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Monday, January 3, 2011

Ye Must Be Born Again, pt 2

This is the second part of a blog post which began here.

The next concept of salvation I would like to turn to is repentance*. Do we need simply to trust in Christ, or must we also repent of our sins? If so, how successfully must we repent? If I repent of lying, but a week from now I tell another lie, did I repent successfully enough to be saved? What about 10 minutes from the moment of my salvation? Where is the line?

First, let's consider the Biblical basis for repenting (I choose only two passages among many).
Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.


(Act 2:37-38)
Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. "Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."


(Luk 13:1-5)



We will ignore the comment on baptism for the time being and focus on repenting of sins.

Imagine that you are standing in a very long tunnel, but very narrow. So narrow that you can only look to one side of the tunnel or the other. You have two options. Behind you, where you came into the tunnel, a great party is going on with then hang-overs still a long way off. In front of you, where you are currently contemplating going, is the God of the universe. To call on God, you must turn your back on sin - they are complete opposites.

CS Lewis compares feeling bad about a sin to a toothache. He recalls how, in his own childhood, when he had a toothache, he would hesistate to tell his mother. He knew that if he went to her, she would give him an aspirin and the relief he desired from the pain, but his mother would not stop at what she was asked for. He knew that he would have to go to the dentist and the dentist would not stop at simple pain relief; he would begin fixing everything. When we go to God for relief from the guilt of a particularly embarassing sin, we are met with an unpleasant reality. He will give us what we ask for and more besides. God does not bring a car into his shop to touch up the paint. He will change the oil, swap out the wiper blades, replace the bearings, install new brake pads and balance four new tires. Nothing leaves His shop short of perfect - even though we would like to. Repentance is when you realize what a miserable state you are in and turn away from your sin and turn to God. Shortly after our first scripture, Peter makes this clarification:

"Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. "Moses said, 'THE LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED to everything He says to you. 'And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.'


(Act 3:19-23 - emphasis mine)

 "Repent and return to God," he proclaims. "Then, rejuvinating energy will come from the presence of God, where you will dwell and the Lord will return quickly."

We then see it as an extension of what we already talked about. To call on God, you must believe that He exists, that He can save you and that He will save you. But you must also truly want to call on Him. You must know what He intends to do to you and accept it, in all of its glory. You must in your heart genuinely be willing to have your old self destroyed and replaced by God's perfection. That is repentance. It is not an idle sorrow or bemoaning, but a Godly sorrow. The kind of sorrow which causes action and change.

It is not possible to call on God and be saved while you are still living happily in your filth. We must realize our low, helpless estate before we will desire His hand to pulll us out and we must turn away from our lusts to turn to Him. If you were saved out of pride, conceit or a desire for attention, you were not really saved - you never really turned to God because you never really turned away from your sins. Duration of this repentance is a moot point. God needs only a moment to flood you with His life-giving Spirit and to transform you. Once you are saved, you will not be able to back to the filth from which you are pulled. You will constantly have the conviction of God bringing you back where you belong.

So then repentance is not something we are freed from, but something intimately tied up in calling on God to save us. But it must not be treated as a work, or as something different than faith.

Next time, we will still be on this topic. Feel free to leave your comments or questions.


* Repentance is church-speak which means 'to change course' or 'to return.' As repent has become a solely religious word, it has come to mean 'to regret sin'. I will use it only in the traditional sense.

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