When Sinners Repent

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)

We long for revival.  We proclaim the Gospel of Salvation into the four corners of the world.  We pray that the sinner, the one who does not know Christ nor delight in His righteousness, would repent and turn to Jesus.

But what is our reaction when this actually happens?

Today I was reading the story of King Ahab – whom the author of I Kings says, “He erected an altar for Baal… made an Asherah… did more to provide the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger, than all the kings of Israel” (1 Kings 16:30ff.).  Ahab was a horrid man.  And, at times, he acted like a spoiled two-year-old.

When rebuked by the prophet of the Lord for not killing the king of Syria, Ahab when to his house vexed and sullen.  Again, when Naboth refused to give him his vineyard, Ahab when to his bed “vexed and sullen,” refusing to eat, pouting because he didn’t get his way.  To cheer him up, Jezebel has Naboth falsely accused of cursing God and the King, and immediately stoned to death, just so that Ahab could have a new vegetable garden.

What a wretched man!

Fittingly, Elijah the prophet comes to condemn Ahab and Jezebel.  One of the most vivid prophetic curses comes against these wicked rulers: Ahab would be burned up and cut off, while the dogs would eat Jezebel’s body in the streets. Serve them right, right?

Just when you think that justice will be served, something unimaginable happens – Ahab repents.  He genuinely repents.  He tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, and fasted.  These were signs of penitence, of remorse for one’s sins.  And in mercy, God relented from bringing judgment upon the house of Ahab.  “Because he has humbled himself before me,” God said, “I will not bring this disaster in his days…” (1 Kings 21:29).


What!?!? Seriously!?!?

How could Ahab repent?  Why would God allow that to happen? If ever there was an argument for lightening striking a man down, wouldn’t Ahab be the #1 choice?

How would you have reacted had you been Elijah and you heard God’s decision to withhold punishment because of Ahab’s repentance?  What if you were Naboth’s family?   Here’s a little test, read through the story of Ahab, but instead of saying “Ahab’s” name, insert the another name: ISIS, the Taliban, Donald Trump, Arminianism…  Now how does that repentance sit with you?

Can you understand how Jonah felt when God sent him to proclaim judgment on Ninevah? He knew that if he pronounced judgment, there was a good chance that the people would repent, and that God would be merciful.  The Ninevites were merciless enemies of the people of God; why would Jonah preach to them and give them the opportunity to find grace?

Can you understand how the prodigal’s older brother felt?  He looks out and sees the kid who’s squandered his inheritance in wild and wanton living, only to come home and be received as one who’s come back to life.  And Father wants him to come to the banquet!?

When we pray for the salvation of sinners are we praying for those who have really done a bang-up job of it?  Are we praying for those who have fallen into serious sin, who’s wickedness has caused emotional, financial, and even physical harm to us or those we love?  Do we have our enemies in mind, or are we secretly wishing that God would pour out his wrath upon them?

The grace of God in Jesus Christ is freely offered, but it still has a cost.  It cost the life of the perfect Son of God, and it requires that we take up our cross and follow Him.  We must lay down our lives to live in His grace, letting go of our tight-fisted grip on the old life and the old way of thinking.  In His grace, we die to self-righteousness, so that we might live in the righteousness of Christ.  In that grace, we lay down our desire for vengeance, for retribution, for “just-deserts.”  We forgive, even as we have been forgiven, and we pray for the salvation of our enemies.

The grace we live in, the grace that saves us, is the same grace offered to all who will repent and turn to Christ for their salvation.  There is no difference in the fare.  “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:23-24).  When, by the grace of God, a sinner is brought to life by the Spirit and awakened to the reality of his depravity, receiving and resting in the saving work of Jesus Christ, there is rejoicing in heaven.  Why, then, would we not rejoice here?


Love Covers Sin

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
(I Peter 4:8 ESV)

During a conversation with my confirmation class a while ago, I read 1 Peter 4:8, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”  I can’t be sure what the topic was for that night, we were either discussing the love of God for us in Jesus Christ, or perhaps the topic of forgiveness and grace.  That’s when the perfect question was asked, one that made me look at this text anew.  “Isn’t it a bad thing,” one student innocently asked, “to cover up sin?  Isn’t that like hiding it, rather than dealing with it?”

Immediately I knew exactly where she was coming from.  I remember as kids, my brother and I shared a room.  We both had twin beds on opposite sides of the room, and two big shelves that ran the length of a wall filled with toys.  Well, let me rephrase that, the shelves were built to hold our toys.  They never did.  Instead, the toys were scattered across the floor, on the beds, spilling out of the room.

When Grandma came to visit, my brother and I went furiously to work.  Grandma would come and give an inspection of our rooms, making sure the toys were put away, the clothes folded neatly in the drawers, and the furniture dusted (I swear she once brought a clean white glove).  As boys, rather than putting everything where it belong, we’d usually shove all the toys, clothes (dirty and clean), and anything else that was in our rooms under the bed.  Then we’d straighten the top cover of our beds – making them would be too much work – allowing the blanket to touch the floor hiding the mess under the bed.  If you just looked in the room from the doorway, it appeared clean.

But Grandma never just looked in from the door.  The first place she’d look was under the bed.  One by one she’d pull toys and clothes out of their hiding place, while my brother and I begrudgingly put them back on the shelf where they belonged.  We were then lectured on the importance of cleanliness and tidiness.  We played this game just about every time Grandma came. We were boys; we didn’t learn very quickly.

If this is what is meant by “covering sins,” then yes, I can see where this would be a problem.  Hiding a person’s problems, covering them up, sweeping them under the rug as if they never happened, helps no one.  Unconfessed sin, unaddressed sin, un-dealt-with sin will fester and grow, affecting everything you do.  Eventually you will have to deal with the problem, the sin, whatever it might be, or else it will result in death.  To cover sin, either with lies and excuses, or by saying it isn’t a sin at all, will only compound the sin itself.  This isn’t what the scriptures mean.

When the scriptures talk about covering sin, the image is more of bandaging and healing rather than hiding.  When wounded, a bandage is applied, not so much for hiding, but to foster healing.  Ointments are applied, the area is cleaned, the wound is bound so that to prevent further injury and infection; it has been dealt with and covered. 

This is what God’s love does for us in Christ.  God cannot simply overlook our sin.  Every sin is an offence to our Holy God and must be dealt with in righteousness and holiness.  God, in His love for us, sent His Son to atone for our sins, to pay the redemption price for those who are slaves to sin, to bear the burden of our guilt of sin, to offer forgiveness from the offense of sin.  In Christ, our sins have been covered, they have been dealt with, and when we trust in Him for our salvation, the healing will begin.  Love does not tolerate sin.  Love addresses it for what it is, brings healing and restoration, and puts on the way of righteousness.

There is also a sense in which covering the sin brings protection and comfort.  When a wound is new and raw, your nerves are on edge and the pain is severe.  But the wound can also bring shame and sorrow.  A disfiguring scar, the loss of hair from therapy, the imprint of a wedding band no longer worn because of divorce; we want to hide our wounds, we want to soften the blow.

When love covers sin, it protects and defends, it covers the shame with grace and forgiveness.  Love covers sin like the father who ran out to meet the prodigal son; he embraced his son, covered him with the best robe, placed the signet ring on his barren finger, and walked him back through town, covering him and protecting him from the accusations and scorn of the community he disgraced.  Love covers the sins of the beloved.  Love releases from bondage, turns away from sin, covers with righteousness, and shelters from the accusation of consciousness and community.

This is the love that our heavenly Father has for us.  This is the love that Christ demonstrated on the cross.  This is the love that we are called to share with one another.