During the Lenten season, we are called upon to repent of our sins in preparation for the Easter season where we celebrate the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus into heaven, which enables our salvation, the fulfillment of our ministries, and the consequent living of the “abundant life.” Indeed, Scripture enjoins us to repent of anything and everything that places God on the back burner of our lives.
Nowhere is this admonition put more forcefully than when Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) Each and every day we are to struggle to keep our priorities in order by putting God first in our lives, even ahead of those we love in this temporary, sin-cursed world.
Only God is eternal; only God is worthy of our worship! Everything that gets in the way of worshiping and obeying God’s call on our lives, regardless of how seemingly noble those things and people are, must take second place to our relationship with God! Lent is that designated time where we formalize as a season that need for repentance as a means of ushering in the miracle of Easter.
The term “repentance” is dealt with in both the Old and New Testaments! In the former, there are two words that are used that are translated as “repent”: naham, and sub. The first word connotes the need to be sorry, and to change one’s mind. The second word connotes the need to turn back or return. Clearly, we are called upon to change our ways by feeling sorry for the direction our lives are headed and, therefore, change our minds as to the direction of our lives and return to dependence upon God.
In the New Testament, the words translated “repent” are metanoeo and metamelomai. They usually mean, “to change one’s mind,” and also “to regret, to feel remorse” over the previously held view. Here, “…repentance is not just as a feeling sorry, or changing one’s mind, but as a turning round, a complete alteration of the basic motivation and direction of one’s life.” (New Bible Dictionary, p. 1018) In the Book of Acts, Luke uses the word, “epistrepho,” which can mean both a turning away from sin as well as a turning to God.
In this connection, Baptism can be seen as symbolic of one’s turning away from one’s old way of life and focusing every aspect of one’s life on God and His will for one’s life. Baptism, therefore, can be seen as symbolizing “a death to self,” and is reflected in the Apostle Paul’s assertions: “…I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:19b-20); “…for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)
So, repentance may actually best be viewed, not as the need for penance, but as the need to change one’s focus, or orientation, of life and thought “from” the things of this world that get in the way of our relationship with God “toward” God and His unique call on our lives! This reorientation requires a death to self!
Although Scripture usually deals with repentance as it relates to nations and individuals, I think we have reached a point where much of organized “Christianity,” the institutions and people that claim to represent it and the “Church,” as well as self or institutionally proclaimed spokespersons for God, especially need to “repent.” I can think of no better time than during this Lenten season that “repentance” or “conversion” of much of organized “Christianity” be considered and enacted.
During this election year in the United States, most Christians have viewed with alarm how the Gospel of grace, faith, love, reconciliation, and inclusiveness has been perverted by assorted proclamations and actions by those who preach a false exclusionary gospel of legalism and perfectionism, and who seem to monopolize the media, and who have the temerity to claim to speak for God, for Christianity, for the Church, and for the Prince of Peace. Compounding this tragedy has been the enmeshment of this false, perverted gospel with the demagoguery of much of the political right wing in this country that has gained ascendancy due in no small part to the undeserved credibility afforded to those who preach this perverse gospel.
People have been inundated with the big lies that Jesus is in favor of capital punishment and hates gays; that God is on our side when we preemptively invade another country based on faulty intelligence and/or downright lies; “morality” is discriminating against same-sex love but favoring the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children; Christians are harsh, censorious, judgmental people who inordinately care about others’ sex lives; Christians are in favor of capitalism and the free market at the expense of the poor in this country and in developing nations. I could go on, but you get the point!
Because of the strident fundamentalists who seem to have taken over much of the organized Church, Christians are viewed by many non-Christians as one-dimensional people who care little, if at all, about Jesus’ admonitions to us to have love, mercy, and compassion for others. In this connection, it should be noted that it is likely that not an inconsiderable amount of money is made by many of these “religious” leaders when they pursue their policies of exclusion “in the name of God.” I’d like to know how much money is garnered by them when, for example, they mail out letters to their constituents soliciting contributions to “fight the homosexual agenda.”
If any person or institution, claiming to speak in the name of God or not, seeks to deprive others of civil liberties and basic human rights that they, themselves, enjoy, and/or supports aggressive actions against innocent people, and/or favors the rich and has contempt for the poor and marginalized among us, that person or institution has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity or Jesus! The Holy Spirit Who embodies love and caring for others (Galatians 5:22-23), will not allow such perversions of the Gospel!
It is impossible for Christians to be hate-mongers, or in any way seek to hurt or prevent others from enjoying the same sacramental and civil rights and liberties that they, themselves, enjoy! Those who preach a false gospel, and the people and institutions that justify them, are not Christians; if they wish to be in fellowship with God, they must repent or as surely as there is a living God, they will suffer the wrath of God at the Final Judgment!
“…he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’” (Matthew 25:41-46)
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’” (Matthew 7:15-23)
Before the Final Judgment by God, increasing numbers of Christians are likely to leave these moribund, corrupt churches and denominations that measure Christianity on the basis of the people they exclude from their fellowship, and either go to churches and denominations that embrace all of God’s children, or form their own worship communities where they can truly worship God and also embolden each other to face the dual tasks of fighting the corruption endemic in this sin-cursed world and, more importantly, fight the corruption that has invaded God’s Church, and cut that corruption out like the cancer it is, lest Jesus be cursed by the perverters of the Gospel even more than has already occurred.
The strident fundamentalists, and many other professing “Christians,” those inextricably linked with the politics of exclusion at both the corporate and individual levels, besmirch Jesus’ name and Jesus Himself! It is up to Christians to stand up to those who pervert the Gospel, and reclaim the true Gospel of grace, faith, love, reconciliation, and inclusiveness, and show these attributes to the world in Jesus’ name and for His sake. In so doing, we may well help usher in a climate where much of the organized Church sees itself as called upon by God to repent of its embracing of a false, perverted gospel, lest its leaders and blind followers suffer the equivalent fate of the swine filled with the unclean spirits that Jesus cast out of the demoniac (Mark 5:13).
In His time, just as assuredly as He treated those swine, Jesus will cast out the unclean spirits from His Church!