23 Jun

How Long Repentance?

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(This is the third post on pivoting and repentance. Here are the links to the first and second articles.)

Repent! More than a slogan of overzealous, sign-carrying street preachers, it’s the heart of the gospel.

“And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” – Mark 1:4

“‘The time has come,’ Jesus said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” – Mark 1:15

“Repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” – Luke 24:47

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 2:38

“In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent.” – Acts 17:30

And repentance isn’t limited to the religious sphere. Larry Alton advises business leaders, “It’s time to face reality and start thinking about your two options: pivot or collapse. That may seem overly dramatic, but unless something changes, this is where you’re headed.”

Overly dramatic? Not really. Jesus sounded the same warning.

“But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” – Luke 13:3

A pivot is a quick, sudden move in response to pressure that enables you to go in a new direction. Is that what repentance is like? Is it a single, non-repeating occurrence that sets you on a new path? Or is repentance repetitive, ongoing, even permanent? How long must you repent?

You can view repentance as “punctiliar,” or a point in time. You do it once and then you’re finished. According to St. Ambrose of Optina, “years are not needed for true repentance, and not days but only an instant.”

It’s how the Christian life gets started; you turn from the old life of sin and begin a new one of righteousness in Christ. For the believer, that event of repentance takes place at some moment in the past.

You can also take a broader or “linear” understanding of repentance. Pastor Kevin DeYoung approvingly quotes the opinion of John Calvin: “Therefore, I think he has profited greatly who has learned to be very much displeased with himself, not so as to stick fast in this mire and progress no farther, but rather to hasten to God and yearn for him in order that, having been engrafted into the life and death of Christ, he may give attention to continual repentance.”

And David Mathis says that this was Martin Luther’s position as well: “His first thesis reads, ‘When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” He intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.’ All of the Christian life is repentance. Turning from sin and trusting in the good news that Jesus saves sinners aren’t merely a one-time inaugural experience but the daily substance of Christianity. The gospel is for every day and every moment. Repentance is to be the Christian’s continual posture.”

Reflecting on Luther’s first thesis, Sinclair B. Ferguson insists that “repentance is not a discreet external act; it is the turning round of the whole life of faith in Christ . . . Repentance then is not the punctiliar decision of a moment but a radical heart transformation that reverses the whole direction of life.”

So which is it? Punctiliar or linear, a one-time event or a life-long process?

Why not both?

An identifiable, one-time event but also a succession of course corrections, even a permanent posture or attitude.

The Verse by Verse Ministry proposes two kinds of repentance: big “R” and little “r”. The former occurs at the moment of salvation when you receive Jesus as Lord. The latter transpires whenever you sin and need cleansing. In their framework, “Repentance” is punctiliar while “repentance” is linear. You “Repent” once but you “repent” frequently.

Basketball and tennis players pivot many times in their games. You can distinguish each move from the other but when you add them up, you get a picture of a person’s athletic performance.

How does turning from sin define your spiritual life? What is Jesus challenging you to abandon? What is He calling you to pursue?

Whatever it is, make the pivot.

16 Jun

Positive Repentance

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Last week’s blog post explored the biblical significance of the principle of pivoting even though the Scriptures seldom use the term. Two verses call door hinges “pivots” (1 Kings 6:34, Isaiah 6:4) and two others refer to pivoting as the act of changing direction (Ezekiel 1:17, 10:11).

My situation at the singles retreat epitomized the spiritual application of the word. I functioned as a hinge from a sermon about suffering to an announcement about a square dance. You could say I altered the direction of the retreat!

Hinges work only when they’re joined to two different objects. For a door to swing open or shut, its hinges have to connect to both the door and the frame. I connected myself to the speaker’s message and to the expectations of the audience. I didn’t criticize either; instead, I served as a point of transition, a way to redirect the energy in the room. That’s pivoting.

As I was writing the post, it struck me that this concept pervades the Bible. Pivoting reminds me of repentance.

When you pivot, you change direction to get a benefit. According to the gospel, you turn from your sins and trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and new life.

“For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” – Ezekiel 18:32

“‘So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?’ 18When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.’” – Acts 11:17-18

In popular imagination, repentance is something negative and gloomy. You feel remorse for your sins and regret what you’ve done. This has scriptural support.

“Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” – James 4:8-10

But what if that’s not the whole picture?

In basketball, you pivot to find an open space so you can either shoot the ball or pass it to a teammate. In business, you pivot by dropping a product or service that’s floundering so you’re free to pursue another opportunity.

And here’s the key. When you pivot, you don’t abandon the old; you accept it as the basis for your next step. Larry Alton clarifies this positive dimension: “In a pivot, you aren’t totally abandoning your current situation. Instead, you’re looking for new options that may arise out of your current state.”

When Jesus cast thousands of demons out of a hapless victim, the liberated man wanted to tag along with Him. But, Christ had another idea.

“Jesus did not let him, but said, ‘Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ 20So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.” – Mark 5:19-20

The man returned to those who had loved him but feared his tortured and wicked condition. Now, they would see the same person–transformed and redeemed. His pivot shocked them.

Jesus called His first disciples to pivot from one form of fishing to another.

“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19’Come, follow Me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ 20At once they left their nets and followed Him.” – Matthew 4:18-20

Rather than disparage their occupation, the Lord adapted it to introduce Peter and Andrew to life in the kingdom of God. These apostles didn’t abandon fishing so much as they discovered a new form. They pivoted the focus of their labor from fish to people.

And Paul chose to share the gospel by commending and then correcting the misguided religious zeal of the Greeks.

“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there . . . 22Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship–and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.’” – Acts 17:16-17, 22-23

The apostle would have been right to criticize the Athenians for their dedication to idols and statues. Right but ineffective. So he chose to help them pivot. Instead of keeping them in religious ignorance, he would reveal to the them the God they’d missed. These Greeks could repent by retaining the value of worship but finding fulfillment in God’s revelation through Jesus Christ.

Gospel ministry exposes spiritual blindness, selfishness, and demonic oppression. Jesus doesn’t shy away from confrontation and neither should you. Turn from whatever is holding you back from God’s best. Don’t let shame or embarrassment keep you from moving ahead in a new direction.

As Alton observes, “Entrepreneurs often put off a pivot because they feel like it’s a sign of weakness – as if they’re publicly admitting failure for everyone to see. But the reality is that the opposite is true. A pivot shows that you’re aware of your surroundings and willing and able to recognize new opportunities as they arise. Investors, business partners, and customers respect this.”

Repentance isn’t just about feeling guilty and humiliated. It’s an acknowledgment that God loves us in spite of our failures and is calling us to follow Jesus into a new life–one of purpose and fulfillment.

Dare to pivot toward the positive; that’s the purpose of repentance.