May 2, 2016

U-turn: a difficult spiritual maneuver

by Clint Archer

uturnEvery man feels like he’s a good driver. But there is one maneuver that is challenging to perform, even for the most skilled driver: the U-turn. Most men will avoid this humiliating admission of fallibility at all costs, leading to some lengthy and circuitous routes as we choose providence over cartography to guide us to the elusive destination.

The help-meet God gave male drivers is the GPS navigation system. It’s a cool gadget which tricks our egos into believing it’s manly to listen to a British woman tell us when and where we need to turn.

I was once driving from Napa to the San Fernando Valley, which is a straight shot on a major freeway. But I dutifully activated my GPS, just to be safe. The lady’s voice confirmed that I was getting on the correct freeway; then she kept quiet for six hours, lulling me into a false sense of security. Suddenly she piped up that it was time to take the next exit. But what GPS lady did not realize was that by now I was in a part of the city which I recognized, so her services were no longer necessary. I turned the volume off and kept driving, as captain of my car.

After about 15 minutes I no longer knew where I was. I sheepishly turned the volume back up. The lady was calmly telling me to make a U-turn. I detected a twinge of smugness in her serene imperative. I figured she was still trying to get me back to that exit, but that was way behind me now, so she obviously didn’t know what she was talking about. I ignored her and looked for the next exit, which never came. Eventually I looked carefully at the digital map and realized that the only way back was the humiliating U-turn. I obeyed every following instruction right until I heard her self-satisfied words “Arriving at destination.”

In the third chapter of Jonah 600,000 gentiles do what I should have done: the moment they are told to, they make an instant U-turn.

We can tweeze out of this narrative four examples on which we can model our repentance.

After Jonah preached a pithy and pointed declaration of pending judgment, we read this in Jonah 3:5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.

1. Faith

The first example to emulate here is that they “believed God.” True repentance requires faith. Repent and believe are imperatives that go together like aim and shoot. You need both to hit your target.

Repentance without faith is called remorse. This is when you feel badly about what you have done, but do not trust God to forgive you. In the style of Cain, and Esau, and Judas.

You need to believe in Jesus for your repentance to be genuine. It is him you have sinned against, and him you need to be restored to.

2. Humility

Another exemplary reaction is the Ninevites’ humility. Jonah 3:6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.gps

The king got off his throne and dressed like a poor man, sitting in ashes. He knew it is always inappropriate to act high and mighty before God, but especially when you are asking for forgiveness. Humble actions come from what is happening in the heart.

When you repent, you cannot cling to accomplishments of things you’ve done right. None of that counts. Showing externally what is happening internally is a good way express contrition.

3. Comprehensiveness

Jonah 3:7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water,

Remember that this king didn’t have the Law of Moses. He didn’t know how to respond to Jonah’s warning but he wanted to show that there was no area of his kingdom that was immune to repentance. Everyone and everything must be humble, which explains the repenting cows.

But it shows an important aspect of true repentance: it is total. It’s comprehensive. We don’t cut out one sin, while tenaciously clinging to another. We don’t give up some of our pride, but all of it.

We take up our crosses and declare, “Everything I own, do, love, have, or want, is up for grabs. You can tell me to let go of anything and everything, and I will, do it.” It’s an unconditional surrender that secures our complete forgiveness.

4. Reversal

It doesn’t help to do a U-turn and then just park. You need to retrace your route and get back to where you went wrong.

Jonah 3:8 … Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.

Repentance is a reversal in action and attitude. It’s a change of heart and of mind and of direction in life.

It’s one thing to try cut back on some unprofitable habits. It’s another to repent of sin. Repenting of sin means you do the opposite of what you were doing. It is a turning from sin to God.

Eph 4:22-24 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, …..

And what is the result of genuine repentance? It is a very predictable result: forgiveness.

Jonah 3:10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

God never changes in his character, but he always changes his dealing with sinners when they repent. In that way he is perfectly unchanging and predictable. Every time anyone repents, God forgives. That does not mean consequences will be taken away in this life, but it does mean there is no punishment after death.

This is exactly why Jonah threw a hissy-fit at God: Jonah 4:2 … That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.

Or as Paul would say with a far more positive and grateful tone: Rom 10:13 everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Don’t pass up the blessing of eternal life because you are too stubborn to listen to God’s GPS warning. Humble yourself and make a U-turn today. Turn from your sin and turn to the open arms of a loving and forgiving Savior.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
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  • Alex

    If listening to an electronic, British woman give me turn-by-turn directions isn’t manly, then I don’t know what is. I’m only an ejection seat and machine-gun headlights away from 007 status.

    But in all seriousness, thank you for the article. I think it is sometimes easy to relegate repentance to the initial stages of the Christian life – as if we don’t need to hear the chastisement of “recalculating” from time to time. And it is helpful to be reminded that repentance always follows the same pattern (faith, humility, comprehensiveness, reversal) – whether it is repentance of unbelievers leading to salvation, or the repentance of wayward believers turning in pursuit of Christ.

  • Vincent

    This is great and practical. I have a question? So does that mean the difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow is basically faith in Jesus and faith that Gid will forgive you when you ask Him, while worldly sorrow is feeling “bad” about something with the absence of faith in God and also not believeing or having faith that God is the forgiver of sins?