repentance1

Rend your hearts and not your garments

How will God handle it if I come back?

I suspect that many people never come back to the Lord and the church because they imagine they will receive a hostile reception. Sadly, in many cases they are right.  Brethren (and sisters) can be hard on each other. Even well meaning brethren can be awkward and ungracious when it comes to accepting the returning wrong doer. And we tend to be hard on ourselves. We know we have sinned, and we sense our unworthiness.

Note, however, the reception promised by the prophet Joel: “Yet even now,” he cries, “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping, and with mourning” (Joel 2:12).

There is still hope. “Yet even now”  – it’s not too late. We can come back to God. It’s not a case of God shaking his watch and saying, “Too late, tough luck.”

This call to return, however, is not without prerequisites. “Rend your hearts, and not your garments,” Joel demands. “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:13).

Rending garments was the classic sign of the Jewish person in mourning. It might be in grief, or it could be an expression of remorse for sin. It would not, in fact, be a bad thing if today we demonstrated our grief over sin in some similar manner!

Joel describes outer signs that were supposed to reflect an inner change: They were to repent “with fasting,” “weeping” and “mourning.” Sometimes these acts express pure hypocrisy, where we exhibit dramatic, attention-getting emotion that we frankly do not feel. At other times it expresses an emotion that did not run deeply enough. We were momentarily sentimental, but it didn’t change our hearts. Ideally, of course, outward expressions should reflect a change of heart.

This is God’s call to ensure that our cry for forgiveness goes much more deeply than a mere cosmetic change. God is all about reaching into the very depths of a person and changing that! If God can change my heart, he will have also changed my words and my actions!

Phrases that suggest a change from deep within “return with all your heart,” and “rend your hearts and not your garments.” It is what comes out of the heart that determines our words and actions!

And how will the holy and righteous God respond when we “rend our hearts” and not just “our garments? “Our God is gracious and merciful,” Joel declares, “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:13).

Do, please note that personal pronoun: Yahweh was their God. They once had a covenant relationship with him. He had always been theirs, whether they claimed him or not!

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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