Unfeigned Repentance
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In the midst of God's great promises (Jeremiah 30 and 31) to restore His people Israel, there is a remarkable passage that shows us what is involved in genuine, unfeigned repentance. The Lord tells His wayward people that "there is hope for your future" (Jeremiah 31:17 NASV). Then He relates Israel's response:

I have surely heard Ephraim grieving, "Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, like an untrained calf; bring me back that I may be restored, for Thou art the Lord my God. For after I turned back, I repented; and after I was instructed, I smote on my thigh; I was ashamed and also humiliated, because I bore the reproach of my youth" (Jeremiah 31:18-19 NASV).

Israel is compared to a nearly grown male calf, frisking about. His stubborn willfulness to have his own way, and his resistance to training and the yoke, have brought God's discipline (figuratively, with words, or literally, with blows) upon him. The chastisement causes Israel to grieve (literally, to sway and totter in grief and lamentation). He cries to God to turn him around, and faith arises that he will indeed be turned around, brought back to God, and restored. For God Himself is the agent of repentance; it is a work of His grace.

Repentance is a process. It usually takes some time to unfold, because until a person begins to turn back to God, he cannot see how far away he has been. He cannot comprehend how strongly he has been bound up in sin and to what degree his life has been in jeopardy.

As Israel turned back to God, he repented, meaning he drew breath deeply, groaning, lamenting, ruing his past actions. After being instructed (made to know by seeing), he struck his thigh, which is also a sign of lamenting. We are reminded of Paul saying, "I now rejoice...that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance...for the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation...for behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow has produced in you..." (II Corinthians 7:9-10 NASV).

Israel saw his sin and took responsibility before God. He accepted the full shame (implying terror and paleness) and humiliation of his nakedness before a holy God, allowing it to work deep brokenness. And God's response was mercy:

"Indeed, as often as I have spoken against him, I certainly still remember him; therefore My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him," declares the Lord (Jeremiah 31:20 NASV).

While national Israel has yet to fulfill this prophetic passage in Jeremiah, the repentance it depicts is essential to the church, both as people are born again and also as they grow. Therefore, repentance is at the heart of the work of Word Based Counseling.

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