Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 1 Study # 3
Thesis: The preaching of repentance was about man's problem, not his ability/inability to "fix" it.
Introduction: We have seen that Luke was very much interested in providing Theophilus with a completely different way to approach the issues of life. All through the New Testament we see the enormous conflict between the four perceived "ways of life". The first perceived "way of life" is that of the out and out rebel who cannot stand to have "authority" over him. This is the "way" of "the worship of lady liberty". It is the American Way. The second perceived "way of life" is that of the "externalist" who sees "submission to authority" as the way to prove his superiority over the "rebel". This is the conservative way; it emphasizes the "rule of law". The third perceived "way of life" is that of the "relationalist" who sees the flaws of rebels and externalists and calls for everyone to lay down their differences and "love" one another. This is the "bleeding heart" who cannot stand to deal with conflict and suffering. The fourth perceived "way of life" is that of the "Christian" who sees God as Life and who will not tolerate any personal violation of conscience in relating to Him. He does not value "liberty"; he is not interested in proving he is "superior"; and he does not shy away from "fighting" the good fight. It is into this raging conflict that Luke steps as he writes to Theophilus about the "Grace of God". His thesis is that "Life" only comes from relating to God as the God of all Grace.
We have come to Luke 3. At this point in Luke's presentation, he began to actually reveal the words of the man who was named "Yahweh is Gracious". In the beginning of his revelation of those words, he cast about for a "summary" term that would encapsulate those words. It was his goal to "characterize" John's introduction of his generation to the Grace of Yahweh with a one-word summary. He chose the word "repent". This morning we are going to look into the use of this one word as it relates to the Grace of God.
November 20, 2005
- I. The Impact of "Repentance".
- A. John promised that anyone who "repented" would receive "forgiveness of their sins".
- B. Because the "forgiveness of sins" is such a huge issue, it is impossible to dismiss the importance of "repentance".
- 1. In spite of our culture's easy dismissal of eternity and the spectre of righteous retribution by a God Who is big enough, and severe enough, to impose it, the truth stands.
- a. Eternity looms on the horizon of every man's life.
- b. Righteous retribution hovers in the clouds of that horizon: Hebrews says, "It is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment."
- c. Jesus described the outcome of the judgment of the vast majority of humanity as "destruction" in terms of an unending experience of fire, weeping, and gnashing of teeth.
- d. There are only two conclusions: either Jesus was a liar, or our culture is.
- 2. In the face of these "standing" truths, John appeared on the scene preaching what Luke called "repentance unto forgiveness".
- a. We need to understand John's message in terms of the "culture" issues.
- 1) John came into a harsh setting where the view of God was that He was big enough and severe enough to impose eternal judgment.
- 2) We live in the exactly opposite cultural setting: the view of God these days is that God is neither big enough, nor severe enough, to actually follow through on the threat of eternal retribution.
- b. We need also to understand how the cultures tend to distort John's message.
- 1) The first-century culture tended to distort John's message by an outright rejection: Jesus preached the same message and was brutally put to death for it. The first-century said: God will not forgive that easily.
- 2) The twenty-first-century American culture tends to distort John's message by the opposite method: easy assimilation. The largest churches in America are known by the similarity of their messages of "positive thinking about God". This century says: God will not judge so severely.
- 3. The truth is this: neither culture accurately represents legitimate thinking about God.
- 4. The bottom line is this: "Repentance" is declared to be the way to escape the wrath of God (Note John's opening words in Luke 3:7).
- II. The Meaning of "Repentance".
- A. It should go without saying that if God is big enough and severe enough to visit eternal retribution upon sinners, but is also gracious enough to suspend eternal retribution on the basis of "repentance", the true meaning of "repentance" is absolutely crucial.
- B. This means that we must answer this question: What does it mean to "repent"?
- 1. Whatever it means, the definition must include a genuine change of behavior.
- a. The first statement that John made to the generation of vipers was a demand that they "bring forth fruits" (3:8). At the end of Jesus' ministry one notable miracle was done: He cursed the fig tree for its lack of fruit.
- b. The first question the generation of vipers asked was "What shall we do?" (3:10).
- c. The apostle Paul said, in Acts 26:20, that it was a staple of his preaching that people "practice the production of works suitable to the claim of repentance".
- d. Though the issue of "behavior" is an exceedingly critical issue, it cannot be dismissed from the mix.
- 1) We must be careful that we do not make "repentance" into some kind of "works" theology, but we must also be careful that we do not take the meaning of "repentance" out of the picture by our caution.
- 2) It is perfectly legitimate to reject a "claim" of repentance that is not attended by a "suitable" behavior.
- a) The Luke 17 passage on "seven times" does not negate this fact.
- b) The facile "I'm sorry" claim is not the same thing as repentance.
- 3) Where there is no alteration of behavior, there has been no repentance.
- 2. Whatever it means, the definition must be rooted in the Grace of God.
- a. John could not possibly have been named "John" and have been filled with the Holy Spirit from his conception in his mother's womb and not gotten his message "right".
- b. "Repent" is the message of Grace.
- 1) This is where "definitions" get really crucial.
- 2) The definition of "Grace" is absolutely critical to the definition of "Repent".
- a) Grace is God in action on man's behalf.
- b) If "Repent" is the root of the message of Grace, then "repentance" is a work of God on man's behalf.
- i. This is what Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:25.
- ii. This is what Luke recorded as the mind-set of the church in Acts 11:18.
- c) This resolves the "behavior" issue: if it is God in action, the behavior is of God also and the "fruit" is the "fruit of the Spirit".
- 3. Whatever it means, the definition must operate at the foundation-level, not at the superficial, visible level.
- a. Men, very typically, take the issue to the "fruit" level in a direct, and deliberate, attempt to "get things right" without "getting things right".
- 1) The real issue in "repentance" is the forsaking of my intention to have things go my way.
- 2) Men will do almost anything to retain that intention without being seen as retaining it.
- b. Luke, very suitably, made John's message the fulfillment of the mountains/valleys prophecy of Isaiah 40 because the issue there is "attitudes", not their fruit.