If you grew up in the South like I did, you are well aware of the term repentance when it comes to the Christian faith. In my circles, repentance was presented as a change of mind and a complete 180 degree turnaround of one’s life. You are walking in one direction, see the light, do an about face, and begin walking the other way. If you did not experience this instantaneous change overnight, your salvation was questioned and the authenticity of your relationship with Christ was put on trial.
Jesus is clear in His teachings to His disciples that they were to allow the children to come to him freely, and even goes on to say that unless we become like a child, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. In my mind, I was always wondering if I started my relationship with Jesus as a small child, what exactly was I repenting of? Putting my hands in the cookie jar?
It wouldn’t be until years later that I realized a relationship with Jesus starts with childlike faith, but the journey of repentance is a lifelong process and not something that is necessarily instantaneous to behold. Don’t misunderstand me. Are there cases where we see radical, instantaneous changes in people along the way? Absolutely. But more times than not, those radical changes I have ever encountered are with adults who have lived a sordid life and have experienced much pain and discomfort, and when they come to Christ as adults, I have seen where he removes all of the chains immediately.
I used to ask myself the question, “Why didn’t Jesus do that for me? Why as a five-year-old child, when I first came to know Him, why did I enter into my own addictive patterns in my teenage and young adult years and never experience the miraculous, immediate falling away of the chains?”
The unresolved answer led to years of self-hatred and shame and judgment which only drove me further and further into addictive behaviors and/or simply checking out of my life. My friends and family saw my struggle as I would give up addictions and behaviors I hated only to return again and again and again because I could never fully understand how to completely let go.
I would get the proverbial “let go and let God” advice (which by the way never answers the “how” of the matter, so please stop using that phrase with people who struggle). Oh, and the ever present phrase among the legalistic system, “well you know what the Bible says about that,” (why yes I do – shall I show you each verse from Genesis to Revelation on the topic? I know because you beat it in my head every single day for the first 18 years of my life!)
The system I grew up in was really good at teaching you what the Bible says, but they were really bad about teaching you exactly what it meant and how to live out its precepts within a spirit of grace and love.
I have since been freed from all the legalism and shame that accompanies that system, (which by the way has taken me nearly 20 years), and now pursue a life of joy and freedom that God intended for me all along. That story is for another post as I want to focus on the benefits of repentance as I now understand them. And the best way I can describe those benefits is to credit one of my new favorite authors, Jay Stringer with his thoughts on the topic. He states,
“The joy of repentance is found in turning from entitlement to the pursuit of what we truly deserve. Entitlement is an attitude that we have an inherent right to get what we were deprived of. Repentance refocuses us not on what we demand but on what we deserve. Repentance is faith that God truly desires to give us what is best for us.
You will notice that entitlement and repentance feel different in your body. Entitlement will make you tense and rigid until you get what you demand. Repentance fills you with anticipation for the joy and rest that are to come. As the years go on, you will be less seduced by counterfeit and entitled comfort.
Bank tellers will say that the best way to discern a counterfeit bill is to spend lots of time handling real money. The same is true with delight: The more you live a life of holistic integrity with your desire, the less appealing that behavior, [which] promis[es]release but conclud[es] in judgment, will become.”
Wow! How I wish I would have been taught this in Sunday school class every week during my childhood and teen years! I never heard this. All I heard was “don’t do this, don’t do that,” “you’re a bad girl,” “you should know better,” “you better make sure you really got saved,” “if your life doesn’t look like this you should come back down the aisle and rededicate your life to Christ,” and the judgment slaying could continue.
These days, I pursue joy and I look for where the heart of Christ is present in our world, and I choose to spend time there. Do I still pursue some things that others would think do not resemble repentance? Of course. I am still human, and I still struggle to erase all of the damage that was created in me as a child. But my intention is right, and my heart to love Jesus is right, and my goal is to spread a little of that love to everyone I encounter and drop the judgment and hypocrisy.
I’m finding the benefits of repentance are really more about entering into the original joy and delight that God created for me in the first place. They are boundary markers to keep me safe. They are not a list of rules and regulations that I have to follow because I fear God is going to rain down terrifying judgement on my head if I mess up along the way.
He truly wants to give good gifts to his children, and I am finding I love His gifts far more than I’ve ever loved anything else.