The Gift Less Loved
Author: Dan Gabbert
Publish date:
Summary: Have you ever received a gift from someone that you knew from the start you would never use?

Have you ever received a gift from someone that you knew from the start you would never use? Where did it end up? On a shelf in your closet? The Goodwill store in some far-off city where the giver of the gift would never know you discarded it? Or maybe you misused the gift.

When I was a young boy, my dad gave me $5 to buy my mom a Mother's Day gift. To make a long story short, I ended up spending over $4 on a toy I thought I couldn't live without. With the remainder of the money I got from Dad, I bought a ten-cent card and a fifty-cent hat pin for Mom. I believe we often do some of the same kinds of things with the precious gifts God offers us.

A Misunderstood Gift

There is one gift in particular that quite often seems to be misunderstood, misused, and laid aside. It is spoken of in Acts 5:31: "Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins." No, I'm not focusing on the wonderful gift of forgiveness, but rather, repentance, the gift that often seems to be "less loved."

There are two irreplaceable ingredients for anyone to have a vibrant and healing salvation experience through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance is one of those ingredients. We read of these necessary ingredients in Acts 20:21,"Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" . These same ingredients are seen in the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus Himself was preaching.

Notice the words of Christ found in Mark 1:15, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel." Do you see it? Jesus specified repentance and faith as requirements for entering the kingdom of God. "Repent and believe (have faith)," He said. Do you desire to grow in your saving love relationship with your Saviour? Along with faith, repentance must be an integral part of your experience.

A Necessary Gift

What's so wonderful about this gift? When properly understood and healthfully used, it actually enables us to make healing, godly changes in our responses to things that trouble us (including sin). Steps to Christ gives us a simple picture of true repentance:

Repentance includes sorrow for sin and a turning away from it. We shall not renounce sin unless we see its sinfulness; until we turn away from it in heart, there will be no real change in the life (23).

The original Greek word from which the word repent is translated into English, means "to think differently" or "change one's mind for the better." So the first thing to understand is that repentance is a change in thinking, which means a change of heart. Healing repentance is a gift from God because He's the only One who can change our hearts.

True godly repentance then, must begin in my thinking. It begins with a willingness, by faith, to resolutely turn away from my sinful way of thinking about the people and situations in my life, and, by faith, determinedly replace that unhealthy way of thinking with Christ's way of thinking. God has given us His Word, the Bible, so we can know exactly what repentant thought He would have us replace each of our unhealthy sinful thoughts with.

Receiving the Gift

When you are convicted of sin (see John 16:8–9) and turn to God in prayer with heart sorrow for your sin, when you earnestly desire to turn away from your old damaging way of thinking and begin replacing those sinful thoughts with God's thoughts found in the Bible, then you are cooperating with the Holy Spirit and can receive God's wonderful gift of repentance. Notice this precious description of godly repentance found in 2 Corinthians 7:10–11:

For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter (emphases added).

Repentance is a Process

A vital insight for us as growing children of God is that repentance is a process, not a one-time event. As we've just seen in Mark 1:15, Jesus came preaching repentance towards God and belief in the Gospel.

What's so interesting about this text is that both verbs "repent" and "believe" in the original Greek are in the present tense. Present tense in the Greek means not only that the action of the verb is taking place at the present time, but also that the action is linear or continual! We must continually turn away from unhealthy thoughts to believe (trust, put our faith in) and practice the new Christlike replacement thoughts that the Lord showed us from His Word.

Simply put: belief and repentance are not one-time events. They are ongoing processes. Why must repentance and believing be a process? Because physiologically, to change an old unhealthy habit of thinking to a new healthy Christlike habit of thinking takes time and practice. Just as it takes time for a little child to learn by practice how to walk using two limbs instead of four, with some falls along the way, so it is with godly repentance.

Pitfalls to Misunderstanding the Gift

When we don't understand this process of repentance, we often fail to experience the transforming repentance of God. We worry and fret and fear ourselves out of a healing relationship with Jesus in two ways:

1. We change outward actions without changing our thoughts about the temptation. Yet without a godly Biblical renewal in our thoughts about the tempting situation, the change is only outward, often to guard our reputation or to protect ourselves from the negative consequences of getting caught. This often leads to thinking it isn't possible to live victoriously.

2. We respond to the convictions of God's Holy Spirit and sincerely turn away from saying or doing something sinful and then a short time later, fall back into the same sin like a child learning to walk. This troubles us because we were very sincere when we repented, but because we fall back into the old sinful habit, we wonder if our repentance was real.

What tripped us up? Quite often we carry the idea that repenting once means never repeating that sin again. And in some cases, this is true. However, many of us were never taught that cooperation with the Holy Spirit's empowering grace to eternally change a sinful way of thinking and responding to be like Christ requires a repeated and faith-filled resolute turning away from the old sinful path of thinking and responding, and by faith, determinedly practicing the new Christlike way until it becomes the new dominant habit of thinking and responding. (See Ephesians 4:22–32; Colossians 3:8–10.)

For many of the sins the Lord convicts us to lay aside, just as a little child learns to walk by imitating his parent, there will probably be some falls along the way, in our sincere and best efforts to copy Christ. That is why repentance is a process and not a one-time event.

Does the Spirit of Prophecy verify this? Yes! Signs of the Times tells us: "repentance is a daily, continued exercise, lasting until mortality is swallowed up of life" (November 26, 1894, par. 7). SDA Bible Commentaries shares this important concept in this way:

Repentance for sin is the first fruits of the working of the Holy Spirit in the life. It is the only process by which infinite purity reflects the image of Christ in His redeemed subjects. In Christ all fullness dwells. Science that is not in harmony with Him is of no value. He teaches us to count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord. This knowledge is the highest science that any man can reach (emphasis added, SDA Bible Commentaries Volume 6: 1068).

SDA Bible Commentaries also says this:

The life we live is to be one of continual repentance and humility. We need to repent constantly, that we may be constantly victorious. When we have true humility, we have victory. The enemy never can take out of the hand of Christ the one who is simply trusting in His promises (emphasis added, SDA Bible Commentaries Volume 7: 959).

To "repent constantly" means to keep bringing our thoughts back to think Christ's thoughts about anything and everything we daily face. This is the healing precursor to a Christ-like outward response to people and situations. (See also Philippians 2:5; 2 Corinthians 10:3–5.)

The Role of the Will

Now here's an important point: as sincere children of God in our efforts to think like Jesus (Philippians 2:5) and walk like Jesus (1 John 2:6) in true God-given repentance, we have no more desire to sin than does a child desire to fall down while learning to walk like his dad. Attractive as it may be, the idea that it will be OK to knowingly continue choosing to sin, to continue to remain crawling on all fours, is not in the mindset of someone experiencing God's true gift of repentance.

Though he may be strongly tempted, in the heart of the child of God who is in the grace-empowered faith practice of thinking and walking like Christ, there will be no desire to blame others for his falls. That humbled child of God is freed from excuse-making. Any reasoning that condones continuance in sin will not be considered in that repentant individual's heart (Romans 6:12–15.)

Oh, and one more thing. In a child's sincere desire and efforts to practice walking like his daddy, his father does not condemn him for his falls; and neither does God condemn you in your sincere desire and faith-filled efforts to think and walk like Jesus. (See John 8:11; 1 John 3:20.) And remember, it is not how far you have advanced in your ability to think Christ's thoughts or to walk as He walked that counts with God, but your sincere and willing mind to do the best you can with the knowledge and strength you have to continue learning and practicing Christ's ways of responding to life and people. (See 1 John 2:6.) Repentance is a vital ingredient in this healing experience. Faith and Works shares this hope-filled reality in this way:

Christ looks at the spirit, and when He sees us carrying our burden with faith, His perfect holiness atones for our shortcomings. When we do our best, He becomes our righteousness (102, see also 2 Corinthians 8:11–12.)

Our Feelings and Repentance

What role do feelings have in true godly repentance? This is an important thing to understand. Repentance is not dependent upon experiencing some kind of feeling or emotion. There may or may not be feelings connected with true repentance, but feelings are not solid evidence that someone has truly repented.

A bank robber might feel extremely bad for robbing a bank and getting caught. But those bad feelings are not proof that he's changed his mind about stealing. Until that thief is willing to surrender to the convictions of the Holy Spirit, and by faith, make a heart decision to accept Jesus Christ as his Saviour and Lord and cooperate with the Lord's empowering grace to resolutely change his way of thinking about banks and the wealth they contain, he has not truly repented. Selected Messages gives us a caution:

A repentance caused by a spasmodic exercise of the feelings is a repentance that needs to be repented of; for it is delusive. A violent exercise of the feelings, which does not produce in you the peaceable fruits of righteousness, leaves you in a worse state than you were in before (volume 1: 108).

Ministry of Healing explains why:

It is not wise to look to ourselves and study our emotions. If we do this, the enemy will present difficulties and temptations that weaken faith and destroy courage. Closely to study our emotions and give way to our feelings is to entertain doubt and entangle ourselves in perplexity. We are to look away from self to Jesus (249).

Many who claim to be Christians are in danger of rending their garments, making an outward show of remorse and repentance, when their hearts are not softened or contrite. This is the reason why so many continue to make failures in the Christian life. An outward appearance of sorrow is manifested for wrong, but their repentance is not that repentance that needeth not to be repented of [2 Corinthians 7:10] (emphases added, Manuscript Releases volume 12: 403).

Esau's Mistake

Hebrews 12:17 speaks of Esau who "found no place of repentance, though he sought it bitterly with tears" (Genesis 27:30–41). The reason? There was no Christ-like change in his thinking.

How does someone get trapped into finding no place of repentance? Our archenemies, Satan and his evil angels, plant unhealthy ideas and even feelings into our minds, knowing that if we start dwelling on those ideas and feelings, they will grow stronger and stronger until they overwhelm us and lead us into doubt, fear, and ultimately, into thinking there is "no place of repentance" for us. Just as a mustard seed of faith can grow into a mighty healing plant of courage and hope, so a tiny seed of doubt can grow into a devastating weed of fear and hopelessness. Here is how Steps to Christ describes Satan's way of working to trap and destroy us:

When the mind dwells upon self, it is turned away from Christ, the source of strength and life. Hence it is Satan's constant effort to keep the attention diverted from the Saviour and thus prevent the union and communion of the soul with Christ. The pleasures of the world, life's cares and perplexities and sorrows, the faults of others, or your own faults and imperfections—to any or all of these he will seek to divert the mind. Do not be misled by his devices. Many who are really conscientious, and who desire to live for God, he too often leads to dwell upon their own faults and weaknesses, and thus by separating them from Christ he hopes to gain the victory (71).

Getting Free of Satan's Trap

But praise God, we do not have to stay trapped! Listen to how inspiration communicates this reality:

There are thoughts and feelings suggested and aroused by Satan that annoy even the best of men; but if they are not cherished, if they are repulsed as hateful, the soul is not contaminated with guilt, and no other is defiled by their influence (Review and Herald, March 27, 1888.)

We should not make self the center and indulge anxiety and fear as to whether we shall be saved. All this turns the soul away from the Source of our strength. Commit the keeping of your soul to God, and trust in Him. Talk and think of Jesus. Let self be lost in Him. Put away all doubt; dismiss your fears. Say with the apostle Paul, "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." Galatians 2:20. Rest in God. He is able to keep that which you have committed to Him. If you will leave yourself in His hands, He will bring you off more than conqueror through Him that has loved you (Steps to Christ: 72).

Motivation Found in Love for Christ

Dear friends, I'm convinced that this victorious healing process of godly repentance can only be sustained if we are motivated by love for Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:14–15.) And this empowering motivation can only be acquired through the work of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts as we daily take time in the Word of God to behold the life of our sacrificially loving Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to know Him as He really is. (See 2 Corinthians 3:18; John 17:3.)

Repentance is born in the heart by beholding the love of Christ, who gave His life to save the sinner. It is the goodness of God, manifested in Christ, that softens the heart. It is the virtue that goes forth from Jesus that inspires the purpose of the soul to turn away from sin. We do not repent in order that God may love us, but God reveals his love to us that we may repent. Thus repentance is not the ground of God's love toward us, but the fruit of that love ("General Conference Bulletin," December 1, 1895).

By determinedly taking time daily in God's Word to dwell upon Christ Jesus, His life of loving service, His death, His intercession for us, we are placing ourselves in a position for the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts to be like His, filled with the love of God (See 2 Corinthians 3:17–18; Isaiah 53). And the more our hearts are transformed by the Holy Spirit, the more freedom we can experience from doubts, anxiety, fear, sadness, sorrow, damaging anger, and "finding no place of repentance." That is why Jesus told us in John 8:31–32, "If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

God's Call for Your Life

Beloved, here is God's call for our lives, 2 Corinthians 7:1:

Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (See also 1 John 3:2–3).

Are you longing to personally experience this heavenly calling? Lay claim upon the wonderful gift of Spirit-inspired repentance! I hope these insights will be an encouragement to you, precious reader. Repentance, the gift "less-loved" by some, can truly become one of the gifts "best-loved" by us in our journey of becoming more like our "most-loved" friend Jesus. (See 1 John 2:5–6.)

If we are willing to diligently practice thinking His thoughts and responding in His ways, our loving Saviour will bring us off more than conquerors in this battle for our minds. We will be eternally grateful for His amazing gift of repentance.

Courage! Pastor Dan

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