Text: Hosea 14, “Return to the Lord with Repentance and Faith” (August 26, 2007)
Two disturbing opinions about the way of salvation are very common:
1. When I commit a sin, I ask God to forgive me; therefore, I will go to Heaven.
2. When I commit a sin, I confess it; therefore, I will go to Heaven.
Both of these views contain an element of truth, but if we merely ask or confess, we are still lost. Why?
1. We never know all the sins that we commit, so how can we confess them? (Psalm 19:12; Leviticus 4:13).
2. The Bible says clearly that he who confesses and forsakes his sin will find pity (Proverbs 28:13).
3. Really, we return to the Lord by means of repentance and faith (e.g. Isaiah 55:7).
If I repent and believe on the inside, I will–and must–ask on the outside (John 4:10; Romans 10:10); but not everyone who asks on the outside has repented or believed on the inside. The cart is often in front of the horse!
The results of merely asking are very dangerous, since merely asking will not result in true change. The one merely asking will either think he is a Christian while repeatedly sinning the same sin–as I did for eight years, sinning and feeling bad (until my conscience was satisfied) and then sinning again–or else he will give up on the whole charade and openly return to his mud pit (2 Peter 2:20-22). Either way, the result is the same: eternal destruction (cf. Matthew 7:21-23).
Baptist pastor Andrew Fuller gave these evidences of unrepented sin (given in his Collected Works, 3:624-25):
1. If I still persist in sin, I have not repented, because repentance involves forsaking my sin. According to 2 Corinthians 7:10, godly sorrow leads to repentance without regret.
2. If I refrain out of mere prudence, I have not repented, for I am acting in selfishness.
3. If I lack daily communion with God, which involves regular confession of sin, I also have not repented. We sin each day; therefore, those who do not regularly confess their sins must not notice them. Over time, these sins accumulate, until only the large, unusual sins get detected and confessed. According to Scripture, a real believer habitually confesses his sins (1 John 1:9).
4. If I with pleasure remember or retell my past sins, I recommit them and have not truly repented. Those who have genuinely repented are ashamed of their past sins (Romans 6:21).
Based on Psalm 32, Fuller warned, “There is such a thing as the conscience being habitually burdened with guilt, and the spirit depressed with long-continued dejection and yet the soul not be brought to a thorough contrition” (3:625). Remember, the evidence of salvation is not conviction of sin, but repentance (e.g. Zaccheus, Luke 19:1-10)! Again, Fuller warned that through remorse and depression “the guilt of our consciences may wear away by degrees, instead of being washed away by an application to the blood of Christ” (ibid.).
To demonstrate how extremely deceptive this behavior is, consider Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27:3-5). Judas may not have intended harm. Perhaps he thought that Jesus would be found innocent and released; but when Jesus was condemned, Judas was “remorseful”–he felt terrible about his action. Judas then confessed his sin openly to his peers. He also returned the gain he had received through his wicked deed. Then, in deep remorse and self-hatred, he hanged himself! Listen, this man’s behavior was not a sham. He really felt bad for his sin and confessed it in sincerity, yet he did not go to Heaven! Judas is truly the “son of perdition” (John 17:12). If Judas could be that close to Jesus for that long and then act so sincerely and openly and radically in consequence of his sin, what prevents such a reality from occurring right here in our midst?
How should we then deal with our sin, if mere confession or asking for forgiveness does not avail? Puritan pastor and theologian John Owen once noted that those burdened with guilt often seek relief in self-appointed ways of punishment. They either devise an extraordinary sacrifice, or they multiply ordinary duties to an extreme. One example of this relief is Roman Catholic penance, which consists of contrition, confession, and satisfaction. Judas exhibited all three of these Catholic conditions of forgiveness and it did him no good. All such self-appointed punishments do no good, for God is not looking for such costly offerings (Micah 6:6-7). Moreover, it is arrogant and dishonoring to God, for the dying patient is acting as if he were the doctor.
So what is the Lord’s very own prescription for returning to Him for healing and life?
I. Return to the Lord (Hosea 14:1). Many wicked men have confessed their sins, but not to God. For example, Pharaoh confessed to Moses (Exodus 10:16); Saul confessed to David (1 Samuel 26:21); and Judas, to the priest and elders (Matthew 27:4); but who will confess their sins to God? We must realize that sin is first and primarily an affront against God, not man; yet we feel much more need to confess when our sins are found out by men, than if done in secret. Listen, when David committed adultery and then murdered to cover it up, he still confessed that against God “only” he had sinned (Ps 51:4). Deal with God!
II. Bring with you words (Hosea 14:2). This astounds me: “words”! Words are the cheapest thing on earth. Please note: Again, God is not looking for heroic acts or costly sacrifices, but for you. To bring words obviously implies not empty words, but sincere words. He wants you. I must confess, in the past I have had trouble with rote sinner’s prayers as if it were works-salvation, but here is something altogether amazing: God gives us His very own sinner’s prayer! What God Himself prescribes as a “sinner’s prayer” tells us a lot about His view of repentance:
1. Repentance is complete, that is, it does not leave any area of my life out of view (“all,” Hosea 14:2). If we really repent, we want to be holy in “all” our behavior (1 Peter 1:15).
2. Repentance is final (“anymore,” Hosea 14:3). Assyria and Egypt (the source of horses) were the saviors Israel had often looked to. Now, in repentance they say that they are done with such idols. Are you? An idol is anything or anyone, real or unreal, that you depend upon for living. Only God is the source of life and we must look to Him alone for life. In our delusion, we often think that we can serve both God and an idol. Even if are convinced that the idol is bad, we often do not burn our bridges to it; rather, we keep the idol in a closet out of view, . . . and inevitably return to it later. No! If we will return to the Lord in real repentance, it must be complete and final!
3. Repentance also possesses faith in God’s mercy (Hosea 14:3). The reason they repented resulted from a view of God’s fatherly, adoptive mercy. Law and judgment will not produce real repentance, but God’s kindness does (Romans 2:4). Until you see the mercy of the Lord in the face of Christ, you will never repent.
Consider then the merciful kindness of the Gospel in this chapter:
1. God promises that He will heal you (Hosea 14:4). He will heal not just your sins, but the very “turnings” themselves that result in the acts of sin (v. 4). But you say, “I do not deserve this grace. What must I do to earn it?” No! He is not looking for heroic deeds to merit His grace, for He will love you “freely” (v. 4). On what basis? His anger is turned away (v. 4)–and today we know the reason why: the Cross. When Jesus died in our place, He turned God’s anger away from us (Romans 3:21-26). In the Cross, God’s justice is satisfied–every sin is fully punished with death, and we are freed! So look to the Cross. See the mercy of God. Know this love and believe it (1 John 4:9-10, 16).
2. God promises that He will give you life, as the dew refreshes the earth (Hosea 14:5). So many mistakenly think of revival as a cataclysmic event–a bang! In reality, revival comes secretly and incrementally and intimately over time, as the dew. Yes, Pentecost was real, but Pentecost was for power to serve God (cf. Acts 1:8). Those early disciples were just as close to God before Pentecost as they were afterward. Real spiritual growth is the result of the dew of the Spirit, who slowly works within us, causing us to become stable, beautiful, and fragrant like Lebanon (Hosea 14:5, 6, 7).
How long then will you hesitate between two opinions? If God is God, serve Him, and be done with idols! (Hosea 14:8; cf. 1 Kings 18:21). Your fruit will come from Him (Hosea 14:8). Or is there anything wrong in the ways of God? Tell me, you who are wise: Has He demanded too much? Has He not demonstrated His mercy enough, or not waited long enough? No. The “ways of the LORD” are upright; the righteous will walk in them, but rebels will stumble (Hosea 14:9). This final verse tells us that this message was not solely for them then, but also for us now. We must return and live.