Tag Archives: righteousness

2. Step #2: Heed Jesus’ Call For Repentance

Our first lesson was on acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah. Well, if we accept that Jesus is Messiah and Lord, the one sent to save and to rule over all – then we need to listen to what he says to us.

And his message is summed up in our focus verse for this lesson from Matthew 4:17:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

This is the second step to new life in Jesus. We begin with the question . . .

What is repentance?

Jesus’ parable in Matthew 21:28-31 gives us a nice definition of repentance. He said,

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?”

The answer, of course, is the first son. He changed his mind and did his father’s will. And this is a good way of explaining what repentance means – We change our minds and begin to do our heavenly Father’s will. This leads us to the next question . . .

Why do we need to repent?

We need to repent because we all give in to our “flesh.” That is, our human desires that lead us to do things that are sinful, evil and wrong. This is human weakness that leads us to be self-centered instead of focused on God and doing what is right.

As Jesus said in Mark 14:38, “the flesh is weak.” He means weak with regard to doing God’s will. God asks us to some things that are hard (as we will see below); and it seems easier to do our own thing than to try to do what God asks of us. We want what we desire, what is easy, what is comfortable.

We also all give in to “the world,” that is, the people, values and ideas in this world that are not submitted to God and thus pressure us to sin. We give in to this peer pressure; we go along with the crowd. We don’t want to look silly or un-cool.

Jesus said in Matthew 18:7 – “Woe to the world for temptations to sin!” The world is all about tempting and pressuring us to sin.

And behind all of this is Satan, the ruler of this world (Luke 4:5-6), who seeks to tempt us and pressure us to sin. He tests us by putting us into difficult situations, circumstances that test us, or tragedies that try us. And then he tells us, ‘its alright to sin; to act on your desires, to give in to your weaknesses, to take the easy (but wrong) way.’

And the bottom line is that, we have all given in. We have all sinned and done what is wrong. Jesus spoke of this in several places.

Jesus said that all Israel were sinners. Luke 13:1-5 says,

“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’”

Jesus said that all Galileans and all those who live in Jerusalem (all Israel) were sinners in need of repentance. And if the people of God (Israel) were all sinners, how much more the rest of the world that did not even know God?

Jesus also spoke of humanity as “evil” in Matthew 7:11. We have all sinned.

A summary of repentance

Given all this, repentance means having a change of heart and mind that leads us to turn away from our sins, our selfish desires which are the root of our sins, and as well, the world and Satan who pressure us to sin – in order to live a new live according to God’s will from now on.

So there is a backward looking part – turning away from our sins, and a forward looking part – living a new kind of life. Now lets look a bit more at the backward part. That’s because repentance means we have to . . .

Deal with past wrongdoing

This includes our acts of sin against God and others. In other words, we don’t just stop doing wrong, we deal with the fact that we have done wrong things.

We are to confess our sins: An example of this comes from the story of the prodigal son. After he squandered his father’s money he came back and said, “Father I have sinned against heaven and before you” – Luke 15:18. It takes complete honesty; you have to come clean about what you have done.

We are to be humble and sorrowful: Again from the example of the prodigal son, he said to his father, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants” – Luke 15:19. From another parable Jesus talks about a tax collector who, “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” – Luke 18:13. When you have done what is wrong – humility, sorrow and regret are the appropriate responses.

We are to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions: This includes trying to fix broken relationships. As Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your sister or brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24. This also includes trying to make amends for damage done to others. An instance of this comes from the real life example of Zacchaeus’ repentance. He said, “if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” – Luke 19:8. He had cheated people out of money as a tax collector and he makes amends for it here. He tries to make things right.

If this is the backward looking part of repentance, the forward looking part is to . .

Live a new life according to God’s will

Jesus didn’t just call us to live this new life, he came to show us what it looks like, through his teaching and example. We’ll look at this much more in later lessons, but for now just a few examples:

  • Don’t speak out angry words that tear others down – Matthew 5:21-22. This is a form of murder.
  • Be sexually pure – don’t engage in what God forbids. Matthew 5:27-28 gives one example, lusting after another person sexually.
  • Love your enemies – Matthew 5:43-48. Instead of returning harm for harm, return good for harm. Don’t just love those who treat you well, love those who hate you.
  • Keep your word without swearing promises – Matthew 5:37. Simply let your yes be yes and your no, no.
  • Share your resources with the poor – Luke 12:33. Don’t keep more than you need for yourself. Use your abundance to help those in need.
  • Be a witness for Jesus, even if others ridicule you – Matthew 5:11-12.

Now as you can see from all this . . .

The life Jesus calls us to isn’t easy

That’s because repentance requires us to start all over again with our lives. Matthew 18:3 says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is saying that to follow him, we must relearn how to think and act and live. Just like a child has to learn everything, so we have to start over and learn what it means to live according to the values of the kingdom of God, which are often the polar opposite of how the world thinks and acts.

Repentance also requires us to take the hard road. As Jesus said at the end of his Sermon on the Mount, where he teaches about God’s will, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14. It is easy to go along with the world; the crowd. But “The gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life.” The demands of obedience, of following Jesus, are difficult. And that’s why Jesus teaches us that . . .

It will take your complete commitment

It must be your highest priority in life. As Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” – Matthew 6:33. Following Jesus is not a casual thing, something you do on the side. It must become the supreme focus of your life, even above providing for your material needs (your career), which is the context of this verse.

It involves sacrifice. “And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” – Matthew 18:8-9. We must be willing to make whatever sacrifice we need to, to enter the kingdom. We cut off whatever gets in our way.

It will cost you everything. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” – Matthew 13:44. We must be willing to give up everything, in order to gain it.

Because it takes our complete commitment, Jesus calls us to “count the cost” of what it means to follow after him in the path of life. Luke 14:25-33 says,

“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.’”

Jesus is saying, understand what you are getting into, and make sure you are willing to do what it takes to meet the demands of repentance – before you choose to follow him.

Now, having said all this and emphasizing the demand of God upon us, let me also say at the end . . .

Repentance and new life is possible with God’s help

We can’t do this in our own strength. That’s for sure. God has to come in and change our hearts. And God has to strengthen us to do what he asks of us.  We will look at this in our next lesson.

William Higgins

4. A New Life Of Righteousness

In lessons 4-12 we will look at nine characteristics of what this new life in Jesus looks like, as we heed Jesus’ teaching and follow his example. This lesson gives an overview of what new life in Jesus looks like with regard to a morality that is different than the way the world lives.

The focus verse comes from Luke 6:46. Jesus said,

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”

This obviously makes the point that if we call Jesus Lord; if we acknowledge him to be the Messiah, we must do what he says. It is meaningless to call him Lord and then do your own thing.

But what does it mean to do what Jesus says, when it comes to a new moral code? First of all . . .

Jesus agreed with what was taught by Moses and the prophets

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them . . . .” – Matthew 5:17. [Follow the link for more on the question Should Christians Obey the Law of Moses?]

Here are some examples of his upholding the teaching of the Law:

  • When the rich young ruler asked what he must do to enter life (or the resurrection), Jesus said, “You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'” – Luke 18:20. Jesus quotes to him several of the ten commandments.
  • He also condemns “sexual immorality” – Mark 7:21. [Follow the link for more scriptural teaching on Sexual Purity]

There are many other examples, but the point is that Jesus agreed with Old Testament teaching.

But, we also have to take note of what he says in the rest of Matthew 5:17, “I have not come to abolish the Law or the prophets, but to fulfill them.” Jesus came to perfect or to bring to completion what was taught by Moses. He does this in several ways . . .

Jesus fulfills the Law by giving it a perfect focus

Of all the commandments in the Old Testament (Orthodox Judaism lists 613) which are more important or central? Does it have to do with purity laws (the Pharisees) or the Temple procedures (the Sadducees)?

Jesus highlights a different focus, citing what he calls the two greatest commandments. In Matthew 22:37-40 he says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

So, love of God and others is the focus of it all and how you pull it all together.

Jesus also fulfills the Law by raising it to a higher standard

Jesus taught a form of righteousness (or God’s will) that went beyond Moses and the practice of Moses by the teachers of his day. He raised the bar of God’s moral code. Again, his teaching doesn’t do away with Moses, rather it builds on it and intensifies it.

To put it another way, what Jesus is really doing is showing us more clearly what loving God and loving others looks like.  Here are some examples:

1. Put aside destructive anger. In Matthew 5:21-22 Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, (that is by Moses and the prophets) ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be liable to judgment . . . and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” God is not just concerned with physical murder. God is also concerned with our anger that strikes out to insult and verbally tear down another person. This goes beyond Moses.

2. Don’t lust after another person. In Matthew 5:27-28 Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus teaches us here that faithfulness to our spouse also includes not looking at another with lust. This goes beyond what Moses taught.

3. Keep you marital commitment. In Matthew 5:31 Jesus said, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’” Moses permitted divorce.

Here I skip to Matthew 19:6, where Jesus gives a more concise answer. He says that when two people marry – “They are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” So he teaches that we are to keep our covenant of marriage even when it is very difficult. (Jesus only allows divorce between two believers when the marriage has already been broken by an act of sexual immorality – Matthew 19:9).

4. Keep your promises without swearing oaths. In Matthew 5:33-37 Jesus said, “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not break your oath, but carry out the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool . . . Let your word be ‘Yes,’ ‘Yes,’ or ‘No,’ “No,’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” Moses allowed promissory oaths.

But Jesus teaches, instead of swearing promises – “I will do this, I swear,” simply be a person of your word. Just say “yes” or “no” and leave God and God’s name out of it.

5.  Love your enemies. In Matthew 5:43-44 Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . ..” Moses taught that under certain circumstances we can return harm for harm, for instance during a war.

Jesus teaches us that we are not only to love our neighbors – those who are like us and do good to us – we are also to  love our enemies. Instead of returning harm for harm, we are to give good in return for evil, even with our enemies. [Follow the link for more scriptural teaching on Jesus’ command to Love Your Enemies.]

6. Don’t condemn others. In Luke 6:37 Jesus said, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Moses taught that you should judge sin in others’ lives, even with the death penalty in some cases.

Jesus teaches us that when we see someone else sin, we are to respond with mercy, just as God has had mercy on us. We are not to dismiss them, or look down on them as condemned by God; or seek to harm them. Rather, we are to work and pray for their repentance. And if they have sinned against us, we are to give mercy and even forgive them when they repent.

7. Share your wealth. In Luke 12:33 Jesus said, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail . . ..”  Jesus is saying, don’t keep more than you need for yourself, for your comfort and security. Use your abundance to help those in need. This goes way beyond what Moses taught on giving tithes.

Finally, . . .

Jesus fulfills the Law by calling us to give up our entire lives out of love for God and others

Jesus taught in Mark 8:34-35 – “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

If what we saw before dealt with seven specific examples of the new life, this is the whole of what God wants from us. God wants all of us. Every part of us. Self-denial and taking up the cross is the summary of the Christian life.

This is what Jesus did when he came, served and died on the cross – out of love for God and others. And this is what Jesus call us to do, to lose our lives out of love for God and others. We are to deny ourselves and our selfishness. We are to give up our lives; our ambitions in order to do whatever God tells us to do.

Three things to remember

1. Obedience is not optional. Although we are saved by what Jesus did for us on the cross, he does require us to obey. As Jesus said at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:20, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” And as he said at the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

This last verse shows us that even some who acknowledge Jesus as Messiah and Lord, will not make it in. Only the ones who do what Jesus teaches.

2. God makes our obedience possible. Obedience is only possible because God makes it possible for us. Otherwise it is too hard.

When the rich young ruler thought that God’s way was too hard, Jesus said, “What is impossible with people (or – mere humans), is possible with God.” – Luke 18:27 (NLT). Jesus said in a time of real testing, that although the flesh is weak, “the Spirit indeed is willing” – Mark 18:38. The Spirit helps us in our weakness to do God’s will. The Spirit of God enables us to obey.

3. When we fail, we seek forgiveness and renewal. Jesus taught us to pray regularly, “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” – Luke 11:4. He also said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” – Matthew 6:14.

When we do fail; when we give in to the weakness of our flesh (our fears and insecurities); when we don’t rely on the strength of the Spirit – we seek God’s forgiveness.

William Higgins