By Cindy Koch –
Just a scroll through Pinterest, and that was all it took. I was simply looking for a new Sunday School craft and I was suddenly distracted by a fun object lesson involving water. You have probably seen it. A jar of dirty water, representing our personal mess of sin. But along comes another jar, a clean, clear jar of water, untainted by sin. The perfect clean water is poured into the dirty water, and your murky water jar turns white as snow.
As much as I like the imagery of sin disappearing, especially for younger children, there was one little labeling problem. The dirty water jar was labeled, “you,” but the clean water jar was labeled, “repentance.” The whole object lesson was to show what your repentance does and how your clean heart is rendered. A cleansing and washing away of sin, but the categories did not seem quite right.
Christ is the one who washes away sin. Christ is the one who makes the dirty clean again. Christ should be the name on the clean bottle of water, not repentance. Yet, I took a moment to consider, how could a teacher of the faith mistake “repentance” for the work of Christ? After some reflection, I guess it is not as far-fetched as I initially thought.
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). We proclaim and profess we are sinners. We are sorry for our sins. This is repentance. Without it, we would not know we needed a savior. We would not understand His faithfulness and His forgiveness had we not repented of our sins. Repent! John the Baptist says. Repent! Even Jesus says. The Kingdom of God is at hand. If you are not repentant, you will miss it.
Searching a little more down this rabbit hole of Pinterest theology, I found several helps to make sure we are really getting the most out of our repentance. I found several pins boasting, “Steps to Repentance”: feel sorry, ask forgiveness, right the wrong, do not repeat the wrong. Guidance: if you are not repenting right, if have not repented enough. Warnings: without repentance you are probably missing out on the forgiveness that follows. You are probably missing out on Christ altogether.
Now I understood a little more why the clean jar of water was labeled “repentance” in this Pin. Repentance is understood to be the key to unlocking the forgiveness of Christ. Repentance is to be paid before one receives the freedom of the Gospel. Repentance is what will save you from your sin.
And I have even heard this form the mouth of Christians. But are you really sorry? Have you repented of your sin? Have you felt sorry enough to deserve the blessings of Jesus? As much as that transactional forgiveness makes sense to us – I will pay you repentance if you pay me forgiveness – this is not how Jesus forgives you.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented (Matthew 3:13-15).
Jesus stepped into the water of the Jordan to repent. John knew this was backwards. Jesus had nothing to repent of! John was simply preparing the way for the very Savior of the world! Why did Jesus go through a baptism of repentance? This was to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus did this to fulfill all righteousness and repentance for you.
Repentance is finished in Christ. You do not have to worry if you are doing it well enough, often enough, feeling sorry enough. Christ repented perfectly for you. Christ forgave you while you were still a sinner. Christ already righted your every wrong.
Our repentance does not make a difference in the cleansing of our sin. Our degree of sorrow and regret does not change or intensify the gift Christ delivers. While it is true we are able to recognize our desperate need and our incredible sin, this is not the power to blot out our transgressions through our own repentance. Christ alone is our Savior.
So, if we can understand that clean, clear Pinterest water jar as Christ’s perfect “repentance” justly punished by death on a cross once and for all, then sure… pour away.