Thursday, September 14, 2017

The "R" Word

One of my recent posts was a short one about the Apostle Paul’s definition of the gospel (which was also short and to the point). But knowing what the gospel is still doesn’t tell us what we are expected to do about it, so what comes next? What is our response supposed to be? Well, just as the Bible gave us the definition of the gospel, it answers that question as well.

The second chapter of the book of Acts tells of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus rose from the dead. Peter speaks to a large crowd of Jews from all over the Roman Empire that have gathered in Jerusalem, telling the story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection (the gospel), and how this proved Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. They responded with the same question we have today, and Peter gave a clear answer:

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Acts 2:37-38,41 (New International Version)

Repent and be baptized. These are not ideas that Peter just pulled out of thin air as he was speaking to the people. Both came from Jesus himself, one at the start of his ministry and the other just before he ascended into heaven:

Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” Mark 1:14-15 (New Living Translation)

[Jesus said:] “Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to do everything I have told you. I will be with you always, even until the end of the world.” Matthew 28:19-20 (New Century Version)

Repent and be baptized. Like Paul’s explanation of the gospel this seems pretty straightforward, at least the part about baptism (we have all seen what a baptism looks like, if not in person then at least in movies or on television). Where we get hung up is on the "R" word.

“Repent” sounds like something you would hear from a downtown street preacher, all condemnation and no compassion. But we saw above that Jesus called everyone to repentance, and there is no question about how much he loved us. So what does repentance mean? It does not mean simply being sorry for sins you have committed; often we are sorry not for the sin, but that we got caught. True repentance involves an acknowledgement that we have sinned not just against others but against God, a true change of mind about sin that results in a change in our actions (literally, to go in the opposite direction).

Repentance seems like an old-fashioned, outdated concept in a world were anything and everything goes, but without it salvation is simply not possible. Jesus first called people to repent at the start of his ministry, Peter did the same at Pentecost, and God still calls us to repentance today. The only question left is how you will answer.

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