Main Idea: Repentance is God’s plan, so plan your repentance.
- God Will Not Always Be Angry (3:12).
- God Expects Repentance (3:11-14).
- Repentance Is a Plan (4:1-4).
- Remove the idols (4:1).
- Swear to this commitment (4:2).
- Cultivate your heart (4:3).
- Consecrate yourself (4:4).
- Your Repentance Is Part of God’s Plan (3:12-18; 4:2, 4).
She sits silently in the counselor’s office. She has one question in her mind. Will she ever be forgiven? She was caught cheating on her husband. At some point she knew that he knew. And then she did the unthinkable. She kept doing it. She had multiple affairs over a long period of time and never looked back. Though he was patient, his patience had a limit when he realized that his patience would not result in her returning to him.
We are a part of the bride of Christ. This means sin is now something different from just a mistake or a one-time problem. Sin is an act of infidelity. It is an act of unfaithfulness to the one we love.
This is the context of Jeremiah 3. Israel has been unfaithful to God over a sustained period of time. God decides that he wants a divorce, but as we saw in the previous chapters, his faithfulness to Israel knows no bounds. He is faithful to her even when she is unfaithful. He will stay with her. He will not divorce her. This is good news. While they are technically together, will he stay angry with her forever?
Look at Jeremiah 3:6-11. The southern kingdom, Judah, was being compared unfavorably to the unfaithful northern kingdom. This condemnation had to sting. The people of Judah considered themselves more faithful than the north because of their godly king, Josiah. Yet it is clear that not all of Josiah’s reforms were working. The people had so much going for them, but at the core their hearts were still in love with all these idols.
God is going to take them back, but the judgment promised in chapter 2 is real. Will God always condemn them for what they are doing? Will God always be angry? To use the terms of our opening illustration, will this wife live the rest of her days with a husband who will hold this infidelity over her head? That is no way to live, but no one would blame him for being angry forever. No one. With her multiple counts of sexual immorality, even if he held his tongue, surely we could not criticize him for being angry!
This is the question for Judah. It is a corporate question, a question for a group, and that will be the focus of the next chapter. For now, address the personal question. Based on all that I have done, will God always be angry with me?
For some of us, that question is in the foreground of our minds. We went through a period of time when we were so brazen in our sin against God. Now we are thinking that coming fully back to him is not possible because he will always be angry with us. For others maybe it’s in the background. We do not worry about this so much, but maybe that’s because we have not dealt honestly with sin. When we own up to it, we might ask, “Will God always be angry with me?”
So, will God always be mad at me for all I have done?
God Will Not Always Be Angry
No, as God clearly states in this verse, he will not always be angry with us. However, and this is critical, the reason does not have to do with the nature of our sin. We have sinned in ways that make God’s anger justified. No one could blame God for fueling the fire of his anger forever. We deserve it, after all. Yet the reason he gives is his “unfailing” love. This could be translated “faithfulness.” The idea is a contrast. Your love failed; God’s love is unfailing. You have been unfaithful; God is faithful.
This particular type of unfailing love is unique to God. The Hebrew word here is chesed. It refers to love that is kind and faithful. It is a favorite word of the psalmists, used more than 150 times in Psalms and often translated as “faithful love” or “steadfast love.” It is used several times in Jeremiah as well.
While we can show a modicum of faithful love, only God’s love can be perfectly steadfast and faithful. God does not have the capacity not to love his people. He will always be faithful to us. It is a faithfulness that is appreciated in light of our unfaithfulness. When we think of all our sin in light of God’s goodness, we should rejoice. In every way that I have been wrong to God, he has been right to me. Admitting sinfulness is a way to praise; sin is the opposite of what God has demonstrated to me. The depth of sin reminds me of the height of grace. In the end my depths are all swallowed up in God’s heights. His grace towers my guilt.
The psalmist describes it this way in Psalm 57:1-3:
Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me,
for I take refuge in you.
I will seek refuge in the shadow of your wings
until danger passes.
I call to God Most High,
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
He reaches down from heaven and saves me,
challenging the one who tramples me. Selah
God sends his faithful love and truth.
God’s faithful love is there to save us when we need refuge. God’s love even saves us when we need refuge from the anger of God.
He will not be angry with us forever. Look at Psalm 103:8-10 where God’s anger is remedied with his faithful love:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in faithful love.
He will not always accuse us
or be angry forever.
He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve
or repaid us according to our iniquities.
Is God angry when you sin? Yes. Sin evokes God’s anger. Will God’s anger toward those who repent be eternal? No, God will not always be angry. Motivated by his own character, he will forgive. Second Timothy 2:13 encourages us: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.”
True repentance abates God’s anger.
God Expects Repentance
This is a shocking request in these verses. The husband who has been cheated on is asking his faithless one to return! Three times in this chapter the cheating wife is asked to return (vv. 12, 14, 22) (Wright, Message of Jeremiah, 81). This invitation is powerful and simple: turn and acknowledge guilt. The expectation is that they love him so much that they will return and acknowledge what has been done. This is the first part of repentance.
The acknowledgment of sin is not the end of repentance; it is the beginning. Over and over we are told to acknowledge our guilt. It is part of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:12). It is the foundational part of David’s path to repentance: “For I am conscious of my rebellion, and my sin is always before me” (Ps 51:3). It is a part of the fellowship of believers (Jas 5:16). There is no healing without repentance, and there is no repentance without acknowledging sin. Confession of sin is essential to maintaining fellowship with God (1 John 1:9).
Yet admitting sin and changing are not the same thing. Confession is not synonymous with repentance; it is simply the entry point. When people began to publicly confess through the act of baptism, John the Baptist rebuked them and told them to “produce fruit consistent with repentance” (Luke 3:8). Once someone has acknowledged sin, there is heart work to be done. Heart work is always hard work. The heart of true repentance is laid out in 4:1-4, where Jeremiah spells out what repentance looks like.
Repentance Is a Plan
The returning was not an emotional reattachment to God as much as it was a plan to demolish the idols and restore the relationship. While the “plan” laid out here is not intended to be exhaustive, it helps us understand some important aspects of the whole.
Remove the Idols (v. 1)
This is simple enough. If Judah is going to restore things with God, they must destroy the other objects of their worship.
This was not a metaphor. God was telling them to literally take a hammer to the idols. Bust them up. Destroy them. The physical act of destruction was showing how much they loved God alone. In the same way, we clean up our lives. What is it that I love more than God? We have to acknowledge what it is, then root it out. Be done with it. Is there an idol we need to remove?
Swear to This Commitment (v. 2)
Then God asks them to commit, to swear, that is, take an oath, a pledge. Oftentimes it had a public component. In ancient times there was no legal or recording system like we would understand it. Still, to swear a verbal oath came with significant legal ramifications. It was binding. God describes his covenant with Abraham as something he swore (Ps 105:4). The idea is verbal, yes, but more than that it is an assertion of the position of the heart.
Now he switches from these direct features to two physical metaphors for repentance.
Cultivate Your Heart (v. 3)
The first metaphor is cultivation of the heart. No field is ready to receive seed unless it is first cultivated. The soil must be broken up. This broken soil is a metaphor for a heart that has the idols rooted out and is now humble before God and ready to receive his word.
The seed is wasted unless the soil is cultivated. The heart as prepared soil was a principal metaphor for Jesus (Matt 13:1-23). Once the idols are removed and we have made our declaration, we now need to keep hearts that are sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. These are hearts that are ready to receive the “implanted word” (Jas 1:21). The word is God’s means of communication with us. We will never know what God intended us to know about himself if we do not expose ourselves to the word. Yet that word is kept from us if we do not have hearts to receive it.
The history of Israel turned on how they responded to the word. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and Saul all faced problems when they did not receive the word. The consequences were devastating. The word in us is our hope. Yet this word is not available to us unless we cultivate our hearts and are receptive to God.
Consecrate Yourself (v. 4)
Circumcision was an external sign of an internal covenant.
In the New Testament, Christian baptism serves as external sign of an internal relationship. The baptism does not save, but the water is a picture of what Christ has done for us in his death and resurrection. The picture is real. The symbol has a reality to it; it is tied to a real historical event and my willingness to publicly identify with the Jesus of the gospel.
Jeremiah’s audience had been circumcised. That was not the problem. The problem was that their circumcision was only skin deep. They had the symbol; they did not have the reality. Jeremiah would say to us, “OK, you’ve been washed in the water. Now baptize your heart.”
Zacchaeus was a tax collector who, upon seeing Jesus, repented. He came up with a plan to restore what had been lost. When Jesus heard his plan, he responded, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:1-9). It seems that the evidence of the residing salvation was the plan to repent.
There is often confusion about the nature of true repentance. Let’s be clear. Repentance is not a feeling. It is not an emotion. It is an action. Repentance is the working out of our salvation. Regret and remorse are merely the runway lights; only repentance can land you safely. If you have a sin you are dealing with, the immediate question and the ultimate question are the same: What’s the plan?
As a pastor I would often have someone come to my office to confess a sin and want help. My question, after comforting and encouraging, was simply this: What’s the plan? Of course there is more to this. But with the immediacy of the question, I was trying to communicate lovingly that feeling bad about a situation is not enough. It must change. And change will only be worked out over time.
But there is a bigger motivation for repentance. Repentance is not only God’s plan for me, but my repentance fits into the plan that God has for all things, including bringing the nations to himself. Repentance is part of God’s plan, so plan your repentance.
Your Repentance Is Part of God’s Plan
Jeremiah 3:12-18; 4:2, 4
Consider the sentence construction here. While repentance is a plan, the purpose of the sentence is not to get the people to follow a plan. The purpose of the sentence is to get them to see a consequence. Look at 4:2:
Then the nations will be blessed by him
and will pride themselves in him.
The idea is that in their obedience, many nations will be blessed. We will address this theme in the next chapter. Look at 3:17-18:
At that time Jerusalem will be called The Lord’s Throne, and all the nations will be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord in Jerusalem. They will cease to follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts.
Their repentance was not really about themselves; it was about the nations.
So much hangs on their decision to repent and on ours as well. No sin ever takes place in a void of consequence. Each sin has consequences beyond ourselves. But that is to say it in the negative. The glorious, positive truth is to say that when we repent, when we return, when we come back to Christ, there are effects to this. Repentance is part of God’s plan, so plan your repentance.
Jeremiah closes this section with a stark warning in 4:4, so let’s not play games. In what area of your life do you need to repent? Is it the lingering thought that while you are efficient in every other area of your life you are a spiritual hoarder? You are hanging on to God’s money, God’s time, or God’s forgiveness, unwilling to share any of it with others? If God’s goodness, dammed up in your heart, were to be breached, there would be a lot of grace.
Perhaps there is a secret sin of lust. It’s imbedded. You feel remorse. And you are partly confusing remorse with repentance. No life was ever changed over a bad feeling. Regret and remorse should lead to repentance. They are not the evidence of it. Remorse is only your friend until it leads you to repentance. After that it is no friend at all.
Repentance is part of God’s plan, so plan your repentance.
Reflect and Discuss
- God showed Judah a particular type of love: chesed love. How should we understand love of this type?
- How does Jeremiah define and describe repentance?
- How should we understand God’s faithfulness in light of our faithlessness?
- Jeremiah provides a four-part plan to repentance. Can you name his four-part plan (4:1-4)?
- What was the purpose of repentance, according to Jeremiah? Was this purpose individual or universal?
- Jeremiah used an agricultural metaphor to describe one of the necessary steps of repentance. Which metaphor did he use, and what are the implications of it (4:3)?
- What would be the result of Israel’s repentance (3:12-18; 4:2, 4)?
- In what way does repentance fit into the plan of God?
- Is regret and remorse identical to repentance or the forerunner for it?
- Is acknowledgment the end of repentance or its beginning?