Repentance is a conscious turning away from sin and a whole hearted turning back to God. God requires repentance of all who have sinned and distanced themselves from Him. Repentance must be accompanied by:
Repentance is not a superficial weeping under a flood of emotions, as some understand it, but a conscious action which is directed at reconciliation with God and our neighbour. Much time and energy must be applied toward this understanding. Sometimes restitution will also be required, toward however many the sin affected, in order to rectify the damage which the sin brought with it and to fulfil all that the Lord has commanded (Ex. 22).
Zacchaeus said, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold" (Luke 19:8).
We will study the question of repentance in more detail.
1. Acknowledgement and forsaking of one's sin
True repentance cannot be present if there is no deep inner acknowledgement of one's own guilt and if no forsaking of sins is evident. David says, «I will declare mine iniquity, I will be sorry for my sin" (Psa. 38:18). In order to understand our behaviour better, we must separate ourselves from activity and from noise, allow the light of God's Word to invade us through fasting and prayer so that the Holy Spirit may convict us, in order to bring us to our senses the same way as the prodigal son (Luke 15:17-19). We must examine ourselves (1 Cor. 11:28). The prodigal son acknowledged his sin, forsook it and separated himself from it. After that he "arose, and came to his father" (Luke 15:18-20). Without separation from sin, purification is impossible.
2. Confession—uncovering one's sin
"He that covereth his sins shall not prosper" (Pro. 28:13). David says, "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me ... I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou for gavest the iniquity of my sin" (Psa. 32:3-5). "Confess your faults one to another" (James 5:16).
Repentance without confession is not valid. For it is written, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). Therefore confession is necessary. With respect to this, however, before whom must we confess? Must we hold ourselves strictly to the system of the rules and regulations of the New Testament?
We must repent before those against whom we have sinned (Luke 17:4), before those who know about our sin—that is, before those whom we may have offended (Luke 17:1, 2)—and before God. Only God in Christ Jesus can remove and forgive our sin (Luke 5:24), because "without the shedding of blood is no remission " (Heb. 9:22).
If we have sinned against our neighbour, as far as we have acknowledged our sin, we must not wait until he, our neighbour, confronts us; we must go to him, confess our guilt and repent before him; and if damage occurred as a result of the sin, we must be prepared, as far as possible, to do everything to make restitution for the damage and to be reconciled (Luke 19:8). Then we must go to those who know about the sin and repent over it because we have been a stumbling block to them (Luke 17:1, 2), and only then make confession and repentance before God.
If, however, no one knows anything about the sin except the one against whom the sin was committed, then we must first repent before him and only then before God (1 Cor. 8:8-13).
God does not accept our gifts, prayers and repentance as long we have not been reconciled with the one against whom we have sinned (Matt. 5:23, 24; Isa. 1:15-18).
If we have sinned against the congregation we must first repent before the congregation and then before God.
If a Christian has become an eye-witness to sin he may not say about the sinner, "God will be his judge," but he must reprimand him in love. The one against whom sin has been committed must first of all reprimand the sinner and if he repents, must forgive him; if he does not repent, then, according to the rules of the New Testament, he must be reprimanded with witnesses, and if he does not repent reprimand him through the congregation (Matt. 18:15-17).
In the case that the sin was not committed against you directly but you were a witness to it, then, if you are capable of doing so, admonish him yourself; however, if not, tell it to the responsible brothers of the congregation or to other such spiritual children of God, who are capable of reproving and correcting (Gal. 6:1, 2). If the sinner truly repents, then you must keep it in confidence and not reveal the sin. If the one reproving the sinner transgresses the order which has been given by Christ and speaks about the sin, then you must also reprove him for his sin against the Word of God, for he is a talebearer. "Thou shall not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people" (Lev. 19:16).
If the sin has been committed against the congregation, then the witness must report it to the responsible brethren and they must reprove the sinner and advise him to repent before the congregation.
The Word of God testifies that swift retribution follows because of a persistent refusal to repent of sin. «I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick... repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight..." (Rev. 2:5, 16).
However, if the sinner hardens his heart during the reproof, this will lead to sudden destruction.
Every false repentance leads to retribution. False repentance is the kind of repentance that, even though realization of guilt is present, no confession follows; or even when the confession occurs, there is no remorse over the sin which has been committed.
Cain had committed a grave sin, yet he answered the question, "Where is Abel thy brother? " with, "I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? " He did not confess, did not acknowledge his sin, and was cursed (Gen. 4:9-11).
Ananias and Sapphira set aside a part of the selling price of their property and with that committed a sin, but they did not want to acknowledge it. As the Apostle Peter asked, "Tell me, whether ye sold the land for so much?" Sapphira spoke a lie. The refusal to confess the sin led them into destruction.
King Saul admitted his sin. He said it directly, «I have sinned;" yet at the same time he was not willing to confess that he had committed a crime against Him on Whom everyone depends for his steps and his breath. Instead of falling on his face and repenting in the dust, to pray for mercy and forgiveness, instead of debasing and humbling himself, he thought of a still greater exaltation. «I have sinned! " confessed Saul, "yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel ..." (1 Sam. 15:30). His sin was confessed, but only with the mouth; however, in his heart it was different. That is not repentance. The Lord had rejected Saul and he lost his life because of his unrepented sin.
A false repentance is also of that kind, when the sins are justified with various reasons and circumstances. No reason or excuse removes the guilt from the sinner in any way. On the contrary, if the sinner justifies himself with any kind of reasons, his guilt becomes greater, because he is dissatisfied with the circumstances and so blames the One Who creates them.
Here are some such excuses. Adam said, "The woman whom Thou gayest to be with me" (Gen. 3:12). Achan stated, «I coveted them, and took them" (Josh. 7:21). Saul declared, "I feared the people" (1 Sam. 15:24). We find many similar examples of excuses in the Bible yet these explanations have never helped anyone, and each person received the retribution for his sins.
All of this speaks of the fact that, if we expect our repentance to be accepted, we must not try to justify ourselves with the difficult circumstances of our personal life, with the injustice which others do toward us, nor with the temptations which we face. We are not permitted to sin and to wander away from the truth under any circumstances.
Uzzah also had a reason to sin and to disobey the Law of God, but God struck him. Uzzah had no right to touch the ark of the Lord under any circumstances. But he thought that when it began to slip he could disregard the Law, and could disobey the Law of God, in order to hold the ark. Otherwise it would have fallen. As soon Uzzah touched the ark with his hand, the Lord struck him and he died beside the ark of God (2 Sam. 6:6, 7).
Today we see how present day "Uzzahs" strive to uphold the work of God. Afterward they go astray from the truth, they enter into sin so that they will not lose their registration. Many have upright thoughts like Uzzah, that they uphold the work of God; that, however is no support, but rather, a pernicious corruption and destruction of God's work. If all of these "Uzzahs" do not repent they will receive the deserving punishment for their sin from God. Consequently, no reasons justify our falling away and our sin; therefore all that have a sin must truly repent for there is still time.
When the Prodigal Son had sinned he did not seek exaltation like Saul, but he humbled himself deeply and said, "Father, I have sinned ... and am no more worthy to be called thy son" (Luke 15:21).
When David sinned he realized that he stood before imminent punishment, and he felt remorse that he had sinned against Him Who had shown him so much love and grace. Therefore, he prayed for forgiveness and cleansing of his heart. He was asking that his life would be restored again.
He experienced deep remorse and confessed his guilt and did not try to justify himself with any excuses, "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgression... Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me" (Psa. 51:1, 10, 11).
May the Lord grant us all understanding regarding why we need true repentance.
With the goal in mind of keeping the believers in moral and spiritual purity, the congregation is advised to pay attention if anyone lacks the grace of God. "Lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled" (Heb. 12:15).
In order to remove sin from your midst, the congregation must allow itself to be led strictly by the Word of God and follow these guidelines:
1. Each one who has been caught in sin must be corrected through conversation with him by the spiritual brothers (Gal. 6:1, 2), who are able to judge all things (1 Cor. 2:15), who have the spirit of gentleness, and are capable of looking at themselves.
2. Regulate personal misunderstandings and lawsuits among the church members when the believers cannot come to peace among themselves (1 Cor. 6:1-8).
3. Judge affairs if a church member has committed a sin against the congregation or has been disobedient to the congregation (Matt. 18:17).
4. Judge matters if the church member who has sinned does not repent but rather continues in sin (1 Cor. 5:11, 12).
All discipline is imposed only by the membership meeting of the local church. In the application of the discipline the congregation should use direction only from spiritual influences; they must be guided strictly by the Word of God. According to 2 Thess. 3:11-15 the one who has not improved under instruction, who walks disorderly, must be "noted" and you must not associate with him (v. 14). He may not participate in the Communion and in the membership meetings. However, do not treat him as an enemy but instruct and admonish him as a brother (v. 15) so that he will become ashamed (v. 14).
Usually such a person will improve and the discipline will be removed. Yet sometimes he will continue in his undisciplined lifestyle and sin further. Then, if he does not repent after the instruction, we must refer to the question of excommunication.
Excommunication should occur only because of exceptional circumstances of consciously committed sin which the offender has not forsaken (1 Cor. 5:11-13; 16:22; Titus 3:10, 11; 2 John 1:9, 10 and particularly Gal. 1:9) and with the purpose of the betterment of the guilty party as well as the purification of the congregation from him so that the congregation will not be guilty of his sin before God on his account and lose the blessings. Excommunication is only used because of open, conscious sin and because of failure to improve. Excommunication is performed in a membership meeting and definitely with the person being excommunicated present (except in the case where his presence is not possible).
The person being excommunicated must be given full liberty to express before the meeting whatever he thinks is necessary to justify himself and may support his statements through testimony from other church members. He may not, however, receive support from those who are excommunicated. "Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?" (John 7:51).
After the matter has been investigated the question of his excommunication is presented to be dealt with by the whole congregation. The sinner is considered excommunicated only after general agreement in the congregation.
Those who have been excommunicated from the congregation because of one sin, because of straying from the truth, will not be restored into the congregation except through sincere repentance.
As a general rule, the leading brothers must notify neighbouring congregations regarding the excommunication from the congregation for a sin, so that they will also know, although not which specific sin was committed, but rather, only that he has been excommunicated.
It is not permitted to greet in a brotherly way or to have fellowship with those who have been excommunicated. Conversation will be permitted only for the purpose of instruction. Those excommunicated are not permitted to attend membership meetings—except if their case is being considered.
If the one who has been excommunicated for a sin repents sincerely and improves himself, then others must forgive him and show him mercy (2 Cor. 2:6-8).
To the one who has sinned and has repented, only those may remove the punishment and restore him to the fellowship who have the authority to impose or to remove punishment—that is, the membership meeting of the congregation.
According to the Word of God we never have the right even to greet those who have been "noted" (2 Thess. 3:14); much less to greet them and try to maintain fellowship with those who have been excommunicated for erring from the truth, and for sin. The Word of God calls members who have fellowship with those who have been excommunicated "partakers of their evil." "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God ... If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds" (2 John 9-11).
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