The Dimensions of Repentance in the OT (Boda)

 I enjoyed this book by Mark Boda called Return to Me: A Biblical Theology of Repentance.  As the title suggests, it is a summary of the Bible’s teaching on repentance from Genesis to Revelation.  Each chapter is called something like this: “Repentance in the Torah,” or “Repentance in the Latter Prophets,” etc.  While studying 2 Chronicles 19:4, I read over some parts of Boda’s book and I saw this section that I had marked up earlier.  It’s about the dimensions of repentance in Old Testament theology:

Repentance throughout the Old Testament involves a shift in relationship, in behavior, in affection, and is often accompanied by a verbal declaration and/or ritual acts.  I call these dimensions of repentance because they occur within the same context as simultaneous aspects of repentance.

At the core of the old testament theology of repentance is the relational dimension.  The change in relationship is often explicitly expressed as a shift from a foreign god or gods to Yahweh.  While this may have a behavioral aspect to it, such as destroying or abandoning one’s idols, it is the relational shift that is key as the person or people exchange their relationship with one deity or deities for a relationship with Yahweh.  At times, however, the focus is on returning to Yahweh without explicit reference to turning from other gods.

… Repentance, however, is not reduced to a shift in external behavior, that is, repentance is not mere moralism. Across the Old Testament there is a consistent emphasis on the kind of change that entails an inner reorientation.  This is seen in the regular reference to the heart or soul in contexts that encourage repentance.  This is best expressed by the oft-repeated phrase ‘with all one’s heart’ (and soul and might).  Internal characteristics include humility, sincerity, truthfulness, fear/reverence, tenderness, contriteness and lowliness of spirit, heavy heart and broken spirit, shame and humiliation, loathing, trembling, love, willingness, and steadfastness.  Repentance at times it involves not just a change in behavior (whether action or speech) but a change in perspective, whether that is shifting one’s view of God as seen in Malachi 2:17, 3:15, and Job 42:1-6, or seeking insight into God’s truth in Daniel 9:13….

There is more to Boda’s summary of repentance in the Old Testament, but this is a helpful part of that summary.  Boda did give a list of Scripture references for these aspects of repentance, to be sure.  If you want the entire summary, or if you want a good resource on the theme of repentance in the Bible, get this book: Return to Me

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

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Definite Atonement, the Gospel Call, and Rejecting Christ (Newton)

 In a sermon on John 1:29, John Newton discussed definite atonement and the free offer of the gospel.  He admitted there is mystery in this area of Scripture’s teaching:

“I am not disheartened by meeting with some things beyond the grasp of my scanty powers in a book which I believe to be inspired by Him whose ways and thoughts are higher than ours, ‘as the heavens are higher than the earth.’

Later in the sermon, Newton said that the biblical command for “all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30) implies a “warrant to believe in the name of Jesus, as taking away the sin of the world.”  It’s a serious call to repentance and faith, a kind summons for sinners to receive free forgiveness in Christ.

Let it not be said that to call upon men to believe, which is an act beyond their natural power, is to mock them.  There are prescribed means for the obtaining of faith, which it is not beyond their natural power to comply with, if they are not wilfully obstinate.  We have the word of God for our authority.  ‘God cannot be mocked,’ neither doth he mock his creatures.  Our Lord did not mock the young ruler when he told him that if he would sell his possessions on earth, and follow him, ‘he should have treasure in heaven.’  Had this ruler no power to sell his possessions?  I doubt not but that he himself thought he had power to sell them if he pleased….

…We cannot ascribe too much to the grace of God [in the salvation of sinners], but we should be careful that, under a semblance of exalting his grace, we do not furnish the slothful and unfaithful with excuses for their wilfulness and wickedness.  God is gracious; but let man be justly responsible for his own evil, and not presume to state his case so, as would, by just consequence, represent the holy God as being the cause of the sin which he hates and forbids.

These are some excellent points to remember.  The teaching of Scripture is that it is right and proper to call all people to repentance and faith, sincerely promising them that if they come to Christ, they will receive forgiveness and eternal life.  It’s also true that salvation is all of grace, yet God is not to blame when sinners reject the gospel call.

The entire sermon – which is very much worth reading! – is called “The Lamb of God, the Great Atonement” and it is found in volume four of Newton’s Works.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54014

They Came to Jesus and Burned Their Dark Magic Books

The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Acts of the Apostles Dark magic has been around for a long time.  When Israel was going into the Promised Land the LORD told his people not to dabble in the pagan occultic practices of the Canaanites (Dt. 18:9-14).  They were to avoid omens, fortunes, divination, spiritists, sorcery, psychic readings, and other sorts of dark magic.  The same goes for God’s people today.  Paul called sorcery one of the sinful “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:20).  In Acts 19, when Paul was in Ephesus, many who turned from their sins and believed the gospel ended up confessing their wicked practices of sorcery and dark magic.  They even went a step further:

Large numbers of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned them up in the presence of everyone. When the value of the books was added up, it was found to total fifty thousand silver coins (Acts 19:19 NET Bible).

I appreciate David Peterson‘s comments on this in the Pillar New Testament Commentary on Acts:

The remarkable humiliation of the exorcists and the consequent glorification of the name of the Lord Jesus by many led to another amazing event. ‘Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed (exomologoumenoi kai anangellontes, ‘confessing and disclosing’) what they had done.’ There was a public expression of repentance on the part of ‘many of those who believed,’ whereby ‘a number who had practiced sorcery (ta perierga,’ ‘superfluous works’, a technical term for magic) ‘brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly.’ Apparently they were moved by the exposure and overcoming of the exorcists to realize that their own previous involvement with the magic arts now needed to be acknowledged. Perhaps they had kept scrolls in which spells were written as an insurance policy, in case their newfound faith proved to be inadequate in some situation! Burning the scrolls was a way of repudiating what they contained and represented a greater trust in God to deliver them from trouble and supply their needs.

Such repentance before God and his people was costly: When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand [drachmas] (argyriou, ‘of silver’, without specifying the units of silver as ‘drachmas’). Luke’s reference to the price of these scrolls once more suggests ‘his strong dislike of the money-making side of magic and his clear rejection of it from the Christian side’ (Barrett). These people recognised that genuine discipleship involved letting go what they treasured in order to enjoy the blessings of God’s kingdom (cf. Lk. 9:23–27; 18:18–30). The scrolls that were burned may have contained the famous ‘Ephesian letters’, with their words of power for warding off demons, and ‘the sort of material preserved in the magical papyri such as thaumaturgic formulae, incantations, hymns and prayers’ (Trebilco). By depicting the defeat of the magicians in this way, Luke conveyed the message ‘that in the name of Jesus, the faithful shall triumph over the forces of darkness: Christians need not fear the devil, for there is no power in him against them’ (Garrett).

David Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, 19:18-19.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

Don’t Give Up On A Sinner! (Spencer)

I was recently reading part of A Pastor’s Sketches again and I found a paragraph I had marked up quite a bit.  Turns out I had blogged on this already (May 2017), so I thought I’d post it again.  Here it is:

Sometime around the middle of the 19th century a woman spoke to Rev. Ichabod Spencer about the things of the Christian faith.  After the discussion, the woman was interested in becoming a Christian.  Spencer met with her many times over the next two years.  Over and over Spencer told her about sin, repentance, faith in Christ, and what it means to be a disciple.  Over and over he showed her the verses about these truths.

For reasons only God knows, she was very slow to believe.  She just couldn’t quite commit.  Spencer had talked to her so many times he became weary of talking to her; he even was tempted to tell her, “I’ve said everything that needs to be said.  Don’t see me anymore.”  It got to the point where he was annoyed when he saw her coming to talk, which made him feel guilty about it.  He never did turn her away simply because he knew the agony she was in.  Spencer noted that he had never spent so much time talking to an unbeliever about the faith.  To make a long two-year story short, by God’s grace the woman finally did come to faith, as did her husband, her sister, and some of her friends.  After telling this story, Spencer wrote this:

“Ministers ought never to despair of the salvation of any sinner.  To despair of any one is just the way to make him despair of himself.  Many have been ruined in this way, probably.  We ought to expect sinners to repent – and treat them accordingly.  Who shall limit the Holy One of Israel?  It took me long to learn the lesson, but I have learned never to give up a sinner.  We must urge the duty of an immediate faith and repentance, as the Bible does so continually; but we must be careful to enjoin this duty in such a manner that, if it is not immediately done, the individual shall not be led or left to cease seeking God.  Many a sinner turns back, when just at the door of heaven.”

Ichabod Spencer, A Pastor’s Sketches, II.III.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Repentance of a Sinning Saint (Warfield)

Faith and Life Here’s a great snippet of a great sermon by B. B. Warfield on Psalm 51:

Thus we perceive that in its conception of God, of sin, of salvation alike, this Psalm stands out as attaining the high-water mark of Old Testament revelation. It was by a hard pathway that David came to know God and himself so intimately. But he came thus to know both his own heart and the God of grace with a fullness and profundity of apprehension that it will be hard to parallel elsewhere. And it was no merely external knowledge that he acquired thus. It was the knowledge of experience. David knew sin because he had touched the unclean thing and sounded the depths of iniquity. He knew himself because he had gone his own way and had learned through what thickets and morasses that pathway led, and what was its end. And he knew God, because he had tasted and seen that the Lord is gracious.

Yes, David had tasted and seen God’s preciousness. David had experience of salvation. He knew what salvation was, and He knew its joy. But never had he known the joy of salvation as he knew it after he had lost it. And it is just here that the special poignancy of David’s repentance comes in: it was not the repentance of a sinner merely, it was the repentance of a sinning saint.

It is only the saint who knows what sin is; for only the saint knows it in contrast with salvation, experienced and understood. And it is only the sinning saint who knows what salvation is: for it is only the joy that is lost and then found again that is fully understood.

 Warfield, B. B. (1916). Faith and life (pp. 21–22). Bellingham, WA: Longmans, Green, & Co.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Talking To A Fellow Christian About His or Her Sin (Welch)

Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love Christians are not loners who plow through life by themselves – at least they shouldn’t go it alone!  Since we believe in the fellowship of the saints, there are times when one Christian has to talk to another Christian about his or her sin.  If it is done out of love, if it follows biblical patterns (e.g. Mt. 18), and if it is aimed at repentance, restoration, and spiritual growth, talking to a fellow Christian about sin is a blessing.  It’s not easy and it does sometimes sting, but it is a good thing!  Here is some advice from Ed Welch on talking to a fellow Christian about his or her sin.  He says we need to do so with humility and patience:

Humility means that we already see our sins as worse than others’ sins, so we have no reason to defend ourselves when someone points out our sin (Mt. 7:2-5).  This does not mean that we must publicly identify our own sins before we talk about sins in others.  It means that we live as redeemed tax collectors (Luke 18:9-14) who have no confidence in our own righteousness but live because of God’s lavish forgiveness and grace.

Welch is exactly right.  If we have any sort of arrogance or pride when we confront a brother or sister about their sin, the discussion will usually go downhill rather quickly.  Have you ever had an arrogant person point out your flaws or shortcomings?  It’s not easy to hear since it sounds like what it is: someone who thinks he’s better than you reminding you that you’re beneath him.  Here’s Welch again:

“Patience is humility’s partner.  It is one of the identified fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), and it is a central feature of love (1 Cor. 13:4), so it is essential to our ability to be helpful.  It means that the one we are speaking with is like us – he does not respond perfectly, he changes slowly, and he needs a patient helper.  …Patience is interested in what direction people face.  Do they face toward Jesus?  Patience is more interested in direction and less interested in how fast people are changing.

Again, this is helpful.  Sometimes iron sharpening iron (Prov. 27:17) takes more than a few days!  In other words, sanctification doesn’t happen overnight.  Sometimes God works slowly in a person’s heart and mind, so we need to be patient with God’s timing.  Granted, there are exceptions to this (if someone is physically in danger, for one example), but generally it is very wise to be patient as we talk to another Christian about his or her sin.  God is patient with us, so of course, we should be patient with one another!

The above quotes are from chapter 15 of Side By Side.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

 

What Does “The Empty Hand of Faith” Mean? (Boston)

The Whole Works of Thomas Boston (12 vols.)You may have heard someone talk about coming to Christ with an empty hand of faith.  What does this mean?  This phrase has a historical background.  In the 17th century, some Christian teachers were saying in order to be forgiven and justified a sinner needs to have repentance.  [Repentance in this context has a broad meaning which includes hating sin, turning to God, and endeavoring unto new obedience (see WLC 76 or HC 88-90)].  For example, Richard Baxter taught that a person must be forsaking sin and following Christ to be pardoned and justified.  This led some Reformed preachers to say that Baxter was setting up a new covenant of works!

I appreciate how Thomas Boston discussed this topic.  Here are some things he said in a treatise on this topic:

“I conceive that such doctrine is injurious to the grace of God, and doth much darken the free pardon offered in the gospel, in regard the pardon is promised immediately to those that believe (Acts 10:43 ‘Through his name, whosoever believes in him shall receive remission of sins’).

Boston noted that if someone does need to be forsaking sin and following Jesus to obtain forgiveness, it would be like earning forgiveness.  Boston quotes Preston favorably: “It is a fault to think that God’s pardons are not free and that you must bring something in your hand.”

Upon the whole we may see that the gospel teaches us to come empty-handed to the market of free grace for remission of sins and God’s favor.  But he does not come empty-handed who brings repentance along with him.  If any shall say we screw up matters so high in this point that we must also cast away faith as well as repentance for obtaining pardon, as if faith is something we bring to attain pardon, I say this:

For the safety of God’s grace, let the ‘work-faith’ and the ‘inherent-quality-faith’ go, and be made to stand back, while the sinner stands before God’s tribunal to be justified – that the empty-handed, ‘taking-faith’ may alone have place.  Hasn’t the Lord made pardon to be only of faith, that it might be of grace, while faith comes with an empty hand and receives all?

Boston then said that in this matter there’s a big difference between faith and repentance (conversion/living a new life), for one receives (faith) and the other gives (repentance).  In fact, Boston exhorted readers not to turn the covenant of grace into a “bastard covenant of works” by saying we have to bring something when we come to Jesus to obtain his favor.

So what does “the empty hand of faith” mean?  It means coming to Christ empty-handed simply to receive the free, gracious gift of full forgiveness.  When we come to Jesus for pardon and justification, we don’t need to bring Him anything in exchange; we don’t need to clean up our act, put nice clothes on, or do a few good deeds so He notices us.  We come like a beggar would come before a king with nothing but an open hand to receive a gift from the king.  And as the Bible teaches, this King blesses beggars who come with an empty hand of faith!

The above-edited quotes are found in Thomas Boston, Works, Volume 6, p. 87ff

Shane Lems