If it were in my power to do so, I would require every pastor (and every Christian, for that matter), to work through this book. I have a box full of them in my office which I give out like hotcakes. I was introduced to it while at Pure Life Ministries, but it did more for me than just help deliver my heart and mind from sexual sin. It re-awakened in me a love for God’s holy words and forced me to contend with it’s place of authority in my life.
When I first began the 24 week study I mocked it. The simplicity with which is took me through scripture passages which addressed particular issues each week (biblical submission, overcoming self, controlling the tongue, repenting of double-mindedness, and so on), seemed trivial and felt like proof-texting. I was a seminary trained pastor for crying out loud, studied in Greek and biblical theology from many of the great teachers of our time, and now here I was being told to look up a passage, say, 1 Peter 2:18-23, and then answer questions like,
What finds favor with God? (verses 19-20)
What example did Christ leave us to follow? (verses 21-24)
Or I was asked to read 2 Cor. 7:6-16 and count the number of times Paul uses the words “sorry,” sorrow” or “sorrowful.” According to verse 10, what is the ultimate end of only having worldly sorrow?
What sort of simple, quaky stuff was this? I felt like I was back in VBS again. I was led to page after page of God’s Word to find answers to questions I had long forgotten to ask or care about. And for this Duke Divinity educated pastor and theologian, it saved my life. The words of God captivated me, and turned me around, transforming my mind and heart in a way I was not expecting nor thought I needed.
My pride blinded me to my need for repentance. To daily “turn again” and seek the One who is willing and able to take my brokenness and make me holy. Prior to this walk I was convinced that I could see. I was like the Pharisees in John 9 who asked incredulously of Jesus, “Are we also blind?” Hiding behind my theological ideas about God kept me blind to the God I presumed to know much about but didn’t know at all. I had been trained how to tell people about God but I was incapable of finding him myself.
The other day a Methodist pastor accused me of sounding Pharisaical because he thought my statement on Facebook, “Reconciliation without repentance breeds religion without relationship” sounded like I was demanding repentance. I make no apologies other than to say I am sorry I merely sounded like I am demanding repentance. I want it to be clear that I am. Always. Not just in others but in myself. Calling people to repent is the major thrust of Jesus’ ministry. It’s the first word of any good preaching and ought to be the last. Jesus said that all of heaven rejoices over one sinner who repents. Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord (Acts 3:19-20). Jesus commanded that it would be repentance for the forgiveness of sins that will be preached to all nations (Luke 24:47). God’s kindness towards us is meant to lead us towards, wait for it….repentance! (Rom. 2:4). So if anyone should think that demanding repentance sounds Pharisaic I have just one word for you: Repent!
I believe God wants to pour out His Spirit on our Methodist churches but it will not happen so long as we think we can be united without repentance. It is a broken and contrite heart that God will not despise (Psalm 51:17). John Wesley saw the importance of repentance for not only the sinner who does not yet know God but for the believers who do. He has this to say to Asbury, Coke and others,
You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go not only to those that need you, but to those that need you most. It is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care of this or that society; but to save as many souls as you can; to bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance.
Our main doctrines, which include all the rest, are three,—that of repentance, of faith, and of holiness.
And lest we take ourselves off the hook by making repentance a clarion call to social change only, Wesley reminds us that,
repentance frequently means an inward change, a change of mind from sin to holiness (John Wesley, The Repentance of Believers, Vol.1, Sermon 14,I.15).
I want to known as a pastor who demands repentance in the same way I would demand the starving to eat. Without this wonderful gift of being awakened to our sinful state and our need for grace, we are left dead in our sin and blinded to the truth of God’s word. The more I preach it the more I see my own need for it, and the more I see others coming alive to Christ. May God open our eyes and save us from the delusion we are under as both individuals and as a church which would suggest we can be of one mind, or do anything which pleases God, without repentance
God, in your mercy, grant us godly sorrow – sorrow for how we have sinned against you and you only, sorrow for how we have neglected your words and your commands, sorrow over our disobedience, sorrow over our prideful hearts, sorrow for the ways in which we minimize your word to approve our desires, sorrow over our disunity – which brings repentance leading us to life. Amen.