This post is the first part in a series called After You Believe. I borrowed the series title from a book by N.T. Wright, but the content is not directly taken from the book. I just liked the title.
A few months ago we bought a new car for my wife. When she went to pick it up, the salesman spent nearly half an hour sitting in the car with her and showing her how to use all of the car’s basic features. He wasn’t being condescending; this is standard procedure for new car purchases. They want to make sure you know how to use the car and that you won’t be driving out of the lot while still trying to adjust the seats or turn on the radio.
They want to make sure you know how to use the thing that you just bought.
I think people want something similar with Jesus.
Over the past few years, I have been asked by more than a few people a question that sounds something like, “Okay, I believe in Jesus. What do I do now?”
What they are asking is, How do I use this new thing that is in my life? Can you sit down with me and walk through the manual? How often should I read the Bible? Where in the Bible should I start? How do I pray? How often should I pray? Do I have to start talking to people differently than before? Can you teach me how to properly use words like ‘holiness,’ ‘sanctification,’ and ‘hermeneutics’? Do I need to start listening to Christian music and wearing cross-shaped jewelry? How many Veggietales DVDs do my kids need to have access to? Do I have to buy any Thomas Kincaid paintings and read all of the ‘Left Behind’ novels?
Basically, they want a list: What do I do, and how do I do it?
There is an assumption that we are supposed to be doing something, and if we are not doing it, then we probably don’t really love Jesus.
In the Bible, when people are invited to participate in the story of God in the world, they are told to repent.
In our world, the word “repent” seems to mean “feel really bad about yourself and try to do better.”
However, in Jesus’ world, it meant something different.
In Hebrew, the word for “repent” is the word t’shuva, which means “to return.”
In the minds of the ancient rabbis—including Jesus—there was this idea that God had created each of us in God’s own image. There was an original vision for who we were made to be, and it was good.
However, at some point in the story of humanity, the original vision was hijacked by something else—something less than human. To repent from this is to turn back towards the versions of ourselves that God had in mind when we were created.
In the Hebrew mind, to repent is to return to our original created identity.
So when someone who has recently chosen to follow Jesus asks, What do I do now? Perhaps the better question is, Who am I becoming?
The hope is that each of us would begin a journey toward becoming who were originally created to be.
Do we read the Bible? Yes, but not because we’re supposed to or because that’s where all the rules are listed. We read the Bible because it reminds us what kind of story we are participating in.
Do we pray? Yes, but not because we’re obligated to pray. We pray because it connects us to the source of all life, and it helps us long for the things that God longs for.
Do we attend church? Yes, but not to get our parents off our backs. We attend church because we were meant to live in community with one another—to share life with the other people who are alive at the same time as us.
Do we give generously? Yes, but not because we owe it to our churches or because someone at the church is tracking who gives what. We give because it makes us more like we were intended to be—generous and open.
The point is not what kinds of things we are doing; the point is who we are becoming.
As Rob Bell says in his book Velvet Elvis,
“Your job is the relentless pursuit of who God has made you to be. And anything else you do is sin and you need to repent of it.” (p. 113).
So to the question of what do we do now, the answer isn’t as simple as a list of chores or a step-by-step guide.
Instead, it’s a challenge that is unique to every person: Become the person God created you to be.
It may take the rest of your life to figure out what exactly that means, but the journey will be worth it.
What images or ideas come to your mind when you hear the word "repent"? Does it call back to televangelists and church drama skits about how you don't want to burn forever? Or is it something else?