Where Repentance is Needed
“Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.” (Answer to Shorter Catechism Question # 87)
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” [Matt. 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Thesis # 1 of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses (Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, Ed. by Timothy F. Lull, p. 21)
We believers in Christ do not just repent at initial conversion (in the case of those who can remember a decisive moment of conversion). The whole Christian life, the whole life of discipleship, is one of ongoing repentance and faith, resulting in a walking after new obedience. Our baptism, signifying and sealing as it does our union with Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6), daily summons us to die more and more unto sin (mortification) and to live more and more unto righteousness (vivification). We are to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16) and be constantly filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) by letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16). There are many areas where we who profess to be followers of Jesus might need to repent, but below I share some random thoughts on areas where I believe we U.S. Christians need to repent.
1. We need to repent of me-focused, self-indulgent Christianity.
Self-indulgent Christianity takes many forms, but whatever form it takes it is an indication of (at best) an immature and narcissistic faith. Extreme examples include the so-called “prosperity gospel,” where glitzy preachers with big hairdos promise you health, wealth and material prosperity if you just “name it and claim it” (and, of course, if you make sure to “plant that seed of faith” by sending them a generous financial contribution – the bigger the better). Christians who fall for and follow such charlatans dishonor the Lord by their gullibility, and need to repent. But other less-extreme examples would include the general consumerist approach to choosing a church.
Our Reformed forefathers believed that all Christians have a moral obligation to attend and join true churches of Christ, where the Word of God is purely preached, the sacraments are rightly administered according to Christ’s ordinance, and biblical ethical standards are maintained through the exercise of faithful church discipline. They also believed that Christians have a moral obligation to separate themselves from false or unfaithful churches which are lax or heretical in doctrine, worship or life. (See, for example, Article 28 of the Belgic Confession of Faith, entitled “Every One Is Bound To Join Himself To The True Church”.) In the historic, confessional Reformed view the primary criteria for choosing a church is its faithfulness in proclaiming the truth of God’s Word, as that truth is summarized and confessed in the Reformed Standards. But for many Christians today, the primary criteria for choosing a church include things like worship music style (for example, it has a cool praise band, or a majestic organ), or finding a church with a good youth program, or lots of cool programs for the whole family, or finding a church with a charismatic, celebrity pastor, or a church with an emphasis on activism and “social justice” concerns, etc. Some of these latter concerns are not necessarily bad, but they are concerned with consumer satisfaction and are secondary to the issue of Truth. In line with our Reformed forebears I believe all Christians are morally obligated to join themselves to a local church which they believe is the most faithful to the truth of the gospel and the teachings of God’s Word. Christians need to repent of their consumerist mindset when it comes to things like living out their faith and choosing their church. We need to find and join a church in our area which we believe most faithfully and consistently teaches and preaches the truth of God’s Word, not a church which we think would most satisfy our personal felt needs.
2. We need to repent of our lack of brotherly love.
The general spirit of narcissism which pervades our culture as a whole has deeply infected the professing church today. We tend to forget that when the Holy Spirit unites us by faith to Christ, He also unites us to the Body of Christ. We are members of one another (First Corinthians 12:12-27), having been connected to each other by the Spirit. That means we should deeply care for one another and love one another self-sacrificially, as Christ loved us. But if we are truly honest with ourselves I believe we will realize that we fall far short of loving our brothers and sisters in Christ in the way that we ought. We need to repent of this lack of brotherly love, and instead need to show the love of Christ to each other in very practical ways.
3. We need to repent of our sabbath-breaking.
Even Christians who might be faithful in attending public worship are often very lax in how they spend the remainder of the Lord’s Day. In line with Scripture, our confessions state that the fourth commandment continues to be morally-binding, and thus that Sunday is “the Lord’s Day” (not simply “the Lord’s Hour”; see Revelation 1:10). But many Christians today think that as long as they attend worship on Sunday morning (or, in some cases, a Saturday evening service), they are free to spend the rest of the Lord’s Day doing things like attending sporting events, going shopping, watching TV, etc.
Of course, I don’t want to be accused of legalism, and I recognize that there will be some differences of opinion even among confessional Reformed Christians about precisely what activities are permissible on the Lord’s Day. At the same time, I believe our confessions are fundamentally correct in teaching that, except for works of necessity, mercy and piety, as much as possible we should refrain from our daily works and recreations so that we might devote more time to public and private acts of worship, to Christian fellowship and service, and to physical rest and refreshment. That more and more activities in our culture are scheduled on Sunday mornings is an indication of the general laxity among Christians when it comes to honoring the Lord’s Day. I believe we need to repent of this.
4. We need to repent of our worldliness.
Scripture teaches that we are not to rely on “fleshly” or worldly weapons in our spiritual warfare against the world, the flesh and the devil (see Second Corinthians 10:4-6). But many of us do just that. This worldliness manifests itself in many ways. For example, some professing Christians equate the kingdom of God with political policies, social activism and a social gospel. This is worldliness and needs to be repented of, for the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed involves God’s spiritual reign of grace in the hearts and lives of true believers, not temporal, external things like political protests or “social justice” or social activism. Believers on the other end of the political spectrum will likewise tend to equate the success of Christianity and “reclaiming our culture for Christ” with getting certain conservative candidates elected to office or seeing certain laws passed. But while the kingdom of God certainly has some political and cultural implications, it is not to be equated with politics, but instead has to do with the spiritual and eternal. We need to repent of relying on the approval of our culture and the sanction of the government. Instead we must rely upon the Word and Spirit of Christ.
Another area where Christians often display worldliness is in trying to attract the nonchurched into the church. We U.S. Christians often think that if we can be more “seeker friendly” by offering a coffee bar, a cool praise band, a hip pastor who wears skinny jeans and preaches from a bar stool, and “relevant” messages that offer practical advice on daily issues and address the “felt needs” of the unchurched, then they will surely come to Christ and become devoted members of the church. Of course, I am not against being friendly to seekers, nor am I advocating impractical preaching. But the “seeker sensitive” model of church growth is worldly to the core, and is proving to be a long-term disaster for the cause of Christ. It treats people like consumers rather than human beings who need to hear the saving message of Christ, and it overlooks the fact that if you bring them in with gimmicks, you will have to constantly use even more over-the-top, hyped-up gimmickry to keep them coming. We need to repent of such gimmickry, such worldliness, such lack of trust in the Lord Jesus’ power to build His church in His way.
There are many other things that could be mentioned, but these are just a few areas where I believe we U.S. Christians need to repent. May God grant us the grace of repentance, and shine the light of His countenance upon us.