Repent or Perish!

August 24, 2012

As Paul is explaining justification by faith in Romans, he still expects people to repent. He asks, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4, ESV)? So what is repentance?

One of the best ways to define repentance is to see its New Testament usage. John the Baptist commanded, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8a, ESV). The fruits of repentance are evidenced in his answers to various groups. They are sharing food and clothing, not collecting more tax than authorized, not abusing authority, and not giving false testimony (Luke 3:10-14). In 2 Corinthians Paul teaches, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10, ESV). Grief alone is not enough as seen in the life of Judas (see Matthew 27:3-5). One author has well defined repentance as “an act of the soul which takes place between ‘godly sorrow,’ on one side, and the ‘fruits meet for repentance,’ on the other.”1 Repentance is a change of mind that leads to changed behavior.

Further, repentance is linked with salvation.

No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Luke 13:3, ESV

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38, ESV

Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out… Acts 3:19, ESV

See also passages like Acts 11:18, Acts 17:30, and Acts 26:18-20.

For some saying repentance is necessary for salvation is troubling. For example Zane Hodges states, “Faith alone (not repentance and faith) is the sole condition for justification and eternal life.”2 Yet his statement doesn’t square with the evidence of the above passages.

Faith/trust is the means to salvation as opposed to merit/works. As a means it is also a condition, but that doesn’t exclude the possibility of other conditions being revealed that are consistent with trust. Repentance obviously is consistent with trust. In fact, how can I say that I trust Jesus and God and follow their way, if I haven’t changed my mind yet about the sin in my life? We need to take Jesus’ words seriously—repent or perish!

1H.W. Everest, “Repentance—Its Nature, Conditions and Necessity,” The Old Faith Restated, I:170

2Absolutely Free!, p. 144

Course Corrections

March 16, 2012

Do you make mistakes? I do, and I don’t think I’m being presumptuous to say that you do also, since it is a part of the Bible’s teaching (see 1 John 1). The question, then, is how do we respond to correction. Take, for example, the case of Peter.

Peter has the mountain top experience of confessing to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Yet, when Jesus begins to teach about his death and resurrection, Peter is overconfident enough to rebuke Jesus. Jesus responds, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not intent on the things of God but on human things.” (See Matthew 16:13-23.) The words had to have hurt. Peter finds himself as the embodiment of the Tempter attempting to thwart God’s plans. Peter makes a course correction and embraces the things of God.

Peter weeps bitterly after denying Jesus three times. He had made the audacious boast that if everyone else falls away, he would never fall away. Peter claimed he would die with Jesus and never deny him. So after breakfast following the resurrection, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” (See John 21:15-17.) The three questions correspond to the three denials. In fact, Peter is grieved by being asked the third time. Gone is the bravado. When Jesus asks, “Do you love me more than these,” Peter answers with a simpler, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” With each affirmation of love, Jesus gives Peter a task: feed my lambs, shepherd my sheep, and feed by sheep. Peter makes a course correction and expresses his love for Jesus.

But despite Peter’s growth and display of great courage in the first persecution of the church, Peter is still capable of making a mistake. While in Antioch, Peter withdraws his table fellowship from Gentile Christians when certain men from James arrived on the scene (Galatians 2:11-14). The issue is table fellowship. Jews did not eat with Gentiles, and these Gentile Christians were not circumcised, so the traditions about table fellowship were wrongly upheld by some. What is striking about this is that Peter was the one who made the first Gentile convert and had to defend his actions in Jerusalem. Paul doesn’t give Peter’s response to correction, but I think given the rest of the New Testament, we can assume what it was. Peter makes a course correction and affirms the gospel as revealed by God.

Lead me not into temptation is, of course, our prayer. But when mistakes happen, may the destination to be with Christ be so important, that we humbly, quickly, and joyfully make the necessary course corrections.

The Regret of Judas

February 3, 2012

Judas regretted what he had done, or he changed his mind, or he repented (Matthew 27:3). The exact wording will depend on your translation. The word that is used is a synonym of the usual word for repent in the New Testament, and it is difficult to distinguish the two synonyms. The word used of Judas seems to have a range of meaning from the feelings of regret to the change of mind, which is what repentance is.*

For the reader of Matthew, the word is first encountered in the parable of two sons who are told to go work in the vineyard (Matthew 21:28-32). The first son says he won’t go, but later changed his mind and went (verse 29). Here is an example of genuine repentance.

As we look at the case of Judas, there are some positive signs of repentance as well. Judas returned the thirty pieces of silver. As Jack P. Lewis in his commentary on Matthew noted it was a “paltry sum” in comparison to what Judas traded, but it still amounted to about four months’ wages for a laborer. It was no small amount to part with once it was already in your pocket. Judas also confessed to the chief priests and elders, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”

So what went wrong? Judas’ regret didn’t lead him back to God. Instead, he took his own life. He took vengeance out on himself instead of leaving it for God, which by the way, also means leaving room for grace to intervene. The Jesus who forgave Peter, the denier, and Paul, the persecutor, would seem to have sufficient grace for a Judas, the betrayer. Judas ended his life before Jesus’ resurrection —before the full power of the good news was known.

Judas seems to be the poster child for Paul’s teaching on grief and repentance.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:10, ESV

What we do with grief and regret is important? Turn it in the wrong direction, and it leads to death. Turn it in the right direction, and it leads to forgiveness and salvation. Regret is not enough. Grief is not enough. The feelings of regret and the inward changes must lead us in God’s direction to God’s solution.

*The Greek word is metamelomai. The usual verb for repent in the New Testament is metanoeo.

When Tyrants Rage and Buildings Fall

March 18, 2011

When tyrants rage and buildings fall, it may seem that our world is falling apart. Stories of political unrest and natural disasters fill our 24-hour news cycle, and there may be an emotional impact to it. We feel that we are living in a time of uncertainties, and we may wonder: what’s next?

Such questions are not new.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1–5, ESV)

We don’t know for certain the motive of those who related the account of Pilate and the Galileans. Some have suggested that they were following up Jesus’ discussion about interpreting the times a few verses prior (Luke 12:54-56). What is interesting is that Jesus doesn’t turn this into a national or global discussion.

With question and answer, Jesus affirms that these Galileans were not worse sinners than others. It wasn’t as if this calamity had fallen upon them as a matter of divine justice. This was a case of moral evil — the actions of a tyrant — falling upon individuals caught up in the politics of the day. Jesus expands the example to include a tower that had fallen and killed eighteen. Here we have a case that we would describe as a natural disaster. Construction accidents occur. Storms come. Earthquakes happen. Again, Jesus affirms that these victims were not worse sinners than others in Jerusalem who escaped the disaster.

Instead of drawing some big picture application from these disasters, Jesus makes a very personal warning: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Death and disasters are a consequence of sin in the world, but the spiritual consequences of sin are very personal. I may not know what will happen in tomorrow’s news, but I’m aware that two events are in my future: my death (unless Jesus returns first) and the Day of Judgment. When I see disasters happen, I need to ask a personal question: is a spiritual disaster coming upon me because I’m not ready to meet my Maker. Repentance is that change of mind and heart that leads me to say and live “not my will, but Yours, be done.” When tyrants rage and buildings fall, the important question is: am I spiritually ready?