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the Gospel and Repentance: “Good News”, not a “Good Deal”

August 6, 2011

To me these two concepts – the gospel and repentance – on the surface, seem incompatible. “Huh?” you say, “but Dave, that’s basic Christianity…” Let me explain. “the Gospel” means “good news” and I think we are to take that seriously. What I mean by that is its not a declaration that we only have one thing to do to “get to heaven” because if that were the case we are saved by Christ plus our works, meaning our personal superiority of being smart enough to recognize Christ and “invite him in to our heart”. No, the gospel is truly good news – its an announcement of something that’s already happened.

Picture all those black and white photos and newsreels of New York when it was announced that World War II was over – Streamers and confetti falling from above, everyone smiling, people hugging and kissing in the streets… That was a good day! I wasn’t alive then, but I can still feel the sublime joy and relief 65 years after the event.

The Gospel is like that. So when you hear the phrase “preach the gospel” it should be accompanied by a knowing and feeling of great relief – almost to the extent of something like “you know all the rotten stuff we have to put up with and the worry in this life? Well, don’t worry – its all taken care of – we won! It’s over! (Yay!)

Now wait a minute. If that’s true, what about repentance?

Acts 26:16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.

So we’re back to the same old conundrum: is it really a gift, faith alone (i.e. the faith itself is the gift)? Or do we really have to perform? Is it really just a good deal that’s offered to us, but we have to take it? Spiritual equivocation doesn’t negate the fact that Christians are to separate themselves from the rest of the world by their behaviour. As Christians we are to behave a certain way – that’s what repent means – “don’t just talk about it – do it” But if we look inside ourselves, before we can repent, the Spirit must open our eyes to see the contrast between what we believe in Christ, i.e. the truth that Christ has placed in us, the need for self-sacrifice, and what we have believed or bought into that is of the devil (whether rooting back to Adam or some new instance) – the selfishness that lies in all of us (pun intended 🙂 The fact that Christ is in us in the first place is the good news. To know if it really is Christ, to know if we’re really saved we have to act on that belief – to really do something for someone else that is by definition a turning from selfishness – a repentance. This is a process that has to be repeated over and over again throughout our lives and each time we see the victory we should give thanks to God and “party in the streets!”

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