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Posted: December 10, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Grace Notes: Repent! It’s a good thing!

Everyone knows that there’s no surer way to make friends than going around telling people they are wrong, right? OK, I know you’re wiser than that: People hate to hear that they are wrong. They fire back with insults, accusations, rationale and everything else to avoid the dagger of those words. We don’t like to hear that we are wrong, but that’s the message John the Baptist was screaming in our section of Scripture today, from Matthew 3: "Repent." And that’s a message we all need to hear.

Now, you’d think that that message would make John pretty unpopular. But there was something to it. It says that people were flocking out to see him. Think about that, deep down, don’t we all realize that we need to face up to our faults, as uncomfortable as that is. It’s hard because our pride tells us the problem is with everyone else, not me. Our internal lawyer can find every excuse in the book to explain away the things we think and say and do. Our heart’s justice scale likes to compare us to everyone else except the standard of perfection used in God’s judgment. But still, the word screams at us from the pages of Scripture and from all the collateral damage in our lives: Repent!

Why? John gives that answer: "Repent, for the kingdom of God is near." It’s that change of heart that makes room for Christ to rule there.

"Repent!" he says, not just of the few bad things you may do, not just of the little part of you that is sinful. Everything of us is sin. Even the good things that we do look like filthy rags to God if not seen through the blood of Christ. That’s the truth God impressed on Adam and Eve after The Fall, right? Everything would be stained with sin. Work would be stained with sin — as God told Adam that it would happen by the sweat of his brow, thorns and thistles would be the norm. Family life would be stained with sin as God promised Eve would have pain in being a mom… in bearing children and shortcomings in her relationship with her husband. This world would be stained with sin as God’s Word reveals that all creation has been groaning since that day of sin, waiting for the reigning of God to be visible again.

Sin is here. It is obvious in its wages (death), its consequences (hard feelings and tension), and everywhere you look. So we need the preparation John the Baptist gives us. Repent! I know that message sometimes gets lost in the blare of the Christmas music and crowded streets, but it is so essential.

That’s how we get ready. Compare it to the event we’re putting on tomorrow — Christmas 4 Kids (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). The event will be wonderful with crafts and music and games for the kids, the real meaning of Christmas proclaimed and celebrated loud and clear. But what has to happen before that. Today, volunteers will be working, cleaning and setting up and preparing and all the rest. It might not necessarily be fun or easy. But what happens if we don’t do that? We miss out on the opportunity for such a great event. And we don’t want to miss out on something that good.

That same concept applies to the story in our text. John reprimanded the Pharisees and Sadducees for coming out to him when they weren’t ready to listen — they weren’t repentant. Verse 6 tells us that everyone else was coming, hearing John, confessing their sins, and being baptized for a life of repentance — of being ready — of understanding that forgiveness is only a gift from God.

That’s the only way we can be ready for Jesus’ coming. If we are relying on ourselves, we don’t see our need for Jesus and our hearts are not prepared, he’ll never be anything more than a good luck charm to us.

So repent. It’s not just saying some words. Repentance is the state of changed mind and heart that God gives you when he brings you to faith, for a lifetime of living as God’s child, with a changed heart, realizing truly how amazing and gracious and forgiving God is. That’s what our relationship with God is all about. The closer we grow to him, the more it dawns on us that everything good in us is him. It is from him and for him, about him and by him. That’s what repentance is. A change. A turn from looking to ourselves to looking to Him, a flip from relying on ourselves to relying on him, a change from living for ourselves to living for him.

And when God tells you to "Repent" his word has the power to make it happen. So this December, as you prepare to celebrate Christmas, open up God’s Word; come and hear it. It has the power to change your heart, to cause you to "Repent!"

It’s a good thing. It means your heart is ready to receive all the good God has to give.

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