The adjective extreme has become popular in recent years. People are proud of being extreme. They engage in extreme sports, listen to extreme music, and watch “Extreme Makeover.” Church youth groups even called themselves “Generation X-Treme,” which gives you an idea of how long the word has been popular in popular culture, since the oldest examples of Generation X are now over 40.
One of the appeals of extreme sports is the adrenalin rush that they give – something that’s lacking in most church activity. Sure, there are extreme short term missions and extreme street ministry, but most church people don’t engage in those. You have to leave home to try them.
Could there be such a thing as extreme repentance? What would it look like? Zaccheus might be a good biblical example. If he gave half his possessions to the poor and repaid his wrongs four times over, how much could he have left?
A nation could practice extreme repentance by dealing with sins that are too costly to seriously consider. Descendants of slaves and aboriginals have asked for it, but no governments has yet to give its land back to the previous inhabitants, or to pay back wages for forced servitude. Many people prefer to believe that the millions of people systematically killed under their nation’s wartime occupation were unavoidable, casual casualties.
What would extreme repentance look like on a personal level? It would be costly. Soldiers and tobacco farmers rarely question what they do for a living. If they do ask questions, the answer always seems to be “Fine.”
The depth of your repentance depends on what questions you’re willing to ask yourself — and how many you’re willing to answer.
Does my life line up with the Bible in every area? If not, how much do I care?
Before I came to faith, did I have any righteousness of my own?
Do other people need a savior more than I do?
Would I be willing to be called a heretic or cultist for obeying the Bible?
Are my unbelieving ancestors in hell?
Do I have any beliefs or practices that I would refuse to question if God showed me they were wrong?
Would I give up my trade or occupation if I came to believe it didn’t please God?
How far would I be willing to travel from my family’s faith if I were convinced it was false?
Could I pinpoint an area of sin, and call it sin, without knowing yet how I could be freed from it?
Does it matter if I continue to do things that displease God?
Extreme repentance requires extreme grace. For most churches, grace usually turns out to just mean that God overlooks sin. But for those who actually want to leave sin, grace needs to mean more. Grace needs to mean that God changes sinners. Otherwise, it means that God can’t or won’t or can do it only part way or only under certain circumstances. Extreme repentance requires a belief in definitive grace. We couldn’t stand to face our corruption honestly, without self-deception, if we thought we would always be corrupt.