A Time to Trust

Joshua was the new leader in Israel following the death of Moses (Josh. 1:2).  Joshua was to bring the people across the Jordan into the land that God had promised Moses and their forefathers to give to them.  We read about the people crossing the Jordan River in Joshua 3-4.  Joshua tells the priests who carry the Ark of the Covenant to walk into the Jordan River and when their feet hit the river’s edge God would stop the river upstream from flowing so that they could cross over (remember Ex. 14).  The priests revealed a deep trust by doing so especially since it was the time of harvest which meant, “the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest” (Josh. 3:15).  The Jordan was not calm, but moving rapidly, it was not low, but overflowing, it was not a smooth, but covered bushes and jungle growth.

They cross over safely and then Joshua is given this command from the LORD, “Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time” (Josh. 5:2).  Now back in Genesis 34 we read about Shechem raping Dinah, Jacob’s daughter (vv. 2, 5).  When the brothers hear about it they deceive Shechem and his father and tell them to have all the males circumcised so they can intermarry.  They agree and on the third day after all the males were circumcised, “when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males” (Gen 34:25).

Here in Genesis 34 Shechem and the men with him felt secure, but they were far from secure as Simeon and Levi attacked them for treating their sister like a prostitute (v. 31).  Israel has just crossed a raging river, one that no one else would try to cross, and they are now in the land of promise.  And the first command they are given is to circumcise the males, for the younger generation, who did not die in the wilderness (Josh. 5:5), had not been circumcised by their rebellious fathers.  Wouldn’t this be safer on the other side of the raging Jordan River then in enemy territory?  For as there was a recovery time for Shechem and his men, there would be a recovery time for the men of Israel too (Josh. 5:8), when they would be sore.  They would be an easy target for the kings of the Amorites and the kings of the Canaanites, just as Simeon and Levi took advantage of the situation before them.

Joshua and the people of Israel trusted in the LORD.  They trusted in the reports that they had received about the people of land having their hearts melted (2:9, 11, 24; 5:1).  And rather than being overtaken, since the LORD protected His people, they instead ate the produce of the land that year (5:11-12).

When our feelings about a situation seem to be telling us one thing, but God’s word says the opposite, we must take God at His word.  Our feelings can be deceived and lead us astray, but our trust in the LORD should never waver.  Of course this is easier said than done at times.  So we remember what God has told us.  God loves His children, those who are in Christ, and so we trust, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32).

Resource Highlight – For a good exposition of Joshua that is very accessible for all readers check out: No Falling Words by: Dale Ralph Davis

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“Z” is for Zeal

“Z” is for Zeal.  Here we are, the last letter of the English alphabet and the last “A to Z Theology” blog (for now).  Webster defines zeal in this way, “In general, zeal is an eagerness of desire to accomplish or obtain some object” (1828 Dictionary).  A more comprehensive definition is given at the end of this newsletter so continue reading.  Zeal when misdirected or grounded in some false beliefs or assumptions can have devastating effects.  In the case of many dictators or rulers throughout the history of the world their zeal to eliminate or exterminate whole people groups is wicked and sinful, a greatly misdirected zeal you could say.  Zeal can be found in virtually every arena of life: religion, politics, science, academia, sports, and many other areas as well.  We will not explore zeal in all these areas rather we will begin by taking a look at the zeal of our Lord and then see how His followers are to have such zeal.

Jesus’ Zeal

During the course of Jesus’ ministry our Lord cleansed the temple twice.  Once at the beginning of His public ministry (John 2:13-22) and once during passion week shortly before His crucifixion, the end of His public ministry (Matt. 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48).  Only John records this first temple cleansing. We read in John 2, “And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’” (vv. 15-17).

Jesus enters the temple and observes the marketplace it has become.  And this all taking place in the court of the Gentiles.  The only place permitted for the Gentiles to worship God was instead a house of trade.   In the second instance of the temple cleansing Jesus speaks of the temple as being a house of prayer yet they made it a den of robbers (Matt. 21:13).  The disciples recalled here in John that it is written in Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:17b).  The zeal, or passion, Jesus had in seeing to it that His Father’s house not be treated as “a house of trade” (or a “den of robbers”) is seen when He makes a whip of cords and drives merchants and buyers out of the temple, out of the court of the Gentiles.  Jesus’ zeal was so great that it would “consume” Him.  Jesus displays a righteous zeal both times as He cleanses the temple.  Certainly our Lord was also zealous to do His Father’s will and be obedient to God’s commands.

Our Zeal

What of our zeal?  Paul writes, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Rom. 12:11).  The picture Paul paints is great.  Zeal is a passionate burning desire, and here Paul speaks about not being slothful, or lazy, in our zeal.  Rather we are to be fervent, enthusiastic or zealous you could say, in spirit while serving the Lord.

Earlier Paul speaks about not having a zeal for God without knowledge (Rom. 10:2).  One could understand how this could be taken to an extreme.  Paul said of himself before his conversion to Christ, “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church” (Phil. 3:6a).  Paul sought vehemently to stop this Christian sect from advancing further.  His zeal to destroy followers of Jesus was extremely high.  After the Lord met with Paul on the Damascus Road he still had a great zeal but the direction and focus of that zeal was forever changed.  Paul would proclaim Christ crucified too much of the known world at that time.  He was zealous for the glory of God (see also Num. 25:10-18) and the salvation of sinners.

When Paul’s zeal was being directed by false knowledge it equated to persecution of the church.  RC Sproul Jr. said, “We don’t increase in our knowledge by decreasing in our zeal. Neither do we increase in our zeal by decreasing our knowledge. Rather, the two are supposed to feed and encourage each other” (Article: Knowledge Without Zeal).  May we have a burning desire to understand the truth of God according to Scripture that our zeal to make Christ known would be like that of our Lord Himself.

In case you have any question about what zeal in religion looks like I close with this quote from J.C. Ryle.  He said, “Zeal in religion is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. It is a desire which no man feels by nature—which the Spirit puts in the heart of every believer when he is converted—but which some believers feel so much more strongly than others that they alone deserve to be called ‘zealous’ men” (Practical Religion,  1959 ed., 130).  Do you have a burning desire to please God in all arenas of your life?  Do you have a burning desire to do His will when it is hard and opposite of what many around you are doing?  Do you have a burning desire to advance God’s glory in every possible way?  May we have such a zeal for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

“V” is for Virgin Birth

“V” is for Virgin Birth.  You have heard of Christmas in July, well this is Christmas in August.  The biblical understanding of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ has been questioned by many for different reasons.  Some think that no one can be born of a virgin and that includes Jesus.  Others believe it would be a miracle but one that is not necessary to believe in order to be a Christian.  What about you?  Is it necessary to believe in the virgin birth of Jesus the Christ in order to be a Christian?  Scripture makes it clear to us that Jesus was born of a virgin.  It also provides clear reasons why it is necessary for our salvation.  This newsletter will jump right into a number of passages of Scripture that will show us the miracle of the virgin birth and also the necessity of the virgin birth.

God’s Intervention

Matthew and Luke each describe for us the birth of Jesus Christ.  Matthew focuses more from the perspective of Joseph whereas Luke focuses more from the perspective of Mary.  So in Luke when the angel Gabriel comes to Mary, in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, he tells Mary she has found favor with God (Luke 1:30). “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus” (v. 31).  Mary asks the obvious question, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (v. 34).  Or as the Greek literally says, “How will this be, since I do not know a man?”  However you want to say it Mary is making it clear that she has never had sex and thus cannot possibly have a child.  This is not rocket science.  Even today there is the necessity of a male’s sperm and female’s egg to come together to create new life.  While Mary and Joseph are betrothed to one another, they still have not consummated their marriage yet and thus Mary’s statement of still not knowing a man.

In answer to Mary’s question the angel Gabriel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).  And as Matthew correctly recognized, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matt. 1:23).  Matthew quoted from Isaiah 7:14 and states that this prophecy is fulfilled in the miraculous birth of Jesus the Christ who is born of the virgin Mary.

Not Merely Preference but Necessity

Have you ever wondered, why did Jesus have to be born of a virgin?  Or, as was stated earlier, is belief in the virgin birth of Christ a necessary belief of Christianity?  In other words, do I have to believe it in order to be a Christian?

Certainly the virgin birth is a miracle as is made clear by the Holy Spirit’s intervention in Mary’s life.  So when we realize that the Son of God, the glorious, infinite, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, holy One became a human it is astounding!  For some it is humiliating or embarrassing that Christians believe such a thing.  But this is exactly what the Scriptures affirm and as we will see more than mere preference but something of necessity.

First, Jesus had to be born of a virgin since by this miraculous birth the uniting of full deity with full humanity was made possible.  This was necessary because only someone like us could redeem us, thus the Son of God became a man.  As Romans 5:18-19 says, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.  For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”  And His deity was necessary because only one who is infinite God could bear the full penalty for all the sins of those who would believe in Him.  In other words, one perfect man could substitute himself for one guilty person, though there are no perfect men.  But one perfect God-man could substitute Himself for all those who believe in Him (Heb. 7:23-25).

Second, the virgin birth was necessary since it reminds us that salvation is solely of the Lord (Ps. 3:8; Jon. 2:9).  For no human mind could come up with such a plan and even if they did they would not have the power to carry it out.

Lastly, the virgin birth was necessary because it makes possible for Jesus’ true humanity to be without original sin.  We all are born in sin.  David said, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5).  As we just saw in Romans 5 the sin or trespass of one man, Adam, brought condemnation for all men.  Adam was our representative and failed, so as a result all of his descendants come forth in sin and choose sin.  So how is it that Jesus was not born in sin?  After all, Jesus is said to be born in the line of Adam (see Luke 3:23-38).  What separates Adam and Jesus from everyone else is both were born of the Spirit (see Gen. 2:7).  Luke 1:35 again says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”  Jesus is thus the New Adam.  He is the New Adam in that He is the second one, the “younger brother” who has inherited the promises of the firstborn (i.e. blessing and life for obedience versus cursing and death for disobedience) and replaces the older (i.e. Isaac and Ishmael; Jacob and Esau; Joseph and his brothers; Perez and Zerah; David and his brothers).  Jesus born of the Spirit, was the Lamb of God, one that was without spot or blemish, without sin (John 1:29; Heb. 9:14; 1 Pt. 1:19).  By being born of the Spirit, like Adam, Jesus is the new federal head over the new creation born in Him by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5 & 6).

In answer to our question, yes the virgin birth is necessary for Christians to believe.  First, because it is taught clearly in Scripture and second, because it was necessary for our salvation in His name.

“U” is for Unconditional Election

“U” is for Unconditional Election.   In order for us to understand this biblical concept we must understand the total depravity of man first (hence the letter “T”).  A quick recap of man’s condition will be given first.  Then we will define our phrase unconditional election and see how this is not some concept forced upon the text of Scripture, like some may suggest, but that it is found directly within its pages.  And while we look at Scripture we will see why conditional election is false.  Lastly, we will see what the proper response of Christians should look like given this truth.

Man’s Condition

Many people today like to think, “All people are basically good.”  Sure there are the dictators, communist leaders, serial killers, child abusers, and the like but they are an exception to the norm.  While not everyone is a murderer in the strictest sense, first degree murder, we have all been extremely angry with someone before and Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matt. 5:21-22; see Ex. 20:13).  When people speak of being basically good this is always based on our finite human understanding and our flawed human standard.  We are always looking on a horizontal level because we can always find someone worse than us, so we think.

Ephesians 2 makes it clear what the condition of man is really like.  We are dead in our trespasses and sins, sons of disobedience, and children of wrath (vv. 1-3).  In other words we are totally deprived.  This does not mean we are as bad as we could be but rather that every aspect of our existence has been negatively impacted by sin: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual state.  Dead people cannot do anything and this is our spiritual state according to Paul in Ephesians 2.  Therefore, without the work of God in removing a heart of stone and giving a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26-28) there will be no positive action (i.e. belief in the Lord Jesus Christ) toward God on the part of man.  So we now take a look at unconditional election.

From the Text of Scripture

A proper definition of election is, “An act of God before creation in which He chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of His sovereign good pleasure” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1241).  God did not look through the corridors of time and see which individuals would respond positively to the gospel message and then choose them.  For this to be true we would have to deny the total depravity of man.  For in our fallen condition we said we are unable to make any positive action toward God.  It would also deny God’s sovereignty over all that He has made.  If it were true that God saw in us some positive action or response in advance than we would have reason for boasting for we would have contributed something to our salvation (cf. Eph. 2:8-10).  This then radically denies the doctrine of justification by faith alone (cf. Rom. 5:1-11; Gal. 2:16; 3:7-8).  Thus God’s election is not conditional, it cannot be.

Acts 13:48 says, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” This verse makes it clear that some were appointed (other translations “ordained”) for eternal life and therefore they believed.  The clearest of places we see that God’s election of people is unconditional, meaning it is not based on anything foreseen in them, is found in Romans 9.

“And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’” (vv. 10-13).

Paul speaks here about God choosing the younger son, Jacob, over the elder son, Esau.  When reading Genesis you might gather that this was simply common practice since God chooses Seth, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and Joseph all of whom were not the firstborn.  However, the practice in that day was for the firstborn son to receive a greater portion of the inheritance and blessing from his father.  So when Paul references back to Esau and Jacob he reminds his readers of Malachi 1:2-3, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”  Why did God choose Jacob and not Esau?  Was Jacob wiser, craftier, stronger, more handsome, a better son?  None of these things.  In fact Paul gives us the purpose for why Jacob was chosen over Esau “that God’s purpose of election might continue” (v. 11).  And this was not based on works because it was before either was born and before either had done anything good or evil.  The choosing of Jacob over Esau was based on Him who calls, that is, on God’s choosing.  And this is true for those whom are elect, saved by God, that it does not rest on anything foreseen in them but solely on the sovereign decision of our gracious God.

Paul expects the possible push back he might receive in v. 14 by saying, “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!”  A few things should be understood here.  First, do you remember what our state was before the Holy Spirit regenerated our hearts?  We were dead in our trespasses and sins and fully deserving of the wrath of God to be poured out on us.  The fact is no one deserves salvation in the first place, not you, not me, no one.  Salvation belongs to the Lord (Ps. 3:8; Jonah 2:9).  Second, let’s say in a group of six people three are saved and three are not.  The three that are saved received grace and mercy.  The three that perish receive justice for their sins.  No one receives injustice (analogy from RC Sproul).  Thus Paul says in vv. 15-16, “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”

Some will interject here, “What about man’s free will?”  Certainly Scripture makes it clear that we make choices that have real effects and consequences.  Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and later concluded that he was dead because of their actions (Gen. 37:25-28; 42:13).  And yet Gen. 50:20 makes it clear that what Joseph’s brothers meant for evil, God meant it for good.  So while Scripture does say man makes choices that have real effects it does not maintain that man is free from God’s control since everything is sustained and directed by our sovereign God (cf. Prov. 16:2, 9; 21:2).  While we speak of man’s free will we ought to be concerned first and foremost with the free will of God.

Praises to the King

The biblical idea of the unconditional election of God highlights above all else the grace of God.  For it stands out for what it truly is, a marvelous, amazing, nothing-else-like-it gift.  The believer’s response must be a humble one that destroys any ounce of pride, and one of thanksgiving and praise to our King.  And we know have greater fervor in sharing the good news because God has sovereignly elected men and women all over the world to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

“S” is for Sanctification

“S” is for sanctification.  A simple definition is provided in Webster’s 1828 dictionary, “The act of making holy.”  The Greek words translated “sanctified” and “sanctification” most frequently both have the root word for “holy” in them.  I’ve also heard it defined as the process by which a believer becomes more like Christ.  That is fitting since Christ is holy and perfect.  Notice how it is a process of becoming more like Christ, or becoming more holy.

In our instant gratification culture the thought of a lifelong process sounds rather daunting and downright defeating.  When we want something we want it now.  Well it is good to want to become more like Christ, in fact that is great.  We just need to recognize that it is a lifelong process and one that is not complete in this life.  Some would disagree with this statement so let’s turn our attention to the biblical text to help clarify.

Biblical Texts

Mentioning a quick distinction will help us in understanding a number of biblical texts and for making a proper distinction between the truth of what we are and the truth of what God is making us, holier.  Some call it the indicative and imperative of sanctification.  Others speak of positional sanctification and progressive sanctification.

Positional Sanctification

Believers are declared holy because they have been set apart by faith in Christ as God’s own possession (Demarest, The Cross and Salvation, 407).  For example, Paul begins a number of his letters in the NT by addressing the believers as “saints in Jesus Christ” (see Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2).  The word “saints” is literally “holy ones.”  To the believers in Corinth Paul said, “To those sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1:2).  If you were to conclude here that the believers in Corinth had obtained moral perfection you would be incorrect.  How do we know that?  All you would have to do is get past the thanksgiving to vv. 10-12 of chapter one to see that these believers in Corinth were not perfect.  So we would say that believers are positionally holy because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ that has been imputed (or counted or credited) to their account.  Or to say it another way “Paul spoke approvingly to the Christians at Corinth not because of their deepening spirituality (progressive sanctification), but because of their justified standing in Christ (positional sanctification)” (Demarest, 407).

Progressive Sanctification

“Therefore since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).  We stand justified in the sight of God because of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.  But while we are holy positionally through justification we are to progress in holiness morally.  How do we know this?  “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor…For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thess. 4:3-4, 7).  As a quick aside many people ask the question, “What is the will of God for my life?”  Now usually this question comes with a focus on relationships, career choices, college selection, or another important decision.  My response to those seeking the will of God in these areas above is to ask them, “How are you doing with the revealed will of God?”  There are multiple times throughout the Bible that God’s will is made plain to us (see Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Thess. 4:3-4; 5:16-18).  Let’s start by focusing on being faithful there and trust that God will take care of the rest.  That was the long way of pointing out that “this is the will of God, your sanctification” (v. 3).  How important is our sanctification to God?  Important enough that it is His will for EVERY believer and so it needs to be that important to us as well.

Peter reminds us that, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pt. 1:14-16).  We progress in sanctification by avoiding the sinful patterns of our old self and the sinful behaviors of those around us, but also by putting on the new self and obeying the commandments of our Lord (cf. Eph. 4:17-32).  We are to be holy in all our conduct because we currently are not holy in all of our conduct.

Does the believer participate in this process of sanctification?  After all we have been saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  “Not a result of works” (Eph. 2:9).  The answer to this question is found in Philippians where Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).  This sounds like a cooperative effort to me.  No I am not saying you justify yourself before God but that God has decided that believers should have a part in putting to death the old man and putting on the new self (cf. Col. 3:5-17).  As a pastor friend has said,
“We can only work out what God is working in.”  That is to say that there can be no sanctification apart from God’s grace.  As Eph. 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  We are saved apart from works but we are also saved for good works.

Twenty-something

In less than a week I will be turning the big 3-0.  Personally I am quite excited about entering this new decade of life but I should state the reason is not because the twenty-somethings were terrible, in fact it has been the best decade yet.  As I take a look back on the last ten years the goodness of the Lord is there every step of the way.  Here is just a brief synopsis of my life during my twenties.

Summer of 2006, shortly after turning twenty, God opened my eyes to my sin and rebellion against Him and drew me to His Son Jesus Christ!  Even if nothing else happened in my twenties that alone would make it the greatest decade, but God was even more gracious.

Summer of 2008 I started courting (dating) my now bride Katie.  We were in a relationship for a little over a year, engaged for a year, and have celebrated five years of marriage all during my twenties.

After becoming a Christian the direction of my future plan shifted from managing a golf course to becoming a ministry intern on the campus of Oakland University.  There I served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship beginning in the summer of 2008 and through the 2008-2009 school year.  God impressed it upon my heart to be a faithful proclaimer of His truth in the local church.  Therefore God set my sights on the next step He had for me which involved going to seminary and pursuing the pastorate.

I spent four years in seminary (2009-2013) and grew tremendously not only in my theology but also in my service.  God used the time my wife and I spent at North Park Baptist Church in tremendous ways as we served Him.  God opened the door for us to move to Lake City when I received a call to pastor Calvary Baptist Church, so we packed up and headed there the start of 2014.

Backing up just a little to November 2013, we welcomed our first daughter into the world then a year-and-a-half later we welcomed our second daughter (June 2015).  So a quick recap of just some of the things that happened during my twenty-somethings looks like this: I became a Christian, husband, father, and pastor.  God has lavished His grace upon this servant of His (see Eph. 2:1-10).  You can probably see why the twenty-somethings have been the best decade yet and all the glory belongs to God alone.  Many passages come to mind but let me close with this one from 1 Thessalonians.  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (vv. 16-18).

“R” is for Repentance

“R” is for Repentance.  This certainly is not a new word to Christians so there is generally a good idea on what the word means.  The challenge is putting this word into practice in our Christian life.  This is in fact what Martin Luther sought to help others understand when he included as the very first of his ninety-five theses, “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘repent,’ He meant that the entire life of believers should be one of repentance.”  We will take a look at a number of Scripture passages after defining the word.  Then we will hopefully see why repentance is not something done once at conversion but something that is to be done daily by believers.

A Look in the Book

Μετάνοια (metanoia) is the most common word translated  “repentance” in the NT.  In the NT there are a few words that are translated repent, repentance, or turning/returning to the Lord.  The most basic definition of “repentance” is a change of mind that leads to a change in action (aka a changed lifestyle).  Sometimes you hear that it is doing an about face.  For those in military services you are likely familiar with this two-step move.  Where in two steps one goes from facing one direction (i.e. south) to facing the opposite direction (i.e. north).  So repentance is a turning away from sin and darkness and a turning to God.

Paul speaking to King Agrippa about his conversion on the Damascus road recalls his mission to the Gentiles as one to help them “turn (ἐπιστρέφω) from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18).  Then just two verses later we see Paul say to King Agrippa that he has been faithful to the vision in speaking to the Gentiles “that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance (μετάνοια)” (Acts. 26:20).  Another passage which connects repentance with turning is found earlier in Acts.  Here the Lord used Peter and John to raise the lame man who sat outside the temple (cf. Acts 3:2-7) and now they have gone into the temple and speaking to the people Peter says, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:18).

Faith in Christ is wrapped up with this idea of repentance.  One might say that repentance and faith are two sides to the same coin.  You turn from sin (repentance) and simultaneously turn to Christ (faith).  Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus was remorseful, or felt regret, that he betrayed innocent blood but rather than turning to Christ he hung himself.  Judas had a worldly grief (see 2 Cor. 7:9-10).  Another way to see how faith and repentance are two sides to the same coin is in a passage where Jesus speaks about what happens to those who fail to repent,

“There were some present at that very time who told Him [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He [Jesus] 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).

In Jesus’ words here we see that one can either repent or perish.  If one does not repent and simultaneously turn to Christ they will perish.

While there is no mention of the word repentance we are quick to point out that Zacchaeus repented because we see a change of mind that lead to a change in action.  “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8).  Zacchaeus now had Jesus and that was more than enough for him.  Jesus responds by saying, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’” (vv. 9-10).  Repentance is connected to faith (cf. Acts 20:21), to forgiveness (cf. Acts 5:31), and to life (cf. Acts 11:18).  Many more passages could be looked at but this gives a good breadth for us today.

Our Daily Habit?

The question we need to each ask ourselves is, “Do I repent daily?”  “Why daily?” you may be wondering.  I will speak for myself at this point and note that because my struggle against sin is not over and daily I fail and sin I should thus daily repent of that sin.  Daily I should turn away from that sin and turn to God.  Not so that I can fall into it again and keep repeating the same thing over and over again.  Rather so that I daily produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  This fruit bearing is the work of the Spirit of God in me as He convicts me of my sin.  Then the same Spirit gives me the desire to obey God and also the ability to do so too.

In the London Baptist Confession of 1689 points four and five of chapter fifteen say the following, “As repentance is to be continued through the whole course of our lives, upon the account of the body of death, and the motions thereof, so it is every man’s duty to repent of his particular sins particularly (4).  Such is the provision which God hath made through Christ in the covenant of grace for the preservation of believers unto salvation, that although there is no sin so small but it deserves damnation, yet there is no sin so great that it shall bring damnation on them that repent, which makes the constant preaching of repentance necessary (5).”

John’s words in his first epistle are a fitting end for this newsletter,

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 1:5-2:3).