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Lent, as well as Advent, is a season of repentance. Advent: “Consider your actions! The Savior is about to arrive! Wash away your sins in God’s mercy. Live for Him!” It’s repentance in anticipation of and relief in the rescuing Savior’s arrival. Lent: “The Savior is about to die in agony in His mission to give you, even you, an escape from the doom you deserve—in His blood you are spared! Consider your actions. Cling to Jesus for forgiveness. Live for Him!” It’s repentance, with the somber realization that your rescue called for your Rescuer’s death. It took His death—or, shall we say, took His life—to save you.

What exactly is repentance? To repent literally means to “re-think” a matter. Christian repentance—re-thinking—involves three elements:

1) Lord, I have done wrong. I have acted contrary to Your will. I admit it.

2) Lord, I am “sorry,” I am “sorrowful” that I have disobeyed. It’s not just regret for the negative consequences I face, but sorrow for having broken the directives You lovingly entrusted to me.

3) Lord, I am unable to right the wrong I have done. Although I do it over a thousand times and do it right each time, I cannot erase the failure. I have no “credit balance” before You upon which I can draw. I meekly ask for mercy and pardon. Forgive me. I dare ask this only through my crucified and risen Jesus.

Dear sinner, for Jesus’ sake the Father mercifully forgives and removes from your record all your trespasses—that is, your crossing the line. He removes all your sins—that is, your missing the target. He removes all your iniquities—that is, your being unequal to His expectations. In Jesus there is relief!

Consider a man unexpectedly released from prison because another, who is not guilty, willingly “does the time.” How wretched if the freed man were to say, “Thanks, fool!” and walk away. Rather it would be a time for humble and solemn reflection on what had just taken place—an unmerited kindness to help the helpless. Lent is a season during which we humbly and solemnly ponder the unmerited “forgiven status” and “not-guilty status” rendered to us in exchange for the “guilty verdict” rendered to Jesus and willingly suffered by Him. That is why we read and hear the passion history (in its original sense, the “suffering” history) of our Lord at services during Lent. We review the record and the meaning of the Lord’s surrender to death for us.

During Lent, re-think your daily life, your actions, your words, your thoughts. Realize your relief in Jesus! You are forgiven! Live as the Lord wills, in devotion to the Redeemer Who paid the price for you,

The Old Testament book of Judges displays a sad pattern. The people of Israel repeatedly turned to other gods. The Lord sent oppressive nations against them to bring them to their knees. They cried out to Him for forgiveness and help. The Lord forgave. He sent deliverers, rescuers, judges (Gideon, Deborah, Samson, and others.) However, when the deliverer died, Israel again turned away from the Lord. The pattern continued for centuries, until the majority of Israel repented no more. They no longer re-thought their sin and situation, but plunged forward to their own great harm. Recognize the pattern? “Repenting, being forgiven through Jesus, following for a time, then off the road again.” Do not foolishly turn away from Jesus, Who lovingly saved you from your oppressors: sin, sin’s wages (death), Satan, and hell. During Lent re-think your life and situation, cling to Jesus by faith, and lovingly obey Him. Continue to do so all your life. Do not say, “Thanks, fool” and walk away.

Richard Kanzenbach is pastor of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Lemmon, South Dakota.