"Christianity apart from repentance is religiosity on its way to hell."
Well, that's rather direct, isn't it? Hard to hear, but true. . . without brokenness, humility, the recognition of failure, the turning away from ourselves to Christ. . . . Christianity is just religiosity.
But, that brings up a lot of questions. Is Christianity an endless string of apologies to those around us? What about victorious Christian living? Doesn't reluctance keep us from achieving our full potential? Are we "more than conquerors"? or not?
Good Questions, all. . . . . let's go to the text.
(I'm going to strategically avoid Martin Luther's famous quote that "all of the Christian life is one of repentance" because 1) I've said it a lot, and 2) Luther was focusing on this issue over and against the Roman Catholic Church. . . so . . . if you want a whole treatise on repentance. . read lots of Luther)
Some key texts:
1) 2 Corinthians 12:9
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
This passage is foundational because Paul is answering the "what about power and victory?" question. Where do we find those things? In weakness. Not in self-assuredness, affirmation of our strengths, or circumstantial "victories". All of those things are fine from time to time, and God does give us wisdom, experience, and victories in our lives to use for His Glory. But, strength? We get that when we're at our weakest and God is strong.
A characteristic of Christians should be that we're not seeking after the furtherance of our own strength, but continually being amazed at God's grace towards sinners like us, and finding our strength there. This should lead to regular repentance when we see the ways we're not resting in Christ and how we're trying to "power-up" for our own glory.
2) Romans 8:35-37
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
John Piper helped me a great deal with this passage. If we think "more than conquerors" is a positive thing that we need to run ahead with, . . . with the wind in our sails. . . don't forget vs. 36: "we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered".
Paul's point here is that the horrible circumstances of our life, our failures, our pain, etc. . . are transformed, for the Christian, into instruments of God in our lives. We learn things, we gain wisdom, we gain perseverance (Rom. 3:3-5). The glorious truth is that we're not JUST conquerors of the suffering in our life; because of Heaven, and because of the Love of God. Those are great truths! But, it's better. . .we're MORE than conquerors because those very things that kill us, and weigh us down become servants to us, used by God, for his purposes. All of our pain, all of our past, all of it. We don't just beat those things, through Christ, . . . . they get up and serve us.
This should help us to know what the bible talks about when it talks about victorious Christian living. It's being slaughtered like sheep, . . overcoming those experiences through the Gospel, and then learning from the "slaughters" while those things serve us, mature us, and are used by God in our lives for His Glory.
So, we shouldn't worry that we're losing "Living in Victory" by repenting. On the contrary, at the Cross is where the world gets turned upside-down and our weakness and pain becomes victory, as we repent and turn to Christ over and over.
3) 1 Timothy 1:15 -- The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
This passage is important because Paul wrote this, not at the beginning of his life, as a new believer. . . but near the end of his life as an old Pastor. We don't ever graduate beyond the need for repentance. Do we see our brokenness? Do we have a fresh awareness of our need for a Savior, daily? As a Pastor, do I still feel this? Paul leads us to welcome this kind of humility in our lives.
More quotes from Trevin Wax and Ray Ortlund (the Don of GLC):
"The nickname given to evangelicals in Romania basically meant, "repenter" --TW
"We need to surprise people with how honest we are about our sin and struggles" --RO
Church, let's be repenting. Not self-focused, navel-gazing, and full of self-pity. No. But, let's have a constant awareness of the Cross and our sin, . . a reluctance to prove ourselves right, and a deferent attitude towards those around us. Let's not stammer when we need to apologize or equivocate and evade when we're caught in the wrong. Will you join me in this? I need a lot of work, I'm a professional evader. Let's get honest, give each other grace, and stay close to the Cross.
"Who couldn't grow in that kind of environment, where we can talk about the real state of our hearts?"