Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved. (Matthew 9:16-17)
Relate: What does the word repent mean to you? Even though I know better, I still associate the word with feeling sorry and asking forgiveness. My mind can go back to altars where I wept out tears before God for something I had done, or for patterns of thought or behavior I could not break. I would cry and feel deep remorse, I would lay it all out on that altar. I would make vows of change. Then I would feel better, get up, and continue on my way.
In many ways, there isn’t really anything wrong with this. It is definitely an important step in repentance. Sometimes, those moments did actually lead to true repentance. There were moments at certain altars that actually did alter the course of my life. Even those far more frequent times when nothing permanent or lasting came out of my sorrow, I am grateful for the moment. Times like those have kept, and continue to keep my heart soft and sensitive. If I have gone more than a few months without some moment of deep, godly sorrow it does not mean that my life has improved to the point where such tears are unnecessary. Far more likely, it means my heart has become hard enough that my sin no longer breaks it.
Actually, the Hebrew word for repent connotes a thought that is not simply to turn but rather to return. It is to come back. The imagery for this is found throughout the Old Testament: The Israelites from Egypt and then Babylon. Gomer’s wife. Jeremiah’s prophecies. Multiple points in Ezra and Nehemiah. David repenting of exiling Absalom. We see the concept also in the New Testament most poignantly with the Prodigal Son. Although Jesus almost certainly taught in Aramaic and possibly also in Hebrew, the New Testament was written in Greek and so we can’t discount the thought intention behind the word the gospel writers used when quoting him saying “repent”. The word they used is to think or to see in a completely new way. As one New Testament scholar puts it: “To go beyond the mind that you have”. So if you are to combine these two thoughts, repentance is not simply to feel sorry for what you are doing and to ask forgiveness. It is to return from exile to God and to begin seeing the world in a completely new way.
React: How often in my life, in our lives, do we simply want to patch up the mess that we are in rather than to step into something completely new? I have been headed down this wrong road and it has gotten bumpy, so God I repent, smooth this road out for me. These rags I call my righteousness are getting quite torn and tattered. God, please patch them us for me. Our repentance does not lead to a new life but simply a request that He makes us better in the life we have. I’m sorry but that does not work. It is time to throw away those old wineskins. It is time to strip out of those old rags. God doesn’t simply want to fix up that old thing. He has something completely new and different in store.
You have not come simply to make my bad life better. You did not come simply to make my old mind purer. You have a completely new life in store for me. But in order to lay hold of it, this life I’ve got has to die. This road I am on needs to be abandoned. God, give me the courage to do so. I don’t simply want a patchwork improvement, I want something completely new. Help me to step into it.