John the Baptist bellowed out a one-size-fits-all message to everyone who walked 10 miles to hear him: “Repent!”
And it has become a stock joke of political cartoonists ever since: the wild-eyed, scraggly bearded, animal skin–clad street preacher wearing the sandwich board and warning of the end of the world.
But Jesus picked up the same message after the hirsute prophet was thrown in prison:
“Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
And the Spirit said it all through the years of God’s dealings with men:
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, and for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).
Isaiah shows that “Repent!” doesn’t mean just confessing but “forsaking.” And not only forsaking our “way” but also our “thoughts.” It means a 180-degree turn: “Let him return to the LORD.”
Repenting takes initiative. It takes—shall I say it—effort. Without the forceful use of the will, the inertia of life is such that repenting will never happen. We tend to be creatures who live on autopilot, creatures of habit. Every morning in the shower we think the same things—the same unproductive tapes that never advance us a whit in our growth in godliness. This is all we know. This is all we thought we could do. Can we actually do better? Can we actually repent? Can we actually “forsake our way” and “forsake our thoughts”?
In Oswald Chambers’ classic book of meditations, My Utmost for His Highest,he wrote that it takes “determination” to reach be our utmost for His highest:
“To get there is a question of the will, not of debate nor of reasoning, but a surrender of will, and absolute and irrevocable surrender on that point.”
We don’t talk much about “the will,” but what Chambers said is nothing more than what Jesus said, and John, and the Spirit through Isaiah. Let us dare to exercise our wills forcefully to “forsake” our way of doing things in favor of His way, and our way of thinking in favor of His way. We will find it is not necessary to play the same tapes in the shower every day. We can actually forsake it. That’s what grace is for.