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Friday, October 28, 2011

Repent and Turn Again

Repent and Turn Again

"Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you." Acts 3:19-20 (ESV)

Paul reaches the climax of his message to the Jews. He has rebuked them for their sin: they had denied, abused and murdered Jesus, the holy, righteous Ruler of all creation. He revealed the root cause of their sin: ignorance of God's message given through prophets. Now, Paul urges them to make a radical change:

REPENT: metanoeo (to think differently, reconsider); from meta (accompaniment, "amid", association, succession) and noeo (to exercise the mind, observe, comprehend, heed); from nous (the intellect, the mind); from ginosko (to know absolutely)

TURN AGAIN: epistrepho (to revert); from epi (superimposition, over, upon) and strepho (to twist, turn quite around, to reverse); from trope (a turn or revolution); from trepo (to turn)

The image is of a person caught in a crowd, rushing headlong in one direction, who suddenly stops and turns around 180 degrees, against the crowd, and goes in the opposite direction.

Paul has drawn a despairing picture of a city-full of Jews who ignorantly persecuted, tortured and executed an innocent Man, One Who was Lord of All in human form. The ignorant, mad crowd had rushed headlong into violent sin, and now Paul was urging them to stop and reverse their course.

Sinful actions are driven by ignorant thoughts. Behavior will never change, not in any lasting sense, until thoughts change. Paul urges the sinners to change their thoughts, and their behavior will be changed as a result.

Many philosophies and religions urge sinners to change behavior only, without requiring them to change their thoughts first. Some counselors with a foundation in psychology look first at behavior, believing that behavior shapes emotions. They prescribe new behavior in the belief that emotional happiness will follow.

Many counselors who understand the process of thoughts driving behavior will ignore the truth of sin and the need for a divine Savior. A sinner, by definition, is one who has missed the mark, one who is separated from God and unable to restore the relationship independent of God Himself. Without a Savior to turn to, our changed thoughts will remain ego-centric, leaving our own dead spirit as the only god.

Paul rejects godless psychological counseling. Paul urges sinners to change their thoughts, including their beliefs, their desires, their emotions. The change is radical, encompassing a heart separated from God and a Savior Who can cross the divide and bring restoration. Paul preaches change based upon the prophetic Word of God.

Lasting change in behavior comes only as a result of changed thoughts and the biblical intervention of God.

Repentance involves changed emotions:

"Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes." Matthew 11:20-21 (ESV)

Sackcloth and ashes were symbols of intense grief. Repentance is a change so deep and genuine that it affects the emotions. Suddenly believing that a lifetime of thoughts and behaviors were worthless and sinful should result in emotions of sadness and regret. Emotions are indicators of our deepest thoughts and beliefs. If our emotional response to repentance is subdued or mixed, we probably still have conflicted thoughts, desiring to change yet fearing pain or loss from the change.

When Paul preached, "Repent!" he meant a genuine, whole-hearted change of mind. Until desire for Christ's ultimate best in my life overwhelms my desire for temporary, mediocre pleasure now, repentance is not complete.

I do not say that emotionless repentance is false. I do not wish to imply that repentance is always demonstrated with a certain emotion, for every person the same. Rather, the emotional response to repentance depends upon the person, and especially to what degree they've experienced sin and forgiveness. Jesus pointed out the difference between Simon's dry emotional response to repentance and a woman who was overwhelmed with tears:

Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little." Luke 7:44-47 (ESV)

Take special note of the warning implied by Jesus: One who regards his sin as little will respond to repentance with little emotion.

If my repentance is not accompanied by genuine, appropriate emotions, I should examine how I regard the forgiveness I've received. Do I see my sins to this point as small or insignificant?

Repentance is the first step to new behavior:

"[Paul] declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. Acts 26:20 (ESV)

Repentance is the first, essential step in a changed life. Sorrow for sin and a desire for change opens the door for our hearts and minds to turn to God, Who then gives strength and ability to live a lifestyle that reflects the changed heart.

Without changed behavior, it is likely that the repentance is not real, or at least it is mixed with conflicting desires. Paul urges complete, undivided repentance for sin, with an expectation of a changed lifestyle.

Joy Motivates Repentance

"Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you." Acts 3:19-20 (ESV)

There are times for allowing fear to be the motivation for change. But here, Paul presents joy to his listeners as the reward for repentance:

BLOTTED OUT: exaleipho (to smear out, oblliterate, erase or pardon); from ek (from or out) and aleipho (to oil with perfume); from liparos (fat, sumptuous); from lipos (grease)

REFRESHING: anapsyxis (a recovery of breath, revival); from anapsycho (to cool off, relieve); from ana (up, severally, at, repetition, intensity, reversal) and psycho (to breath, voluntarily but gently)

Paul describes the joy that results from repentance. All of the sins, all of the ignorant, violent thoughts and actions of the past will be blotted out, erased completely.

Roman ink was probably made of soot blended with pine pitch. Pitch and grease are both hydrocarbons, materials made of hydrogen and carbon, and they easily dissolve each other. An easy way to remove ink is by rubbing with grease or oil.

Imagine someone racked with guilt over the wrongful torture and execution of an innocent man. Their intense, guilty grief is an emotional response to a heart that has made a radical change. Imagine their relief and joy in believing that their wicked crimes, once written in stark, black ink, are now entirely blotted out, dissolved and cleansed by the sweet, perfumed oil of God's grace!

This is the joy described by Paul, the joy that results from genuine repentance.

Paul also describes joy as being a gentle breath, an expression of calm contentment. To gently breathe implies a heart that is at peace, glad to simply take in the good healthy air that surrounds them.

Breathing gently is a picture of the refreshing joy experienced by one who repents of their former sinful thoughts and actions. Breathing gently means contentment with that which sustains and enlivens.

Breathing gently means treasuring Christ as Savior, Sustainer and Soulmate.

It is not surprising that the root of the word, refreshing, is the same root for psychology. All persons desire joy. There is no exceptions. All behavior of all persons is motivated by the desire to be happy, or at least to avoid pain or discomfort, which is still a form of happiness. We all long for contentment. We all long to breath gently.

Psychology is the study of how a person's mind affects behavior, especially with the goal of gaining happiness. As a science, psychology can be seen as morally neutral, neither good nor bad. It is basically just the observation and prediction of behavior based upon a person's mind.

However, psychology, like all sciences, places humans at the center of human life. Divine influence or sovereignty is outside of scientific jurisdiction. God has no place in the cause or result of any scientific observation.

If God is real, and really sovereign, as Christians believe, then psychology as a way to gain happiness is critically limited. It is entirely reasonable and utterly biblical even to say that psychology, for a Christian is flawed, fatally flawed. A Christian who believes as the Apostle Paul believed, must regard psychology as a cracked crutch which will fail in the last extreme, bringing mortal injury.

Paul rejects psycholgy and exalts divine Joy:

PRESENCE: prosopon (the front, the countenance, the person); from pros (forward or toward) and ops (the visage); from optanomai (to gaze, as at something remarkable)

APPOINTED: prokerysso (to herald, proclaim in advance); from kerysso (to herald, as a public crier)

Joy, in the form of a cleansed conscience and emotions of peaceful refreshment, comes as a result of a changed mind and the presence of Christ:

Changing our thoughts, from hating and ignoring Christ, to loving and desiring Christ, opens our spiritual eyes to the character and authority of Jesus. Repentance allows our heart to soften, removing a veil or wall that before separated us from seeing Him clearly. Now, with changed thoughts, we see clearly, and we desire intensely, His intimate presence. The gospel, once hated or scorned, now becomes precious. Paul's preaching becomes precious poetry, a song of joy that touches our emotions and desires.

All of the Bible speaks of Jesus:

"Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people. And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed." Acts 3:20-25 (ESV)

The Jews were rooted in the Old Testament books, written by Moses and the prophets. But until repentance, until they changed their minds about their sin, none of the prophecies held meaning for them.

With repentance, the Bible opened up. The words of Moses became a bright light focused squarely upon Jesus:

Jesus was a prophet like Moses

Jesus was to be obeyed as was Moses

Jesus was to be ignored only at the peril of death

Jesus was spoken of by all the prophets after Moses

Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise made by God to Abraham: From your seed, all generations of people on earth will be blessed!

BLESSED: eneulogeo (to confer a benefit on); from eulogeo (to speak well of, to bless, thank, or invoke a benediction upon); from eu (good) and logos (something said)

Jesus is the fulfillment of God's blessing His creation. At the very beginning of time, when God created the heavens and the earth, each new thing created by God was spoken well of:

The light was good.

The dry land and the seas were good.

The plants and trees were good.

The lights of heaven, the sun and moon, were good.

The creatures of the sea and air were good.

The beasts of the earth were good.

The man and woman, and everything that he had made, was good. Very good.

God blessed the man and woman. He gave them a future of fruitfulness and dominion, a life provided with every need and pleasure met.

Sin destroyed the blessing and doomed us to despair.

Jesus Christ restored the blessing and promises us eternal joy with Him.

"God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness." Acts 3:26 (ESV)

Thank God for His blessing!

Thank God for Jesus!

"Ink among the Romans is first found mentioned in the passages of Cicero and Plautus above referred to. Pliny informs us how it was made. He says, "It was made of soot in various ways, with burnt resin or pitch: and for this purpose," he adds, "they have built furnaces, which do not allow the smoke to escape. The kind most commended is made in this way from pine-wood:— It is mixed with soot from the furnaces or baths (that is, the hypocausts of the baths), and this they use ad volumina scribenda. Some also make a kind of ink by boiling and straining the lees of wine," &c. (Plin. H. N. XXXV.5 s25)." http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Atramentum.html

"Resin is a hydrocarbon secretion of many plants, particularly coniferous trees. It is valued for its chemical properties and associated uses, such as the production of varnishes, adhesives, and food glazing agents; as an important source of raw materials for organic synthesis; and as constituents of incense and perfume.
The term also encompasses synthetic substances of similar properties, as well as shellacs of insects of the superfamily Coccoidea. Resins have a very long history that was documented in ancient Greece by Theophrastus, in ancient Rome by Pliny the Elder, and especially in the resins known as frankincense and myrrh, originating from ancient Egypt. These were highly prized substances, and required as incense in some religious rites." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resin

"The combination of carbons and hydrogens as in hydrocarbons or in the hydrocarbon portion of a molecule with a functional group is always NON-POLAR." http://www.elmhurst.edu/~chm/vchembook/213organicfcgp.html

"The oil is a pure hydrocarbon so it is non-polar." http://www.elmhurst.edu/~chm/vchembook/554soap.html

Image , courtesy of Roxana P.