Wednesday, September 26, 2012

God gave the Gentiles repentance, Acts 11:18

Acts 11:18 is a verse—the first in our survey of “repentance” verses in the New Testament—in which a word derived from the verb metanoeō may arguably mean only a change of belief, without implying a change of behavior. The context is this: Prior to Acts 10, the Church of Jesus Christ was strictly Jewish and Samaritan (after the events of Acts 8); Gentiles were not welcome. In Acts 10:1-6, Cornelius, a Gentile, the Roman centurion in Caesarea, had a vision to send for Peter. Peter, through a vision of his own (Acts 10:9-21) was shown that he was not to treat as unclean people God had made clean, and that he should go when Cornelius’ messengers arrived. Peter went to Cornelius’ house, and preached Jesus to them. Acts 10:34-43. However, while he was speaking, “the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.” Acts 10:44. Because Peter and the Jewish believers with him plainly saw that the group of Gentiles in Cornelius’ house had received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:45-47), Peter ordered that they be baptized. Acts 10:48.

Upon Peter’s return to Jerusalem, the other Apostles and the Jewish believers there questioned him. Their objection was not that he had Cornelius’ household baptized, but that he had gone to his house at all. “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Acts 11:3. It was thought that he should not have associated with Gentiles at all. Peter then explained his vision, and Cornelius’ corresponding vision to send for him (Acts 11:4-13), and then describes for the brethren in Jerusalem the outcome of his visit to Cornelius’ household:

15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, even as on us at the beginning. 16 I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John indeed baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave to them the same gift as us, when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I, that I could withstand God?”

18 When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance (metanoian) to life!”

Nothing in this context indicates that anything more than a change in belief is in view. But it was a change in belief to which God responded by placing his Holy Spirit on them!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Simon Magus told to repent of his attempt to buy the power of God, Acts 8:22

The next use of a repentance word in Acts presents a simple, clear-cut example of the behavioral aspect of repentance. In Acts 8:9-16, Philip the Evangelist preached in Samaria with great success. We are told that great signs and wonders accompanied Philip’s preaching. Before Philip came to Samaria, many in that city had been under the influence of a sorcerer named Simon, whom they called “the great power of God.” Obviously, the signs and wonders done by Philip were greater than any Simon could muster, because first the people of Samaria, then Simon himself, believed in Jesus and came to Philip to be baptized. Yes, the text actually states that Simon “believed” and “was baptized.” (Acts 8:13).

But, though Simon “believed,” his heart was not right, and it showed in his actions. When the apostles James and John came down to Samaria to lay hands on the new believers, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, Simon demonstrated that he had believed in Jesus out of envy and still wished to be a sorcerer—a manipulator of the power of the spirits—by offering money to buy the ability to confer the Holy Spirit on others. Simon’s act, of which he was told to repent, is set forth in this passage:

18 Now when Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me also this power, that whomever I lay my hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart isn’t right before God. 22 Repent (metanoēson) therefore of this, your wickedness, and ask God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”

Acts 8:18-23 (WEB).

Here, Simon was clearly told to repent of his act, and his desire, to purchase the power of God. Although he had previously believed and been baptized, his heart would only be right toward God after he changed his way. The story ends with Simon’s response, which, unfortunately, leaves it very uncertain whether he actually repented:

24 Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that none of the things which you have spoken happen to me.”

Various early, extra-biblical church traditions held that Simon never repented, and became the founder of heretical sects. But this is uncertain. The best that can be said is that we don’t know whether he repented of his attempt to buy the power to manipulate the Holy Spirit. Still, it is clear that, when he was commanded to repent, he was to repent of a behavior—indeed, a behavior that is very common in the church today!

(The shameful thing is that, in the Church today, so many teachers pander to those who want to buy the Spirit's power, and even openly market God's power--though falsely. They should instead be calling those who want to buy God to repentance!)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Jesus came to give Israel repentance and remission, Acts 5:31

The next use of a repentance word in Acts occurs during the second trial of Peter “and the Apostles” before the Sanhedrin. At the conclusion of the first trial, Peter and John had been released, but warned—“commanded… not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.” Acts 4: 18. Of course, the Apostles had disobeyed that command, and had continued to preach Jesus. The chief priests had ordered them arrested, and an angel had miraculously released them. Acts 5:17-23. They had then returned to the Temple to preach, and had been arrested again. Acts 15:24-26. After being arraigned before the high priest on the charge of not heeding the earlier warning, but instead continuing to preach Jesus, and filling Jerusalem with their teaching (Acts 15:27-28), the Apostles gave the following response:

29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you killed, hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance (metanoian) to Israel, and remission of sins. 32 We are His witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Acts 5:29-32 (WEB).

God exalted Jesus to his right hand to give “repentance” and “remission of sins” to Israel. If this were all Peter had said, it might be justified to read this in the sense many modern Christians seem to read it—i.e., God exalted Jesus to make the people feel sorry for their sins so that he could forgive (remit) them. But Peter didn’t stop with verses 30 and 31. He added verse 32, in which he declares that God has given the Holy Spirit, not to those who merely feel sorry for their sins, but to those who “obey” him. So, even in this context, in which the behavioral aspect of repentance isn’t directly in view, the whole context manages to connect the concepts of repentance and obedience.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Repent, turn again, turn away from your wickedness, in Acts 3:19

Peter’s next recorded sermon, in Acts 3:12-26, clearly linked repentance to a change in the believer’s life. Peter and John had just healed a life-long paralytic at the entrance to the temple. The healed man had entered the temple with them, “walking, leaping and praising God,” incidentally drawing a crowd. Peter explains that God’s servant Jesus, the Prince of Life, the same Jesus the people had recently crucified, God had raised again to life, fulfilling the prophecies about him. He further explains that it is by the power of Jesus’ name that the paralytic was healed. Peter then invites those in the crowd to repent and turn again, and to listen to Jesus:

19 “Repent (metanoēsate) therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, so that there may come times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, 20 and that he may send Christ Jesus, who was ordained for you before, 21 whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God spoke long ago by the mouth of his holy prophets. 22 For Moses indeed said to the fathers, ‘The Lord God will raise up a prophet for you from among your brothers, like me. You shall listen to him in all things whatever he says to you. 23 It will be that every soul that will not listen to that prophet will be utterly destroyed from among the people.’

Acts 3:19-23 (WEB)

It is interesting that Peter does not tell his listeners to “believe” in Jesus, or link the remission of their sins with faith (according to our modern concept of faith). Instead, he tells them to “repent,” using a strong word that often has clear behavioral connotations, and to “turn again” (or, turn around, come back to the Lord). He then quotes Moses’ prediction and command regarding the prophet like Moses himself whom God was later to send to His people. (Deut. 18:15, 18). What Moses commanded the people to do when the second great prophet came was to “listen” to him, not to let his words pass unheeded. (Deut. 18:18). As Peter reminds the crowd, God will call to account those who hear the words of the prophet, but do not listen. (Acts 3:23; compare Deut. 18:19). The only way we have to show that we have “listened” to the words of God is to obey them, to do what they say. It is quite possible to hear words proclaimed, even to ask God to please speak and welcome his words, but then treat them only as mere advice, or, even worse, as a form of entertainment, and leave without doing them. (Compare Ezek. 33:30-33; Jer. 42). Hearing the message in this way, without really listening and heeding, is inadequate.

Peter then drives home his point by saying that Jesus came to turn away his people from their wickedness:

God, having raised up his servant Jesus, sent him to you first to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your wickedness.

Acts 3:26 (WEB)

The behavioral aspect of turning a person away from his “wickedness” is obvious. This is the objective of the “repentance” in verse 19.

Monday, September 3, 2012

“Repent and be Baptized,” in Acts 2:38

We now leave the Gospels and move into Acts. Some of the uses of repentance words in Acts are not as clearly behavior-related as those in the Gospels. However, all but possibly two of them are demonstrably behavior-related, when considered in their larger contexts. Acts 2:38 is an example of a command to “repent” that requires a larger context to reveal its behavioral dimension. It is Pentecost. The Holy Spirit has descended on the 120 disciples gathered together, apparently in an upper room (Acts 1:13, 15 & 2:1-3). As a result, the gathered disciples had begun to praise God in many different languages, the languages of the Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the feast. This gained the attention of the crowd, giving Peter the opportunity to preach his first sermon. The conclusion of Peter’s sermon, and the crowd’s response, were:

36 “Let all the house of Israel therefore know certainly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Acts 2:36-37

At this point, Peter could have reflected one modern Evangelical understanding by saying “nothing. You can do absolutely nothing—only believe!” But Peter did not say that. Instead, he told the crowd two things they were to do:

38 Peter said to them, “Repent (metanoēsate), and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38

Thus, Peter answered the question “what shall we do” with the commands “repent” and “be baptized.” I will not here investigate the issue of baptismal regeneration that has divided the Church for centuries—i.e., whether the new life starts at the time of baptism—as that question is not essential to the point I am making. Rather, I would merely point out that both repentance and baptism were here identified by the Apostle Peter as things that must be done, not merely believed.

Those who responded to Peter’s words were baptized. Acts 2:41. But their baptism was only the beginning of an entirely different way of life. Luke continues, “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer.” Acts 2:42. Indeed, the transformation was so complete that they openly gave up ownership of their lives and property: “All who believed were together, and had all things in common. They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need.” Acts 2:44-45. The repentance that preceded their baptism gave them joy and an undivided heart to worship God: “Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people.” Acts 2:46-47a. Obviously, among those who believed on the day of Pentecost, repentance had very obvious behavioral results.