Repentance as Cultural Engagement

…From whence I have often since observed, how incongruous and irrational the common temper of mankind is, especially of youth, to that reason which ought to guide them in such cases, viz., that they are not ashamed to sin, and yet are ashamed to repent; not ashamed of the action, for which they ought justly to be esteemed fools; but are ashamed of the returning, which only can make them be esteemed wise men.  ~ Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe


Pride is the anti-gospel. It promises exaltation but ultimately belittles. In the passage above, Defoe says we’re unashamed to sin, yet we’re too ashamed to repent. I know by experience what he’s describing. In the past, I have worked myself into a shameless rage only to refuse the one remedy to restore relationships and show that I possessed an ounce of wisdom- repentance.

The apostle Paul argued that this problem is deep rooted, permeating any culture that we encounter. Mankind doesn’t see fit to acknowledge God (Romans 1:28), and it replaces a life of praise to God with a life of praise to every god that it can create.

How does this point us to the cultural implications of this problem? Our culture, no matter its strengths or advances, has incurred the wrath of God (Romans 1:18) by its spiraling tendency to self-preeminence.

The church can be tempted to leave it there. “Yep, the world is a mess. It doesn’t know God.” The real brokenness is out there. But Paul wrote Romans 2, among other reasons, to remind us that we stand in the same fearful need. Here is where we have a wonderful chance to remind ourselves of what it means to take the gospel to our culture and see its ability to use us in our brokenness and failures.

If repentance and faith are our means of relating to God, then these characteristics should lie at the foundation of the life of the church. A repentant and believing church shows how powerful the gospel is by demonstrating that faith and repentance aren’t just things that we did at one point in the past- it’s our working out the salvation begun in us (Philippians 2:12-13). Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you –unless you believed in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-2

Make no mistake about it, your salvation is still happening. Ultimately, these gospel realities show to the watching world that the gospel matters- all the time. If I am truly communing with the Lord in faith and repentance, the people I interact with will see that, quoth the hymn: “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” He will root out the self-righteousness in me and thereby free me to truly engage culture as an humbled minister of reconciliation.

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance. ~ Martin Luther

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