Can we be honest for a minute? Have you ever in a sinful, unguarded moment engaged in fantasies of revenge? You imagine ways of getting even. You create the perfect scenario. You imagine the steps you would take and then you smile as you picture their face as the plan reaches its conclusion.
Now if you have ever done this (and of course, I never have) you might have imagined a scenario very similar to what Joseph was facing. Out of jealousy the brothers accused Joseph of being a spy for their father and sold him into slavery. They convinced their Father that Joseph had been torn apart by wild animals. As a result Joseph was paraded around and degraded as a slave, he was accused of a crime he didn’t commit, was sent to prison, was forgotten by someone who promised to help him . . . and then was suddenly thrust into the position of being the second most powerful man in Egypt.
During a severe famine the brothers are forced to come to Egypt for food. Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they don’t recognize him. But Joseph doesn’t reveal who he is . . . at least not right away. Instead, Joseph does several things. First, he accuses them of being spies. Then he throws them in prison for awhile. Next he tells them that they must return with their younger brother, Benjamin. When they do return Joseph has the brothers to his house for dinner and then goes out of his way to show favoritism to his blood brother. He loads the brothers up with food and plants his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. No sooner do the boys get out of town than Joseph sends his steward after them to accuse them of stealing the cup. The brothers protest that they are innocent and agree that if anyone has stolen the cup they will be Joseph’s slave. When they discover the cup in Benjamin’s sack . . . they all return.
Are you troubled by this? Are you surprised that Joseph would indulge in such behavior? If you are, then you have missed what Joseph is doing. Joseph is trying to find out if his brothers have changed. He wants to know if they have repented or not.
Reconciliation without repentance is like painting over the mold on a wall . . . it looks good for awhile on the outside but underneath things are unchanged. Joseph knew there could be no real reconciliation with his brothers unless they addressed their behavior in the past.
Throughout the Bible we read of the necessity for repentance. John the Baptist preached a simple message: “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 3:2) God told the people of Israel through Jeremiah, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)
On the day of Pentecost (the beginning of the New Testament Church) Peter preached:
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, (Acts 3:19)
Repentance is a prerequisite to genuine conversion and for the believer it is a prerequisite to forgiveness and growth. But the question we must first ask is: what is repentance?
The Greek word for repentance found in the New Testament in metanoia: meta, meaning change, and noia meaning mind. Repentance, as Christ preached it, is a changing of the mind, the intellect, the values that inevitably produces a profound change of the heart and emotions, a total radical transformation from seeking to please self to seeking to please God. Repentance leads to nothing less than a human revolution. (Colson, WHO SPEAKS FOR GOD p. 154)
Charles Spurgeon defines repentance as “a hatred of sin; it is a turning from sin and a determination in the strength of God to forsake it. [Metropolitan Pulpit Vol. 1 p. 586]
Now that sounds simple enough. The problem (that Joseph seemed well aware of) is that it is possible to look repentant, but not really repent at all.
The brothers of Joseph sounded contrite. They seemed to be sorry early on. But Joseph couldn’t conclude that they had genuinely repented. Why?
People Can Feel Sorry and not be repentant. The brothers seemed sorry, they felt that they were getting their just rewards. But the question is, WHY were they sorry? Were they sorry for their sinful behavior or were they sorry for the trouble their behavior got them into? Were they sorry for their sin or were they sorry for the shame they felt? This is a very common type of sorrow.
- the abusive spouse says they are “sorry” after a violent outburst. Are they really sorry for their behavior . . . are they sorry enough to get help . . . or are they saying they are sorry because they don’t want their spouse to file charges or to divorce them.
- the drunk driver is “sorry” after someone is injured or killed in an accident. But it is for their behavior or are they sorry that they are facing adverse consequences?
- the thief is “sorry” after he is arrested but may only be sorry for getting caught..
- the promiscuous person is sorry that they “didn’t take better precautions” but not for their sin
- the gossip is sorry that things got “out of control” but they see the problem with others and not themselves.
It is even possible for a person to feel sorrow because they are afraid of hell and yet not feel sorrow for the wrong they have done. They are not sorry for the offense against God . . . they don’t want to be punished!
Have you ever had to referee a fight between two children (or adults). At the conclusion of the skirmish you might say “O.K., now shake hands and say you are sorry.” But they resist. So you tell them that they are going to be grounded, or lose other privileges if they don’t do what you told them to do. So they weakly stick out their hand and say, “Sorry”. Have these children repented? Are they really sorry for their actions or are they doing what they have to do to avoid punishment?
Many people live their lives this way. They are told that they can’t be forgiven unless they confess their sin. So, anytime they do something wrong they utter a silent prayer that is little more than “sorry God” and then they get on with their life. They want to make sure they don’t “get into trouble” . . . they aren’t really concerned about God’s honor. There is no real change. People who repent in this way . . . are not saved. Christians who repent of their sin this way . . . are not reconciled to God.
You can be attracted to the Gospel without being repentant
Mickey Cohen was an infamous gangster of the postwar era. One night Cohen attended an evangelistic meeting and seemed interested. Realizing what a dramatic impact his conversion could have on the world, many Christian leaders began to visit him. After one long night session, he was urged to open the door and let Christ in, based on Revelation 3:20. Cohen responded.
But as the months passed, people saw no change in his life of crime. When confronted, he responded that no one had told him he would have to give up his work or his friends. After all, there were Christian football players, Christian cowboys, Christian politicians; why not a Christian gangster?
It was at this time that Cohen was told about repentance. And at that point Cohen announced that he wanted nothing to do with Christianity. [Colson p. 153]
It is possible to find the gospel of Jesus Christ attractive for a number of reasons,
- because of the promise of forgiveness from sin
- because it holds out the hope of life after death
- because it talks about blessings and peace in this life
- because it will help you fit in with the group of people you are attracted to
But the person who “comes to Christ” for any of these reasons is not really a child of God. They have not repented. They have never come to grips with the nature of their sin. They aren’t concerned about their sin . . . they are concerned about their advantage. Mickey Cohen saw Christianity as something that would be advantageous. He didn’t want to go to Hell . . . he liked the idea of being sure of Heaven. If all he had to do was say a certain prayer . . . great! It was a small price to pay for a great benefit.
It is not too different from the teenage boy that tells a girl that he loves her in an effort to get her to be intimate with him. He tells her what she wants to hear in order to get what he wants to receive. And often, when he has gotten what he wanted, the relationship ends. There is no love, there is no commitment . . . it was a sham.
Many want the benefits of God and have no desire to turn from their sin or honor God with their living. They want the benefits without having to make any changes. We want a restored relationship with God . . . and be able to live the way we want. You can’t have both.
WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE OF TRUE REPENTANCE?
I think the brothers of Joseph show in our text that they have truly repented. Here’s why.
They acknowledge their guilt
44:16 “What can we say to my lord?” Judah replied. “What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants’ guilt. We are now my lord’s slaves—we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup.”
When Judah talks about guilt here, what is he talking about? We know that the brothers did not take the cup. We also know that the brothers know they did not take the cup. So, why is Judah confessing to something they didn’t do?
I don’t think Judah is confessing to stealing the cup . . he is confessing to the guilt in regard to Joseph. Notice that Judah says “God has uncovered your servant’s guilt”. Judah sees this event as God’s way of judging them for their sin against Joseph. So, Judah is confessing their past sin! No more excuses. No rationalizations. He doesn’t try to get out of it. He comes clean: they are guilty.
And that is the first step to a person coming to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. There must be an admission of guilt. No rationalizations. No excuses. It’s just us and our sin standing before the Lord.
Proverbs 28:13 People who cover over their sins will not prosper. But if they confess and forsake them, they will receive mercy.
We cannot be right with God until we accept responsibility for our actions. Until we recognize that we are wrong we cannot know the restoration that comes from God’s forgiveness. You can’t seek forgiveness if you don’t recognize that you need to be forgiven.
There is real sorrow
In verse 13 we read that they “tore their clothes.” This was an act of mourning. It was something you did when you were in the throes of sorrow. Now it is certainly possible that the sorrow was for the fact that Benjamin was found with the cup and would become Pharaoh’s slave. But again, I think there is more than this. These brothers knew God was exposing their guilt. Repentance requires sorrow for sin. It involves,
- sorrow that we have offended a Holy God.
- sorrow that by our actions we have shown such incredible ingratitude for what God has done for us
- sorrow for the barrier that our act erects between us and God
- sorrow that we have polluted the beauty of God’s creation
I think there is a genuine humility in the brothers. They understand that they have not simply “broken the rules”, they have severed their relationship with God. They take the posture of people who have no hope except to plea for mercy. They don’t come presenting their credentials . . . they come for mercy.
The truly repentant person does not come trumpeting their goodness. They have seen that any apparent goodness is façade. They understand that their only hope is through the grace of God. They know that they cannot even muster the requisite faith without a touch from God.
And even as believers, our confession of sin must contain real sorrow. How often we confess our sin without any sense of it’s horror. We mouth the words, but have no sense of what the words mean. We can’t repent unless we see our actions from God’s perspective.
There is a genuine change
Ezek 18:30, 31 “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.
It reminds me of a cartoon in the Saturday Review of Literature in which George Washington is standing with an axe in his hand. Before him lying on the ground is the famous cherry tree. He has already made his smug admission that he did it — after all, he “cannot tell a lie.” But his father is standing there exasperated saying, “All right, so you admit it! You always admit it! The question is, when are you going to stop doing it?”
I wonder how often God says the same thing of all those who confess their wrongs but do not change. The true evidence of repentance is a changed behavior. Remember metanoia means a changed mind. To repent is to go in a different direction. It is to be so disgusted by sin that we stop it.
Do we see a genuine change in the brothers of Joseph? You bet we do. God has done his work. The brothers have acknowledged their guilt, have pled for mercy, and have shown that they are pursuing a new life. Look at the evidence,
- the brothers who were filled with the fury of jealousy at the favoritism shown to Joseph, now do not react when Benjamin is given five times more than they are for dinner.
- the brothers who abandoned Joseph will not desert Benjamin
- the brothers who sold Joseph for small change now offer themselves in exchange for their brother
- the brothers who lied to their father, now plead for mercy on his behalf
Jesus told his disciples that they would be able to tell the true followers from the false followers by “their fruit.” In other words, you can tell a person who has actually repented because they change.
You remember the great story of Jack Eckard of Eckard drugs. After he became a believer he pulled all the pornography off of the shelves of his stores even though it cost him 3 million dollars a year in profit. Why? Because he could no longer pander in sin if he was going to follow the Lord.
Do you see the logic?
- if you have not changed, you have not seen the true offense of sin
- if you have not seen the true offense of sin you are not sorry for the right reasons
- if you are not sorry for the right reasons, you are still mocking God
- if you are still mocking God then you are not forgiven
Please understand, most of us will have certain things that we struggle with all our lives. We will sin, have genuine sorrow . . . intend on making real change . . and then we fall again. It happens. Paul confessed that the “good he wants to do he doesn’t do, and the evil he does not want to do, he does.” In those areas of struggle we continue to return to the throne. We continue to plead for the strength to overcome. And as long as our repentance is real, God forgives. But even in these situations we should be able to detect PROGRESS toward growth. If we are not making progress it may be that we have not truly repented.
I’m ashamed to say that we don’t hear much about repentance in the church today. It’s not popular. People want to be like Mickey Cohen . . . they want to be Christians without having to change. And instead of preaching the truth, we water down the gospel so that it will embrace anyone who has good feelings about Jesus. At times we are guilty of being more concerned with being liked than we are with being faithful.
There are hundreds of thousands of people who think they are followers of Christ but they are really only members of the “church club”. They dabble in religion. They feel good about Jesus, and they hope their faith will help them be better people. But there is no sense of sin. There is no brokenness. There is no repentance.
So how do we change things? First, we start with ourselves. We must look at our own lives and ask if we have come to grips with the sin of our lives. Here’s some questions to ask yourself;
- on what basis do I believe I will get to Heaven? Are you trusting in your own work? If so, you have underestimated the devastating power of sin. If your hope is based on anything other than a mercy that is extended in an undeserved act of love, you still think you can save yourself . . . that means you haven’t seen yourself clearly.
- am I truly sorry for the wrong I have done because of what it has done to my relationship with God or am I sorry for my sin because it has made things uncomfortable for me?
- am I trying to be a Christian Gangster or do I really desire to be free from my past? Do I want to be made new in Christ, or do I only hope that God will be nice and not “cramp my style”?
Where in your life do you need to repent? For some of you, you need to take that initial step of coming to Christ with the broken pieces of your life. You need to admit your hopeless situation and humbly seek and gratefully receive the grace that He extends in Christ. It’s really not about the words you say . . . it’s the attitude of the heart. Perhaps you need to “come clean” and to place your hope, trust and confidence in Jesus Christ. Maybe today, you need to trust God to do in you, what you are incapable of doing for yourself.
But maybe you have done that. Maybe you have genuinely come to a point of receiving God’s grace. You are a child of God. But you lack power. You lack a sense of victory and joy. It’s possible that this is because you are pandering with sin. And if you are a genuine believer, I’m going to suggest that you already know what that sin is. God’s Spirit has been convicting you. You know where change is necessary, but you are stubbornly refusing to let God have that area of your life.
It’s time for you to focus on the One who has saved you from everlasting destruction. It is time to come clean and to trust Him to lead you in the best way to live. It’s time for you to repent.
But there is something else we must do. We must resolve to present the true gospel. Are we proclaiming a gospel that does not require repentance? Are we telling people that all they have to do is “say a prayer” without telling them that they need to turn from their wicked ways? Are we presenting a gospel that says, “It doesn’t matter how you live, as long as you sign the card?” If so, we are presenting a form of godliness that has no power to save. We are part of the problem, and not the solution.
We live in a world that is filled with marginal Christians. They are people who feel secure and content in the faith while they are racing to Hell. We must tell the truth. We must return to a gospel that says “Repent and Believe for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
Joseph loved his brothers. He loved them enough to urge them to repentance. Joseph knew that only in repentance would his brothers find reconciliation with God. So he refused to compromise. He refused to let up until they were at the point of repentance. And if we love others . . . we won’t rest until we’ve told them the truth. The whole truth.