Don't Repent Too Much

Repentance is better understood not as turning away from everything but rather turning toward the things that are better.

I belong to the boring testimony club. There was no dramatic transformation, no heartbreaking falling away followed by a tear-jerking re-commitment ceremony, not even a little teenage rebellion (which, by many accounts, should have happened). But despite my best efforts to take pride in the person God made me, there are those who will never be satisfied with my story.

Consider the obligatory "there's no such thing as a boring testimony" blogs every year (here's one). They begin with a redefinition of terms, followed by a verbose explication of our newness in Christ (complete with abundant proof texts), and ending with the caveat that drugs and alcohol are on an as needed basis. It's subtle, but the desire to redress "boring" as "different" conceals a very real fear that boring testimonies are false testimonies.

It's as if those of us who grew up in the church are some sort of cruelly-ironic lepers--the privileged older sons who will never understand how much we have because we have never been without it. Perhaps I should take the time to point out how foolish it is to be disappointed in another's lack of sin or painful history. But I think it's enough to say that people hate boring testimonies because there's no observable transformation.

Is transformation not the mark of a true believer?
You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world... all of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts... but God made us alive with Christ. (Ephesians 2:1-5)
When we're saved, we repent: we turn from our evil ways and we turn to God. For someone like Paul, this meant turning from a lot. And there's no better or more dramatic example of spiritual transformation than Saul becoming Paul on the road to Damascus. His conversion was so drastic that no one believed him at first.

This level of transformation makes sense to those who were saved in their teens, twenties and beyond because they have years and years to repent from. Many will abandon their old friends, habits, haunts, music, movies, even jobs. They completely forsake the tropes of their former life and make a 180-degree turn because, just like their pastor told them, that's what repentance means.

But what about those of us who don't have a former life?

I doubt Paul had a category for people who were raised in the church when he said that we've all lived according to the flesh at one time. Whether I became saved when I prayed a prayer or when I actually met God, I can't find my four-year-old or eighteen-year-old self among the sinners in 1 Corinthians 6. Which means either I'm not really saved or we have a limited view of repentance.

Because if I had made a 180-degree turn anywhere along that fourteen-year journey, I would have become a pagan in order to be saved. Maybe this means that such a seismic shift isn't necessary for everyone. Maybe repentance for some looks like a 90-degree turn, or dare I say, a 5-degree one.

Either way, we need to be cautious when we begin quantifying the fruit of repentance based on our own experiences. Because fruit comparisons will only lead to thinking that our fruit is better than others.

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photo credit: André-Pierre U Turn via photopin (license)