A Call to Repentance

by Mike Ratliff

8 He came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 9 For on the first of the first month he began to go up from Babylon; and on the first of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, because the good hand of his God was upon him. 10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel. Ezra 7:8-10 (NASB) 

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 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 onto 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 do not “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 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 mens’ 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 wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. Matthew 16:24-25 (NASB) 

21 But He warned them and instructed them not to tell this to anyone, 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 up on the third day.”
23 And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. 25 For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Luke 9:21-26 (NASB) 

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 And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. Matthew 27:50-51 (NASB) 

What did this signify? The Law was completely fulfilled in Christ. There is no longer any need of 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 Therefore, since 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 One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NASB) 

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 Now when these things had been completed, the princes approached me, saying, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, according to their abominations, those 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 for their sons, so that the holy race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands; indeed, the hands of the princes and the rulers have been foremost in this unfaithfulness.” 3 When I heard about this matter, I tore my garment and my robe, and pulled some of the hair from my head and my beard, and sat down appalled. Ezra 9:1-3 (NASB) 

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 on account of the unfaithfulness of the exiles gathered to me, and I sat appalled until the evening offering. Ezra 9:4 (NASB) 

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 But at the evening offering I arose from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees and stretched out my hands to the LORD my God; 6 and I said, “O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens. 7 Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt, and on account of our iniquities we, our kings and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity and to plunder and to open shame, as it is this day. 8 But now for a brief moment grace has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us an escaped remnant and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage. 9 For we are slaves; yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.
10 “Now, our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken Your commandments, 11 which You have 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 end to end and with their impurity. 12 So now do not give your daughters to their sons nor take their daughters to your sons, and never seek their peace or their prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it as an inheritance to your sons forever.’ 13 After all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and our great guilt, since You our God have requited us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us an escaped remnant as this, 14 shall we again break Your commandments and intermarry with the peoples who commit these abominations? Would You not be angry with us to the point of destruction, until there is no remnant nor any who escape? 15 O LORD God of Israel, You are righteous, for we have been left an escaped remnant, as it is this day; behold, we are before You in our guilt, for no one can stand before You because of this.” Ezra 9:5-15 (NASB) 

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 making confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the house of God, a very large assembly, men, women and children, gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept bitterly. Ezra 10:1 (NASB) 

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 Ezra’s to weep and pray and fast and mourn for the Body of Christ.

2 Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. 3 So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord 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, but we will be with you; be courageous and act.”
5 Then Ezra rose and made the leading priests, the Levites and all Israel, take oath that they would do according to this proposal; so they took the oath. 6 Then Ezra rose from before the house of God and went into the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib. Although he went there, he did not eat bread nor drink water, for he was mourning over the unfaithfulness of the exiles. Ezra 10:2-6 (NASB) 

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 set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel. Ezra 7:10 (NASB) 

Have you set your heart to know God’s Law and to practice 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!