Have you ever wanted something to change in your life, but didn’t know how to bring it about? I’m sure that we have all wanted various things in our lives to change. This is true of both believers and unbelievers. Why do we as human beings always want things to change? No matter what we have, we tend to want more of it or something different. This desire for change is part of being created in the image of God.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV2011) He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Let’s focus on the phrase “God has set eternity in the human heart.” What is this eternity that God has put into every human heart? Eternity is the desire to live forever, the desire to have a relationship with God, the desire to live in a perfect world. It is all these things and much more, but eternity has to do with God.
Someone has said that God has placed a vacuum in every human heart that can only be filled with God. So, we seek to satisfy the longing for eternity, the longing for God by seeking change in our lives. Yet, only God can satisfy this longing for eternity in our hearts. Only God can bring us into eternity with Him where we will be completely satisfied.
Today, we’re going to look at how we can fill the void in our hearts in this life. Today’s message is entitled “Change Begins with Repentance.” Change in our lives doesn’t happen automatically. Change doesn’t always happen just because we pray for it to happen. Change begins with repentance, both for the unbeliever and the believer.
What is repentance? What does it mean to repent? To repent is to have a change of heart towards sin in our lives. Repentance is taking a 180 degree turn away from sin and towards God. So, repentance is running away from sin and running to God. That’s how a person is born again and receives eternal life, it begins with repentance.
Mark 1:14-15 (ESV) … Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Jesus was saying that God’s got a wonderful kingdom that He wants you to be part of. Your first step in entering that Kingdom is to repent of your sin, turn away from it and believe in the gospel of Jesus. The message was the same for the early church in the book of Acts.
Acts 2:38 (ESV) And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
First step is exactly the same, repent of your sin. This initial repentance and belief brings you into God’s Kingdom, you are born again. But repentance is not just for unbelievers. Repentance is for people who sin, and we all sin in one way or another.
1 John 1:9 (ESV) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
This verse was not written to unbelievers, but to believers. We also are to daily confess our sins, which is another way of repent. When we do that God forgives our sins and cleanses us from unrighteousness, that’s change.
How does repentance happen in the life of a believer? As we read and listen to God’s Word, the Holy Spirit uses God’s Word to bring conviction of sin into our hearts. When we realize our sin, we repent and God works in our hearts bringing about change, so we sin less and less. Repentance in our lives leads to spiritual growth, becoming more and more like Jesus. Change begins with repentance. Let’s begin today’s study of the prophet Jeremiah by seeking to understand why believers stray into sin.
Jeremiah 2:5 (ESV) Thus says the LORD: “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?
Jeremiah’s first prophesy to the people of Jerusalem begins with this question. The Lord asks His people why they left Him and went after worthless idols. When people stray into idolatry, they themselves become like those idols, worthless. There is not wrong in the Lord God, so why would people look elsewhere.
Jeremiah 2:11 (ESV) Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit.
Israel was begun by Abraham, who believed in the Lord God who had revealed Himself. The Lord is saying that pagan nations don’t change their gods or idols. Yet, the people of God have departed from God’s glory and did not profit at all. Straying from God makes no sense. Now, the prophet gives us insight into why people stray from God.
Jeremiah 2:13 (ESV) for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
The first evil that the children of Israel committed was to turn away from God. God describes Himself here as the fountain of living waters. Living water is fresh, cool, flowing water, the best water you can have to quench your thirst and sustain your life. This living water is not just moving water, it is alive with eternal life.
When God’s people stray they turn away from living water and they try to provide for themselves. They dig cisterns in the earth to capture the rain water for drinking. But the cisterns that they dig are broken, any water that would come in, leaks out. And even if the cisterns worked, they would only hold stagnant, dirty water. These cisterns represent the idols that the people of Israel chose to worship.
Why would Israel turn aside from the God who had done so many miracles in the past to idols? The answer I believe is two-fold, deception and peer-pressure. Israel turned away from the one true God because they believed the lie that idols were better than God. How could they be deceived by such an idea? From the godless nations around them that worshipped idols. Israel wanted to be like the pagan nations around them and worship their idols. So they chose to believe a lie and give into peer pressure.
The same is true of people today, both unbelievers and those who claim to be believers. The deception of Satan is that the ways of sin are the best ways, the way to have the best life you could possibly have. Satan shows us images and stories of people with get success in finances, fame or popularity. These people are worshipping idols of pleasure, money, power and position. To worship an idol, you must first cease from worshipping God. You cannot truly worship God when you are bowing to an idol. An idol is anything in your life that you put ahead of God and His Word.
This morning, God desires for each one of us to evaluate our lives. Is there anything in your life that is an idol, something that has replaced obeying God? Are you listening to someone, either in person or virtually, that is leading you to reject the truth of God’s Word? If so, God wants to bring about change in your life. So, let’s look at the next phase of Jeremiah’s message to an idolatrous people.
Jeremiah 4:6-7 (ESV) Raise a standard toward Zion, flee for safety, stay not, for I bring disaster from the north, and great destruction. A lion has gone up from his thicket, a destroyer of nations has set out; he has gone out from his place to make your land a waste; your cities will be ruins without inhabitant.
Jeremiah now begins to warn the people of Israel that their straying from God, their rebellion would result in judgement. God was raising up the Babylonian empire, a fierce and deadly world power, to bring great destruction. The Lord refers to this enemy as a lion and a destroyer. They would lay waste to the land and bring the cities to ruin. Was their any hope for the rebellious ways of Israel?
Jeremiah 4:14 (ESV) O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you?
God calls on those who have rebelled to wash their hearts from evil. To wash your heart is to repent and be forgiven , to be saved. Wicked thoughts and the seed beds of sin and idolatry and had taken up lodging within them. These wicked, godless thoughts needed to be purged from their hearts through repentance.
Jeremiah 4:18 (ESV) Your ways and your deeds have brought this upon you. This is your doom, and it is bitter; it has reached your very heart.”
Why was this Babylonian invasion drawing near? Because of the sinful ways and deeds of the people, turning from God towards idols. All sin at its core is the worship of idols, believing a lie. What was coming and what did come to Israel was bitter destruction in every dimension. It would affect not just the outward physical, but reach to the heart of the people. Rebellion has severe consequences.
Does God still bring judgement today on those who are in rebellion against Him? The answer from God’s Word is unconditionally yes. The are many examples and warning throughout the New Testament on the consequences of rebellion. The purpose of God’s judgment in this life is to lead people to repent of their sin and return to the Lord.
What kinds of judgement does God allow in the lives of people? God’s judgment could be any type of negative or painful experience. Is every negative or painful experience God’s judgment? Not at all, it could be simply part of living in a broken world. So, how can we know whether we are facing God’s judgement, the consequence of our sins? We simply need to pray and ask God if there is anything in our lives that we need to confess.
The book of James, for example, tells us to confess our sins and pray for healing of one another. Is all sickness a result of sin? Absolutely not, but some is. If there is sin to confess, we confess it and regardless, we then pray for God to work in our lives in the midst of whatever negative situation we may find ourselves in. We must understand the consequences of rebellion.
Jeremiah 3:14-15 (ESV) Return, O faithless children, declares the LORD; for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. “‘And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.
In these verses, we begin to see the blessings that God offers to those who return to Him, to those who repent of their sin. Those who return to the Lord would be taken to Zion, the city of God, the place of God’s presence. Those who return would be blessed with shepherds, with leaders after God’s heart. Leaders who would not lead them astray, but would lead them in the ways of the Lord.
Jeremiah 4:1-2 (ESV) “If you return, O Israel, declares the LORD, to me you should return. If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, ‘As the LORD lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.”
Again, God calls on Israel to return to Him, it is what they should do. To return to the Lord means removing the detestable things, the idols in their own lives. They must not waver in removing the sin, they must not return to it yet once again. Not only must they repent of the evil, they must proclaim with their mouths that God is truly alive. The living God requires truth, justice and righteousness in our lives. If Israel returns, then they would influence other nations to bless God and give Him glory.
Lamentations 3:32-33 (ESV) but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.
The final verses we are looking at today are from the short book of Lamentations, also written by the prophet Jeremiah. Here, we see that God takes no pleasure in unleashing judgement against His people. He loves them as a father loves his children and has compassion on them. He desires for them to return and enjoy the abundance of His love.
Some people are afraid to return to the Lord, fearful of His judgement. But yet we see that God is gracious, seeking for people to turn to Him and be forgiven. He longs to having a loving relationship with every person. His heart is that none should perish or experience judgement.
However, the only way for forgiveness and change to happen is through repentance. Spiritual growth is becoming more and more like Jesus. The Bible speaks of spiritual growth as putting to death the deeds of the flesh, which is the sin in our lives. That happens through repentance.
God longs for His relationship with us to be that of a heavenly Father with His loving children. He sent Jesus to die on the cross for that to be possible. And He will do whatever it takes to make a way for us to grow in that relationship. God calls us to return to Him.
I believe that call to return to Him applies in one degree or another to each one of us. There are ways that each of us strays from God in our lives. When one thing or another gets in the way of our relationship with God. We begin to try to fit in with the people around us who are not seeking after God. We perhaps are doing overt sin, but we are also not doing the things that God instructs us to do.
This morning, God wants to show us through the prophet Jeremiah that there are consequences to rebellion. All sin is rebellion in some shape or form. God calls each one of us this morning to return to Him. To draw closer to Him then ever before, to be refreshed in His presence.
Allow the Holy spirit to search your heart and see if there is anything that is hindering your relationship with Jesus. If there is, simply repent, return to the Lord and ask for His forgiveness, strength and love to bring healing. As we grow in understanding how change begins with repentance, we will become more and more like Jesus. We will become more and more like the children of God He created us to be.