Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Process of Repentance and Discipleship: Jeremiah 3:19-3:25

We all know the story of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker-how Vader is redeemed through a final act of goodness that saves his son’s life and his own in the process. As the story describes it, Darth Vader was “turned” from the dark side of the force. A less familiar story (much less familiar) of “turning” is the moral drama that is Mr. Furious. After leaving his band of Mystery Men in a huff over his diminishing leadership role, he is convinced by his girlfriend to return and apologize. Mr. Furious sees a perfect opportunity to blame his behavior on his super power-his boundless rage. His girlfriend, though, simply suggests that he “just apologize.” Fortunately for Mr. Furious’ relationship with his good friend The Shoveler, not to mention the future of Champion City, he takes her advice over his own.

It takes a lot to admit when you are wrong. It takes even more character to return to the ones you have offended and apologize and reconcile-to repent. Our innate tendency is to blame the mistake or the sin on another or on circumstances out of our control (our “boundless rage”), but those tactics never produce a mutual and blessed relationship. Sometimes, the only thing that will work is an admission of guilt, a change of behavior, and a different perspective on our relationships. Sometimes, only genuine repentance will do.

In Jeremiah 3:19-4:4, we watch a conversation about repentance. Earlier in chapter 3 God called His people to return to Him and He promised blessing and forgiveness. Now the people express repentance. The tension lies in wondering if it is a genuine expression of sorrow for sin and a turning to the face of God, or if it is simply an expression of people singed by their own sinfulness.

Whatever it is, what God’s people express in their repentance makes for a profound understanding of sin. They clearly recognize that the years they spent on the hilltops worshiping false gods has been an utter waste (vs 23). And then they note that their rebellion has not only hurt their lives, but it has poisoned or destroyed the lives of others (parents and children.) A friend of mine is fond of saying that we don’t live for ourselves, and she is absolutely right. Our rebellion against God not only hurts us, but it separates us from God and from the ones who love us the most.

With all this deep comprehension of repentance and sin, let us hope it takes!

The reference to the “bare heights” is an interesting one. The hilltops are now devoid of the polls and temples of worship, so we know that Josiah’s reform is underway. And the people are weeping, lamenting their rebellion, which is a good thing. But they are still on the hilltop, where they used to gather routinely for the worship of pagan gods.

The process of maturity and discipleship is not always a straight line. The people of Israel were right to lament their sins, but they were not yet out of the habit of going to the temple to commit those sins. They were, if you will, in process. Our journeys are not dissimilar. Paul encourages us to transform the way the think about life, and we should discover that that is exactly what is at work as we learn to be more and more the disciple of Christ. We should be discovering “bare heights” in our lives over and over as we draw closer and closer to God.

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