I was first going to title this, "If I had an 'altar call.'" But it turned out to be much more about what "repentance" is. I'll leave it as I wrote it, but I just thought I'd explain my first few words about the "altar call."
First off, let's get it straight that the only "altar" I would be talking about is your heart, not a group of people flocking down to the front of a church sanctuary. We are the temple of God. We don't "go" to one. The Holy Place of God is YOU! And who says it would have to be me, or who says that it would have to be a pastor or someone with a "title" in the church. If I had an "altar call" in the heart, let it be about a body of people all helping one another out.
And just what would this "altar call" be? Are we talking about getting your act together and changing your behavior? Are we talking about doing something to get yourself right with God? Are we talking about dedicating or "re"dedicating yourself to God or to living better?
None of that is what I'm talking about. If we could get together and speak heart to heart with one another about "repentance," here's what it would mean to me. Repentance (metanoia) means a change of mind - a rethinking of things in the heart. Jesus said, "Repent, and believe the good news." So we would get together, and instead of asking one another how good we're doing at living the Christian life, or what behaviors we need to change in our lives, I'd rather have the discussion revolved around these questions:
Have you been believing the lie that you're not accepted by God because of your poor behavior or performance?
Have you been walking in guilt and shame for the things you've done?
Have you been holding others to a standard that you yourself cannot keep? And even if you feel you've kept that standard, do you really think that that's what the Christian life is about?
Have you had various expectations of yourself, or do you feel God has had expectations of you, that you've failed to live up to, and those failures are keeping you from intimacy with Him?
Have you seen God as judgmental, condemning and angry towards you?
Have you felt weak and burdened, and you feel it's up to yourself to make yourself strong and to bear these heavy burdens?
Have you been believing the good news (and that it really is good news) or have you been believing the lies of performance-based acceptance and sanctification?
As these questions are asked and discussed, I would hope for the conversation of our hearts to turn to:
Let's renew our minds daily to the good news.
Let's repent of the whole idea that it's up to us to maintain our salvation or to sanctify ourselves, and realize that God Himself has saved us to the uttermost and that He has already sanctified us and has already made us complete in Him!
Let's repent of the whole idea that we need to work on all our issues in order to present ourselves to God, and remember that He Himself is at work in us, living His very life in and through us to will and do to according to His good pleasure.
Let's repent of dragging around our heavy loads, and of being rushed to "grow" into something mighty for God, and instead let's slow down and rest in Him, walking in His "unforced rhythms of grace."
Let's repent of wearing masks and acting all cool as if we've got it all together. We don't have it all together - none of us - and as we act like we do, it's sort of like a virus that spreads, and before you know it we've got everyone wearing fake, plastic smiles and talking fake, happy talk, when inside we're dying! Let's be safe for one another to share our junk with one another without condemning one another and pointing our fingers. Let's be real with one another and help one another work through our issues rather than walking with a false notion of "repentance" (changing our behavior), thinking that if we only change our behavior, things will be all better. Let's REPENT of the idea that that's what repentance is, and realize that it never works anyway!
Let's repent of struggling and striving to get our acts straight before God, and allow His love and grace to work in and through us over a period of time, again as we work through these things together gracefully, and to let His love and grace work out those changes that we really do need in our lives. Yes, it's often very beneficial and profitable when our behavior changes - but it's not up to "us." God began a good work in us and God IS faithful to complete it! We think that if we change good enough for Him, He'll accept us. But He knows we can't do squat for Him, so He faithfully does it all and is so gracious to let us come along for the ride... and to ENJOY the ride! The Christian life is not meant to be a struggle. We rest in Him and He produces His very best stuff through us.
Let's repent of wallowing around in guilt, shame and condemnation. Jesus took ALL our guilt and shame, and He came into the world not to condemn but to SAVE. So let's repent of all of this, and let's begin walking in the fullness of His salvation! Again, let's repent of making it about our performance, and let's walk in His ongoing work in and through us.
Let's repent of making life in Christ out to be some moral crusade. We can't change ourselves, never mind the rest of the world!!! If we realize that it's only by God's faithful love and grace working in and through us that our lives change and we bear His fruit, then what in the world are we doing placing all these moral expectations on everyone else in the world??? Instead of protesting the sins of the world, let's bring to them the very message that saved us, the message of reconciliation, by which we ourselves have been saved and kept by grace alone.
So let's repent of making this about us, and let's understand it's all about Him. And let's understand that since it's all about Him, and HE is all about US, then we have a win-win situation at work here! It really is good news! Let's repent and believe the good news!