This post is the continuation of thoughts on Revelation 2:1-7 where Jesus calls churches and people to repent.
Now someone, non-Christian or Christian, will ask, “What is the big deal about ‘repentance’? ‘Repentance’ is not a concept I think about. It is not a word I use or a practice that I need. I’d rather talk about love or about determination or about believing in yourself.”
There are probably quite a few ways to attempt to answer that question. Here is how I would attempt an answer at this point:
Say you have a sibling and somehow you have hurt them very much to the point that they burst into tears at the sight of you. Or say you are married and you have wounded your spouse so deeply that they will not speak to you. Or say (to really magnify this out) that you are part of a culture that wounded another culture and created division and hate.
You know you’ve done wrong but for a while you’re stubborn and proud and don’t want to give up any ground. Finally you come to your senses. You decide that the fight is not worth it and that forgiveness and the relationship is.
Now in that situation will “believing in yourself,” or “determination,” or even “love” get you very far? Won’t all those things come across in a conversation as terribly prideful and patronizing and just put up more barriers between you two? The only thing that could possibly restore the relationship is if you accurately portray the wrongness of what you have done and appropriately plead for forgiveness from that person or group. You have to stop playing tug-a-war trying to get the other ones across the line and instead lay down the rope and walk over to their side with your hands open.
That is repentance. Realizing the value of the relationship in front of you and letting go of anything that would be in the way. Repentance is rooted in a radical belief that things do not have to stay this way. It is rooted in a radical hope that relationships can be restored.
Here in Revelation 2:1-7 it applies to our relationship with Jesus. Here it is a turning away from our pride and stubborn desires and a turning to Jesus and all the promises he offers us if we lay down our weapons and raise the white flag. Jesus offers full life forever to those who win by losing. He is the victory for those who surrender everything to him. “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7 ESV).
But if we keep building the walls of pride or if we are just apathetic toward the relationship, Jesus gives a pointed warning: “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5). For the Ephesian church, this meant that they would lose their witness and love and the very presence of Jesus from their midst. For our part we should fear that Jesus too might walk away from us, that God would give us up to our prideful desires and lack of love forever. We can scoff at the thought that God would somehow not forgive us and that we would spend eternity in Hell. After all, we reason, I’m not a Hitler! I have my share of good deeds and bad deeds, but I’m generally a pretty good person.
But in Revelation 2:1-7 I see Jesus warning those inside his own Church that if they did not repent, forgiveness and reconciliation would not be applied. And if those close to him were not immune to possibility of judgment, then what about those far from him?
So there is no place for scoffing here. Jesus promises on the one hand, judgment, if we persist in our pride and sin, and on the other hand, eternal life and joy, if we turn from our sins and trust in him and learn from him how to love for a lifetime.
The question is, will we let things stay broken like they are, or will we believe that things can change, and trust in Jesus to change them?