Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Repentance and Faith
Pastor Steve Schell
Acts 20:15-38
If we really understand something, we can explain it to a child. Even if it’s something very difficult like the theory of relativity. But if all we can do is repeat the words or phrases someone said to us, we don’t understand, we’re simply parroting back what we heard. Particularly when it comes to religious matters, people seem content to dutifully repeat the right words without ever asking themselves the deeper question of, “What did I just say?” The problem is God is always looking at a person’s heart to see if certain attitudes and beliefs are really present. He’s not concerned whether or not we said it right, He wants it to be right. And above everything else, for a person to be saved, God is looking for two things: repentance and faith. Has that person really repented, and does that person really believe? Because if they haven’t, even if they say the right words, they’re still separated from God. And to make matters worse, the process has deceived them into thinking that because they said the right words, they’ve pleased God.

As if he’d walked into a court of law and raised his right hand swearing to tell the truth, Paul called together the Ephesian elders to act as his witnesses, and as if he were under oath, he stood before them and gave an account of the years he spent in their city. This speech is Paul’s evaluation of his ministry among them. Had he faithfully done what God sent him there to do?

This gathering in Miletus is a very important moment. It exposes Paul’s heart. What he talked about that day were the issues that were really important to him. So, if there was ever any doubt as to what Paul considered the central elements of his gospel, this testimony should answer that question once and for all. He says it was two truths that got him in a lot of trouble, and he knew would get him into a lot more. But he testified that he had never stopped proclaiming them, and never would, because they are the truths upon which all salvation is built; they are the realities God looks for in the human heart. So let’s sit with the Ephesian elders and listen to Paul testify. And then let’s try to understand, as deeply as we can, what it means to repent, and what it means to have faith in our Lord Jesus.

Paul’s testimony: DBS (Sun-Mon); Paul, in his own words...

What the elders heard
I believe the Ephesian elders heard Paul say something like this:
You know-because you were there and watched me the whole time-the price I had to pay to tell you the truth about God. I endured humiliation, tears, and trials because what I was saying made people angry, especially the Jews. They repeatedly tried to stop me, but I refused to stop. I kept on preaching and teaching the truth whether I was in large public gatherings or homes, whether I was speaking to Jews or Greeks. I never compromised the gospel in order to protect myself from persecution. I never stopped telling people that they must repent before God and place their faith in the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

Now, I believe it’s God’s will that I go to Jerusalem, even though it’s a very dangerous place for me. I don’t know what might happen when I get there, but I do know this, the Holy Spirit has been continually telling me I’ll be arrested and persecuted. But I’m not going to change course just to stay alive. If I let the fear of dying control me, I’ll never accomplish what God has planned for me. The only way I could protect myself is to stop doing what Jesus told me to do, which is preach God’s grace.

God has also shown me that after I leave, people will come to Ephesus and try to pull as many as they can out of the church. In fact, there are already people attending the church who are just waiting for me to leave, and when I’m gone they’ll start twisting the truth I’ve taught you. Their goal will be to get you to submit to them, because they want to control you. They don’t really love you: they just want to use you. Now listen to me, and watch carefully, so this doesn’t happen. I’m warning you now and I’ve been warning you for the past three years, so this attack should not catch you off guard.

It’s important that you do your job as elders, but the real reason I have confidence that you’ll be able to stay faithful, and make it to heaven, is this: Even though I have to leave you, God won’t. He’ll always be here to protect you, and the gospel of grace that I taught you will never lose its power. It’s able to build you up and give you an inheritance in God’s coming kingdom.

Remember this: I came to Ephesus because God loves you, not because I wanted your money. And I proved that, by working a job while I was there and paying my own bills. I even paid for those who were on my team. I hope you learned by watching me that a believer should work hard so they can give away part of their income to those in need. Remember what Jesus taught us: “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.”

The gospel
When the gospel is preached accurately, it confronts us with a problem and offers us a solution. The problem comes when it exposes our heart and shows us what’s there, and the solution comes when it shows us God’s heart and explains what He did to make it possible for us to come back to Him. Yes, God loves us, but that’s not the gospel, nor does His love alone save us. His love caused Him to do something no one could have guessed He would do. He made a way for us to come back to Him, but that way was incredibly costly to Himself. Through the cross and resurrection, He built a bridge over the deep chasm that separates us from Him; and you might say it’s a narrow bridge, because we’re invited to cross only on His terms. And one of the reasons we must come on His terms is because if we come any other way our heart doesn’t change. Only His way produces a miracle inside us, a changed heart (Heb 8:10-12), so that when we arrive on His side of the bridge we’re not the same person anymore.

The word gospel means “good news,” and the good news is this: God has chosen to give us grace if we will do two things: Repent before Him, and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

Repentance means to change the way we think about God and ourselves. In order to repent, a person must freely acknowledge, and turn away from, the terrible forces inside. All of us have refused to submit to God as our Creator and loving Father, all of us have stubbornly tried to live our lives without His guidance and strength, all of us have chosen, time and again, to put our own needs first, even if we had to hurt other people in the process. The problem is, some people don’t know these things are there. They’ve explained them all away. For one reason or another, all the bad things aren’t their fault. Someone, or something else, is always to blame. In their own minds they’re really a good person.

So, before a person can truly repent, God has to do a miracle. He has to show us the terrible forces inside us, not to make us feel bad about ourselves, but so we will hate the sins and want to be rid of them, and see them as chains that bind us and keep us from coming to Him. When we see what’s actually there, inside us, it’s not a pretty picture. All of us are more sinful than we think. But when God shows it to us, that’s the moment when we are finally able to repent. That’s the moment of decision. Some people gladly rush across that bridge, but some turn back, refusing to see what God has shown them. Either it’s too ugly and they can’t bear to admit it, or they’re enjoying their sin and don’t want to change. They simply aren’t ready to let God lead, or depend on Him for everything, or start living a selfless life. But some are, and God sees their desire. They may understand and mean the words they pray, or their change in attitude may be expressed by a choice they make. However it happens, God looks into that heart and sees a child who loves Him and wants to please Him, one who trusts Him enough to let Him lead, one who’s grown tired of living for themselves, and longs for God’s love to flow through them to others.

The second thing we must do to receive grace is believe what God said about His Son Jesus, and then to reach out with our will and cling to Him as our Savior. After seeing the horrible attitudes that are inside us, after realizing how many times we’ve disobeyed Him and been loveless toward others, we finally understand how desperately we need Him to give us mercy. Now we’re ready to hear His “word of grace.” But just like repentance, it too requires that God does a miracle before we can actually understand it. God must show us that He really did send Jesus to die for us, that He took our place on the cross, that He was punished for our sins, that what should have happened to us, happened to Him, that He died so we could escape death. And God has to reveal this because no amount of logic can finally convince us that He raised Jesus from the dead, literally, physically, or that the resurrection proves that our sins are forgiven and we, too, will live forever in resurrected, physical bodies.

Response (Matthew 25:1-13)
In a parable, Jesus likens these attitudes to a flame burning in a lamp, and He uses this image to warn us that the flame of repentance and faith must still be burning when we see Him face-to-face, either at our death, or when He comes again in the clouds. He’s telling us to trust Him as our Savior all the rest of our lives. He wouldn’t say this if it weren’t possible for the flame to extinguish. Again, simply saying the right words won’t be enough. God looks to see if real repentance and faith are present in our hearts. Jesus’ point is that we would be wise to stay alert and keep our hearts full of both.

1) Is there anyone today who is ready to cross that bridge: To acknowledge and turn away from the terrible forces inside, to submit to God as your Creator and Heavenly Father, who has grown tired of controlling your own life and is ready to surrender completely to the One who’s calling you to cross that bridge?
2) Is there anyone today who is ready to confess that Jesus Christ is God’s Son, who believes that God loved you so much He sent His Son to die in your place so He could rescue you from your sin? Is there anyone who can see the truth that God really did raise Jesus from the dead, literally, physically, and because He rose, you too will live forever?

There are two sides to repentance and faith. God must do His part: Reveal the truth and free us to come. But we must do our part: Choose to repent and decide to place our trust in Jesus Christ. And when we pray, we must mean it, it can’t just be words.

1) Suppose you’re trying to explain how to go to heaven to a young child. What would you say? Make sure you use words they can understand.
2) Can you remember the first time you realized you had a rebellious attitude? What did you do or say that convinced you it was there?
3) When did you really trust Jesus as your Savior? Tell us what happened.  

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