Today I am reflecting on the gifts of forgiveness and repentance. It's easy to live in a state of frustration because of the tension that inevitably exists for redeemed, yet sinful people pursuing godliness in a broken world. We know that our best attempts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6); that we will not measure up; that we miss the mark, that we all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way (Isaiah 53:6). And yet we still have this glorious calling -- we are still adopted into the family of God and we are still encouraged to pursue godliness.
"Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe." (1 Timothy 4:7-10 ESV)
"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted us to his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed for his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure. . ." (2 Peter 1:3-10 ESV)
Ever since my college days, my friends and I have always insisted that with every good thing in life there is a fine line. Striving to make your calling and election sure can quickly lead to legalism; living in freedom and the knowledge that Christ lived the perfect life so we didn't have to can quickly lead to laziness. This past Sunday, someone told me, "the doctrine of election is not a doctrine for slackers." This same person also told me that at its core, "worship is nothing more than sanctified remembering." We are called to remember our forgiveness in Christ because it stirs our hearts -- not toward a life of legalism, but a life of true heart transformation.
Whenever I think about living in this tension, I remember John's words: "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One" (1 John 2:1). John understood that forgiveness does not dismiss our calling to obey the commands of God or to use our election as a license to sin, but to remember the "perfected" love of God. We must respond with a life of obedience. And when we sin (and John knows that we will, because we are still sinners), we must remember that Christ is our advocate. The Greek word for advocate is parakletos, a "helper," such as an attorney in a legal matter. When I read this passage in 1 John, I picture Jesus in a court room, standing on my behalf. We fall short of the glory of God. Every day. But we should not live in shame or dwell on the weight of our sin, just as we should not abandon our first love and forget the costly blood of Christ! We must dwell on the weight of his glory.
As forgiven people, washed by the blood of Christ, we can walk freely and know -- in communion and love -- that he regenerates us by his Spirit. John Calvin wrote on the gifts of forgiveness and repentance, urging us to remember that repentance is just as much the gift of God as inheriting the heavenly kingdom. "As God freely pardons our sins and delivers us by his mercy from the condemnation of eternal death, so he also conforms us to his image so that we may live unto righteousness." He continues to point out that "As God freely adopts us as his children, so he regenerates us by his Spirit in order that our life may testify that we do not falsely address him as our Father. In like manner, Christ washes away our sins by his blood and reconciles our heavenly Father to us by the sacrifice of his death. . . . The sum of the gospel here is that God through his Son takes away our sins and admits us to fellowship with him, so that we, in denying ourselves and our own nature, may 'live soberly, righteously, and godly.'" Forgiveness and repentance are to be distinguished but never separated.
Today, I am in awe of Christ, who laid aside his crown for my soul, and for a God who does not leave anything up to me. Even repentance is a gift from him; by remembering what Christ has done, he stirs our hearts toward repentance.
- Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
- Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
- Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
- Were the whole realm of nature mine,
- That were a present far too small;
- Love so amazing, so divine,
- Demands my soul, my life, my all.