Breaking the Habit
Repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations . . . Luke 24:47
Whenever I meet someone in clinic who has successfully quit smoking, I ask how they did it. Most have tried several times, failing repeatedly, and then committed to some significant change in behavior before finding success. Once free, there are still triggers and temptations, but most who have quit for years have little desire to go back. It took hard work, but through the hard work, their appetite has been radically changed.
There are others though, who one day, simply decided to quit and did so without any difficulty. They just flipped a switch in their brain, and they were done. No hard work. No sacrifice. They just quit. Honestly, I’m a little annoyed by those people.
Both groups of smokers identified destructive behavior, and both turned from that behavior, going the other way. In Christian-speak, we would call this repentance, which in today’s passage, Jesus said is the necessary precursor to being forgiven and entering into a right relationship with God the father.
Paul said we’re saved, not by what we do, but by our faith. Jesus and his brother James though, insisted that true faith will lead to a radical change in behavior – repentance. We don’t have to become perfect all at once to find God. We must, however, recognize our continual need to abandon the old life, if we want to find the new one.
Repentance isn’t something we do just once. Repentance is a continual, daily process in which we turn from our way to follow God’s way. With some struggles, this will be a simple as realizing a behavior is destructive and stopping it. For most of us though, with our significant life struggles, this will be hard work. Like the average smoker, most of us will need to commit to radical life change if we want to live by faith, in recovery from the old life.
We can claim belief, but if we go our entire lives without ever repenting or turning from the old self, do we truly have faith? According to Jesus, authentic faith necessarily leads to transformation, or it is not real. True repentance means continually doing whatever it takes to abandon the old life for the new one. Christ has provided the freedom to follow him, now we must do it.