A couple times a year, I get to share a meal with Jerry, a guy that has, through no fault of his own, shaped much of my outlook on the Church, the purpose of Church, & what it means to be a Christ-follower. I say through no fault of his own, because he said that he doesn’t approach any relationship he has as “the mentor” – esp. because he is “looking to learn from” all sorts of people through friendship & interactions… but recognizes that others may see him or look to him in that role. And, he said, tongue firmly planted in cheek, if they do, that is “their problem.”
While sitting in Claim Jumper over monstrous piles of food, Jerry brought up a topic for discussion… something that he said he & his buddy Steve have been kicking around for a while – REPENTANCE.
Both of them have been pastoring almost as long as I’ve been alive – & both of them have noticed a few current ‘trends’ within the Church. It seems that people in Church are struggling, trying to get free from the same sin & sin patterns… clingy, life-stealing stuff. And not really having much success. At the same time, the numbers of people being baptized in the Holy Spirit seems to be shrinking as well. In their discussions, prayers, & wonderings, the same thing kept coming up. REPENTANCE… or actually, the absence of it.
The gospel, Good News, that is being declared in & out of the Church is becoming increasingly a message of the forgiveness of sins… but is missing a (or THE) key component in the good news – repentance from sin. And instead of seeing transformed people living in freedom & vitality, the Church is filling up with ‘reformed sinners’ – people struggling with the same old, same old, basically white-knuckling their way to stopping the sinful patterns & life-traps that plagued their lives pre-Christ…
This topic really grabbed my attention – over the last 4-6 weeks, “REPENTANCE” has been showing up all over the place in my life – kind of how I started noticing all the VW’s on the road when I got mine… I started receiving random emails with questions about it; friends relayed dreams where the main point of the dream was repentance; I’d study a section of scripture & would come across the word 10 times; I found an old teaching series called, “Fruitful Repentance,” & started listening to it, only to have another friend, unknowingly, recommend I listen to the very same series I’d just found.
It was the reformed sinners comment that grabbed my attention – I have an idea of what he’s talking about & what he’s getting at – so I asked Jerry to give his definition of REPENTANCE – he said:
Repentance is acknowledging, & even owning my sin – recognizing specifically that I’m a sinner, a wrong-doer. And, on top of that, there is nothing that I can do to deal with & address my sin & sinful behaviors on my own. My own efforts at self-control, rooted though they may be in good-intentions, don’t have what it takes to overcome it.
Further, repentance is turning FROM this sin, & turning TO Christ is inviting Christ into my situation – to transform me by the power of the Holy Spirit. And then to show me where & how I can cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in my life. Not to help me overcome it, but for Him to do the transformation. To do it. As a lifestyle.
It might just seem semantical to you, but something has clicked, (or at least has started to,) in my head & heart:
A “reformed sinner” wants the forgiveness of sins, (which the Church is proclaiming,) & to do good, live well. And sees that there are things in how they’re living, thinking, behaving, etc that need to change… & then they set about to change it, asking for God’s help in the matter, with little to no progress, success, or lasting change. And its not because the ‘reformed sinner’ is prideful or holding out on God – they’re just doing what the Church has told them they should do… even getting water baptized, but still wondering why this just isn’t clicking for them. So they try harder.
A transformed life is marked by steady progress turning away from the sins God has already pointed out in our lives, & an increasing awareness of additional sins He is uncovering in our minds/hearts. There is an increased “spiritual inheritance” (READ: life-giving obedience & relationship with God & others,) trust of God & His ways, (instead of my own plans,) humility, seeing myself as I am, with my God-given identity, knowing I’m not diminished by repenting, confessing sin, but rather am freed from it to live for God & for righteousness…
The conversation over dinner got me thinking at 110 m.p.h. When I got home, I did some reading in the New Testament, & found that every time the gospel/Good News message is proclaimed, repentance is at the center of it – & that the forgiveness of sins happens as a result of the repentance. A change of heart, mind, & thought follows –> leading to a transformed life.
Peter replied, “Each of you must turn from your sins and turn to God (REPENT), and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38 NLT
…if we are living in the light of God’s presence, just as Christ is, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from every sin. If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. But if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that His word has no place in our hearts. 1John 1:7-10 NLT
I’m still pondering… wondering… reflecting… And I’m thankful for the conversation with Jerry.