It’s Monday Grace!
When Bill moved into his new home, he sat down with a map and charted the best drive to work. He reasoned that this route would be both fastest and easiest. Then he drove that route for several years. There were some lights that took too long to change and both heavy traffic and reduced speeds near the school, but this was still the best drive, according to Bill.
When someone asked Bill why he didn’t use the new road, he replied that his way was just right. He had studied it and chosen it and accepted it as best. He didn’t need the new road.
But one day, Bill tried the new road. To his surprise, it was faster and easier. No more school zone. No more slow lights. He shaved several minutes and a couple miles off his twice-daily drive. It wasn’t long before Bill started telling others about the new road.
Now, that’s an illustration of repentance. To repent means to change your mind, your thinking.
Repentance might happen in a moment. A sudden realization that your path was the wrong one and both the desire and will to use a better path. You may have had your own “Damascus Road” experience, where you were “hit upside the head” with the truth.
Repentance can happen over time. A slow dawning of the truth that you have heard over and over, accepting finally that your resistance has been a mistake. Maybe you were raised in a Christian home or environment and eventually embraced the faith others proclaimed as your own.
Repentance is personal. It involves your own thinking and choosing. It cannot be forced or demanded. It can’t come from the outside. The old saying is: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” No one can make you repent.
But let me share what repentance is not. It is not an abrupt change from sinning to doing only right. It is not sinlessness in thought or action. It is not a simple change of behavior.
Yes, someone might experience a sudden release from a bad habit or a sinful desire. I have known people who suddenly stopped smoking or cursing. Some have given up adulteries or theft or lies. Those things might happen. But the abrupt ceasing of all sin should not be expected, even if it is desired.
Nor is repentance the sudden addition of actions or attitudes that some consider positive. Again, I have known people who started going to church when they hadn’t been in church for a long time. Some have chosen to embrace gratitude rather than complaining. Those are not bad things, but they are not the definition of repentance. Repentance is a new way of thinking, something in the heart.
In other words, repentance is so much more than just a change of lifestyle. All kinds of choices can initiate lifestyle changes. Repentance is the realization of the failure of the old way and an embrace of something new.
And repentance takes faith. Faith needs an object. When we stop what we have been doing to see that Jesus offers something better, when we push away the old way and reach out to Him for life and peace and everything we need, that’s repentance.
So, there are those who make changes in their lives without repenting. There are also those who repent and still struggle with sin. The difference is not behavior. The difference is mindset. As long as my mind is set on what I can accomplish, even if I move from bad things to good things, I have not repented. But if my mind is set on Jesus as my hope, even if my behavior still seems to need a lot of change, I have repented.
No matter what the preacher shouts from the pulpit or the gospel tract shares in the story, repentance is not about you fixing yourself. No matter how hard you try and how successful you are, it will not be the answer you need.
We are called to follow Jesus. Not to fix ourselves. Just to follow Jesus. A new path. A new way of thinking. And a new life. All from Him.