The gift of repentance
There was a member of the What’s So Amazing About Grace class last week who was very insistent that God’s forgiveness is only available for those who repent – and to this gentleman, repentance is begging for forgiveness. I believe, from his part in the discussion, that he’s not really even sure that a repentant heart is enough – I believe that this gentleman would tell you that following the law is a requirement to be in the presence of God.
Is there a requirement for repentance in order to receive forgiveness from God? Is there a requirement of “good behavior” in order to receive grace?
What is repentance? One of the definitions in Merriam-Webster is “to turn from sin.” I like the image of repentance being a “turning around.” We turn around and turn to find God. He’s not far, because he’s chasing us.
I found a few verses this afternoon about repentance:
Acts 5:31: God exalted him (Jesus) at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”Does anything strike you in those three verses? As I read them, I was struck by the verbs – give, lead, grant. None of those verbs assume that we can do this “repentance” on our own. None of them intimate that we must “come so far” down the road of repentance toward God. In fact, to me, they seem to suggest that repentance is a gift of grace.
Romans 2:4b: Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
2 Timothy 2:25b: God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth.
We can’t make God love us any more than he does, or love us any less than he does. He loves us. He grants us grace. And one of the fruits of that grace is repentance of sins. It’s not a requirement; it’s a gift – a gift that perhaps we cannot reach on our own. A gift that is given without strings, but at great price to God. Repentance is grace.
But what about the law, my friend in class would ask? What is the greatest commandment? Love God and love each other (if I may paraphrase). Just as when we accept grace, we are given the gift of repentance, when we accept grace, we are given the gift of obedience to God.
Luke 5:31-32: Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”Sinners? That’s us. We are sinners because we disobey God. If it were solely up to us to live in obedience to God, then we would fail as miserably as the Pharisees did. Living in humility – placing control in God’s hands – is a gift of grace. We tried for 2000 years or more to do it ourselves, and it didn’t work. We need God. We need grace. Without it, we are lost.
So, it is backwards to assume that we have to be obedient in order to receive grace or that we must be repentant to receive grace. All we must do is accept the gift. The rest is a fruit of the gift, a fruit that we cannot reach on our own. It is impossible.
But with God, all things are possible.
Images: The front of our church in the frame of a flowering tree (Friday). Palm branches from last Sunday's service. The image yesterday was taken on Sunday, after youth group -- the sky was spectacular, and that image only catches a tiny portion of its majesty.