In early November, Judy and I acquired a little puppy. She was small and cuddly, mostly black, but with white markings on her face, neck, chest and paws. Now about five months old, she is losing her puppy teeth. She still continues to grow – in stages. One day her hindquarter is taller than her front. The next day her tail seems to have extended. On another day she seems to have stretched. One day she’ll grow into her huge paws – but they keep growing! Yesterday, Mini had another great accomplishment – with her back paws on the ground, Mini furiously climbed up upon my wheelchair with her fore paws and surprised me with a big wet kiss in the face!
It’s been a lot of fun watching Mini grow. We’ve also gotten a lot of enjoyment hearing her run about the house. Her big paws thumping on the hardwood floors in a rhythmic pattern somehow please me. I like big dogs. And big paws on puppies means big dogs!
If you know the Slawters, you know that we’ve had Great Danes for many years. By now we’ve learned that they tend to be strong-willed at first and must be trained as they grow. If you wait until they are full-grown, it’s too late. Consequently, we are in the slow long process of training Mini. Some days go better than others. Sometimes Mini is very quick to please and on others not so much. Sometimes she’s just playful and sometimes she’s just bad – she knows what she should do but just doesn’t want to do it.
For instance, like most great Danes, Mini has no appreciation for God’s gift of rain. So when Judy tries to put her outdoors, Mini balks and refuses. Instead of going outside to do her doggie business, she prefers to be inside. Like I said, this is a long slow process which requires persistence and diligence (and paper towels) by us. (By us I mean by Judy, as I am not much help other than to supervise!). The process also involves learning and training on Mini’s part. But no matter what, good day or bad day, Mini is our dog and we are committed to her training. Our objective is that she learns to obey, not out of fear, but because she delights in our applause and approval.
My relationship with Mini in many ways mirrors my relationship with God. The roles are reversed, of course, but I marvel at God’s patience and persistence in training (sanctifying) me. This is God’s work – a process of making me like Jesus. I have been adopted into God’s family because of his grace in Christ. As I learn to live in his family I have good days and bad days – sometimes good hours or moments and bad hours or moments. Sometimes I do what I know I shouldn’t and at other times I do better. By God’s grace, I trust that I am developing and am less stubborn and rebellious. I am thankful that I am being trained by a loving heavenly Father; I want to obey to please my master!
A major difference between Mini and me is that, as a follower of Jesus, I have received God’s love and commitment. I have heard Jesus say (in his Word, the Bible – Mark 1.15), “Repent and believe the gospel.”
The archaic English of the Westminster Confession of Faith’s Shorter Catechism graphically explains:
Repentance unto life is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, and upon the apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, he so grieves for and hates his sins, as that he turns from them all to God, purposing and endeavoring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience. (Q&A 76)
To summarize in modern English: real repentance is a gift of God’s Spirit working through his Word so that we (sinners) recognize not only the danger but also the stinking rottenness of rebellion against God. At the same time, recognizing and grasping God’s mercy in Christ, we are truly sorry for and repulsed by our sins. Thus, we turn to God and commit ourselves to live in obedience to him by living for his pleasure and not our own.
Jesus taught about repentance in the familiar “Parable of the Prodigal Son.” After explaining the son’s initial revolt and its devastating consequences, a young rebel comes to the end of himself and repents.
““But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:17–20, ESV)
I love the balance of the catechism’s answer because it reflects the teaching of Jesus. It stresses the “filthiness and odiousness of sin” in the light of God’s mercy to us in Christ! Oh God, help me to run to you when I realize that I’ve rebelled against you. Thank you that you abound in love and mercy; you delight to show forgiveness to your children.