There are some words that have so much power and beauty. But often those words are taken from the God-ordained place they were born and used as weapons or confused into something other than their true purpose.
Repent is one of those words. John the Baptist and Jesus himself tell us to repent and believe. I have to imagine that those words coming out of the mouth of Jesus were balanced perfectly in truth and grace. Spoken in love with eyes that couldn’t just see into your soul but that created your soul, not to control but rather to set us free. Free to choose how we live. Free to choose a relationship with him or not. Free to fail and try again.
But often when I’ve heard “repent” it’s felt like a calling out (not in a good way). But more like, “You’re bad and you do bad things. Period. Bad. You.” And when the command for repentance isn’t wrapped in love, that’s all it is, a scolding. Guilt keeps us in bondage to our sin. The enemy uses guilt to become fear and turns fear into depression crippling us. But here’s the deal friends, Jesus already took on the burden of our sin. We REALLY don’t have to carry it around! For REAL, no fooling, He’s serious! We just have to be HONEST with ourselves and with God.
Matthew 22:28-32 says “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
In this passage, God wasn’t calling out the common sinners of the day, the ones whose sins were public and obvious. He was calling out the Jews. He was calling out those who knew the scriptures, who were supposed to know God. Those who were supposed to believe God’s word didn’t get it. Their own pride and rule-following got in the way of their relationship with God.
Repent and believe. What repentance really means is to name your sin, own it and then give it over to God. You’re not fooling him. He knows your heart. He’s in the room and patiently, PATIENTLY, waiting for us to turn to him.
In the parable, the first son was rebellious and, I’m sure, frustrating to the father. I just saw my daughter’s face in the first son’s, “I will not.” Her response is often more of a straight up, “No!” But it just occurred to me that she learned that response or behavior from me. As a toddler, in an effort to keep her “safe” it’s practically all I said…”No, don’t touch that! No, get that out of your mouth! No, you can’t color on the wall!” In an effort to keep her safe, I shut down her freedom and now she’s trying to reclaim it anyway she can. Seriously Lord, you have me start babbling on about repentance and you reveal a place I need to turn over to you? Isn’t that just like God???
But here’s the super cool thing about our Father. He doesn’t tell us no. I’m sure in church or by other Christians you’ve been told that God says no to all sorts of things. But in reality, he gives us the freedom to choose. It doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for our choices. Of course there are. Every move we make has a ripple effect in our world and on the people around us.
Absolutely, God has given us some pretty good guidelines to keep us from falling off the edge. But when those guidelines are used like weapons and we feel trapped by it, our human response is to rail against it. How many times have I said, “I don’t care” or “so what?” Often those words are cleverly accompanied by a snarky ‘tude best suited for a tween (which I have not been for some time now and which will likely snap me like a twig when my precious, beloved little girl reaches double digits). But God’s rules as detailed in the Old Testament are more than good ideas. When not followed, they have lasting consequences in our physical world. Our God is bigger than our physical realm. He cares more about the damage to our soul than the earthly act itself.
Jesus came to wash the sin away. He did it. Done. Let’s not keep telling Jesus he’s not enough. The reality isn’t that we think Jesus isn’t enough, it’s that we have a hard time believing that we are who God says we are in Him. When we mess up, it’s okay. He knows. He watched us fall. He didn’t scream out NO in fear like I did each time my daughter did (okay, does…yeah, she’s 8) something wrong. He sees it happen. He already knows it happened. We don’t have to clue him in on something new. He’s kinda all-knowing. That makes it pretty hard to fool him. We’re only fooling ourselves.
But on our worst day, no matter what we’ve done, he’s there. He’s there to wrap his arms around us and bring us back into the fold. He’s given us the freedom to turn from him, the freedom to walk away, the freedom to be broken. And he knows the only way to wholeness is through Jesus because Jesus died blameless and perfect so that we no longer have to carry the weight of the world. Repentance is not atonement. It’s just honesty. Honesty with ourselves and God.
Repent and believe. Do you believe that our God is real? If he’s real, then he is who he says he is. And in that case, you are who he says you are. And he calls you beloved. You are His. I am too. Let’s walk in the freedom of Christ, in love. Set free we are given the space to love God and love each other. No more hiding, no more lying, no more comparing my sin to yours. Just freedom to love and be loved, each day, no matter what.