Like many of you, I tend to follow a Scripture reading plan for my devotional time. There are a ton of them out there. For me, the plan usually involves a couple of Psalms, an Old Testament reading, something from the Epistles, and a portion from one of the Gospels. After reading the assigned texts, I’ll reflect back on a verse or section that really jumped out to me. Then, if I’m feeling really productive, I’ll write down some thoughts.
I write all of that to encourage you do something similar as we read through the New Testament together. After reading the assigned chapter, reflect back over what you have read, and if you have time, write down some of your thoughts. Then, share what God is teaching you with someone else. What a great way to Declare, to Demonstrate, and to Disciple!
On Thursday, we read Matthew 4, I had assumed the verse that would jump out to me would be verse 19. After all, our definition of a disciple comes from it! A disciple is someone who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and committed to the mission of Jesus.
But that wasn’t it.
What really stuck out to me was verse 17. From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (ESV) Think about what happens in your brain when you’re asked to give your testimony, teach a lesson, lead your K-Group, give a devotional, or something like that. The upcoming engagement captures part of your brain. You begin to spend energy thinking about how to begin, you devote time to preparation, you consider how to begin and what you might say.
Since Jesus has always existed, He had all of “preternity” to work on His first sermon, to decide where it would be given, to choose which audience He’d address, and to determine what He would say. It’s interesting to me that Jesus, the master story teller did not begin with an illustration. Jesus, the Author of Scripture, the Word Himself, and the world’s greatest teacher did not begin with a passage from the Bible. Jesus, the most intimately connected to the Father did not begin with prayer. In His first sermon, Jesus managed to nail our problem, the solution, and the way we are to live going forward in one word: repent.
While repent is an action, it’s better defined as a mindset, or a lifestyle going forward. The Greek word for repent, metanoeo, is in the present imperative tense, meaning that we are to persist in repenting. Rather than a single action of repentance, rather than a one and done decision, the repenting that Jesus is calling for is a continuous action. As followers of Jesus, we maintain a mindset of repentance.
The first of the ninety-five theses Martin Luther nailed to the church door in Wittenberg says this: “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Luther is echoing Jesus’ desire for repentance not to be a one-time event, but a lifestyle. The way we grow in our faith is by constantly turning from our own way, our own understanding, our own desires and follow Jesus.
Tim Keller offers this great insight:
In ‘religion’ the purpose of repentance is basically to keep God happy so he will continue to bless you and answer your prayers. This means that ‘religious repentance’ is a) selfish, b) self-righteous, c) and bitter all the way to the bottom. But in the gospel the purpose of repentance is to repeatedly tap into the joy of our union with Christ in order to weaken our need to do anything contrary to God’s heart.
In religion we only are sorry for sin because of its consequences to us. It will bring us punishment – and we want to avoid that. So we repent. But the gospel tells us that sin can’t ultimately bring us into condemnation (Rom 8:1.) Its heinousness is therefore what it does to God-it displeases and dishonors him. Thus in religion, repentance is self- centered; the gospel makes it God-centered. In religion we are mainly sorry for the consequences of sin, but in the gospel we are sorry for the sin itself.
…This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. The more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more you able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions of your sin. The sin under all other sins is a lack of joy in Christ.
Since the tune of the famous Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” is so catchy, it’s easy to miss the profundity of those simple lyrics and how they demonstrate the joy and freedom we discover when repentance is our lifestyle:
When true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed
To turn, turn, will be our delight
Til by turning, turning, we come round right.
As you move throughout your day, may you purpose to “tap into the joy of your union with Christ in order to weaken (your) need to do anything contrary to God’s heart.”
And then do it again.