Every year between Christmas and New Year’s Eve I pray about my new blog theme. I also ask the Lord to give me a big-picture Scriptural view for guidance for the new year. My passage for spiritual direction and growth in 2020 was Job 40:6-9. “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: ‘Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?’” This year the theme of rebuke and repentance continues, but from Job’s perspective. “Then Job answered the Lord and said: ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6) Biblical repentance is the topic for my devotions this year. I am already humbled and respectfully terrified to write on such an essential aspect of the Christian faith. But, as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (the writer, not the jurist) once wrote, “To reach a port we must sail, sometimes with the wind, and sometimes against it. But we must not drift or lie at anchor.” (1) Repentance is the gift from God that not only provides our wind but rekindles our faith to stay on course, close to Jesus.
Many people and organizations will pressure us to “turn over a new leaf” or “be the best we can be” in 2021, as if that’s even possible in one year (or a few months). But in Africa, I enjoyed the tradition of praying in the new year, which is a radically different approach than making New Year’s resolutions based on felt needs and personal strength. Instead, we should repent of our independence, autonomy, and empty boasting. Some secular writers and speakers realize the need for deeper self-examination. For example, in the introduction to “First Things First,” the authors warn that “To get the most out of this material requires that you become involved with it in a deep way—to be willing to examine your life, your scripts, your motives, your ‘first things,’ and what you represent. This is a highly introspective process…It’s impossible to get deeply absorbed in this kind of profound self-knowledge and not emerge unchanged. You’ll see the world differently. You’ll see relationships differently. You’ll see time differently. You’ll see yourself differently.” (2) I agree that good material can change us dramatically. However, their conclusion is utterly unbiblical. “We’re convinced from our own experience that principles produce both personal peace and dramatic results.” (Covey, Ibid.) Their book, nor any book other than the Bible, can deliver peace; principles do not deliver biblical shalom or lasting results. And, only through repentance can we see God differently as Job did.
Rather than depend on someone’s principles, let’s go to the Lord of truth and righteousness, the only One who promises us peace with him through reconciliation in Christ. At the first act of biblical repentance, God gifts us with faith to believe in Jesus. Peter proclaimed the message of repentance on the first Pentecost in Jerusalem. He was especially familiar with repentance, as all of us should be, from his initial awakening to Christ as the Son of God (Matthew 16:16-17) to his very human, sinful insistence on his own power to follow Jesus (Matthew 3:2; 14:29-33; Matthew 26:73-75). Repentance is also the gift from God to walk with Jesus as we navigate this life. Repentance in the Old Testament called for a change in a person’s attitude toward God that impacted one’s actions and life choices. It always involves the idea of leaving one way of thinking and living differently. Peter’s Bible was the Old Testament so he would have been familiar with this doctrine. Then Jesus arrived on the scene, the beloved Son of God, proclaiming the same message of repentance because “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” On Pentecost, Peter preached, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:36-41)
“This new life will reveal itself in conscious repentance followed by unconscious holiness, never the other way around. The foundation of Christianity is repentance. Strictly speaking, a person cannot repent when he chooses— repentance is a gift of God. The old Puritans used to pray for ‘the gift of tears.’ If you ever cease to understand the value of repentance, you allow yourself to remain in sin. Examine yourself to see if you have forgotten how to be truly repentant…Repentance always brings a person to the point of saying, “I have sinned.” The surest sign that God is at work in his life is when he says that and means it. Anything less is simply sorrow for having made foolish mistakes— a reflex action caused by self-disgust.” (3) The result of the Spirit’s work through Peter’s preaching at Pentecost was the addition of several thousand souls—true believers—who wanted to know more about Christ. So Peter continued to teach them. “And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:40-41)
The difference between those who are content to make New Year’s resolutions and the work of the Spirit is seen in how believers long to know more about and follow God, his doctrines, his ways, commands, and his people. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, And which is the same with the doctrine of Christ…this the apostles received from Christ, and constantly taught in their ministry…and this these young converts had embraced gladly; and were not only believers of it, but persevering believers; they were constant hearers of it; they continually attended on the ministry of the apostles, and held fast the form of sound words they had received from them; and stood fast in the faith of the Gospel, notwithstanding all the reproach cast upon it, and the afflictions they endured for it: and fellowship; with the apostles and other saints, in spiritual conversation with them, in private, and in communion with them at the Lord’s table in public… and in prayers: not only in their closets, and in their families, but in the church…they observed all opportunities of this kind, and gladly embraced them.” (4) Repentance is an ongoing process of yielding ourselves to Christ’s discipleship for biblical change and growth.
Will we also long to know God better in 2021? There is no restoration or renewal of our faith apart from repentance, both initially in regeneration and in our sanctification. “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” (Acts 3:19-21) Will we take these words to heart, though it might cause us pain to see our sin? Will Easter 2021 be a true celebration of Christ’s life and death, having humbled ourselves at his cross? When you use your Christmas gifts in 2021, will you also remember to use God’s gift of repentance and pray for a revival through it for many to enter the kingdom this year? Happy New Year in the Lord!
Related Scripture: Matthew 3:2; 4:17; 28:18; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 24:45-47; Acts 2:21; 3:19-21; 16:30-34; 20:18-21; 26:16-18; Romans 14:7-9.
- Hyatt, Michael; Harkavy, Daniel, “Living Forward,” Baker Publishing Group, 2016, Kindle Edition.
- Covey, Stephen R.; Merrill, A. Roger; Merrill, Rebecca R., “First Things First,” Mango Media, Kindle Edition, 2015.
- Oswald Chambers, “My Utmost For His Highest—Repentance,” December 7, https://utmost.org/repentance
- 4. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Acts 2:42, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/acts-2.html
January 1, 2021