What exactly is repentance?
On a sunny morning, I played outdoors with my two-year-old grandson. In our Midwest neighborhood without fences, a sound caught his attention and the little boy toddled toward the busy residential street.
“Come back here this instant,” I called. “What are you thinking? You are making a poor choice and I’m putting you into time out for the rest of the day. Now, how are you going to fix what you’ve done? What will you do to make me feel pleased with you again?”
Does that response to a young child shock you? It would shock me, too. But how often do we assume God responds to us, our choices, and the messes we make in this angry and unreasonable fashion? How frequently do we believe that God would not want to comfort, forgive, guide, and love the likes of us?
Of course, I did not speak those biting, spirit-crushing words to my preschooler. Rather, I came alongside as he toddled in an unsafe direction.
“Hey, buddy.” I held out my arms. “Let’s go back where you are safe.”
He turned easily into my embrace, and I scooped him up. In that instant, held in my arms, he was safe. Cuddling my precious bundle of boy, I carried him to his favorite toys in the protected yard. He was connected, secure, and at peace where he belonged.
Grovel No More
Do you get it? Playing out the parent / child analogy, the Lord describes himself to us as a parent. Our father, who are in Heaven is how Jesus taught us to address God when he taught us to pray in The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:12). When my child or grandchild travels outside established boundaries, makes unwise choices, and disobeys, I don’t require that she appease my displeasure by groveling, humiliating herself, or doing acts of penance.
Instead, I am delighted when she hears my voice and responds, turning into my embrace. Relationship is instantly bridged and reestablished. When she has wandered, I carry her back to the exact place where she belongs. My singular goal is to realign our healthy ability to do life together, guide her to the place where she belongs, and provide grace so she has opportunity to learn from mistakes and extend grace to others.
Because of Easter, I have new appreciation for how easily God offers to reconcile our relationship with him compared to what I thought the process required of me. He did the hard work to make the process easy for me. Yet, somehow I had come to believe that receiving forgiveness from God included muscling myself into alignment with God’s perfect will. I had to fix the issues and find my way back into relationship. It was up to me to make it happen and the successful or unsuccessful results were my responsibility.
I thought I had to prove authentic desire and sincere sorrow to unlock the possibility of forgiveness But Easter reminds me that forgiveness is something so free and inviting, that I can’t wait to repent.
Luke 23:32–34, 39–43 describes, “Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified — one on his right and one on his left.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself — and us, too, while you’re at it!”
But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Secure For Eternity
The thief had broken and disregarded the cultural rules and societal laws of human government. He had disobeyed God’s commandments and lived outside God’s design to love God and love people. Yet, God invited – even longed for — the reconciliation of the relationship between man and deity. To receive forgiveness and eternal life in a package deal, the thief on the cross did not have to make it all happen. He did not get baptized, take communion, do good deeds, grovel, do penance, or fix the mess he made that resulted in his horrifying crucifixion.
Like my grandson, the thief simply turned into the welcoming and outstretched arms. In that instant, the thief was secure. For eternity.
The Lord distilled all the many rules and laws into the two most important: love God and love people. And he first does exactly that for us, modeling what such action looks like because love is an action.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matthew 22:37–39 ESV).
Repentance Means To Come Home
Like me, have you ever wandered far, tromped off in heartbreak, or turned away in anger, and become lost from connection with God? Have you wanted to be close and belong with God in that longed-for way that feels like coming home? There is no way I can find my path back on track with God when I’ve made a mess of my choices, my life, and my relationships. I’m unable to fix, hide, polish, or spit shine my problems. The task is impossibly beyond my reach.
Yet, what is impossible to us is truly HIMpossible. Restoration and eternal security are a simple turn away. Fully aware of my shortcomings and inability to secure my own salvation, God is consistently near with arms open in invitation. Like my grandson, who simply turned into my hug, I repent by turning into God’s welcoming embrace. Instantly, I am safe where I belong. Immediately, I receive God’s abundant gifts of grace, unconditional love, tender mercy, and reconciliation.
When relationship is strained, damaged, or broken, healing comes through forgiveness. God already freely gave complete forgiveness on the cross. Forgiveness requires only one person. Reconciliation requires action from both parties in the broken relationship. No matter what the circumstances, God already provided forgiveness. For reconciliation, I merely repent — and repentance is to merely turn away from the direction I was going and turn into the embrace of God.
On Easter, we remember that so many years ago, Jesus Christ graciously did the work on the cross for reconciliation for our relationship, and cleanup for my messes. He held out his arms in invitation for everyone in the world, and me, to be in relationship with him forever.
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him,” (John 3:16–18 NLT).
Like the thief on the cross who turned to Jesus. Like my grandson who simply turned into my hug and allowed me to carry him to safety where he belonged. Through abundant forgiveness, God provided an open invitation to each of us. He gives forgiveness, life eternal, and his constant guiding presence. All I have to do is receive this from him. Reconciliation with God is so easy, I can’t wait to repent.
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