Tuesday, June 20, 2017
The difference between tidying up and being made new. . .
Now is also the time of year when we go through our stuff and decide what stuff stays and what stuff goes. Maybe you do that as well. They say if you have not worn it in a year or used it in that same time, you might think about letting it go. I am not sure about that one. Yes, I know I have a lot of stuff that I have not worn in a while or used in a long time but, well, I am not ready to set it out with the garbage or give it to the church yard sale. . . at least not yet.
There are some who think of repentance in the same way we think of folks dropping in or doing a little spring cleaning. But it is not a fair analogy. Repentance is not a clean up exercise nor is it a matter of getting rid of the things you no longer need, want, or use. Repentance is not house cleaning. . .in fact, it is just the opposite.
Repentance involves getting rid of the very things you love most, the things that form the daily routines of your ordinary life, and the things that go to the heart and core of who you are. If repentance were any less, we could do it on our own and salvation would be merely a matter of our own willpower. But it is not. Repentance means a change of heart that only the Spirit can accomplish. This is not a decision or a choice but the Spirit working in us daily to reinforce the new identity and the new desires of the heart implanted in us in our baptism.
The problem with sin is not that I am weak and give into something I really do not desire. No, indeed. The problem with sin is that this is exactly where my heart is. Repentance does not mean letting go of things I am not really attached to but giving up the very things I have learned to love and life for. I cannot tidy up my life. My life needs to die so that Christ can raise it up brand new.
As Christians we are always up for a little house cleaning or tidying up. We are always ready to sort through our stuff and let go of the things we no longer want and need. But this is not what repentance is. Repentance is not a make over or a flip but a tear down and rebuild. This is why only the Spirit can accomplish this in our lives, why repentance is not something that can be tied down to a day and a date but is ongoing throughout the earthly life of the baptized, and why each day Christ must increase and I must decrease. Living out this baptismal reality means not simply an external face lift but an internal rebirth, learning to love the things of God above all things and learning to follow where Christ has led the way. This is the Spirit at work in our lives. It is God's power and God's work but sanctification surely involves us and the cooperation of our wills with His will. While this does nothing to earn or supplement the salvation won for us already in Christ, it does reflect the salvation ours in Christ which we grasp by baptism and faith.
Sadly, too many churches trivialize repentance and treat it like a TV makeover of our wardrobe or homes. We do not need help tidying up nor do we need help cleaning out. But we surely need the grace, power, and presence of God to inaugurate repentance in our lives and to keep that repentance going.