Deeds Prohibit Repentance?

July 6, 2017 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement


This summer at Oak Hills we have been studying the Old Testament prophet Hosea. He is best known for his illustrative marriage to Gomer, an eye-opening lesson for the people of God about spiritual adultery. On the flip side of their (our) spiritual adultery is the faithfulness, steadfast love, redemption, and restoration of God. This story proves to be a beautiful and powerful depiction of what it means to be in a relationship with God. Take sin seriously. Delight yourself in your loving, kind, forgiving, heavenly Father.

Like a multi-faceted jewel, which you can spin around and see new marvelous angles of beauty, Hosea unfolds with new angles of beauty into our relationship with God. One of those facets is how sin affects our relationship with God. We have seen that sin is rooted in the lack of knowledge of God (2:8) and that sin takes the place of God in our hearts (2:5). In chapter 5 we learn that sin actually can be a roadblock to repentance.

Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they know not the Lord (5:4).

The people of Israel had been engaging in religious activity. They were bringing great numbers of animals to sacrifice before God (5:6). Yet, they do not find God. The indictment of verse 4 reveals why they experienced “relational distance” from God. “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God.” Their actions, what they were actually engaging in doing, proved to be a roadblock in their relationship with God. They could not return, or repent.

How can our actions, whether they are sinful or not, prohibit repentance?

  1. Our actions betray (or, to put it nicely, reveal) the truth of our hearts. Ultimately, we do what we want. Our actions follow what our hearts value and treasure. That’s what Hosea highlights in verse 4 as the reason “their deeds” prohibit repentance: “For the spirit of whoredom is within them.” Their hearts have wandered far from treasuring the Lord. They treasured other gods (that’s spiritual adultery). Repentance is a matter of the heart (a transfer of values, so to speak). If the heart does not change, no amount of actions, sinful or not, will be counted as repentance before God. If fact, if we “trust” our actions, without examining our hearts, we may never see that we are missing repentance. Our actions are not permitting repentance.
  1. Our actions may distract our hearts. Ever hear the phrase “an acquired taste”? Repeated action (in this case, eating or drinking something) will actually shape our values (again, in this case, so that we like something). Throughout high school I hated the taste and smell of coffee. I vowed to never drink coffee. Then, while in college, 8am classes after a long night of study required some sort of caffeinated jolt. I forced myself to drink coffee and grew to enjoy coffee. This happens with actions in our lives, even sinful actions. We do things that we do not want to (Rom. 7:19). Repeating such actions will erode our dislike and resistance to such actions, to the point that the values of our hearts may change. Our actions can lead to prohibiting repentance by eroding our hatred of the sin and our endeavoring after new obedience (WCF #87, What is repentance?).

What can we do if our actions can prohibit our repentance?

  1. Allow Scripture to be a surgical mirror in your life. See Hebrews 4:12 and James 1:22-25.
  1. Be an accountable member of the church community. See Hebrews 3:12-14.
  1. Allow good actions (practices, habits, etc.) shape your heart. Acquire a taste, nay, a love, for Scripture reading, prayer, fasting, forms of worship that communicate the gospel, the sacraments, etc.

Let’s learn from Israel of the Old Testament and  be aware of how our deeds may prohibit us from returning to our God.


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