transformation

Repentance—Not Just for Unconverted Sinners

The word repent and the idea of repentance conjures stereotypical images. Perhaps you imagine someone with a half-crazed look wearing a signboard with the word emblazoned on it— REPENT!

People familiar with the Bible might imagine one of the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah or John the Baptizer, whose ministry directly preceded and announced the public ministry of Jesus.

John was not a mainstream kind of person. He wore rough clothing, ate locusts and honey, and lived outside the city limits. If you wanted to hear him, you went to him. He didn't do house calls, and his message was direct and impartial (Matt 3:1-12).

It's time to ditch the stereotypes and misconceptions about repentance.

Strong reactions

Last week I posted Repentance—the Heart of the Matter. I wanted to reframe the concept of repentance in a more biblical sense than what is typically thought or expressed by others.

The word repent stirs all sorts of responses. Not all are helpful. Why do the words repent and repentance stir strong reactions? Perhaps the word itself is misunderstood.

This is a follow-up to my previous post but more directed at the value of repentance for Christian believers. The topic of repentance is more typically considered in light of those who are nonbelievers or unconverted—those who are not Christians.

And yet, much of the biblical focus on repentance is directed towards those who believe in God and claim to be His people. The Old Testament is full of examples.

The word repent stirs all sorts of responses—not all are helpful

The meaning of words

Most of the time, we get our understanding of words by how they're used. The words, "Oh, I love you," are understood based on how they're said. It depends on the intent of the speaker—is it spoken with romantic passion or sarcasm? Different intent and tone result in different reactions.

So, it's good to find the original meaning of a word, then understand it within its context. I'll give some biblical examples of this later. But first, some definitions from their Greek origins.

  • Vines Expository Dictionary defines repent (the verb)—to perceive afterwords, and repentance (the noun)—afterthought or change of mind.
  • MR Vincent sheds more light on the subject saying, repentance is the "result of perceiving or observing," or "to think differently after." After what? He points us to what the apostle Paul says in 2 Cor 7:10—Godly sorrow brings repentance....

Repentance is the outcome and action of godly sorrow.

Another perspective

Most often, the idea of repentance is understood as turning away from sin. Yes, but why? If repentance is to "think differently after" as MR Vincent puts it, then we ought to consider what precedes this change in thought and behavior.

This understanding, coupled with biblical examples, helps me see repentance as turning to God, which causes us to turn away from sin and our former way of life. I pointed this out last week.

Most often, the idea of repentance is understood as turning away from sin

If you look at the three parables in Luke 15, each focuses on what was lost and found—a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son (Luke 15:7, 10, 24, 33). The simple truth of each parable reminds us of the rejoicing in heaven "over one sinner who repents."

In the longer (third) parable, the lost son realizes his situation would be better if he were accepted as a mere servant in his father's household (Luke 15:17-24). The father gives him a very different reception than expected or warranted (see Luke 15:28-32).

God's perspective or our own?

Someone might ask, "Does it really matter? Isn't the idea to change your ways?" This is where our problem lies. We often see repentance as something we need to do.

I've heard many preach and teach this perspective, but is this what we read in the Scriptures? Again, I addressed this in my previous post.

Is repentance based on our own effort to change or a response to God's mercy and grace after experiencing God's kindness?

Is repentance our effort to change or a response to God's mercy and grace?

The message of Jesus—Repent!

When Jesus began His public ministry, His message was one of repentance (Matt 4:17). This also was the message John the Baptizer (Matt 3:2, 8). John spoke to the religious and non-religious in a tone that carried a sense of judgment.

Repentance takes place when our mind and actions change after an initial hardness of heart

But when Jesus was confronted with a situation that demanded justice, He showed mercy to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11). The woman's accusers wanted Jesus to condemn her.

But after Jesus wrote on the ground in front of the men accusing her, they quietly left one by one. Then Jesus said to her— 

“Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:10-11 NKJV)

More examples

Another example of this change of mind after is seen in the parable of the two sons (Matt 21:28-32). This parable illustrates the same mindset of changing the mind and action after the initial response of these two sons to their father.

It also gives insight into how the message of repentance Jesus declared was received by various people—tax collectors, prostitutes, and the Jewish leaders. Those who knew their life was not right with God received it well but the religious leaders rejected His message.

Again, in one of the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, Jesus tells the church at Ephesus they had abandoned their first love and needed to repent.

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Rev 2:4-5 ESV)
The idea of repentance is a turning back to God as our first love.

A final thought

Repentance is something we all need to practice. It's not just the act of turning away from sin, but turning to God so we may turn from sin. None of us are without sin, no matter how long we've had a personal relationship with God through His grace.

Repentance is something we all need to practice—believers and nonbelievers

In fact, once we have a relationship with Jesus because we experience His forgiveness and the renewal of His Spirit in us (Titus 3:4-7) as we turn to Him in repentance. But believers are to put sin to death, not just turn away from it (Col 3:5). But that's another topic for another time.

Repentance is our response to God's kindness and goodness, not our own effort at goodness. Our own efforts at producing righteousness will meet with repeated failure (Rom 7:15-25). 

But when we turn to God first, He will guide us out of our battle with sin—our selfish nature—(Gal 5:16) and bring transformation from the inside out (2 Cor 3:18).

Repentance is our response to God's kindness and goodness not our effort to be good

I find the need to practice repentance on a daily basis—how about you?

New Clothing

Where do you shop for clothes? Do you go to thrift stores, big-box discount chain stores, trendy boutiques, or high-end stores? Or is most of your shopping online?

When do you shop? Do you wait for clearance sales or Black Fridays? Are you a last minute shopper or do you plan your shopping trips?

We Americans, known for our consumeristic culture, are overly focused on clothing. It's more than just covering our nakedness, it's often part of our identity.

But really, how important should it be? It depends on the clothing.

3 Observations and Truths About Discipleship

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When I returned to my home culture after fifteen years overseas, I knew something was missing. At first, I couldn't put my finger on it, but I knew a significant shift took place.

It wasn't one specific thing, but an accumulative process that brought this shift. "What happened," I wondered?

It wasn't so much what happened as what didn't happen—personal, intentional discipleship within the church.

Something missing

My first indicator was a general biblical ignorance. This was puzzling. More biblical teaching was available, in more ways than when I moved overseas (1990).

Resources for biblical studies had multiplied, through books, audio, video, and online products. There was plenty to choose from and yet, the consumer-oriented American Christian wanted more of it.

But with all that was available, something was missing.

Was it a lack of community? Leadership? Commitment? Yes to all the above and more. But why?

A pattern

It finally dawned on me that what was common in the '70's and 80's was lacking in the new millennium.

Intentional, relational discipleship was a primary element of the Jesus People Movement of the late '60's into the '70's. It was a natural, organic element embedded into the movement by God.

It didn't just happen by itself, but it wasn't a well-outlined curriculum or program. That came later.

This seems to be a pattern with us humans.

The wrong thing was replicated

God does something sovereign and dynamic, then we try to systematize it. We try to codify and quantify it—axioms, rules, and numbers—in order to replicate it. In doing this, we end up stifling whatever God did or is doing.

Discipleship, as Jesus modeled, is a process of replication that reproduces disciple-makers. It should never be reduced to a program.

The human effect turns a movement of God into an institution.

We try to organize the spiritual dynamic or life of the movement, which quenches the river of life God sets in motion, by attempting to channel or contain it.

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." (Jeremiah 2:13 NIV)

Not a spiritual growth program

Discipleship is not a spiritual growth program. 

It's not a follow-up or aftercare program for those who've said the sinner's prayer.

Discipleship is the natural progression of evangelism. They aren't synonymous, but they aren't separate either. Robert Coleman's classic book, Master Plan of Evangelism, makes this clear.

This isn't rocket science, as they say. A person doesn't need a degree nor professional training to be a disciple-maker. Nor does a disciple-maker need a title or official role.

Yes, a disciple-maker needs to be grounded in the truth of God's Word and led by God's Spirit, but they don't need a certificate to make them an authorized disciple-maker.

3 simple observations

  1. Discipleship is not a cognitive skill to be learned or taught—it's a way of life.
  2. Discipleship is a life with purpose—that purpose is revealed in the process of discipleship.
  3. Discipleship requires some type of challenge to pursue the goal—the goal is following Jesus and being transformed by the Holy Spirit.

3 simple truths

  1. The Lord Jesus saw discipleship as an intentional, relational process. It's not a phase, but an integrated whole. Discipleship involves following Jesus with a community of believers—Matt 16:24; John 8:31-32; Acts 2:42-47.
  2. Discipleship is the pastoral responsibility of the church. Not the institution or corporation, but the community of believers under the Lordship of Jesus, as led by the Holy Spirit. This is made clear in Ezekiel 34:1-24, and by Jesus in John 10:7-16.
  3. Discipleship is a community-based process of sanctification. This is shared pastoral care among a community of believers. It's not relegated to one leader or a select group of leaders, although leadership is important. It is a shared commitment of each believer to one another—John 8:34-36; Acts 4:32-35; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20.

This is not all that can be said about the subject, far from it!

Do you need more insight on any of the 3 observations or truth above? Let me know!

But, it's my hope these simple, brief observations and truths help confirm whatever God may be stirring in your own heart.

So... What is God stirring in your heart about discipleship and following Jesus?

Let me know, and thanks for reading and sharing this post!

This is an edited & updated version of an earlier post— 3 Simple Observations and Truths

The Art of Dying to Self

Most of us have heard of having either left or right brain dominance. Those who have a left-brain dominance are supposed to be more analytical, while those with right-brain dominance are more creative.

Art is defined as a creative skill or ability, and science is knowledge about something or study of a subject. Typically, art and science are seen as opposites, just as with left or right brain dominance.

And by the way, the idea of left or right brain dominance? It turns out to be a popular myth. So, maybe art and science aren't so opposite.

A Journey of Faith

Quoting a truth is easier than living it out in real life. Putting truth on a plaque or poster is nice, but it doesn't change a person's life.

Memorization of Scripture is good for retention, but it won't produce transformation in a person's life on its own. What we know in our minds doesn't automatically bring change in our hearts or our self-will.

Truth doesn't bring transformation until it's transferred from thought into action, which requires an active, personal faith.