What ever happened to repentance?
“If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought”. – George Orwell
There is no denying that the way we communicate affects the way we think. Recently, I have been thinking about the word ‘repentance’.
Sometimes, the biggest problems facing the church don’t originate with what we believe, but in the words we use to express what we believe.
Words themselves, and meanings behind those words, can make a big difference in what we do, how we do it, and will impact the way we interact with God, one another, and the community around us.
We have seen how words like ‘evangelical’ are beginning to take on new meanings in today’s culture, but other words are simply not being heard much at all. One word in particular that was once a regular part of church vocabulary is repentance. Yet, in a time when the church desperately needs to hear, consider, and proclaim the true meaning of that word, I don’t hear it very often.
“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” – Matthew 4:17
There is little doubt that the world is in bad shape: scandals rock our denominations, Christian leaders attack each other on social media, politics divide us, schools are unsafe, families are broken, morality is all but lost, and we as a society are desperately trying to determine how to fix it.
Yet at least part of the answer may be right in front of us.
As we seek out ‘what Jesus would do’, what Christians should do, and what society could do in response to the issues of today, we would all do well to consider the word ‘repentance’.
Many years ago, I was an average teenager growing up in the church. Back then, we were not regularly challenged with the need to repent, but instead were often given opportunities to ‘rededicate our life to Christ’.
‘Rededicate’ is one of those words that sounds great but doesn’t really hold much meaning. I say that because a lot of us teens back then found ourselves rededicating our lives on a fairly regular basis.
Why? We had accepted Christ and wanted to live for Him. Still, we felt we weren’t getting that done, and so we rededicated ourselves every now and then hoping it would somehow work this time around.
The problem was that this process never really changed anything.
Years later, I realized that one main reason for this ineffective practice was the word itself: what really needed to happen was not re-dedication, but repentance.
Rededicate seems to say, I will try harder this time around. Tomorrow I’ll do better. I can fix it. I want a redo.
Repent seems to say, I’m a sinner and I simply can’t do it in my own strength. I choose to lay my sin at the cross in full humility. I choose to totally change directions. Please, Lord, give me a refreshed life.
Repentance doesn’t have anything to do with trying to change. It has to do with turning away from our destructive selfish inclinations and turning towards Christ. It involves dying to our old self and finding life in Jesus. Repentance is a ‘go and sin no more’, clean slate concept.
“Repent then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” -Acts 3:19
Repentance brings times of refreshing, and times of refreshing are what the world sorely needs right now.
What the Church needs.
What we all need.
Somewhere in our search for refreshing we latched on to this idea that we could just drop Jesus into the midst of our busy lives, add a Christian twist to our pre-existing self-help methods, and this would magically make us better. Happier.
Yet Jesus tells us that refreshing only happens through repentance. He tells us to daily take up our cross and follow Him, and to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, to die to self. Instead of trying to figure out what is popular, what is trending, and what might work better. we should be denying ourselves and allowing Him to shine through us. We should long for all our sins to be wiped away, not just to be given another try at sinning less.
The key to having everything we want and need is is tied up in the word repentance.
Without repentance, we fail.
We fail to change.
We fail to be refreshed or bring refreshing.
We fail when we seek to build solutions to our problems on shaky foundations that cannot hold and secure them.
We fail when we seek peace, compassion and unity without first acknowledging the Prince of Peace.
We fail when we try to reap the benefits of Christianity without offering the sacrifice Christianity calls for.
We fail when we seek out an end to the sin in our lives while still holding on to that sin.
We fail to impact a fallen culture when we look shockingly similar to that culture.
We fail to build the Kingdom of Christ when we are overly concerned with fitting into the kingdom of this world.
When we fail to repent, we fail to be refreshed or to bring refreshing. But when we truly offer all we are to Christ, truly humble ourselves before him, truly follow him wherever he leads, and truly repent, we can’t fail.
Perhaps now is a good time for each of us to take a good, hard look at the things we do and why we do them. From our broken practices, to our pop culture fascination, to the very language we use when we talk about our faith and our belief. Now is the time to pray for repentance, and to pray for Christ to be honored in us, through us and around us.
The lost art of repentance is waiting to be restored again. It is only after kneeling at the cross that we can stand for what is true. It is only when we repent that our hearts of stone are broken, and we can truly be restored, refreshed, and made whole.
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