17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants’” (Luke 15:17–19, NKJV).
The change of heart that led to merciful forgiveness in the parable of the wasteful son is well known. God is ready to receive back every sinner who comes to himself. God’s divine mercy impelled Solomon to pray about Israel coming to itself after sinning against the Lord. While dedicating the temple, Solomon petitioned God to hear the prayers of His people after their sins brought His anger and punishment upon them (1 Kings 8:46). He prayed, “Yet when they come to themselves in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You…saying, ‘We have sinned and done wrong, we have committed wickedness’; and when they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul…grant them compassion…” (1 Kings 8:47-53). God is ready to forgive us and receive us with loving compassion when we decide to come to ourselves and repent. Coming to ourselves about our sins takes admitting them (to ourselves and God, Ps. 51:3-4). It takes turning our hearts and lives back to God. Repentance leading to salvation is more than being sorry for sin. It is a radical change of heart that leads us to obey God instead of sin (2 Cor. 7:9-10).
17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. 18 The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit (Psalm 34:17–18, NKJV).
It is comforting to know the Lord hears the cries of the righteous in their time of trouble. Through the psalmist David, the Holy Spirit explains who the righteous are that God hears and saves. It is “those who have a broken heart…such as have a contrite spirit.” God’s deliverance from sin’s crushing weight is available to all of us (1 Tim. 2:4; Rom. 1:16). But God’s salvation from sin’s trouble is received by the person who approaches Him with a heart burst into pieces because of sin. Crushed and crumbling in spirit, this is the picture of godly sorrow that produces “repentance leading to salvation” (2 Cor. 7:10). The broken heart, the contrite spirit, no longer sees sin as desirable, alluring, exciting, and fulfilling. Convicted by its shameful disgrace against the Almighty, sin’s abhorrence and destruction are acknowledged (Ps. 51:3). We must come to ourselves like the prodigal son and realize the end of our sin is eternal death (Rom. 6:23). Today is the moment not to harden our hearts toward God and our sins against Him (Heb. 3:7-13). The Lord is near, wanting, willing, and waiting to save souls troubled by sin. Come to God with convicted hearts of faith, crushed in humble sorrow by sin, and obey Him. God will hear and save you (Acts 2:37-41).
7 I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel; My heart also instructs me in the night seasons. 8 I have set the Lord always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved. 9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will rest in hope. 10 For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. 11 You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:7–11, NKJV)
Who is your counsellor? God had become David’s counsellor. God’s word instructed David and turned his heart to thankful praise for God’s guidance and assurances. In the night, David’s emotions yearned for God’s continual presence. The guidance and powerful comfort of God’s hand enriched his heart with gladness, removing doubts during troublesome times. David was secure because God was with him (“I shall not be moved,” v. 8). He lived in the hope of future life with God beyond the grave. God would make it so. His “Holy One” would not see corruption. David’s hope was fulfilled when Jesus, his seed, was resurrected (v. 10; Acts 2:27, 31; 13:35-37). David’s hope stirs our souls to follow the example of his faith. God’s “path of life” is where we, too, have “fullness of joy” in God’s presence (v. 11; 2 John 9; 2 Cor. 6:16-18). God’s word is the path of life that leads to eternal pleasures under the watchful guidance of God’s mighty hand (v. 12). Like David, let us praise God for the counsel of His word and rejoice in the hope set before us (Heb. 6:18-19).
24 And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved. 25 So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers, 26 saying, ‘Go to this people and say: “Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand; And seeing you will see, and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them”’ (Acts 28:24–27, NKJV).
Why do some people readily respond to the gospel of salvation? Why do some people reject the gospel and refuse to believe it? The answer is not due to any deficiency in the gospel itself. The gospel is not a distant, inaccessible, and undiscernible message. It has been preached openly to the world (Rom. 10:6-8; Eph. 3:3-5). The answer lies in the heart of the hearer. Isaiah wrote of the dull hearts, heavy ears, and closed eyes of Israel (Isa. 6:9-10). Jesus applied the prophet’s words to His generation (Matt. 13:13-15; 15:7-9). Christ also taught parables that illustrated hard hearts that prevent the gospel’s penetration and saving power (Matt. 13:18-19). Do not marvel when the truth of the gospel is rejected, scorned, and denounced. The problem is not the word of salvation; it is the solution (Rom. 1:16). Honest and good hearts receive the word of God, “keep it and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).
15 Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: 16 The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; 17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. (Philippians 1:15–17, NKJV)
When early Christians were persecuted for their faith, they “went everywhere, preaching the word” (Acts 8:1-4). To “preach Christ” means more than telling about the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel they preached was “the word of the cross,” all of Christ’s truth, the “whole counsel of God” (1 Cor. 1:18-25; Gal. 1:6-9; Acts 20:27; 2 Tim. 4:2-4). Paul knew some did not preach Christ from pure hearts and genuine faith (Phil. 1:12-18). Still, he rejoiced that Christ was preached even when he suffered from these pretenders (Phil. 1:18). In today’s passage, the apostle gives us motives markers for preaching Christ. Our hearts will be judged as well as the content of our message when we preach Christ. The apostle notes that sound gospel preaching includes: 1) Boldness to speak the word without fear (1:14); 2) Goodwill, not envy and strife (1:15); 3) Sincerely (honestly), without selfish ambition or harm to others (1:16); 4) Out of love for God and His truth, for brethren, and the lost (1:17); 5) In truth, not pretense (1:18). When we teach the gospel, let us maintain godly motives. Otherwise, we are little more than “sounding brass or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1).
22 Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. I23 When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. (Acts 11:22–23, NKJV)
We frequently hear about people with hidden agendas. Void of forthrightness, these manipulators lurk in the shadows, pulling strings and massaging situations to achieve their nefarious objectives. These people are not only found in politics and business but also in religion (see Gal. 2:4; Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Pet. 3:1-3; Jude 4). When Barnabas went to Antioch, he encouraged the new converts to take an entirely different and honorable approach. He urged them to continue to have “purpose of heart.” The Christian’s agenda should be open, exposed, not hidden. Our lives are to show our open intention to be faithful to the Lord. Barnabas urged Christians to live with obvious determination, to stand in the grace of God, and live faithfully before others (cf. Rom. 5:1-5). We are the light of the world; therefore, we must not hide our faith (Matt. 5:14-16). May we have the resolve of heart to be loyal to the Lord in the face of spiritual obstacles and those who try to keep us from continuing with the Lord.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8–10, NKJV)
To confess means to acknowledge, “to say the same thing as another, i.e. to agree with, assent…to concede” (Thayer, 446). Confessing our sins requires that we agree with God that we have transgressed His truth; we have sinned. God’s assurance of forgiveness to Christians “if we confess our sins” is bookended with “if we say that we have no sin” (v. 8) and “If we say that we have not sinned” (v. 10). We must acknowledge our sins to ourselves before we can and ever will properly confess them to God (Psa. 32:3-4). We must come to ourselves like the prodigal (Lk. 15:17). God’s word describes this process as godly sorrow producing repentance that leads to salvation (2 Cor. 7:10). With contrite hearts, we admit our sins to ourselves, and with repentance toward God, we confess our sins to Him (Lk. 15:18-19). With such a confession of sins, we fall before the throne of grace seeking mercy, and God keeps His word to cleanse our defilement (1 Jno. 1:9; Psa. 32:5; 51:3-4, 7-12, 17). John says four things happen when we deny our sin: 1) We deceive ourselves, 2) The truth is not in us, 3) We make God a liar, and 4) His word is not in us. God is faithful to forgive us when we trust Him and confess our sins to Him.
32 So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” But after that no one dared question Him. (Mark 12:32–34, NKJV)
Obedience is worthless when it does not come from a heart given to God completely. The scribe in today’s text perceived this truth when Jesus told him the first of all the commandments was to love God fully (Mk. 12:28-30). May we grasp this fundamental truth; Out of the heart comes the obedience that pleases God. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (Jno. 14:15). Without love for God in our hearts, our outward actions of obedience are null and void. Christ calls us to be obedient children, so we will not discount the place of obedience in the Christian’s life (1 Pet. 1:13-16, 22). Obedience from the heart pleases God and frees us from the bondage of sin (Rom. 6:17-18).
21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” 22 But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:21–22, NKJV)
Wanting to follow Jesus is not the same as actually following Him. That may seem obvious, yet we easily convince ourselves we follow Him when the evidence says otherwise. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Doing the Father’s will begins in the heart and produces conduct consistent with the heart’s intention and devotion. This man had kept the commands of God from his youth (Mk. 10:19-20). But he lacked one thing. His heart was greedy and he trusted in riches more than God (Mk. 10:24). His love for personal possessions controlled his conduct toward others. His unwillingness to sell and give exposed his selfish heart. Why do we emphasize complete obedience to Jesus? Not because it earns us treasures in heaven, but because it expresses a heart that loves God “with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mk. 12:30; Rom. 6:17-18). One thing prevented this man from having heavenly treasures. If even one thing is hindering your obedience from the heart, repent, and do what Jesus says (Lk. 6:46). Jesus knows our hearts just like He knew this man’s heart. Do we (2 Cor. 13:5)?
25 And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses. (Mark 11:25–26, NKJV)
Christ teaches us to have a willing heart to forgive those who sin against us. We do not wait until the offender says, “Forgive me” before being ready to forgive. We are to probe our hearts and remove any malice toward one who has sinned against us. True, God grants forgiveness when the sinner petitions Him for relief according to His will (Rom. 10:13; Acts 2:37-38; 22:16). Still, Jesus, Stephen, and Paul illustrate the willing heart of forgiveness before sinners repented of their sinful deeds (Lk. 23:34; Acts 7:59-60; 2 Tim. 4:16). God’s readiness to forgive is our model: “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You. Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; And attend to the voice of my supplications. In the day of my trouble I will call upon You, for You will answer me” (Psa. 86:5-7). God is ready to forgive. Likewise, we must have hearts of forgiveness (Col. 3:12-13). The provision Christ states is unmistakable. If we are holding something against a person, we must forgive to be forgiven.