Empty Religious Claims and Base in Tag

Do children still play tag? I wonder sometimes with all the safety rules that are applied these days if that game is allowed any longer. When I was little, tag was one of the first games of choice on the playground. And sometimes you would play with a particular spot, maybe a tree or pole, as base. If you were touching base, you were always safe. You could never be tagged and made to be “it.”

I am thinking of tag and of the base in particular because of something I read in the book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 7:3-4 – 3 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’

In Jeremiah 7, the Lord has a message for the people of Judah. He is beginning to warn the nation that they are in great danger of facing his judgment. The people of Judah have begun to assume that they are always safe from the wrath of God because the temple of God is standing in Jerusalem. They just know that, no matter how badly they behave, no matter how much they do what God commands they never do, God would never let his temple fall.

In the text above, God asks them why they think they can violate his commands, turning against the covenant they agreed to, and be safe just by pointing to the building on the hill in Jerusalem and shouting the phrase, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” It was as if the people of Jerusalem were using the temple as base in tag. They thought they could sin all they wanted against the Lord but touch the temple and be safe no matter what.

In the following verses in this chapter, God points out that the people of Jerusalem are not safe. The temple is not base. They have no hope except for repentance. And if they will not repent, the temple itself will fall just as did the northern kingdom of Israel before Jeremiah’s day.

Jeremiah 7:8-11 – 8 Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.

From verses 5-7, God told Judah that their hope was in repentance and faithfulness. But here we see that there is no safety for the people in continuing in sin, running to the temple, and thinking they will be safe.

Honestly, we have little trouble looking at this passage and feeling it is obvious. Of course no temple would protect the people from the judgment of God if they are living in open rebellion against him. No building will cover over idolatry, theft, murder, adultery, and all the rest. WE know, or at least we should know, that the people need to be under the grace of God, turning from sin, obeying his law, seeking his mercy.

But before we let ourselves really roll our eyes at the people of Judah from the seventh or sixth century BC, let’s ask ourselves an important question. Do we have a false notion of a religious lucky charm that makes us safe and allows us to continually live in sin? I think a lot of people do, people who use the label Christian for themselves.

As one example, there are many people who have an unbiblical view of the grace of God and the way we receive it. Some believe that grace can be gained through interaction with blessed objects. For example, if a person believes that they receive an extra dose of grace by receiving the bread and wine of holy communion, they are thinking of grace in a way that is foreign to the New Testament. Communion is a beautiful ceremony and is vital to healthy Christian life. But communion does not grant to the Christian extra forgiveness atop the forgiveness that God gives to believers at their conversion. Nor does a Christian find any extra grace from God in drinking water from a particular stream, in bowing at a particular site, or in venerating a particular relic. Simply put, the Bible does not teach us that grace is transferred to us through holy objects or sacred ceremonies.

The danger, of course, is that a person who allows herself to believe that grace is found in ceremony, physical objects, or the blessing of a priest is in danger of believing that personal faith, personal conversion, and personal striving toward sanctification are less important. She may indeed live in opposition to the word of God, and then declare herself safe before the Lord with similar words to the people of Judah, “I went to mass; I went to mass; I went to mass,” or the Protestant alternative, “I went to church, to church, to church.” The bread and wine, the words of another’s blessing, or even a beautiful building full of religious things will not grant us favor.

But the danger of thinking of religious ceremony as a safe base allowing us to continue in sin is not unique to a Roman Catholic mindset (or that of other groups that find great value in objects and ceremonies). I have met many a person who believes himself to be secure in Christ, not because of biblical evidence of conversion, but because of a prayer prayed decades earlier. A person responded to an evangelist at an emotional church meeting and convinced himself that, no matter what, his prayer and an emotional moment give him license to live however he pleases. But the New Testament is as unfamiliar with that kind of claim as it is of the idea that the grace of God is transferred to us because of what building we are in. God never suggested to us that there is such a thing as salvation in Christ apart from the lordship of Christ. God never has told a person that they can lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery, pervert justice, hate others, forsake worship, ignore the church but then trot out the saying, “I prayed the prayer; I prayed the prayer; I prayed the prayer.”

Salvation is a free gift of God. The forgiven are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We are saved when God makes our hearts alive, we see our sinfulness before him, we understand Christ and his work, and we cry out to Jesus for mercy. But in that crying out to Jesus is a commitment to follow Jesus as our Lord. In that crying out to Jesus is a change in our very life purpose. In that crying out is our full surrender of self to the word and ways of the Lord.

Nobody has ever been saved by doing good deeds or practicing religious rituals. Nobody has ever received grace by touching a sacred object or having a special person pronounce blessing over him. And nobody has ever been saved by muttering an emotional prayer that does not lead to life-change. Yes, we are saved when we truly trust in Jesus. But when we truly trust in Jesus, change begins. And no person should ever assume that he or she has salvation without a commitment to submit to the word of God. Don’t get me wrong, struggling and failing from time to time is sadly part of living in this still-fallen world. And I surely would say to you that I have a great many failures in my past since my time of conversion. But, a claim of salvation without a desire to follow the Savior is like thinking that we can run to empty words or empty actions and claim them as base so God cannot tag us. Or, you might say that claiming salvation which does not result in following Jesus as Lord is like the cry of the Judeans, “the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”

Healing Wounds Lightly

Which do you prefer, making people happy or making people sad? Would you rather have people like you or dislike you? Would you rather tell people things they want to hear or things they don’t?

Jeremiah had a hard job. He would preach to the people of Judah, promising things that nobody wanted to hear. As a prophet of God, this man spoke with the authority of the Lord. And the news that he delivered was not good news for most. You see, Jeremiah knew he was preaching a call to repentance to an unrepentant people. And Jeremiah knew that this unrepentant people would face the judgment of Almighty God.

What did prophets do? Often we think of prophets like fortune-tellers, but simply predicting the future was not their roles. For the most part, prophets speaking to Israel and Judah were men who reminded the nation of the law of God. A prophet would see the nation in violation of their covenant agreement with the Lord, warn that such violation leads to consequences that were clearly spelled out in the covenant, and remind the people that God promised favor to those who would turn back. Yes, the prophet might tell the people how God would fulfill his promises—e.g. which nation would come in and conquer as a judgment—but the prophet mostly applied to the people the terms of the covenant that the nation had agreed to centuries earlier.

The trouble, in Jeremiah’s day is that people were pretending to speak as prophets and promising the nation all sorts of blessings to come, even though they had no such promises from God. These preachers were giving the people feel-good messages of future prosperity without actually having a message from God to proclaim.

Jeremiah 6:13-15

13 “For from the least to the greatest of them,
everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.
14 They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
when there is no peace.
15 Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
No, they were not at all ashamed;
they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,”
says the Lord.

When I read that passage, I am always caught by verse 14, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” And the reason this gets my attention is that it sounds to me like the words coming from many a pulpit today. But I know that the word of God would show us that to heal a wound lightly, to promise peace with God where no such peace can exist, that is a terrible thing to do.

Who would proclaim peace with God where there is no peace? There are several categories of folks who do this. Preachers and writers who want to be well-thought-of by the outside world will do so. These folks will strive to look more intelligent, more progressive, more nuanced than other Christians by accepting worldviews and behaviors that God actually calls sin. They will try to build their congregations by appealing to unrepentant sinners and saying to them that God now happily accepts them as they are and does not want them to change their behavioral or thought patterns.

Other false teachers will heal the wounds of God’s people lightly by preaching a prosperity that God never promised. This is more popular on the shallow end of the pool as smiling men with expensive suits, expensive cars, and expensive homes tell people that the faith is not so much about sin and righteousness as it is about God giving to their greedy hearts everything they want if they will just believe hard enough; believe hard enough and perhaps send in a donation. They gloss over issues of sin and of false doctrine to draw in people who have more of a superstition than a faith and who desperately want to be lifted out of their current condition. Some who follow these men are sweet and genuine people who are duped by a person offering them healing from a disease or protection from an oppressive regime. Others who follow these men are as greedy as the prosperity preachers, seeking earthly blessing rather than the God who would give us himself.

To find those who preach peace where there is no peace, just listen for those who preach salvation without focusing on our genuine need of a Savior because of our genuine, personal sin. Listen for a person who tries hard never to offend the sensitivities of the one in sin. Listen for a person who focuses the message on a few Scriptures out of context rather than a person who walks through the Bible to preach the sweet stuff and the hard stuff alike. Listen for a person who would hide part of Christianity to make it more marketable to outsiders.

No, I do not ever strive to be offensive on purpose. In truth, I do not like delivering bad news to anybody. But if we are going to be faithful Christians, if we are going to point people to genuine peace and not a false peace, we must be willing to preach a true gospel. And the true gospel includes the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the person and work of Christ, and the need of a person to repent and believe to find eternal life. That message will offend people who do not believe they are sinners or who simply do not desire to repent of sin.

If I went to a doctor and had a deadly disease, what should the doctor do? Imagine, by the way, that the doctor has the cure. Would it be kind of the doctor not to tell me of the disease for fear of hurting my feelings? Of course it would not. She does not have to tell me in a mean way, an arrogant way, a holier-than-thou way. She can tell me kindly, but she must tell me. If the doctor knows I am dying, she needs to let me know. She needs to offer me the cure. If I reject treatment, then the fault is my own. But it would be an evil thing for her to say to me that I am healthy and strong if I am not.

Christians, may we never offer false hope. May we never promise what God does not promise. May we never declare a person to be at peace with God if they are not at peace with God. May we never heal anybody’s wounds lightly.

Grace Toward Good Works

How good works and the grace of God are related ought not be confusing to Christians. This teaching runs all through the New Testament, but many fail to grasp it. Simply put, we are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone apart from any good works on our part. Our doing good has absolutely nothing to do with our salvation. However, once we are saved, good works follow.

What are the errors? Some would suggest that Christianity is so much about grace that good works are not at all important. Once you are saved, be whatever you want to be. After all, you are under grace. Such would be a horribly ungodly way to think. Genuine Christianity includes a genuine submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ. And if you find a person uncommitted to following Jesus, obeying his words, living in accord with his commands, be skeptical of their claim to faith.

On the other hand, there are others who get the cart before the horse and assume that our good works have something to do with our salvation. The assumption is that we in some way must contribute something, even if it is only a small thing, to our salvation. This is truly what the word legalism means. Paul was battling against that concept in Titus 1. There he preached against those who claimed that the people of Crete needed to submit to Jewish religious regulations to be allowed to be considered Christians.

These two errors regarding faith and good works have been common throughout the history of the church. If you have a Roman Catholic background or if you grew up in a rulesy culture, you may be tempted by the legalistic idea that you have to be good first to be saved or that your participation in certain religious ceremonies or practices somehow contributes something to your salvation. But if this is not your background, you may be more influenced by a perversion of the concept of grace that leads you to believe that Christianity makes no claim on your life and behavior.

In my circles, I think the problem of perverting grace toward license to sin is more the problem. More people that I have known want to claim Christ because of a religious experience even if their lives do not reflect being changed by the Lord. Again, I will emphasize that none of us are saved by being good. But the Scripture is clear that a change of behavior is an outcome of salvation.

Titus 2:11-15 — 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. — 15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

Notice, in that paragraph, that Paul is quite clear that we are saved by grace. But a purpose of the grace of God includes our purification. We are to renounce ungodly and worldly passions. This means that we cannot be driven by our bodies and our desires as is the world around us. Just because a thing feels natural to you, just because the world around you says that a behavior is OK does not make it OK. We renounce behaviors that society around us embraces and even applauds. Jesus is about purifying a people for himself, his very own possession, for his glory. And that purification includes our being changed from living for self and living like the world to our living under the commands and standards of the Lord.

So, let me say it once again for the folks in the back. To be saved, you contribute nothing. You do not change yourself or participate in any religious ritual to be granted the grace of God. God does the saving. It is by his grace alone. And the thing we do is believe—by grace we are saved through faith. Even our faith, we must biblically recognize, is a gift given to us by God. But for certain, no person has ever been saved because of a thing he or she did. We are only saved when we fall on the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

But, and this is the guard against the other error, when you are saved, you change. God works in you and with you and through you to change you. If you can live like the world around you while claiming Christ, there is a problem. If you are not submitting to God’s commands for Christians, there is a problem. If you can do what God calls sin without remorse and without repentance, you may well never have been saved by grace through genuine faith. God saves us by his grace, but his grace leads to our sanctification, our renouncing of sinful ways to live to his glory.

Are You Hearing God’s Voice?

How often do we deal with a person who says that they do not believe in the existence of God? It seems, of course, to become more common from day to day. But that unbelief, or at least that claimed unbelief, has nothing to do with the revelation of God. Scripture is clear that God reveals himself to all people everywhere. Nature itself, the heavens and the earth, communicate to humanity something of the power and grandeur of God. No person on earth is beyond this language that speaks without words and reveals that we are creatures beneath a Creator (cf. Psa. 19:1-6). And honest people also recognize that we have fallen short of perfection.

But there are people who claim that God is unfair and unkind, because he will not speak to individuals and prove himself to them. Many are angry with God, because he has not answered their questions to their satisfaction. Like job, there are people who demand that the Lord explain himself and his ways to them. Unlike job, many are waiting that revelation before they will determine whether or not they approve of the Lord.

In the case of Job, in the midst of his suffering, God allowed Elihu to help Job to remember that God is good, and God is always telling us things we need to hear. Look at the words of Elihu in response to Job’s feeling unfairly treated or that God is too silent.

Job 33:12-14

12 “Behold, in this you are not right. I will answer you,
for God is greater than man.
13 Why do you contend against him,
saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’?
14 For God speaks in one way,
and in two, though man does not perceive it.

Why accuse God of not speaking? He speaks to us all the time to show us things we need to know. IN the rest of the chapter, Elihu will point to a couple of ways that God speaks to us. These are fascinating. They are part of what we call general revelation. General revelation is the revelation of God that is available to mankind generally. General revelation is not enough to reveal to a person the true gospel, but it is enough to convince a person that there is a God who made us and that we need his favor and forgiveness.

Job 33:15-18

15 In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on men,
while they slumber on their beds,
16 then he opens the ears of men
and terrifies them with warnings,
17 that he may turn man aside from his deed
and conceal pride from a man;
18 he keeps back his soul from the pit,
his life from perishing by the sword.

Verses 15-18 show us that God speaks to humans in our dreams. This is not Elihu pointing to a form of charismatic dream prophecy. Instead, he seems to simply be pointing to night terrors. In our dreams, the things that make us afraid are there to remind us of the evils that we deserve if we are not forgiven by the Lord. In truth, we ought to learn from our dreams that the wrath of almighty God is far more frightening than any terror our imaginations can stir up. Nightmares should cause a human being to be humbled, to be reminded of our frailty, and to turn to the Lord for mercy before it is too late.

From verses 19-22, Elihu speaks of painful illnesses like the one Job is facing. Elihu points out that these are messengers of God to remind us that we are mortal, and we need to be rescued. In verses 23-25, the argument is that a man healed from a disease, restored from the doors of death, should see this as the kind favor of God.

Job 33:26-30

26 then man prays to God, and he accepts him;
he sees his face with a shout of joy,
and he restores to man his righteousness.
27 He sings before men and says:
‘I sinned and perverted what was right,
and it was not repaid to me.
28 He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit,
and my life shall look upon the light.’
29 “Behold, God does all these things,
twice, three times, with a man,
30 to bring back his soul from the pit,
that he may be lighted with the light of life.

Elihu has a grasp on salvation. Hard circumstances and pains in life exist to remind us of our need for salvation and our lack of power on our own. They remind us that we must cry out to God for mercy. We are sinners before a holy God, and we need his mercy to live.

Elihu said that Job complained that God would not answer his complaints. But then he told Job that God had been speaking all along. God has spoken in creation to display his glory and power. God has spoken in Job’s nightmares to remind us of the wrath we face for our sin. God has spoken in Job’s hurts and illness to remind him of his mortality. God has used all sorts of circumstances to check Job, pulling him back from the danger of diving headlong into bitterness against the Lord and certain destruction.

Do you hear the voice of God? Do you realize that the created world around you shows you his power and artistry? Do you see that your worst fears are but tiny reminders of the deeper horrors of falling under the judgment of God? Do you understand that our pains and sicknesses remind us that we are mortal and in need of God to rescue us? Will you let that voice of God call you to turn from sin and cry out to him for mercy?

IN God’s special revelation, the Bible, he has shown us that our salvation is completely bound up in the person and work of Jesus. If you wish to be forgiven, believe in Jesus. Turn your heart from all that God calls sin. Cry out to Jesus for mercy. Surrender lordship of your life to him. God promises that all who will repent and believe will be saved.

What We Renounce

I recently wrote a post on a dangerous pragmatism that tempts believers. Often with good motives—a desire for the glory of God, the salvation of the lost, or the growth of the church—believers will face the temptation to compromise. Some of these compromises feel small. Some are obviously large. But no generation of Christians has ever been without the temptation to change this or that to achieve greater success or an easier life.

So, when I read Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 4, I found myself very glad to see the clear, biblical affirmation of a commitment to avoid things that are easy for us to give in to.

2 Corinthians 4:2-3 – 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.

Paul would not practice underhanded ways. Paul would not, ever, allow himself to tamper with Scripture. This must be the attitude and heart of any faithful believer.

Are we tempted to tamper with Scripture? Of course we are. Some are tempted to deny the Bible’s infallibility and inerrancy. Some believe that the Bible is accurate to its day, but no longer applicable in its commands as we live in a more enlightened era. Some agree with Scripture completely, but wish to hide from view certain passages that we find embarrassing in a culture that would be offended by them.

What about practicing cunning? How much of that is going on? I think you need only look from organization to organization with the name “church” to see. There are all sorts of strategies being employed to get people to hear a message. Some strategies are not problems. Churches that attempt to reach out in honesty and kindness in their towns are not compromising anything. But what about those who use bait-and-switch tactics to attempt to sneak a message in on folks? Is there any evidence in Scripture of a Christian surprising someone with an unexpected gospel presentation? Certainly not. Nor is there any biblical pattern of Christians pretending to be interested in one area only to then shift and become gospel focused at a later time. This is just not how honest Christians operate. We need not be underhanded. We most certainly are not asked to be tricky. We are to be clear, plain, bold, and honest.

Like Paul, may we learn to be committed to the open proclamation of the gospel and the word of God. May we commend ourselves and our message with no form of deception whatsoever. May we trust that some will receive that message because of the working of God on the hearts of the elect. May we understand that those who are hostile to the clear gospel are not put off by our lack of trickery, but by their sin nature and the blinding influences of the world, the flesh, and the devil. May we be able to say that we renounce all that is underhanded out of a clear love of and trust in the Lord and his word.

God’s Claim of Exclusivity

One of the most offensive things about biblical faith to those who do not agree is the claim of exclusivity. People are often put off strongly by the claim of a Christian that Jesus is the only way that anyone can be right with God. The world in general is not offended if we say that Jesus is our way to find peace or a way to be right with God, but they are deeply offended when we suggest that those who try another way are under the judgment of God.

But the Lord has always been clear that he is the only God. He is clear that there is no other way to be forgiven and to have a future of joy after this life. There is one God and one way to life.

Psalm 96:4-5

4 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.

Look at the simple words recorded above in Psalm 96. God is pulling no punches. God is to be praised. Why? Because he is the only true God. There is one and only one God, the Lord, the God of the Bible.

What does God say about those who would follow other religions, other deities? What does God make of other faiths? It is not inclusive. In verse 5, we see this, “For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols.” God calls false gods worthless idols. They cannot save.

But what claim does God make about himself? Why does he have the right to claim that following him is the only way? Verse 5 also says to us, “but the Lord made the heavens.” That is a simple factual claim. If it is true, the psalm suggests, it proves that God has the right to declare himself utterly different than the gods of all other religions. God claims to be the Creator.

The funny thing is, for many, the claim of fact here is something they often ignore. This is assumed to be a relative claim. Relative claims are claims of value, of preference: Chocolate is better than vanilla; football is better than basketball; red is better than blue. But God is making no such claim. God is declaring ownership of the universe because he made it. Either he did or he did not. Either this is truth or a lie. There is no middle ground, none at all.

If the words of the Bible are true, God is the only God. He created the universe. And the only way for us to escape eternal judgment is to enter into his grace by being made right with the Creator. The only way to be made right with the Creator, according to John 14:6, is through Jesus Christ.

It seems to me that people are offended by the exclusivity of the faith because they assume that the simple claim of fact is read as a relative claim. God is creator. That is a yes or no. There is no other option. But many see that as a preference, “I like this deity over that one. I like this system of morality over that one. I think I am better than you because I like my system of morality over yours.” But that is not at all what the Bible is saying. It is not at all what the Christian is saying. We are simply saying that we believe the Bible. Believing the Bible requires that we believe that there is one God over the universe, the one who created it, and we owe him everything. We believe that there is one way to be right with that God, by grace and through faith in Jesus Christ alone. We are not claiming to be better or worse than any religion. We are claiming to be factually correct. The alternative is that we are completely wrong. But we are not claiming personal superiority. We are simply believing that Jesus is the only way to salvation. This ought to be no more offensive than a claim that 2 + 2 = 4 or that the moon orbits the earth. If we are wrong, we are completely wrong. If we are correct, we are completely correct.

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.