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The gift you should return

by Pastor Chuck DeVane, Special to The Sentinel-Record | December 24, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the LORD.

-- Hosea 14:1-2, ESV

We Americans are unsatisfied with our Christmas gifts. This year over half of us will return at least one gift. Over a third of the total gifts will be sent back by Jan. 1.

Common returns include the gifts dumb men get for the ladies in their lives, like shoes, sweets, and makeup. Guys, they don't want us to know their shoe size, they go on a diet the first of the year, and really, makeup, what are you trying to say?

The best gifts never get returned, like cash, the 12-year-old bourbon, and the new car in the snowy driveway with the big red bow. But the best gift ever, however, comes from God, and if you've receive it, guess what? God actually expects you to return it.

Christians become Christians through the amazing gift of amazing grace. God's method of delivering grace is not a fat man in a red suit. We are saved by grace, through the means of faith and repentance, both of which are gifts from God He wants returned.

When God gives us faith, we believe. We profess our faith in Christ, pledge allegiance to His church, and devote our lives to learning and obeying the Bible. The rock group Journey had a big hit with "Don't Stop Believin'." Most professing Christians don't. They may come to deny every cardinal doctrine in Scripture, live like the worst pagan on the planet, never open a Bible or darken the door of a church, but they'll still tell you they still believe in Jesus Christ.

The problem, though, is too many never returned the repentance. God gave them the gift, but they never gave it back to God, with daily, ongoing, heartfelt repentance. The New Testament writer James said, "Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (ref. James 2:17). But faith without repentance never lived, and cannot save.

Enter Hosea, the most heartbreaking hero in Holy Scripture. He is the faithful prophet with the unfaithful wife, Gomer, but why would you marry a woman with that name in the first place? She made his life miserable, but it was misery ordained by God, to deepen the prophet's character, to make his preaching more illustrative and urgent. Sadly, the people Hosea preached to, the northern kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BC, were unfaithful to God. They had neglected to return their repentance to the Lord. Thus the two-fisted, doubly impassioned plea to "Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God," and again he says, "Return to the LORD" (vs 1-2).

Hosea called on Israel to repent, but as you may well know, they did not. The northern kingdom went from bad to worse. Their morals became hideous. Their economy collapsed. Their chief enemy to the east, Assyria, came in 722 BC and sacked their capital, killed their soldiers, and enslaved their people.

Hosea's call echoes to those of us who call ourselves New Testament Christians. We have been enlightened by the Gospel enough to know we were drowning in a sea of sin. We know we cannot save ourselves. We are thrown a lifeline from God, the Gospel, which appears to us like a lifesaver on a rope. The lifesaver is faith, the rope is repentance.

Professing Christians today love the lifesaver, but they don't carry the rope. They want the benefits of believing, but they revolt at the responsibility to repent. People who are truly saved, however, real Christians, hear and heed the words of Hosea. Repentance is a gift they keep giving back, they keep returning to the Lord, and not just to the Lord. Listen carefully to how the prophet Hosea says repentance should be returned, "Take with you words."

Try two. I'm sorry. Use any set of three, I was wrong, Please forgive me, I'll do better. Apply as many words as necessary to show sincere, humble, deep repentance toward God and any person you have openly wronged. God will forgive you. Godly people will, too.

Can you imagine what a better relationship with God you will have if you regularly return His gift of repentance? It could have saved Israel from the Assyrian destruction. It could save our country from the moral, economic, and political abyss to which we are running, downhill. It could save your marriage. It could save your children. It could save your soul.

So take the gift of repentance, and return it immediately!

Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected]

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