making inroads along with a variety of cults and New Age philosophies. People are not shy to hide their beliefs like this bumper sticker I saw Friday, “Born-again pagan.”

The religious culture and climate of North Africa has been unreached for nearly 1200 years. Islam has long taken root and is blossoming even to this day, which can be heard from the daily prayers echoing from the tall spires of the local mosque. Islam mixed African animism is woven into almost every fabric of their lives from mealtime, to family makeup, to laws, and to greetings. To call them to Christ is to call them to live counter-culture.

I am sure you are around people every day that are unengaged with the gospel. You could say these people are ignorantly worshiping an unknown god. If you are like me you might wonder, how am I going to reach all these different kinds of people? How do I reach out to hardnosed sibling or parent, question asking co-worker, or philosophically intelligent neighbor? There is no cookie-cutter method. However, observing the apostles in Acts 17 you can learn some valuable principles for making known the gospel of Jesus Christ Here are three truths to keep in mind:

1. GO WHERE THE GOOD NEWS IS NOT [Acts 17:16-23]

It might seem obvious, but in order to reach the unreached or unengaged, you got to go where they are. In Acts 17, God directs Paul and Silas to crowds of unreached in Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. Wherever they went they met a mixed bag of people. Some were unruly and hostile, some studious and skeptics, and some eager to examine the Scripture. Where do you begin with the wide variety of crowds God has placed around you?

First, ask God for a burden for the unreached [16]. Evangelism is something that doesn’t come natural to many Christ followers. In fact some dread it. Ask God for Christlike compassion for those you would normally ignore. I have been able to remedy this by paying closer attention to the forgotten people around me [waitress, postman, store clerk, etc.]. I will pray for a desire to reach them. Then ask them how they are doing or how I can pray for them. It is amazing to see the opportunities God opens up along the way.

Second, learn about the unreached around you [17-18a]. Paul was in Athens, a pagan and philosophical capital. Athens is city similar to university towns like Madison or West Lafayette. It’s a town where the average person has plethora of PhD’s. Home to philosophical legends like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno. As a secular city center, Athens was a melting pot of culture, philosophy, the arts, and a smorgasbord of gods. Towering above the city on Mars Mill sat the Areopagus. It was sort of a temple to the human brain that served as the chief courtroom and a place to hold philosophical discussions.

Two schools of thought dominated Athens. First, Epicureanism emphasized a world governed by blind chance, with the absence of an afterlife, gods were distant and uncaring, and the pursuit of pleasure was the only thing worth seeking. Second, Stoicism emphasized a world determined by fate, where human beings must pursue their duty. As John Stott said, Athens “resigned themselves to live in harmony with nature and reason, however painful this might be, and develop their own self-sufficiency.” It was a culture with a lot of similarities to ours today that challenged truth.

Third, expect opposition to absolute truth [18b-21]. The thinkers of Athens call Paul a “seed-picker,” which is a slang term [i.e. bird eating mixed grain] for a peddler of second-hand philosophy—an intellectual scavenger that picks and chooses what he wants to believe. However, Paul was no intellectual slouch. He was a straight-A student under Gamaliel in Jerusalem. He was an expert in the law. And when he came to Christ, Christ, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit shaped his worldview. Viewing life through a biblically based, Christ-centered worldview is foolish to those who do not know God [1 Corinthians 1:17-21].

Proverbs says, a fool is one who does not consider all sides of a situation. Paul teaches that Gentiles “walk in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding” because of their “ignorance and hardened hearts,” [Ephesians 4:17–24] and their thought are “vain babblings” [1 Timothy 6:20]. In fact, all around you is undeniable and inescapable proof of God—for He has made Himself known through Creation and Christ—and all men are “without excuse” [Romans 1:19–20]. The knowledge of God is “suppressed in unrighteousness”, which places men under His wrath because they “know God, yet they glorify Him not as God.” Expect opposition when speaking up for Christ.

Fourth, uncover common ground [22-23]. Paul did not have much in common with the people of Athens. Certainly he had no common ground of agreement with their erroneous philosophies. He did not try to make the gospel more palatable or tolerable. But he did see one thing they had in common—worship. Everyone worships. They worshiped their knowledge and an unknown God, while Paul worshiped a knowable God.

I find it interesting that the Omega people we are reaching out to claim their roots to be with Solomon and the Ethiopians eunuch, but for centuries they have followed Muhammad the Prophet. Most Muslims have a fascination with the Bible and Jesus Christ. Pray for hearts open to hear the gospel. The Quran commands to read the Christian Scriptures including the gospel [Injil], which will introduce them to the Prophet, Priest and King.

2. QUICKLY POINT PEOPLE TO CHRIST & THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL [Acts 17:24-31]

I am sure Paul had a certain level of frustration with his audience. He probably wondered, “How am I going to reach this puffed up knuckleheaded people?” Notice he doesn’t scream at the audience, he does sweep them off their feet with irresistible oratory or amazing argumentation, he doesn’t sell himself to the audience, he simply shows them a soul surrendered to Christ. He deflects the attention off himself onto his Savior. This is key to any apologetics or heated spiritual discussions: point people to Jesus.

First, the power of persuasion is always in the Spirit of God [24-29]. Paul points to the character of Christ. And this is how Paul preaches Christ: He gives them a brief history lesson on God 101.

  • Christ is the omnipotent Creator [24a]. He owns the deed to His creation, since He has created all things.[1]
  • Christ is omnipresent in His children [24b]. He does not dwell in temples made with hands,[2] but hearts.
  • Christ is completely self-sufficient [25]. He needs nothing from man; man depends on God for everything.[3]
  • Christ is sovereign sustainer [26]. He’s not distant or indifferent, but as ruler of all He’s intimately involved.[4]
  • Christ is a gracious pursuer [27; Romans 1:19-20]. He creates man and pursues their affection. He has placed within each man a GPS [Godward Pursuing System]. Your homing beacon searches and finds rest in Christ.
  • Christ is the center of Worship [28]. Even Greek poets acknowledge we are from God.
  • Christ is eternally priceless [29; Romans 1:22-23]. People make idols of God from precious things because they have a high view of God, but He is incomparable to any object or form.

Paul’s theology revolves around his Christology. Jesus is the blazing center of his universe. Athens could no longer claim ignorance, but were now cognizant of Christ and His character. The Son of God goes from unknown to renown. They could ignore the facts [as many do], but the unknown God is made known. Like a set of keys you’ve been looking for, but all the while they are in your pocket. He has not only made Him known; he’s revealed His renown!

Second, the character of Christ calls people to repent [30-31]. Paul challenges the foundations of pagan philosophy and calls the philosophers to full repentance. Paul is like Jeremiah walking into idolatrous hot bed preaching one message, “repent!” with little response. They are a people who have long thought they were god. They equated themselves with god. But God is not your co-pilot; He doesn’t even want you in the cockpit. Paul describes an incomparable Christ. He is like no one and no one is like Him.

However, God is knowable through His Son Jesus Christ. And the mystery of all ages has been revealed in Christ. The age of ignorance is over. Gentiles can know Christ too [cf. Ephesians 3:4–6]![5] In Romans 10:13–15 Paul says,  “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?” And “For there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” [Acts 4:12]

Paul is not arrogant or a pompous jerk, but is gentle and humble in his approach. He is bold when confronting them with Christ for He knows Jesus is judge.[6] After His resurrection Jesus charged the apostles “to preach unto the people and to testify that this is He who is ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead” [Acts 10:42]. This truth Paul shared in the Areopagus. The power in Paul’s preaching was provided by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.[7] The same power is available to you [Matthew 28:19-20]. The power is in the gospel—God is holy, man has fallen short of God’s glory, but Jesus pays man sins debt, and man’s hope is to respond with faith and repentance. That is the gospel.

3. PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL BOLDLY, BUT LEAVE THE RESULTS TO GOD [Acts 17:32-34]

Paul was simply a vehicle—a voice box of the truth. It takes the Holy Spirit to convince people of that truth. He does God’s work in God’s way with God’s power. Not everybody responds with immediate repentance. Some doubt, some wait to hear more [sometimes the hardest to reach because they are no longer ignorant yet choose to reject the truth], but some are ready to commit to Christ. The mission to Athens was no failure. The gospel was preached and at least two people got saved that day, including one member of the Areopagus council. Two people had a radical turning point.

What are the implications today for you and me? First, today is the day of salvation. Preach the gospel boldly to all men, not hold back, but bringing them face-to-face with Jesus Christ. Second, today is the time to mobilize the church to send out locally and globally. If your church is completely inward focused you are missing your mission. Third, today is the day to live out the gospel with your life. The gospel is not just the ABC’s of your salvation; it is the A-Z’s of working out your salvation with fear and trembling. This is the desire of our family’s heart—we long to live out the gospel as parents, as husband and wife, as people living in North Africa spreading the fame of Christ name among the unreached.

Are you ignorantly worshiping an unknown god? If your faith is not rooted in a gospel-centered relationship with Jesus Christ, you are ignorantly worshipping an unknown God. If your daily life would go on as normal if God were no part of it, you are ignorantly worshipping an unknown God. When your devotion lies in the practices of your church rather than the person of Jesus Christ, you are ignorantly worshipping an unknown God. If your knowledge of how to worship exceeds your knowledge of who you are worshipping, you are ignorantly worshipping an unknown God. If the gospel ceases to be your sufficiency, dependency and satisfaction the day after you trusted Christ as Savior, you are ignorantly worshipping and unknown God.

Jesus has made Himself known. His renown will last the test of time. Only His name prevails beyond the grave. Do you know Him? Make Him known! “Your name, O LORD, endures forever, your renown, O LORD, throughout all ages.For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.” [Psalm 135:13-18]


[1]  cf. 14:15; Exodus 20:11; Psalm 24:1, 146:6; Isaiah 37:16; 42:5

[2] cf. 7:48-50; 1 Kings 8:27; Isaiah 66:1–2

[3] cf. 14:17; Psalm 50:9–12; Isaiah 42:5

[4] cf. Genesis 1:28; Deuteronomy 32:8; Daniel 2:21

[5] There are two parts to the mystery of Christ: 1) Gentiles are not second-class citizens in the body of Christ: “there is neither Jew nor Gentile” (Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 2:14). Both are fellow heirs of the same inheritance. 2) This Gentile privilege comes only through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Where Christ is preached and believed, Gentiles are grafted into the tree of God’s people. In Colossians 1:26 Paul says that this mystery was “hidden for ages and generations but now is made manifest to his saints.” And in Romans 16:25 he says that the mystery “was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed.”

[6] cf. Psalm 9:8; 96:13; 98:9; Daniel 7:13; John 5:27; Romans 2:16

[7] cf. Acts 17:18; 4:2; Romans 4:25; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

raising Cain: the call for repentance

Raising Cain is an expression given to someone who causes havoc. We get the phrase from the Genesis 4, where we get a glimpse into the first family and the children they raised. The children of Adam and Eve were far from perfect. This is a tale of two brothers. Woven into this story are incredible lessons for parents, children, and everyday followers of God.

What’s in a name? [Genesis 4:1-2]

Biblical names have meanings. The biblical meanings of names are significant and often shape the life of the one who bears the names. Let’s meet our two brothers: The first brother is Cain. His name means ‘acquire, get, possess’. The second brother is Abel. His name means ‘vapor or breath’.  As we will see in the story their names have a predetermining affect on their futures.

What is the purpose of your work? [4:3-5]

In Genesis 1-2, during the days of created God set an example for man to live by—6-days a week man works the land God creates and the seventh day man worships the God who created the land which they work [1:26-28]. Both the brothers are hard workers. Cain works the land and Abel ranches the animals. They are generous workers. From an early age both brothers learn the value of giving God a portion of their labors for praise and worship. Work is a means of worship because work involves sacrifice. This is a great lesson for all laborers.

Your mission while working is to give God your best in time, effort, aspirations, career, and money. Come to God with something in your hands to worship God from rewards of your reaping. Both brothers recognize their work and rewards of their work come from God. Both brothers bring gifts of their labors to God. Cain brings the first fruits of his land and Abel brings the firstborn of his flock. Both brothers come with something in their hand, but also something in their heart.

God questions what you bring for worship [4:6-7a]

In Genesis 3:9-13, God questions Cain’s parents over their actions in the Garden; He does the same here with Cain. God loves to ask questions. Man seeks to avoid questions. Man’s motto is, “Don’t ask; don’t tell.” God asks, “Why are you angry? It’s all over your face. I see your heart. Will you do what is right and repent?”

Cain comes to God with full hands but a jealous heart of unbelief [cf. 1 John 3:12; Hebrew 11:4]. He looks at his bowl of Cheerios and then at his brother’s box of Omaha Steaks and thinks, “Wow, my offering is pretty lame,” and jealous grew in his heart over Abel. Was it that Abel’s offering was better? No. The mass of the offering in your hands does not matter a bit, but the manner of your heart before God does matter.

Do you compare your worship with others? When in church are you looking around at what others bring? Are you jealous because someone else has your is growing in their relationship with God more than you, better life [job, girl or guy] than you, appears more success than you? Are you obsessed with other people around you, rather than the only One whose opinion matters? Abel comes to God with a love for God in his heart. His offering is regarded because his heart is to please God. Cain’s offering looked religious, but his heart is not dependent upon God. Some Christians are a lot like Cain, even worse because they come to God with nothing in their hands. He at least comes with something in his hand, even though what he had in his heart was wicked and twisted.

What are the consequences of keeping a jealous heart? [4:7b-9]

If Cain does not get a handle on his jealousy it will handle him. God warns Cain, “Your sin will drive you insane.” Sin is powerful enough to drive one to insanity and death. Cain must have learned the desire for power and prestige from his mommy [cf. desire; Genesis 3:16b]. Do you notice the pride in Eve’s statement, “I have made a man” [4:1]? She didn’t make man, God did. Eve is trying to rule over her roost and her redemption, but Cain is not the promised Redeemer Seed [cf. 3:15].

The consequences of keeping jealousy in your heart will cause it to grow and spiral out of control. First, if you internalize jealousy you will be depressed. Second, if you externalize jealousy you will get violent [i.e. Cain]. Third, if you deal with jealousy through repent you will rule over it with self-control. If you are convicted of a jealous heart, repent, before it gets worse. And worse it did get for Cain. Cain invites his brother to the farm, kills him in broad daylight, and buries his bloody body under the ground. This is a premeditated murder. Jealousy led to insanity. Insanity led to Abel’s mortality.

God as Counselor and Judge [4:9-12]

Echoing God’s question in the Garden [3:9], God asks Cain, “Where is your brother, Abel?” [v.9]. And like his parents, He covers with a lie, “I don’t know! Am I Abel’s babysitter?” This should have been an opportunity for immediate repentance and restoration. Instead, God has to step in as the law enforcer, CSI agent, prosecutor, and Judge. Therefore, since Cain alienates himself from God, God alienates him from good farmland. Cain dishonors the dirt, and the dirt dishonors Cain [cf. 3:17].

What happens when you repent? [4:13-26]

I believe, Cain responds to God’s curse with a repentant heart, “My sin is greater than I can bear” [v.13]. The curse cracks the hard shell of Cain’s heart. He realizes and wakes up to the consequences of his sin. He knows he will have to move away [East of Nod = “wandering” alienation from God], be a fugitive, believes someone will track him down and kill him too.

It is not a popular opinion, but I believe Cain repents because God blesses him through protection [15-16, tattoo], gives him a family [17a], gives him a refuge city [17b], gives him another brother [25a], promises a Redeemer Seed [25b-26a], and brings a revival [26]. God is a good God—a gracious God. God gives Cain good gifts despite his sin.

In Genesis 4, you see Cain’s worst day. Lame Lamech gives you a look into where Cain’s sin could lead without repentance [vs.19-24]. I am glad that the Bible is an honest book describing the gruesome details of people’s lives. I could not image God putting my worst days in the Bible as an example for others to read and remember. God gives these examples to learn about His grace, so that in your worst day you can also have your best because God’s restoration follows repentance.

The story of Cain and Abel does not make sense until you put yourself into the shoes of Cain. You are Cain. You have killed your brother, Jesus. You come to God with empty worship and an unrepentant jealous heart. Jesus’ death offers you life and hope. Jesus’ death and blood cries out so that you would believe in your brother and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ [Hebrews 12:24].

Questions for Reflections and Application:

What are some of the lessons in this story for parents? Children? Or everyday followers of God?

What is the overall effect of sin’s mastery as this story is played out?

What do you think Genesis 4 is meant to instill in you? How does it impact you?

what is your response to Jesus?

If you were to ask any person on the street, in the office cubicle next to you, or lunch buddy across the table if they know who Jesus is they would probably give you a satisfactory answer. However, if you were to probe around a little deeper and see if they really know Jesus, you might find out that there are many opinions on why Jesus came and how he deals with sin.

Pretenders, Posers, Rationalizers or Overcomer

There are many ways people respond to sin. Sin is deceptive. Sin lies to us, but it never quite follows through with what it promises to give. Therefore, the world is full of pretenders, posers and rationalizers who are still attached to their sin like an impenetrable umbilical cord feeding off its lies. How can I detect if I have been deceived by sin? Have you ever thought recently? “One sin is not going to hurt,” “I can hide my sin and know one will know,” “It is okay since everybody is doing it,” “It’s not my fault,” “It can’t be sin if it feels so right,” or “I’ll just sin, and ask God to forgive me later.”[1]

These are common lies that pretenders, posers and rationalizers sing as their rock-anthems, but they are lies from the pit of hell and they will keep them in hell. How do we stop believing these lives and begin living in truth? What is the right response to sin and the gospel of Jesus Christ? How do I finally get on the road to overcoming nagging addictions, sin/confess cycles, and secret-closet sinfulness?

The 2-Pronged Response: Repent & Believe

Jesus began His ministry by preaching, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” [Mark 1:15] In other words, Jesus is saying, “I am the way. I am from God. I have fulfilled all the ancient prophecies. I am your promised Messiah who has come to forgive your sins. Trust me and turn from your sins.”

Throughout the OT, God and His prophets called people to believe in Him and repent of their sin. In the NT, the apostles called people to turn from their way and follow the way of the cross. Like Paul, “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” [Acts 20:21] Repentance and Belief go together like green on grass. They are both distinctive of true followers of Christ.

You Gotta Have Faith, Faith, Faith

Faith is more than a cool 80’s song. Faith is not something you can simply muster up in your inner self through a mystical experience. You cannot buy it from the convenience store or put it on your North Pole wish list. Faith [and repentance] is a gift of God.

Faith is an active dependence upon the promises of God [Romans 4:18-5:1; Hebrews 11:1ff]. Faith is a belief in what you know to be true. People do not normal give themselves to something that they think is untrue. I believe the gospel is true and Jesus is the only Savior for man; therefore, I am all-in and no-holds-bard to following His way. I believe that if Jesus does not save me, I will die. I believe that I have no other hope but in Him. Salvation begins by believing Jesus is who He says He is and did what He said He did, “For what does the Bible say? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” [Romans 4:3ff]

U-Turn or Burn

Repentance is a turning—from sin to the way of the Savior [Acts 11:18]. Repentance is not, “I will try harder or do better.” Repentance is not feeling really sorry or shedding a few tears over your sin; however, grief and guilt can lead to repentance [2 Corinthians 7:8-13]. Peter preached in his first sermon, “Repent and turn to God so your sins may be wiped out.” [Acts 3:19; cf. 26:20]. Repentance is changing your mind from living your way back to living God’s way. Repentance is a spiritual U-Turn.

What happens if I do not repent? “… Unless you repent you will perish.” [Luke 13:3] Jesus is saying, “Unless you turn from your sin you will go to hell.” [Romans 6:23] The alternative to not turning from sin to God is hell fire and brimstone. The Bible says we are like branches and Jesus is the Vine, “Every branch in Me [Jesus] that does not bear fruit He [the Father] takes away” [John 15:2] and, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” [John 15:6]

God is serious as a heart attack about sin. Sin is like the fat that clogs up your arteries, and repentance is the surgery that lets the blood flow again. This is how serious God is about sin, “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” [Matthew 5.30] Sin is very serious and must be amputated radically before it kills you [James 1:12-15].

In summary, Repentance and faith go together like white on rice. You cannot have one without the other, or at least for the truly authentic follower of Christ. If you are really sorry about your sin you will do whatever it takes to make it right. The biblical way to make it right is by believing Jesus is the only forgiver and repentance is the means to forgiveness. The Bible is clear that Jesus came not only to save you, but also to change me from the inside you. Repentance is not as an excuse to live as you want, but as you were designed.

Quick Q&A on Repentance:

What should I repent of? [Colossians 3:5-9; Ephesians 4:17-31; Romans 1:28-32] One must repent of sin: pride [position, prestige, power], overindulging pleasures [immoral sex, substance abuse, stuff], and ungodly priorities [others, God, yourself].

How do I know if I have truly repented? According to 2 Corinthians 7, I grieve over sin [9], I am disgusted by sin [11], I am reconciled toward other people [11], I am having revival toward God [11], and I am looking forward not backward [8-9]. Also, I will perform the works in keeping with repentance [Acts 26:20; Luke 6:44; 3:8]. These fruits do not cause our salvation, but can give confirmation to it.

Why isn’t repentance easy? There are many reasons: It is humbling to submit to another authority. We love our sin too much. We do not have faith that God fulfills His promises. We do not like to experience grief [2 Corinthians 7:8-13].

What if I have already repented and I still struggle with sin? Repentance does not necessarily mean an immediate stop to sinning. It means I am taking sides with God not my sin. You chose to do war against sin rather than letting it rule you [1 Corinthians 10:13]. Temptations are still a part of this life, but in Christ we can have power to overcome.

What is your response to Jesus? Repent and Believe or remain dead in your sin [Mark 1:15].


[1] Adapted from the booklet How to Get Right With God. James MacDonald, Walk in the Word. Arlington Heights, IL. 2000, 4.