The words, repentance and religion, have been turning over in my mind this week, since our Bible study, Bible Workbench, focused on a reading from Isaiah 1. He called the Israelites, and now us, to change our ways. What were they talking about? Repent means to deeply regret what we’ve done, but it does not always connote changing that behavior. The word religion means a system of faith, but comes from the Latin word religare, to bind. It’s when you put the two words together that change happens: when we deeply regret what we have done or not done and we bind ourselves to God change happens.
We’re just not perfect, in fact, we human beings don’t have the capacity for being perfect. So what? We’re going to screw up; it’s how we handle our screw-ups that tells the tale about ourselves. Do we keep on making the same mistakes? Can we learn new behaviors? Can we ask for forgiveness? Can we forgive ourselves? Can we admit we were wrong? Can we stop doing what we did? Will we turn ourselves over to God and Christ and the Holy Spirit?
Like the 12-Step programs teach, there is a process for turning our lives around. The first step is to admit we are wrong, then to repair the damage as we can, to trust in a Higher Power to help us change our inner attitudes and outer behaviors, so that we no longer do what we’ve habitually done. That, to me, is true repentance: turning our lives around so that we’re no longer hurting ourselves or others through the help and support of God and our own willingness to change.
The church has for so long equated belief in Christ as the major job of the Christian, but I think that you can believe all you want about God and Christ and the Holy Spirit and never turn from your own egocentric ways and bind to God. You can be a faithful Christian, go to church every Sunday and feel perfectly justified the rest of the week in doing whatever you want to do.
To me we have to go one long step farther than belief
and bind ourselves to the will and love of God. Jesus said, “Seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.” [Matthew 6:33]
God is to come first and foremost in our lives and then everyone and everything else: husbands, wives, children, parents, friends, co-workers, bosses—all come second to God. If we bind ourselves to God, we put God first and every other person and thing in our lives falls in place behind God. Then we, in partnership with God, take care of all that is second in our lives. Bound to God, we act from his bountiful love, not our finite love. Bound to God, we are transformed into our best selves. Bound to God and his righteousness, we repent our ways and turn to his.