Following my previous post, Repentance Doesn't Mean Changing Your Behavior, there were a lot of great comments on my Facebook version of the post, including a few that I wanted to respond to. As I was writing my response, it began turning out longer than the original post was! And so I decided to simply make it into a blog post itself. This was not written "as a blog post," so please understand that I didn't attempt 'good form' in the writing. :) And rather than addressing each comment one by one, this is simply one response to all, that includes the various things that I wanted to respond to.
"Joel, you do a great job of reinforcing that God's love and acceptance is unconditional." There is an implied "but" here. :) And to be truthful, that's like saying, "Jesus, you do a great job at eating with tax collectors, harlots and sinners and letting them know they go into the kingdom of God before the Pharisees and Sadducees, BUT you're so bad at telling them to clean up their acts!" Ok, so I'm sort of exaggerating, but my point is that indeed, till my dying breath I will be doing all I can to let people know about the unconditional love and grace of God.
I think many Christians give lip service to "God is love," but it's my 'observation' that many, many of them do not truly believe it. They say, "thank you God, for your grace," but then they live as if He were angry or disappointed with them, which means His grace and unconditional love really isn't all that great! And so my point here is that "repent," in and of itself, has nothing to do with a change of behavior. "Repent and believe the good news" means just that. Change your mind from not believing the good news of God's good will toward man, and believe it!
Now, I fully agree that a change of mind will lead to a change of behavior, but not because a person now feels obligated to live right because they've changed their mind. Rather, it's because people naturally live out whatever they believe. "Change your behavior or burn" is not what the gospel is. If that's what the gospel was, then the gospel would be nothing more than people's self-efforts to change their behavior. If "repentance" means "change your behavior," then we're all screwed, are we not? And that's not good news!
And think about this / answer this: If people can't be saved or receive the Spirit without changed behavior or "obedience" to God's commands, then how much changed behavior or 'obedience' is good enough? Perfection? A little less than perfection? A scale that has at least a little more "good behavior" than "bad behavior?" What is the standard, what is the line, IF it's about our obedience/changed behavior?
And so let me just throw this in to the mix: If we're to make it a matter of our good behavior and obedience, I do believe the "standard" is perfection. And so the ones who make it about their good behavior and obedience are the ones who will fall drastically short any and all times! You brood of vipers! Just you TRY to bear fruits worthy of repentance!! See how far you get before you fall flat on your face!!
Anyway, here's my foundational reason for making a big deal out of all of this. To many in the church, "the gospel" or "life in Christ" is all about behavior. But that's not really what the gospel is about. God's unconditional love and grace is what the gospel is all about. His gift of righteousness is what it's all about. And His life that He FREELY gives us is what it's all about. A fruit of all of this is a life that will surely look different when lived out, but that's not because of our great efforts to change our behavior. It's because God Himself is at work in us "to will and to do according to His good pleasure."
Changed behavior is not the point of our life in Christ. Again, that's truly a fruit of it, but the reality of what it's really all about is missed by so many who go right into "true repentance will lead to behavior change." That statement may be correct, but by jumping right into behavior change, we MISS the gospel!!! We miss the fact that life in Christ is about the life of Christ, and us being in an eternal union with Father, Son and Spirit. We miss that it's a love-relationship that isn't based whatsoever on our behavior. We miss the sweetness of truly believing the good news, and living in it day in and day out.
And so people are darned right that I'm good at reinforcing that God's love and acceptance is unconditional! :) It's my aim; it's my goal. And it has been for years! I don't have to worry about FRUIT when I'm telling people to focus on the VINE that has the very life from which the fruit comes. If people see "the vine" and "the vinedresser" as demanding and harsh, as did the "wicked and lazy servant" in the parable of the talents, who thought the master was "a hard man," then we'll never truly even stand a chance at bearing true love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If WE'RE trying to produce this stuff for God (trying hard to be "obedient" and "change our behavior"), then we miss the whole life of Christ and the goodness of God and His gospel.
(BTW, if you want to see the Facebook version of this post, and any comments there, it's here).