The Bible says that lasting change involves repentance—embracing an entirely new way of thinking.
[Darris McNeely] Real repentance comes when the heart is broken. We desire to give ourselves over to God. Godly repentance will come from the heart. God has a promise that reflects His love and His purpose to reconcile us through the love of His son.
[Narrator] Join our presenters from the United Church of God as we bring you help for today and hope for tomorrow directly from your Bible, here on Beyond Today.
[Darris McNeely] What if someone you trust told you that you needed to make a difficult and lasting change in your life? Could you do it? What if this trusted person said, "If you don't change this part of your lifestyle, it will kill you, your life will come to a premature end??” Could you make that change? Would you say yes, maybe I could? Or no, I don't think I could?
Consider this very sobering fact; up to nine out of 10 people would likely not make a change like that even if it meant positive benefits in their life. This statistic was cited a few years ago at an IBM Summit on global affairs where they were discussing healthcare, change is one of the hardest things for a human being to ever do. Admitting that we need to alter something in our life, something as a part of our motive, a way of thinking, the way of behaving, it's one of the hardest things for a person to do. Let me illustrate this problem about human behavior and our inability to change. Let's take again healthcare. Did you know that in America and in the developed world, a small percentage of the population consumes the majority of the healthcare budget? Diseases that they are treated for are largely caused by their behavior, their choices in life. The same conference cited research showing that 80% of healthcare budgets in countries are consumed by five different behaviors. They're this, smoking, alcohol consumption, overeating, stress, and a lack of exercise. Heart disease is one of the biggest killers in America. All these above behaviors that I mentioned they all contribute to heart disease, and yet studies have found that people who go through heart surgery whether it may be a bypass, a stent or some other type of surgical repair on their heart after two years from the procedure they have not changed their lifestyle. Now, they might attempt to adjust each of these five behaviors, smoking, alcohol, stress lack of exercise, but most people after two years relapse, they do not change their life significantly.
Think about that. Knowledge of a disease that can kill or lead to a lower quality of life by itself is not enough to make a person change. So again I ask, why is it that change is so difficult? Why do we fight and resist change even when we know that to make a change is in our best interest? Again I ask, what would you do if confronted by such a choice? Well, if we look at these statistics the answer is we probably would do what most people do. We might make a temporary change, but the odds are that we would soon go back to the way we were. Unless, unless we were motivated by something other than fear or the stress of an emergency or just someone's advice or strong admonition. Change of a permanent lasting and godly way can be made if we're motivated by one thing, that one element is vital to change that makes significant impact on our life, even our eternal life. We'll see what that change is as we go deeper into this topic.
The Bible has a term for the kind of change that I'm talking about here today. It's the word repent. Repent. Let me give you an example from the Bible where Jesus used this once and it's in Mark 1. It says this, "After John," speaking of John the Baptist, "was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and saying, 'The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.'" This is a well-known passage from the beginning of Christ's ministry when He went about the cities of Galilee announcing the dawn of a new period in the purpose of God. The Gospel of the Kingdom was being announced.
Now let's take that statement from scripture. Let's focus on what Jesus said when He used this word, "repent." As I said repent is something that we don't really talk about. Nobody wants to talk about this word repent, makes people feel uncomfortable. You don't normally bring up this word repent. In normal everyday conversation at the dinner table or in the coffee shop, people would look at you like you're kind of crazy. They might think you're a religious fanatic. To be truthful, it's not something you just go around talking about. You've probably seen people on street corners with a big sign holding up or maybe in your neighborhood a sign might say, "Repent, the end is near." I've seen such people when I'm driving around. Most of us just pass that by. I do. People like that would be considered by most as to be religious fanatics. And yet the Bible talks about the need for repentance. And if you're going to believe the Bible and you're going to live by every word of God then you have to confront the word this concept called repentance and come to understand it. It's imperative. I can tell you right now it is biblical teaching that challenges each one of us. It can really make us face ourselves, our behavior, our ideas about God, about the Bible, and about faith.
Repentance as it is used in the Bible means to change the way we think. There's a Greek word that is translated into the English repentance and that Greek word is metanoia. It means to change our perception, our thinking, and our state of mind. Far more than just changing some action at a particular moment. It's the way we think. Let me give you an example of this from the book of Genesis and a well-known story, the story of Jacob and Esau, who were contending over their birthright. Esau comes to his brother very hungry and he's willing to trade his right of inheritance for a bowl of soup. Esau was the firstborn. Now Jacob being kind of the wily guy that he was, he's ready to strike a bargain like that and he does for a bowl of soup. Esau sells his birthright. When it was all over, Esau wanted to go back on the agreement after his stomach was full and he'd come to himself but Jacob wouldn't give it back. Jacob didn't turn it around. It was too late. Now the book of Hebrews comments on this story and puts it this way. It says, "Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected for he found no place for repentance though he sought it diligently with tears." Esau found no place for repentance, the Bible says. Let's take that phrase and put it into today's plain language for us. It means Esau made a really big mistake. He blew it. And then he wanted to reverse his action. He wanted to return to what he once had, but he couldn't. Esau's state of mind caused him to devalue his birthright, treat it as nothing, and he had not changed his thinking that led him to do that. His mental framework hadn't changed. He was just sorry for what he lost but he hadn't changed and in his mind there was no place for repentance, that is a changed mind. He regretted his action and he was sorry that he sold the birthright for a mere bowl of soup but he'd not changed the thinking that led him to that colossal blunder. That's what repentance is.
Godly repentance is a change in the way we actually think. It means to change your mind. The seat of your reflection, of your moral thoughts, your opinions, your feelings, your very purpose. True repentance in a biblical sense means to make a complete change from the inside out. It means that we really clearly see our state of mind as something that is contrary to Godly thinking. The way God looks at things and to the point where we really want to clear out the old and bring in the new way of thinking. That's godly repentance. We desire in that to have the mind of God to guide us. What we need to understand is that repentance doesn't just mean change. We can make changes, change of behavior. People can change in life, and it can be for the worse, not always the better. So there's more to repentance than just change. Repentance is a turning from a life of sin, and turning to God in obedience to His word and to His law.
Now, I said at the beginning of the program how hard it is for people to make behavioral changes, the type that will improve the quality of life. I said that nine out of 10 people can't stay with significant changes to make a difference in their health. Again, we all understand how difficult it is to make a lifestyle change, to lose weight, to stop smoking, get off drugs, break an addiction. It can be done, but it's very hard. Take all this into your thinking when we talk about what the Bible is telling us about this matter of repentance and change that God calls us to when He begins to work with us and call us to salvation.
Let me illustrate this with another scripture. It's in 2 Peter 3:9. It says, "The Lord is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." Not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. There is that word again from the Greek. God desires eternal life for each one of us but repentance then in this verse is equated with eternal life. In other words, repentance is the first step in the process toward eternal life. We can't avoid that if we seriously desire eternal life in the family of God as the gift that God gives us. So here in this passage from 2 Peter 3 is that authoritative voice that's telling us we have to change something for our ultimate good and we're left with the question, are we willing to do it? What we're talking about is a change of thinking about ourselves and about God.
There's a story from the Bible that can help us to understand just how repentance is about a change in the way we see ourselves. Let's go through that and look at it for a moment because I think it illustrates something when it comes to the relationship that we have with God that can lead us to a lasting change. The Bible tells a story about a group of people who thought that they were all right with God. They were in complete alignment with God. They were doing all the right things. They were part of Israel, the chosen people that God had worked with, descendants of Abraham. But Jesus had been arrested, tried, and crucified. Jewish leaders had a key part in this. They thought by eliminating Jesus from Jerusalem that they would be doing the nation a favor. And so they killed Him. But the tomb in which Jesus was laid was found empty three days and three nights after His death. The resurrected Jesus appeared to His disciples on the feast of Pentecost. There was an outpouring of the Spirit that came upon a small group of disciples as they were worshiping God. The stories in Acts 2, a miraculous speaking of different languages took place. The apostle Peter stood up to give a powerful sermon to the crowd that included not only Christ’s disciples but other Jews from Jerusalem, and he explained what had happened with the death the resurrection of Jesus. And he very carefully went through the scriptures and he brought the message down ultimately to the personal level. He looked them in the eye at one point, and he told them how Jesus was betrayed, falsely accused, and then crucified. But God had brought Him back from death to a glorified spirit life. And then he had the kicker, the real line. He told them one more thing. He told them they had a part in the death of Jesus, the Son of God. Here's what he said. "Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." When the crowd heard this they were cut to the heart, is what the scripture says. Stunned, convicted of murder. They must have begun thinking, how can this be? Scripture tells us that they were cut to the heart.
Think about that phrase, cut to the heart because now we're getting closer to what it takes for a person to make a change that is lasting, the kind of change needed to relate to God and the matters of the spirit and of eternity. The message must penetrate to one's inner being, the news that we need to change a lifestyle, a destructive habit, an addiction, abusive approach to life. Whether it might be your own or abuse on someone else very close. That realization that we not only have done something terribly wrong but that our mental state, our way of thinking, our whole view of life, worldview as some people call it, it's contrary to the moral nature of the universe. It's the opposite of the power that holds together all things in heaven and earth. That's the moment of clarity that brings chills to one. That's what it means to be cut to the heart in this biblical term. And that is where a group of Jewish men and women found themselves on a late spring morning in Jerusalem when Peter stood before them explaining the meaning of the great events that had occurred in the weeks before.
In anguished cries their voices then went out to Peter, the other apostles who were there. Men and brethren, they asked, what shall we do? What can be done? How can we reverse this? How can we be cleared of this? They must have thought they were without hope. Suddenly they were convicted by words and scripture inspired by the Spirit of God. The message pierced their hearts, cut them to the heart. It produced a sense of hopelessness. What once was a certainty in their life and their purpose, who they thought they were among the chosen people of God, citizens of Jerusalem, the apple of God's eye, that city. Now they were shown to be very hollow and they had a massive identity crisis. Something was missing. And their cry to Peter was that of people drowning, calling out for a lifeline to safety, a rope that would snatch them from the sudden pit of despair they found themselves in. But here's the good news. God was guiding this scene through His inspired message by Peter and he was ready with the words of hope. And God stands behind those same words today as we read them and still need them in a world that has forgotten God. "Peter said to them, 'Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.'"
Repentance comes when our view of ourselves is broken just like it happened with these people. When we come to see that we are sinners in need of God, even when we think we know God, even when we think we're His children we can have a form of godliness and think we're all right with the Lord and yet be about as far from Him as the most diehard atheist or abject sinner. Here's a real problem for religious people today, for all of us to think about, even some who profess to be commandment keepers. And some of you make that claim, you can be convinced of the need to keep the commandments of God but if you have never experienced a deep heartfelt repentance leading to a conversion of heart, mind, and a changed view of who you are, it may not be real. Repentance that leads to change is a real experience like we see with what was happening with this audience in Acts on the day of Pentecost.
Repentance is a tumultuous upheaval in a person's life. A spiritual and emotional crisis triggered by painful and intense, sometimes conviction by grasping of true motives and intentions. Real repentance comes when the heart is broken. We desire to give ourselves over to God. Godly repentance will come from the heart. God has a promise that reflects His love and His purpose to reconcile us through the love of the His Son. And these men and women in Jerusalem saw that love and so can you. It can produce radical change leading to eternal life in the future and a better purpose-driven life now.
So are we beginning to see that real lasting change comes from the convicting nature of the relationship that God desires with each one of us. Because when we see that, it brings us to see ourselves completely different. We've come to see the one element that we need to make a lasting change. The kind that most people are not able to make.
Let me tell you a parable that Jesus gave in the gospels. It's one of the most memorable and endearing parables in the Bible, it's known as the parable of the prodigal son. A parable is a story that tells a larger spiritual message. There was a man with two sons and one of the sons came to him wanting to have his inheritance given to him before the normal time when the father would be gone. And so the father gave him his portion of the family estate to the son who then left home and, it says, he went off into a far country where he just completely wasted his inheritance. You might say that he spent it on wine, women, and song. Think of it as taking all your money, all your wealth today and going to Las Vegas and gambling it away. This is what he did. He gathered people around him who were only interested in his money and one day that money ran out, wasted, all spent. And he was reduced to looking for scraps of food from the garbage dump rather than the expensive dining rooms that he was used to eating in. Reduced to that state of poverty with no friends, he'd hit bottom. Christ says that he came to himself. Here's what he said. "How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough to spare and I perish with hunger. I will arise and go to my father and will say to him, father I have sinned against heaven and before you and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants." He came to himself, is what the scripture says. That's a real change of heart. That's what real repentance is, the kind that produces lasting change. He said, I will go to my father. The son knew that his father loved him. He had given him his inheritance and he must have given it in a manner that showed regret and sympathy but with care and compassion, given only in a manner that a father who truly loves his son can do. And it's why the son knew that in the depth of his despair, he could return to his father. And he did. And his father received him with open arms and he threw a banquet for him.
You see, it was a father's love that produced the change of heart in the son. That's the key to change, lasting change, that leads to salvation that God offers to us. In this parable, the father of the prodigal son stands for God, the Father, and His gentle love for us. And when we come to see that, to feel it, to experience it, then we come to a repentance of what we are and we see the hole in our life and we turn to God desiring a deep and loving relationship. Fear by itself does not produce lasting change, resulting in salvation and everlasting life. There must be with that, the element of love. Love for God and love for our fellow man. The prodigal son knew this. He knew his father loved him. It's why he could return home even in disgrace by coming to himself, hitting the lowest point in his life, repenting and changing. He returned home and he found meaning and purpose in the love of his father. That's where we are when convicted by the Spirit of God to obey Him and to seek the Kingdom of God. That can bring a real repentance resulting in lasting change, one of the hardest parts of life. We'll resist it. When we want to change though, we find it difficult to do. We can make a change but after a few weeks or months, sometimes revert back to our old habits and behavior. Fear can produce change. Fear of death, fear of authority, fear of a penalty. All of that's good. But if we never examine change in the light of the love, the love for our fellow humans and the love that God has for us will not be moved to that deep spiritual level of change God speaks of in His word.
The prophet Ezekiel said to Israel, "Turn and live for why will you die, O Israel?" And that sums up the love that God has for each of us to come to ourselves in heartfelt repentance and change our life to conform to the Kingdom of God. The study guide we're offering on this program can take you through this important topic of change. This book Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion has been written after many, many years of study and practical experience of helping people through counseling come to understand. It can walk you through the steps of change, of baptism, and of developing a spiritual connection with God because it grounds you in the Bible and the source of truth on that topic. You can get a copy of this by calling the number on your screen or going to www.beyondtoday.tv. I recommend this from personal experience, and so do that. God's giving us all a chance to change. He offers His love, the power of His Spirit to make this happen. You can change and live.
In the next part of this series, we're going to examine the next step that we take in making real lasting change happen. And that's baptism. Be sure to watch it.
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