Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Walk in newness

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Friday Afternoon Session from the October 1973 Conference.
Five short sentences that stuck out from Elder ElRay Christiansen's talk, "There is Need for Repentance:"
Without the blessed privilege of repentance, we would have but little incentive to improve our lives. 
Repentance isn’t easy. It takes ability. It takes self-discipline and humility. 
Repentance is not a negative teaching, but rather it is a positive process of building good character.
"It takes ability." That made me think. Repentance is a skill? It takes practice? You can improve at it? Apparently so. Maybe we gain improved "ability" for repentance as we become more sensitive to what we need to repent of? Or maybe as we learn to do it more quickly after having sinned?

If someone were to have asked me, "How do you build good character?" I would probably not have answered "By becoming good at repenting." And yet, how else? You could say, "By doing good things," but that alone won't be enough. The change of heart we need comes through repentance, and realizing that our good is never good enough. Repentance means accepting Christ and our need for Him. That's kind of a new and upside-down way to think about it for me, since I'm usually looking at it from the "I need to be better and make fewer mistakes" end. Maybe instead I should think, "I need to more quickly repent and turn to God after my mistakes!"

There's a scripture in Romans I like. It says, 
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
I've wondered about that phrase "WALK IN newness of life." It implies a perpetual state. I can understand having a rebirth. Being baptized, gaining a "new life," being born again. That makes sense. But to be continually renewed, to actually maintain that "newness," seems a different and more mysterious thing altogether. It seems like a contradiction. Newness is, by definition, something not the same as what came before! So how can we have it all the time? How can I, being over age eight and therefore no longer innocent, MAINTAIN the newness of life I achieved at baptism?

The answer seems obvious in this context, of course. By repentance. Continual, renewing repentance. The only way to not just obtain a spiritual rebirth once, but walk all the way back to God in that same purified state. 

I read these words from C.S. Lewis recently:
Before I became a Christian I do not think I fully realized that one's life, after conversion, would inevitably consist in doing most of the same things one had been doing before: one hopes, in a new spirit, but still the same things.
It struck me as so true. One's conversion does not change one's day-to-day life, not the drudgery of it. Things do not become suddenly grand and heroic. Many of us are blessed to have transcendent experiences from time to time, but as Elder Holland talked about in the most recent conference, we inevitably come down from those heights and have to trudge through our same old furrows. So as Elder Christiansen says, it is the "blessed privilege" of repentance that gives us hope even as we anticipate our repeated failures! It is repentance that constantly allows us that "new spirit" as we go through life doing the same, mundane, mortal things.

Anyone can have newness of life, with a little spurt of spiritual energy.

But only the skilled "repenter" can walk in that newness, all life long.

Other posts in this series:

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