Friday, April 04, 2008

Short Meditations on Faith, Repentance and the Will

These thoughts were written as a response to a question that was asked to me concerning faith, repentance and will in the role of salvation.

This is what I've always thought too, until I started probing deeper into the nature of those words "faith" and "repentance".

The first thing I saw (and I believe God was showing me) was that repentance was not just another word for 'keep the law', which most people, without realizing it, use it that way. What do you mean when you say "repent"? A common response is that it means to turn from sin and turn to God. What does that mean? What is the definition of sin?
"Sin is the transgression of the law." (1 John 3:4) So turn from transgressing the law? How comprehensive are we talking about?

Do we mean turn from outward sins only or are we also speaking of inward sins and inward defilements? How much sin do we have to turn from, some or all? Is it just a desire to stop sinning, or is it actually stopping? According the Bible, if a person doesn't
continue keeping all the law he is under a curse (Galatians 3:10). It would seem then that to stop transgressing the law, you would have to turn from all sin. That means no more sinning, inwardly or outwardly, ever; and that's not just talking about the "thou shalt not's" but also the "thou shalt's". So if repentance means to turn from sin and turn to God, that's pretty comprehensive, and is no different in any way from being under the law and living by the principle of works: "if you stop sinning, you'll live". That didn't sound like the gospel to me.

For the first time I began to see that God was holy... REALLY holy, and the reason the standard of the law was so high was because God's law was requiring me to "be holy as God is holy", and that is altogether too much for any man on His own. All truly have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. A person isn't holy just because he stopped lusting or swearing. A person isn't holy even if he ceased from anger or self-pity. In fact, the law has a way of making so-called "righteous" men even more proud! And so ironically, the more you 'stop sinning', the worse you get, because of the wicked heart of pride. Holiness is not something you do but is something you are. As long as we are still trying to 'do' holiness we are getting worse, as Israel did. The cross is the only remedy. Cross-less holiness is disastrous.

Repentance, then, cannot mean what many think it to mean. I have learned that the word 'repentance', in its purest sense, has nothing to do with sin! just like the word 'turn' has nothing to do with sin either, unless '...from sin' is coupled onto it. In the Bible, God repents. That doesn't mean God repented of sin! What is the repentance about is the question in point. Repentance, by itself, doesn't make sense unless we know the object it is being connected to.

Now I understand far better what Jesus meant when He preached, "Repent and believe the Gospel." Essentially, what He was saying was, "Change your mind and believe the Gospel", not, "Keep the law and believe the Gospel" which is a complete oxymoron. And the same with John the Baptist: "Bring forth fruit meet for repentance", and Paul, "that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance." Thus repentance is distinct from the fruit of repentance. True repentance is obeying the true gospel. The true fruits of obeying the gospel is a life zealous for good works; a good tree bearing good fruit.

Secondly, faith.

I also used to think the same way about faith, until God started giving me a deeper understanding of the nature of faith. I saw that, contrary to what I used to believe, faith was not 'square one' so to speak; it is not the 'first thing', according to Romans 10:17,
"So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Before faith, there must be a hearing of the word of God. That hearing, which predicates faith, is a supernatural work of God. It is the kind of hearing that Jesus spoke of when He said, "He who has ears let him hear." It is a spiritual hearing (and seeing), and the opposite is spiritual deafness (and blindness).

This is why the majority of the Jewish nation
could not believe in Christ, because they could not see or hear. "But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Isaiah said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them." (John 12:37-40)

The reason why a person believes is because God first opens their eyes and ears to see and hear! "Faith cometh by hearing." There are numerous accounts in Scripture to confirm this; for one, consider Lydia in Acts 16:14,
"And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul." Neither does a Christian necessarily need to understand this for it to happen. Many who believe in Christ are clueless to the fact that God had first opened their eyes.

I've now come to see that faith, as the Scripture says, is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). It is the lack of understanding this truth, however, that many are "wise in their own conceits", because they have not properly understood that their "standing" is God's gift, and have boasted in their own ability to believe!

"Boast not against the branches... because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee." (Romans 11:18, 20-21)

There is a humility that comes with faith, because, as John Newton said so well, "Amazing grace... I once was blind, but now I see." Faith is the gift of God, and without the supernatural illuminating of the Spirit of God in our hearts, we could never believe God, nor receive that divine righteousness which comes through Abrahamic faith in Christ. It takes God for this kind of believing!

As for the will, I absolutely agree that the will must desire to be changed. The problem is, as you know, the will alone is not sufficient to produce such a change. I may full well want to obey the law, but "that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I."(Romans 7:15) I may want to follow Christ, but the will alone cannot follow: "Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake." (John 13:37)

Men must come to see that they have no sufficiency in themselves to love, serve, believe or obey God. No confidence in the flesh. One person put it this way: "It takes God to love God!" That is so true. Our will, as well meaning as it can be, should bring us to the place where we cry out, "Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death?" I believe that it is when God sees the work of His law penetrate this deep into the individual, He responds by revealing Christ to the heart.
"Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith." (Galatians 3:24)

Love in Christ,


Eli said...

This video was posted on the message board and I believe goes along with what I've expressed in the above post. Please watch this video with an humble and honest heart.

In Him,

Todd Nielsen said...

Hi Eli,

Thinking of you often, usually with guilt regarding my inactivity. However, God is gracious and our brother Kirk dragged me out last Friday to the streets of Moncton and I began engaging people with the gospel again. As Ray Comfort says, "I went dragging my feet, but came back clicking my heals."

Appreciate your word on "Repentance" and the clip you have above is excellent. I am very glad God has been leading me to such solid exposition of His word, may it flow readily from my lips to all I encounter to the glory of God who alone opens ears.


Anonymous said...

Eli, I really appreciate your comments on Repentance and Faith. This makes so much sense, and helps me to better understand the Gospel.



Todd Nielsen said...

You inspired a further look into the word repent. This morning I dug into my Strong's Concordance which stated the Greek word translated "repent" as 'metanoeo' which means to think differently or afterwards, reconsider(feel compunction). The word "repentance" in the Greek is 'metanoia' with a simular meaning of compuntion for guilt, reversal(of another decision).

So, as you said, the word "repent" alone does not mean turn from sin. Jesus preached, "repent ye, and believe the gospel" in Mark 1:15. What would he be asking people to repent of or think differently about? I suppose their need of a Savior, since He follows by commanding them to believe the Gospel which is as Paul stated "that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures."

Most people I witness to think themselves 'good', which is against Jesus who said, "there is none good but one, that is, God."(Matt19:17) Their thinking is wrong about themselves. Their thinking doesn't lead them to see "the wrath of God" abiding on them. They do not "know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing". They must as you said, "repent of self" for "we are all as an unclean thing" They must also repent and think differently of their 'good works' "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." The only solution is death to "self" "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me."

I like how you showed how God is the one who opens the ears to hear because the scriptures also say God is the one who gives the ability to repent("give repentance to Israel"Acts5:31, "to the Gentiles granted repentance"Acts11:18, "the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance"Rom2:4).

Isn't it amazing?! As far as I can see in the scriptures it is all of God! There is absolutely no room for the sinner to boast! "Then WILL I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye SHALL be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, WILL I cleanse you. A new heart also WILL I give you, and a new spirit WILL I put within you: and I WILL take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I WILL give you an heart of flesh. And I WILL put my spirit within you, and CAUSE you to walk in my statutes, and ye SHALL keep my judgments, and do them."

What a SAVIOR! What a kind, gracious, merciful God! To think that while we were loving darkness, dead in trespasses and sins He would choose to save us and bear OUR sins upon that tree!

"Beloved, the religion of our Lord Jesus Christ contains in it nothing so wonderful as Himself."-Spurgeon

Eli said...

Praise the Lord brother! That's so encouraging to see you post this. The revelation of God's holiness and our sinfulness is an awesome revelation. Only then does grace really become grace. What a glorious gospel!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing that Eli. It was very insightful. :-) God bless!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Eli, for bringing clarity to the subject of repentance. Will look at that video too. Amen! Todd. Love in Jesus, Margie

The Big Bad Banker said...

And thus, in order for people to hear, we must speak a word that can penetrate their deafness and remove the scales from their blinded eyes. For "faith comes by hearing, and hearing the word of God." Only a word that issues from God has such a power in it so as to awaken one from their slumber. For God's word alone created this world, and only God's word alone can make one part of His new creation.