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Resolutions and Repentance

Posted by Dr. Wade Smith on

Have you made your New Year’s Resolution(s) yet? If so, have you developed a plan to carry them out? Changing the habits and patterns of life doesn’t just happen. These changes take place over a period of time as we intentionally practice new things, forging new habits to take the place of old ones.

The whole matter of making resolutions reminds me of the spiritual practice of repentance. Both center on change and establishing new directions for life. Resolutions take hold when our thoughts, desires, and actions work together to produce lasting change. Likewise, repentance is the process of changing one’s attitudes and actions. Resolutions and repentance are achievable only when we nurture change in both the inner and outer person. Thus, the spiritual nature of both.  

Repentance is literally “a turning away from something in order to turn towards something else.” By definition, repentance means you cannot pursue or turn two ways. For example, you cannot turn from an unhealthy lifestyle if you do not turn toward healthy lifestyle habits. Turning away from something, without turning towards something creates a vacuum that cannot remain. If we do not turn toward something, repentance is incomplete and we will ultimately turn back to what was.

John the Baptist preached repentance as a means of preparing for the Kingdom of Heaven. When John was asked what repentance looked like, he replied very specifically. To the one with food and clothing, he said to share with those who have none. To the tax collector, he said to work with integrity by collecting no more than you are supposed to. To the soldier, he said to be content with your wages and do not use your power to bully and take from others. John described repentance as the practice of rebuilding one’s life around and in alignment with God’s will to love and serve others.

John understood that repentance required new actions and habits. He said that you must “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” The way you turn from selfishness is by practicing generosity. The way you become a better spouse or parent is by turning from the things that hinder those relationships and by turning toward (practicing) words and deeds that nurture love and affection. What will the fruit of your resolution(s) look like?      

John’s call to repentance was a prelude to Jesus’ call to repentance. Jesus preached repentance as the first step in becoming a disciple in His heavenly kingdom. His invitation to “follow Me” profoundly illustrates what it means to “turn from and turn towards.”

Jesus announced that in Him, the Kingdom of Heaven was present. His repentance calls us to turn from sin and toward His new way of life. This means turning from the condemning voices of guilt and toward the freeing voice of grace. It means turning from despair and toward hope. It means turning from bitterness and toward forgiveness. It means turning from selfishness and toward putting others first. It means turning from violence and toward kindness. In turning from these things, we are freed to turn toward a new life of practicing and nurturing the life-giving qualities of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Have you made your New Year’s Resolution(s) yet? There is still time to turn from that which is robbing you of life and turn toward something new and life-giving. Happy New Year!