The other day, I was finishing up the book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson, and I discovered something that struck me in the epilogue. Peterson, almost in a comment meant to be a reminder for most of us, said that the movement toward faith in Christ was a call toward two actions. These two actions are meant to epitomize our initial steps in the faith, but they are also practices each disciple of Jesus is called to engage in every day. Christ Plays prompts us to recall that the basic actions of every disciple are to repent and to follow.
As believers in Jesus, we almost always get the balance of repenting and following out of whack. We do this both in our spiritual communities, and in our personal journeys with Jesus. This imbalance in our spiritual journeys is rarely a good thing. Peterson reminds us as he writes that repenting is the "NO" of discipleship. When we repent we turn our backs on certain beliefs, certain behaviors, and certain attitudes. Boundaries are important, and repenting of sin helps us establish healthy boundaries in our lives. When we repent, we do not simply say no to the life of sinfulness and un-faith, the word implies that we literally turn our backs to wrong and evil and move in the other direction.
Some of us confuse repentance with the emotion of regret. We feel bad about sinning, and we think that we have repented of the sin. This is not what the Bible teaches about turning away from sin. The Scriptures teach that repentance is a renunciation of the ways of the flesh, worldliness, and the devil. When we confuse regret and repentance we fail to take sin seriously enough. When we fail to take sin seriously, sin has a way of soiling even the best things in our lives. We then become deaf to the voice of God, and blind to his light. Eventually, we find ourselves tripped up and trapped by the "sin that so easily entangles" (Heb 12:2), and we wonder how we have gotten to such a place where we feel so distant from God's will.
The disciple of Jesus must say a firm "NO" to ways that lead us away from Jesus, his cross, his life, his hope, and his resurrection. We must say "NO" to many things, so that we may say "YES" to Jesus.
When Jesus calls us to follow, he invites us to say "YES" to him, his friendship, his love, and his grace and his life. In the process, we also end up saying "YES" to his cross, to his rejection, and to his sense of being alienated from much of the rest of humanity by his convictions and choices. Strangely, there are a lot of people who claim to follow Jesus who have not embraced the "YES" of the gospel. They have said "NO" to the ways of the world, but offer no visionary, positive hope for their communities or the world.
As Christians, we need to be known more for what we stand for than what we stand against. I am afraid that to much of the world, their experience of the church of Jesus Christ is a bunch of people wagging their fingers at them and holding up picket signs. Last week, in a Bible Study I participated in, we were invited to imagine what our church would look like if we known as a community that had a reputation for being the "YES" of the gospel. Particularly, in this setting, we were called to dream about what it might look like if we were known in the Colorado Springs community as the "forgiving community of Jesus" in our city. What if we were known as a place where anyone could come seeking forgiveness, a place where we believed that no life was hopeless or irredeemable.
Repent and follow Jesus said to the first disciples. He says the same to us today.