When I hear the word “repentance” my mind quickly goes to those old terror inducing Chick Tracts. Say the word “repent” and I think of that guy on the corner yelling at me and the rest of the Atlanta United FC supporters as we march into Mercedes-Benz Stadium to watch a soccer match. “Repent now! Turn or Burn! The Road Is Wide That Leads To Hell!”
It also brings to memory the many times I have heard someone emphasize the action of the sinner in regards to repentance. This teaching revolves around that God’s offer of all of the benefits of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are dependent on whether or not the individual repents from their ways and chooses to turn to Jesus rather than sin. This is effectively suggesting that it is our responsibility to repent in order to be saved and that we have the power in us to repent if we really wanted to be saved. We are led to believe that it lies within ourselves to choose and decide to follow Jesus. This alone would cause great despair. Imagine how bad the news would be that the combusting agent in the process of salvation is a sinner who chooses to act and repent!
Crank it up!
This belief would mean that a personal decision to repent would be the dynamite that starts it all. Our decision to repent would be akin to cranking the ignition to a car. But if we are the power that starts the process of our salvation, some very haunting questions creep in.
“Did I repent right?
Did I repent hard enough?
Was I truly repentant?
Am I truly regenerate?
If I truly repented why am I still sinning?
If I am still sinning is it possible that I wasn't truly repentant?”
This is an eternal cycle that repeats over and over again. The folks in church are not delivered the good but instead receive the bad, ugly news with every altar call “invitation” at the end of a church service. Weekly they can be found on their knees with their face buried to the floor, emotions high, teeth clenched. Many lay prostrate begging for some sort of forgiveness that they think has not already been given. These terrorized parishioners can be seen repenting as hard as they know how and choke out the grandest promises they can make in an effort to make things right with God again, and again, and again. They might even refer to it as “doing business with the Lord.” Promises to be a better whatever are made and these promises are always inevitably broken. Christian failures abound.
This is what self-sacraments look like.
Hoping in an action that we do will unlock the outpouring of God’s gift to us, we think. But rather than delivering the goods, this sacrament of our own creation just delivers us ourselves. It is a narcissist’s present dream and eventual nightmare.
In this style of deceived interpretation we are the movers and makers of our own salvation. A salvation that ain't worth more than a one way ticket to destruction. In this style of salvation our hope is in what we are doing and not in what Christ is doing/has done for us already.
Just as Morpheus offers the choice between a red pill of truth and a blue pill of ignorant bliss to Neo in the movie “The Matrix” I have an offer for you.
Would you like to be red-pilled of this type of misunderstanding of repentance?
What if I told you that repentance is also a gift?
What if I told you that if you turn to have faith in Jesus it is because God turned you and gave you faith in Jesus?
What if I told you that any business between you and God was handled by God the Son 2,000 years ago on the cross of Christ?
Just like faith in Christ is a gift, the grace of God is a gift, the righteousness of Christ is a gift, the forgiveness of sins is a gift, repentance is also a gift.
In Acts 5 we see Peter and the Apostles once again brought before the Sadducees because of their teaching and filling Jerusalem with the message of Jesus. When told to “stop it!” they reply:
“We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you arrested and killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his right hand as Prince and Savior, to GIVE repentance to Israel and the forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:29-31, EHV)
I have read right over this passage and others like it so many times without recognizing what is being said. Repentance is given by Christ just as forgiveness of sins is given by Christ.
This changes everything. Repentance is a gift from God as well. The action, the combusting agent of repentance, of faith, of salvation, is the gospel of Jesus Christ for it is the power [BANG, KABLOOEY, BAMF] of God for salvation to everyone who believes. (Romans 1:16)
Make no mistake. If repentance is happening, recognize who is the author of the repentance. A theologian of glory will emphasize your action in repentance. A theologian of the cross will emphasize Christ for you.
Jesus Did It
When it comes to your relationship with God, everything that is required of you/commanded of you is given to you as a gift. You already have been given everything courtesy of Jesus Christ. You’ve been “turnt.”
The good news is that Jesus made a decision for you.
The good news is that Jesus acted for you.
The good news is that Jesus is the author and finisher of your faith.
The good news is that Jesus is the active agent in your salvation.
The good news it that Jesus saved you all by himself.
The good news is that Jesus is not waiting on you to do anything, he has given you everything already. It is finished.
Just as Jeremiah prayed to God “turn thou me, and I shall be turned” (Jeremiah 31:18, KJV) join me in praying “repent me Lord and I will be repented.”
Everyone in Christ has already been “turnt” by Christ himself.
Dear sinner, based off of the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for you...
You are forgiven.
A rare Native Atlantien that still lives in the Atlanta area, Zachary James Cole grew up in the Bible Belt of the American South. He became a United States Marine in January of 2004 and served on Active Duty until January of 2009. He was deployed to Iraq twice during Operation: Iraqi Freedom. While in the desert conducting convoy security and nighttime security patrols, Zack was overwhelmed with the nearness and love of Christ. He has a love of history, the outdoors as well as an unwavering love of his favorite local sports teams. He earned his M.Div in Theological Studies from Liberty Theological Seminary. Zack is a co-host of the podcast: The Liberty Tree. After coming home from the Marine Corps he found a Church home at Suwannee Station Family Life Church in Suwannee, GA where he now serves as an Associate Pastor. Zack lives in Sugar Hill, GA with his wife Bonnie and their two sons, Cade and Knox.