Changing your life for good (for the better), and for good (in a way that lasts) requires coming first to the God who made you. Any life-change you pursue without him might seem to work for awhile, 70 or 80 years at best, but then you’ll die and discover you were an eternal soul after all, and what will you do then? When you walk away from God, you’re sawing off the limb you’re sitting on.
Then you need God’s bread, i.e. his Word. You need the directions that Scripture provides for your journey, and then the Bible does you one better by giving you strength for the journey.
Then you need to brace yourself for suffering (‘drink of the wine I have mixed’.) This journey will ask difficult things of you. Painful things. Things you’d rather not face, but face them you must if you’re to become the man or woman you’re capable of becoming. And here’s why it’s hard. The journey requires you to stop doing what you were doing and move your life in a new direction.
“Leave your simple ways behind and you will live.”
Christians call this repentance. Repenting isn’t just saying, “You’re sorry”. The abuser who apologizes to his wife, but then returns to his violence hasn’t repented at all. Confession is just the front-half of repenting. The back-half is learning to live differently.
When John the Baptist summoned his listeners to repent, he added that those who were stingy had to start sharing, tax collectors who were defrauding people had to stop their larceny, and soldiers who were using their power to push people around had to stop abusing their authority.
Welcome to the journey. Because changing habits, behaviors, thoughts and attitudes seldom go away overnight.
“If anyone would be by disciple,” Jesus said, “he must pick up his cross daily and follow me.” Daily, as we spend time with Jesus, we ask him to search us, try us, cleanse us. Then when he brings something to light through his Word, or through the voice of His Spirit, or through the influence of our traveling companions, we acknowledge it, confess it, then ask for his help in overcoming it.
“Repentance is a lifestyle.” ~ Martin Luther
Some sins fall off easily. They peel off like sunburned skin. Other sins are imbedded deep like cancer, and the surgery needed to remove it will not be easy. That’s how I learned to overcome anger. That’s how I’ve learned to keep lust in check. That’s how I’ve learned to love my wife. I’m not perfect in any of these areas, but I’m much further along than I ever was before.
Repentance is never a one and down thing. Martin Luther said “Repentance is a lifestyle.” Life-change is a continual battle. Sometimes I look like William Wallace at the end of a battle in Braveheart. I’m scarred, I’m bloodied, I’m sweat-stained, I’m smelly – but I can raise my sword and shout in glory to God – freedom!
The good news of repentance is that anyone can do this. Earlier in Proverbs 9, the writer personifies Wisdom. Verse 3 says, “Wisdom has sent out her maids and she calls from the highest point of the city. ‘Let all who are simple come in here!’ she says to those who lack judgment.’”
The life-changing power of Jesus Christ is available to anyone who comes to him. It’s not just for the rich. Or for the educated. Or for those who are religious. (Pastor Pete Scazzero says it’s possible to use God to run from God? You should ponder that one.)
“How hard it is for the rich to inherit the kingdom of God,” Jesus said. Probably because the rich, the smart, the powerful, the religious, and the beautiful cannot bring themselves to repent, because they see nothing in themselves that needs to change. And so the beast of their sin roams uncaged inside their souls.
The shame of it is that what Jesus is offering – forgiveness and freedom – is accessible and available to anyone who asks for it.