I have been involved in a discussion among many pastors and leaders about the question of what is repentance and in the act of “accepting Jesus” your sins are forgiven. The question was proposed by someone whose heart I love and asks from the perspective of seeing his identity as a Messianic Jew. “Many of you folks bank an awful lot on the idea that if you ‘accept Jesus,’ your sins are forgiven. I’m not disagreeing with the idea, but am curious what ‘Accepting Jesus,’ means to you. Is it just coming to an intellectual understanding, praying a prayer, or living a life of submission TO him and Faith IN Him?” He continued on with his question by stating, “As I read through the gospel, there is more emphasis in the Scriptures on changing your life to follow the pattern of a scripture obedient life. When I compare it to what most Christians say, repentance is no more than saying you are sorry, with no obligation to change your actions and attitudes. What does Repentance mean to you? and what does Accepting Jesus mean to you?”
It was interesting to see all the various responses, and yes there was a wide range of them. From those which were almost militant in thought, as to what you must do, to the other extreme of what I think our questioner was getting at in that as long as you believe that is all that matters. I agree in small part with that believing is what matters, but I do believe that if we believe the truth there will be change and fruit. I think part of the problem with this question starts with identity, in that the one proposing the question themselves has not yet come to the revelation of God as our source. Paul put it literally this way, “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” Paul was trying to convey the fact that their was no value in one’s flesh, specifically in this case their ethnicity, but only in Christ. I find it difficult anymore to identify myself in anything outside of in Christ. When one does find their value in their flesh then they also bring into their relationship with God all the hindrances or limitations associated with the mindset of that culture.
America has a great issue with this as it constantly tries to segregate people by placing values on their ethnicity. I recently read something that a black brother of mine wrote where he was trying to help the black culture break free of their mindset. He stated that he was not an African-American, nor was his father or his father’s father. The fact was they were all Americans. He, his father, nor his father’s father came from Africa nor ever visited Africa. Just as whites do not declare that they are English Americans but just Americans. Yet America as a nation continues to do it racial profiling all the time. Just look at any job application or some other sort of government sponsored program. There is always the section of asking your racial background. Are your white ,black, Hispanic, Native American etc. I think you get the point.
God never has desired for us to define ourselves based on the flesh but based on him as our Father. God is the source of our identity and when we look outside of that single truth then there is the propensity to find value in ourselves over God. Wait a minute, isn’t that the source of all sin? After all this is what caused Lucifer to fall prior to man existing. But a point I wanted to make was that my friend who identifies as being a Messianic Jew then has inherited certain attributes with his identity. In this case I am talking about finding value in what one does. Please note that in his question and thoughts that he proposed, there was nothing about letting love transform you. It was worded as submission and obedience.
And this is the point that I wanted to make in that there are at least two paths we can go on to achieve what appears to be the same goal. Obviously there is the first which we have eluded to, which is to find value in ourselves in what we do. For instance yes we can choose to submit ourselves undo God and do good things. This can be done through willpower just like any good soldier, but even though their may be the appearance of good fruit, or righteous works, it does not glorify God but man’s ability to try to reproduce God. I guess one of the big questions here is the motivation behind what one is doing? Is it out of love or is it motivated by some other source. This is extremely important for the person who is manifesting the fruit because if the fruit which is being produced is not of God then it only bares witness to their independence from God and drive a wedge deeper into their relationship with God.
See the person asking the focal question here is more interested in the fruit than the source. Therefore they find value in the fruit regardless of its source. But the truth is that the source is more important than the fruit. I always look at this sort of subject from another aspect as well. Think about Adam and Eve prior to the fall. What were the demands on them? We think that there is value in what we do, but the reality for them was the only value that existed was them experiencing the goodness of God by simply existing and receiving his love. I do think that in some ways because of the introduction of sin into mankind that there will be more to ones life than this, but this is a good foundation to start from.
Jesus is now our example and when we study Jesus we see that he did not do anything to prove himself but out of a response of God’s love which compelled him to right the wrongs. I look at this way in that there are thousands of charities which do many good things. Some feed the hungry, provide water to arid areas or healthcare to those in need. All of these are wonderful acts of kindness, yet even Jesus gave us the concept that we can eat food or drink water and yet still die. If any act of charity, or love, is not done so in order to glorify God, then it is done for the wrong reason. This does not mean that I am not thankful in some ways for those who provide such humanitarian relief, because in aiding to extend ones life hopefully they will hear, receive and believe the gospel. But instead of humanity looking to one another as their source w as believers should be the ones taking the lead and be the conduit for their needs between them and God. All in hopes that they too would believe on Jesus for eternal life.
See I do think that one’s life is changed when they believe in Jesus as their savior, but I believe that true change is effortless and comes by knowing who one is in Christ and receiving the love of God. No one who really understands the basics of the bible doubts that God is love and therefore Jesus is the very embodiment of love. God’s love was the only source of motivation for Jesus to do what he did, as even Jesus declared that he only did what he saw the Father do, and said what the Father said. His motivation was not to do good out of independence to prove himself, but to do good to glorify our Father in revealing the Father’s love toward us.
In response to the main question then repentance and accepting Jesus to me is to simply no longer believe that there is value in what I do, but that in Christ I have been made complete. I find my source of value in God and realize that not because of anything I have done but because of Jesus, reconciliation has taken place in my relationship with God. Many have gotten to this point and then deviate from it to go in the wrong direction. From here many feel a sense of obligation to do something in order to maintain or sustain this relationship. That is simply not the case and to the degree one believe this is to the degree they devalue what Jesus accomplished.
The fact is it is all about God, his love for us, and what he did to draw us back into a relationship with Him in seeing God as our source for life. I really find it hard to hear someone say they serve God because of how religion has perverted this. I receive no value in serving God. What I do, I do because of the love I experience in my relationship with God. It is this love then that compels me to help others in hopes that they too will experience this great love.
Something that I have always kept in mind since coming to a revelation of God’s grace, is that Jesus, paraphrasing here, said that if we are in union with him then he will produce fruit in us and through us. This is one the reasons in which I have learned and continue to grow in, resting in God. I was as guilty of this as anyone else, but I am amazed that we find it hard to believe that God, who spoke into existence the heavens and earth, all that we know, see, understand and yet to discover, would abundantly provide for us, care for us and love us. Jesus did not tell us to produce fruit but to bear fruit, which is a major difference. People who are trying to produce fruit are dwelling in themselves as their source for fruit, but those of us who are fruit bearers simply allow fruit to happen by resting in God. It is a wonderful transition to make as now I can fully attest that Jesus’ yoke is easy and burden light. I have experienced this truth so many times that I now find it hard to see any value in what I do, which is a good thing. As Jesus said, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit”
I hope that when you read this last paragraph that it is not taken as religion does in see that they have to do things to make God happy. That is so contrary to the point that they are polar opposites. The fact is Jesus is literally saying that as we learn to rest in him, out of our union with him because of times of intimacy we will bear fruit. It is this type of fruit that glorifies our Father because it comes effortlessly out of our union with God. It bears testimony to his goodness and loving kindness and not to mans ability.
This is a little longer than I had planned but I wanted to make sure that I clearly differentiated between works that give the appearance of good fruit and the manifestation of good fruit through someone with God as the source.