Repent. What a loaded word.
In my mind it conjures up the image of a street preacher waving a bible around and screaming at people. And who wants anything to do with that?
But I was reminded recently of the story of John the Baptist. JTB was strange even by biblical standards, wearing nothing but animal furs, eating nothing but locusts and wild honey, and declaring to the world around him that it should “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
So what did he mean by “repent”? Fall to our knees and beg forgiveness? Become “righteous”?
I recall a conversation with a good friend from a few years ago. The subject was the age-old “faith versus works” debate. His point was that while good deeds are a good thing, what was most important is that people “repent.” In other words, the most important thing is that people be “Christians” (as evidenced presumably more by what they say than what they do).
I find it interesting that John the Baptizer addressed that very argument. As he preached his message of repentence, it seems that some in the crowd pointed out that, being Jews, they were already good with God. He shut them down, “And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” (Today he might say, “do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have been baptised and go to church…'”)
“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” John said.
Repentence produces fruit? You don’t usually hear that from the fire and brimstoners.
In fact, what John taught is that repentence is not just some private event between a person and God. It is not just an asking of forgiveness, or entry into a club. Repentence is fruit production.
When the crowd asked what it meant to repent, John spelled it out for them:
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”
Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
In those days, tax collectors were compensated by the amounts they collected above and beyond what was due to the government. John said collect no extra. Roman soldiers were typically paid in salt and food. John said be content with that. And for those with more food and clothing than needed for themselves, they were to give it away to those without.
And that, it seems, is what should happen when we repent.