Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Summary and Discussion: Intellectual, Emotional, Volitional

From the foregoing discussion of nacham, shuv, and metanoéō we are able to discern the nature of Biblical repentance. The Scriptures teach that repentance begins with the sinner’s acknowledgment of his sin and his need for forgiveness. His understanding of the offensiveness of his sin before a holy, loving God produces in him great mourning, sorrow, and even shame and humiliation. His disgust with himself and his wayward unrighteousness leads him to repudiate his wickedness, acknowledging it as idolatry, and to decisively turn away from such things. As he turns from his former way of life, he turns to faithfully trust and serve the God who alone is worthy of his worship and there finds forgiveness; he begins to seek His fellowship and restoration to Him by faith. Finally, he does not regard that as the final step, but lovingly, from the heart, he desires to live a life in obedience to the revealed will of God empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit. The evidence of his inward repentance is manifest in his external deeds. Biblical repentance, then, can be helpfully summarized as being made up of three components: (1) an intellectual component, (2) an emotional component, and (3) a volitional component.

Intellectually, "human beings must apprehend sin as unutterably heinous, the divine law as perfect and binding, and themselves as falling short of the requirements of a holy God" (ISBE, 4:136) This is evident, for example, with Job, who when confronted by Yahweh confessed, “I have declared that which I did not understand” (Job 42:3). Once Yahweh revealed his sin to him, his response was to “retract, and I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). Similarly, when Nathan the prophet revealed to King David the wickedness of his actions, David responded by solemnly admitting, “I have sinned against Yahweh” (2Sam 12:13), and by calling out for grace: "Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions" (Ps 51:1ff).

However, a mere intellectual understanding of our sin is not Biblical repentance. If your repentance remains only in the intellectual realm, it has fallen short of Biblical repentance. There are a number of examples in Scripture of people who express a knowledge of their sin and an intention to turn from it, but who do not repent.

The oppressive Pharoah repeatedly demonstrated his obstinacy regarding letting the people of Israel go from their oppression in Egypt. After the plague of hail, however, he seemed to have repented from his wickedness: "
Then Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, 'I have sinned this time; Yahweh is the righteous one, and I and my people are the wicked ones'" (Ex 9:27). That sounds good. He's confessed to his sinfulness and to Yahweh's righteousness, and then repeats that he and his people are acting wickedly. In the next verse he promises to let them go (Ex 9:28). However, "when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he did not let the sons of Israel go" (Ex 9:34-35). And so Pharaoh's intellectual 'repentance' was no repentance at all.

We see similar stories in the case of the evil prophet Balaam, who though he confessed his sin and expressed a desire to obey (Num 22:34), is nevertheless remembered by Scripture as a teacher of error (Jude 1:11) who loved the wages of unrighteousness (2Pet 2:15). We also remember the wicked King Saul who rejected the word of Yahweh by failing to destroy Amalek (1Sam 15:26). Even though he seemed to intellectually repent (1Sam 15:24-25), Yahweh did not receive him, demonstrating that his repentance was not genuine. Repentance, therefore, is not merely intellectual.

Biblical repentance also requires that there be an emotional component. This is that sorrow and regret so beautifully captured by nacham. It is Ephraim’s smiting of his thigh (Jer 31:19), Job’s humiliation on the ash heap (Job 42:6), and a mourning over one’s sin (Mt 5:4) that longs to be restored to the joy of the salvation which belongs to Yahweh (Ps 51:12). It is the godly sorrow which leads to repentance and to life, as opposed to a mere worldly sorrow which leads to death (2Cor 7:9-10). The case of the ultimate traitor, Judas, demonstrates this very thing. Upon seeing that Christ had been condemned, he "felt remorse" (Mt 27:3) and returned the blood money to the chief priests and elders, and said, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood" (Mt 27:4). Here is someone who had been affected emotionally to the point of both action and confession, and yet his was not the Biblical repentance that leads to salvation, but the worldly sorrow that leads to death (2Cor 7:10; cf. Mt 27:5). Thus, while sorrow and emotional response are not the equivalent of repentance, they may often be a powerful impulse to a genuine turning from sin (ISBE, 4:136). In other words, repentance should not be equated with sorrow, but often godly sorrow will be the impetus that leads one to repentance.

Finally, there is a volitional component which involves the penitent's necessary genuine turning from sin (cf. shuv). Herein is the change of the sinner's mind, his will, and his whole purpose which is expressed so well by metanoéō. This is illustrated by John the Baptist's response to those who ask him what their lives should look like after they repented. He responds by saying a man ought to stop being greedy and indifferent and begin to lend liberally to his neighbor (Lk 3:11). He said that the tax collector should cease from exacting more money from their debtors than they ought and to "collect no more than what you have been ordered to" (Lk 3:12-13). He said that soldiers should no longer steal and accuse people falsely, but to be content with their wages and to to testify truthfully (Lk 3:14)

It is further illustrated in the case of the rich chief tax collector Zaccheus who demonstrates his repentance from his wicked extortion by making restitution fourfold and donating to the poor (Lk 19:5-10).
After Jesus told him that He desired to stay at his house, Zaccheus said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much" (Lk 19:8). And Jesus saw that his repentance was genuine, and declared, "Today salvation has come to this house" (Lk 19:9).

It is clear, then, that the will must be involved in true, Biblical repentance. However, though such acts of the will are essential to Biblical repentance, "God will accept no external substitute for the necessary internal change. … Not material sacrifice, but a spiritual change, is the inexorable demand of God" (ISBE, 4:136). Though a willful obedience on the part of the repentant sinner is necessary, it is not the mere obedience itself that is repentance. It is not like a business transaction or a quid pro quo, where we simply "do better" this time, and God rewards our good deeds. These volitional acts come from a heart that is changed. Hence Yahweh calls
Israel to rend their hearts and not merely their garments (Joel 2:12-13) and to circumcise their hearts and not merely put away their idols (Jer 4:1-4).

And so is our summary of the exegesis of Biblical repentance. It is an emotional, affected turn of the heart in obedience away from sin and toward God, which amounts to a fundamental change of the whole man: a change in mind, in heart, and in desires.

Next time, we will begin to look at how to apply this understanding of Biblical repentance to one who is already a Christian, yet who because of his continual sin needs to continually repent.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Monergism, Synergism, and Sanctification

In my travels around the blogosphere, I ran across a great post with an interesting thread on one of my favored topics: sanctification. On that thread, a good brother posted a comment that I thought deserved some further thought and meditation. He was confused about whether we should consider sanctification as a monergistic or a synergistic process.

Now, if you've been a regular reader of this blog, you remember these terms from the series on the doctrine of regeneration, particularly in this post on the freedom of God and irresistible grace. As I explained there, "monergism" is a big word that means one agent (mono-) working (ergon, the Greek word for work). And "synergism" simply means multiple agents are working in cooperation with each other.

So, here's his comment:
Wait. I'm confused. If sanctification is monergistic seems to me that would be "let go and let God"?

Objectively, knowing God is sovereign who works in us to will and to do would be considered monergistic all the way through to glorification. But yet subjectively understanding this in our walk and us operating in the spirit indwelt in us would be synergistic, right? I mean with regard to our daily responsibility in dying to self and feeding and relying and abiding in His word and so forth in becoming progressively Christ-like.

In one sense I get that the sanctification process is monergistic yet at the same time I see it or I should say I experience it as synergistic.

I'm probably not making any sense.
My friend's comment (and his accompanying confusion) nicely illustrates two things. The first is that Philippians 2:12-13 is true: We are commanded to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Yet, the basis or the ground of that command is the objective reality that it is God who works in us what we are working out. You simply cannot over- or under-emphasize either of these two twin pillars. Do that and you've lost the Biblical position on sanctification. One the one hand, if we over-emphasize God's role to work in us and under-emphasize what we are supposed to work out, we flirt with a kind of complacency and apathy that the Apostles knew nothing about (1Cor 9:24-27; 1Tim 4:7-10; 2Pet 1:5). On the other hand, if we emphasize the command for us to work out our salvation such that we under-emphasize or downplay the reality that it is God who works in us, we flirt with the kind of moralistic externalism and willpower religion that Jesus and the Apostles condemned (Mt 23:16-17; 25-28; 1Cor 15:10; 2Cor 3:18; Gal 3:3; Col 2:18-23).

Secondly, my friend's comment nicely illustrates the unsuitableness of using the terms 'monergistic' and 'synergistic' to refer to sanctification. It's a legitimate question and a legitimate problem: On the one hand, we want to give the credit of our sanctification -- the actual progress of becoming increasingly like Christ -- where it belongs: to God. And so the term "monergistic" seems attractive especially to us Calvinists who want to take no credit for the good in our spiritual life and give all glory to Christ. On the other hand, though, we don't want to discount our role in our sanctification and give the impression that we are completely passive.

As I've intimated, I believe the answer is to recognize the inaccuracy of using either of these adjectives to describe the sanctification process.

Note this: a lot of people who would say sanctification is synergistic -- because they want Christians to recognize that they have a part in it and shouldn't just sit around waiting for God to zap us to holiness -- would also hasten to admit that justification, on the other hand, is monergistic. They would say something like, "There was absolutely nothing we could do to get saved; our salvation was entirely the work of God. Yet our sanctification is a cooperative effort."

But really what those people mean is that they believe regeneration is monergistic, not justification. And, in fact, that is how the monergism/synergism terms are historically used: in regards to regeneration -- the sovereign act of the Holy Spirit in which He imparts new life to the dead soul, giving the heart eyes to see and ears to hear. That act, which precedes anything that we do in our conversion, is entirely the work of God. We do absolutely nothing to effect, or bring about, our second birth -- just like we do absolutely nothing to bring about our first birth (John 1:12-13). Regeneration is monergistic.

However, no Calvinist believes that our justification was monergistic. Justification is mediated through the means of faith (Rom 3:28; 4:5), and God most certainly did not believe the Gospel for us. We had a role to play. God sovereignly, monergistically quickened our dead heart and opened our eyes in the miracle of the new birth, in which, again, we had no active role. And then, with our eyes open to behold the glory of Christ as it is and the despicable-ness of sin as it is, we preferred Christ and believed in Him with all our hearts. We did have a role in that. We saw. We preferred. And we believed. Justification, strictly speaking, is synergistic, even though it is entirely thanks to sovereign, monergistic, regenerating grace.

There is a similar dynamic regarding sanctification. As Christians, God has opened our eyes to behold and to treasure His glory, and now it is our duty to fix our eyes on that glory (Heb 12:2) -- to behold the glory of the Lord with unveiled face (2Cor 3:18) -- and in that way be transformed progressively into the image of Christ. God 'mongeristically' opens our eyes and reveals the glory of His Son, and we then respond and fight to saturate ourselves with that vision and to pursue Him with all our might.

So, the terms "monergistic sanctification" and "synergistic sanctification" are both misnomers, and therefore unhelpful. It might not be as neat and tidy to explain, but if we are to be Biblical, we have to maintain the truth of both realities in Philippians 2:12-13, even if it means more words of explanation.

And the practical application -- or the 'so what?' -- of this post comes at the end of the paragraph before last. 2 Corinthians 3:18 paired with 1 John 3:2 teaches us that our degree of Christlikeness is directly proportional to our beholding Christ's glory. The Holy Spirit works in us by revealing the glory of Christ (which is exactly what Christ said He would do, John 16:14), and we work out our salvation by fighting with all our might to see that glory clearly. We don't simply kick back and relax and wait for the magic zap. The Christian's pursuit of holiness is a fight, a race, a battle. Yet neither do we fight by clenching our fists and gritting our teeth and doing our best to follow the law. The fight is to be blood-earnest about getting everything out of our way so that we can see Him. The race has Him as its endpoint. We battle sin because we want Him.

Sanctification is the Spirit presenting the glory of Christ to me such that, seeing that glory, I am given all the strength and all the motivation needed to obey my Lord with joy, in the hopes that as I obey Him further, I will get more of Him.

Let us fix our eyes on Him, and run our race with endurance for the joy set before us.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us,
let us also lay aside every encumbrance
and the sin which so easily entangles us,
and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
fixing our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of faith,
who for the joy set before Him
endured the cross, despising the shame,
and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

- Hebrews 12:1-2 -

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Fundamental Change of the Whole Man

So far in this series, as we've sought to understand the nature of Biblical repentance, we've discussed two common Hebrew words used in the Old Testament that signify repentance. First, we looked at nacham and saw the place of emotions in repentance. Then, we looked at shuv and saw the essence of repentance as being the heart's obedient turn from sin and to God.

As we turn to the New Testament, progressive revelation sheds increasing light on and confirms to the believer’s understanding an already established, essential concept. The dominating Greek word used to signify repentance is μετανοέω
(metanoéō; and the noun form μετάνοια, metánoia). Though another word (ἐπιστρέφω, epistréphō) is used to translate shuv in the Septuagint, by the time of the New Testament metanoéō holds the same semantic value that shuv did in the Old Testament (NIDNTT, 1:357; TDNT, 4:989-999). This is supported by the word’s etymology, as it is made up of two Greek words which combine to mean to think again, or, more smoothly, to change one’s mind. Therefore, like shuv, metánoia is signifying the internal change of the whole man (his mind, will, and heart) that causes him to turn from sin and turn to God.

First, metánoia involves acknowledging your sin. We see this plainly as we consider that John the Baptist’s ministry consisted of “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:4; Lk 3:3). Repentance is for the forgiveness of sins. If someone didn't believe they were sinful, there would be no need for repentance. Further, baptism was something that Gentile converts to Judaism did to demonstrate their ceremonial uncleanness. In Israel at that time, for a Jew to submit to be baptized required that he acknowledge his sinfulness and his need of spiritual cleansing (Ac 3:19) on the level of being a Gentile, excluded from the nation of Israel! Repentance, then, is the act of sinners; for sinners, not the righteous, are those who are called to repentance (Lk 5:32)

Secondly, metánoia involves not only acknowledging your sin, but subsequently turning from your sin. The New Testament speaks of repenting of wickedness (Ac 8:22)
as well as particular evil deeds such as impurity, immorality, and sensuality (2Cor 12:21; Rev 2:21), and murders, sorceries, and thefts (Rev 9:21). Metánoia includes ceasing and turning from actual deeds of sinfulness, as is made plain by calling people to repent of their deeds (Rev 2:22; 16:11). This shows that Biblical repentance isn't simply feeling bad, sorry, or guilty about the sin you've committed; Biblical repentance includes the forsaking of those sinful actions.

Those evil deeds are most fundamentally manifested in unbelief in Jesus Christ, as Romans 14:23 teaches that everything that is not from faith in Christ is sin and needs to be repented of. Also, Luke 24:47 tells us that repentance for the forgiveness of sins is to be preached in Jesus' name. His is the only name given under heaven by which we are to be saved (Acts 4:12).
Indeed, Paul speaks of faith in Christ and repentance toward God as two sides of the same coin (Ac 20:21). You don't get one without the other.

Further, the need for repentance is universal. God commands all people everywhere to repent (Ac 17:30)
. The command to repent is universal because man's sin is universal. There is no one who is righteous, no one who understands, no one who seeks after God, no one who does good. Not even one (Rom 3:10-18). All have sinned and thus do fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). Without the forgiveness of sins that is granted by repentance and faith in Christ, all men await the righteous judgment of God (Mt 11:20-21; Lk 11:32), for Jesus declares, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Lk 13:3, 5), and threatens that he will “make war against them with the sword of My mouth” (Rev 2:16).

After one acknowledged that he deserved such judgment and turned from his sins in repentance, he was exhorted to “bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Mt 3:8; cf. Ac 26:20). Thus, as shuv, metánoia manifests itself in obedience, though now no longer to a law but to a person, which accords with professed faith in Christ (Jas 2:14-17
). Such obedience cannot be merely external, but must come from the heart (cf. Ac 8:21-22), as it involves loving one's neighbor by meeting his physical needs, by not cheating people out of their money, by speaking the truth, and by being content (see Luke 3:10-14), among other things.

In summary, then, metánoia is the change of the whole man from sin to God -- in his thought, in his will, and in his heart.

In the next post, I'll try to summarize what we've learned about repentance so far from these three words. What patterns, trends, or things-that-stand-out have you recognized from this study? How might you summarize what we've seen so far?

Friday, June 18, 2010

"All Truth is God's Truth"

Whenever I hear this assertion it's usually being given as substantiation for some devaluation of the sufficiency of Scripture. Whether that be trying to force billions of years into Genesis 1-3, claiming that one's counseling methodology ought to be informed by secular psychological theory, or seeking to legitimize an over-concern with worldliness in the name of being missional or contextualizing the Gospel, this phrase gets a lot of mileage from those seeking to evade the teaching of the sufficient Scripture by affording undue authority to other sources of knowledge. When it comes down to it, the question of the validity of this statement is a question of epistemology. How do we know what we know? What is the authoritative source of all knowledge?

The Bible contains the revelation of the specific words of God to specific people. Because of this specificity, the Bible is said to be the "special revelation" of God (cf. Grudem, p. 122-123). General revelation, on the other hand, is "the knowledge of God’s existence, character, and moral law, which comes through creation to all humanity" (Grudem, p. 122). Such revelation is "general," or "common," because it is revealed to all humanity -- it's something we all have in common, so to speak.

The relationship of the authority of special revelation and general revelation is of particular importance to the issues raised above, i.e., the age of the earth, Biblical vs. integrationist counseling, and the nature of the natural man's spiritual death. The scientist, psychologist, or postmodern thinker argues that all truth is God’s truth, and so if something is found to be true by means of scientific analysis of general revelation, well then that is a manifestation of God’s common grace. Since truth which is gleaned from general revelation, it is argued, is just as much God’s truth as truth gleaned from special revelation, both special and general revelation are equally authoritative and thus each ought to have a place in Christian epistemology.

As a dear brother of mine has said, "Perhaps all truth is God's truth, but not all words are God's Word."

The problem with this "All-truth-is-God's-truth" line of reasoning is that it simply does not acknowledge
the inherent difference between general revelation and special revelation in both glory and authority. Scripture assigns to itself more authority than it does to general revelation. Though general revelation is perceived through God’s creation, and though God’s creation began as "very good" (Gen 1:31), the consequences of the Fall of man present a twofold problem. First, God subjected the entire creation to futility (Rom 8:20-23), cursing His "very good" creation as a result of Adam's sin (Gen 3:17). Second, when Adam sinned, all humanity died with him (Rom 5:12). So even though it is through creation that the invisible attributes of God have been clearly seen, leaving men with no excuse (Rom 1:20), the depravity of fallen man causes him to suppress that clearly revealed truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18), rendering both fallen creation and fallen man unqualified epistemological authorities. The creation in its current state is not a reliable subject of study because of its corruption, and since no part of humanity's existence was unaffected by the Fall, our total depravity makes us unreliable students.

The Word of God, on the other hand, is not fallen. Indeed, the law of Yahweh remains perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true, and righteous altogether (Ps 19:7-9). Unlike the corrupted creation and its depraved students, the integrity – and thus, the authority – of special revelation is entirely unblemished by the Fall. Further, Yahweh's perfect law "restores the soul" (Ps 19:7) of depraved mankind, something general revelation cannot do. "Far greater than all general revelation is the glory of God revealed in His Word, because the Word transforms the heart of man" (Street, Counseling, p. 44).

Those who tout "All truth is God's truth" as a way to put observation of creation (scientific or otherwise) on equal footing with Scripture simply do not realize the inherent difference in glory and authority between general revelation and special revelation.

Even though the heavens are declaring the glory of God (Ps 19:1) such that men are without excuse (Rom 1:20), general revelation cannot free man from the corruption that even it is enslaved to (Rom 8:20-23). Only special revelation can do that; that is, the Word of God which is perfect, restoring the soul (Ps 19:7), able to make us wise unto salvation (2Tim 3:15) .

So all truth may be God's truth, but not all words are God's Word. God's decisive, sufficient, perfect Word surpasses even His good, yet corrupted, creation in both glory and authority.

And that must drive our epistemology. Otherwise, it is not a Christian epistemology.

The law of Yahweh is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of Yahweh is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of Yahweh are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of Yahweh is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of Yahweh is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of Yahweh are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
- Psalm 19:7-11 -

All Scripture is inspired by God
and profitable
for teaching, for reproof,
for correction, for training in righteousness;
so that the man of God may be adequate,
equipped for every good work.
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17 -

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Heart's Obedient Turn from Sin to God

After introducing this series on the nature of Biblical repentance, I looked last Tuesday at one of the Hebrew words the Old Testament uses to describe repentance: nacham. I noted that the major lesson nacham teaches us about repentance is that there is an emotional component involved. Biblical repentance includes remorse and sorrow, and at times experiences such remorse and sorrow to the degree that it moves one to demonstrate his sorrow in action.

Yet nacham doesn't give us the whole story on what the Old Testament has to say about repentance. Certainly it involves the emotions, but another Old Testament word gives us a greater insight into the nature of Biblical repentance.

The most common word for repentance in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word שׁוּב. One way to transliterate שׁוּב is simply shuv (pronounced “shoov”). Though not every occurrence of shuv, which appears over 1,050 times in the Old Testament, carries the sense of evangelical repentance, even its non-technical use sheds light on the nature of true repentance.

At its most basic sense, shuv means to turn or to return. The word’s wide semantic range includes the general concepts of turning (Deut 23:13)
, returning (Gen 3:19), reverting, and withdrawing (2 Sam 11:15). Some cognate forms even add faithless (Jer 3:11), rebellious, and turning back (Gen 14:17). It can be used to describe God’s own turning from a decision to inflict calamity (Ex. 32:12; Deut 13:17; Josh 7:26), as well as Israel’s turning away from God in disobedience (Josh 22:16; Jdg 2:19). However, in the more than fifty occurrences in which it does signify man’s repentance, "better than any other verb it combines in itself the two requisites of repentance: to turn from evil and to turn to the good" (TWOT, 2:909). We learn much of Biblical repentance through its study.

As the most basic sense of shuv is to turn, we first learn that Biblical repentance is a turning from sin (1Ki 8:35)
, transgression (Is 59:20), and iniquity (Dan 9:13). Eliphaz describes repentance to Job as "removing unrighteousness far from your tent" (Job 22:23), and Jeremiah repeatedly calls Israel to turn from their "evil way" (Jer 19:11-12; 25:5; 26:3; 36:3; 35:15). Ezekiel is careful to note that repentance involves repudiating all known sin in our lives and not just particular sins (Ezek 18:21). In Israel, where idol worship was rampant, the call to repentance often included the call to turn from the practice of idolatry (1Sam 7:3; Jer 4:1-14; Ezek 14:6). Indeed, true repentance is impossible for one who continues in sin, as Hosea 5:4 says, "Their deeds will not allow them to return to their God." In other words, in the mind of the prophet Hosea, persisting in one's sin and returning to God are mutually exclusive. The mere persistence in your deeds will itself prevent you from enjoying fellowship with God.

Therein is the next characteristic of shuv. It involves not only turning from sin, but also turning to God. The break from sin serves the end of being restored to fellowship -- a right relationship -- with God. Repentant individuals are said to seek Yahweh (Is 9:13)
and His favor (Dan 9:13). Israel is called to tremble at His goodness and to let that goodness entice them to seek Him (Hos 3:5). They are to put away their idols and be unwavering in their worship to Him alone (Jer 4:1-4; 1Sam 7:3). Isaiah contrasts the repentant with those who forsake Him (Is 1:27-28), which shows that there is a relational component to repentance. Yahweh Himself says as much when He commands Israel to turn their faces from idols (Ezek 14:6). Instead, He desires that they turn their faces in adoration and worship to Him.

Further, turning to God to serve and worship Him alone requires that the sinner "reform [his] ways and [his] deeds" (Jer 18:11)
. Shuv involves a change of lifestyle that results in obedience, which in some cases entails "fasting, weeping, and mourning" (Joel 2:12). When Solomon prays that Yahweh would grant Israel's repentance after times of sin, he prayed that along with that repentance Yahweh would "teach them the good way in which they should walk" (1Ki 8:36). And it is not as though this obedience is undefined; rather, the call to shuv often includes a call to keep Yahweh's commandments as revealed in the Law of Moses (Deut 4:30; 2Ki 17:13; 23:25). The one who will surely live is the one who turns from his sins, "and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness" (Ezek 18:21). And as Daniel confesses the sins of his people, he defines their lack of repentance as a failure to "[give] attention to Your truth" (Dan 9:13).

However, while obedience is a necessary fruit of repentance, it is a mistake to conflate repentance with merely external activities. The turn from sin and idolatry to a restored relationship with Yahweh is preeminently focused on the heart (Jer 4:4). First, the many calls to shuv require that the repentant one acknowledge his need. Hosea calls
Israel to return (Hos 14:1) and say to Yahweh, "Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously" (Hos 14:2); there is a confession of sin and an acknowledgment of a need for grace. Further, the calls for turning with "all your heart and all your soul" are extremely prevalent (Deut 4:29; 30:2, 10; 1Ki 8:48; Jer 3:10). And though Yahweh calls for fasting, mourning, and weeping, the call to shuv is to "return to Me with all your heart" (Joel 2:12). Indeed, in Yahweh's mind, it is an attitude of the heart that produces the very acts of obedience. Further, as if that was not sufficient emphasis, He immediately follows with a command which condemns merely external ritualism, calling His people to "rend your hearts and not your garments" (Joel 2:13).

Finally, shuv results in blessing. The one who turns from sin and to God with all his heart, while acknowledging a need for grace and bearing obedient fruit in keeping with repentance, is promised redemption (Is 1:27-28; 59:20), deliverance (1Sam 7:3), compassion (2Chr 30:9), restored fellowship with God (Job 22:23), the privilege of declaring His praise (Hos 14:2), and spiritual life (Ezek 18:21-32). Indeed, "the repudiation of all sin and affirmation of God's total will for one's life" (TWOT, 2:909) gives "a completely new direction to the whole man in a return from sin to God."

Between shuv and nacham, then, we have a pretty good idea about what the Old Testament taught about repentance. Next time, we'll look to what the New Testament has for us.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"What a Great God!"

I came across the following post over at Tullian Tchividjian's blog, On Earth as it is in Heaven. I just really appreciated his God-centered focus and his very eminent aim to see the glory of God have prominence in the Church's Sunday worship. I reproduce the post below and offer some comments to follow.

In the opening verses of Isaiah 6, what the prophet encounters first in the house of God is the glory of God: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple” (v.1). It doesn’t first say he encountered well-dressed people or hot coffee or influential power brokers or a booming sound system or a great organ. What he caught site of first was God’s glory.

There’s a growing trend in some churches to offer door prizes to any returning visitor. One church visited recently by a friend of mine promised him a ten-dollar Starbucks gift card if he came back the following week.

Isaiah shows us the door prize that awaited him when he walked into the house of God—the uncomfortable, wrecking presence of God’s glory: “Woe is me!” (v.5).

In the Bible, the glory of God refers to God’s “heaviness,” his powerful presence. It’s God’s prevailing excellence on display. The glory of God is the “augustness” of God—an old term conveying his awe-inspiring majesty. In fact, one reason why Christians in the Roman Empire were persecuted is that they refused to use the word august for the emperor—such a description belonged to God alone, they said. They understood that there is a transcendent majesty unique to God. This high and lifted up greatness of God is what Isaiah encountered—a God who is majestically and brilliantly in command.

All this means we ought to come to worship expecting first and foremost to see God. We come to encounter his glory, to be awestruck by his majesty. A worship service isn’t the place to showcase human talent but the place for God to showcase his divine treasure. We gather not to be impressed by one another—how we sound, what we wear, who we are—but to be impressed by God and his mighty acts of salvation. We come to sing of who he is and what he’s done. We come to hear his voice resounding in and through his Word. We come to feel the grief of our sin so that we can taste the glory of his salvation. We gather to be magnificently defeated, flattened, and shrunk by the power and might of the living God.

This is in stark contrast to the world’s insistence that the bigger we get and the better we feel about ourselves, the freer we become [that is, the man-centered notion that being loved is being made much of]. That’s why many worship services have been reduced to little more than motivational, self-help seminars filled with “you can do it” songs and sermons. But what we find in the gospel is just the opposite. The gospel is good news for losers, not winners. It’s for those who long to be freed from the slavery of believing that all of their significance, meaning, purpose, and security depend on their ability to “become a better you.” The gospel tells us that weakness precedes usefulness—that, in fact, the smaller you get, the freer you will be. Nothing makes you more aware of your smallness and life’s potential bigness than encountering the glory of God in worship. Corporate worship services in the church today desperately need to recover a sense of God’s size!

Not long ago I was in desperate need for God to liberate me from the slavish pressure to perform by reminding me of my smallness and his bigness. And since God has used the preaching of the late Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones throughout my Christian life to bring great perspective and reorientation to my troubled soul, I went back to one of his 1959 sermons on revival. With great unction, Lloyd-Jones delivered the reminder I craved:

Our supreme need, our only need, is to know God, the living God, and the power of his might. We need nothing else. It is just that, the power of the living God, to know that the living God is among us and that nothing else matters…I say, forget everything else. Forget everything else. We need to realize the presence of the living God amongst us. Let everything else be silent. This is no time for minor differences. We all need to know the touch of the power of the living God.

“The touch of the power of the living God”—that’s what Isaiah experienced. He was freed by realizing that God is big and he was small—that God was God and he was not. And this is what God intends for us to experience when he gathers us in worship. Isaiah didn’t leave the temple thinking, “What a great angelic choir” or “What a great temple.” He left thinking, “What a great God.”

As pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, I’ll be the first to admit that we are blessed with great music and a world-class facility. But, as I often remind our church, if people don’t leave our church thinking first, “What a great God” then our music and facilities mean nothing. Whatever else we may see in worship, we must see God first and best.

Our churches should not be places where the unbeliever is made to feel comfortable, but where he is made to feel decidedly uncomfortable by the weightiness of the glory of God -- the kind of discomfort that makes someone fall to the ground and pronounce a curse on himself because of his sinfulness (Is 6:5) or say, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!" (Lk 5:8). Our churches should not be places where unbelievers go and feel like we are just like them, but where they realize that they have just been somewhere that is not of this world -- not like anything they've ever known.

Our churches should be places where the Word of God is heralded in such a way that unbelievers are convicted and called to account by all, the secrets of their hearts disclosed, such that they fall on their face and worship God, declaring that certainly God is among us (1Cor 14:24-25).

"God is among them. And He is astonishingly glorious, and nothing like anything I've ever seen or heard of before!" That is what should be the impression in the hearts and minds of unbelievers as they visit our churches.

Fellow Christians, is that the impression you give on Sunday mornings? That you are in the very presence of God? Do your conversations and interactions with each other, the way you participate in the singing and the prayer and the offering, and the way you listen to the sermon communicate to those who might be observing that you are collectively appearing before the altar of Almighty God Himself to offer a spiritual service of worship?

Pastors and church leaders, is that the impression you give on Sunday mornings? That you are leading your flock in to the very presence of that holy, glorious, weighty God that has called you into His service? Does your worship set, your pastoral prayer, and most importantly your sermon -- in both content and delivery -- communicate to those who might be observing that you are leading your people beyond the veil into the Holy of Holies before the Throne of Grace in the name of Christ? Will these people sit in your churches and hear from Almighty God because of what you do and say?

We want people, both our congregation and those who happen to be visiting, to leave our churches every Sunday afternoon saying, "What a great God!" Do everything you do on Sundays to achieve that great end.

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters,
he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all;

the secrets of his heart are disclosed;
and so he will fall on his face and worship God,
declaring that God is certainly among you.

- 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 -

Friday, June 11, 2010

Rejoicing in Suffering

One thing I hear very often from evangelicals is that we don't rejoice in our sufferings themselves, but in the products of that suffering -- what the suffering produces (e.g., perseverance, proven character, and hope, Rom 5:3-4; cf. Jas 1:2-4), and will eventually give way to (i.e., an eternal weight of glory, 2Cor 4:17). And I understand that. We don't enjoy trials as if we're masochists or even ascetics, as if we love suffering for the sake of suffering. We do have a great, deep, abiding joy even during our trials, but we have that joy because of the God-ordained products of that suffering.

But what I fear is that many Christians hear this kind of statement and take it the wrong way. They may hear it and believe that suffering for righteousness' sake is merely something to get through, and not something that is a stimulus to enjoy the glory of God.

So what do I think we should think about this issue?

First of all, we must let verses like Philippians 4:4 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16 govern our understanding of joy in trials or suffering, because it's true that we are commanded to rejoice always. I think 2 Corinthians 6:10 is also a helpful passage to consider, as it tells us that we can be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.

What I must guard against in my own thinking is the notion that the only true joy or hope that I can have in very unpleasant trials and suffering is in the prospect of that suffering coming to an end. In other words, when I suffer for righteousness' sake, I need to be able to, in that moment, recognize that God has ordained that this happen, and that His purpose in ordaining that this happen is the same reason that He ordains everything else to happen: so that He might be displayed and enjoyed as glorious. And that glory is my greatest good. (That's what Romans 8:28 means.) And so if the trial has come about to reveal God's glory, then I want to enjoy His glory even in the midst of that trial, otherwise I'll waste that trial. So:

1) God ordains that His people suffer and go through trials in order to reveal His glory.
2) God's glory is what I am most happy and satisfied in.
Therefore, 3) I rejoice in the suffering for what it reveals of God.

That is precisely what was going on in Acts 5:40-42, when the apostles rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ. They were rejoicing, not only in the fact that one day the suffering would end, but they saw suffering for Christ's sake as such a privilege and honor -- that they would be displaying His glory and sweetness by giving up their comfort, to put it mildly -- that they were happy to experience it. This is that blessing that Jesus pronounces upon those who suffer for righteousness' sake in Matthew 5:10-12. It is what Peter says in 1 Peter 4:12-16: that to the degree we share in the sufferings of Christ we should keep on rejoicing, because in that moment we are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on us.

So it's important for Christians, in our thinking about our Christian life, not to simply rejoice in the midst of our trials because someday they'll end. We must rejoice in our trials, because in the midst of those trials God 1) is manifesting His glory, which is my greatest joy, 2) has called me "blessed" when such things happen, and 3) causes His own Spirit to rest on me in those instances. The eternal weight of glory that our light and momentary affliction is producing for us is something that we can begin to enjoy even now -- and even in the midst of that light and momentary affliction.

To illustrate a bit, I offer this admittedly imperfect analogy. Compare being sick to sin in our Christian life, medicine to trials, and health to holiness in the Christian life. When I'm sick, I need medicine. Taking that medicine is often very unpleasant in itself. It tastes pretty terrible. There's no way that I would drink this stuff for fun. I'm only going to take it because I know it will make me healthy. But because the taking of the medicine has so often been paired with being rid of my sickness and regaining the joy of my health, I do actually become happy to see the medicine when it's presented to me. My joy in being healthy begins to merge with my joy in taking the medicine, because the medicine is the means by which I will get healthy. I don't groan when I see the medicine. In a strange sense, rather than being bitter, it becomes sweet to me.

Similarly, because trials are paired with 1) seeing and enjoying the glory of God in greater degrees and 2) my increasing Christlikness, I rejoice in those trials also. The "health" that I rejoice in in the above analogy is not simply heaven when I'm free from all suffering, but the enjoyment of God's glory and the progress of my sanctification here and now.

So, when you suffer for the name of Christ, don't waste the opportunity that you've been given to see and enjoy and make much of the glory of God in Christ through that suffering. Receive it with thanksgiving, with joy, with a sense of honor and privilege that you have been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Phil 1:29).

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!
- Philippians 4:4 -

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you,
which comes upon you for your testing,
as though some strange thing were happening to you;
but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing,
so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.

If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed,
because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler;
but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed,
but is to glorify God in this name.

- 1 Peter 4:12-16 -

So they went on their way from the presence of the Council,
rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.

- Acts 5:41 -

For to you it has been granted
for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him,
but also to suffer for His sake.

- Philippians 1:29 -

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Biblical Repentance Involves the Emotions

Last Tuesday, I introduced a series on Biblical repentance in which I mentioned that I'd be studying the doctrine of repentance from Scripture, first by studying the words Scripture uses to speak about repentance. It's important, when trying to discover a Scriptural theology of a particular doctrine, to get that theology "from the ground up," so to speak. Contemporary Christians have a way about speaking in Scriptural terms, but using those words without their paired Scriptural meaning. And so we often wind up using the same terminology while meaning totally different things by it. Because of that, we need to go directly to Scripture and start at the most basic level: the inspired, infallible, inerrant words that God gave. This way, we can understand repentance, not the way we've always heard it or thought about it, but in the way that the writers of Scripture intend it to be understood.

One word that the Old Testament uses for repentance is the word נחם. One way to transliterate it into English is nacham. It sort of sounds like nah-CHAM, with the ch pronounced as a guttural like the ch in chanukkah. Lexical sources posit that nacham was originally an onomatopoetic word, carrying the sense of breathing deeply. This is certainly supported by Hebrew phonology, as nacham almost sounds like one is sighing. This is also consistent with the semantic range of nacham in the Old Testament, whose meanings include to have compassion, to comfort, to be sorry or sorrowful, and to repent. One can imagine someone sighing in compassion and in order to comfort someone, or because he is sorrowful about something.

Put most simply, nacham shows us the place of the emotions in repentance. It teaches that those who repent will be genuinely sorry and remorseful over their deeds. For example, it describes the mourning one does at the funeral of a family member: Now after a considerable time Shua's daughter, the wife of
Judah, died; and when the time of mourning [nacham] was ended…” (Gen 38:12). This is not hard to understand when we consider that our Lord has told us that mourning is an appropriate response to recognizing our own sin (Mt 5:4). Nacham is also used to describe the sorrow the people of Israel experience when the tribe of their brother Benjamin suffered the judgment of Yahweh because of the wickedness done to the Levite’s concubine (Jdg 19). “And the sons of Israel were sorry [nacham] for their brother Benjamin and said, ‘One tribe is cut off from Israel today’” (Jdg 21:6, cf. 21:15).

Further, after being severely rebuked by Yahweh for his complaining and arrogant words, Job expresses his deep sorrow by declaring his repentance as he sits on the ash heap in a landfill: “Therefore I retract, and I repent [nacham] in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). This godly sorrow is also said to be accompanied by shame and humiliation. In Jeremiah 31:19, this is evidenced by Ephraim (a name representing the people
Israel) smiting his thigh: “For after I turned back, I repented [nacham]; And after I was instructed, I smote on my thigh; I was ashamed and also humiliated because I bore the reproach of my youth.’” Thus, these deep emotions of remorse signaled by nacham will lead to action, such as repudiating wickedness, which God required of Jerusalem (Jer 8:6); renouncing sinful thoughts and words, as Job did when he was confronted by Yahweh (Job 42:3-6); and even changing one’s physical course of direction, which God prevented Israel from doing while fleeing the Egyptians in the exodus (Ex 13:17).

Nacham, then, underscores the emotional component of repentance. It includes remorse and sorrow, and in some cases shame and humiliation. And at times it experiences these emotions to such a degree that it moves one to demonstrate his sorrow in action.

ver, as insightful as nacham is into the nature of Biblical repentance, it's not the whole story. In order to discover that true repentance from sin goes beyond the emotional response of sorrow and regret and into the realm of affections and actions as well, we must look to another Hebrew word, which we'll get to next time.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Anniversary Reflections

Not that it's a terribly big deal, but yesterday marked the first anniversary of For Our Benefit. On June 3, 2009, I wrote the first post for my new blog, explaining why in the world I wanted to start blogging at that particular time in my life. The blog was inspired by some breathtaking lessons that God was teaching me about Himself, about the nature of love, grace, and joy, and about the Christian life. (Some of those lessons foundational to the blog can be found here and here.)

To rip off Bethlehem Baptist Church's mission statement, I guess you could say that since that time I've been writing in order to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things, for the joy of all peoples. I think that sentence captures the intention of God in all He does as revealed in the Scriptures, namely, that God presents Himself as both the motivation and the means of true, lasting, holy joy and satisfaction. He presents Himself as Lord over all things, and then just by virtue of such majesty, calls us to worship Him in His glory. And so through this blog I have desired to proclaim God's beautiful sovereignty and supremacy to the end that He be glorified and magnified to the utmost, which is the greatest, fullest, and most abiding joy and benefit to all human beings. And I have desired to undertake that as my mission because it is His mission.

I pasted all of the posts I wrote into wordle.net. This is basically a textual-visual image of the content of my blog (click for a larger image):

Wordle: For Our Benefit 2009-2010

I have really appreciated the help for my own soul that the Lord has graciously given through this blog. If nothing else, it has been a wonderful teacher of self-discipline. It has not always been perfectly natural and delightful and easy to post two to three times a week. Throughout this past year I've moved across the country, completed my first year of seminary, and have sought to better love both my Lord and my wife, and with those priorities it's been difficult at times to keep up with the blog. But I thank the Lord for the lessons of self-discipline that have come through it.

And yet, though there have been some crunch times of busy-ness, I thank Him also for sustaining in me a genuine joy in seeking Him in His Word, in prayer, and in the fellowship of His people, and in recording the things He's given me. Blogging has been a wonderful outlet for the many thoughts and ruminations that the Lord has impressed upon me over this past year. I frequently refer to my own past posts to sweetly remember the things He has shown me in my walk with Him. It's interesting to be convicted by the things I myself have written. To my mind, that confirms that these things that I've written are not from myself, but from Him (O Lord, may it be so!).

And blogging has also opened up some wonderful relationships with others, both whom I've known before and whom I've met in the process. And I do give my sincerest thanks, from the bottom of my heart, to those of you who read my blog. I thank you for the various comments in the threads and the many encouraging emails that you've written to let me know of the benefit these posts have brought to you. There are few things more exciting to me that knowing that I have ministered Christ to you by presenting the beauty of His glory to you, even if only in a small way. It truly is a privilege to minister the Gospel of Christ, and I trust that He has granted that the truth of the Gospel has gone forth from this place. I pray that you truly have been benefited by reading, that you have seen Christ more clearly and enjoyed Him more deeply because of For Our Benefit. I also will continue to pray that you will continue to read, and that God will increase the benefit of this ministry in the coming year.

I suppose I could say more, but I think that's about enough.

O Lord I confess that even on my best and most Spirit-filled day, this "poor, lisping, stammering tongue" ever fails to do justice to the glory of Your self-revelation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as given in your Word. My best and most godly efforts are still laced with sin, and so fall short of Your glory.

I confess that far too often I love proclaiming Your glory more than I actually love Your glory. Forgive me for my backwardness, and my slowness of heart to believe all that the Scriptures have said. Please grant me the grace of repentance, that I might turn from my sin and serve and enjoy You with my whole heart -- that I might love You with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

And Lord for whatever truth You have granted that I proclaim, I ask that I would receive no glory for it, but that You would receive all glory and honor. For it is Your Word, communicated according to Your mercy, received only by Your grace.

I thank You for this past year, and ask that in the coming year You would graciously see fit to glorify Yourself through my feeble efforts. May You get from my life what You are worthy of, I ask in the name of Jesus Christ the Righteous, Amen.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Biblical Repentance: Introduction

Few doctrines of the historic Christian faith lie closer to the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the course of the Christian life than the doctrine of repentance. Indeed, when our Lord was said to first preach the Gospel of forgiveness of sins in His name, the first command He uttered was, “Repent” (Mk 1:15). Yet within Christendom – and even within Evangelicalism – there is widespread confusion and disagreement about the precise nature of repentance.

What does it mean to repent? What is the place of our feelings in repentance? Should we feel like we haven't repented unless we've felt sorry enough? Or should we confess and move on and trust that our feelings will catch up with us later? What about our works? Do we have to offer some sort of satisfaction for our sin beyond what Christ has accomplished, like feeling sorry enough or confessing to others? Or does the requirement of "obedience in keeping with repentance" undermine justification by faith alone? What is it, exactly, that God wants from us when we confess our sin and seek forgiveness? How should our walk with Christ look if we have a Biblical understanding of repentance?

Over the next couple of weeks I want to do a series on Biblical repentance. In the upcoming posts, I'll try to answer some of the questions I asked above in a number of ways. First, I'll examine three of the most common words used in the Bible to signify repentance. We'll study each word in its original Hebrew or Greek from a lexical and semantic perspective. The analysis of these words and their surrounding contexts will give us a theology of the nature of Biblical repentance. We'll see how Scripture uses these terms and look at what the authors of Scripture mean when they talk about repentance.

Once we have an idea about the nature of repentance, we'll look to apply that understanding to repentance both in justification and sanctification. In justification, we'll look at repentance as the sinner's turning from his sin as the ruling principle of his life. This takes place at conversion. Regarding sanctification, we'll look at the believer's habitual, ongoing repentance of specific sins throughout his Christian walk.

After this, I will spend some time contrasting Biblical repentance to the Roman Catholic doctrine of penance. That might seem a bit random, but I assure you that I'm not just going out of my way to pick on Catholics. The reality is, many Evangelical Protestants who would vehemently denounce the Roman Catholic doctrine of penance -- a sort of paying God back for your sins -- unwittingly practice penance while thinking they are practicing Biblical repentance. This is something that so many of us are prone to, because it is a natural human inclination to try to earn one's own righteousness before God. This goes to the heart of the Gospel, and calls into question the sufficiency of Christ's atonement.

Then, after all of those theoretical considerations, I'll do my best to specifically apply these principles to a practical counseling situation in which a church member has confessed to an immoral affair. I'll try to show how a Christian should come along side his brother and lead him to Biblical repentance while leading him away from the dangers of penance. This way, we can see what it would look like for us to practically live out these Biblical principles in the context of the body of Christ. Examining this hypothetical case study will also demonstrate how church leaders might evaluate the genuineness of a sinning member's repentance.

Finally, I'll conclude the series by presenting how my own study of the doctrine of repentance has affected me personally in my walk with Christ, and how I hope it will have affected you who undertake to study it with me. May God grant that this be a fruitful and beneficial endeavor, and that it serve to raise our affections high toward Him as we look into the wonderful things He's revealed in His glorious Word.

Satisfy us with Yourself, O God, as we carefully study the Word you have given us in order to see the beauty of Your manifold perfections with ever-increasing precision and clarity! And as we behold that glory, grant that we would become transformed into the very image of Your Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren and come to have the preeminence in everything, and that You might be honored above all things!


Biblical Repentance: Introduction