All of Christianity is gift oriented. Have you ever thought about that? None of what we receive is earned or deserved. Jesus Christ is a gift. The Gospel is a gift. Righteousness is a gift. The Spirit is a gift. The delight of the Father is a gift. The church is a gift. Worship is a gift. Preaching is a gift. The Sacraments are a gift. Prayer is a gift. Heaven is a gift. Love is a gift. Hope is a gift. Faith is a gift. I could keep going. The scriptures teach that even the idea of our salvation is a gift from God. Ephesians says that “while we were dead in our trespasses and sins, because of God’s great love for us, He mercifully brought us to life, even while we were still dead (Ephesians 2:1-5 my paraphrase).” Wow! Did you catch that? We were dead, smothered in sin, captive slaves of the evil one, with no hope of even thinking to ask for help, but God brought us to life. Many good theologians accurately teach that before we could even think to repent of our sins, God had to bring us to life first. Ephesians 2 certainly affirms that viewpoint. This is true of our salvation in its beginning and it is also true of our walk this moment. And so, we repented because Christ first brought us to life. Repentance is a response to God’s work. So salvation and repentance are a gift from God that turn us to the gift of God.
Many Christians miss this. They have a wrong view of repentance. They believe that repentance is more about sin than it is about Christ. They would define repentance this way: “Repentance is identifying our sin and then turning away from it.” But, where is Christ in that definition? That is a horrible perspective. That is not Biblical repentance at all. Repentance is not primarily given to us so that we might turn away from sin. It is given to us so that we might turn to Christ. It is the kind of gift that, once unwrapped, leads us to a greater gift. Let me use an illustration to help you get the point…
A young man bought his girlfriend a beautiful engagement ring for Christmas. But, the man decided to give the woman the ring by wrapping it up a box that the woman would open on Christmas morning. When Christmas morning came, the woman unwrapped the box and saw that she had a brand new ring. But tragically, she thought that the gift was the ring and not the man. So, she took the ring and put it on a necklace and wore it around her neck and told all of her friends, “Hey, look at this beautiful diamond ring. Doesn’t it make me look lovely!” The woman considered the ring as more valuable than her prospective husband. The man was the real gift, not the ring. But the woman never enjoyed the greater gift because she failed to see the proper connection between the gift of the ring and the greater gift of the husband. To be sure, I have seen many a young bride make this mistake. They make much of their ring; they much of their wedding dress; they become enamored with their own glory; and they forget to make much of their groom.
This is how it is with repentance. Repentance is a lesser gift that is designed to bind our hearts to the greater gift of our Husband Christ. The Holy Spirit certainly reveals our sin, lets not lose that point, but in more glorious measure, He also reveals our need for Jesus. So then repentance is not first and foremost about “turning away from sin.” No indeed. This kind of repentance is self-powered and self-glorifying where we say “I have the power to turn from sin on my own steam” and “I will turn from sin and then glorify myself for being able to do so.” This perspective would lead someone to turn away from the more obvious sin of lust, for example, by employing and embracing the internal sin of pride. So then, the sin of pride, and not the Holy Spirit, fuels their rejection of lust. Then they wear the “ring” of that false repentance around their necks and glorify themselves rather than Christ. Believe me, this sort of fleshly, ungodly repentance creates the worst kind of Pharisee and casts us into even greater spiritual bondage.
Gospel repentance works the other way round. It is the kind of repentance that is Holy Spirit empowered and Christ glorifying. Repentance is our Husband’s Kiss, that creates deeper affection for our Husband. It is the beautiful diamond ring from Christ that leads us to the greater gift of Christ. We repent because we desire Jesus. We repent of sin because our sin is keeping us from Jesus. We repent so we can fall into the embrace our Beloved Jesus. Repentance is all about Jesus. It is turning to Jesus, by the power of Jesus, that we might enjoy Jesus, for the glory of Jesus. The idol of our goodness is not the goal. Dealing with our sin is not the goal. Worship of Christ is the goal. So remember, that among all the gifts that God provides, Christ Himself is the most precious prize of the Gospel. Solus Christus ad Soli Deo Gloria!