Hey there Bethel, it’s Derek! I’m a Richland Campus Elder and I serve here in the high school ministry. Thanks for joining me today as we wrap up week 5 of the 1% Life series about living out our faith in Jesus. If you’ve been following along in the podcast this week, we have been working our way through Romans 12 and observing the ways that a life transformed by Jesus reaches our heart, mind, affections, will, relationships, and purpose, while the 1% Life workbook has given you the opportunity to contemplate how Jesus has changed and is changing those areas in your own life, right now. Today, we’ll finish our reading of Romans 12 and put all of these pieces together as we consider the most important cycle in the life of a Christian: repentance and belief.
As I sit here considering Romans 12 and I glance over at my shelf to see my movie collection, there are no shortage of movies about revenge. Everything from comedic crime capers like the Ocean’s 11 movies, to westerns, like The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, to the most famous movie franchise in the world right now being literally title The Avengers...it seems like everyone feels entitled to some sort of outlet for their anger, whether against an individual who has wronged them or a system that has held them down. Into this seemingly culturally acceptable mindset flashes Romans 12 verses 19 through 21 to offer us a different perspective. Join me as I read the words written by Paul to the believers in Rome who, at the time, were being beaten and murdered by their government simply for their belief in Jesus:
Romans 12: “19Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. 20But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. 21Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”
In this passage, Paul understands the desire within the hearts of the Christians in Rome to fight back against an oppressive government who was persecuting them. They may have even felt they were expressing their anger in a righteous way by desiring justice for themselves as an oppressed people, and vengeance against the government doing the oppressing. Into this mindset and desire of the heart, Paul calls the believers in Rome, people that he calls his friends, to the pattern of repentance and belief.
First, he calls out their actions: “do not avenge yourselves.” When we recognize in our lives behaviors that do not align with the way Jesus lived, or maybe like Paul we have others in our lives call us out on these things, we should immediately stop that behavior. This is good and right to do. But while simply stopping bad behavior or quitting wrong actions may work to improve our lives for a little while, what Paul tells us here is that there is more to repentance and belief than just life improvement, than simply trying hard to be better. It may be possible without Jesus to simply stop doing bad things when we recognize them. But I’m sure we all have had those moments in life when we question: why do I keep falling back into this behavior that I don‘t like? Why can’t I clean up my life and just have it stay clean? Why does it keep getting dirty again?
The act of repentance is so much more than just recognizing and changing our bad behavior. While Paul told the Roman Christians to stop trying to avenge themselves, he then reminded them of a truth about God from the book of the law in Deuteronomy where Moses declared that for God: “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.” What the Roman Christians failed to recognize wasn’t just their bad actions, but the heart of disbelief in God that was causing those bad actions. They had forgotten that vengeance belongs to God, not to them. They had forgotten about the character of God. They had forgotten that He is sovereign, meaning He controls all things, that He is omnipotent, meaning He has power over all things, and that He is working for their good and His glory.
Repentance isn’t just feeling sorry for our sin and the bad actions we have done. True Christian repentance recognizes the patterns in our heart of disbelief in God. The Roman Christians belief in God was too small! They thought they had to be God’s avenging hand. What they needed to repent from was their disbelief in the person and work of God. This is repentance. Recognizing and admitting not just our bad behavior, but the way our hearts have minimized the person and work of Jesus, which led to that behavior.
After repentance then, our response is to believe again in the bigness of Jesus! For the Roman Christians, they were to believe again that vengeance belongs to God, not to them. This means that they no longer had to fight and claw to carry out vengeance on their own, but they could rest in what God was already doing. And the way that this belief should affect their life was instead of being angry at their oppressors, they would actually care for them! They would feed and serve them, offering radical grace in the face of unspeakable wrong being done against them. But these new actions aren’t just a change in behavior to eliminate the bad, but they now flow from a heart that sees Jesus as the one who is in control. When we recognize that before Jesus, we deserved God’s vengeance for not living perfectly, but we have been given grace and new life through Jesus' death and resurrection, how could we not extend that same grace to others? Even those who oppress us to the point of death?
This pattern of repentance and belief should now define us as Christians. Let’s pray that it does...