Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

November 11, 2012


Even sanitized and sanctified Christians need to repent


            It is dangerous to become so holy that you think you never need to repent of your sins. Yet some believers think they are so sanitized and sanctified that they have stopped sinning. But if I know anything about the Bible, repentance is not a “once and done” experience. Instead it is a continuing necessity, lifelong, for even the most devout Christians.

            A healthy way to study the Bible is to ask, “Is Jesus speaking to me in this passage?” Read, for example, Luke 13 where Jesus says, “I tell you, unless you repent, you will all perish.” Is this just a story or is Jesus speaking also to you and me when he makes the above statement?

The answer, I believe, is that Jesus is speaking to you and me as well. Obviously he was speaking to all who were present back then but now we are in his audience. We too shall perish unless we repent. We can ignore God’s agenda just as the Galileans did. We also can find it so difficult give up our own plans that we fail to put God’s plan on the front burner.

If we are persuaded to repent, what do we do? What does it mean to repent? To repent is to turn around, to admit we are going in the wrong direction and begin moving in the opposite direction. 

Genuine repentance is much more than regret. We may indeed regret having screwed up our lives through sinful indulgence, insisting on our own way. But true repentance moves us to forsake our way and embrace the Way of Jesus. We reverse our direction and our destiny by accepting the grace of a new beginning. And even the life of the saintliest among us is a series of new beginnings.

John Wesley believed that repentance was a continual necessity for believers. Even though we have been born again Satan continues to pull us back to the old way. Pride can cause us to fall away from the way of the cross. We can get so enmeshed in church “work” that we forget why we are doing it – and begin to do it for all the wrong reasons.

Recognizing our need for continuing repentance, the Church has long invited us to the Lord’s Table for communion with these words, “You that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins, draw near with faith and take this holy sacrament to your comfort.” The words of the ritual may change but the invitation to repent remains.

We do well to examine the word “perish.” It is an awful word. It means much more than to die; it means to die without God and without hope. We remember that Jesus used this awful word a second time – in the famous verse John 3:16 -- For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Even modern translations  retain the use of the word “perish.”

Clearly to perish is to experience eternal separation from God. The alternative, to not perish, is to receive the gift of eternal life and “enjoy God forever.” Grace makes it possible for us to believe in Jesus for even faith is a gift. Life is gift and new life is the gift of grace.

Faced with the choice of repent or perish, who in his right mind would want to risk going out into eternity without God? Still multitudes prefer their way to the Way of Jesus. Why? The Bible says the reason is blindness. The “god of this world” blinds the eyes of those who refuse to believe. This blindness causes many people to see no reason to take Jesus seriously. They reason that this world is all we have and life ends in the grave.

Jesus told the parable of the fig tree. What does it have to do with repentance? The picture Jesus gives us is this: God is the owner of the vineyard, Jesus is the gardener, and Israel is the fig tree. Herein is a powerful message to us: God expects fruit from his investment whether in Israel, the Church or you and me as individual believers. We must ask ourselves if we are wasting the space God has given us in the world just as Israel was wasting the soil in the vineyard.

In this parable Jesus offers mercy – one more year, more time to get it right. Indeed Jesus is the Mercy of God in a person, once alive in flesh and now alive for evermore as Resurrected Savior. The offer of mercy can motivate us to repent, change our direction and begin fulfilling the purpose of our lives – to bear fruit for the kingdom of God. When repentance becomes routine in our lives, we discover sufficient grace to make us fruit-bearing disciples. Let the sanitized and sanctified take heed! + + +