REPENT! We hear that word and we get visions of the old-timey, hell-fire-and-brimstone preacher shouting and pointing a long, bony finger with one hand while pounding on the pulpit with his other. That picture does not give us a full understanding of what scripture means when it call us to repent.
The word from the Bible we translate as repent doesn’t simply mean to feel sorry or remorse, though those feelings may accompany repentance. It more literally means to change your mind. It includes changing the minds perceptions, purposes, and dispositions.
In previous articles I have stated in that the basis of our sinfulness is a declaration that we don’t need God, that we can be our own god or at least choose our own god. When someone like Peter in Acts 3:19 calls us to repent and turn to God what he is saying is to let God change our mind and acknowledge Jesus as God and that he alone is God.
Many of us who are Jesus Followers may have the impression that repentance is only for salvation or when I commit some obvious sin, but when we understand that to repent means to let God change our minds it opens up so much more. Stop for a moment and try to recall when the last time was that you let God change your mind?
The most recent occurrence for me was in a conversation I was having with a friend in which I had intended to share a particular anecdote of how God had worked through me to help another person. But God restrained me, showing me that my motives for sharing that story were not altogether pure. Underlying was a sense of pride and self-promotion and so God changed my mind about telling my experience.
Maybe God needs to change your mind about the direction or course your life is taking; maybe about how you have been insisting on having a situation go your way. It may be a tradition or teaching that you have held all your life and God is showing you it’s incomplete or just flat-out wrong. We will never reach a place in this life where we are beyond the possibility that God needs to change our mind.
Isaiah 30:15 says “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (NIV) Rest, quietness, trust. We will be hard pressed to hear where God wants to change our mind without allowing space for these three things in our lives. Maybe that’s the first thing to repent of.
Our oldest son just turned 21. I know it’s hard to believe someone who looks so young could have a kid who’s 21 but it’s true. I am very proud of the man he has become, but that also means he doesn’t need us as much. He is quite independent. This is a good thing, in fact as parents it ought to be our goal. As they mature our kids should become less and less dependent upon us as they develop into competent, functioning members of society in their own right.
I think we have mistakenly assumed that our heavenly Father has the same goal. In reality becoming mature spiritually means recognizing more and more how completely dependent I am upon God. Actually, to be more accurate about my goal in raising our boys I would say it’s that they would become less dependent on me and learn to be more dependent on God.
We talk in our church circles about how Jesus will take a broken life and make it whole. What we miss in teaching that truth is that in our wholeness we’re not intended to become self-sufficient. In fact to maintain our wholeness we must continue to accept our brokenness. Even in heaven, though we will be made perfect, perfection will be in that we will recognize and embrace our perpetual, complete, and total neediness and exist in perfect dependence on God to meet that neediness and thereby be perpetually, completely, and totally whole.
It’s sort of like a person who has been diagnosed as bipolar. Bipolar disorder causes a person to have extreme and uncontrollable mood swing, sometimes resulting in dangerous behavior towards themselves and others. This disorder is controllable through drug treatment, but is incurable. If a person quits taking the drugs because that person feels like he or she is fine, the symptoms slowly return. Unfortunately the person often doesn’t believe they still need the drugs and end up fully consumed by the disorder again.
I expect that some of you reading this may resent that God would demand our dependence. But the way God created us is that in relationship with him all our needs would be satisfied. The resentment goes back to Satan’s challenge. He didn’t claim to be stronger than God, just that he didn’t need God; that he could be his own God. Trying to live out that claim, in him and in us, always leads to chaos and destruction. As long as you pursue Satan’s lie you will remain broken. As long as you acknowledge your brokenness Jesus will keep you whole.
A close friend of mine recently faced the very real possibility of his wife dying suddenly and unexpectedly. Gratefully the episode, though serious, turned out not to be life threatening and she is essentially none the worse for wear. But there were some very dark hours in which the death of the person he loves most dearly stared him in the face.
It’s a crisis that we all will have to face at some point in our lives. The question is how? Actually a more important question, and one that should answer the first question is where does one find God in that situation? That was the question I put to my friend. As he is a fervent Christ-follower I was eager to hear his response.
Before he answered directly, he made sure to clarify an important point; death is a direct result sin. Not specific sins, rather that God created humankind pure but we believed Satan’s lie that we don’t need God and thereby fell into a state of sinfulness. As a result of that choice death came to us. Jesus offers life to all who will believe he is the Son of God and through his death on our behalf he has the authority to grant us life. Our perishable bodies need to be transformed into imperishable, but that will happen when Jesus returns physically. Until that point we will all face physical death because of sin.
My friend’s reason for making that point was because we try to soften the pain of death. The bare fact is that death is a result of sin and, therefore, is right to be mourned deeply. He said that while he stood outside of the ambulance which held his unconscious wife and anticipated what may come, he knew profound sorrow and grief lay ahead. But here is the key. He didn’t try to argue, or bargain, or even beg God. His heart, spirit, and mind were in complete submission to the Father. And in that submission, acknowledging both his and his wife’s dependence upon God, he would be free to mourn and grieve as he may need.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 Paul said that Christ-followers need not grieve like those who have no hope. He did not say we should not grieve, but that we grieve in hope. In Jesus we have hope, we have confidence of eternal life for us and our loved ones who have believed Jesus. And in the strength that comes through that hope we can rightly embrace grief.
We live in a culture that does everything possible to shield us from, and soften the harshness of death. Many, maybe even most people are afraid of dying or at best avoid thinking about it unless they are absolutely forced to; even many Christ-followers. In part this is because death is unnatural in so far as it is not what we were created for. It was only when sin entered creation that death followed. But the Bible is very clear that Jesus has defeated sin and death therefore we have no need to fear death. So why are so many afraid?
1 John 4:14-18 talks about God’s love for us release from a fear of death. Essentially it tells us that the better we know and experience God’s love for us through knowing Jesus, the less we will fear death. Someone cleverly put it like this: Know Christ, No Fear. Let me help you understand how this works with an imaginary story.
An orphan boy who lived on the street was caught breaking into a jewelry store. As he stood before the judge to hear his punishment he was astonished to hear that the owner of the store had not only offered to look after the damages to the store and pay a large fine in lieu of jail-time, but that he had also offered to adopt the boy and bring him into his own home. The only stipulation was that the boy must accept the offer of adoption in order to recieve the offer of paying for his penalty.
The boy accepted, but was at the same time very fearful of what sort of punishment he might be in for, or that maybe he would be made to live like a slave in the man’s house. The boy was afraid because he didn’t really know the man who wanted to be his father. He hadn’t yet experienced the fullness of his new father’s forgiveness and the extravagance of his love.
This simple story falls far short, not leastways in that the sentence for our sin is death – eternal death, but God’s gift to us is eternal life. If you are not yet a Christ follower you have good reason to be afraid of death, but you can leave that fear behind by accepting God’s gift through Jesus.
If you have become a Christ follower and yet still the fear of death lingers, ask God to remove it. He will. It will likely be through a process of deepening intimacy with Jesus, rather than a sudden freedom from fear, but he will do it. That’s not to say you should want to be in a hurry for death, or that you will be eager for the actual process of dying. But you will be able to face death without fear. Know Jesus, No Fear.