Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

April 17, 2016


What does it mean to repent and turn to God?


          Evangelist Franklin Graham was in Montgomery Thursday, preaching in a rally outside the state capitol. His Decision America Tour is unique. He plans to preach at every state capitol in the nation, calling upon Americans to turn to God as the only hope for our country.

        Wisely Graham is not endorsing any candidates for public office. He is, however, urging people to cast their votes for candidates who uphold biblical principles. His message is primarily to Christians, imploring them to pray for our nation and its leaders and to vote.

 In every century God raises up men and women who call upon people to turn to God. This was the message of the Old Testament prophets. And for centuries we have had people like Franklin Graham calling our attention to this striking promise of God: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

 James, a leader of the church born after the death and resurrection of Jesus, called upon the Christians of his day to turn to God. He phrased it differently by saying “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”

 Today America is sorely divided and this divisiveness could destroy our nation. The church is also seriously divided over many moral and political issues that are weakening the church’s influence in society.

 In these days when America is at a crossroads, Christians could with profit look again at the teaching of James in his New Testament letter. The problems America is facing are not unlike the problems that plagued the early church.

James saw that internal conflict and strife were destroying the churches for which Christ had died. He upbraids the Jewish Christians for their sinful attitudes. He urges them to repent and humble themselves before the Lord. Harmony could only be restored by such a change of heart.

          What was their problem? James names two major problems: greed and pride. Notice the words James uses: “cravings,” “covet,” and “your pleasures.” Like many of us today the early Christians wanted what they wanted and they wanted it “now.” That is what happens, James says, when people chase after the world’s values instead of staying focused on God. We cannot be friends of the world and friends of God at the same time.

          Some of us want it both ways. We want God on our own terms. We want the world and its pleasures and we want to be spiritual enough to have God at our beck and call. James says that will not work because God is a jealous God. He will not tolerate our worship of other gods. We must worship God and Him alone. No other plan of our own making is acceptable to God. While God loves us, He opposes us when we are proud but he gives us grace when we are humble.

          By “the world” James means those values and attitudes that are despicable to God. The world’s values are different from those of the kingdom of God. The world influences us to oppose God, to lust for power and pleasure, and to live as we please rather than obey the commandments of God. The world encourages greed and selfishness, causing us to think only of our own desires and ignore the needs of others.

          James points out that when we become friends of the world, and thus enemies of God, our prayer life is shattered. When we are not right with God, we simply don’t know how to pray. We ask but do not receive because we “ask wrongly.” We ask for things with the wrong motive. We want to use God rather than let God use us. When we are in synch with the world, we are out of synch with God. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot serve both God and the world. When we choose the world we drop God.          

 Christians do not lose fellowship with God intentionally. Satan lures us off the path of righteousness. When we are tempted, we let our guard down and give the devil a foothold. One thing leads to another on a downward spiral until one day we find ourselves at odds with God. James offers sound advice for dealing with this dilemma.

          His advice is to get back to God in the certain hope that if you will draw near to God, He will draw near to you. How do we get back to God? First, admit that God has not moved! We have moved – away from God. So don’t blame God. Just do what James advises: Submit to God and resist the devil. We cannot surrender to God without at the same time resisting the influence of the world’s evil forces.  

          This is not easily done. All of us want to be in control; we do not want to submit to God or anybody. In some ways every one of us is a “control freak.” The last thing we want to do is give up our self-will. But do it we must, in repentance and humility, if we truly wish to get right with God. Until that becomes our singular passion, other passions of the flesh will control   us.

          Celebrate Recovery is a ministry that offers help for people struggling with hurts, habits and hang-ups. The program teaches that the road to recovery is grounded in eight principles based on the Beatitudes. The third step in the program asks each person to “consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control.” Recovery results from turning the control of one’s life over to Christ!

          James concurs. Humble repentance and surrender are necessary to live as authentic friends of God. When we begin to mourn over our sins, God restores our joy. Humility, repentance and surrender open the door to a new and fulfilling relationship with God.

          Once our relationship with God has been restored it is necessary to remain on guard. We are easily tempted to become proud. When we are tempted, the Holy Spirit warns us. His warning is a signal to get off our high horse and draw near to God again, in humility and repentance.

          Is this a once in a lifetime transaction? Absolutely not! It needs to become our lifestyle – to live in constant awareness of our need to humbly submit ourselves DAILY to the living Christ! Repentance, as John Wesley taught, is a continuing necessity for believers.

As Christ followers many of us tend to drift away from God. This means there is never a morning when I do not need to pray, “Lord Jesus, please nudge me if I start drifting away from you and give me the grace to draw near to you this very moment for nothing matters more than being your friend forever!”

Such praying could be what is needed today by both America and the church. God alone can heal the divisiveness that is destroying us. + + +