Friday, August 1, 2008

Is Repentance an Ugly Word? Part II

Many people are confused about the meaning and intent of repentance. For some, repentance places demands on their lives that they are not willling to accept. For others, repentance is only about having a change of mind. But, what is repentance? Is it an ugly word? First, I want to pick up where I left off in yesterday's blog. Then, I want to share how repentance is really a good thing.

Luke 3 talks about John the Baptist and how he called Israel to repentance. Some in the crowd were saying, “We have Abraham for our father” (v. 8). What does this phrase mean? What does it have to do with the call to repentance given by John? Is John referring to the apparent lack of repentance among some as evidence that they were trusting that simply being a physical descendant of Abraham was sufficient? Or, are the words of John a way for him to chastise some for their lack of fruit although they were in fact children of Abraham? I think that although both interpretations can make sense of verse 8, the former is more the thinking of John. Some actually believed that their right to be in covenant with God was theirs simply by being connected to Abraham by natural birth (See John 8:34-45; Galatians 3:26, 29). Those who were truly children of Abraham needed to respond to John's message by repenting for their sin, and not hold to the false assumption that their covenant relationship with God was guaranteed by virtue of birth.

The call to repentance by John prepared the nation of Israel for the appearing of Jesus the Messiah. We read in vs. 15 that “the people were in a state of expectation” for the coming of the Messiah. John explains that the Christ would come to “baptize . . . with the Holy Spirit and fire” (v. 16). Again the imagery of “fire” is mentioned. This time, however, the fire does refer to eternal judgment, not temporal judgment as in verse nine. Why? The baptism of the Holy Spirit refers to the presence of God in the lives of those who would believe in Jesus as Savior after his resurrection. The opposite of eternal life – eternal condemnation - is presented by means of a contrast with the Holy Spirit, “fire”. This contrast is depicted by the use of two items which the winnowing fork separates: “wheat” (=those who believed in Messiah) with “chaff” (=those who reject or don’t believe in the Messiah), and says of the latter that “He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (3:17). Here then, the “fire” is not God’s temporal judgment upon unrepentant sinners, but the fires of condemnation which rests upon those who do not believe in the Son (see John 3:18).

Repentance over sin begins when we acknowledge the things which are out of place in our lives. It is a response to the ways of God which are better than our sinful patterns of self-rule and self-sufficiency. It is a re-aligning of our lives according to the teachings of the Lord. So, then? Is "repentance" an ugly word? I hope that by now you can see that the word repentance is a good word.

What lessons can we derive from this passage in Luke 3? First, it is important to recognize that those who refuse to repent (whether believers or not) can expect the temporal judgment of God upon their lives (v. 9). This is because God is Holy and he responds to sin, especially ongoing, unrepented sin. God’s blessings are experienced by everyone who does what is right before his eyes, because following the Creator's plan for life always brings good (See Psalm 34:8). However, those who persist in sin will sooner or later receive the temporal (=in life) consequences of breaking God’s laws.

Second, being connected to God is not a matter of physical birth, or social status, or human relationship. It is based on the knowledge of Jesus Christ as Savior (See Ephesians 2:8-9). He is the One sent by God to redeem not only Israel but all of humanity. Through faith in Christ alone you and I can receive the promise of eternal life (See 1 John 5:13).

Third, repentance must be followed up with concrete demonstrations of God’s renewing work in our lives. As some in the crowd did, we must also turn to God and his word and ask, “What shall we do?” The call to repentance touches each of us to the core because it calls us to submit our will to that of God's. For those of us who have trusted in Christ, we must never think that because our relationship with God is secure through Jesus, we can then live and do as we want. God calls us to die each day to our desires and to follow him as Lord over our lives. Not to do so invites God’s discipline upon our lives now and limits the rewards we will get in Heaven one day. More importantly, it taints the image of God in the world, since followers of Christ are to bear the image of God in this world and be a light in the darkness (Matthew 5:13-16).

John the Baptist’s call to repentance was historically extended to Israel in order to prepare her for the coming of Jesus the Messiah. Each of us today are also called to repent in order to avert God’s temporal judgment upon our lives (=consequences of sin), but more importantly, to live lives which pleases our Heavenly Father and brings glory and honor to his name.

No, repentance is not an ugly word. It is rather a God honoring idea, and a cool and safe concept for all of us to practice.

Por Su Gracia y Fidelidad

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