Sin, Truth, and Repentance
By: Deji Yesufu
The world of Christian leadership is a different world entirely. It is a world where you can safely be one thing and do another thing completely – and nobody will hold you accountable. I am convinced that it was this world Jesus was describing when our Lord began to rain down woes and curses on the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 23. His words in verses 2 and 3 summaries this position best: “…the scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say and do not…” (Matthew 23:2-3). Like the Pharisees, many in Christian leadership say a lot of the right things – except that they do practically nothing of the things they tell others to do.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were a religious order that rose up within Israel with the sole aim of ensuring that religious life with the Jews would not go so bad as to earn them the condemnation of God. Israel’s history had had a debilitating, shameful, disastrous, and unfortunate exile into the nations. In 582 BC, Israel had undergone the Babylonian captivity, and after they returned, under the government of Nehemiah, the Jewish people were determined that they would not suffer such exile again. They understood that it was their sins that had pitted them against God, and they were committed to getting their religious life right. What grew out of this commitment to religion was the leadership of the Scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. Despite this, by the time the Son of God, Jesus Christ, came on the scene, the men who were supposed to be in charge of religion; the men who were supposed to know their scriptures and possess the kind of discernment to recognize God when he comes into their midst, had lost such abilities. They lost those abilities at the foot of hypocrisy: they had learnt to say a lot of religious things while at the same time exempting themselves from the demands of religion. I know this first hand because I am today in Christian leadership. The easiest thing in religion is to talk; it is the doing that is the issue. This is why the kindest thing anyone in my local church can give to me is a loving critic of my life and ministry – and I have gotten lots of these; they keep me in check.
I am convinced that sin thrives in a community because the leadership of the church in that community permitted it. The reason why the biblical standards demand such high moral compass from ministers is because when pastors possess great love for the laws of God and obedience to its moral demands, they can very easily pass it on to their parishioners. They also possess clear wisdom in making the doctrines they teach very practical for the people they lead. Where this is absent, sin begins to thrive in the local church. Gradually, it will affect every aspect of church life, and with time, the Holy Spirit is grieved, and the Lord of the Church leaves to find another Chrisitan community to work with.
As gloomy as all these may sound, sin is not an entirely bad thing. The reason is that if there was no sin in our world, there would not have been a need for God to take up flesh and die for sinners. Redemption would never have occurred; the glories of sinners turning to God in faith will never happen; there would not be a real reason to worship God forever for the joys of salvation; etc. As bad as sin is, this is at least one benefit it brings to our world: because of sin, Jesus Christ came. We see this reality in an often-quoted remark in the book of Judges. That book of the Old Testament will say that despite Israel defeating the nations and taking over their lands, God still left a few of those people in the land to teach Israel how to war. God leaves sin in us Christians to teach us how to war. Christians can face their sins and defeat them because of the confidence they have in what Jesus Christ has done. Christ’s death obtained forgiveness of sin for sinners; it also provided us the resources to defeat indwelling sin. What then is the implication of all these?
It means that the Christian that has found redemption in Christ Jesus and is working daily to defeat sin within himself will not be ashamed to own his sins. John 1:17 tells us that the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. This means that in the Old Covenant, the law showed men their sins and brought condemnation with it. It is the reason why it was difficult for those people to own up to their sins. To claim you have sinned is to invite the condemnation of the law. Under Jesus, however, things are different. We can be truthful with God; we can own up to our sins because we see that grace comes to the one with truth. Matthew Henry used to say that sincerity was gospel perfection. People under the dispensation of grace can now be honest with God because they know that the blood of Jesus will cleanse them from their sins ( 1 John 1:8-10).
I mention this because the root cause of trouble in church is indwelling sin. I have operated at the leadership level in church long enough to discover that while many ministers speak freely about redemption in Christ Jesus; they talk glibly about how God forgives our sins; etc, church leadership are about the last set of people in the world to own up to their sins. We point fingers very easily, but we can not seem to find sin in ourselves. 99.9999% of crisis in churches will be resolved if the pastors admit that they are wrong. Of course, in many cases, members of the congregation are the root course of trouble in church – but most times when trouble remain unresolved in church, it is because the minister refuses to admit that he had sinned. When brothers leave the toga of their titles; when we come to each other humbly and we admit each other’s’ faults; when rather than pointing the finger at the other, we are humble enough to point the finger at ourselves, church crisis will vanish. Unfortunately, when we enter into resolving church problems, one party is willing to admit his fault, while the other party very shamefully presses the fault of the first against him. There is no humble begging, like the publican, “… God, be merciful to me a sinner…” Rather, what we have is pharisaical denouncement of the brother – “…I am not like that publican over there…” The humble group leaves justified before heaven – except that he appears condemned by men.
If the churches believe the message they preach; if we believe that Jesus Christ died for sinners – we will not be afraid to own up to our sins. Repentance is a sincere confession of sin to God – and at other times, one to another. Repentance is an outworking of the work of the Holy Spirit on a man who has found grace before God and whose sins have been forgiven. What you and I see is a man weeping in contrition and humbling himself before men and God. What heaven sees is a soul justified. I call all who are in Christian leadership, worldwide, to repentance and to faith. Let us beg God to have mercy on our sins in private while we call on the Lord to forgive also in our public praying. This spirit of humility will soon latch unto the congregation and bring everyone to their knees. Revival is essentially collective repentance – and I dare say that this repentance begins with church leadership.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was killed by the Romans in AD 33 – with the active participation of the religious rulers of his day. In AD 70, God judged Israel again and sent them into a second exile. The true Israel has never returned from that exile. What happened in 1948 was the return of a political Israel. The true Israel of God are the church of Jesus Christ dispersed in the world – they will never need to return to a physical location; except when we gather with the Lamb of God in heaven. By the 3rd century of Christ death and resurrection, institutionalized religion had returned to our world. The religion of men who say things but never do them had returned – we call it the papacy. The papacy thrived until the 16th century when it was challenged by the Protestant Reformation. The many denominations that emerged from Protestantism have themselves gone on to become institutionalized religion because these churches are led by men who say things in religion they never do.
Providence Reformed Baptist Church, Ibadan, has emerged from this crisis of institutionalized churches and denominations. We are aiming at building a local church where sound doctrine is preached and godliness thrive. But even more, I hope that the leadership I will offer God’s people will be a leadership where what I say, I also do. And, owing to the weakness of my flesh, when I fail to do what I say, my wife, men in the church, and others who are observing my life and ministry, can call me to order. May God grant that I would have grace of heart to know my sins, to repent of them, and to live in the kind of truth where the grace of God is abundant on my life and ministry.
I do sincerely hope that God will grant the churches and myself ability to hear what the Spirit is saying. Amen.
Deji Yesufu is the pastor of Providence Reformed Baptist Church, University of Ibadan. He is the author of HUMANITY.