During the First Great Awakening Jonathan Edwards preached his famous message Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God. Reports from this time say that Edwards wasn’t an eloquent speaker. Instead of walking around and preaching with dramatic flair, Edwards looked down at his manuscript and read this sermon in a flat and monotone voice. The reports from this time also say that as Edward preached men and women would hold on to the posts of the church for fear of dropping into hell. Others would stop of their ears and run screaming out of the church. Undeterred Edwards kept preaching. Edwards ended his sermon with this appeal, “Therefore let everyone that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come.”
Flee they did. Many fell on the ground and cried out for Christ to save them. While there is no official number of salvations during this time most estimates put the number in the thousands. From what I’ve read few of these were the flash in the pan decisions that don’t last once the emotional fervor wears off. Instead most of those who were saved during the Great Awakening lived faithful Godly lives the rest of their days.
For someone who has never seen men or women respond to conviction as it is described about the Great Awakening I can easily find myself saying, “Ah I bet that’s not quite how it happened.” The truth is though; there are Biblical examples of people responding in very similar ways. At the end of Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost the Bible says the people were cut to the heart and asked, “…what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) The picture of being cut to the heart is very similar to what we hear about from the Great Awakening.
The question this leaves me with is why? Why don’t we see this sort response to conviction in our day? I’m convinced that one of the main reasons for this is that our culture has a low view of repentance. To many in our world repentance is simply asking God to forgive us for our sins, without any real plans to making the necessary changes in our lives that will prevent us from falling into that sin again. We are like a guy I saw in a movie once. He said something like, “I like to sin. God likes to forgive sin. It’s a very good arrangement.”
Biblical repentance isn’t just asking God to forgive us for our sins. Let’s be honest, we can ask for forgiveness and still remain unchanged. In Scripture we see several examples of people who confessed, “I have sinned” and yet this really didn’t mean a thing to them. Let me remind you of a couple of these.
In the book of Exodus, Pharaoh was overwhelmed with the plagues that came upon him because of his hardened and sinful heart, and he cried out and said, “I have sinned” (Exodus 9:7 and 10:16). But he didn’t really mean it because he never let the people go. In the book of Numbers, the heretical prophet Balaam said, “I have sinned” (Numbers 22:34), but his repentance wasn’t sincere because he still tried to help Balak cause the destruction of the Israelites.
In the book of Joshua, Achan said, “I have sinned” (Joshua 7:20), but it was too late; he said it only because he was caught and it did not represent heartfelt repentance. In the book of 1 Samuel, King Saul said, “I have sinned,” (1 Samuel 15:24), but it did not come from a humble heart. He was still speaking in defiance and pride. In the book of Matthew, Judas said, “I have sinned for I have betrayed innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4), but he didn’t really repent. Instead he went out and killed himself.
My favorite definition of repentance is that repentance is a change of mind about God and sin that results in a change of life. Biblical repentance always brings about change in our lives. Repentance involves total change in the direction of our lives. We turn from our sin and we turn to God with the intention of forsaking the sin and serving God. This will obviously require more from us than shedding a couple of tears and asking God to forgive us. It will require a total change in our outlook, our expectations and our commitments.
When you read the Bible and see the messages of John the Baptist, Jesus and Paul you don’t find a shallow view of repentance. Jesus called on repentant people to deny themselves, take of their cross and follow Him. John the Baptist and Paul both called on people to repent of their sins, believe the Gospel and then do works that demonstrated their repentance.
Another way we see this shallow view of repentance is in the way that it’s almost seen as optional by many in our day. In fact there is a whole movement of people who teach that repentance is not necessary at all at any time in your life. I personally find this attitude fascinating considering that in Luke 13 Jesus says “Lest you repent you will likewise perish.” Jesus didn’t get the memo that people didn’t have to repent and so He went around and commanded people to repent. Not to mention that in Acts 17 we are told that God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).
This may lead us to wonder what Biblical repentance looks like. That’s what I’m going to talk about tomorrow.
For further study read Psalm 51. What is the context for this Psalm? How does David describe his sin? Where in the Psalm do you see a desire for David to change?