A Call to Repentance

When we call people to salvation in the Lord Jesus, if we are being most biblical, we call people to repent and believe. Both of those terms are used time and time again to depict how a person comes to salvation. The two are not separate things.

We know in general what believing in Jesus looks like. But what does repentance look like? WE have pictures in the Bible. IN fact, we see the Lord give us a picture of repentance at the end of the book of Hosea.

God, speaking particularly to Israel, has called them out for their sinful unfaithfulness to him. But in the final chapter of this prophecy, he calls them to repent.

Hosea 14:1-3

1 Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
2 Take with you words
and return to the Lord;
say to him,
“Take away all iniquity;
accept what is good,
and we will pay with bulls
the vows of our lips.
3 Assyria shall not save us;
we will not ride on horses;
and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’
to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy.”

The word for return here in verse 1 is a repentance word. It literally means to turn back or return, to turn from one thing or direction to another. The word could speak of a person walking in one direction and making a turn. Or it could mean a person turning back from evil and toward righteousness. Obviously, in this context, God is calling Israel to a spiritual change of direction.

In verse 1, we see that returning involves a turning from their iniquity toward the Lord their God. They are to stop chasing after their sin and start (or start again) seeking after the Lord.

In verse 2, God tells them what they should be saying: Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. This is the people going to God, seeking forgiveness for their past wrongs and promising to obey the commands they have been previously disobeying. They are saying they have been wrong in the past, but, from now on, they will return to being under his lordship.

In verse 3, the people are to say to God that they will no longer run to foreign nations for their deliverance. Instead, they will trust in him. They will not trust in their own prowess on the battlefield, mounting themselves on horses, but will trust in the Lord’s protection. It is a turning from self-reliance to reliance on God. It is the kind of thing that God had commanded Israel to do, to trust in him instead of the pagan nations around them, but they were refusing to do.

At the end of verse 3, the people were to say, “And we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands.” The nation had fought against God by looking at their own inventions, the crafting of idols, and declaring things they put together to be their deities. Repentance would mean that they stop seeing false things as divine, and they would only call God the one true God. And in this repentance the people would find grace.

In truth, what Israel needed to do is very much the same for us today. A person who repents of sin to turn to Christ in faith must turn from self-reliance. We must stop thinking that we are in charge of our lives. WE must stop thinking that we can rely on sinful things to take care of ourselves. We must determine that we desire to follow and obey the Lord. And we must stop calling divine that which is not God. Repentance involves surrendering to the Lord, turning from self and all other evils, and fully turning toward the God who made us. Repentance involves bowing before the throne of God and declaring him our Master.

Part of that repentance is belief, faith. It requires repentance for a person to believe the truth about Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh who came to earth. Jesus lived a perfect life. Jesus died a sacrificial death. Jesus rose from the grave. Jesus forgives all who come to him in faith. There is no religious action or ceremony that contributes to our salvation. No act earns us God’s favor. Only the one who comes to Jesus, repenting, empty-handed, relying on him and him alone will be saved. This requires a repenting belief in Jesus apart from works. And this is how we can say that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And this is how we can say that a person must repent and believe to be saved.

God Promises to Bring His People Home

In Hosea, the northern kingdom is depicted by an adulteress. God uses ugly and emotional pictures to show Israel how terrible it is that they, as a nation, have ignored his commands and chased after false gods. But in this passage, God also promises that a day will come when the people of Israel will again return to him.

In chapter 1, Hosea was commanded to marry an unfaithful wife as a symbol of God and Israel and Israel’s unfaithfulness. In chapter 3, Hosea goes and redeems his wayward wife from slavery, lovingly rescuing her from the trouble she had gotten herself into. And God uses that picture to make a promise for the future.

Hosea 3:4-5 – 4 For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. 5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.

God knew what he was doing with Israel. He knew that the northern kingdom would be taken captive. He knew that the southern kingdom would be overrun by the Babylonians. And God knew that a time would come when Israel would feel like they were fully separated from the promises of God.

In truth, the northern tribes were carried away from the land and have not returned. The southern tribes lost the temple, rebuilt the temple, and then lost it again. But the promise here, a promise for the latter days, is being fulfilled and will be fulfilled.

When the Father sent Jesus to bring about the New Covenant, he did something beautiful. Jesus came and completed the sacrificial system. Jesus now reigns, King of kings, a descendant of David, and the Son of God. And Jesus welcomes all who will come to him in faith. Thus, once Jesus came, all physical descendants of Israel, captives in foreign lands and returned exiles, are invited by God to find salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The Jew and the gentile are welcomed into the family of God and to service under the throne of David, now the greater throne of Christ.

This prophecy is being fulfilled, as people all over the world from all nations are becoming part of the family of God in Jesus. And I suspect that it will be fulfilled in a greater way near to the time of the physical return of Christ. Paul gives us hints of God bringing ethnic Israelites into his family through Christ once the full number of the gentiles has come in (cf. Rom. 11:23-32).

When we see this promise in Hosea, we should see the kingdom of God in Christ promised and delivered. It should call us to rejoice in the grace of Christ. It should cause us to pray that God would spread the gospel over the globe to bring all his elect into his kingdom. We should long for Christ’s return. We should long to see those who have been blind to the gospel suddenly given sight by Christ. And we should marvel at the glorious plan and faithfulness of God.

Not That Complicated

Sometimes we see in Scripture truth that is just not that complicated. The gospel is not complicated, though many times we seem to make it so. How God relates to us in his grace is not complicated, yet we often feel it is.

When King David was setting up the kingdom for Solomon, David said something to his son that is super straightforward. There was nothing complicated about what David said. And it is a clean picture of the gospel in a sense.

1 Chronicles 28:9 – “And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever.

David calls Solomon to be faithful to the Lord. At the end of the matter, David sets before Solomon two paths. Solomon may seek the Lord or forsake the Lord. Either has an eternal consequence.

That road with its fork is in front of all people today. Seek the Lord and live. Forsake the Lord and suffer his wrath. It is not complicated.

To forsake the Lord is easy. Just ignore him. Do not love God or his ways. Do not desire his grace. Do not desire him. Do not follow his path to salvation. And the Lord will give to you the judgment that you seek.

To seek the Lord is something also quite clear now that Jesus has come. Our Savior tells us that he is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). There is one way to seek God. The only way is to turn to Jesus for life. Do you want to live? Turn from sin. Turn from self. Run to Jesus. Believe. Ask Jesus for mercy because of his perfect life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection. Repent, believe, and be saved.

No, this is not complicated. But, in truth, it never has been. God tells you how to come to him. God tells you that there is one way to seek him, through Jesus. Seek the Lord in Christ and live. Forsake the gospel of Christ, and the judgment of God is promised to you.

Remember the Lord Early in Life

One mistake that people sometimes make is to assume that we have a good deal of time before we need to consider the things of God. After all, when we are young, are we not supposed to be thinking about other things? People assume that, once they are old and gray, they will be able to do the religious thing.

But the wisest man of the Old Testament gives us a significant warning not to wait. Solomon tells us to remember the Lord long before we expect our lives to take a turn toward the cemetery.

Ecclesiastes 12:1 – Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”;

For the first eleven chapters of Ecclesiastes, Solomon has shown us just how messed up life can be. Nasty people get rich and have all they want. Kind people suffer. Whether a person is good or bad, the grave awaits them both. And thus, if one estimates the value of morality from a naturalistic bent, all is vanity.

But here, Solomon is drawing to a conclusion. And one of his final pieces of counsel is that we should remember the Lord when we are young. Then, from verses 2-9, Solomon describes the hardships people face in aging. He suggests you be right with God before your vision and hearing go, before your legs get trembly, your teeth get weak, and your sexual desire wanes. Solomon is telling us to be right with our Creator before we die, and since we do not know when that will be, we should start young.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 – 13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

While we might think that life seems meaningless and unfair, God has assured us of this: he will bring all into judgment. There is no sin that will ever go unpunished. There is no wrong that will not be righted, no justice that will go unsettled.

How? God is just and holy. Jesus died as a substitute to suffer God’s wrath for all he will forgive and to transfer to the forgiven God’s righteousness. Thus, your sin will be punished. Either God will punish you for your sin, or he has punished Jesus for your sin. If he punishes you for your sin, his infinite wrath will be poured out on you. You cannot survive that. But Jesus, God in the flesh, could take our punishment, satisfy God’s justice, and rise from the grave.

Solomon tells us to get right with our Creator while we are young. Before you get old, before you lose pleasure in life, before your mind is cluttered, remember your God. He is a righteous judge who has offered you grace in Jesus. Rejoice in that gracious justice and surrender to Jesus before it is too late.

Restoring the Fallen Booth of David

It would be nice if we knew our bibles better. It would be nice if we knew the minor prophets better. God’s word is so good. God has said things to us that we need to see, things that seem unable to be fulfilled, things that only are fulfilled in Jesus.

Take the book of Amos as an example. This book promises some strong judgment from God on Israel, particularly the northern kingdom. Israel was in rebellion against God ever since their breaking away from Judah around 930 BC. They worshipped idols. They took up with foreign gods of other nations. And they participated in all sorts of evil practices. Israel was a nightmare where justice was concerned. The rich abused the poor and the weak. No judges would give the weak a fair hearing, they would only bow to the powerful. Immorality and injustice were rampant. And God let Israel know that he would be bringing justice to this nation soon.

Amos 5:2

“Fallen, no more to rise,
is the virgin Israel;
forsaken on her land,
with none to raise her up.”

Look at the strength and absolute nature of those words. Israel is falling, never to rise again. They have been so wicked that their power is broken. And, in truth, soon after the days of Amos, the northern kingdom went into exile under the Assyrian Empire, and they never rose to power again.

What then? Has God simply cut off that people? Is that the end of the story? If it were, it would have been just. But God has something bigger and more interesting in mind.

Amos ends with a tone of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel. But that light looks almost contrary to what he had said earlier. How could it happen?

Amos 9:11-15

11 “In that day I will raise up
the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
and raise up its ruins
and rebuild it as in the days of old,
12 that they may possess the remnant of Edom
and all the nations who are called by my name,”
declares the Lord who does this.
13 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when the plowman shall overtake the reaper
and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it.
14 I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
15 I will plant them on their land,
and they shall never again be uprooted
out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lord your God.

Here is the promise, and it is magnificent. God says, just as things look hopeless for all Israel, that he will restore the fallen booth of David. He will restore the household, the kingship, the dynasty of David. How? How can God do that? How can God restore David’s dynasty while the northern kingdom is exiled and not rising to her former glory according to 5:2?

Readers for centuries would have wondered as well about when in the world this promise was to be fulfilled. After all, though the northern kingdom was exiled around 722 BC, the southern went into exile in Babylon, returned to the land, but never found herself out from under the thumb of some empire or another. The people of Judah were ruled by Babylon, Persia, and Greece. They were oppressed in the conflict between Egypt and Syria. And then, to make matters worse, the nation was clearly under the rule of the Roman Empire.

So, what about this restoration? How would it come? Verse 12 tells us that the restoration will include gentile nations. Verses 13-15 talk of a prosperity to come that will be supernatural. How?

New Testament readers who have paid attention to Amos know. The answer is Jesus. Jesus came, arriving in the line of David. Jesus is the Messiah, the promised king from God. Jesus is the one to establish the restoration of the fallen booth of David. But, as is so often the case, he does so in ways that others might have a hard time grasping.

Jesus came and established his kingdom in a way that none expected. He did not come to set up a physical throne or to overthrow the nasty Romans. Instead, Jesus established the kingdom of God based on promised eternal salvation. Jesus saves all who come to him by God’s grace through faith alone. Jesus welcomes Jews and gentiles into the family of god, into the true Israel of God, without distinction of ethnicity, class, background, or anything else.

Is that a proper interpretation of Amos? In Acts 15, we see that the church indeed saw it this way, and it was recorded for us under the inspiration of God.

Acts 15:13-20 – 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
16 “ ‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will restore it,
17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’
19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.

Note that, at the Jerusalem counsel, when the question arose as to whether or not gentiles could be welcomed into the church without first submitting to Jewish ceremonial law, James cited Amos 9:11-ff. God used James to teach us that the restoring of the fallen house of David was done as Jesus, the Son of David, conquered death and built the kingdom of God by saving a people from every nation. Yes, the gentiles are part of this kingdom. IN fact, Paul later reminds us that in Christ, there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is only in Christ or not in Christ.

And once we see that Jesus is the fulfillment of what Amos said, all the rest falls into place. How is there no recovery for the sinful northern kingdom as we saw in 5:2? How will there, at the same time, be this restoration of a kingdom as promised in 9:11? How will we see those who are planting the next crop chasing those who are still harvesting the abundance from the last crop around the fields? How will we see the promised supernatural and physical blessing of God? It is all in Christ. Jesus builds God’s kingdom. Jesus saves Jews and gentiles. Jesus saves people descended even from the exiled northern kingdom, even if we do not know who they are. And Jesus will return. And Jesus will reign. And Jesus will undo the curse of sin over the earth. And when Jesus does this all, we will see all fulfilled.

Christians, there is great hope in the prophecy of Amos. We need to know it. We need to love it. We need to let it make us tell people about Jesus. And we need to find our hope in the present kingdom of Christ along with the promise of his coming.

No Negotiation with God

In so much of our lives, we are called to negotiate our position. We tell people what we will give in order to receive something. We are careful to define what we will do and what we expect. After all, to not do so is to put yourself at risk in a fallen world.

But when it comes to salvation, we need to remember that negotiation has nothing to do with the process, and this is very good news. Coming to Jesus is total surrender to God and his authority.

I thought of this principle while reading through the parable of the lost son (some call him the prodigal son). The story is that of a man’s son who leaves home, blows his inheritance on evil living, and finds himself broke and alone. The son realizes that his dad treats his hired hands better than the son is living at present, so he determines to go home to his dad and negotiate a settlement, asking the dad to just give him a job on the farm.

Luke 15:17-19 – 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’

What is interesting here is what happens next. The young man goes home, ready with his speech. He is rightly humbled and repentant. He knows himself to be unworthy and is asking for grace alone. He is willing to be a mere servant in his father’s household.

But when the young man gets home, his dad runs to meet him. The young man starts to give his speech. But his dad cuts him off before he can finish. Once the young man returns in repentance seeking mercy, the dad will not at all allow him to negotiate his position. Instead, the father restores his son to the family. He throws a party. He tells everyone that his lost son has now come home.

Jesus intends this as a parable of the gospel. We do not, when we come to God, have any right to negotiate our position. We do not tell God we will give this if he will allow that. Instead, we come like the son. WE come repentant. We come knowing that we are guilty and unworthy. We come ready to fully submit to whatever our Father demands.

But the Father, for his part, welcomes us. God treats us, not as slaves but as sons and daughters. God will not make divisions in his family for the worthy, the less worthy, and the barely included. Instead, God forgives repentant sinners in Christ and elevates us all to the level of his very own children.

We want to remember two things here. First, we want to remember that we cannot negotiate with God regarding what we will hold back from him. If we come to him, we come to him completely, yielding our entire lives to him. But we also do not negotiate our position in the family. God adopts into his family all who trust in Jesus and turn from sin to surrender in faith.

Worthy or Not Worthy

When you think of yourself, what do you assume you deserve? What do you believe you have earned? How do you think God, if measuring your life, ought to consider you?

One of the strange errors that human beings make is that of assuming that we can measure our goodness or badness against that of other people. Sometimes we think we can measure our goodness or badness against our own former goodness or badness.

What is interesting is the fact that, the more godly a person you meet, the less likely she is to think herself to be good or worthy. Or read the old Puritans. There you will find men with godly habits that would shame our modern generation, yet who also considered themselves the most lowly of men.

In Luke 7, we read the story of a centurion who had a sick servant. A group of the Jews came to Jesus to ask him to help by healing the sick man. The question of worthiness is prominent in the discussion.

Luke 7:4-7 – 4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” 6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 7 Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed.

Notice that the Jews were quick to say that this man was worthy, deserving of a miracle. But the man himself, he quickly and clearly declared himself unworthy, not only of the miracle, but of the Savior’s attention at all. What gives?

As we get to know the Lord more and more, as we know his word and ways, we begin to understand that we are in no way worthy of any favor from God. You see, God’s standard for measuring goodness is himself and his perfections. No mere man, stained by sin from birth, is able to come close to matching God’s perfection. WE all know that nobody is perfect. We all know that we slip up and fail from time-to-time. And even the slightest single slip is enough to score us as infinitely below the standard of perfection that God would call worthy.

Yet there is something right about the contrary statements from the Jews and the centurion. The Jews thought the man worthy. They looked at his life, and they saw genuine evidence of a man who feared God. They saw change and right living. They saw a man whose life is marked by goodness. But the man himself knew is own flaws, failings, and shortcomings.

In truth, that conflicting pattern ought to mark our own measure of worth. If you are one who has come to Jesus in faith and repentance, if you have been forgiven by God’s grace through faith in Christ, your measure of yourself as compared to the way others measure you should mirror what we see here. Others should look at your life, see your obedience and the transformation that comes because of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit, and they should consider you to be a good and worthy person. But you should know, deep down, that the only good in you is that which has been given to you by Christ.

By the way, how did Jesus feel about this man’s declaration of himself as unworthy but willing to ask Jesus for help?

Luke 7:9 – When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

Faith in Jesus is the key to our being accepted by God. It is a faith that God grants to us as a gift. It is a faith apart from works through which God grants us salvation and the righteous record of Jesus. And that faith helps us to see ourselves as unworthy yet willing to rely fully on the person and work of Jesus for our standing before the Lord.

So, are you worthy? By any human measure, if you know yourself, the answer is no. None of us is worthy of anything other than the judgment and wrath of God. But if you have come to Jesus in faith, God has granted you forgiveness for your failings and the righteous record of Jesus for your record. Thus, in Christ, the Father calls you worthy even as you have never done anything to be worthy a day in your life. With that forgiveness comes new life and transformation. That leads us to live differently than ever before. And that difference should make others around you see you as worthy even if you know that all your goodness is a gift from God and God alone.