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Pastor Scott Richards, First United Methodist Church, Post

Repent, Rethink, and Rejoice

Published Sept. 5, 2012 @ 6 a.m.

Repent!  It is a word spoken by many a preacher both those who are ordained by a church and those who have ordained themselves.  It is the word that characterized the ministry of John the Baptist and likewise, it is the word with which Jesus began His own ministry.  But what does repent really mean?

Most people think of "repent" as meaning saying "I'm sorry" especially when you are saying "I'm sorry" to God.  Others come closer to the true meaning when they think repent means that you are going to stop doing something you are doing.  The term does encompass both of these meanings but they are not really the definition of the term.  The literal translation is "change the way you think."  Historically we have interpreted that to mean to turn around and go a new direction.  After all, you are what you think and if you change your way of thinking you will change behavior, responses, and even emotions as well.

The real battleground of the spiritual world is your thought life.  When most of us think of repentance we think of the things we have to stop doing.  There are two problems with this.  The primary problem in our life is not what we do but what we think.  And, the primary problem with how we think is not so much how we think now as it is in the way that we are not thinking now.

While it is true that true repentance does involve a change of behavior it is not primarily about the way you are thinking now but rather repentance is about the way you need to be thinking.  Yes, that does mean giving up one for the other.  But the number of ways we can change our thinking is almost infinite.  But there is only way of thinking that leads to salvation.  Repentance is not so much about what we should stop doing as it is about what we need to start doing.

Paul states the problem succinctly in Romans 3:10-11 "None is righteous, no not one. No one understands.  No one seeks God." Here we can see that "righteous" is not defined by what we do but our way of thought.  Specifically, we are not righteous because we "do not understand" and because we do not "seek God."  All of this is put into the context of Romans 1:18-23.  That is to say, that all people are shut up under the same problem.  We have become futile in our minds.  We need to change the way in which we think.

Even among those who are Christian in name there is a futility to our thought.  We think that if we do something for God then God will do something for us.  "If we pray correctly God will hear.  If we give our tithe God will make us rich.  If we act correctly God will reward us."  While some of these statements are certainly true you notice that all of the control remains with us.  Our thought world still revolves around you and me.  We spend our lives trying to get God to do things for us instead of giving our lives to God to do with as God pleases.  As long as we insist on being in control we commit the same sin as Eve, we are trying to be our own gods.

However, to change our thinking in such a way that we come to understand, come to seek God, and to put God in complete control is far beyond human ability.  Try as hard as you might, following all the rules you may choose to follow you cannot possibly get out of the stinkin' thinkin' that makes you, in the end, to be your own god. Not only is this true Biblically, it is true logically.  As long as you are the one whose efforts are causing the effect you remain in control.  There is no way for a human being to get out of this box once Adam and Eve put us in it except for what God has done on our behalf.

True repentance is a gift of God.  It is a gift that is available to everyone.  We just have to accept the gift.  However, you have to give up being your own boss.  As a friend of mine says, "There can’t be a resurrection without a death."  In this case you have to die to your own need to control in order to give God control.  To accept God's gift of repentance is a true "leap of faith."  You have to be willing to trust God enough to surrender everything you have and everything you are to the Lord.  But the rewards are immense.  Many who have made this transition think of their former lives as living death.  They never really knew what it was to be alive until they truly met Jesus on God's terms.

Further, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to live on God's terms, to enter into God's life and to truly change how we think.  It is as the Holy Spirit transforms our lives from glory into glory and from faith into faith that we are continually taking up in the image of Jesus Christ in our own lives.

Likewise, the failure to repent has terrible consequences.  The pictures the New Testament writers draw are not pretty at all.  There is a lake of fire, a burning of the soul that never ends and is never relieved, and "gehenna" the burning dump of Jerusalem.  You may indeed feel like your life is already in a burning dump.  Maybe drugs and/or alcohol is the only way you can stand the life you have.  Why not give it away and give God control?  After all, you have little to loose.

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