I’m beginning today a seven-part series on “the call of the Gospel.” It’s a kind of overview of what it means to be a Christian, based on the Holy Scriptures. There could be more topics than I’ve chosen, but since seven is a biblical “perfect number,” I thought I’d limit it to that. The elements of the call of the Gospel I will treat are: repentance, faith, love, joy, peace, suffering, and communion.
I begin with repentance because no less a spiritual giant than
The Christian life must begin with repentance, as John as Jesus insisted. You can’t even have saving faith unless you first turn to Christ by turning away from evil. Repentance is an act of turning, changing, and even though some have had dramatic “conversion experiences,” repentance is not a one-time event, but it is an essential part of the whole Christian life. That is because repentance (Greek metanoia) means literally a change of mind and heart, and hence a change of the direction, meaning, and practical expression of one’s whole life.
Getting back to the Gospel text, why did Jesus and John first preach repentance? “The
Today the call to repentance still graces the pages of the Gospel, yet many do not wish to hear it. They want to hear another gospel that is not demanding, that does not hold us accountable, that promises blissful spiritual experience without the carrying of the cross. But you know what
The Christian life begins with repentance, and repentance (properly understood as the ongoing change or transformation of mind and heart and behavior) remains an integral part of the Christian’s entire life. Repentance isn’t only about being sorry for our sins and confessing them (though that is part of it). It is also—and most fundamentally—about change. That is why if we express sorrow for sin at one moment and go out and do it again shortly thereafter, we have not really repented. We will be known by our fruits. That is why the Baptizer exclaimed to the Pharisees: “Bear fruit that befits repentance!” (Matthew 3:8).
We have a petition in one of our litanies that reads: “That we may spend the rest of our life in peace and repentance…” This does not mean a life of remorse or of wailing “woe is me!” but rather a vigorous embracing of the truth of the Gospel and an equally vigorous rejection of all that comes to us from the “father of lies.”
Repent. Repent again, and still. Continue in repentance and rejoice in the Lord, who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. The