Repent and Sin No More!


Did you know that this phrase is not in the Bible? Jesus told the man healed in John 5 to “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you,” and he told the woman caught in adultery to “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Jesus never told anyone to “repent and sin no more.”

However, Jesus did use the word repent with a far different word in Mark 1:15, “The kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the gospel.” Not just repent, but repent and believe. Both are in the present imperative, active, 2nd person plural. In other words, it was a command to do these things continuously: “You all out there, continue to repent and continue to believe the gospel!”

Just as we cannot imagine a follower of Jesus without faith, so we should not imagine the same follower without the continuing character of repentance. We should not just call ourselves Believers but also Repenters, for we will not stop repenting until we stop sinning. Unfortunately, this continual character of repentance is sadly lacking in our churches, in our Christian colleges and graduate schools, in our interpersonal relationships and in our marriages, where we readily admit to our brokenness but when it comes to repentance, we act as if other people need to repent, but not us.

I would like to clarify what repentance is because I think many people are often confused as to the meaning of the word. So over the next few blogs let me unpack the biblical concept of repentance by describing it in 3 different ways:

  • Repentance is not penance
  • Repentance is without regret (remorse)
  • Repentance is without excuse


First, Repentance is not Penance

Roman Catholic Theology defines Penance as a sacrament consisting of contrition, confession, and the carrying out of certain works which render satisfaction for the sin committed since baptism. Certainly repentance and inner sorrow is a part of this, but penance is an act performed that makes amends or satisfaction for sin.

Not to be out done, we “Prots” have our own version of penance. Though we confess to being saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, we are still driven to act in ways that seek to curry favor with God. Many co-opt the Lenten season with acts of self-denial and self-abnegation to demonstrate contrition to God by the sincerity of outward actions, while failing to comprehend that the real issue is the inner condition of the heart. It becomes more of a “flesh formation” rather than a spiritual formation.

Not only does penance divert our attention away from the real need of our souls, but it can also anesthetize our consciences so we gain momentary relief from our guilt. In so doing we actually set up a vicious cycle for ourselves: do good things to make up for our bad things; then after being good for a while we think we deserve a little bad, which we then try to make up for by being good and… so on and so forth. Penance makes us like little gerbils on a never-ending wheel of trying to deal with guilt.

The prophet Isaiah held out the free grace and mercy of God for his people when he cried, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for things that are not bread, and your labor on things that do not satisfy” (55:1, 2). And in the closing chapter of the New Testament, the Spirit and the Church cry out, “Come, and let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires to take the water of life without price” (Rev. 22:17).

If we can do nothing to achieve our salvation, why do we think our actions (now that we are God’s children) are in any way meritorious or sanctifying? Why do we measure God’s love for us by how much we do for him rather than by what he has done for us? Penance may drive us to a bed of nails, but true repentance will always drive us back to the cross! Repent and believe the gospel of God’s love and mercy which continues to flow for us because of Christ. The same gospel that saves also sanctifies.

More on this next blog… let me recommend an excellent book on this subject by Richard Owen Roberts, “Repentance: the First Word of the Gospel.” (Crossway Books, 2001)

Marriage as a Discipline…


Happy Valentine’s Day!

I want to take this opportunity to write something about marriage that you do will not read about in the superficial and unrealistic cards that have to be plowed through in order to find one (if you are lucky) that you are not embarrassed to give. You will never see mentioned the fact that  marriage needs to be a discipline if it is going to last; sounds so unromantic.

While it is true that only 7% of marriages today reach the 50 year mark, there are certainly a lot of things that necessitate against long-term marriages, not the least of which is death. However, one factor rarely considered is the lack of a disciplined commitment. I write this blog cognizant that many of my divorced sisters and brothers may feel discouraged by what they read. Please understand that my intention is to challenge all of us (especially myself) to recognize the seriousness of our marriage vows, even if we have been divorced and remarried. Sadly, our culture has undermined such seriousness.

Karl A. Pillemer, professor of human development at Cornell University and professor of gerontology in medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College, has done research examining how people develop and change throughout their lives. In a recent set of studies, Pillemer decided to find out what older people know about life that the rest of us don’t. This project led to the book, 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans (Penguin/Hudson Street Press, November 2011). Much of this advice had to do with marriage. I have distilled his findings as follows:

In my efforts to understand the elders’ view on commitment, I came to a revelation. They were talking about marriage as a discipline As that word is used in fields from spiritual development to business management, it does not have anything to do with the idea of punishment– far from it. Rather, a discipline, is a developmental path where you get better at something by mindfully attending to it and by continual practice. Most important, it is a lifelong process—you don’t “arrive” at success, but rather you spend your life mastering the discipline. In all disciplines—from learning a martial art, to running a marathon, to meditating—short-term sacrifice is required to reap the long-term rewards from your effort.

When the elders talked about commitment, it’s this kind of discipline they have in mind: persevering, working out creative solutions for problems, and seeking help when necessary. The mental image of a lifelong commitment—where it is not easy to get out—makes partners work intensely to overcome challenges. Lora, 70, told me:

“My generation was not accepting of divorce, and my husband and I were of that mindset. Because that wasn’t an option in our mind to separate, you really figured things out. It wasn’t, ‘Well, it’s not working out and I’m not happy right now. Let’s give up.’ It wasn’t an option, so therefore we needed to figure things out.”

Sheldon, 88, whose marriage went through difficult periods, agreed:

“We have had some pretty hard arguments, believe me. You’ve got to deal with it and not to have in the back of your head that you’re going to split. You’ve got to get that out of your head. That whatever it is that goes on, you’re going to stay together and work it out.”

And the elders are clear that no one can make a commitment at a single point in their lives, then simply relax and forget about it. Commitment is enacted every single day, as part of the discipline of marriage. Mae Powers, 70, also had a rocky road in marriage, but chose to remain in the relationship for 42 years. She eloquently summed up the meaning of commitment this way:

“It’s continually committing, actively deciding to stay together. During the rough times, you have to decide to recommit yourself to the relationship. My husband and I joke about having ‘gotten married’ many times. Things happen that cause people to question their relationships, and then they have to make a decision to recommit or not recommit, and how to recommit if they decide to do so. So when I recommit to staying together today after a huge blow-up, it’s with the knowledge of all of those limitations and what I have decided I’m willing to live with.”

Searching for a way to characterize this attitude among the elders, I found myself using the word spirit. That is, many of them have a spirited approach to the discipline of marriage, to get better, to forgive, and to innovate. There’s a spirit of initiative to overcome problems and an indomitable attitude to move on despite problems.

Sound idealistic? For me, seeing was believing. Nothing convinces you of the value of making a lifelong commitment like being in the presence of couples who have done just that. Most people who make good on the “marriage is for life” assumption freely admit having considered splitting up at least once over the decades (and often more than once). They’ve lived through sloughs of unfulfillment, periods where passion waned and nothing appeared to replace it, and bouts of simmering resentment. But they hung in, they endured, they worked feverishly on the relationship – and they won out in the end.

They won out by reaching a level of fulfillment that is difficult to describe. I’ve introduced you to a number of such partners in this book, and perhaps you have seen it in an older couple you know. When you are in the presence of two people who have weathered life’s predictable and unpredictable storms together and emerged as true and inseparable partners at the end of life, there’s a feeling of “Ahhh, so that’s what it’s all about…” I had the opportunity to observe this apotheosis of married life many times, and each time I came away inspired and enriched.

Because when people make it the whole way, it’s so good that it’s better than almost anything else you can imagine. It’s better than the titillating excitement of dating, better than the heart-pounding passion of a new relationship; yes, even better than the mid-life lure of trading the old spouse in for a new model. It’s good enough that it may inspire you to give your marriage a second, third, or fourth chance. Because to wind up at the last years of life in the arms of someone you fell in love with 60 or 70 years ago is sublime. It’s a part of a well-lived life that is so transcendental that for many elders who are there, it defies description. I learned this from the elders: there are some life experiences for which you need the whole thing to reap the benefits – marriage is one of them.

I believe that such a perspective exemplifies God’s meaning for marriage–it is a faith commitment that excludes all alternatives. However, there is an additional layer that we need to speak about as Christians. I believe that the overriding reason for me staying in my marriage together is because I want to please the God who made me and loves me in Christ, and who said “I hate divorce.” (Malachi 2:16)

Thus my continuing commitment to my wife of 44.5 years is not just to provide a stable example for my kids and grandkids or to maintain my ordination and the ability for me to minister in a church, but because it is my duty and responsibility before God and a gospel witness to the world that Christ will never divorce the one who trusts in Him.

Gary Thomas in his excellent book Sacred Marriage (Zondervan, 2000) issues this challenge: In a society where relationships are discarded with a frightening regularity, Christians can command attention simply by staying married. And when asked why, we can offer a platform of God’s message of reconciliation, followed by an invitation: Would you like to hear more about that good news of reconciliation? 


Drifting Away… (3)

(continued from previous blog…you may want to read or reread the previous two blogs)

What is this salvation that we are in danger of neglecting? The rest of Hebrews 2 (specifically verses 9-18) describes this salvation:

It is a great salvation that Jesus Christ has given to all those who continue to hang onto Him: the forgiveness of our sins, the transformation of our lives; the freedom from the fear of death; the hope of future glory; and a ready access to a God who loves us, cares for us and understands our brokenness and suffering.

So, are you drifting away from this? Are you floating down the river because you think you have found something better? You have to be spiritually blind, deaf, and mute to cash in this great salvation for the pleasures of this world which are shallow, insipid, and bankrupt in comparison. It would be like basing the stability of your life on the stock market or the wild promises of a political candidate. But as for me, the words of Rhea Miller describe my desire: “I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold; I’d rather be His than have riches untold; I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands; I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hands. Than to be the King of a vast domain or be held in sins dread sway. I’d rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today.”

Many years ago (18th century) there lived a man by the name of Robert Robinson. He was converted to Christ at the age of 17, under the preaching of George Whitefield. He became a pastor who composed several hymns and wrote extensively on theology. We do not know the details, but his neglect of spiritual things caused him to drift away from Christ toward Unitarianism. A widely-told, but unverifiable, story relates that one day as Robinson was riding in a stagecoach, a lady asked him what he thought of the hymn she was humming. He responded, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” (

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace;                                              Streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.  

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;                                                                Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.

My brother or sister, have you drifted away from Christ and are you neglecting this great salvation? Do you see the subtle signs of lukewarmness and apathy in your life to the things of God?  Do you notice a disinterestedness in Scripture reading and prayer, sharing the gospel, and caring for the poor? Do you remember a time when these things were real and full of meaning? Do you see how far you have fallen from where you once were? Can you imagine the disappointment of a praying parent or grandparent who once interceded for you? Dear drifting saint- the streams of God’s mercy are still flowing back to Christ…come home.

“Lord Jesus, forgive me for neglecting You, Your Body, and Your Word. I seem to have time for everyone and everything but You. I am floating and not sailing. Forgive me, Lord. Bend my heart back to You. Recapture my heart; I want it to be yours. Set me on fire once again to love You and serve You. I don’t want to float away! Hear my cry, O Lord!” Amen!

Now, get off of your knees and “fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

Drifting Away from God (2)…

(Cont’d from last blog; please read it first)

Where will it all lead if we do drift away? Heb. 2:2- “For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” The author of Hebrews uses the method of arguing from the lesser to the greater. If people in the Old Testament days received severe punishment for disobeying and consciously violating the lesser covenant (the Law at Mt. Sinai) given by God and mediated by angels, how much more severe will the judgment be upon those who neglect the greater salvation mediated by Christ? The word neglect or ignore goes along with the image of drifting; amelesantes means to be apathetic or to care little for something or treat it with little value. Like Esau didn’t value his birthright so he traded it for a bowl of stew. [The word is also translated as rejected in 1 Timothy 4:4.]

I believe the writer of Hebrews has in mind a rejection of Christ that is not characterized by open hostility, but due to apathy; of no longer caring or treating as valuable the salvation which Christ accomplished. Such apathetic drifting may lead to a complete rejection of the faith, which will bring serious consequences. How serious? Hebrews 10:26-31 says, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God… How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?… It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (cf. Hebrews 6:6, 2 Peter 2:21)

Wow, this is serious stuff! The first reaction of most Christians when they read such a passage is to ask the question, can a Christian lose his/her salvation? I don’t mean to diminish the importance of the question, but we must be careful not to overlook the main point of the author. Such a warning is here not to prompt theological debate, but to challenge us to wake up if our attention is not on Jesus Christ; that we may be drifting away to the place of rejecting the gospel we once claimed to believe! And remember the characteristic of saving faith is “if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” Heb. 3:14. The Apostle John says the same thing in 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us because they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” Thus John’s theme in all of his letters is on walking and abiding– of continuing in the faith.

If a person who professes to be a Christian drifts away from Christ and ultimately rejects his faith, there is no salvation left for him because his faith was not genuine in the first place. This is not because God’s grace is not sufficient, but because the heart of the once professing Christian is hardened and calloused to the truth. The dose (or the taste, as Hebrews 4:4 puts it) has inoculated them from the real thing. You can see this evidenced on Atheist websites where people stridently testify to their unbelief, many of whom once identified as Christians–some even as pastors. This is why it is essential to understand that the  characteristic of saving faith is its enduring quality; it lasts.  Jesus said, “…the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:12, 13). I don’t think this means that we merit salvation by our endurance, but that endurance is the hallmark of saving faith.

If you refuse to continue to drink from the water of life you will have to die of thirst. If you refuse to continue to eat of the bread of life you will be doomed to starve eternally. If you continue to neglect Christ, the only means of your salvation, you will fall into the hands of the living God.

(finished in next blog….)