Monday, August 3, 2009

Repent and Believe the Gospel

The tagline of this blog is the first statement Jesus makes in the book of Mark. "Repent and believe the Gospel" is, I believe, the framework for Jesus' entire ministry- the basic point, if you will.

There is a common sentiment I've been hearing/reading a lot lately, that I'm sure is not new. That's that grace minus repentance equals license. "You can't just believe the Gospel, you have to repent of sin and 'turn away' from it." Sometimes this effects the person's view of salvation, other times it's just a strong recommendation for how you should live after you accept the grace of God in Jesus. Either way, the underlying assumption is, we can't have a bunch of immoral Christians running around, and this methodology(of preaching a qualified gospel) is supposed to take care of that.

Remarkably, this may miss the most important thing in the whole issue. It's that to believe the Gospel is a repentance. We are all born humanists, so to speak, and the basic repentance that needs to take place is the change of paradigm from "I can be good," to "I need Jesus to be good for me." In other words the initial faith in Jesus is not possible without repentance, when we understand the word "repentance" correctly.

So my issue is that Jesus, in the first chapter of Mark, says "repent and believe Gospel" not "believe the Gospel and repent." I'm guessing this is because he is a wily psychologist. He knows that the paradigm shift that it takes to believe the Gospel is the same shift that is necessary to produce the "turn" away from sin. Could our lack of understanding here be the reason that we keep saying things like "now that you've accepted the grace of God, you need to, additionally, repent and turn away from your sin," as if they were in separate categories? Which, in turn, consistently produces converts who accept Jesus as a matter of "getting right wth God" or "going to heaven when you die" but not disciples who continue to bask in the glow of his grace in such a way that drains the desire to return to addictive, self-serving behaviors. Pretty much because they've been taught(implicitly, by the command "now that you're saved, you should also repent") that it's possible to believe without repentance. And thus simultaneously(I see this all the time) act and talk moralistically about others' lives and see no change in their own destructive behaviors?

Just some thoughts. Conversation welcome.


Erin Hope said...

I was actually thinking a lot about this work...while i probably should have been paying more attention to the books or something. the whole repent and believe the gospel thing.... (but in a different sort of way, i'll explain some other time)

and I think I lost it around the time that you said Jesus was probably a 'wily psychologist' and started laughing....audibly.

I have to say that I agree, although agreeing might not make as much of an interesting conversation.
I think it's huge that people seem to get obsessed over not sinning, or living the right way....but haven't we all figured out by now that it's so absolutely exhausting to try and make ourselves be perfect?? especially since we always fail. And the only thing it seems to accomplish is making us look more and more at ourselves....which seems to make us fail more. etc.
But with Jesus, .....(not saying you're always gonna feel this way, or be in the right place,) isn't it kind of like being presented with something ok, but then having something so amazing it entirely dwarfs the other thing.... to the point where it would be silly, absurd, even laughable to pick something so small and insignificant over something so amazing?
Do you think maybe our issue with sin isn't that we don't focus enough on repentance, or living a right life, but maybe that we just don't understand and know who Jesus is ...enough?
because it seems like if we did, eventually, choosing anything contrary to him would look absolutely ludicrous, and...well laughable. and really kind of sad.

i dunno, guess i'm just rambling. but I have to go have tacos with friends.

Nate said...

I think you're point about Jesus is well-informed. The fact is that everything in a Christian's life and understanding of God is "Jesus-shaped." That means repentance, faith, not-sinning, et al. That's because Jesus IS the revelation that causes the needed repentance, not anything else. I always get really weirded out now when people(especially charismatics) start talking about God in reference to some invisible "force" that works for their benefit in their lives right now. I mean, not that God isn't omnipresent, but it's still a Jesus-shaped God, not some new revelation based on what we see in our lives.

Similarly, "relationship with God" talk turns me off now(actually, I'm becoming PRETTY snarky these days)because it's almost always rooted in prayer/worship to God in such a way that understands him primarily as a "cosmic ear" to which we speak or the "voice from heaven" to which we listen. We end up thinking that God's self-revelation culminates in what we see and hear of him in our lives and know of him through our "relationship" with him. Certainly the Jesus revelation is given relationally- God to us through Scripture, but usually that's not what people have in mind when they hype "relationship with God."

This is all a very long way of saying, and boiling my post down to John 17:3 contains one of the simplest, most important truths in the Bible-- that eternal life(which includes "not sinning" but a whole lot more too) is equal to knowing Jesus. Knowing him. That's all. And it's notable that he spends most of John 14-17(or the whole book for that matter) talking at length about HIMSELF. He obviously seems to think that he's VERY central to the disciples' understanding of God, and their relationship to God, and keeping commandments, etc, etc.

PS. the "wily psychologist" line was in part taken from a Dallas Willard comment that goes something like - it's hard to imagine people are really serious when they say "Jesus is Lord" if they can't also say "Jesus is smart."

Erin Hope said...
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