Repentance in Action

The Return of the Prodigal Son (Le retour de l'enfant prodigue) by James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894. Kept at Brooklyn Museum.
The Return of the Prodigal Son (Le retour de l’enfant prodigue) by James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894. Kept at Brooklyn Museum.

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:16-17)

“Such is the manner in which we ought always to deal with men who are estranged from God. We must not confine our attention to one or a few sores of a diseased body but if we aim at a true and thorough cure, we must call on them to begin anew, and must thoroughly remove the contagion, that they who were formerly hateful and abominable in the sight of God may begin to please God.” – John Calvin

There are two things about repentance that we must keep in mind:

  • It is a gift.
  • It is a command.

I wrote about the first point in a previous blog. In this post, let us focus on the second point.

Isaiah 1:16-17 is a two-step call to action:

  • turn away from sin and evil, and
  • turn towards what is right and good.

Yes, repentance is practical. Always has been. Always will be. And we must do it. For the sake of our own souls (verses 19-20; see also Luke 13:1-5).

1. STOP

The Lord commands us in Isaiah 1:16 to turn away from our sinful and evil ways. We cannot do this with our own strength or ability (Romans 7:18-19). Therefore, let this difficult word lead us to Christ in humility and prayer (Luke 18:13). Let us ask Him to forgive us of our sins and to change our hearts and lives.

From "Zacchaeus" by Niels Larsen Stevns.
From “Zacchaeus” by Niels Larsen Stevns.

Then we can claim God’s promise of washing and cleansing through Jesus:

“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:14)

Then we can claim the grace and power of the Holy Spirit to cause and enable us to “remove the evil of [our] deeds” and “cease to do evil”:

“And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:27)

But fellow believers in Christ, let us be careful to always remember these parallel truths:

a. The Holy Spirit gives us the grace and power to repent.

b. We must do the repenting. In deed. In action. Practically.

2. START

Through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, we must live in accordance with God’s goodness and righteousness (Isaiah 1:17).

Now, we cannot do this without the church. First, the Lord commands us to “learn to do good”, to be discipled in His good way for living.  This means that, above all, we must be busy learning and studying God’s word through church services, Bible studies, catechism classes, personal and family devotions, seminars, etc. Then trusting in His enabling grace alone, we can apply the Scripture’s teachings in our everyday lives.

keysSecondly, the Lord commands us to “seek justice”, to make His will (i.e. what is right) our new objective. We are to do so in two ways:

a. by “correct[ing] oppression”, and

b. by helping orphans and widows;

and in two levels:

a. corporately in the context of the local church, and

b. individually by all professing believers of Christ.

Corporately, this is a call for pastors and elders of local churches to faithfully exercise biblical discipline (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:4, 5, 13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14; Titus 3:10), ensuring “that evil men are disciplined in a spiritual way and are restrained” (Belgic Confession, Article 30); and for deacons to fulfill their God-given duties (Acts 6:1-4), “that the poor and all the afflicted are helped and comforted according to their need” (ibid.).

Individually, as light and salt (Matthew 5:13-16), we must be faithful in championing what is just and right in society. And we must all do our best to demonstrate Christ’s love in word and in deed to the poor and needy, specially Christians (Galatians 6:10).

In conclusion, let me share with you a two-pronged application of the two-pronged “pillar” points that I shared in the introduction:

  • Repentance is a gift. Admit your sinfulness and hopelessness without God, and ask Him to change your heart and life.
  • Repentance is a command. Do it. Turn away from sin and evil, and turn towards what is right and good. Change.
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