“Let us fix our thoughts on the blood of Christ; and reflect how precious that blood is in God’s eyes, inasmuch as its outpouring for our salvation has opened the grace of repentance to all mankind”
First Epistle of St. Clement to the Corinthians (c. AD 96) from the reading for Ash Wednesday in The Fathers to the Churches: Daily Spiritual Readings (London: Collins, 1983), pp. 226-227.
This reading is attributed by most scholars to Clement, Bishop of Rome, around the time of the persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Domitian. This letter gives insight into the mind and the practice of the earliest Christians—perhaps by the same Clement whom Paul mentions in Philippians 4:3. It is full of exhortations—including exhortations to read Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthians, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians.
Clement’s exhortation echoes the exhortation of the author of Hebrews to Christians facing persecution, struggles with sin, hardship and shame, and even death on the cross when he wrote:
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:2-3 NIV
Lent is a time to increasingly fix our eyes and our thoughts on Jesus, and all he has done for us. This way we avoid either the pitfalls of a legalism that makes spiritual disciplines “ends-in-themselves” for the sake of religious tradition, or the shallowness of a faith that lives only in the resurrection without Good Friday and in cheap grace without devoted discipleship in the shadow of the Cross. It’s all about Jesus and deepening our relationship with him.
Lent is a time to embrace the grace of repentance. “Repent” is the first word of Jesus’ proclamation of the Good News and his announcement of the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God! (Mark 1:15, Matthew 4:17). Jesus described his mission as a doctor to the soul-sick, to call sinners (all of us) to repentance (Luke 5:32). In the parable of the Prodigal, Jesus described the impact of one sinner repenting as heavenly rejoicing among the Angels of God (Luke 15:10). What a wonderful way to enter into the joy of the LORD this Lent!
But the Bible says even more about the power of repentance. Preaching a baptism of repentance, John the Baptist likened repentance to a powerful call that, like an ax edge, cuts all the way to the root of sin (Luke 3:3, 7-14). Repentance can bring restoration to an individual (Jeremiah 15:19) and healing to a whole nation (2 Chron. 7:14). On Pentecost day, 3,000 people responded to Peter’s invitation to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin with the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-41). Paul described the power of repentance to the Corinthians in this way: Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.”(2 Cor. 7:10). Imagine what it would be like, this Lent, to allow God to give you a vision for what your life and ministry could be, without regrets, through repentance?
Here is what St. Clement has to add from his reading of the Bible about repentance:
“…[God] has confirmed his desire that repentance should be open to every one of his beloved… My brothers, do let us have a little humility; let us forget our self-assertion and braggadocio and stupid quarreling, and do what the Bible tells us instead…”
Repent. Is this not the point of our Lenten observance, to repent and return to Jesus? What would such repentance look like? St. Clement begins to paint the picture to those earliest Christians in Corinth:
“Let us then make haste and get back to the state of tranquility which was set before us as the mark for us to aim at. Let us turn our eyes to the Father and Creator of the universe, and when we consider how precious and peerless are his gifts of peace, let us embrace them eagerly for ourselves.”
How may we make such haste to embrace eagerly the gift of repentance? There are other means of grace, spiritual disciplines that will lead us to that Godly sorrow that leads to repentance—and which together will return us to Jesus. In The Spirit of the Disciplines (New York: HarperCollins, 1988), Dallas Willard describes these disciplines positively and negatively. The classic disciplines of abstinence include solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy and sacrifice. These are the typical disciplines we may think of at Lent, as they all involve “giving up” something (time, talent, treasure, TV, chocolate…)
But repenting and returning to Jesus is not simply a matter of turning away. True repentance always involves turning TO. The Prodigal in Luke 15, not only turned away from the pig-sty but turned his face toward home where his recklessly loving father was waiting to forgive him, embrace him and welcome him home. There are positive disciplines which go hand-in-hand with repentance, disciplines of engagement. These classic disciplines include study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession and submission. Have you considered making this Lent a time to add one or more of these disciplines into your walk with Jesus, that you may repent and return to him?
May the grace and the power of repentance turn each of us back to Jesus in a deeper way this Lent. And may we never forget the purpose for which we repent and return to the Lord in ever deepening ways,
“…to have the great God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ a constant presence in our mind, crowding out every false idea or destructive image, all misinformation about God, and every crooked inference or belief.”
Every thought, every word, every relationship, every breath captive to Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
Let us repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.
 Dallas Willard, The Renovation of the Heart (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002) at p. 112.
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is President & CEO of the American Anglican Council.