It may just be me, but I get the sense that we often see repentance, the confessing of and turning from our sin, as the door we have to pass through to get grace.
Again, maybe I’m just preaching to myself here. But how do we view the first of two essential commands Jesus gives us in Mark 1:15?
While repentance is necessary for forgiveness, I hope, for my sake and yours, that we don’t view it as a task to be completed to appease a divine boss for all the bad things we’ve done.
Turning from our sin with a desire to follow and learn to obey Christ in no way merits God’s forgiveness or favor. He has every right to say, “No…not this time. You’re done.” By His grace and the promise of the cross, however, we will never hear that. He will always forgive us, no matter what, and He will finish the good work He started (Philippians 1:6).
So why do we repent? Repentance means to “turn around,” to “change one’s mind/attitude.” When we initially repent in our conversion, we turn from pursuing a life of sin and self to trust Christ to help us live a new life of holiness and joyful submission to the will of God, trusting the salvation that’s been provided for sinners in Christ.
Key word: Joy. One of the best tweets/quotes I’ve heard recently came from Thabiti Anyabwile, who said, “When you call someone to repent, you call them to joy.” (Writer’s Note: I have no idea if Anyabwile originally said this or not, but I heard it from him)
Growing up, I heard Christians called “goody two-shoes.” The idea is that Christians are nice, moral people who don’t do bad things. But no one ever accused Christians of being happy or full of joy. It was actually just the opposite. For whatever reason, many people tend to picture Christians as unhappy, grumpy, cynical people who think they’re better than everyone else and are upset that the world isn’t as moral as they would like it to be.
But the problem with this view is that it isn’t in the Bible. The second spiritual fruit Paul lists in Galatians? Joy! Not a happiness due to life’s circumstances, but a deep rooted joy IN CHRIST.
When God calls us to repent, He is calling us to Christ. And in this, He is calling us to joy. The reason I repent of my sins and ask Christ to lead me and change me? I trust that He’s better. That the life He wants me to live, a life of knowing, enjoying and reflecting God in holiness is BETTER than a life of sin. Yes, I give up worldly pursuits. But I gain the King of the world, and that’s much better.
Repentance is, in and of itself, a gracious gift that God gives. We are dead in our sins and unable to see our need for a Savior until God in His grace opens our eyes to our need, and to His Son.
And instead of sentencing us to hell and leaving us in our sin, God offers to once again be our God and to forgive us and count us righteous through Christ. But if we will not take Him as God, if we reject Jesus as Lord, then we, in essence, tell God no. He has no plan of saving sinners who remain defiant, claiming to be their own God. There is no passage in the Bible where Christians claim to have Jesus as Savior but not as Lord. None. When the God of the universe offers to be in a relationship with you, He’s not the one who adjusts His life. He’s already perfect. Either we delude ourselves thinking we’re a better Lord than Jesus, or we joyfully give up our lives to follow the One who died in our place.
But how can we not submit to Jesus? When you’re given a choice between McDonald’s “meat” and New York Strip, would you not be considered a fool to take McDonald’s? Don’t settle for lesser gods!
Sin does not love you. All it does is lead to a meaningless, wasted life that ends in hell. But Jesus does love you. So much so He died for all your sins, after living a perfect life to be your righteousness, your perfection, before God. And He overcame death and now reigns as Lord above all.
Jesus is better. His love is more beautiful. His wisdom is wiser. His presence is more satisfying. His ways are higher, and lead to life. It is so much better to rest in God’s love and live for Him and others than lusting after sexual immorality, pride, human praise, or any other false “love” given by sin. It is so much better to resist anxiety and anger and trust that God is in control and will meet all my needs. It is so much better to trust in God to take care of me than to gamble, cheat, lie and steal to make my way in this world. And when you see God on the cross, and God getting out of grave, it is truly better to live for God’s glory than to waste life living for my glory.
We make terrible gods. That’s why the world is the way it is. We’ve tried to be God and failed. Because Jesus is a perfect, loving Savior, who has perfectly paid for our sins, He is to be trusted as Lord. He paid our ransom from an old life of sin, not just to forgive us, but to lead us in a new life, with Him as Lord of every detail.
Is it not better to rest in the authority of One who has proven His love for you? To trust that He knows best and to obey Him out of love and faith?
Give up sin for knowing Christ’s love and the goodness of holiness. Give up lesser joys, idols in things like food, sex and sport, and pursue Christ as Lord and let Him be your joy. And trust in what He’s done for you. The first command Jesus gives as Lord is to believe His gospel. To trust in His performance, to trust in His forgiveness and His righteousness. All subsequent obedience to His commands flows out of a knowledge that in Christ, we are already fully loved, accepted, forgiven and righteous. We don’t obey in order to gain something we don’t have. We obey because that’s who we are in Christ. And when we fail, which we will, we return to Him as Lord, confessing that we want to follow Him and let Him be Lord, and to be forgiven once again. And Jesus will NEVER cast out anyone who truly desires to trust in Him and follow Him as Lord. And one day, we’ll see Him face to face, and we will be just like Him, and will never have to struggle and fight to find joy in Him again. What a glorious day this will be!
So, please, for your joy, repent. Let Christ be Lord and joyfully submit to His authority in your life. For the Christian, whatever sin you’re struggling with, let Christ lead you out. Trust Him. He’s better. Holiness is better. He forgives you. You’re already counted obedient in Christ. So be obedient.
God, may we not take for granted the grace You have given us in bringing us to repentance. May we repent quickly and trust what You have done. May You be our joy.