Empty Space

By Chuck Griffin

In this season of Lent, the word “repent” comes up on a regular basis. Repentance requires more commitment than we may realize.

In the third chapter of Luke, we see how crowds of people responded to John the Baptist’s call to repent and prepare the way for Jesus’ coming. But when they showed up to be baptized, he called them a “brood of vipers.”

Clearly, there’s a little more to repentance than just showing up. As we read on in Luke, we see more clearly what the hairy, locust-chomping prophet was expecting: a true change of heart, the kind of transformation that results in a change of behavior.

The crowd asked, “What then should we do?”

John the Baptist’s answer was simple. If you’ve got plenty, and the poor around you have none, share! Stop being so greedy. He must have sensed there were a few folks in the crowd who planned to keep their extra cloaks and food despite being baptized.

If you have a job, particularly one where you have power over others, then perform your duties honestly, he went on. The soldiers and tax collectors whom he addressed directly were notorious for abusing their power to commit theft and extortion. Again, he must have seen the desire for sinful gain still glimmering in their eyes.

These were just examples. His main point was, you cannot say “I repent” but then go on with your old, sinful ways. “Repent” means that you regret your past actions and put them aside. Without true repentance, all the water in the Jordan River won’t help you.

Salvation is simple. All you have to do is believe that Jesus’ death on the cross is sufficient to pay for your sins. True belief by its very nature requires a repentant heart, however. If you don’t think the concept of sin, and in particular, your individual sins, are a problem, how can you take seriously the need for the cross?

Think of it this way: Ongoing sin fills up places in you where God needs to be. True repentance creates empty spaces, allowing God to rush in.

Anyone in church knows that we still have much to repent. Sadly, even the really obvious sins—murderous anger, adultery, theft, deception—go on among Christians, within what we call the body of Christ.

And then there’s the more subtle stuff—gossip, slander, greed and refusals to forgive, just to name a few—that can do as much damage long-term as murder can do short-term.

Yes there’s always plenty of repentance needed, even among those who have submitted to the water and taken on the name of Christ. I won’t go so far as to call us a “brood of vipers,” but I wonder if John the Baptist might.

Fortunately, we worship a patient, loving God, one who will grant us the power to change, if only we repent and ask for God’s help.

Lord, as we open ourselves to you, search us and show us what needs to be surrendered. Amen.

You Are That Temple

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NRSV): Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.


Some ideas we considered in last week’s devotionals (and Sunday, if you worshiped with my church, Holston View UMC) come together in a personal way for us in today’s verses from 1 Corinthians.

Last Thursday, we heard the Apostle Peter tell us to behave like “living stones,” joining together to build a spiritual house, with Christ as our foundation. If you heard Sunday the story in the Gospel of John about Jesus cleansing the temple, you should have been reminded of the holiness of that place, and a need for zeal now in regard to the holiness of God.

Today’s reading in this season of Lent tells us that just as Jesus’ body became the new temple, destroyed but rebuilt in three days, the Christian church now acts as God’s temple on earth. The collection of people calling themselves Christian is where God’s Spirit resides and can be met by those seeking God.

The metaphor easily operates on both the corporate and individual levels. If something is holy, every part of it is holy. If it is God’s intent for the church to be holy, it is God’s intent for each individual in the church to be holy.

We of course cannot achieve holiness on our own; that is the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, to make us holy despite our sin. We believe, and it is so. We need to cling to that belief, however, and live in awe of God so that we are making every effort to avoid sin, asking God to give us the power through his Holy Spirit to do so.

There is no doubt sin creeps into our lives and into the church. Satan is relentless. Some of the stones resting on the foundation of Christ become fractured. Let’s go back to the concept of “living stones,” however—those fractures can be healed.

The trick, it seems, is to not crumble in a way where we threaten the holy structure. Church leaders, we who are preachers, teachers and administrators, take special note!

We are trying to use these Monday LifeTalk articles as an opportunity to establish a spiritual practice for the week. This week, let’s do a very Lenten thing. Asking God to guide us, let’s search our souls thoroughly for the sins we need to surrender, making new space for God to be at work.

Not only will we strengthen ourselves, we will strengthen the church as a whole, the temple in which we play an active role.

Lord, we surrender to you. Make us whole and holy so that we may better work with the living stones around us. Amen.