Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Repentance vs. Remorse

We are all familiar with the old saying, “A guilty conscience needs no accuser.” That maxim was proven true according to a store owner in Nashville, TN. Nearly twelve years after a man robbed the InterAsian Market and Deli at gunpoint and took $300 from the cash register, the anonymous bandit wrote a letter of apology and asked for forgiveness. 

The thief, who claimed to be a former drug addict, mailed a letter containing $400 to the store owner, Mr. Wu. The letter said, “I must make amends to the people I have hurt in the past.” The penitent outlaw added, "I hope you will accept this money and find forgiveness.” 

Mr. Wu was floored and amazed by the thief’s attempt to pay restitution. The humble clerk posted the apology letter on Instagram and Twitter with the following statement, “To the anonymous person, we want to tell you all is forgiven and thank for your note. We don't care about the money. We are more inspired and touched by your act. We hope you find peace in life and prosperity.” Mr. Wu told one reporter, “Even though it's hard sometimes, we need to give people a second chance.”1 (click here for full story) 

A story like that rarely makes the news, but when it does we are reminded of our need for forgiveness and repentance in the aftermath of sin. In fact, we read such a story in Luke 19:1-10 when Jesus went to the house of a nefarious tax collector named Zacchaeus. Apparently, the presence of Jesus caused ole’ Zack to be truly humbled and repentant over his sins. Like most IRS agents of his day, Zacchaeus was guilty of defrauding people, charging them more on their taxes and keeping the extra dough for himself. His guilty conscience condemned him as Jesus sat in his living room. He fessed up to his crimes and purposed in his heart to make things right, “Behold, Lord, half of my good I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8). 

When God has convicted us of our sins, it’s not enough just to confess it with a trite prayer. True repentance follows through with godly sorrow that leads to restitution. It’s not an attempt to pay for our sins, which is impossible, but a desire to show that our heart has truly changed. 

Repentance is an essential part of salvation. In fact, there is no true salvation apart from repentance. Our most modern evangelistic outlines have removed repentance from them, which dangerously leads to false conversions. However, the Bible is clear on the necessity of repentance. 

"No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3)

"Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 13:3)

"The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent," (Acts 17:30)

"As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death." (2 Cor. 7:9-10)

Too many people think they're saved because they've prayed a prayer for salvation, yet they've never truly repented, but have continued living their same old sinful lives. How do you think Jesus would have responded if Zacchaeus had said, “Jesus, I accept you as my Lord and Savior. However, I'm going to continue ripping people off?” 

The most common Greek word in the New Testament translated “repent” is metanoeo, which is based on the word for thoughts or intentions,nous and it literally means to “change one’s mind.” Penitent people take a deep look inside and face the truth about themselves—how they’ve been excusing their sins and hurting others. They come to a decision point, or what Paul called, “the point of repentance” (2 Cor. 7:9), in which they change their mind from pleasing the flesh to pleasing God, from trusting in self to trusting in a Savior. 

Thus, there is a definite distinction between remorse and repentance. Repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change of direction. Remorse is temporary promise to "turn over a new leaf." Repentance is a verb that leads to transformation. Remorse is an emotion that leads to behavior modification. Repentance is driven by a godly sorrow over sin. Remorse is driven by a selfish sorrow over being caught. Repentance is a heart-transplant performed by Jesus, while remorse is putting a Band-aid on a diseased heart.    

So the question is, have you truly repented?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


This summer we have watched the raging infernos devour the pristine wilderness of Yosemite National Park. The U.S Forest Service announced that the wildfire scorched more than 237,000 acres, or 370 square miles, and engulfed 11 homes. Moreover, putting out the fire has come with a high price tag of $81 million. This blaze has been the third largest in California’s history. Recently, investigators discovered the cause of the wildfire—one hunter’s campfire that simply got out of control. 

California's largest fire on record, a 2003 blaze in the Cleveland National Forest east of San Diego, was sparked by a novice deer hunter who became lost and set a signal fire in hope of being rescued. The so-called “Cedar Fire” of 2003 burned nearly 430 square miles, caused 15 deaths and destroyed more than 2,200 homes. 

In 2000 more than a thousand firefighters battled a wildfire in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The fire took 80,000 acres of valuable timber. When the arsonist was arrested she laughingly offered to pay restitution for the damages, which came to a whopping $42 million. What caused the blaze? A lady was smoking a cigarette and threw a still-burning match on the ground. 

It’s no secret that most wildfires are caused by human negligence. In the same way, starting a wildfire with our tongues requires little effort. Rumors, half-truths, grumblings, sarcastic remarks and hurtful jabs said in the heat of the moment are like smoldering embers that have the potential to burn acres of family peace, church unity, reputations and relationships. 

That’s why James wrote these scathing words about our words, “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (3:5-6).” 

While human speech has conveyed comfort, beauty, and blessing throughout history, it has also delivered hate, lies, and curses. The tongue, the fleshly organ, is not to blame, of course. Jesus said it was out of the heart of man that "evil things come" -- including words (Mark 7:20-23). George Swinnock has said, “The heart is the metal of the bell, the tongue is but the clapper.” 

The way we use our tongues indicates what we really have going on in our hearts. We must be vigilant in taming the tongue by giving God the reins of our heart. The chain connecting heart and tongue cannot be broken. For good or bad, it will always be there. But try this: Before you speak sinfully, pause and ask, “Why did I almost say that? What is my motive?” Then honestly submit: “Lord, I need you to hold my tongue and cleanse my heart, lest I start a wildfire with my words!”

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Why We Need the Ten Commandments

In one of his books, evangelist Ravi Zacharias tells a story from his childhood in which he and his friends set out one day to play tennis. However, without a tennis court nearby these resourceful boys decided to make their own. Ravi wrote, “In a crude fashion we measured the markings for the court by our strides. Within a couple of days we had iron posts dug in and positioned to anchor the net. We then ground some limestone and, using a string to measure, marked the boundaries of the court with the powered stone. Finally, we got a few old bed sheets from our moms, sewed them together and made sure the cumbersome fabric would extend over the length of the court. It took some real tugging and elbow grease. We were all set to play our first game on this bumpy, makeshift, stone-littered tennis court.” 

However, once the boys began to play they ran into their first problem—they could not see the line markings on the opposite side of the court to serve because the sheets blocked their vision. Then they faced a more disheartening reality. Because they had not studied the actual rules of the game, they did not know the purpose of the lines on the court. Ravi explained, “We had not bothered to study the rules and were playing singles with doubles court dimensions. By the end of about twenty minutes we were puffing and panting and our efforts led to exhaustion.”1 

One of the great lessons that Ravi learned from that experience was the need for rules, not only in athletics, but also in life. The game is played not to protect the rules; rather the rules are made to protect the game. This is one of the reasons why God gave mankind the Ten Commandments. Without guidelines for right and wrong, life would be total anarchy and chaos. We need boundaries and, in His wisdom, God created a top ten list not only to introduce limitations but to maximize the enjoyment of life. 

Think about it like this—what would our roadways be like without stop signs or traffic lights? What if every carpenter and engineer used a different set of measurements? What’s fascinating is that our society wants to oust the Ten Commandments as outdated relics of religion and make up their own code of ethics. Yet, like guardrails along a twisty mountain road, the Ten Commandments are there to protect life. I was always told you should know why a fence is put up in the first place before you decide to take it down. 

The world wants to tear down the Decalogue, to free themselves from accountability. However, in adopting moral relativism they are undermining the foundation upon which a nation stands. Founding Father James Madison knew this. That's why he said, "We have staked the whole future of American civilization not on the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”2  

Contrary to what secular man says, the Ten Commandments are not a burden, but a blessing. In one of his sermons, British preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “The law of the Ten Commandments is a gift of great kindness to the sons of men, for it tells us the wisest and the happiest way of living. It forbids us nothing but what would be to our injury and it withholds from us nothing which would be a real pleasure to us. God does not make laws denying us anything that would really be for our good. We ought to see the love of God in the gift of the law.”3 

Next time you hear someone bad-mouthing God’s moral law, remind them they are Ten Commandments and not the "Ten Suggestions." They are woven into the fabric of the universe, just as the laws of physics. If you break God’s laws, they will end up breaking you!   

1. Ravi Zacharias, Recapture the Wonder (Nashville, TN: Integrity, 2003), 32-35.

2. James Madison quoted by William Joseph Federer, America's God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations (St Louis, MO: Amerisearch, 2000), 441.

3. Charles Spurgeon, “God’s Love to the Saints,” October 26, 1905, <http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols49-51/chs2959.pdf>