And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Rom. 12:2.
William D. Chamberlain: How does one produce the transition from the mind of the flesh to the mind of Christ which we call repentance? There have been many methods tried by the Church.
The motive of fear has been quite dominant, especially fear of punishment for sin. So prominent has this emphasis been that we find Christians thinking of salvation primarily in terms of escape from punishment in the next world. This is, of course, a pitifully inadequate notion of the Christian concept of salvation, with its abundant life beginning here and now. The Johannine idea of eternal life as a present fact with the Christian and the Pauline idea of the earnest of our inheritance introduce one to reaches of thought that never dawn on the Christian who is moved chiefly by fear.
Persecution and inquisition have been used to bring men into the Church - as well as to drive them out of its bosom. Charlemagne's forcible baptism of the Saxons is not an isolated incident in Church history. All such efforts have brought into the Church men who have not understood or sympathized with the Christian faith. This has always resulted in the undoing of the Church. The fact of having undergone the external rite of baptism gives such converts a sense of having complied with the demands of the Christian faith, without having the remotest idea of what real Christianity is.
How Repentance Is Not Produced
The New Testament has a good deal to say about what produces repentance - and what does not. We shall look first at what does not produce repentance.
Fear or Intimidation
Repentance is not produced by the Carolingian [Charlemagne's] method of force or intimidation. Even when the four angels bound at the great river Euphrates had been loosed and had slain the third part of mankind, a slaughter which makes Charlemagne's slaughter of the Saxons infinitesimal, "the rest of mankind, who were not killed with these plagues, repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and the idols of gold, and of silver, and of brass, and of stone, and of wood; which can neither see, nor hear, nor walk: and they repented not of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts." (Rev. 9:20,21).
It has ever been the temptation of religious men to call down fire from heaven on the head of evildoers, but this passage in Revelation paints a picture far more terrible than any fire from heaven that men might call down. The arresting fact is that mankind is still impenitent. "Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord" (Rom. 12:19). Plagues and suffering do not produce repentance, but it is the goodness of God that leads men to repentance (Rom. 2:4). God does not save men by intimidation and terror, but by love and grace. We should follow in his train, preaching his infinite grace.
When the fourth angel of the Apocalypse poured out his bowl of wrath upon the sun, so that it was given power to scorch men with fire, and men were scorched with great heat, they blasphemed the name of God, but did not repent (Rev. 16:8,9). When the fifth angel "poured out his bowl upon the throne of the beast; and his kingdom was darkened; and they gnawed their tongues for pain," they blasphemed the name of the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but did not repent of their works (Rev. 16:10,11). Physical pain and anguish may produce blasphemy, but not repentance.
If the aim of repentance were merely to produce regret for sin, probably plagues and tortures, terror and anguish, would be most effective. A man might bitterly rue the sin that brought the wrath of a vindictive God down upon his head, and at the same time blaspheme, as did the men of the Apocalypse, against the God who inflicts the suffering. A criminal may regret the crime that has put him in the hands of the police - at least he regrets getting caught - and at the same time may resolve to shoot, at his first opportunity, the man who apprehended him in his guilt. But the aim of New Testament repentance is to produce a regenerated mind, heart, and will. Truly, it is the goodness of God that breaks down a man's resistance to grace and melts his heart by kindness.
A simple increase in evidence does not produce repentance. When the rich man in torment lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham with Lazarus in his bosom, he cried first for mercy to himself, asking that Lazarus should be sent to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool his parched tongue. It is interesting that Dives could still think of a poor man only in the capacity of ministering to his comfort. A poor man was not his brother, but his servant, even after the balances had tipped decidedly in Lazarus' favor.
When Dives' request for himself was denied, he then thought of his family, but not beyond the family circle of course: "I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house; for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. But Abraham saith, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one go to them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead" (Luke 16:27-31). A disposition to unbelief is not overcome by overwhelming evidence, even the evidence which a man risen from the dead could offer.
This story of the Rich Man and Lazarus does not stand alone in teaching that more light does not necessarily produce more belief. We find Jesus saying to his Jewish opponents, "Think not that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses .... For if ye believed Moses, ye would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?" (John 5:45-47.) A change of disposition is required before men can believe.
The specific trouble with this group of Jesus' critics was that they sought glory one from another, and the glory that comes from God they did not seek (John 5:44). All their religious practices were designed to be "seen of men." Although they had a zeal for God, they were so consumed with the task of establishing, i.e., demonstrating, their own righteousness that they never submitted themselves to the righteousness of God - and never comprehended it. This would indicate that the primary barrier to repentance is self- importance. If one's own self-esteem is more important than God's glory or God's approval, one will always be found fighting against God, regardless of one's misguided zeal for God.
Sorrow for Sin
To go into more detail regarding what has been previously suggested, repentance is not produced by sorrow for sin. Judas Iscariot said, "I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood .... And he went away and hanged himself" (Matt. 27:4,5). In his case, sorrow for sin led to suicide, not to repentance.
In Esau's case, the loss of his birthright produced intense weeping, but he was still rejected, although he sought earnestly to recover his birthright, for "he found no place for a change of mind" (Heb. 12:17). As I have said previously, the majority of commentators refer the clause, "He found no place for a change of mind," to Isaac, and the American Standard Version fixes this interpretation by adding, in italics, "in his father."
The Authorized Version is better in that it leaves the matter open, as does the Greek. Goodspeed rightly, I think, refers the repentance to Esau: "For he had no opportunity to repent of what he had done." Moffatt renders the clause: "He got no chance to repent, though he tried for it with tears." Weymouth improves on both Goodspeed and Moffatt with: "He found no opportunity for repentance, though he sought the blessing earnestly with tears." This is just the point: Esau sought the recovery of his lost birthright and the associated blessing, but not the change of mind which would have prevented a resale of the birthright.
Isaac recognized this and refused to undo the bargain that Esau and Jacob had made. The blessing which he bestowed on Esau recognized Esau's ability to appreciate plenty of food and freedom for action:
"Behold, of the fatness of the earth shall be thy dwelling,
And of the dew of heaven from above;
And by thy sword shalt thou live, and thou shalt serve thy brother;
And it shall come to pass, when thou shalt break loose,
That thou shalt shake his yoke from off thy neck" (Gen. 27:39,40).
Esau wept over his losses, but did not change his mind as to values. A mess of stew was yet to him of more importance than the headship of a clan; therefore he could not be entrusted with the headship of a household, with responsibility for perpetuating the faith of his father.
Esau had forfeited the right and had demonstrated his unfitness for this twofold position. That went to Jacob:
"Let peoples serve thee,
And nations bow down to thee:
Be lord over thy brethren,
And let thy mother's sons bow down to thee" (Gen. 27:29).
The popular interpretation, which refers the lack of a place of repentance to Isaac, rests upon the mistaken assumption that Esau's copious weeping was itself repentance, and that it would be a contradiction to say that such a man found no place for repentance. Regret over a loss of privilege and repentance, as we have seen, are quite distinct and separate things. In Esau's case, a sense of guilt, mingled with a sense of loss, produced his distress; but both combined did not constitute repentance.
From the account in Genesis, it is evident that Isaac too suffered great emotional strain over the affair between his sons, for we are told that "Isaac trembled very exceedingly" (Gen. 27:33). Even though we should refer the clause, "He found no place of repentance," to Isaac, this passage still bears out the New Testament meaning of repentance, metanoia. The father, although deeply grieved that his elder son had forfeited his leadership in the family, would not change his mind and put an unworthy son at the, head of his household.
But what a picture we get when we refer the clause to Esau! Here was a man crying "with an exceeding great and bitter cry, ... Bless me, even me also, O my father" (Gen. 27:34); but, basically and essentially, he was the same man who had lightly sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. He was not to be entrusted with the responsibility of administering the heritage from his father, and of carrying on the religious tradition of the family.
"Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father" (Gen. 27:38), cried Esau, and he "lifted up his voice, and wept." Isaac responded with another blessing, but not the one that Esau had forfeited. So, too, God deals with men, "for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust" (Matt. 5:45) ; but he gives the living water, which wells up into everlasting life, only to those who recognize the gift of God and ask for that water which quenches man's thirst for time and eternity. But there must come a change in the man; the natural man gets quite worried when the rains do not come on his crops, but "broken cisterns, that can hold no water" do not worry him in his spiritual life. It is only as the "fountain of living waters" begins to flow that he becomes conscious of the long drought of the heart through which he has lived.
A sense of guilt may cause a man or a multitude to ask, "What shall we do?" But, may I say again, a sense of guilt alone does not necessarily produce repentance. As we have noticed previously, when Peter had finished his great sermon on the Day of Pentecost with the peroration, "Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified" (Acts 2:36), the people were" pricked in their heart." But both the people and Peter recognized that a sense of guilt was not enough, so the people cried out, "Brethren, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). Their sense of guilt must be supplemented by faith to produce repentance.
The change of mind demanded here was from that of the crowd who cried, "Away with him, away with him, crucify him!" to that of acknowledging Jesus as both Lord and Christ, Sovereign and Messianic Redeemer. This was a hard demand of men to whom the Cross was a stumbling block, but three thousand changed their minds, repented, that day about Jesus of Nazareth. He was no longer, in their eyes, a crucified malefactor, but a sovereign Saviour.
May I repeat that a sense of guilt does not always produce such results. Stephen closed his sermon with: "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? and they killed them that showed before of the coming of the Righteous One; of whom ye have now become betrayers and murderers; ye who received the law as it was ordained by angels, and kept it not" (Acts 7:51-53). These men too were cut to the heart, but instead of asking what they should do "they gnashed on him with their teeth." In this case a sense of guilt drove them mad; they stopped their ears lest they should hear more of that which condemned them; they rushed upon Stephen with one accord and stoned him to death, and cast his bruised and broken body out of the city.
From these two incidents, the conversions on Pentecost and the stoning of Stephen, we learn that a sense of guilt may cause very different reactions. It may lead one man to repentance; it may make another a howling demon, thirsting for the blood of the man who pricked his conscience. It was with such refractory human nature as this that Jesus used the parable so effectively. He punctured a man's self-importance before he could throw up his defenses. The barb of unwelcome truth lodged in the mind to fester and ferment until a response came.
The Apostle Paul gives us a clue to the reason that sorrow for sin does not always lead to repentance: "For godly sorrow [hee tou kata theon lupee] worketh repentance unto salvation, a repentance which bringeth no regret: but the sorrow of the world [hee tou kosmou lupee] worketh death" (II Cor. 7:10). According to this passage, sorrow has one of two issues - salvation or death.
The difference lies in the nature of the sorrow. The "sorrow of the world" is without hope and without faith (I Thess. 4:13,14). It may prompt a man to say, "I have sinned," and then go out and hang himself. But "godly sorrow" is produced by a sense of God's holiness and a belief in his graciousness: again, as Paul said, it is "the goodness of God" that "leadeth thee to repentance" (Rom. 2:4). Godly sorrow prompts a man to pray, "God, be thou merciful to me a [the] sinner" (Luke 18:13) : such a man finds peace. But let us recall that this "godly sorrow" is not equivalent to repentance. It merely leads to repentance. As we have noted from Jeremy Taylor, sorrow is the "porch to repentance." Sorrow, coupled with faith in God and a sense of awe in the presence of his holiness, leads to a change of mind; and that leads to salvation, to eternal life. The nearness of the Kingdom is the reason for repentance. We must fall in line with the righteous will of God to share in his reign. Without faith, a sense of guilt leads to despair, to death apart from God. Fright, suffering, and a sense of guilt harden men and drive them from God unless they have trust in his goodness and grace.
How Repentance Is Produced
We now follow Paul's clue: Godly sorrow leads to repentance. Calvin is in line with Paul when he says that repentance follows faith and is produced by it: "Those who imagine that repentance rather precedes faith, than is produced by it, as fruit by a tree, have never been acquainted with its power, and are induced to adopt that sentiment by a very insufficient argument." Again, Calvin says: "Can true repentance exist without faith? Not at all." (John Calvin, Institutes of Religion, 3:3:5)
The Work of the Holy Spirit
But what produces the faith which produces the repentance? In other words, how is a believing mind related to the Holy Spirit?
In Rom. 12:2, we read, "And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God." This verse is of pivotal importance in our study, for it indicates that transformation of life rests upon the renewing of the mind. This is essentially the doctrine of repentance, couched in other language.
Our next inquiry should be, What or who renews the mind? In this particular context, it is not clear how the mind is renewed, but the matter is not left in doubt in the New Testament. From Eph. 4:17-24, we learn that those who were "darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart" are to "be renewed in the spirit of ... [their] mind, and put on the new man, that after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth." Alienation from God is cured by a creative work of God in the mind and heart of man.
From Titus 3:5 it is clear that in this work the Holy Spirit is the creative agent; it is by the washing of regeneration and the renewing by the Holy Spirit which God poured out richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Here, the Spirit, the Father and the Son are involved in bringing the estranged mind into harmony with God. It is not done by works of righteousness which we do ourselves. These beget the Pharisaic attitude of boasting: "I am not like other men."
In Col. 3:9,10, Paul speaks of putting off "the old man with his doings" and putting on "the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him." This is another way of describing the transformation that comes over a Christian during the experience of repentance. Putting off the old man with his deeds and putting on the new is simply another way of saying with John the Baptist, "Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance" (Luke 3:8).
The new man and the new mind are the work of the Holy Spirit. This new man has a new outlook. To him "there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman" (Col. 3:11). All men stand on the same level at the foot of the Cross. All men are the same color under the skin. Racial, social, and cultural distinctions do not count in God's sight, for God is no respecter of persons (Rom. 2:11).
There is evidently a close kinship between the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit and what Paul calls being "in Christ," for he says, "if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature [or, a new creation]: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new " (II Cor. 5:17). The whole of a man's nature and his viewpoints are changed when a man is in Christ Jesus.
Before leaving Rom. 12:2, we should notice two other very important matters. The first is the contrast between the two verbs "be not fashioned," sunscheematizesthe, and "be ye transformed," metamorphousthe. The world, the spirit of the age, fashions men by the external pressure of conventional moralities and entrenched privileges. The spirit of the age is intolerant of nonconformity of thought, of originality, and of prophetic vision. The mood of the age is usually under the dominion of the mind of the flesh; so the regimentation enforced by it is usually crudely materialistic, superficially carnal, and altogether unworthy of man's higher nature.
The transformation by the renewing of the mind describes a change wrought by a power from within one's own being, as an acorn is transformed into an oak. As the life urge within an acorn stimulates, directs, and limits its growth until it unfolds into a magnificent giant of the forest, so the Spirit of God, working on the mind and heart of a man, transforms the mind of the flesh into the mind of Christ. The acorn dies to produce the oak; the old self dies that the new may live. This is repentance - a new mind-set, a new life design.
The second is that the imperative mood in both of these verbs strongly suggests that somehow the human will has a part in this change. This, as we have noticed before, is also borne out by the uniform use of the verb repent in the imperative mood, wherever the context allows. Man is not entirely passive in this transformation. This assumption that the human will plays an important part in reversing one's course of life and thought is also in line with the Old Testament usage of the verb, "Turn ye."
It is further important to notice that these imperatives are usually in the present tense. This serves to remind us that repentance is not limited to a sudden crisis. It is not an emotional cataclysm, but a life process. Repentance in its initial stages is genuine repentance, so far as it has gone, but it must go farther. It is terminated only by death.
A sprouted acorn with only one season's growth to its credit is an oak, but not so large an oak as it will be a century later, when its top towers toward the heavens and its branches reach out toward the horizon. A Christian, just born anew, has something of the mind of Christ and is a Christian, although not grown to the full stature of manhood in Christ. How much Paul insisted on the necessity of growth in the Christian is seen in such passages as: "And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:11-13). Bringing men to maturity, unto full stature as Christians, is the work of the Christian ministry, according to this passage. Maturing in Christian character is concurrent with acquiring the mind of Christ. Repentance and growth in Christian grace should not be identified, but they certainly cannot be isolated, in Christian experience.
To the Galatian Christians, Paul wrote, "My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you ...; for I am perplexed about you" (Gal. 4:19,20). Paul was in genuine distress because of their obvious immaturity. It was like going through birth pangs again to bring them to a full conception of the Christian faith. How often the conscientious pastor today confronts a similar agony for some of his people!
|I must add a reluctant conclusion from my own experience with the denomination of which I am a part. After fifteen years of ordained ministry, I confess seeing little evidence at any level of the church that we produce, as a whole, persons of loftier Christian character, more authentic devotion to Christ, more penetrating moral perception or more courageous moral action, more apt to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength than any other group of persons who claim to take the Gospel seriously. Our lofty doctrinal claims and enthusiastic trumpeting of denominational distinctives make our very average results all the more disillusioning.
David L. Thompson
All too many of us, both ministers and laymen, are like the scrub oaks of the Coast Ranges of California, which, after fifty years of growth, are more like pea vines than oaks. These scrub oaks often bear a handful of bitter acorns, but they are not very inspiring representatives of the oak family. So, too, Christians may be really Christians, but stunted, scrubby representatives of the Christian family.
The babes in Christ (I Cor. 3:1-3), who are known by their spirit of jealousy and strife, bring little honor to the Kingdom, and they contribute little power to the Church. They all bear some fruit, but our concern as ministers must be to bring them "unto the measure of the stature of the fulness" of manhood in Christ. The world is crying today for grown-up Christians - grown-up in their emotional and mental attitudes.
Repentance is not fulfilled in sprouting the acorn; nor should it stop when the stature of the scrub oak is reached. It should go on until it reaches full Christian stature, which means that it should go on throughout all of life. When growth ends, death begins.
Scrub oaks usually grow in thin, rocky, dry, and unfavorable soil. A magnificent white oak, rooted in deep soil, with abundant rainfall, is the expression of its favorable environment. The famous Wye Oak of Talbot County, Maryland, with its girth of twenty-seven feet and eight inches, and a limb spread of one hundred and sixty-five feet, shows us what an oak may be. Few oaks attain such stature, and few Christians attain their full growth, but all Christians ought to be growing.
A man in Christ is rooted and grounded in love (Eph. 3:17), a soil which grows real men. The Christian should not wait for chance showers, but he should ask for the living water which becomes "a well of water springing up unto eternal life." This is the work of the Spirit of God. The Spirit is the agency by which repentance is initiated, carried forward, and completed. Our part is to co-operate. Too often we resist the Holy Spirit of God by which we are sealed.
The purpose of transformation through the renewing of the mind is that we may be able to "prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God." The final goal of transformed thinking is the ability to recognize the will of God in difficult times and situations. Men do not attain this goal by one leap. The Christian advances from insight to insight until he arrives. As he progressively gets the mind of Christ, he will know the will of the Father, for the Father and the Son are one in such matters.
Although neither the Gospel nor the Epistles of John use the words repent or repentance, they do have a real contribution to make to our study. This body of literature insists very strongly on the necessity and the consequences of a change in man's inner being.
The Gospel of John, as we have noticed in a previous chapter, calls this change a new birth. With the new birth comes a new nature: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). Since the Kingdom of God is a spiritual reality, it requires a spiritual nature and outlook to understand it or to participate in it. In the words of Paul, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged" (I Cor. 2:14).
The First Epistle of John changes the figure, but keeps the idea that the divine activity produces this change in man's moral nature. The phrase "begotten of God" has a dominant place in this Epistle. "If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one also that doeth righteousness is begotten of him" (I John 2:29). A change of nature produces a change in conduct. Divine sonship calls for righteous living because God is righteous.
Belief in Jesus Christ is a mark of being "begotten of God": "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God" (I John 5:1). This test was given by John at a time when men were calling themselves Christians, but not recognizing the Man of Galilee as the Christ come in the flesh: "For many deceivers are gone forth into the world, even they that confess not that Jesus Christ cometh in the flesh" (II John 7). Conversely, belief in Jesus Christ precedes the gift of the Holy Spirit, which produces that revolutionary transformation. It was a group of believers who, on Pentecost, were made new men for new tasks. It was to a believing Gentile household that Peter took the Gospel of a Christ "who went about doing good," who was crucified and raised up the third day." While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them that heard the word" (Acts 10:44).
The book of The Acts does not present one doctrine of conversion while the Johannine literature represents another. They look at repentance in different stages. The work of the Spirit and the response of man cannot be divided into separate compartments that make contact only at one point. There is a constant interaction throughout the entire Christian experience, with the Spirit taking the initiative at every stage.
This divine begetting is the source of Christian love, as well as the source of Christian insight: "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love" (I John 4:7,8). The assumption here seems to be that God cannot impart his life without imparting his nature. Having something of God's own nature enables us to know God. It is a case, again, of the pure in heart seeing God. Likeness of nature produces similarity of taste and sympathy of purpose. Dissimilarity produces a jar, a clash: "And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what portion hath a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement hath a temple of God with idols? for we are a temple of the living God; even as God said, I will dwell in them, ... and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (II Cor. 6:15,16). This is another illustration of the need of repentance, reversal of mind. There can be no fellowship with God until it comes.
The divine begetting is also the secret of the Christian's triumphant living: "For whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith" (I John 5:4). Faith, as well as the Christian, is begotten of God; both are triumphant: "And who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God" (I John 5:5).
The effect, in the conflict with sin, of this divine begetting is seen in Rom., chs. 7; 8. In the former chapter, all is struggle, agony, frustration, defeat, ending in the despairing cry, "Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?" (Rom. 7:24.) But the light breaks: "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 7:25). The mood becomes one of calm assurance: "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). The explanation of the old frustration and agony is the "sin which dwelleth in me" (Rom. 7:17). The secret of the triumph is the indwelling of the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead, who shall also make alive our mortal body through his spirit which dwelleth in us (Rom. 8:11). The Christian's hope lies in the creative work of the Holy Spirit which makes the new mind possible. The goodness of God exhibited in the atoning work of Christ leads to repentance. The theologian calls it regeneration. John called it being "begotten of God"; Paul described it as God's Spirit dwelling in us.
But we must not think that Paul (Rom., ch. 8) considered the struggle over. With his mind he still served the law of God; with his flesh, the law of sin (Rom. 7:25). As long as the flesh, the unregenerate nature of man, has any voice in choosing one's course of life, regeneration is not complete. Regeneration is never complete in this life.
John was thinking about the ideal when he said, "Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God" (I John 3:9). The Church was troubled with antinomian teaching; John replied that there must be a definite break in conduct when a man is begotten of God. He cannot go on sinning.
According to Paul, there are two definite life patterns: the pattern of those who walk "after the flesh" and that of those who walk "after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:5). As there are two patterns of life, so there are two issues of life: "For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace" (Rom. 8:6). Paul spoke first of the Spirit of God dwelling in men and then of the Spirit of Christ, as though they were identical. Manifestly he was wrestling with ideas too big for human speech, but this much is clear: when God comes into a human life, all is different; everything is new. The "man in Christ" has met "God in Christ," reconciling a hostile world to himself through sheer grace - a grace which did not reckon up our trespasses, thus breaking down our resistance to God. Reconciliation is wrought out by means of the message of the Cross. The result is repentance.
In like manner, when one "man in Christ" meets another "man in Christ," even though of a hostile race, the "middle wall of partition" is broken down and the two find a new unity (Eph. 2:14). The barriers erected by race are broken down by means of His broken body, so those who are far off and those who are nigh are made still nearer to God and to one another by one Spirit. A new pattern of life is set, because a new pattern of mind has been discovered.
The Participation of the Human Will
A further word should be said about the part played by the human will in arriving at the new mind. Obviously, Jesus and the apostles, as well as the prophets of the Old Testament, assumed that the will of man plays a decisive part in repentance for, as has been noticed before, the verb metanoeoo is always in the imperative mood, where the context permits such a construction. On the other hand, the verb metamelomai, which is used of Judas' repentance, never occurs in the imperative mood. In other words, remorse for sin is never commanded in the New Testament.
Remorse for sin may be introductory to genuine repentance, but if the sense of sin does not advance beyond remorse it may be very injurious to the personality. It leads to arrested development of a very unwholesome type, which, in the end, is spiritual death. This is not what Jesus sought when he said, "Repent ye."
As we have said before, nowhere in the Pauline epistles does the writer call directly for repentance in so many words, but the idea is there in other forms. "We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ," said Paul, "as though God were entreating by us: we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God" (II Cor. 5:20). Reconciliation brings the hostile mind of the flesh in line with God's gracious purposes. The imperative, "Be ye reconciled," indicates, again, that the will of man has a part in reconciliation, repentance.
Just what part the will of man does play is suggested by the preceding verses: "But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses, and having committed unto us the word of reconciliation" (II Cor. 5:18, 19). There are several important facts here. The first is that God takes the initiative in this reconciling work, so that man's part consists merely in response to God's approach. It is assumed that man can spurn God's gracious advances, as Paul so vividly reminds us his own people did: "For being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God" (Rom. 10:3). They knew better than God. God was simply wrong about the correct way to attain righteousness.
This conflict between God and his people runs through most of the New Testament and makes a study of absorbing interest. The spirit of contending against God's purpose appears in the words of the Sanhedrin: "What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been wrought through them, is manifest to all that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. But that it spread no further among the people, let us threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name. And they called them, and charged them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus" (Acts 4:16-18). Peter and John recognized this opposition to God for what it was, and challenged the Sanhedrin with the following words: "Whether it is right in the sight of God to hearken unto you rather than unto God, judge ye: for we cannot but speak the things which we saw and heard" (Acts 4:19,20).
A second very important fact is the method by which God works out reconciliation. He does it through Christ and his Cross. Jesus completely identified himself with our sin that we might become identified with him in righteousness: "Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him" (II Cor. 5:21). But this was made effective to us by "not reckoning "our sins unto us. As a matter of pure grace, God refused to take account of our sins. Under the Old Testament figures, God removed our sins or covered them; in the New Testament he forgives them. To use Paul's favorite word, God "graces away," charizetai, sin. Reconciliation with God, one aspect of repentance, is made possible because God takes the initiative in graciously removing sin as a barrier to fellowship with himself. This goodness of God leads man to repentance.
A third fact of great practical importance is that God uses human agents in the work of reconciliation: he "committed unto us the word of reconciliation," the Gospel of a crucified Saviour; and he sends us forth as his ambassadors, pleading with men to accept his grace.
Somehow, a creative activity of God works through the message of a crucified Saviour, preached by sinning men to a world in sin and revolt, and so God changes the minds of men from the mind of the flesh to the mind of Christ. This is too wonderful to understand, but we see it operate wherever a crucified Saviour is presented by men who have experienced his grace. God provides the initiative, the dynamic, and the means; man responds; and repentance is the result.
The Powers of the New Mind
The renewed mind possesses not only powers that lead to life and peace, but also endowments for service in the Kingdom. Among these powers are prophecy, discerning of spirits, the interpretation of tongues, and so forth (I Cor. 12). The new mind produces a spirit of wisdom and revelation; it enlightens the eyes of the heart that we may know the "hope of his calling, ... the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and ... the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe." In other words, the new mind is equipment to live, effectively and fully, for Christ. That is why Jesus said, "Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." No man is prepared to live under God's reign until he gets the new mind.
As John the Baptist expected fruit worthy of the new mind, so did Jesus and the apostles. We catch a hint of what this fruit is in the words of Paul to which we have referred before: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control" (Gal. 5:22,23).
The mind of Christ is produced in the Christian by the work of the Spirit. Not only does it bear much fruit, but it sustains the Christian under trial and hardship: "Wherefore we faint not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day" (II Cor. 4:16). Our world is calling for men of renewed mind to lead it through the dark days ahead. They must be men who can see God's will clearly and forget their own selfish interests. They must tower toward heaven, spiritually, and reach far toward the horizon in helpfulness to man.
Repentance is produced as the Holy Spirit works within the human life, transforming its aspirations, ideals, ambitions, and viewpoints. The central theme upon which the Spirit plays is the message of a crucified Saviour. The response to this infinite love is repentance.
From the Smyth lectures by William Douglas Chamberalin, Columbia Theological Seminary, 1941
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