I didn’t mention this in the previous article, and I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before in other posts, but the word “repent” has a very simple meaning. Basically, it means a change of heart. It refers to reformation of the mind and heart. When we hear the word, “repent,” I think we don’t often know its meaning but instead just associate it with some religious mindset in an almost superstitious way. It’s almost treated like a form of incantation although not used to that extreme. When I think of the word, the person that comes to my mind the most is John the Baptizer. He was a fiery preacher whose most memorable phrase was “Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand!” What did he mean by this… and have we considered it and applied it correctly?
One of the things John said was a quotation from Isaiah: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.” This was a reference to when the reigning ruler visiting a given town. They would clean up the roadway and do some repair work so that it wasn’t too bumpy or crooked. John was saying this in a different context, though. He was referring to the hearts and minds of the people. He didn’t seem to care about the outward appearance or the physical attributes.
One of the problems with a religious mindset (and I’m loaded with it) is that when we think of “preparing the way of the Lord” or of repentance, we nearly always begin thinking of our actions. We think of the elimination of certain habits or activities in our lives. When people heard John’s message, they likely began to think of a change of conduct. After all, if the King is coming, we should be on our best behavior. Yet, when Jesus comes into the picture (the very Lord/King of which John was speaking), He wasn’t really focused on our behavior… but instead saw our behavior as a byproduct of how we view ourselves. He saw our actions coming from our self-perceived identity. He focused on making us see the truth about ourselves… and allowing our actions to follow suit.
One of the biggest faults I have as a Christian is that I’m constantly weighing my faith against my actions. These two things are obviously connected but I think we have hierarchy reversed. We see the actions defining what we believe and whom we are. Jesus was pointing out that who we understand ourselves to be defines or dictates everything else.
If I were to spend half as much time and energy in consideration of the identity God has given me and less time and energy focusing on how badly I messed up recently, then my life would be much different. When I spend my energy on my failures, then I spend more energy trying to figure out how to “offset” my failures. I end up trying to figure out how to do other things to get me out of a deficit of behavior (or to “make up for it”). But if my thoughts go toward the contemplation of who God has created me to be and what He subsequently has done for me, then that new identity begins to take root… and my actions and attitudes begin to flow from it.
This doesn’t mean that I will be “fixed” overnight. What this means is that I begin the right journey… going the right direction… down a path that actually leads somewhere… and I get off the carousel of dysfunction and pain on which I’ve been unknowingly riding. A journey leads to a different destination. A carousel just spins around… always bringing us right back where we started.
Repentance is about a change of who we understand ourselves to be… not directly to the things we find ourselves doing or not doing. It’s about discovering our identity as children of the One Creator… joint-heirs to the Kingdom that is coming where He will set all things right and the “wolf will lie with the lamb.”
I can’t wait… and until then, I want to put my strength into being His son that struggles along as opposed to thinking I’m His prisoner that needs frequent punishment. One of these ideas is true… and the other is a lie from hell. I’ll let you figure out which.