Repent: Re-think your life

What was Jesus talking about when he said, “Repent and believe”? According to Mark this was Jesus’ first sermon, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) So what does it mean to repent? Many of us have been taught, for the most part, that to repent is to say we are sorry to God.  Repentance is presented to us as something we are to do in order to make ourselves in good standing with God.  This was not the teaching of Jesus as he went about the countryside.  To repent, according to the term that Mark used to quote Jesus, is to “re-think your life”.  It is “re-evaluation that leads to action.”   Jesus is inviting the people (and us today) to take an objective look at their lives.  He is encouraging them to stop living their lives apart from the Kingdom of God, but instead to let that very Kingdom shape everything.

Repentance is not a negative experience, it is a positive one.  When we repent our eyes are open to the life that God intends for us.  My experience with repentance is two-fold.  One, it happens each morning as I take time to pause and be with God.  It’s a daily re-evaluation that causes me to go about my day differently than I would without God.  Two, it happens when I get away.  A few times throughout the year I get away for 12 to 72 hours to “rethink life”.  This happens on a day away with some buddies, weekend with my wife, kayaking or camping trip with a friend, or a retreat.

Creating time and and space to re-think our lives is a practical way that we can lean into repentance and follow the invitation of Jesus to repent and believe.

Repentance: Change of Mind

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (Is 30:15)

After a brief look at salvation the past week, we will now take the next two weeks of Lent to consider repentance together. What is repentance and why is it so important to Isaiah and Jesus?

Repentance to Isaiah (in the Hebrew language) meant to “turn around” or “turn away from the wrong road.” The people he was prophesying to had forgotten who God was and who they were. Isaiah was trying to get them to turn around and consider again what was true about God and themselves.

Repentance in Greek, metanoia, is quite literally made up of two words, meta: change and nous: mind. So metanoia means change of mind. That’s what Jesus was inviting people into from the very beginning. According to the Gospel writer Mark, the first words out of Jesus’ mouth were, “The time has come,” Jesus said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”(Mark 1:15) With this invitation to repent, Jesus is giving his listeners far more than a chance to say they are sorry for something. He is instead offering them a whole new way of thinking.

A little more on the second half of the Greek word metanoia:

noús (a masculine noun) – the God-given capacity of each person to think (reason); the mind; mental capacity to exercise reflective thinking. For the believer, (noús) is the organ of receiving God’s thoughts, through faith.

The last section of the Greek definition resonates with me, the idea of receiving God’s thoughts through faith. What if repentance is not so much about actively doing something, as it is allowing a change to happen in us. Maybe we can participate in this change (repent) by putting ourselves in a posture to receive God’s thoughts, both his thoughts about who He is as well as his thoughts about who we are. We have the opportunity to follow the path of Isaiah and Jesus and allow our mind (nous) to be changed.

Jesus and Salvation

As we continue through Lent and consider how repentance and rest are connected to salvation, it could be surprising to learn that Jesus does not talk about salvation very often. He only mentions the word salvation (σωτηρία) twice. He mentions it to a woman he encounters at a well, and to a man named Zacchaeus. We’ll look together at Jesus’ interaction with Zacheaus.

At first reading of Luke 19:1-9 it could seem like Zacchaeus experienced salvation because he gave his money to the poor. This is how it reads:

“But Zacchaeus himself stopped and said to the Lord, ‘Look, sir, I will give half my property to the poor. And if I have swindled anybody out of anything I will pay him back four times as much,”Jesus said to him, ‘Salvation has come to this house today…!'”

It’s nice and tidy, which is how Ilike things. The formula goes like this: Zaccheaus realizes he is a sinner, makes a decision to do something about it and Jesus offers him salvation. That makes sense in my linear mind. A deeper look at the story provides another consideration on salvation.

“When Jesus came to the place (where Zaccheaeus was in the tree), He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheaus, hurry and come down, for TODAY I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him (Jesus) gladly.”

Jesus makes this statement about today before Zaccheaus commits to any sort of change in his life. Jesus mentions TODAY a second time in the story here:

“And Jesus said to him, ‘TODAY salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham.'”

According to Jesus, salvation came to Zaccheaus because of who he was, not what he did. Could it be that salvation came to him TODAY because Zaccheaus was already part of God’s family, he just didn’t know it. The day he welcomed Jesus into his home, his life, more importantly, once Zaccheaus realized who he was (a child of God) salvation became a reality for him.

As I return to Isaiah’s statement about salvation through this lens, maybe repentance and rest are catalysts to us realizing our salvation. What if it’s more of an awareness than a decision?

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (Is 30:15)

With this perspective on salvation, we will look at repentance during the next two weeks of Lent to see what we can learn together.

“Salvation is not a divine transaction that takes place because you are morally perfect, but much more it is an organic unfolding, a becoming who you already are. It is an inborn sympathy with and capacity for the very one who created you.” – Richard Rohr

 

Am I Saved OR Being Saved?

The idea of a person being “saved” hasn’t been a primary focal point for the church for most of the past 2000 years. Saved wasn’t a term widely recognized until the 1970’s when, “born again Christian” began to be used to describe a person who had been saved, or made a personal decision to follow Christ.

As I mentioned in my post on Ash Wednesday, the early church had a word that was synonymous with salvation, theosis. One writer explains it this way, “Theosis is the process by which a persons essential being is permeated and filled with the presence of God. Theosis is a biblical idea. When St. Paul talked about being ‘in Christ,’ or Christ being ‘in me’ he meant it literally. That’s how his words were understood by people who lived in his world and spoke his language, the ones who were his original audience.” To the early followers of Jesus, the idea of theosis and salvation were synonymous.

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” Is 30:15

As we look at Isaiah’s word again with the consideration of salvation as a process more than a decision, Isaiah’s words seems to make a little more sense. “In repentance and rest is your salvation.” As I read that with an interpretation of salvation as theosis, I can see a little more clearly how repentance and rest help aid in ongoing salvation. As I read the Isaiah passage with more of a current American understanding of salvation, I would see it reading more like this… Repentance and rest lead a person to a one-time decision to follow Jesus. I don’t really see how repentance which is a process (we will dive into that in upcoming weeks)  and learning to rest, which is a process, pinnacle with a one-time decision.

I could be way off here, but the prophet Isaiah appears to be writing about how repentance and rest are catalysts to surrendering one’s life to God on a day-to-day basis, rather than trying to get someone to make a certain decision that equates to “salvation.” We’ll keep exploring this together as we make our way through Lent.

Ash Wednesday: True R and R

I mentioned Monday that I am exploring the themes of repentance and rest during Lent this year. I’m calling it True R and R. Traditionally, “R and R” is understood as rest and relaxation. While those are good, and I attempt to practice both often, it seems an important “R” is missing. I believe it is the most important “R”, and is integral to actually being able to rest and relax.

The prophet Isaiah says this about repentance and rest,

“This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.'”      (Is 30:15)

Before we dig deeper into what Isaiah might be getting at when he mentions repentance and rest, what do you suppose he means by salvation? If we consider a common definition of salvation Isaiah’s words don’t make a lot of sense. The word salvation tends to bring about an idea in our mind of Jesus dying on the cross paying a debt for our sins. Salvation is then understood as a person accepting that Jesus did this act for him or her. Salvation or “getting saved” is a one-time decision by a person to accept what Jesus has done.

This is not the understanding of salvation of the Early Church. They instead viewed salvation as being restored to the image and likeness of God. It was an ongoing process that lasted throughout a persons life. The early followers of Jesus preferred the word theosis when they talked about salvation. We will look at that more later this week.

The Early Church understanding of salvation helps me get a better grasp of what Isaiah might be saying with regards to repentance and rest being a doorway to salvation. We’ll keep looking at this together throughout this Lenten season.

Are You Interested in Rest?…Lent begins in 2 days

LENT begins in 2 days. During this season of Lent I’ll be looking at two themes, repentance and rest. I am calling it True R and R. I plan to look at the powerful statements of two prophets throughout the Lenten season.

First, the prophet Isaiah:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (Isaiah 30:15)

and

the prophet and Master Jesus:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matt 11:28-30)

I’ll be posting once or twice a week the next six weeks during Lent. If repentance an rest are things you would like to explore join in. Perhaps we will discover together what Isaiah and Jesus we offering to those who were listening.

Advent Week 4: Joy as a Choice

Mary had a choice to make when her life drastically changed the night the the Angel Gabriel visited her. Would she remain in a state of fear or choose joy? According the Gospel writer Luke, Mary’s first response to the angel was fear in the moment, makes sense. But, Mary did not remain in a state of fear. Verse 38 says “the angel left her.” Being there in the room alone with the news of having a child out of wedlock, rehearsing the speech to tell Joseph that she hadn’t slept with another man, trying to figure out what to tell her parents…that reality sounds very scary to me.

After the visit from the angel, Mary soon leaves to be with her cousin Elizabeth because Gabriel told her that Elizabeth was pregnant. It seems that Mary wants to be with someone who might understand what she is going through. The two pregnant women see one another in Elizabeth’s home and the response is joy. The first words out of Mary’s mouth are, “My heart is overflowing with praise of my Lord, my soul is full of joy in God my Saviour.”(v46) Had Mary chosen to remain in a state of fear her response could have been much different. She could have focused on how her life would never be the same again, how she was going to have a baby that she didn’t know how to care for. She could have also obsessed about the possibility of being stoned to death when she went back home pregnant. She could have started the conversation with Elizabeth stressed about where they would live, how Joseph would earn money, or any of the other fearful things that come with having a kid. Instead Mary chose joy.

Some might say, of course she chose joy, she was going to give birth to Jesus. The Messiah was inside her. Isn’t that what has happened to us as well? “that sacred mystery which up to now has been hidden in every age and every generation, but which is now as clear as daylight to those who love God. They are those to whom God has planned to give a vision of the full wonder and splendour of his secret plan for the sons of men. And the secret is simply this: Christ in you! Yes, Christ in you bringing with him the hope of all glorious things to come.” (Col 1:25-27) 

Choosing to believe this mystery that Christ is in us could be the way for us to join Mary this Christmas and chose joy over fear, no matter what we are going through.