The nature of genuine repentance

by Mike Ratliff

8 And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 9 On the first day of the first month he began his journey from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him. 10 For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel. (Ezra 7:8-10 NKJV)

If we study God’s Word from cover to cover we will find that only God is perfect. He is Sovereign. He is Holy. He is complete and perfectly righteous. On the other hand, people are none of the above. We are a fallen race who, even after God’s gracious regeneration of our hearts, must continually work out our salvation with fear and trembling. That implies that we still sin. We still fall into temptation and become entangled. Even when God graciously allows us to walk in victory for awhile, we get our eyes off of Him and on ourselves and begin to believe that we are invulnerable to the worst our flesh can throw at us. That, of course, sets us up for a next stumble.

We are only capable of walking in victory by His hand. We can do that only as we learn to actively work with Him in mortifying our sin, as we trust in His good work in our hearts to continue to burn away all that is in us that is not of Him. We sin when we look at our faults and become discouraged as well as when we look at our good and become puffed up. We must look at ourselves as a work in progress and that work is God’s good work. We must learn to live in self-denial by His grace. We don’t “let go and let God,” but we release control as we actively obey Him. We seek Holiness and purity, but we must never rely on will power or anything in our own capabilities. Instead, we learn to walk by the Spirit, controlled by Him as we surrender all parts of our lives to the Lordship of Christ.

This is what we are to do in our personal walk before the face of God. However, there is a larger call to repentance that we must focus on now. The Church is very sick. It has lost its way, as it believes it has found its way. It has taken on the ways of the world. Its leaders, fully misunderstanding the Great Commission, have seen evangelism as its primary focus while neglecting Bible Study and Discipleship. Similar to the great Downgrade Controversy of Spurgeon’s day, this move into neo-Evangelism makes stupid statements such as, “Christianity, so easy a caveman could do it.” It sees conversions as acts of men’s will rather than works of God’s grace. It sees God as handing out salvation to all who want to be called by Christ’s name regardless of whether they seek to live repentant lives or not. This is a gross misunderstanding of the Good News and in complete disregard for Jesus’ own words.

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “ If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25 NKJV)

21 And He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one, 22 saying, “ The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.” 23 Then He said to them all, “ If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:21-26 NKJV)

When God saves a person, He regenerates their hearts. They are New Creations and this description by our Lord in these two passages shows us the radical change wrought when God quickens a new believer. They give up their life to their Master and emulate Him in dying to self. They take up their crosses and follow Him in death. This death is a death to his or her love for this world and its ways replaced by a heart that seeks to know the ways of God and to do them as Ezra did when he brought the temple vessels from Babylon to Jerusalem.

When Christ died what happened to the Jewish Temple?

50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, (Matthew 27:50-51 NKJV)

What did this signify? The Law was completely fulfilled in Christ. There is no longer any need for a physical temple. All in Christ make up the Temple of God now. Christians can come boldly to the Throne of Grace because Christ is our High Priest.

14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 NKJV)

Now, with that in mind let us go back to Ezra as he found out that the Jews who had preceded him to Jerusalem had not done what was right.

1 When these things were done, the leaders came to me, saying, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, with respect to the abominations of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. 2 For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, so that the holy seed is mixed with the peoples of those lands. Indeed, the hand of the leaders and rulers has been foremost in this trespass.” 3 So when I heard this thing, I tore my garment and my robe, and plucked out some of the hair of my head and beard, and sat down astonished. (Ezra 9:1-3 NKJV)

What was Ezra’s reaction to the Jews not separating from the people of the land? He tore his clothes and pulled hair from his head and beard and fell in grief to the ground. What was their sin? They had compromised with the world. They had disobeyed God in not being separate. Then what happened?

4 Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel assembled to me, because of the transgression of those who had been carried away captive, and I sat astonished until the evening sacrifice. (Ezra 9:4 NKJV)

Notice that God broke the hearts of the faithful over the sins of the many. Does He still do this today? Absolutely! Those who tremble at the words of God are still with us. I pray that you are one of those. They grieved over the sins of the people. Why? Was it because they disdained the people or that they understood the sinfulness of sin and whom it offends? It is the latter. The godly love their God, need their God and live for Him. Sin is what separates them from fellowship with Him and they understand what it cost their Lord Jesus Christ to reconcile them to God.

5 At the evening sacrifice I arose from my fasting; and having torn my garment and my robe, I fell on my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God. 6 And I said:“O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens. 7 Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been very guilty, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plunder, and to humiliation, as it is this day. 8 And now for a little while grace has been shown from the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and give us a measure of revival in our bondage. 9 For we were slaves. Yet our God did not forsake us in our bondage; but He extended mercy to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to revive us, to repair the house of our God, to rebuild its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem. 10 And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken Your commandments, 11 which You commanded by Your servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land which you are entering to possess is an unclean land, with the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations which have filled it from one end to another with their impurity. 12 Now therefore, do not give your daughters as wives for their sons, nor take their daughters to your sons; and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good of the land, and leave it as an inheritance to your children forever. ’ 13 And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, since You our God have punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us such deliverance as this, 14 should we again break Your commandments, and join in marriage with the people committing these abominations? Would You not be angry with us until You had consumed us, so that there would be no remnant or survivor? 15 O Lord God of Israel, You are righteous, for we are left as a remnant, as it is this day. Here we are before You, in our guilt, though no one can stand before You because of this!” (Ezra 9:5-15 NKJV)

How many are broken hearted over the Church’s harlotry with the world? Friendship with the world is enmity with God. The temple is not a physical building. It is the Body of Christ, the Church. Is it defiled? Yes! Why? The ways of God are being replaced with the ways of the world in the hearts of those called by the name of Christ. What did Ezra do in his day? He repented and prayed and God broke the hearts of those who loved Him. This caused them to pray and stand with Ezra as he tearfully approached the Throne of Grace to seek the face of God and His forgiveness and cleansing. Who is doing this today for the Church?

1 Now while Ezra was praying, and while he was confessing, weeping, and bowing down before the house of God, a very large assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept very bitterly. (Ezra 10:1 NKJV)

What are we to do when God convicts us of our sin? We confess and repent don’t we? What about when it is the harlotry of the Church? We need “Ezras” to weep and pray and fast and mourn for the Body of Christ.

2 And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, spoke up and said to Ezra, “We have trespassed against our God, and have taken pagan wives from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this. 3 Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them, according to the advice of my master and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. 4 Arise, for this matter is your responsibility. We also are with you. Be of good courage, and do it.” 5 Then Ezra arose, and made the leaders of the priests, the Levites, and all Israel swear an oath that they would do according to this word. So they swore an oath. 6 Then Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went into the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib; and when he came there, he ate no bread and drank no water, for he mourned because of the guilt of those from the captivity. (Ezra 10:2-6 NKJV)

Why did God use Ezra this way? Of course God knows all things. He already knew what was going on, but Ezra didn’t know until people told him of the faithlessness of the Jews. But, what was it about Ezra that God used here? I submit that it was this:

10 For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel. (Ezra 7:10 NKJV)

Have you set your heart to know God’s Law and to do it? We aren’t justified by obedience to the Law. No, we are justified by faith. However, those who are also have the Law of God written on their hearts. Godly people live godly lives and that means they are spiritually strengthened by God to obey His Law. Their part is to know God and His ways and to obey Him in all things. That’s what it means to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it. There are some Ezra’s in the Church now, but we need more. We need those who are broken-hearted over the harlotry of the Church and the worldliness that has consumed most churches. We need those who mourn and pray and God uses to tell the truth so that the Holy Spirit can break the hearts of those who tremble at God’s Word.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


4 thoughts on “The nature of genuine repentance

  1. Amen.
    Whenever the word repentance is mentioned, Judas Iscariot comes to my mind. He repented, too. Matt 27:3 says that he “repented [unto] himself. ” Not unto God and life, but repented [unto] himself. What a warning for us considering the manner and consequences of his repentance.


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