For some time now, I’ve been wondering why believers and accepters of the free grace provided by Jesus the Messiah spend so much time worrying about their sin and feeling like they don’t deserve to be children of God. Instead, they try to be gods of justice over their own lives and come up with lots of reasons why they shouldn’t be forgiven and why God’s offer of love and forgiveness couldn’t be true.
I remember watching my late Grandfather say to the evangelist at the small, country church where his family worshipped, “I’ve done too many bad things for God to love me. Sorry, I can’t come forward.” Of course, to me, Pa was every bit as good as anyone in that church, but something was holding him back. I believe now that it was the voice of evil trying to rob him of God’s true forgiveness paid for by the death of Jesus on his behalf. And the fear he had of giving up control of his life to someone other than his own ego. Eventually, my Pa overcame that fear and received God’s grace and forgiveness. But many believers continue on in “unbelief” after their conversion.
“Your sins are forgiven, go and….” These were some of the most common words that Jesus spoke during his ministry on earth and I believe that still holds true today. That’s why I believe in Fast Repentance. We are sinning, broken creatures and the Trinity knew that pattern when the plan was devised for us to grow and become more whole over the course of our lives.
Many times we cower in the corner afraid that God is going to see us do something wrong and be completely shocked and amazed. Really? Jesus was and is still in the Forgive and Go business. Esteemed Christian psychologists Walter and Ingrid Trobisch said that we spend so much time thinking about our sin that it becomes inevitable that we are going to commit the same sins again. Our brains work like that. “It is like driving at night. When you look straight into headlights of the oncoming car for fear of crashing into it, it is very likely that you may do just that;” they wrote.1
Famously, Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the village well to go and tell folks what had happened. It is in the going that we find healing. It is in the telling others about Jesus knowing everything and yet loving and forgiving us that builds our hearts back to wholeness. Again, the Trobischs wrote, “The more you get away from your own self, the more you think about others and occupy yourself with other interests, the less you will turn around yourself, and the temptation will be reduced.”2
Slow repentance becomes a form of self-indulgence and control that keeps us from surrendering our hearts and desires to God. So many of our addictions are based upon an illusion of control. “Our addictions are not to alcohol, drugs or pornography but to control,” writes David G. Benner in his book Soulful Spirituality: Becoming Fully Alive and Deeply Human.3 We try to control our domains and our lives instead of surrendering our brokenness and “un-wholeness” to God. Our sin becomes a security blanket covering our weakness and we hold onto it rather than giving up control of our lives to our Creator.
What should fast repentance look like? Actually, like the quarterback who forgets his bad throw on the previous play to focus on the next play in order to succeed for the team. Peyton Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of American football, often talks about forgetting what happened in the past play or sequence of plays, or even the previous game, and moving on to the next play or the next game. “You have to shake it off and move forward,” he said.
And the lyrics to the top popular song by Taylor Swift gives us encouragement to “Shake it Off”. Some might ask if I’m being trite in my treatment of this topic by using a song to describe fast repentance. I would remind you that we are talking about disobedience to the Creator. It’s sin. There is nothing sacred or holy about our sin. And the point is to not dwell on our sin, but to say, “I’m sorry, dear Lord.” And to move on to helping someone else or taking the focus off of me and putting it onto God and others. The song says, “I shake it off!” I am not bound by sin. I’m free.
In John 8:1-11 we read,
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Wait a second, Jesus. This woman was caught in adultery. She’s going to need to be on probation for a few months, so that we can see if she is really sorry about what she has done. Don’t you know anything about church discipline? is what most any church leader would say in contemporary times.
How long did it take before the followers of The Way began to add to the message of Jesus? Those First Century Christians had seen Jesus interact with folks. They had heard him say, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” The echo of those words must’ve resonated for some time. The Apostle Paul talked about forgetting the past and leaving what was behind. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote repeatedly about the need for humility, submission and surrender, and the illusion of position and prestige.
It is clear that Jesus was not bound by a “one size fits all” philosophy when it comes to healing or growth. With some individuals, healing was instant. With others, Jesus would send them with specific instructions to put mud on their eyes or to wash themselves in the river. He even said that healing was synonymous with saying, “Your sins are forgiven.” So, it is possible that you would not find fast repentance to be God’s way for you. My goal is to observe the ways of Jesus ahead of following the patterns of others. As Paul reminds us, “It was for freedom that Jesus set us free. So, don’t let yourself be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1.
Shake it off and go.
1, 2 Walter & Ingrid Trobisch. My Beautiful Feeling: Correspondence with Ilona. Downers Grove, IL, USA: InterVarsity Press; 1976: 119 pages.
3 David G. Benner, PhD. Soulful Spirituality: Becoming Fully Alive and Deeply Human. Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Brazos Press; 2011: 191 pages.