A few years ago I read an article on the quest of American farmers to produce the biggest, reddest, and most luscious-looking strawberries through cross breeding and genetic modification. The result? They succeeded! American growers engineered huge, red strawberries that delight the eyes – but not the mouth. In the process of focusing so much on the looks of strawberries they sacrificed their flavor and sweetness. In many cases the genetic information that naturally produced the flavor and sugars in strawberries has been lost.
This is somewhat analogous to a dilemma in Evangelical circles. We, Evangelicals, have so emphasized changing behavior rather than changing hearts – that we’ve robbed Christianity of its sweetness and joy.
In our pursuit to change the sinner’s outward life, we’ve created “prerequisites for salvation” – e.g. “You must change your ways first and turn from your sins before God will forgive you.”
We’ve done this by redefining the meaning of such critical terms like “repentance.”
The original meaning of the English word “repent” is “to be remorseful for one’s actions or words, to have second thoughts about what we have done and to grieve over it.”
This is the same meaning of the Latin (paenitere) and French (repentir) words, from which the English word is derived.
The biblical words are the Hebrew nacham (“to regret, change one’s mind,” or, “to comfort”) and the Greek metanoeo (“to think afterward – have second thoughts, to change one’s mind”). The word implies sorrow for sin and humility before God.
It is exemplified by the penitent tax-collector, who (at the time) exhibited no change in behavior but grieved over his sins and cried out, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13). And Jesus states that, because of his true repentance, he went to his home “justified in God’s sight” (Luke 18:14).
But Evangelicals have redefined “repent” as, “to turn away from sin and turn to God” or “to change one’s ways.” This emphasis on outward change, before God’s inner transformation of our heart, perverts biblical Christianity into a legalistic religion, in which we must first “get well” before the Great Physician will accept us. We must first “clean up our lives” before Christ will apply His blood to our hearts. It requires us to behave like born-again children of God while we’re still unregenerate children of wrath. We must get rid of the symptoms of sin, before the disease of sin is cured. In truth, however, God accepts us as we are and changes us from within.
Another theologically important word Evangelicals have redefined is “faith”. We just cannot trust God to do His miraculous work in the hearts of sinners. We think we must intervene and remind sinners that “It’s not enough to believe with your heart”. Or we tell them that, “faith in Christ means obeying Him and doing His will”. But the Book of Romans tells us clearly that we cannot obey Christ, or do his will, until God inwardly transforms us and empowers and renews us by His Holy Spirit. We cannot change our ways until God changes our hearts.
“Those who live by the corrupt nature have the corrupt nature’s attitude. But those who live by the spiritual nature have the spiritual nature’s attitude. The corrupt nature’s attitude leads to death. But the spiritual nature’s attitude leads to life and peace. This is so because the corrupt nature has a hostile attitude toward God. It refuses to place itself under the authority of God’s standards because it can’t. Those who are under the control of the corrupt nature can’t please God. But if God’s Spirit lives in you, you are under the control of your spiritual nature, not your corrupt nature,” (Romans 8:5-9, GW).
It is only by our faith in what Jesus has done for us, embracing His finished work on the cross, that this salvation and change of heart is brought about by God’s Holy Spirit.
Have you tried and failed to keep the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, or measure up to your perception of God’s standards? Well, give up! It’s hopeless!
God’s standard is perfection – “You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48). But don’t despair. Jesus assures us, “Blessed are those who recognize they are spiritually helpless. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them,” (Matthew 5:3).
If you’re a “spiritual wreck”, if you are empty and dead inside – then Jesus is telling you He has something to give you free of charge – the Kingdom of Heaven.
God does not put a price tag on His love.
‘The Lord says, “I will cure them of their unfaithfulness. I will love them freely. I will no longer be angry with them,”‘ (Hosea 14:4). Charged to Christ’s account, but free to us, God offers to forgive you, make you righteous, and transform your heart by the power of the Holy Spirit.
You cannot earn this. You cannot add to this. It’s all you need and all God requires. “Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent,” (John 6:29, NKJV). Biblical Christianity is the work of God, not the work of man.
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, thank You that anyone who comes to You will never be turned away. Thank You, that You came to call sinners, not the righteous. Please forgive my sins. Thank You that You save the sick, not the healthy. Thank You that to those who are spiritually helpless and destitute belong the Kingdom of Heaven. Please cleanse me. Please save me. Amen.
Information from “Mutant Strawberries: They’re big, but how do they taste”? WFAE News 90.7, April 25, 2012