Saturday, April 30, 2005

The 'Big Picture' series - 4: Repentance

Practicality: In order to be a part of Kingdom of God and be part of God’s family, we must leave sinful ways. We must faithfully choose against sin and instead be committed to do what is right, and not think that choosing to sin is acceptable behaviour for Christians.

In light of my previous posts, it should be a relatively straightforward step to discuss repentance and salvation. There is no doubt that salvation is a major theme of Scripture, but we should not forget that repentance is also a major theme. So, let us firstly look at repentance.

Simply put, repentance could be described as leaving the kingdom of sin. As I discussed in my previous post, this entails a choice cease being selfish and leave sinful ways. Repentance is the opposite of choosing to be faithful to something, and in the Bible is means to no longer be faithful to sin.

But sadly, repentance has been dulled down, and is now widely thought to involve feelings of guilt, regret, remorse, and wretchedness. “Repent”, people say, and suggest that this requires them to feel bad about the wrongs they’ve done. Certainly, repentance will often be coupled with feeling bad about previous sin, but it is not always. Indeed, the point of repentance is not to feel bad about sin, but to leave it – even if it still appeals to you. After all, we sin because we want to, and that is exactly what we have to leave – our selfish desires.

What is worse about popular ideas of repentance is that the notion of actually leaving sin and denying self is largely ignored. It is replaced by the idea that everyone will never be perfect here on earth. Eventually, such reasoning leads to the current popular idea that when you choose to become a Christian, it is the start of a journey away from sin and toward the likeness of Christ. There is no suggestion that repentance from sin will cause a marked change in behaviour – to stop sinning. The idea of ‘put to death your selfishness’ that is referred to in the Bible as ‘dying to self’ has been replaced with something like ‘start disliking your selfishness – but it’s normal for it to remain as it was before’. Yes, we should ‘dislike our selfishness’, but repentance involves not just dislike of it, but the choice to wholly revoke it. So, repentance should be evident in our actions, a repentant person chooses to leave sinful ways.

Let me address here an important objection. We are not perfect, and yes, a true Christian may not be as perfect as Christ. For instance, we may not notice that someone needs help in a situation, and therefore not do the good that we could have done. This situation is like a child who does not yet know the ways of being an adult. But it is another matter entirely for a Christian to realise someone needs help in a situation and selfishly choose not to help them. It is worse still for a Christian to know what not to do, but when faced with the choice, to do it anyway. For instance, as a Christian I should not steal, but if I knowingly steal I have willingly chosen to obey sin instead of God.

The issue is one of choice. How can we say we will leave sin and put to death our selfish desires, and then choose sin and obey our selfishness? Or worse, how can we say we have left our sinful ways and go on choosing to sin? You say “no one is perfect, and so we will all still sin” as an excuse to choose to sin. If you have the choice, it is exactly that – a choice! A repentant heart will habitually choose not to sin.

I believe most Christians do still find some choices difficult to make, and occasionally will choose to follow their selfish desires instead of what they know is right. Yet, just because most people sometime do this, it does not make it any better. Repentance is ongoing. Remember I said it was the opposite of faithful commitment to something – it is the faithful commitment against something. It is not a tick by your name that says you have ‘repented’, a mere one-time act, but someone who has repented must be faithful to keep that commitment to leave sin and forsake selfish desire – every day.

In the story of the prodigal son, the son repented by returning to his father. But what good would it have done if the son had still continued to live a life of sinfulness? But the son went to a “distant country” – which implies when he returned he was far from the sinful lifestyle he had lived. His repentance was to leave the distant country, which of course signifies a life of selfish sin. He could not bring the distant country back to the house of his father, such a thought is ridiculous – to pick up rocks and earth and trees and carry them back to his father’s house so that he may enjoy them there. Likewise, we cannot seek to bring with us sinful ways if we come into God’s family, for it defeats the purpose of coming into his family and pollutes the Church. If we are still living in sin, we are still in the far away land. A relationship with God from such a place would feel distant, perhaps with very limited communication. It strikes me how many Christians describe their relationship with God as feeling ‘distant’ from Him.

Further, to use the analogy in my previous post of the soldier doing battle, repentance is like defecting from a bad side to ally with the good one. It is nothing but words unless one actually no longer fights for the bad side but instead for the good. Again, it is a poor soldier who switches allegiances back and forth during the battle, one moment choosing to fight for good and the next begin bad.

The Bible is practically bursting with instruction to repent and leave sinful ways. God tells us to hunger and thirst after righteousness, holiness, and to be “perfect as He is perfect”. The mere fact that God keeps telling us to choose righteousness and forsake sin strongly suggests that He knows we have a choice.

So why should we repent? Repentance is required for salvation, the topic of my next post. As I hope we will see, salvation is worth repenting for.

Some verses to ponder (from the LITV). Note that these are just ones that have the actual word “repent” in them, but the idea of repentance is prolific throughout Scripture in instructions to cease wicked, disobedient, selfish and idolatrous ways.

From Lexicons: Hebrew: “repent” = to turn back, Greek: repent” = think differently

Job 42:6, Jer 18:8, Jer 18:9-10, Mat 4:17, Mat 9:13, Mat 11:20, Mat 12:41, Mar 1:15, Mar 6:12, Luk 3:3, Luk 15:7, Luk 24:47, Act 2:38, Act 3:19, Act 5:31, Act 8:22, Act 17:30, Act 19:4, Act 20:21, Act 26:20, 2Co 12:21, Heb 6:1, 2Pe 3:9, Rev 2:5, Rev 2:16, Rev 3:19


Conservation Terms said...

Hi. As always, this is an awesome topic, as well as an awesome post. Repentance, I believe, is important in the fact that we have to repent of our sins to be saved. It not only shows our wanting to be forgiven, it also shows our humility. Keep up the good work. I am on vacation, but will be back monday. Have a great day,

Christina said...

I agree with CT on this one. You don't hear a lot about repentence these days do you? Anyway, most importantly

HAPPY BIRTHDAY RUEBZ!!! Hope you're having (had by the time you read this :P ) an awesome day!!

We sang your repetitive pente song of doom at church today, we were looking for you so we could hassle you about it :P couldn't keep a straight face, despite being on powerpoint. Fantastic :D

Hannah said...

I really like this post.
I think you explained/described repentence very well! Thank you!
Now all I have to do is put it into practice! : )

Katherine said...

Yes...Well of course I agree with everything you're saying, although I'm somewhat inclined to dispute the idea that the church doesn't 'believe in' repentance anymore. I don't think I know anyone who would say we're not required to give up sin as Christians. It's just that it's so hard, and people wish to avoid despair over constant failure by pointing out that God still loves sinners. (Which I presume you agree He does, yes?)

I know you guys like to point out that it's not impossible to do right, which may be so, but I'm not sure where to go from what you're saying, in the light of how difficult it is nonetheless. It's all very well for those of us who've been raised on it... In short, what provision do you make in your theology for those that try and try and constantly fail? Are they (we) in or out?

Well, perhaps I should read your next post for that.

I like the stuff about repentance being an ongoing decision.