Repent…Or Else?

Feb 10th 2012

At Calvary we are in the beginnings of a teaching series based on Isaiah 44:3, For I will pour water on thirsty ground…”  How do we come thirsty to God?  This weekend we are looking at the act of repentance.

Repentance is one of those old-time biblical words, right?  When you hear it you may picture sandwich boards predicting the end of the world.  Perhaps you picture an old-time hell-fire and brimstone preacher. Seems that far too often the word repent is paired with some sort of cataclysmic horror…hell or the end of the world.  Repent or else.  A last ditch opportunity to save yourself.

But in the Bible, I wonder if it isn’t more often seen as a step in a journey to goodness. C. S. Lewis once said that repentance is not so much something God demands of you before he will take you back, as it is simply a description of what going back is like.

During an extended visit with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, Dr. Mary Poplin discovered the journey of repentance. It happened while Dr. Poplin was trying to care for a five-month-old infant who was deformed, constantly sick, and often miserable. Dr. Poplin always found ways to avoid feeding this child, but one day it was unavoidable. She writes:

When feeding time was over, the babies were falling asleep in their bassinettes, and I was getting ready to go …. I glanced at the infants on my way out [the door] and noticed that undigested formula was dripping out of this child’s bassinette. He had thrown up what must have been the entire eight-ounce bottle. Looking around for someone to tell as I left [the room], I saw no one in the infant area, and the few adults in the room had their hands full with other children.

So I decided, with no little struggle, to stay and clean up the mess. I put on my apron again, lifted the baby out of his bassinette and helped him on my shoulder as I began to gather the dirty sheets together and use them to wipe up the mess. As I was cleaning, I heard a muffled sound from the infant in my arms. Tears were pouring out of his eyes, and the only sound he could make was a convulsive sob.

As I looked at him, I saw in myself what Jeremiah called “the desperate wickedness of the heart.” I realized I had approached this task with a spirit of resistance and impatience. I had thought very little, if at all, about this child and his needs, other than to be clean. As I threw the sheets into the laundry pile, I began to bathe his little misshapen body and change his clothes. Afterward I held him to me tightly as I … looked at him, rocked him, and prayed …. In a short time, he was asleep ….

I must tell you that the moment I saw him weeping and realized the wretchedness in my heart, I knew it was sin. There was no doubt in my mind that this is what Christ meant when he said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts.” I asked Christ to forgive and change me. In those moments as I rocked the baby, I could feel Christ’s work inside my spirit just as surely as if he were sitting next to me.

That’s repentance, a realization that something in my heart needs to change and a willingness to change it.  Without repentance we don’t come thirsty to God.  If we don’t come thirsty to God…why come at all?