The first message of Jesus was “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” The word repent means to change your thinking and then re-order your life based on the new thinking. It means to stop going in one direction and to turn and head in a new direction. The call of Jesus to “repent” was as much to the religious crowd as it was to the non-religious. I’ve come to believe that if Jesus were here in human form today his message would be the same. I think Jesus would be calling for Christians (especially those in the U.S.) to repent! He would be calling for us to repent of our attitudes and behaviors that are not consistent with his character and nature. He would call for us to re-align our lives according to his kingdom agenda rather than any other agenda.
There are a growing number of people that are giving up on church & Christianity. Most are not giving up on God or Jesus – just the church and the religion of Christianity. Many feel that Christianity (the organized religion) no longer reflects the spirit of the person it claims to follow. (Remember that Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion but a movement and a way of life.) Last week author Anne Rice announced that she’s quitting Christianity. Here’s what Anne said:
"For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian… It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”
"My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist – lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been or might become."
I hear what Anne is saying. I hear her heart and I can identify with her. I “get” why so many others are dropping out. If it weren’t for the wonderful group of authentic followers of Jesus that I journey with – I’m afraid I would be counted among the dropouts. As a result – I want to call Christians to repent! It’s time we reorder our lives and focus just as much attention on our “orthopraxy” (right living) as we do on our “orthodoxy” (right belief).
Here are seven things I believe Christians should repent of:
1. We need to repent of our insistence on keeping people busy, busy, busy, with church activities & services that might make for good church members but are not making good followers of the way of Jesus. We have become so focused on “church growth” or on maintaining our institutions that we’ve forgotten to ask “are we really making disciples.” It seems to me that Jesus was about simplifying people’s lives not making them more complex.
2. We need to repent of our religious legalism. We’ve created long lists of “do’s & don’ts” – all intended to help people get closer to God – but instead we’re keeping people from God. Instead of helping people find life – we’re known as those who suppress life. When Jesus said “my load is easy and my burden is light” I believe he was separating himself from the religious legalism of his day. For Jesus, connecting with God was much simpler than most Christians make it today.
3. We need to repent of our arrogant – know it all attitudes. In our need for certainty we’ve lost our humility and have forgotten the many mysteries of God. Even the great apostle Paul acknowledged that at best his understanding was “foggy.” We’ve convinced ourselves that our understanding of God and the Bible is totally flawless and that being “right” is more important than being “loving.”
4. We need to repent of our angry – often hate-filled, and mean-spirited ways. Jesus said that “blessed are the peacemakers”. Jesus told us to love our neighbors and our enemies. We’ve convinced ourselves that it’s o.k. to have so-called righteous indignation and that its o.k. to treat people unkindly. But that isn’t the way of Jesus.
5. We need to repent of our smug, condescending, judgmental, & critical spirits. Jesus said “don’t judge & you won’t be judged.” “Don’t condemn & you won’t be condemned.” “God is kind to the ungrateful & wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-37) Many seem to think they are better than everyone else – especially those who might have beliefs that are different than theirs. It’s interesting that we love to point out the sins of others but we fail to acknowledge the seriousness of our own sins.
6. We need to repent of tying Christ to one political party’s agenda & making monsters out of anyone who sees things differently than we do. Jesus came declaring that all of the kingdoms of the world are flawed and that people need to align their lives with God’s kingdom and his agenda. We need to spend more time seeking “God’s kingdom & his justice” (Matt. 6:33) and less time seeking a given parties kingdom and its ideas of justice.
7. We need to repent of our narrow view of the gospel. We need to go back to the scriptures and re-learn what the essential gospel message of Jesus was and is. I believe that we should develop our theology of the gospel through the lens of Jesus first – rather than through the lens of the apostle Paul. We should look forward from Jesus rather than back from Paul. “As we have used the tools of biblical scholarship carefully, we have begun to learn that the biblical message is more radical, more inclusive, more transforming than we have allowed it to be.” (Missional Church p. 5)
I’m sure there are many other things we Christians need to repent of – but these are the seven that are most on my mind today. As I think about these seven areas of repentance I acknowledge that I need to repent of all seven. I acknowledge that symptoms of these seven things continue to seep from my being despite my best efforts. I don’t have my act together and I don’t have things all figured out. My hope is that I will follow the way of Jesus more closely than I ever have before. My hope is that I will more accurately reflect the character and nature of God through the way I live. My hope is that I will welcome God’s kingdom agenda into my life more fully and that I will align my life more completely with that agenda.
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it. (Matt. 7:13&14)