And Call Them to Repentance

Reading through a songbook I stumbled on the now dated chorus “Change My Heart Oh God”, this started me thinking about other songs that mention metaphors of hardhearted, or heart of stone and our need for change to be like God. Then I started down the Twitter rabbit hole where I saw any number of Christians calling others to repentance. I generally am not one who is very excited by these generic praise choruses of the ’80’s-’90’s and they are often maligned for having little if any depth, but I notice that at least in this instance “Change My Heart Oh God” has far more depth than these harsh calls for others to repent. So often I hear people talking about how hardhearted our culture is and their response is a tirade of judgment and criticism. My thought is that is about as much good as a torrential downpour after a six month drought. We all know that when the ground is too hard a hard rain does nothing for the soil, it simply runs off the ground and away in streams; after a drought the ground needs a gentle rain to soften the soil. The same is true when a person is dehydrated, softly sipping water is far better than gulping down glasses. If Jesus is the water to a thirsty soul, then if I suspect a person has lived long without Jesus my best course of action is gentleness. I do not confront the person with the “worst” of their sins, rather I confront the person where they are most looking for change and growth.

I am called to love my neighbor as I do myself and that means recognizing that God did not force me to change completely all at once. I am called to continually pursue God and as I follow the way I will shed the sin that hampers my ability to see God. Implicitly I recognize that God has patience with me and though I might occasionally grieve over my sin and inability to get things right, the daily goal of my journey is to walk in the goodness of my place in the family. In fact, I recognize there is a danger in being too harsh on myself and not accepting God’s mercy and applying that same mercy to my life. If I understand this implicitly about my life then I must “love my neighbor as myself” and explicitly apply the same lesson to others. Does this mean I cannot call out a person for sinful actions and attitudes? No, obviously I can, but there are consequences to calling someone out and the first is that person just became my neighbor.

Too many Christians want to take on the mantle of the portrait of John the Baptist in the Gospels calling people out for sin, baptizing those few who repent and sending them on their way. Yet, they fail to realize that because the Gospels are about Jesus, not John, this is a condensed picture and that John’s ministry was far more intimate. If Jesus could be mistook for John, then their ministries must have looked similar with John tending to people regularly and caring for them the way Jesus did. If I am calling someone out for something in their life that I find sinful I need to follow a Christlike process. First I must be dealing with that sin in my life. Jesus tells us not to try to correct the speck in our brother’s eye without dealing with the plank in our own, this means if if I call out a person for anger, greed, sexual sin, etc. I should be actively dealing with the version of that sin that is at play in my life. Second, if I am confronting the hardness of another person’s heart I need to demonstrate the softness of mine; God confronts my sin in Divine mercy not in threats or wrath. I am convicted in my sin by a God who says, “If you love me you’ll act as I act.” not by a God who threatens to punish me for failure. If my own heart is convicted by not loving as God loves how can I expect that another person will repent by me threatening with wrath? I must model the love that I experience on a daily basis, the mercy to be patient with my shortcomings, and the grace to learn and grow with God.

What I am suggesting is that to call someone to repent and have that call be effective that person must see something in you that shows you have practiced what you are preaching. If that person only sees you as hateful, uncaring, or bigoted then the call to repentance will fall on deaf ears, like a deluge on hard ground. But if you show the person a truly changing heart, and a desire to grow with them, there is a greater chance that individual will allow you to help them experience God.

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