Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Repentance Has Nothing to Do With Being Good

In this PLPT Guest Post, Pastor/Professor Lawrence Ware gives us a clearer understanding of what it means to be repentant.

There is this theological concept that I like: repentance. This idea comes from a Greek word: metanoia.

We find the concept throughout the New Testament. John the Baptist is in the wilderness shouting like a crazy man: ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.’

Repentance has always been associated with sin. The popular understanding of this idea is that we must be in a right relationship with God. So, if we would simply turn from our sins (our 'wicked ways' if you went to an old school black church), then we could be in right fellowship with God.

I’ve always understood it like this: God will have nothing to do with sin. I do sin, so if I want to be in good with God, then I have to let go of these sins. Once that happens, God and I are straight.

Easy right? (Yeah, that was a rhetorical question.)

No, it isn’t easy. Here is the problem: I keep sinning. I try hard to do the right thing, but I just keep messing up. So I have to keep doing this repenting thing to be good with God. It’s exhausting. I spend more time feeling guilty about sin than I do loving God and people.

Here’s the thing: repentance has nothing to do with being good.

Metanoia properly understood means we turn our back on that which dirties us. Think of it like this: we are all made in the image of God. We are made special, beautiful, and unique. God has put his imprint upon us. We are one of a kind, meant to shine; however, there is a problem. We keep getting ourselves mixed up in things that dull our natural beauty. Hatred is denying the beauty of another human being. Envy is a deep-seated lack of appreciation for the beauty we naturally possess.

When we get mixed up in this mess, we need to be cleansed. Not because God requires us to be fixed up before he will love us, but because we are not our best when we are soiled by that which is beneath us. God loves us, and wants us to realize how special we are. So from time to time, it is necessary for us to see that there are things in our lives that keep us from being our best. Bad relationships; poor spending habits; negative attitudes; unhealthy lifestyles—these are things that keep us from being the best we can be. So, we need to repent—that is, we need to turn our back on those behaviors, attitudes, and habits that keep us from being our fully actualized selves.

Spend too much money? You need to repent. Eat too much fried food? You need to repent. Stuck in a dead-end relationship? You need to repent.

Repentance has nothing to do with adding quality to your life that you do not already possess. Rather, repentance is about recognizing how precious you are, and accepting nothing less than what you deserve.

Repentance; metanoia: Turn away from that which sullies the natural beauty God has placed within you.

Yes, repent because the Kingdom of God is at hand. It is within you. Repent so that it can shine.

Lawrence Ware is lecturing professor of philosophy at Oklahoma State University and Pastor of Christian Education at Prospect Church. He writes for Tikkun and Religion Dispatchers all while living in Oklahoma City with his wife and sons.


Anonymous said...

So timely. I needed to hear that message.

B. Pierre said...

Loved this. =) Ah, repentance. =) Thanks for this.

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