I turned 40 this past month. I knew something had changed when I caught myself rattling off old man jokes, one after another. I am coming up on my 20 year anniversary as a believer in Jesus. I have never doubted my conversion story. The only way my story ever made sense was amazing grace. I am humbled and grateful for how God has chosen to use my life over the years. See, even now I am speaking as if I'm in my final lap around the track.
I learned early on the same grace that saves is the same grace that sanctifies. This was drilled into me in my seminary days. I knew the right theological categories that would preach. But as years passed, I found Jesus to be more distant in everyday life than I was comfortable admitting. See, it's happening again…years passing.
Perhaps a more positive sign of Christian aging is time logged in Scripture. Overwhelmingly, the outward fruit of obedience in Scripture were examples like loving enemies, joy in suffering, lavishing forgiveness when sinned against, journeying alongside sinners with forbearance, or yielding up rights/preferences with gratitude.
I found my own heart functioning like dead weight. The core motivation of agape love was a hard sell. The ongoing change the Scripture assumed within and without I quietly wondered about (2 Cor 3:18). Was this what getting old was all about? While I had traveled a long way, I still had a long way to travel.
It was through God's providential circumstances (Rom 8:28), 5 transitions in 8 years, and a call to Church planting among other factors that I stumbled headlong into the vast reservoirs of grace again. I found the spring of life deep, bubbling over, and readily accessible. Now looking back, if I could categorize in one word that heart process of returning to the bubbling brook, it would be repentance.
Lesslie Newbigin defines repentance as
the about-face of the heart to gaze in the opposite direction. Where is the kingdom of God you ask? One must turn around. Now walk in that
new reality. This requires nurturing an ongoing life of repentance. Another way to describe growing in this new heart gazing is gospel fluency. The gospel functions as the new heart language around the worship of Jesus.
The third aspect to our discipleship process at Soma Asheville is gospel fluency.
This post will function much like the last one as a tribute to Jeff Vanderstelt and the Soma family of Churches. They have helped me access the reservoirs of grace in my sanctification that I experienced in my justification. For a fuller treatment on gospel fluency, I'd encourage you to pick up your copy here
. Vanderstelt in his book, Gospel Fluency, writes, "Gospel-fluent people think, feel, and perceive everything in light of what has been accomplished in the person and work of Jesus Christ. They see the world differently. They think differently. They feel differently."
Everything means everything. Nothing goes untouched or unscathed by the gospel. As Soma Asheville has incorporated nurturing an ongoing life of repentance into our culture, we have learned a few things along the way. I used to believe repentance was a bad word.
It was like getting called into the principal's office. It was thrown around when bad behavior was lurking in the camp. Repent! Just hearing the word awakened those ancient motivators. Fear. Guilt. Shame. Whew! I sure was glad I wasn't the one caught this time. Now, I find repentance to be one of the most beautiful, joy-filled experiences of the Christian life. Why? I get more of Jesus! Now I seek out opportunities from the Spirit and ask Him to reveal more of my unbelief, which leads to the second point. I used to believe repentance was primarily about bad behavior.
The glaring problem with this is that as soon as your life cleans up on the outside, you will wrongly assume there is no longer any need for repentance. Repentance is not as much about bad behavior as it is bad belief. Jesus says in Matthew 7, "Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad trees bear bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit…so then you will know them by their fruits."
Behaving better got the Pharisees nowhere. The Christian life begins not by behaving better, but by believing better. Life on on the other side of the Cross is no different. Gospel fluency walks the heart through this process from fruit to root (outward sin and unbelief) then from root to fruit (renewed belief and obedience). No behavior modification needed; just good ol' fashioned Jesus logic. You will raise your hands in worship as renewed belief in Jesus transforms your behavior...and by no doing of your own. I used to believe repentance was a word primarily for non-Christians.
Repentance is the divine pathway provided by God for those on the outside to get on the inside. Repentance is certainly not less than this, but it is much more than this. The path one travels on that very first trip to the Cross becomes over time a well-worn path. It is meant to be traversed throughout your lifetime. Weary travelers, keep traveling back. It is only when we see Jesus face-to-face that the traveling will be finished. I used to believe repentance was a word I would graduate from.
There would eventually come a time in my life when repentance would become a thing of the past. I marvel now at such a shallow view of indwelling sin. My sin goes much deeper. My need for Jesus to keep saving me is much greater. And what is constantly being offered before me is more and more of His life!
More joy. More freedom. More courage. More rest. More contentment. More life. More of Jesus. Since we never graduate or move on from the gospel, we never graduate or move on from a life of repentance.
Jesus truly brings the better life.