It sounds pretty easy. I mean, it’s really just one independent clause. I’ve read it, or had it read in my hearing, certainly dozens of times in my life. I have an image of Jesus peacefully walking along a dirt path, probably next to the Sea of Galilee, wind blowing through his hair, gazing lovingly toward his hearers. His voice is gentle, and he’s giving the simplest of invitations, “repent and believe the gospel.”
How hard can it be to do two simple things: 1) repent, and 2) believe in the gospel.
Pretty darn hard it turns out.
If you have been with me since the beginning of this blog you are aware that I have spent a fair amount of time writing about repentance. It’s such an archaic sounding word, isn’t it? Kind of King James-ish, if you ask me. Why in the world would I want to utter a word like repent in 2018? It conjures another image, one of a wild-eyed, locust-eating John the Baptist, shouting at the top of his lungs, “Repent and be baptized!”
Can’t we just all hold hands and sing Kumbaya?
We could. We could all gather together, hold hands, and sing kumbaya. It might be soothing for a moment, but it wouldn’t provide the healing and restoration that true repentance gives.
Perhaps way back in confirmation class was the first time I heard repentance described as “a turning”. I have imagined myself walking down a street of my own making headed toward a future that only seems bright, and then, realizing that the path is truly headed toward my certain demise, I turn on a dime to head in the opposite direction toward a future hand-crafted for me — one that I don’t have to manipulate myself into.
Doesn’t that sound blissful and so “one and done”-ish? Yeah, true repentance isn’t like that. True repentance is realizing that I keep ending up on that same darn street and I have to keep turning around and heading in the other direction. I am bent on turning. I keep figuring out a better plan, a more exciting path, a way that seems right to me.
The road I typically end up on is one that promises to make me happy. In my younger years, it promised make me thinner. Over the years it has offered financial security, family peace, work satisfaction, physical healing, or some other sort of relief from some other sort of stress. It promises an escape from the troubles of this world. But guess what — it has not once delivered. Oh, sure, I walked a path for a while that certainly made me thinner, but it also left me empty. I have patched together short-term fixes for all kinds of messes, but none have lasted. All of my efforts lead me to the same conclusion — I do not have the answers.
So, I turn. I walk away from my own path, and I promise myself, and God, that I’ve learned my lesson. I’m done trying to soldier through. I’m done coming up with my own solutions.
About two seconds pass, and, whether I realize it or not, I’m back on my own path.
Why? Because I forget the second half of the clause — “believe in the gospel”. I know, I know, more John the Baptist, but guys, the dude was running around shouting because he understood the good news! He knew what has taken me a lifetime to learn — all my answers are crap. They set up me to be my own rescuer and they inevitably fail. Good ol’ JTB understood that Jesus was the answer, and not just in the Sunday school answer kind of way. He was the solution. The remedy. The Way.
But ya know, even though I believe that, I don’t always believe that. Instead I believe that I need to solve my own problems, pay for my own mistakes, and forge my own path. I get confused and think that repentance means guilt and punishment.
Let’s picture the scene a little differently. Let’s have Jesus walk right up beside us wherever we are today. Let’s have him walk with us on our path for a little while; let’s hear his voice and begin to trust him. I see him walking as quickly or as slowly as we want to go. I imagine him making a lot of eye contact, so much so that I stop looking at whatever it is that I’ve been chasing at the end of the path of my own making. Before long I want to go wherever He is going, just so that I can continue to see those eyes and hear that voice. I imagine hearing him say things like “don’t worry about tomorrow, I gave the birds their clothing, I’ll make sure you have things to wear,” “follow me,” “I love you,” “I forgive you,” and “I’m going to prepare a place for you.”
Turning isn’t so hard when you know that you are turning toward love, when you recognize where you belong, and when you understand, finally, that he’s had you all the time in the palm of his hand.
In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.