Embodying Repentance

Let us return to our look at biblical repentance. If you haven’t checked out the previous two blogs on this subject, I would highly recommend that you do so. This one is a continuation of those other two. Specifically, I would like to further explore what it might mean for us to live-out the concept of repentance, as a church or as individuals, in a way that points to Christ’s lordship.

One of my favorite authors is a guy named Lesslie Newbigin.

He served as a missionary to India in the mid 1900’s and went on to write a good number of books on missiology (the study of Christian missions) and ecclesiology (the study of the church) based on his experiences. And within these writings, Lesslie coined a phrase that I think about very frequently. According to him, the church is meant to be a “foretaste of the kingdom of God.”

To unpack that a bit, he writes this in his book The Open Secret:

“The church is a movement launched into the life of the world to bear in its own life God’s gift of peace for the life of the world. It is sent, therefore, not only to proclaim the kingdom but to bear in its own life the presence of the kingdom.”[1]

“The presence of the kingdom, hidden and revealed in the cross of Jesus, is carried through history hidden and revealed in the life of that community which bears in its life the dying and rising of Jesus.”[2]

In other words, the church is meant to be a “foretaste” of the kingdom of God like an appetizer is to a full-course meal. The community of Christ, both locally and around the world, is meant to act in such a way as to proclaim to others the good things that are to come within God’s kingdom. We are to live our lives as God’s herald of the good news and of the future peace for all who believe in Him.

But, what does this have to do with biblical repentance?

Everything.

Practicing Repentance as our Christian Witness

When we repent of our sins, we act as a “foretaste” of God’s kingdom.

This is partly what Paul was getting at in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21. We who have put our faith in Christ have been made into new creations through His blood spilled. And as new creations, we have been invited into the ministry that He started. He has reconciled us to Himself and now calls us to be ambassadors of that same reconciliation. But notice that in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, the reconciling action is all on God’s part. He was the one who did something so that we could be made new. We have no power in ourselves to make things right.

That’s where confession comes into play. When we declare our sinfulness and ask for the Lord’s forgiveness, we display our weakness but God’s power. We show the world that we are a community formed around God’s gift of peace, dependent on His forgiveness, and hopeful for the good and sinless kingdom He has in store for us.

On a related note, 1 John 1:8-10 provides for us a warning. If we do not practice confession and embody repentance, it is as if we are denying the Lord’s work in our lives. We all sin. And we all live within a sinful world that needs to hear of the One who has done something about it. Denying our sinfulness belittles Christ.

And Lesslie Newbigin speaks to this reality too:

“The announcing of the good news about the Kingdom is empty verbiage if there is nothing happening to make the news credible.”[3]

If we don’t practice biblical repentance, are we really announcing God’s kingdom credibly?

How does this Look Practically?

Nevertheless, what might embodying repentance actually look like? We have talked a lot of “theory” so far. Let’s get down to how this might play out in our day-to-day lives.

1. Apologize honestly and with contrition: In the first blog post on repentance, we talked about the importance of contrition. I will double-up on that here. If we do not repent with a contrite heart, we do so in vein. Our apologies need to be sincere and genuine to count.

And just to press this point more, we are now currently in a time where we’re required to spend more time with family at home.[4] If you make a mistake in front of your kid, apologize to them in the same way as you might a peer. If you are a teenager and mess up, apologize to your parent in the same way you might to a friend. Sometimes we let power dynamics dictate the way we confess sin to one another. But we need to remember that we are all powerless before God in Heaven. We are forgiven only by His saving acts, so when we repent and confess sin, even to one another, we should do so from a place of powerlessness.

2. Get into the habit of confessing your sins both privately and publicly: Like I mentioned above, confessing our sins regularly is one way we can act as a foretaste of God’s kingdom here on earth. And this confession of sins should happen more than when we take the Lord’s Supper. It should be something that we make a habit of doing with one another and individually before God.

However, it does matter who you confess your sin to as well as why you’re confessing it.

When we confess sin to another person, we should make sure that they are actually able to handle what we tell them. For example, as an adult, you shouldn’t really confess a sexual sin to a child. Know your audience, be wise, and find accountability partners who can be there for you to hear your sins and guide you into reconciliation.

And again, it also matters how we confess sin. Our motivation behind doing so should not primarily be for emotional release. It also shouldn’t be used as a bargaining tool to get what you want within a conflict. Our confession should be honest and from a place of vulnerability. It is never appropriate to use confession to power-grab.

3. Forgive those who might have wronged you: We can be confident that when we repent of our sins, God hears us and forgives us. As Christians, and when others come to us seeking to genuinely repent, we should do the same for them.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we need to forget the wrong they’ve caused us. We need to be shrewd, and certain sins fracture relationships deeper than others. But forgiveness is an act of mercy. Reconciliation is an act of justice. To forgive someone is not to deny what they’ve done but the giving up of our right to retaliation. It’s to release that person into God’s care with the hope that He changes their heart. That means we can still forgive those who have offended us before we begin the process of reconciliation. It is likely that I will revisit this topic in an upcoming blog.

Conclusion

As Christians, we have been called to become a “foretaste” of God’s kingdom here on earth. And this very much includes embodying repentance into our individual and corporate witness.

Let’s take Lesslie Newbigin’s challenge seriously. We can announce God’s kingdom all we want. But if we aren’t doing anything in our lives to reflect that reality, we’re doing so in vein.


[1] Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 48-49. 

[2] Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 52.

[3] Lesslie Newbigin in his Martyn Lectures as recorded in Geoffrey Wainwright, Signs amid the Rubble: The Purpose of God in Human History, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), 99.

[4] This blog was written during the state mandated dismissal of school and church gatherings because of the COVID-19 virus.

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