Remembrance Day – or should it be “Repentance Day”?

On Remembrance Day we’re asked to honour the memory of those who gave their lives in the fight against evil.

But why were so many Christians involved in taking up arms and killing people? How were they convinced that killing another human being in war is approved by God?

A favourite Scripture used to justify Christians killing people in war has been John 15:13, that “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” “Friends” in that verse is taken to mean the people back home and your buddies in the trenches. You can fight to kill, therefore, when it comes to protecting your own.

But is it all right to kill fellow Christians who are fighting on the side of the enemy? The German forces in World War 2, for instance, were full of Christians, as were both sides of the Civil War in the United States. So Christians were killing Christians, and in horrific ways too, bombing, shooting, burning, poisoning, maiming, knifing, bayoneting, bludgeoning, breaking necks and strangling. But weren’t all these Christians supposed to be “friends”? By Christ’s definition of “friends” in John 15, yes, they were. Jesus was talking to his disciples when he said in verse 12, “Love each other as I have loved you.”

So what changed for his disciples today, or does “Christians loving each other as Christ loves us” no longer apply when war breaks out?

Well, why wouldn’t it apply? But for some reason millions of Christians in Germany felt killing was justified, even against fellow Christians, and millions of Christians in the Allied forces felt killing was justified in defence.

But what if the 60 million Christians in Germany in 1939 said, “We can’t fight against a Christian country, because the Christians in it are our friends. As their friends, therefore, we’d rather sacrifice our own lives on their behalf than kill them.”

It should have happened according to John 15:12-13, but it didn’t. And the result was the greatest massacre of Christians at each other’s hand that the world has ever seen.

All that well-meaning bravery exhibited in war, therefore, is, for Christians, a terrible reminder on Remembrance Day of how blatantly and brutally Jesus’ command in John 15 was broken by Christians. But the day need not be wasted if it’s treated as a Repentance Day as well, where in all the churches in all the countries where Christians went to war there is confession and repentance, enough to stop us Christians killing each other in war ever again, in remembrance of Jesus’ command to love each other as he loves us, not as the world dictates.

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Is repentance something we do?

Does salvation depend on our repentance and faith? It seems so in Acts 2:38, where it looks like repentance is something we must do before we can be forgiven. And again in Acts 3:19, that we must repent to have our sins blotted out, as though repentance is a condition we must fulfill before our salvation kicks in. Is repentance a work we must do, therefore, as a prerequisite to our salvation?

Repentance is a must, no doubt about that, but how can we – as lifetime enemies of God (Romans 5:10), with minds in captivity to sin (Romans 7:11, 23), and living to gratify the cravings of our sinful nature while totally under the sway of the devil (Ephesians 2:2-3) – repent?! Repentance is the last thing a human mind is capable of. Oh, we may feel remorse for doing bad things, but willingly turn one’s entire life toward God (Acts 3:19)? What human is capable of doing that?

No human is. Romans 8:7 tells us flatly that we’re hostile to God. The diabolical influence of our sinful nature has imprisoned us in a body of death that “does not submit to God’s law, NOR CAN IT DO SO.” In other words, we can’t repent. We’re so “weakened by our sinful nature,” verse 3, that even God’s law can’t change us. We are “by nature objects of wrath,” Ephesians 2:3. “But,” verse 4, “GOD made us alive even when we were dead in transgressions – it is power that HE has exercised for us believers.” It takes God’s power to enable us to repent, because we’re helpless and “dead in our transgressions.”  It’s the “goodness of GOD that leads us to repentance,” Romans 2:4, not our goodness or our noble desire. It is “GODLY sorrow that brings repentance that leads to salvation,” 2 Corinthians 7:10, not ours. “Worldly sorrow” – the only kind we’re capable of – “brings death,” same verse.

So why would Peter yell out to people to “Repent” when they couldn’t repent? Because, Acts 2:36, the crucified Jesus was now the glorified Lord and Christ, whose job it was from God “to bless you by turning each of you from his wicked ways,” Acts 3:26. WHO was doing the turning? Jesus was. Who was turning their minds away from self to God? Jesus was. Who was creating the Godly sorrow and Godly repentance they so desperately needed? It was the “one who has been appointed for you – even Jesus,” verse 20.

In other words, it was all Jesus’ doing, not theirs. Jesus was GIVING them repentance. It was all part of the great gift of salvation that God had given them in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). Peter could yell “Repent,” because Jesus had given them the heart to repent.