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  • Joe Steenholdt

Joel 2:12–13 - Return to God

Killing sin is a matter of life and death.

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Read Joel 2:12-13

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Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 89

Q. What is the dying-away

of the old self?

A. It is to be genuinely sorry for sin,

to hate it more and more,

and to run away from it.



The prophets in the Old Testament brought God’s Word to the people of Israel, warning the people against impending judgment due to their sins and the consequences of breaking their covenant with their Lord. Yet the message always included a statement of deliverance and salvation for God’s people who repented.

One of the most frequent imperatives the prophets give is to “return,” a rightful return to God. It is very similar to how we understand the word “repent:” to turn away from sin and back to God. In line with the message of Joel, the old Puritan, John Owen, famously said, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”

Joel begins his message with the immediate judgment of locusts destroying the land, but follows up with a call to repentance. In chapter 2, he proclaims a more distant yet terrifying day of judgment. And at the end of this, he poses the question, “The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?” (Joel 2:11b). And Joel follows up with another call to the people to prepare for that day by turning back to their Heavenly Father.

The call to repentance in our text begins with a promise declaration from God: “even now, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” The repentance Joel describes is a comprehensive change in direction that includes an inward transformation that shows itself visibly. Esther 4:3 also describes these elements: “In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.”

However, the Lord wants more than an outward display of how sorry you are, but to be genuinely sorry for the sin, so Joel writes, “Rend your heart and not your garments.”

Dig Deeper

Another common thread in the Old Testament prophets is a revelation of God’s purpose behind communicating the message of doom: God has provided an alternative route. God sent the prophets to remind the people of God’s covenant promises. Their disobedience would lead to curses, but returning to their covenant-Lord would only serve to their benefit (see Deuteronomy 28 for a listing of covenant blessings and curses that come up in prophetical books).

Just as Jesus showed in the parable of the lost son, the Father desires a return to Him and is eager to bless and restore those who run to Him in repentance and faith (Luke 15:11–32). You can know this because of how God's character is described throughout Scripture, including here in Joel 2:13, “for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” Those are things a life embracing sin and temptation can never promise.

The promises of being sorry for sin, hating it, and running from it are always worth embracing because God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins (1 John 1:9).

  • ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love;

  • ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Confess your sins and remember what a faithful Savior you have to forgive you for them;



Read the New Testament in a year, a chapter a day - 1 Corinthians 11


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