The sign of a hardened human heart is the attitude, “It’s other people who need to change – not me.” A large part of political and social discourse today is taken up with one side wanting the other side to repent. Environmental advocates want everyone else to repent of their carbon footprint. Reformers on every issue want everyone else to repent of not wanting to reform. And, of course, everyone wants everyone else to repent of racism. It seems everyone wants change – for the other guy.
Through Jesus Christ, God makes repentance a very personal issue. Jesus is the standard for human behavior. Therefore, God’s question to you and to me – as individuals – is “What are you going to do about it?” God’s call is that we repent – that is, we change – and become more like Jesus. This is, to say the least, a formidable task. It consumes all our faculties. So much so, that any honest attempt to imitate Jesus leaves no energy left over to tell anyone else how to live.
You could well ask, “How then do you find the energy to write and tell us that we should repent – aren’t you consumed with amending your own life?” That’s a fair question. Here’s the fair answer: I am not telling you how to live; I am acknowledging Him who alone is worthy to tell us all how to live. To borrow a line from antiquity, “There is a King in Israel!” It is past time for everyone to be doing what is right in his own eyes. For me to repent without declaring Him who commanded us to repent would be to withhold honor from Him to whom it is due. Further, for me to eat the bread of life which He gives me yet not to tell other hungry people where I got it would be heartless. And, finally, to sing His praise is actually part and parcel of my repentance. That is, I’ve spent my life hoping people would think I was a good man, yet viewed in even the most charitable light I am mere filthy rags compared to Him.
So let me be clear: only Jesus Christ is qualified to tell you how to live. That does not mean, however, that we don’t already have some basic understanding of what He wants from us. In fact, if don’t remove from our lives those sins that we already know are wrong, we will not be able to accurately discern further direction from him. To use an exaggerated example to illustrate the point, a serial murderer need not waste time asking God where he should buy a new home. What are those sins that we already know are wrong? They include, of course, stealing, lying, cheating, lust, adultery, greed, hate, and so on. Jesus pointed out that it’s not just keeping such things out of our outward behavior, but keeping them out of our hearts that matters. He pointed out that the man who condemns someone caught in adultery, yet who himself lusts for other women in his heart, is himself guilty of adultery and hypocrisy.
Jesus’ point was that we humans tend to tolerate a lot more unrighteousness in our hearts than we let on to the world. Moreover, the world’s standards aren’t all that high anyway so that even if we let on that we’re comfortable with a little bitterness, revenge, superiority, righteous indignation, lust, or such, society is not likely to think that much the less of us.
God did not command the world to repent until Jesus had lived the model life. Until then, there was no one else to whom God could point us – even though in human terms there had been a lot of righteous lives. Yes, Jesus is the standard which we are asked to meet. To reach for that standard, we must repent – that is, change or improve. It’s between you and Him. No one else should be the person to whom you confess, but every person should be the beneficiary of your repentance. If you want to be close to God, this is what you have to do…and no one else can do it for you. And it’s something you do not once, but rather every day. He’s waiting right now – what say you?