Thursday, June 5, 2014
HOW MUCH REPENTANCE?
How much repentance is required of us when we sin? At first, this question sounds silly. Of course, Jesus has fully atoned for our sins, has abolished the the Law’s punishment in His flesh, and declared the world objectively righteous by His death and resurrection. Romans 6:4: says that “We were buried with Him in Baptism so that, just as Christ was raised by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” On its own, this verse delivers splendid news—namely, that in Jesus rests our eternal life. He has crucified our nature, buried it, and triumphed over it. Yet, this passage answers the question: “Shall we sin that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:2-3) The Law confronts us when we neglect our Baptism into Christ’s death. It reminds us that are nothing, can do nothing, will be nothing apart from Jesus. (John 15:5) And, we dare not build our own foundation apart from Him. (Heb. 6:4-6) Jesus spoke clearly the command, “Repent.” (Matt. 4:17) His reason? “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The kingdom is not local; it’s the reign of God—His administration of justice, His forgiveness of sins, and the means by which He carries out His Word. When Jesus calls us to repent, He calls for a total change of heart and mind. This is more than a mere admission of being guilty of sin. It’s the desire to do what we on ourselves cannot do—namely, amend our rebellious, trespassing, and aimless lives. Human reason pits such repentance against what happens between people who sever a friendship or a husband and wife who decide to separate from each other. A dozen or more “I’m sorry” equivalents might leave each person’s lips. The challenge, once forgiveness or the general “okay” is spoken is that at least a dozen conditions stack up. Behavior must change. Promises must renew. Emotions must heal before reconciliation can truly take place. That’s the natural order of things when families break apart, business partners split the company, children break ties over a damaged toy. The optemists among us say that time will pass and heal all wounds. In none of these scenarios do we walk away assured that our best efforts will make a difference. Our friend or spouse might raise the stakes. We may forget the laundry list of conditions we’ve hammered out over a marriage counselor’s coffee table or a teacher’s cluttered desk. And, God knows, we hold grudges high enough a spaceship can collide with them. Medieval sscholastics fashioned a system which Roman Catholicism caudified at the Council of Trent but which held sway for centuries beforehand. Confession, they say, consists of three parts—contrition, absolution, and satisfaction. It wasn’t enough that Jesus paid it all on Calvary. The belief runs like this: That each person comes to life with some amount of grace by which he/she achieves God’s favor. The cross won this for him/her. So, if this person sins after Baptism, he/she must work off the accrued penalty. The priests gave each penitent sinner a to-do list—speaking a number of Lord’s Prayers in a row, praying the rosary a number of times, visiting relics in a museum on a pilgrimage. Doesn’t that to-do list sound very similar to our natural tendency as human beings? Certainly. Does is give an ounce of assurance when dealing with God as Judge? No. The system looks pious enough. People can pat themselves on the back for keeping the prescribed satisfactions or we could despair and wonder what else we must do. Just look at the socioeconomic conditions of the inner-city and see where civic to-do lists get anyone. The moment sanitary conditions receive some attention, demands for employment make the news. No one remains completely satisfied for very long. The Roman system assumes a basic goodness or benevolence in man which Scripture nowhere affirms. Besides the fact that we cannot do any good apart from Christ (John 15:5), no one is righteous. (Rom. 3:9-10) Nothing we can do can satisfy God’s wrath against us. In fact, He consigned us all to punishment that He might have mercy on us all. (Rom. 11:32) Christ, in fact, is the end of the Law. (Rom. 10:4) everything He teaches and commands points us back to Him. That includes repentance. When Jesus commanded it (Matt. 4:17), He spoke the same way as John the Baptist (Matt. 3:8) and the prophet, Joel (Joel 2:13), preached. Garments aren’t enough. A broken, contrite heart—that is God’s desire for each of us. A broken, contrite heart, returned to the waters of Holy Baptism laments his/her sinfulness assured of Jesus’ promised forgiveness. Any other confidence is false assurance. (Matt. 15:9) Sure, emotions may trouble our consciences from time to time when friendships rupture, marriages break, and businesses fold. Yet, such hardships do not separate us from the love and care of our Lord jesus Christ. (Rom. 8:38-39) For the sake of forgiveness and reconciliation, we make bold to point out our Christian brother or sister’s sin. (Matt. 18:15-20) Confident in Jesus Jesus’ forgiveness, you and I forgive each other our faults. (Eph. 4:31-5:2) True repentance, grounded in true faith produces outward sorrow and—though tainted by daily sin—the desire for amending behavior. (Rom. 6:19) Only under the rule of grace—God’s favor—can we offer our bodies as living sacrifices. (Rom. 12:1) Only in Christ Jesus are we willing slaves to righteousness and dead to sin. How much repentance do we offer in response to Jesus’ command? A whole heart’s worth of sin and filth and corruption. For Jesus is greater than our hearts. (1 John 3:20) He creates in us new hearts (Ps. 51:10-12) that throb with His lifeblood—once poured out on Calvary and now poured into our mouths in Holy Communion. (Lev. 17:11, Luke 22:19-20) With John the Baptist, the preacher of repentance, we behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29) The joy of preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins remains ours, in whatever daily vocation our Lord Jesus gives us. (Luke 24:47) Our Lord is truly merciful and just. He calls for our repentance and takes our sins away.