11. Marks of True RepentanceRelated Media
Those who sealed it were: Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah. Zedekiah… “The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand— all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord…
What are marks or evidences of true repentance in a Christian’s life—repentance that saves? We have all seen people who claim to follow Christ but are lacking the fruits that prove the reality of their faith.
It is very easy to make a claim or to have a profession of faith, but how does one know if it’s a reality? Christ said in Matthew 7:21-23 that many would come in his name claiming to have a relationship with him but he would reply, “Depart from me you workers of iniquity I never knew you.” They had the talk but not the walk.
In fact, bearing fruit is a very important aspect of our faith. We saw this with John the Baptist’s and Paul’s teaching. Look at what John said when he showed up preaching repentance:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
John the Baptist in commanding repentance did not just say simply “confess” or make a declaration. True repentance always has the corresponding fruits. Paul said the same thing. Consider what he said: “First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20).
Paul preached the need to repent, but like John, he also preached the necessity of proving one’s repentance. It is not enough just to confess; confession must be followed by the proper works. Now this is not a works salvation; it is a salvation that works—a salvation that changes us.
In the context of Nehemiah, we must remember that there was a revival happening. In chapter 8, the people listened and responded to Ezra’s reading and teaching of the Word of God. In chapter 9, the people put on sackcloth and ashes and repented of their sins and the sins of their fathers. But in this chapter, they responded by renewing their covenant with God and committing to prove their repentance by their deeds. Listen to what they said in Nehemiah 9:36-10:1:
“But see, we are slaves today, slaves in the land you gave our forefathers so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces. Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings you have placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We are in great distress. ”In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it.” Those who sealed it were: Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah. Zedekiah,
They made a commitment to God by renewing the Mosaic covenant. Eighty-four leaders of the community signed a document—a binding agreement. This document showed the priorities of their commitment to God. Even though we are not a part of Israel, we as Christians should have these same commitments. These same fruits will prove the reality of our repentance and relationship with Christ.
What are marks of true repentance—genuine faith?
Big Question: What commitments did Israel make in this chapter as a fruit of their repentance? How can we practice true repentance in our lives?
True Repentance Includes a Commitment to God’s Word
“The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand—all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord.
What is the primary focus of this covenant community as seen in the signed document? The primary focus was to submit to the law of God. Israel had disobeyed God’s covenant, which was given in the Pentateuch. But, in this text, they renewed their commitment to God’s Word. Look at what they said:
“The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand— all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord.
Here Israel committed to follow God’s Word. Jesus taught that practicing God’s Word was a proof of true faith in the Sermon on the Mount. He taught that there were two types of people who listened to his words. One listened and built the foundation of his house on these words, and his house stood in the storm. But, the other did not build his house on Christ’s words, and his house was destroyed. He said this in Matthew 7:24-26:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.
It is very easy for us to look at the Scripture and say with awe, “No one ever spoke like this” as those in John 7:46 did, when listening to Christ, and yet not submit to him. It is also possible for us to pick and choose what we like about the Scriptures instead of submitting to the whole counsel of it.
The apostle John said the same thing as Christ. Listen to what he said: “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4). He said obeying God’s commands marks genuine faith and repentance. If we are not committed to God’s Word and following it, we are not truly saved and our repentance is false.
True saving faith and true repentance recognizes Scripture as God’s Word and commits to studying it and submitting to it. This should be the focus of the Christian life, and it is an evidence of true repentance.
Here Israel renewed their covenant to follow the laws of God which demonstrated true repentance. Do we need to renew our covenant to God’s Word as well?
Application Question: What are your thoughts about commitment to knowing and obeying God’s Word as a proof of genuine repentance? Why do so few Christians demonstrate this commitment in their lives? In what ways is God challenging you to both study and obey his Word more?
True Repentance Includes a Commitment to Fearing God
all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord.
Not only did they commit to following God’s Word but they also put themselves under a curse if they failed to follow it. In those days when people made covenants, they would often slay an animal and walk through the parts of the animal. By doing this they were saying, “Let this happen to me if I don’t fulfill what I have committed to.” This is what God did in confirming his covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. He walked through the cut-up bodies of animals, committing to fulfill his covenant with Abraham.
It is possible these leaders did the same thing. But more than likely, they “bound themselves to a curse” by reading Deuteronomy 27 and 28. God had essentially promised Israel that if they did not obey his words, he would severely discipline them. Look at what he said:
Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them. However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out. The LORD will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him.
By binding themselves to the curse, they recognized that God was faithful to his words and that he would curse, discipline, and even destroy them for disobedience. Now, under the New Covenant we are not under the curse of the Mosaic Law (cf. Gal 3:13); however, the fear of the Lord should still be a motivating factor in our lives.
Interpretation Question: Where do we see the necessity of fearing the Lord taught in the New Testament?
In contradiction to how some say God was a God of wrath in the Old Testament and a God of grace in the New, he is gracious and wrathful in both. Listen to what Philippians says: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12).
Why should we have fear while working out the completion of our salvation (sanctification, becoming like Christ)? We should fear because God is a God of discipline. Listen to 2 Corinthians 7:1: “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”
We must remember our God killed Ananias and Sapphira for lying about their offering in Acts 5. Our God brought sickness and death to some of those who were abusing the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11. Our God is still a God of discipline.
And ultimately, it is good to remember that even though we are not under the law, we are still bound by the spiritual principle of “sowing and reaping” which God oversees. We will reap what we sow, whether in this life or after. Galatians 6:7-8 says,
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
When the Jews were recommitting, they recommitted not only to the Word of God but to fearing the Lord, which should be a sobering motivation for all Christians. Hebrews 12:6 says, “the Lord disciplines those he loves.” Discipline is a major aspect of our sanctification, and we should recognize this everyday as we are confronted with temptation and opportunities to sin.
Do you still fear God? Solomon said it is the beginning of wisdom—the beginning of living a wise life (Proverbs 9:10). Therefore, we must fear him if we are going to live a wise life, which is a holy life.
Application Question: Why should the fear of the Lord be a motivation in the Christian life? How would you describe your fear of God’s discipline? How do we find a balance between the motivation of God’s love (cf. 2 Cor 5:12) and fearing his discipline?
True Repentance Includes a Commitment to Holiness
“The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand… “We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons. “When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts.
Nehemiah 10:28, 30-31
Another focus of the Christian life and evidence of true repentance is the practice of holiness. Where do we see this commitment in Israel? Look at what they committed to:
The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand--all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord. ”We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons. ”When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts.
This holiness was seen in two ways. They would not intermarry with the neighboring nations, and they would not sin against God by buying and selling from the foreigners on the Sabbath.
Israel lived amongst neighboring nations that wanted to interact with them spiritually by drawing them to worship their gods. They wanted to interact with them socially through marriage and the practice of other cultural norms. And they wanted to interact with them economically through trade, which was often done on the Sabbath.
However, God had called Israel to be holy and separate from the neighboring nations primarily so they would not be led into sin. Listen to the command about not marrying in Exodus 34:15-16:
“Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.
The call to not interact or marry with the surrounding nations was never racial but spiritual. They were called to be separate and holy in order to not be drawn into sin with them or to worship their gods. This is what happened with Solomon, who led the kingdom of Israel into God’s judgment.
It’s good to remember that Ruth and Rahab were both Gentiles, and yet they both married into Israel and were put into the lineage of Christ. However, they both were converts to Judaism—they worshiped the God of Israel. Moses also married an Ethiopian woman. Jonah was sent to prophesy to the Gentiles in Nineveh. They were not to be totally separate from the Gentiles but to be separate in the sense that they would not be influenced to sin.
It is no different for us. Second Corinthians 6:14 says to not be “unequally yoked,” and James declares that this practice of not being polluted by the world is a religion God accepts. Listen to what he said: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
A religion our God accepts is one that keeps itself unspotted from the world. You must be careful of the music you listen to, the TV shows you watch, and the friendships you cultivate. We must not adopt the ideals and practices of the world.
Scripture says that in the same way that the neighboring nations were seeking to lead Israel astray, the world does the same with us. Listen to Romans 12:2:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The word “conform” has the connotation of being acted upon. We are being pressed and molded into the image of the world. We are being pressured into having the same passions, the same desires, and the same worldview, rather than that of the inhabitants of the kingdom of God (cf. Matt 5:3-10, Phil 3:19-21).
Scripture also commands us to not love the world, for whoever loves the world, the love of the father is not in him (1 John 2:15). There is a principle in the world system working to draw us away from the love of God.
Yes, our priority must be holiness. Are you living out a life of separation from the world? Or are you trying to love God and love the world as well?
In fact, John says that if we have not committed to holiness and are still living in sin, we are not truly born again. It is a genuine fruit of repentance and if we lack this desire and practice of being holy, then we are not truly saved. Listen to what he says: “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth” (1 John 1:6).
Israel committed to being separate from the nations in order to be holy unto God. We must make this commitment as well. Separation is necessary in order for us to not be influenced by this world, and it is also necessary for us to influence the world (cf. Matt 5:13). We must be different in order to influence the world.
Application Question: How can we reconcile the tension of being in the world and not of the world? In what ways is God challenging you to practice separation?
True Repentance Brings a Commitment to the House of God
Observation Question: In what ways did the people of Israel commit to supporting the temple ministry as seen in Nehemiah 10:32-39?
In the next verses, Nehemiah 10:32-39, we see the house of God mentioned nine times, referring to the restored temple.1 As a fruit of their repentance, the people of God committed to support the ministry of the temple in four different ways.
- The temple tax (Neh. 10:32–33). The annual census of the people twenty years of age and older was accompanied by the collecting of a half-shekel tax to be used to support the ministry of the house of God (Ex. 30:11–16).
- The wood offering (Neh. 10:34). Since the fire on the brazen altar was to be kept burning constantly (Lev. 6:12–13), it required a steady supply of wood; and wood was a precious commodity.
- The firstfruits (Neh. 10:35–37a). The Jews were taught to give God the first and the best, and this is a good example for us to follow today. “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (Prov. 3:9, NIV).
- The tithes (Neh. 10:37b-39). The word tithe means “a tenth.” The Jews were to bring a tenth of their produce to the Lord each year for the support of the Levites (Lev. 27:30–34). The Levites then gave a “tithe of the tithe” to the priests (Num. 18:25–32).2
Application Question: What can we learn from the commitment of the people of Israel to support the work of the temple? How can we apply this?
1. Israel’s commitment to the house of God reminds us of our need to support the work of the Lord with our finances.
Israel committed to give the temple tax, the wood offering, the first fruits, and the tithe. In the New Testament, we are not under the Old Testament tithe or giving system, but we are commanded to practice faithful giving. We learn about New Testament giving in Paul’s command to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. It says:
Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
We are called to give “in keeping with our income”; other versions say “as the Lord prospers you.” What makes this harder than the Old Covenant is the fact that many people should be giving way more than 10% because God has prospered them so much. This may be especially true for the Western church, which is very wealthy in comparison to the rest of the world.
Christians are called to not store up riches on this earth (Matthew 6:19), and we are called to be cheerful in giving (2 Corinthians 9:7). Also, we are called to seek to excel in the act of giving in the same way we do in acts of love or mercy. Second Corinthians 8:7says this: “But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”
In the practice of grace giving, we are not called to give our 10% and then say we have fulfilled the law. No, we are called to seek to increase our giving at all times, just as we are always trying to love more.
How does this look practically? Personally, every year or at certain times during a year, my wife and I will look at our finances and see how we are doing. We have a fixed giving each year but our priority is always to see if we can increase it. Can we give 5% or 10% more this year or semester based on our income? Or, should we consider lowering it because of new costs?
That’s one way we can apply the practice of grace giving and trying to continually grow in this grace. As Israel committed to support the work of God, we must continually make this commitment as well.
How else can we apply Israel’s commitment to the house of God?
2. Israel’s commitment to the house of God reminds us of our need to give our best to God.
Israel committed to give God their firstfruits. The firstfruits were considered the best and a picture of the future harvest. In what ways can we give God our best?
In Malachi, which was written to Israel during the days of Nehemiah,3 God accused Israel of bringing lambs which were blind and lame, and he rejected them. Look at what God said to Israel in Malachi 1:6-8:
“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name. “But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ ”You place defiled food on my altar. “But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’ “By saying that the LORD’s table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty.
Many times we do this with God. We give him the last five minutes of the day and sometimes nothing at all. We give him our left-overs, not our best. We also should give God our firstfruits because he is our King. How can we give our King anything less? Are you giving God your best?
Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to give him your best practically? How does this affect your time management, your priorities, and your future goals?
3. Israel’s commitment to the house of God reminds us that we should labor to build up God’s church.
Another application we can take from this is our need to build up God’s church. Today, God does not live in temples built with hands, but he indwells the people of God—the living temple. Listen to what Peter said: “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
Similarly, Paul teaches that we are the temple of God both corporately (1 Cor 3:16) and individually (1 Cor 6:19). Therefore, one of the ways we build God’s house is by being committed to the church and serving his people there.
God has uniquely given each believer a spiritual gift for the purpose of building up the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:7). Just as each person brought wood, firstfruits, etc., to build up the house of God, we must use our gifts and our time to build up God’s people as well. This is a true fruit of genuine repentance: serving the house of God.
John said this: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:14). Love always results in service. If anybody does not serve the church—Christ’s body—he has not passed from life to death. They lack a fruit of true repentance.
Application Question: In what ways do you feel called to serve the people of God? What are your spiritual gifts and what sacrifices do you feel called to make in building God’s house?
As we look at the covenant Israel renewed with God in Nehemiah 10, we learn a lot about our spiritual commitments and how we should continually practice them. As seen with New Year’s commitments, many people feel that making them is pointless. “We are just going to break them anyway,” they say. However, commitments are very important to any aspect of society and especially to our spiritual life. We make commitments when we sign a job contract, when we buy a house, and even when we get married. Commitments are important.
Application Question: What can we learn about commitments from Israel in Nehemiah 10?
1. We should not hesitate to make or renew biblical commitments to God. It doesn’t matter if we failed in the past; we can start over at any time.
What commitments is God calling you to make or renew with him today?
2. We should practice sharing our commitments with others in order to have accountability.
It seems that because only eighty-four leaders signed the document, the leaders were not only committing themselves but committing to help Israel keep their commitments. They were the nation’s representatives, and the contract was an accountability system for Israel. It also may be wise for us to share our commitments with spiritual leaders or those we trust so they can help hold us accountable.
Who are your accountability partners? What commitments are they helping you keep with God?
3. We should practice writing down our commitments.
The Jews wrote down their commitments to God and had the leaders sign and seal it (cf. Neh 9:38-10:1). There is something powerful about both verbalizing our commitments and writing them down.
Writing them down helps us clarify them and make sure they are attainable. This is another form of accountability for us. This helps increase our faith as we watch God’s faithfulness in helping us fulfill these commitments. This may be done with a journal or even a contract like Israel’s.
Application Question: In what ways have you found accountability helpful in your spiritual life? Why is it so important?
What are marks of true repentance and, therefore, saving faith? In this chapter, Israel followed up their repentance in chapter 9 with a renewal of the Mosaic covenant. They made many commitments to God, and, in many ways, these should be our commitments today.
- The people of God must be committed to the Word of God. How is God calling you to renew a commitment to studying and practicing his Word?
- The people of God must be committed to the fear of the Lord. Israel put themselves under the curse of the Mosaic law for breaking the covenant. They essentially committed to recognizing and allowing it to motivate them to faithfulness. Does the fear of the Lord motivate you?
- The people of God must be committed to holiness. Israel separated from the neighboring nations and their ways of life. In what ways are you practicing separation?
- The people of God must be committed to building the house of God. The house of God is not the temple anymore but it is our bodies (1 Cor 6:19) and the people of God (I Peter 2:5). We should be committed to serving and seeing God’s kingdom come in our own lives and the lives of others.
Application Question: In what ways is God challenging you to be more committed to him and/or to challenge others through this study on true repentance?
1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Determined (p. 123). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
2 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Determined. “Be” Commentary Series (126). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
3 MacArthur, John (2003-08-21). The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 6969-6970). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Related Topics: Leadership