Thursday, December 21, 2006

Repent! (part 1)

A reoccuring theme in my life over the past month or so has been repentance. I have taught on it, read about it in books, encountered it in my devotionals, and been confronted with the need for it in my own life. While I do not claim to be an expert on the subject either intellectually or experientially, I would like to post some thoughts and studies which may serve no greater purpose than helping me to synthesize my understanding of repentance but I pray that they may also be of some help and encouragement to you as well.

What is Repentance?
Old Testament
There are two primary words used for repentance in the Old Testament. The First word, naham, literally means “to pant” or “to sigh”. This word is concerned with expressing emotion. It is largely used to describe God’s response to man’s sin. In this usage, the word can accompany either God’s righteous judgment or His gracious mercy (Gen 6:6; Jonah 3:10). It is only when this word is applied to humans does it take on a sense of personal guilt and culpability. This difference is clearly delineated in the Scriptures (1 Sam 15:29; Job 42:6; Jer 8:6).
The second word used for repentance in the Old Testament is the term shubh. Translated literally it means “to turn” or “to Return”. The word is the main term used by the prophets when imploring the people of Israel to turn from their wickedness. This repentance demands a radical transformation of lifestyle which includes both an abandonment of sin and pursuit of righteousness (Deut 4:30; Neh 1:9; Ps 7:12; Jer 3:14).

New Testament

This word means plainly “to turn about, round, or towards.” Although it has other uses, it often is used to signify a conversion experience or turning from sin. Many of the conversion experiences of the Gentiles recorded in Acts are described using this word. It implies both a turning from sin and a turning to God (Acts 9:35; 11:21; 26:20; 1 Thess 1:9). This word focuses more on the noticeable and measurable action of change that is involved in repentance and makes no mention of grief or self-punishment as a part of the process.
metanoia (matt 3:8, 11)
This verb literally means “to perceive or change afterwards.” It is made up of the words meta (which means “after”)and noew (which means to “perceive” and implies change). It suggests a change of mind and purpose, as the result of knowledge. The related noun metanoia, is used to describe true repentance and indicates a change of life in which sin is forsaken.
John the Baptist, Jesus and the apostles all used the word metanoew when exhorting their listeners to repent (Matt 3:2; Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38). When used in the New Testament the word is always related with a spiritual transformation. It is coupled with the act of turning towards faith in Christ in Acts 2:38. Again in Acts 3:19 the word is used to exhort unbelievers to “return, that your sins may be wiped away”. Here we see repentance being referred to as the means by sins we are cleansed from our sins. In addition, this word is often associated and concerned with the intentions of the heart (Acts 8:22). Repentance in not entirely an inward experience however. It was used in conjunction with baptism by John the Baptist as an outward symbol of the inward change that repentance brings (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:4). Repentance is also presented as the only means of avoiding the penalties of sin (Luke 13:3). Furthermore, true repentance is evidenced in a person by the “fruit” that can be seen in their life (Matthew 3:8). Interestingly, This verb is used in the book of Revelation a total of twelve times. Eight of those uses are found in the letters to the seven churches of Asia.
metamelomai (matt. 4:17)
This verb is translated as “to regret or to repent.” It is generally understood that this verb connotes a more emotional defined response to sin. It focuses more on the remorse over sin and as opposed to the turning from sin. The word is also used to express regret, as is the case with Judas Iscariot (Matt 27:3).

Promises to the repentant
When used in the context of personal or corporate turning from sin, Scripture tells us that God has promised to respond with compassion and not only pardon us from the guilt and punishment of our wickedness, but give us life (II Chr 7:14; Is 55:7; Eze 18:21). It is clear from such passages as Psalm 51:17 and Joel 2:12-14 that God is primarily concerned with the individuals heart and will not respond to mere lip service.

In part 2 we will explore how repentance, although demanded of humanity, is possible only by the empowering grace of God.

by His grace
for His glory

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