Six ingredients of repentance

By Rosie Moore.

As a born and bred sinner, I know that my natural inclination is always to please myself rather than God. I’ve realised that my sin hurts myself and others, but ultimately it offends God, because it is rebellion against His way of living. But as much as I know these things in my head, my heart is still discovering that sin is like an onion that must be peeled away layer by layer, over many years. The Holy Spirit does the peeling, but I need to do the repenting.

Streams of mercy.

Whenever we peel an onion, we cry. Paradoxically, the tears of repentance are like a stream of mercy that cleanses our soul. Like the sinful woman who stood at Christ’s feet, weeping, we go in peace when we have repented of our sins (Luke 7:384850). Great joy and blessing follow in the wake of repentance.

Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
 (Psalm 32:2)

And so, understanding what repentance means is essential to true Christianity and saving faith in Christ. Repentance was the crux of the first sermon in Church history and it is the only way that we will be added to God’s kingdom, as were the three thousand congregants who accepted Peter’s message (Acts 2:38-41). They were cut to the heart by the Holy Spirit and wept for their sin. That is the reason why they turned to Christ for forgiveness.

Today we will be looking at King David’s confession in the light of Thomas Watson’s six essential ingredients of repentance:

  1. Sight of sin.
  2. Sorrow for sin.
  3. Confession of sin.
  4. Shame for sin.
  5. Hatred for sin.
  6. Turning from sin.

All six ingredients are evident in King David’s prayer of confession after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and conspired to murder her husband, Uriah. Psalm 51 gives us a useful model to follow in our own repentance.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is
 a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise (Psalm 51)

Moment of clarity.

In this Psalm of confession, David has seen his sinful heart for what it is (Ps 51:3-5). The scales have fallen from his eyes. He is no longer blind, desensitized or under any illusions as to the evil he has done. He doesn’t use euphemistic language like ‘weakness’, ‘passion’, ‘indiscretion’ or ‘mistake’ to describe his actions.

Moreover, David no longer passes the buck or glamorizes the affair. He doesn’t argue that the culture permitted a king to sleep with any woman or that Uriah the Hittite was somehow killed in a tragic war.

Instead, he offers God his “broken and contrite heart” (Ps 51:17).  The word ‘contrite’ is an old-fashioned but pregnant word that means sorrowful, penitent, conscience-stricken, mortified, chastened, humbled and ashamed. True confession doesn’t minimize sin or plead extenuating circumstances.

David uses graphic words like ‘iniquity’, ‘transgressions’ ‘guilt’, ‘bloodshed’, ‘evil’ and ‘sins’ to describe the wicked things he has done. His choice of unequivocal language shows that he hates his sin and knows that even he, a powerful king, is accountable to his Creator. He has no excuse.

But David didn’t always have sight of his sin. Prior to writing Psalm 51, he lived for many months, perhaps years, totally blinded to his sin, thinking that God was blind too (2 Sam 11:1-27). But this chapter concludes with God’s verdict:

“When the mourning was over, David sent and brought Bathsheba to his household, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing which David had done was evil in the eyes of Yahweh” (2 Samuel 11:27).

There is no doubt as to what Yahweh thought of David’s behaviour, but the truth only dawned on David when Nathan the prophet confronted him with a parable. As the prophet peeled back layer after layer of David’s deceitful heart, the penny finally dropped.

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7)

You are the man!

David was cut to the heart by Nathan’s words. Exposure is a great gift when prompted by the Holy Spirit, whom God sends to convict us of sin, of righteousness and judgement (John 16:8-15). It is nothing like the false accusations and false shame of Satan.

When David’s eyes were opened, he saw his deep ingratitude to God who had blessed him and installed him as king (2 Sam 12:7-8). He saw that he had despised the Lord’s word, murdered Uriah the Hittite and stolen his precious wife (2 Sam 12:9). He had believed that what he did in the dark was invisible and that the rules didn’t apply to him as king.

There was no euphemistic spin for the evil that David had done. There was no neutral, non- judgmental way to admit his sin. There was no way to suppress the truth. David realized that there was no place to hide when he heard God say to him:

“You did it in secret, but I will do this very thing in broad daylight before all Israel.”

“Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam 12:12-13).

I have sinned against the Lord.

David’s simple admission of guilt was like the great moment noted in the prodigal son’s repentance: “He came to himself… Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:1721).

David’s confession was voluntary, sincere and went to the heart of the problem, which is the human heart (Ps 51:5). David accused himself and justified God (Ps 51:4). When he compared his own faithlessness to the compassion and unfailing love of God, it only heightened his sorrow and awareness of sin (Ps 51:1). He saw a true picture of himself beside the one true and faithful God.

David’s repentance was far deeper than mere remorse for the messy consequences of his sins, which Nathan laid out for him (2 Sam 12:11-12.) He realized that he had offended a holy and just God who had lovingly cared for him from the womb and taught him what was right (Ps 51:46).

There was no doubt in David’s mind that he deserved to be judged and cast out from God’s presence (Ps 51:411). He knew that there was no sacrifice or bribe that he could offer to buy atonement for his sins (Ps 51:16).

It was a terrifying, shameful, sorrowful moment of clarity for David. All he could offer the Lord was a “broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart” (Ps 51:17). And all he could ask for in return was God’s mercy, compassion, cleansing and deliverance from guilt (Ps 51:1-27914). It was a most unequal trade-off, and David knew it.

Five of the six essential ingredients for repentance are well illustrated in Psalm 51. But how do we know that David turned away from his sins? Psalm 51:10-13 gives us a hint of this final trademark of repentance.

Create in me a pure heart.

David knew that he needed God’s Holy Spirit to create in him a pure heart and willing spirit to change. Knowing that his heart would always lead him astray, the king pleaded for a steadfast spirit to sustain him in living a holy life. He asked to be able to lead other sinners back to God and teach them His ways.

Isn’t it amazing that a thousand years before the Holy Spirit convicted a congregation of three thousand on the day of Pentecost, David knew that he needed the Holy Spirit to reform him from the inside? (Ps 51:11) He knew that he needed a soft heart on which God’s laws would be engraved and new desires formed (Ezek 36:25-27Jer 31:33-34).

What a privilege to have the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us obey God’s word and turn from our sin (Gal 5:16)! True sorrow for sin always results in turning from sin, which is so visible that others will see it (Acts 16:33Eph 5:8).

The joy of forgiveness.

When I was a child, I had an uncle who suffered from chronic kidney disease and lived in constant pain. He didn’t know the Lord, and from my perspective he was a harsh and grumpy man who didn’t like children at all! I asked my mom what I should say in my prayers for him and she said, “Ask the Lord to open uncle Billy’s eyes to see who he is and who God is.”

So that’s exactly what I prayed every day for the next twenty years. The miracle of sight occurred when my uncle was sixty years old. One day, he came to the end of himself and turned to the Lord Jesus in repentance and faith, with my older sister holding his hand.

I always remember this event as the beginning of the most stark change I’ve seen in a human being, because my uncle’s whole demeanour and purpose changed. He became a kind and cheerful man who quite obviously knew the joy of forgiveness. Five years later, Uncle Billy died, a free and blessed man.

If Psalm 51 expresses David’s depths of sorrow over sin, Psalm 32 expresses the height of his joy at being forgiven. There’s nothing worse than unconfessed sin because it drives a wedge between us and God, but there’s nothing more blessed than the cleansing, liberating, healing power of repentance.


Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord does not count against them
    and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
    while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
    will not reach them.
You are my hiding place;
    you will protect me from trouble
    and surround me with songs of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
    which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
    or they will not come to you.
10 Many are the woes of the wicked,
    but the Lord’s unfailing love
    surrounds the one who trusts in him.

11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
    sing, all you who are upright in heart!


Cut to the heart.

By Rosie Moore.

The first sermon in church history ends with a congregation cut to the heart over their sin. After the Holy Spirit showed them the beauty of Christ and their own rebellious hearts, about three thousand people grieved over their sin and accepted the healing message of the gospel. The book of Acts describes the amazing Spirit-filled interaction between Peter the convicted preacher and a congregation of convicted Jews from all nations on earth, who had gathered together in Jerusalem for Pentecost. It’s a live illustration of what evangelism and genuine repentance looks like:

Acts 2:36-41

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

A convicted preacher.

“Men of Israel, hear these words!” (Acts 2:22)

This was the sermon of a convicted preacher if ever there was one! Peter was not repeating hearsay or going through the motions of a man of the cloth. He pleaded passionately with the crowd and convinced them, as he was fully convinced, that only Jesus can save.

Without a doubt, Peter knew in his own heart that Jesus was both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). He also personally knew Jesus of Nazareth, the man who had done great miracles and wonders (Acts 2:22-24). He didn’t hesitate to use passages from the Old Testament Scripture which identified Jesus as Yahweh himself, nor was he concerned about how his words would be received by his hearers.

There was a remarkable change in Peter on the day of Pentecost. It’s hard to reconcile this bold, fearless preacher with the cowardly man who, six weeks earlier, had denied even knowing Jesus (Matt 26:69-75). But Peter had seen the resurrected and ascended Jesus in the interim! (Acts 2:32-33). He was an eyewitness to the contents of his own sermon, with no secondary research required. Going straight for the bull’s eye, Peter focused on the resurrected Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 2:22-24).

Moreover, Peter wan’t just a passionate and zealous preacher. Unlike the professional teachers of his day, Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and raised his voice to proclaim the gospel like a herald. He wasted no time on pleasantries, but told his audience the truth that they were sinners and Jesus had borne the full wrath of God on the cross (Acts 2:20-21). He appealed to what his congregation already knew about Jesus (Acts 2:22) and the promises of the Old Testament.

Peter’s sermon carried conviction because it was smothered in his own conviction of sin and his own hope. This preacher knew his twisted, faithless heart that had abandoned Christ in his hour of greatest need. And Peter’s sermon was convincing to the crowd, because the preacher himself was convinced that Jesus had risen and was now ruling as the everlasting King in David’s line.

For Peter, Jesus was the “Holy One” that King David had foreseen, the only Saviour who could make known to men “the paths of life” and lead them to “live in hope.” There was nothing tragic or arbitrary about Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension. It was all planned by God and penned by David a thousand years beforehand (Acts 2:23-31; Ps 110).

A convicted congregation.

But Peter also shone the spotlight on his hearers’ own corrupt hearts. He showed them that they also crucified Christ, even if they were not physically present on the day He died (Act 2:36). They too had resisted and rejected Christ’s Lordship over their lives, and rebelled against God. I’m sure Peter may have braced himself to be stoned at this point!

But supernaturally, the Spirit performed a miracle of new birth in the hearts of 3000 congregants. He brought them to a place of insight, sorrow, shame, confession and hatred for their sin. Luke vividly identifies the trigger: The Holy Spirit convicted and called the hearers. They were ‘cut to the heart’ and distressed about their sin. They were led into the light, just as Jesus said would happen when the Holy Spirit did his work (John 3:6-721).

Their response to the sermon was not an outward act, but an inward grace. The layers of concealing skin and tissue were peeled back to expose the cancer of their hearts. The prophecy of Zechariah 12:10 comes to mind: “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn.”

Instead of using a sword to cut off the ear of a soldier as Peter had done weeks earlier (John 18:10), Peter was now wielding the Sword of the Spirit to cut people’s hearts and open them to Jesus’s supernatural healing. Deeply convicted by the Holy Spirit, the congregation asked the right question:

“Brothers, what shall we do?” There is genuine anguish and sorrow in their question as they realize the myriad ways in which they’ve rejected God’s love and despised his King.

Peter wastes no time in inviting the multitude to come to Jesus for forgiveness. This is exactly what every convicted sinner must do: “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”.

That day, a massive congregation turned from their sin and publicly confessed their new allegiance—an allegiance to Christ, a new way of life and a new community. That’s what their baptism signified (Acts 2:41).


The first thing Peter told them to do is “repent”. To repent is not just to feel sorry, but to change one’s whole mind and trajectory. Repentance describes what coming to God is. We can’t turn towards God without turning away from the things that God is against. Repentance is a word of great hope, because we do not have to continue in the way that we’ve been going. We can turn towards God in surrender.

So, what does true repentance look like and what does it achieve?

Thomas Watson, a Puritan preacher and author from the 17th century, wrote a timeless book titled “The Doctrine of Repentance”. He starts with these words:

“Christian reader, the two great graces essential to a saint in this life are faith and repentance. These are the two wings by which he flies to heaven. Faith and repentance preserve the spiritual life as heat and moisture do the natural.”

“Repentance is a grace of God’s Spirit whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed… Repentance breaks the abscess of sin, and then the soul is at ease” (Thomas Watson).

Isn’t that a beautiful picture of the healing and purging power of repentance?

Nothing has changed since Watson wrote in 1668. Repentance and faith in Jesus Christ is still the only way that our restless souls will be at peace, as it’s the timeless medicine that God has prescribed for the forgiveness of our sins. There is no other way to be saved.

Counterfeit repentance.

But repentance is one of those words that many people reject today, because they will not tolerate the mention of sin or guilt. Sin is seen as an archaic form of oppression that we must shake off if we are to be truly free. And so, we resort to many counterfeit forms of repentance, like those desperate new resolutions or promises we make when we are buffeted by the trouble that sin has caused in our lives. Sometimes we believe that these efforts at self help will buy us atonement.

And other times, we desperately want to escape the web of sin in our lives, but we’re not truly repulsed, saddened and ashamed of the sin itself. In fact, we have no clue how seriously we’ve offended God, nor do we intend to name our sin or confess it out loud to the only person who can forgive us. Instead, we are still looking for loopholes while calculating how near the line we dare walk before we are zapped by God or sin’s consequences. Counterfeit repentance is a fool’s paradise.

But God is not fooled by our counterfeit repentance, which achieves nothing but a false sense of security. The difference between counterfeit and real repentance is illustrated well by Christ’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to pray:

“The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’…

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:11-14)

The tax collector called himself a sinner and called upon God for mercy. But the Pharisee saw only the faults of others.

The crux of salvation.

Knowing what repentance means is essential to Christianity and saving faith. It was the crux of Peter’s sermon and the only way that we will be added to God’s kingdom, alongside the 3000 who accepted Peter’s message (Acts 2:38-41). Repentance is the only way that Jesus saves us “from this perverse generation” and justifies us before God. It’s the only channel by which we and our children can receive the promises of God (Acts 2:38-3940).

“Repent and be baptized” is a warning as well as a promise of hope. Jesus himself said that if we do not repent, we will perish. It is the most important word in the gospel, used in John the Baptist’s ministry and Jesus’s ministry (Matt 3:24:17). ‘Repent’ is not a dirty word, but a word of hope and healing, because it is the condition by which we are reformed into God’s creatures.

Spurgeon said, “The old fashioned grace of repentance is not to be dispensed with; there must be sorrow for sin; there must be a ‘broken and contrite heart’. This, God will not despise. But a ‘conversion’ which does not produce this result, God will not accept as genuine.”

To be sure that we know the difference between counterfeit and genuine repentance in our own lives, join me next week as we explore Thomas Watson’s six essential ingredients which make up the spiritual medicine of repentance:

  1. Sight of sin.
  2. Sorrow for sin.
  3. Confession of sin.
  4. Shame for sin.
  5. Hatred for sin.
  6. Turning from sin.


Lord, you have reminded us today of our sinful hearts that so often deceive us into thinking we are good. We are utterly crooked, and it is only our pride, self-love and ignorance that blind us to our bankruptcy before you. Lord, we don’t want to harp on other people’s faults and cloak our sins. We ask you to cut open the abscess of our own hearts and expose whatever offends you in our thoughts, words and deeds. Help us to confess our sins to you speedily, specifically and without excuse. Holy Spirit, give us hearts of humble surrender, like the tax collector who prayed for mercy and like the 3000 converts on the day of Pentecost. Cut us to the heart, Lord, that we may be healed. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

“Above all” is a song that reminds me of Peter’s first sermon about Jesus Christ. “You lived to die, rejected and alone. Like a rose trampled on the ground, you took the fall and thought of me above all.” The conviction of our own great sin and Christ’s beautiful sacrifice must cut our hearts and lead us to repentance again and again.

So Esau despised his birthright

By Rosie Moore.

“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

So Esau despised his birthright” (Gen 25:34).

I’ve never seen anyone come close to starvation after a day stalking animals in the bush! All afternoon Esau had been imagining dinner, but he exaggerated his hunger as though it was a matter of life and death. His mind fixated on momentary pleasure and the object of his desire, nothing else.

“GIVE ME WHAT I WANT, AND GIVE IT TO ME RIGHT NOW, OR I’LL DIE!!” It so happened that his brother made an exquisitely delicious lentil stew and Esau was particularly hungry and tired.

Like all addictions and cravings, they don’t just happen out of the blue and they come with a high price tag attached. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you are willing to give up anything to give you what you feel you need right now?

I think Paul’s words to the Philippian believers provide an apt description of Esau’s sin:

“Their destiny is their destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” (Phil 3).

Esau’s trade-off was the culmination of a series of trade-offs, which included marrying Canaanite wives in opposition to his parents’ wishes. These wives worshipped foreign gods that demanded detestable sexual acts and even child sacrifice (Gen 26:3428:8). As a son in the covenant family of Abraham, Esau would have known that Yahweh and Baal had nothing in common (Deut 7:3-4Gen 28:1). But Esau was master of his own destiny and he took whatever his heart desired.

Instant gratification

Trading his birthright for a bowl of stew was the clearest example of Esau’s priorities. He valued his own wants above God’s will, and worshipped his cravings instead of Yahweh. He grabbed instant gratification instead of treasuring God’s covenantal blessing.

Verse 34 leaves us in no doubt about how God regarded Esau’s choice to put his temporary hunger pains above his eternal birthright. Moses concludes this story with the loaded statement: “So Esau despised his birthright.”

He sought the blessing with tears.

Because Esau sold his birthright and treated the blessings and privileges of God as worthless, this sin had lasting consequences that could not be undone. In the ancient world, a person’s word was binding, especially a formal oath. No amount of tears, regret, remorse or blame could change the outcome.

But Esau only realized the weight of this choice years later when his dying father blessed Jacob instead of himself (Genesis 27):

“When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!”

 But Isaac said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”

Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” 

Now it’s true that while the twins were still in Rebekah’s womb, God had promised that his plan would be worked out through Jacob, not Esau (Gen 25:23). And there’s no doubt that Jacob was a lying, deceiving trickster who didn’t deserve the family birthright either.

But it’s also clear from the text that Esau never takes responsibility for his own sin of selling his birthright. Instead, he rants and rages, implores and begs, blames his treacherous brother and swears to kill him when he realizes that he’s been passed over for his father’s blessing.

Instead of acknowledging his sin, Esau sees himself as the innocent victim of everything that has happened to him. It’s as if a bandit came and stole the birthright right out of his hands! Never once does Esau admit that he chose to satisfy the desire of the moment, while giving up the greatest prize of all—a part of God’s great plan of redemption. He forgets his careless words to his brother, “What good is the birthright to me?”

What good is the birthright to me?

To understand the magnitude of Esau’s sin, let’s consider the significance of this birthright:

Firstly, in the ancient world, a birthright was the special honour given to the firstborn son, which included a double portion of the family inheritance and the leadership of the family.

Secondly, in Abraham’s family, Esau’s birthright meant far more than property rights and status. To be God’s chosen seed was the greatest blessing anyone could hope for. It came with all the promises of God’s everlasting covenant with Abraham and Isaac (Gen 12; 13; 15; 17; 25).

So, by selling his birthright for a pot of stew, Esau was rejecting this covenant and the privilege of fathering many nations; being a channel of blessing to other nations and inheriting the Promised land of Canaan– a land flowing with milk and honey. Esau was treating this treasure as if it were worthless and unimportant.

Moreover, on a personal level, Esau was giving up the extraordinary benefit of God’s faithful presence in his life: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you.” (Gen 28:15). This was the promise that God made to his brother Jacob instead.

A warning for the privileged.

Esau’s dismissive words are a great warning to all of us who have had the privilege of hearing the gospel, belonging to a church or a Christian family. For this reason, the writer to the Hebrews highlights Esau’s life as a warning to the first century church not to forfeit their spiritual birthright by living a sexually immoral, bitter or godless life:

14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done (Heb 12:14-17).

There is something irrevocable about Esau’s choice in Genesis 25, and the Bible makes no bones about its spiritual implications (Mal 1:2-3Rom 9:13).

How is Esau’s life a warning to us today? Ultimately, we despise the spiritual birthright that God freely offers us when we are unwilling to repent and trust in Jesus, the “mediator of the new covenant, whose sprinkled blood speaks louder than the blood of Abel” (Heb 12:24). If we stubbornly reject the gospel invitation in our lifetime, we can never expect to receive God’s blessings in the afterlife. This is the stark warning of Esau’s life for all those who delay or reject Christ’s call to turn to Him in faith and repentance.

But even as Christians, we are apt to take for granted Christ’s great love and sacrifice on the cross. Over many years, familiarity can breed contempt and complacency. The writer of Hebrews urges us to be thankful people, “and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28). Thankful, reverent worship is the only antidote to the sin of contempt.

The big trade-off.

There is something very sobering about Esau’s lost birthright and blessing, as well as the warning in Hebrews 12. I don’t know about you, but I can relate to Esau and his poor choice. I remember many times in my life when I’ve chosen cheap fast food instead of the wonderful banquet that God offers me (Isaiah 55:1-2).

Who of us hasn’t surrendered to cravings to help us forget, to prove our worth, to express anger or just to feel better for a moment? I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to quench some deep thirst with salty water that only makes me thirstier.

Who of us hasn’t preferred, at some point in our lives, that God should leave us alone to live our own lives and be our own God? Who of us hasn’t blamed and nursed bitter thoughts when we’ve been careless with our life? This is the struggle against sin that every believer must fight until the day we die (Heb 12:4-5).

But the gospel is truly wonderful news for those of us who identify with Esau’s sin and turn to Jesus for restoration. Jesus did what we cannot do!

Just consider Christ’s trade-off: Jesus gave up his birthright as the only begotten Son of God, to secure our birthright as God’s adopted children and heirs. This is an irrevocable birthright with extraordinary blessings and privileges attached.

Unlike Esau, Jesus did not take the path of instant gratification when tested in the wilderness. He didn’t grab the instant food, the instant power, approval and protection that Satan offered him. Instead, Jesus did battle with sin and took an aggressive, take-no-prisoners stand against Satan’s deceptive schemes (Luke 4:1-13).

Jesus stayed on course and set his face to Jerusalem. He submitted to the cross and endured the dreadful darkness when his Father abandoned him. “He scorned the shame of the cross and then sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” If Jesus had been like us, he would have chosen instant gratification, instead of the “joy set before him” (Heb 12:2-3).

In our battle against constant craving, let’s keep our eyes on Jesus one day at a time. Let’s give up whatever sin endangers our relationship with God and run patiently in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s never refuse God’s grace or put our confidence in short term gains. Instead, let’s build our lives on Christ and his unshakeable kingdom. What’s a pot of lentil stew compared to a land overflowing with milk and honey?


Lord, it’s sobering to read of how Esau rejected your blessings by trading his birthright for a pot of stew. We too struggle against this same sin and we so often forget that you are good and you offer us joy that’s better than anything on earth. When we are struggling with sin, help us to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who “endured such opposition from sinful men so that we will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb 12:2-3). Give us thankful, worshipful hearts that fully appreciate your great gift of salvation. “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees, make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled but rather healed (Heb 12:12).