The objective of this lesson is to emphasize that repentance is a continuing process. It continually produces godly changes in the penitent as the penitent grows in his/her comprehension of God and His will.
We share Eve's problem as she stood before the tree of knowledge of good and evil prior to taking and eating its fruit. To her, in the moment of her temptation, evil seemed truly good. Like Eve, we often are deceived by evil's presentation of itself at our moment of temptation. As an illustration of humanity's continuing deception, consider Isaiah 5:20:
The fundamental nature of temptation is seen in Satan's deceptiveness. He challenges a person or a people to perceive good as evil and evil as good.
To grasp the astounding force of this statement, a person needs to read Isaiah 5:18-23. The people of Judah were guilty of the listed perspectives and behavior. They were certain they did what was "good." They were the "enlightened" who grasped and correctly understood life's purpose. Because they were the "enlightened" who did "good," they did not need to repent.
Isaiah 5:8-23 declares six woes that condemned the then current evil life styles/perspectives in Judah's society: (1) the wicked rich who take the poor's land; (2) the lifestyle of indulgence; (3) wickedness that is used to mock God; (4) the inability to distinguish between good and evil; (5) those who decide they do not need God to have a fulfilling, satisfying existence; (6) and those in powerful positions being drunkards or bribe takers. Note one of the most significant forms of evil in Judah's society was declared by their inability to distinguish between right and wrong. Note God regarded this to be a primary form of evil in their society.
Prior to Babylonian exile, just who were these people who considered themselves the "enlightened?" They lived in Judah. They inhabited Jerusalem, the "holy city," the city that contained "God's temple." In theory, they were God's people [they claimed to belong to God, but their lives did not reflect God]. They worshipped at God's temple and placed their confidence in temple rites and sacrificial worship. Had not God talked to their ancestor Abraham? Had not God been responsible for giving their ancestor Isaac his existence? Had not God made the descendants of Jacob's twelve sons the twelve tribes of Israel? Had not God performed incredible acts to deliver those descendants from slavery? Had not God given their ancestor Moses the Law? Had not God given them Canaan? Had not God permitted their ancestor Solomon to build God's temple? God could not exile His people who lived in His holy city and worshipped in His temple!
These were people who considered themselves to be the "pure," the "chosen," the "secure," the "elect," and "those God could not reject." They had an extremely high opinion of themselves. They had a very distorted opinion of God and His ways.
Was anyone else designated as God's people? No. Had God given anyone else His Law? No. Had God permitted anyone else to build His temple? No. Was not scripture, God's word, given to Israel? Yes. Did not God communicate with Israel throughout their generations through Israelite prophets? Yes.
Their sense of security was derived from "who we are" and "our history."
These people for centuries had a unique relationship with God, but they forgot Who God was. They laid claim to "correct rituals" at the "right place," but they no longer knew or were committed to God as a current living Being. Their limited knowledge declared they were special, not that God was special! Though they denied it, the force of their religious acts was to glorify themselves, not to glorify God Who brought them into existence and sustained them. Sadly, the people who should have known God best desperately needed to return to God, to repent!
God was not a living Being to them. They did not see God as current or present. Obedience merely was a matter of doing "the right things" in "the right ways" at the "right time." The fact that God's temple was located in Jerusalem guaranteed those conditions were true. The focus of obedience was on what was done in temple worship, not on honoring God by the way they lived.
Following are the basic perspectives that must be grasped by a person or a people for repentance to occur.
Accepting God as the source of life, as the Creator, is a core matter in accepting God.
God's superiority over all humans is reality.
God's goodness makes His creative superiority a source of hope.
"Right and wrong" or "good and evil" are not arbitrary views formed by human perspectives.
Goodness is a part of God's nature. God's goodness excludes evil in any form.
Expressions of evil abuse God and His creation.
God responds to human evil with mercy and grace--if humans permit Him to do so!
God brought humanity to life untouched by evil. God in His goodness designed humanity to reflect His goodness. When we understand that fact, we realize reflecting God leads us toward our ideal lives and original natures.
We understand that God's influence in us is a good, desirable thing, not an evil, undesirable thing.
This does not suggest that the person who repents has to possess a total understanding of the changes brought by repentance. It states that those who repent need to understand that repentance is a continuing process of change, not a "one time" event. The process of repentance produces results in a person's life [or a people's lives] that are consistent with the process. Repentance produces "fruit" (Matthew 3:7-10). Repentance is not a sterile, inactive force in the life of the penitent. It is a living, growing awareness expressed in the penitent's emotions, motives, attitudes, and behavior. It is powerfully influenced by the penitent's understanding and maturity.
Repentance's basic objective in our lives is to produce total change. The closer we grow to God, the more change we become capable of producing within ourselves. Closeness to God increases our capacity to repent. Therefore repentance is by nature a process, not a single event. The process of repentance results in continual change expressed in a lifestyle that constantly grows closer to God.
In the ongoing process of repentance, what fundamental awareness drives the process? (1) God is the ultimate, highest expression of goodness. (2) If my life moves toward God it moves toward goodness. (3) When only human forces influence my direction, I move further from God, further from goodness. (4) My past decisions/behaviors/attitudes/emotions/motives were unjust or abusive to God and His kindness. (5) It thus is my choice/will to cease being the person who is unjust and hurtful to God in order to be the person who seeks God's influence/presence in his/her life.
In the process of repentance, the penitent realizes (1) God is the highest form of good he/she can know. (2) No form of change in "me" is beyond the reach of God's influence in "me." (3) The only hope "I" have of moving toward good is to move toward God. (4) Thus moving toward God is a good thing, not a bad thing.
In the process of repentance, the more accurately I understand God, the more I repent. As I mature, I change. My repentance is the driving force behind my change. As I grow in understanding of God and His will, I accept the responsibility to repent.
The more I understand God, His will, and His purposes, the more I repent. In that growing understanding is the realization that "I" or "we" need change. We always need to move toward God's goodness.
Questions of Insight:
We also are confused and deceived about what is "good" and what is "evil."
They were completely confident they were God's people who needed no repentance.
They forgot who God was.
As we mature in Christ, we grow in our understanding of what is good and what is evil. That maturing produces a growing awareness of the need to repent, a growing awareness of the need to redirect life, a growing awareness of the need to change within.
Spiritual maturity continually grows in the comprehension of what is good and what is evil.
Link to Student Guide Lesson 3
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