If you have ever been lost while driving and stopped to ask for directions you are familiar with repentance. When a man is driving and is lost, it takes humility for him to admit he’s lost. It takes even more humility for him to ask for directions. Humility is an essential ingredient of repentance. There is no shame in humbling yourself to ask for directions when you’re lost. There is no shame in repenting especially when repentance will start you heading in the right direction.
When the Bible talks about repentance it refers to a change of heart leading to a change of lifestyle. Repentance changes the direction of one’s life. Repentance requires humility. Until we follow Jesus we are going in the wrong direction—away from God. We are lost, but we do not know it. Our internal GPS is defective. We are lost, yet we put more trust in our sense of direction than in Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We are listening to our heart when we should be listening to God.
In order to follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit must change our heart and renew our mind. The Spirit must help us turn away from our old way of life and turn toward God to begin a new way of life.
- Repentance involves a radical transformation of thought, attitude, and lifestyle.
- Repentance is the decisive act of turning away from sin and toward God. However, repentance is more than a one-time act.
- Repentance is a lifestyle characterized by a lifelong obedience to Jesus Christ under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
The first step to living repentantly is to admit you are going in the wrong direction. The next step is to ask for directions so you can turn around and head down the right road. And the next step after that is to follow the new directions. We prove the sincerity of our repentance by how well we continue following these new directions so we can continue heading down the right road.
Repentance is possible because of what Jesus did for us by His life, death and resurrection. Because of Jesus we can become a new creation and live a new life. This new life is characterized by a new lifestyle: a lifelong obedience to Jesus Christ under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. To live repentantly means practicing what Jesus preaches everyday. I believe it was Tim Keller who made the observation that, based on his experience in pastoral ministry, there are two kinds of repentance: religious repentance and gospel repentance.
People who practice religious repentance believe they are saved by grace but kept by works. The goal is to keep God happy so He will continue being good to us and answer our prayers. Religious repentance draws attention to what we do for God. It is essentially self-focused, self-protective self-improvement layered with just enough spiritual vocabulary to make us look good. People who practice religious repentance believe God owes them for their good behavior. They present God with a spreadsheet of their religious activity expecting Him to reward them for their hard work and good behavior.
People who practice gospel repentance believe they are saved by grace and kept by grace. The goal is to seek the help of the Holy Spirit in order to keep practicing what Jesus preaches. Gospel repentance is motivated by daily trust in what Jesus has done for us, not what we can do for Him. It is the daily practice of presenting ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to Him.To live repentantly we must have a lifestyle rooted and grounded in a faith-relationship with Jesus Christ. Gospel repentance is the overflow of a changed heart which produces a changed lifestyle: a lifestyle rooted and grounded in a faith-relationship with Jesus Christ. Gospel repentance is at the heart of Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 1.27-30 –
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
To live repentantly means trusting God to finish what He started.
God and God alone is responsible for transforming our lives. This transformation involves the Spirit’s work of regeneration: the Holy Spirit transforms us from people who are spiritually dead into people who are spiritually alive. We are the walking dead until the Spirit gives us life. The moment the Spirit regenerates us, He opens our ears so we can hear and understand the gospel. He opens our heart so we can repent and confess faith in Jesus Christ. He continues His work in us by helping us to live repentantly by helping us practice what Jesus preaches every day. More importantly, the Spirit helps us want to practice what Jesus preaches.
Knowing this, gives Paul the confidence to say God will continue His good work of saving us until Jesus comes back for His church and our salvation is finally completed and everything we have done is examined and rewarded. God finishes what He starts. Nothing in this life, not even death will prevent God from finishing His work in all those who live repentantly by continuing to trust in His Son. God finishes what He starts. He will continue making us more and more like Jesus until the day Jesus comes back. Until then, we must put our trust in Him by living repentantly.
Living repentantly means leaning on the everlasting arms of the God who revealed Himself as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. It means trusting God to finish what He started. It means trusting Jesus to be the Author and Finisher of our faith. People who live repentantly follow Jesus until God has finished what He started.
To live repentantly leaves room for God to do the unexpected.
Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians from inside a Roman prison. However, by God’s grace, his imprisonment resulted in an unexpected double-benefit. In the first place, God used Paul’s imprisonment to make the gospel “known throughout the whole imperial guard” (1.13) In the first century, prisoners sent to Rome in cases of appeal were placed in the custody of the praefectus praetorio. God made it possible for Paul to share the gospel with as many guards as were assigned to look after him.
How divinely ironic that Paul, the captive, was given a captive audience. Only God can do that. Paul’s imprisonment became an open door to share the gospel with as many guards as were assigned to watch him. Paul was in chains. Not the gospel. God did the unexpected. Paul captivated his captors with the gospel. His prison cell became a classroom. His guards became his disciples. By living repentantly Paul avoided the trap of self-pity. He left room for God to do the unexpected.
Secondly, God used Paul’s adversity to inspire the Christians in Rome “to speak the word without fear” (1.14). Once again, God did the unexpected. Rather than dampen their zeal to share the gospel, Paul’s imprisonment encouraged the believers to share the gospel with an even more courageous boldness. And this was not a temporary zeal. The Christians in Rome were still preaching the gospel without fear even as Paul wrote his letter. God the Holy Spirit used Paul’s imprisonment to inspire the Christians in Rome to preach the gospel with greater courage.
To live repentantly means letting our lifestyle be shaped by the gospel.
Everyone who follows Jesus lives with a dual citizenship. My physical citizenship is in Massachusetts which is in the United States of America. However, the moment I was born again through faith in Jesus Christ, I became a citizen of the church that bears His name. My real citizenship is in heaven. The same was true of the Philippians. They were citizens of Philippi which was a colony of the Roman Empire. They were also citizens belonging to the church which is a colony of the kingdom of God.
As dual citizens, our lifestyle, our values and our ideals should reflect those of the gospel of Jesus Christ more than those of the Constitution of the United States. Until recently, this was not that much of a dilemma – certainly not one as dramatic as the one confronting the Philippians. As Roman citizens they faced charges of treason for refusing to say, “Caesar is Lord.” Then again, it could be that any overlap between American values and Christian values was more illusion than reality – specifically, the kind of illusion produced by Christianity as a civil religion practicing a religious repentance rather what it truly is: a lifestyle rooted and grounded in a Spirit-led faith-relationship with Jesus Christ as He is known through His word.
This is not an insignificant thing. I read an article recently in which the premise of the author was that wealthy, white American males have to work harder at the reading the Bible correctly primarily because the Bible is written from the perspective of the disadvantaged. Now whether you agree or disagree with his premise, this much is certain: the challenge of learning to live repentantly is letting the Spirit use the gospel to transform our values as well as the way we look at the world; including the way we read the Bible.
To live repentantly, means learning to read the Bible as a Christian living in America rather than as an American trying to live as a Christian. It means allowing the Holy Spirit to change my lifestyle by letting Him change the way I think. It means committing to living as part of a community of people in which each person makes it their aim to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”
If my lifestyle is to “be worthy of the gospel of Christ” I must practice what Jesus preaches everyday. I must pursue gospel repentance by a lifestyle rooted and grounded in a faith-relationship with Jesus Christ. The aim is that over time my life will reflect more and more the character of Jesus Christ.
You think about that.