Can a Christian truly repent and still have besetting sin? To what extent does Jonah 3 give us a model of repentance? Why take three sermons to talk about repentance? We asked Art Azurdia…
Listen to sermon (Jonah 3:5-9 ):
Why break up chapter three into three smaller chunks, and take more time with this section?
I felt the need to press into this issue of repentance, really unpacking what it is and what it looks like. I wanted to press into the theological issues related to repentance in a way that, in another setting, I would not have chosen to because the need would not have been as pertinent. This is not to say that there is anything going on in the life of the congregation that would merit it; I just can’t remember the last time we talked about repentance in any comprehensive way. It’s not a subject that is talked about often. And in the end, this is not an exhaustive treatment of repentance, but I was able to say some things about repentance that I think were necessary reminders for all of us, and that I might not have been able to include had I not broken up the chapter into smaller sections.
Can a Christian repent in a thoroughgoing manner and still have besetting sin?
I would expect that, as a normal course in a Christian life, all of us are going to struggle with besetting sins of one kind or another. That being said, I think when repentance is real, one of things that you notice is a real severity as to the steps being taken to ensure that the sin does not happen again. You think of Jesus saying, “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off” and, “if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out.” Even when there is authentic and genuine repentance, there still is going to be that ongoing struggle that will continue until the day we die. So I don’t expect that authentic repentance is going to prove itself in a kind of sinless perfectionism, but it is going to manifest itself in a willingness to spare no effort in taking rigorous action against sin, which I think we see with the Ninevites.
So rigorous that the animals themselves are involved in the act of repentance…
Yes, and obviously the animals are not repenting in that sense, but the text tells us that even the lower creation, as it were, is expressing its neediness. Why? Given that this is Scripture written to Israel, who will not repent, there is a contrast between non-repentant Israel and repentant Nineveh, where even the animals are involved in repentance.
Can we use this text as a standard for what real repentance looks like in our own lives?
I think the big ideas are indicative for all of us. Namely that repentance is aroused by a confrontation with the Word of God, it really is thoroughgoing, and it manifests itself in a disposition of dependence. I think that is true for all of us nearly all of the time, so in that sense it is something of a litmus test. However, their actions are also culturally conditioned. Their sin was of a particular form, and their repentance needed to express itself correspondingly. In that sense, what we see from the Ninevites in Jonah 3 is not a standard for us. But what it does say to us is that we need to be severe in our commitments to evidence the fruit of repentance when that repentance is genuine.