Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What is Biblical repentance?

This is taken from a recent FB conversation about repentance and how much of the modern day church teaches that we must "repent from our sins" and what the Bible actually says. Jeremy White is pastor of Valley Church in California -

Jeremy White
- The Greek verb "to repent" is metanoeo - a compound from meta (meaning "to change") and gnosis (meaning "mind, perspective or knowledge"). Etymologically, the biblical definition of the verb "to repent" is clearly "to change one’s mind or perspective." The etymology of a biblical word is always where we begin our journey in seeking to understand its meaning.

Once we have identified this, we then begin to consider the various ways in which the word or concept is used Scripturally - since context ultimately determines meaning. It is clear that Scripture sometimes links repentance to a turning from sin. For example, the rough Hebrew equivalent of the Greek metanoeo is used to describe the Ninevites who "repented" at the preaching of Jonah (Jonah 3). There is no doubt that turning from sin can accompany repentance. The big question is whether or not "repentance" and "turning from sin" are in fact synonymous. This may sound like a technicality, but it is hugely significant in our understanding of the true Gospel of grace.

Much of the debate over "repentance" revolves around two theological "camps" within evangelicalism – The "Lordship Salvation" camp and the "Free Grace Salvation" camp. I once vigorously supported the former (which Greg Laurie also supports), and have since moved toward the latter as I’ve come to what I believe is greater clarity on these matters.

The Lordship Salvationists claim that "repentance" (defined as "turning from sin and surrendering to Christ as Master and Lord) is synonymous with what they call "saving faith." The most outspoken proponents of this view over the past 20 years include teachers like John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Kenneth Gentry and others.

Free Grace salvationists like myself point out that if "turning from sin" were a requirement or ingredient of authentic "saving faith" - this would combine works as part of the Gospel, making Christianity essentially no different from any other legalistic religion. The Lordship theologians (most of whom come from a hyper-Calvinist viewpoint that I once espoused) get around this by their conviction that since salvation includes nothing of the will of humans, then "turning from sin" cannot be considered works-based salvation. In other words, since God essentially "forces" the turning from sin and submission upon the elect individual as a work of his elective process, it’s not really the human "turning" of his own volition – and therefore cannot be considered a human "work."

The bottom line is that the New Testament word "repent" literally means "a change of mind." It is always desirable that a change of lifestyle would accompany biblical repentance. This is why in the very first occurrence of the word in the New Testament, John the Baptist challenges the religious Jews to "produce fruit in keeping with (their) repentance" (Matt. 3). If repentance were synonymous with a changed lifestyle as Lordship Salvationists claim, then John’s words would seem a rather redundant since he in essence would be saying "change your lifestyle in keeping with your changed lifestyle." Clearly, it seems more reasonable to define repentance for what the word actually means rather than reading a pre-conceived theological idea into it that was not originally there. A change of lifestyle can (and should) accompany a change of perspective about God and Jesus and life – but it is dangerous to imprecisely use these terms in relation to the Gospel. If there is anything we MUST get right as Christians – it’s the Gospel!

When someone exercises faith in Christ (which the Scriptures repeatedly teach is the sole condition for salvation) - in essence, that person has repented by the true definition. They have changed their perspective. They have gone from unbelief to belief – from not trusting in Christ’s finished work on the cross to trusting in Him alone for their rescue. However, if repentance (defined as turning from sin) is part of the Gospel offer - then it is no Gospel at all and no different from the basic ideas of Islam, Mormonism or any other legalistic faith.

When Paul was asked "What must I do to be saved?" he thunderously responded "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!" (Acts 16:30-31). Jesus and the Apostles were united on this point - and we should be also. In his first edition of "The Gospel According to Jesus", John MacArthur makes the terribly inaccurate statement "True faith is humble, submissive obedience." (p. 140). I have benefitted from many of the works of Dr. MacArthur and those who espouse his views, and I choose to believe that he was not trying to be deliberately dishonest when he wrote this and other shocking statements like it throughout his book. But this is at best a gross misrepresentation of what biblical faith is. To be fair, MacArthur softened his words in subsequent revisions of this book.

The Bible repeatedly affirms that changing one’s perspective (repentance) often involves turning from sin. Often the very change of perspective itself is related to the emptiness of living in sin as opposed to living for God. It is also commanded and desirable that all people – including believers – exercise a lifestyle of repentance (which would include, but not be defined as "turning away from a sinful lifestyle wherever possible and living for God.") There are often horrible earthly consequences connected to living in rebellion against God.

I will conclude by stating that I am mindful of the fact that many sincere brothers and sisters in Christ disagree over this issue of the meaning of repentance. While I am presently convinced of my understanding as opposed to the "Lordship Salvation" camp, I respect much of what those theologians have articulated in other areas of theology.

Thanks for considering my lengthy (but hopefully helpful) thoughts... :) Keep the discussion going...!

Dave Geisler - Here is a simple illustration that I give on repentance.

If I am traveling South on I-75 to Naples from Tampa and I repent (change my mind) of going to Naples there becomes a point where I simply get off of the interstate and turn the other way. If this doesn't happen then did I really repent?

The fruit in keeping with repentance (change of mind) is now believing the gospel (not a partial gospel of forgiveness but the complete gospel of forgiveness and union with Him) and abiding in Him, allowing Him to bear fruit in and through you (Joh 15).

Friday, February 19, 2010

Question on 1Corinthians 5:9-13

I just wanted to get your opinion on a passage from scripture such as I Corinthians 5:9-13, in terms of the grace message. You're an intelligent theologian, so I thought I'd get your feedback on this. There are some passages in the Bible that seem harsh in terms of the grace message, and this is one of them.

My feeling is that Paul is not so much condemning those believers because of their sin, but because they're proclamation of being a follower of Christ gave a wrong impression to outsiders ... Is that how you see it? Or what are your thoughts, if you have time to comment?
The passage is below, for your convenience:

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (New American Standard Bible)

9I wrote you in my letter (A)not to associate with immoral people;

10I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with (B)idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.

11But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called (C)brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or (D)an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one.

12For what have I to do with judging (E)outsiders? (F)Do you not judge those who are within the church?

13But those who are outside, God judges. (G)REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.

Here is my response

When someone is living in sin and it is open (as it was in the Church of Corinth) then we have a clear, grace filled mandate to restore that brother to his true is the most loving thing to do. Jesus gave us the specific steps to doing just that...

Mat 18:15 "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

Mat 18:16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

Mat 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Paul calls this man a "so-called" brother because of his lack of accountability to the other members of the body, the church. It would seem that the church was being pulled in all kinds of directions and seemed to be siding on the side of love without truth. Grace is a message of truth in love (Eph 4:15) so that each person will be who God has made them to be. Just a caveat on that though...we are not to go looking for hidden sin as that is God's role. But when sin and living a sinful lifestyle becomes a matter of personal (Mat 18:15) and then a matter of open sin we must confront it.

So many metaphors could be drawn with a father, son - son relationship. If you knew your brother was going in the wrong direction (using heroine) then would it be more loving to confront him in love and help him or to allow him to self-destruct. All confrontation in the body is always aimed at restoring that brother or sister to their true identity in Christ which gives them the opportunity to stop believing the lies that are stealing His abundant life in them (John 10:10)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Involuntary Spirituality

I have hundreds of sincere friends who are dealing with issues from their past that they are desperately trying to get healing from. Some of them are going the "self-help" route, some are taking classes on spiritual healing. Some are in full time counseling, while others are following the traditional formulas by attending every church service they can with notebook in hand and a journal under their arm. I think everyone has a different method of dealing with painful memories in the past. To some degree, each and every one of us have been abused or hurt in one way or another.

Many Christians feel like they're waiting in line for an emotional healing that they probably won’t ever find. They become like the chronic overweight person who has tried everything from low-carb diets to overnight miracle pills, and after being let down half a million times, they finally collapse into a world of utter hopelessness. The mere mention of emotional healing catapults them into a world of self-loathing depression. They forgave every person they could remember being mad at. They’ve visited their inner child more times than they care to remember. They’ve quoted all the formula prayers, stood on all the right scriptures, and even had the in-house deliverance expert walk them towards the light, but come Monday morning they found themselves right back where they started.

Over the last twenty years of my life I have watched a growing trend in Christianity. If you attend some churches you would think that Christ came for the sole purpose of fixing us all and helping us all get over the pain of our past. He’s presented as the supernatural Dr. Phil and the ultimate life changer rather than the life GIVER. I honestly think that American Christianity has re-marketed Christ to appeal to the masses of emotionally wounded people in the world. We have used people’s issues and spiritual ailments as hooks to draw them into our churches and ministries, by making statements that simply are not true and promises that we can’t possible fulfill. We market Jesus as the "inner healer," whose healing formula is given only to the leaders or the super spiritual people above us. We create a mob of emotionally broken people who hobble from one service to the next hoping to finally persuade Jesus to give them the emotional healing they so desperately need. When it doesn’t happen, they’ve been trained and programmed to blame themselves. Over time, that self-blame eventually drives people even deeper into emotional brokenness and dysfunction then they were to begin with.

One of my close friends has read every spiritual healing book on the market. She’s attended conferences, listened to teaching series and she’s even written the world’s most famous healing evangelists in an effort to get her healing from the past. The day she and I met I could immediately tell that in her mind the purpose of our meeting was to hopefully find that healing. That had become the purpose of her life, the only thing she ever talked about when it came to spirituality. She thought that perhaps if she met with me, I could give her the exact formula that would finally detonate the power of God and give her the healing she had sought her entire adult life.

I told this young lady what I want to say to every person like her who is reading this article.

When you cut your finger, you wash it out and put a band-aid on it. Once that simple act is completed do you sit around and try to figure out ways to get it to heal? Of course not. Nothing you do beyond those initial first few steps will make any difference in the healing process. You won’t speed it up or slow it down. You can read books on cut-healing and goto cut-healing conferences, but in the end, all that energy is a waste of time because your cut will heal itself with or without your help.

God created this healing capacity within each and every one of us. We don’t do silly things like read books and call experts when we scrape or cut ourselves. We don’t squint our eyes and grit our teeth trying as hard as we can for a healing because we know that healing was created within us and it happens on its own.

Christianity is known for taking the things that happen naturally in the course of life and claiming authority over them. Then, when what would have happened on its own, happens; we claim responsibility and call ourselves powerful. If we would just learn to keep our noses out of the areas in life where we are not needed, we might find that Christianity is amazingly easy. I have come to believe that 90% of the stress and difficulty in the modern day Christian life, is self induced. We are praying about things that don’t need prayer. We’re claiming authority over things that don’t need our authority and leadership. We spend our time asking God for things that aren’t even on the menu and we spend all our faith on things that happen naturally.

Several years ago I found myself awake at about 2:00am, and I couldn’t get back to sleep. As I laid in bed listening to my wife snore away, I began to listen to my breathing patterns. Something didn’t sound right when I would inhale. I began to get worried that I wasn't getting enough oxygen, so I started to nervously monitor my intake of air for the next several hours. By 5:00am I was convinced that I needed to be taken to the hospital. My lips were numb and I was having chest pains. I felt dizzy and fear was literally pulsing through my body to the point where I could hear my heart beating out loud. I went to wake Angie up and just before I did, I got this revelation. It was probably just a thought, but looking back on it today I definitely think it was revelation.

“Don’t monitor your breathing. That’s something that happens on its own.”

I am not kidding you. In less than five minutes I was completely back to normal and snoring in unison next to my lovely wife. Breathing is an involuntary action that the body does completely on its own. The decision to monitor it and take authority over it, only led to panic and disaster.

This is precisely what Christians have been taught to do with most of the AUTOMATIC functions in life.

We think it’s precious and adorable when a four-year-old child clinches her fists and
scrunches her face because she is “trying to grow.” It’s funny because adults know that you can’t “try” to grow. Growing happens naturally over time and completely on its own. Ironically, I can visit almost every Christian church in Arizona and find full grown adults doing the exact same thing concerning their spiritual growth. Like naive little children, we scrunch our faces and clinch our fists during prayer, “trying” with every spiritual muscle we have to grow. We talk obsessively about growing in the Lord. We ask each other what they’re doing to grow in the Lord. We tell people that if they aren’t growing they need to be doing this and thus. We pride ourselves in saying that spiritual growth is the number one thing our church or ministry cares about. Silly, silly, silly, and it’s not nearly as cute when we do it as it is when a four-year-old child does it.

As Christians we have a responsibility to LIVE LIFE. Our life is set up by God Himself in a way that naturally brings forth things like inner healing, growth and maturity. These things are the responsibility of God; NOT US. I honestly believe that we’ve driven ourselves crazy because in our own arrogance and unwillingness to enter into life, we’ve hijacked God’s responsibilities and have foolishly depended upon ourselves to carry them through.

I had a pastor tell me once that he was committed to my spiritual growth. I told him thanks but that makes about as much sense as me committing myself to his fingernail growth. I just think there are better things in life to commit ourselves to, especially when growth happens by itself. We neglect things where we actually can make a difference, and then pay special attention to the very things that don’t need our attention at all.

I think the average Christian needs to take a course in “involuntary spirituality.” We need to get reacquainted with what happens on its own and what actually requires our assistance. I think most people would be surprised and relieved if they knew the truth. We could finally leave things like salvation to God rather than take it upon ourselves to “get people saved.” If you need an inner healing, just know in your heart that it’s happening. You can’t make it happen any faster than you can heal your finger if you cut it. YOU WILL HEAL! Know that and live life. YOU WILL GROW! Nothing you do will make yourself grow any faster. Growing isn’t up to us; it’s up to God.

I honestly have come to believe that the reason why Christianity has focused so much on this ridiculous stuff is because it’s a subconscious way of avoiding life and intimacy with God. I think our religion has made Him so unattractive and detestable, that we’ll stand outside and count blades of grass in the lawn just to get out of being alone with Him. I think it’s a combination of us not wanting to be close to him, and us feeling like He’s going to abandon us. Part of the grace and love message is about getting a proper view of who He really is. Once you get that, you look back at your life and laugh at yourself for all the silly stuff you did. I think I’ve dropped more stuff off of my to-do list since I’ve become a Free Believer than I ever thought possible. The last time I looked at that list I think there was only two things;

Love God and love people.

From Darin Hufford - The Lord Your God is in Your Midst - Free e-book