A Heritage of Better: repentance as a spiritual practice
March 16, 2022
“Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” This is how Jesus begins his ministry and teaching in the Gospel of Mark. For most of my life, repentance was about sin. It basically meant to feel bad about sinning and quit. In fact, the Greek word interpreted as “repent” is metanoia which means something like “transform your mind” or “grow your knowing” or “grow up.”
That emphasis on feeling bad comes from how the word was used to interpret the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, so we cannot really get away from our need to feel bad about what we do and then not doing it anymore, but our feelings need some context.
We are called to grow up into something that Jesus calls the Kingdom of God. We are supposed to grow up because this new reality is here at hand. There are a lot of ways to describe that reality, but the one I want to emphasize here is one is focussed on God’s purpose for humanity.
God made human beings to “bear his image” in Genesis 1 and 2. After years of study I have come to learn and understand that God made human beings to embody what God would do on earth in the body. God is spirit, the Scriptures tell us, and we believe. So we were created to be God’s representatives on earth, God’s children. This explains Jesus’s prayer to God the Father and his frequent use of the image of a steward in the New Testament. In a household, the steward is supposed to run things as the owner of the house would run things in their place.
We were supposed to do what God would do if God were here. If God were in my office, how would God want the office to be run? If God were raising my children, how would God raise my children?
Well, it becomes very important to understand the nature of God. Jesus uses the language of a loving Father, loving, forgiving, merciful and just. So we are supposed to be loving, forgiving, loving, and just. That is what it means to represent God in our lives. That is what it means to be a steward of creation, a disciple of Jesus, and child of God.
Every human being is made to be a child of God. Every human being we have ever known has failed, except one. He gave his body to overcome our failure and to let us begin again.
So we have this chance to start over. We have this life to learn to live as God’s child. When we do this, even a little bit, we discover two things. We discover the greatest freedom in life the world can offer, because the world was made for us to do this. And we discover that sin will make us pay.
My own habits of sin, as Paul says, that live in my body and the sin of the world are set against my participation in God’s purpose. When I start to live into God’s way there will be a price to pay in terms of discipline, perception, and resistance. This demands our very best.
We have to grow up and change the way we think and the way we live, in order to live as a child of God. This is what Jesus came to teach us, to embody for us, and to set us free to do.
The good news (gospel) is that we are not abandoned to sin, ours or the world’s. We have been given the chance and a mentor, the Holy Spirit, not outside of us but within us. “I do not give as the world gives,” is how Jesus described it to the disciples in John 14-16.
In Lent, we talk about repentance. We try to feel bad and make some change in the right direction, but shouldn’t we know what direction we are turning toward? Think about how you might live more like God’s daughter in your life or like God’s son in your family.
That gives me plenty to do during Lent.
*I want to add a note about beginning this life.
When we begin to really honestly look at our lives held up against this image of a godly life, we realize that there are things that hold us back that we have a lot of control over, like television or gossip.
But there are things that we have less control over that are just as deadly and far deeper. Maybe we have addictions to address or family patterns that are generations old.
All of us need help to really live as children of God. That is why Christ gave us the Holy Spirit and the Church. Wisdom shows that as we take this life more seriously we will need more particular tools like small groups, prayer, disciplines of the spiritual life.
Many of us also discover that if we are to really get better at living a Godly life, we will need professional help like a spiritual director, a pastor, a counselor, or treatment for some area of life that is holding us back.
Be brave. We do not expect children to raise themselves. Ask for help, and you will discover that there are more resources than you could ever imagine.
The Kingdom of God is here at hand. Reach out.