The word “repent” is often associated with fear based tactics like street side preachers shouting “turn or burn!” Though fear based attempts to motivate change rarely have lasting positive impact. The New Testament picture of repentance is instead displayed as a joyful invitation to acceptance of the grace and mercy poured out by a God of love.
Repent in Greek, means to turn or “do an about-face.” However, today the word has come to mean several very different things. It is often associated with fear based, or fear motivated changes. The New Testament meaning of the word is rather a joyful invitation to a new reality.
In a clip from Les Misérables, Jean Valjean has just been released from 19 years hard labor for stealing bread for his starving sisters. He is welcomed into Bishop Myriel’s home. Though treated with kindness by the Bishop, he steals the silver and strikes Myriel, running away in the night. Later when Valjean is brought back by the authorities, the kind bishop pretends that he has given Valjean the silver so not as to get him into further trouble. He tells Valjean that he has purchased him back from evil and returned him to God. Jean Valjean is brought to change not by fear, but by the grace and mercy of the bishop.
What changes our course in life is not fear, but rather kindness. Fear locks us into our course. While grace transforms our identity, and sets us on a new course. Greg shared a story of being 16 years old and believing he was stupid, because he was failing classes and always getting into trouble. After a class discussion one day, his teacher, Ms. Kane, pulled him aside and encouraged him to think about becoming a philosopher. She told him she would reverse his failing grade if he would read two philosophy books of his choosing from the library and write a report on them. This gave Greg a new sense of identity that ultimately helped him come to Christ and stop taking drugs. A word of kindness help set a new course for his life.
It is the same with God. It is God’s kindness that sets us free to live a new life. It was the love of God that compelled Paul to give up his old life. Love is the fuel that motivates the Kingdom. Fear may have been your motivation for coming to Christ, and that is something we can praise God for! Yet, fear is an immature motivation that can never take you to the places that love can. It is important for believers to regularly set aside time to bath in the love of God and be centered in it. It is what draws us to God and builds us as followers of Christ.
In 2 Corinthians 5:13-20, Paul writes that Christ died for all- doing away with everything that separates us from God. This truth should not be tamed down! Because of this Paul encourages us to see everyone and everything in light of this truth. In fact, the traditional reading of 1 Corinthians 5:17 should be flipped. It is not only those that are in Christ who should be seen as new creation, but rather those in Christ (who are new creation) should be seeing the whole world anew through the lens of God’s mercy!
The truth is that Christ did not tell us to repent so that He could love us, and save us, and welcome us. Rather He loved us, saved us, and welcomed us, so that we could repent and love Him. For those that follow Christ are called to be ambassadors who spread this very good news! From God’s side, all is forgiven! We have a very important choice to make. Will we accept this forgiveness, be reconciled to God, and live fully in this new reality? That is what repentance is, turning to God and living in the new reality He has created for us. This happens not just when we first come to Christ, but it is a daily part of walking with God.
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