Repentant Fools

Last Saturday, I chose to drive in torrential downpours all day because I unexpectedly had an opportunity to do some errands. The driving was intense, especially on the highway. When I considered my decision to drive in fog and heavy rain, with pockets of high standing water, I realized that most people would think I was nuts. When I had to wade through about six inches of water around my car after a last-minute lunch out with a friend, I knew it was crazy—but it was worth it. If I had not considered the weather or other factors, I would call myself a fool. However, God’s definition of a fool is not about taking calculated practical risks. Scripture defines a fool as those who reject God—who consider him a non-persona—who has no authority over them. This month, we will drive into the “storm” of scriptural foolishness to consider the seriousness of sin that requires confession and repentance. Even mature Christians struggle to overcome sinful folly. In his doctrinal letter to the Romans, Paul admits, “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:22-24) Of course, there is good news for Paul and us when we draw close to God. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, [as] I serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin…[but] there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 7:22-8:1) Biblically, we are all corrupt fools who don’t understand or seek God and do abominable deeds. However, being devoted believers, we confess our foolishness, our need for Christ’s righteousness, and repent.

Confessing the Pleasure of Sin

In the Puritan classic prayer volume, “The Valley of Vision,” one believer prays to God, “No trial is so hard to bear as a sense of sin. If thou should give me choice to live in pleasure and keep my sins, or to have them burnt away with trial, give me sanctified affliction.” (1). The Lord sometimes gives us a choice, the worst outcome being that he would leave us (give us up to) our sins without intervening (Romans 1-3:20). God sometimes lets fools have their way when he doesn’t run after them as the father runs after his prodigal son or corrects his obedient but hard-hearted one in the parable in Luke 15 (vs. 20, 31). Despite God’s intercession, through the Father’s providence, Christ’s atonement, and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling conviction, we still act like fools. The difference with us is that we can see our foolishness, want to confess it, and ask the Lord to help us repent as the fruit of our sanctification. The truth of Psalm 14:1-3 is vital to our self-examination. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” But, “There is a God, and he takes notice of the children of men, and of what is done by them; though his throne is in the heavens, and his dwelling there, yet he looks down from thence, and takes cognizance of all human affairs. This must be understood consistent with the omniscience and omnipresence of God.” (2) God’s watchful accountability should stir us to examine our motivations and desires rather than try to hide from him, like our ancestors Adam and Eve. All of Scripture after Genesis 3:15 teaches us to seek refuge in God’s mercy and grace. We do this especially through our spiritual humility and preparedness to recognize our sins, from which the Lord wants to cleanse us. 

All People Sinners

“The Bible is a big book, but not many things in the Bible are said, word for word, more than once. If the words are repeated, it is for emphasis…What if they are found three times?… Psalm 14 is repeated almost entirely in the Book of Psalms itself. Psalm 53 is a nearly exact duplication; only verses 5 and 6 are changed. Then the most important part of Psalm 14 is repeated in Romans 3:10–12. In fact, the great first chapter of Romans is actually an explanation of…These are words which, to use the often-quoted phrase of the collection from the Book of Common Prayer, we are to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest…the folly of the opening verse of the psalm, which we might have imagined to be restricted to a single class of people (fools), is viewed as characteristic of all people in their natural or unrepentant state…The second thing to notice about the inclusive nature of God’s assessment of humanity in these verses is that it concerns not merely a single part of people’s makeup but rather everything about them. It involves their spiritual understanding, their seeking after (actually their failure to seek after) God, and their morality, the same items Paul mentions in his great summary of the race’s corruption in Romans 3. Apart from God’s special illuminating work in the human heart by means of the Holy Spirit, there is no one who understands spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14). We do not even understand ourselves. We think we are seeking God when we are running away from him. We think we are righteous when we are most corrupt…We are practical materialists; that is, we are relentless in our efforts to use others for our advantage, profiting from them. We will not learn that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3; cf. Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4). And we are prayerless. We ‘do not call on the Lord,’ because we believe that we can manage very well without him.” (3) We are all fools who often don’t understand or seek God and do unrighteous deeds, requiring repentance. But if we confess our foolishness, our need for Christ’s righteousness, the Lord will honor our desires to repent.

Temporary Fools

Being different from fools who reject God, we say in our hearts, God is here, and through Christ (our good Savior), we serve him. When the Lord looks down from heaven on us believers, he sees the Spirit at work in us to understand spiritual things and seek after God. We (should) want to turn toward the Lord, not aside from him, confessing and repenting of the corruption in our hearts, minds, and lives. “[Psalm 14] is more like a prophetic message than a psalmist’s lament, since God is not addressed…[the subject] (Hebrew) ‘nābāl’ does not connote a simpleton, but one whose moral thinking is perverse; he has deliberately closed his mind to the reality of God and to the implications of His moral rule, [without] understanding by submitting to God’s authority.” (4) “The Christian’s moral experience (for Paul would not be telling his own experience to make theological points, did he not think it typical) is that his reach persistently exceeds his grasp and that his desire for perfection is frustrated by the discomposing and distracting energies of indwelling sin. Stating this sad fact about himself renews Paul’s distress at it, and in the cry of verses 24, 25, he voices his grief at not being able to glorify God more: ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?’ Then at once he answers his own question: ‘Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!’” (5) 

When I got home on Saturday, I was soaked to the bone from my ankles to my toes and pretty damp altogether and very grateful to change into dry clothing. I was relieved of my discomfort for a couple hours until it was time to walk the dog. When we confess and ask the Lord to help us repent, we have significant mind, heart, and soul relief. But we will sin again, so we should be prepared by humbling ourselves. We have God’s assurance for our readiness to confess and repent: “Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” (Isaiah 57:15) 

Related Scripture: Genesis 6:5; 11:5-9; 1 Kings 8:46; 2 Chronicles 6:36; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Psalm 10:4-6; 11:7; 143:2; Isaiah 3:14; 59:4; 64:3-7; Jeremiah 5:1; Hosea 4:1-2; Amos 2:6-7; Zephaniah 1:2; Romans 1:19-23

Notes:

  1. Bennett, Arthur, Ed., The Valley of Vision, “77—Confession and Petition,” Banner of Truth, 1975
  2. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 14:2, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-14.html
  3. Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series,” Psalm 14, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  4. Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, Psalm 14:1-3, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition
  5. Boice, Ibid, Romans 7.

May 6, 2021

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