As leader of the relatively new church in Becontree, Mike Reith outlines some of the difficulties in preaching repentance to a multi-cultural council estate east of London.
Here’s our first challenge: we teach Christianity Explained in Farsi on Sundays, bible overview to Iranians, Iraqi and a Mexican mid-week - and ‘Two Ways to Live’ in Bulgarian and Romanian to the Toddler Group! Teaching repentance needs to overcome language, as well as pride barriers.
We also visit homes door-to-door twice a week. We’ve found that native white Brits here are usually atheists. Africans, Muslims and Roman Catholics are often three kinds of Pharisee for whom works-righteousness is repentance (when in fact it is a reason for repentance!). There’s a variety of different thinking about God every 10 yards, and yet repentance must be communicated effectively in each case.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is our ‘one-stop’ answer. It identifies sin as ingratitude (1:21) and idolatry (1:23). And it tells us that understanding God’s kindness is the path to repentance.
With this in mind, we urge everyone to see there are reasons to be very grateful to God. This is right if he made us and has given us everyone and everything we have. This sets us up to suggest our normal response is to enjoy his gifts and not the giver.
It opens the door to say two things about repentance. First, that the gifts themselves can become God-substitutes (e.g. we look to children for joy and purpose in life, not the God who gave them to us). And whatever we look to for our joy instead of God will ultimately disappoint us.
Second, won’t it be unendingly sad to meet God after we die and if, after all he’s given us, we’ve treated him as if he didn’t exist? This puts hell on the map using steps of logic rather than law.
Repentance is ultimately a work of the Holy Spirit rather than persuasive evangelism. Persuading this way doesn’t get conversions, but it does get a hearing. And it opens the door to explaining how Jesus is a further reason to be grateful - because he fixes the relational break-down caused by our ingratitude.
Written by Mike Reith
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