Friday, February 03, 2012

Cause and Effect - Forgiveness and Repentance

At Worldview Everlasting in their “WE Got Answers” section for Feb. 2, the question was asked:

Our pastor preaches that, “If you don’t think something is sinful and you don’t repent of it then you’re not going to be forgiven.” Is this really true? If yes, how can we ever be sure of our salvation? Can you please explain?

The responding pastor rightly begins by saying: “First off, I would highly recommend speaking to your pastor about what he said and asking for some clarification.”

This question, as it is presented, leaves too much unsaid for anyone to be able to answer without knowing the greater context of this person’s pastor’s preaching. The responding pastor gives some good general thoughts to the pondering of the question. Please see his response for further pondering.

However, this rather vague question presents a wonderful opportunity to investigate this matter further. In particular, the cause and effect relationship of forgiveness and repentance is worthy of deeper investigation and explanation.

Did you catch the reversal that I here presented from what is commonly falsely presumed? Even in the response at Worldview Everlasting, the backwards presumption seems to prevail in the explanation. The parishioner’s question begins with this backwards understanding and the pastoral response did not really set it right.

First, what is the false presumption? The false presumption is that the cause and effect relationship is from repentance to forgiveness. We sinners cannot grasp God’s gracious decree of forgiveness apart from the regeneration that the Holy Spirit works through the means of grace, that is, the Gospel and Sacraments. So we tend to think from the perspective of the damned rather than from the perspective of the regenerated. Our default reasoning is from that of unbelief and the misconceptions of our sinful nature. Thus we imagine that God’s grace works the same way as our sinful mindset. We generally think that a person must apologize and ask forgiveness and change one's actions and attitudes toward us before we expect to forgive. But this is not God’s way, not at all. For this way does not truly work even among us.

The fact is that forgiveness produces repentance, not the other way around.

To understand this, we first need to understand what repentance really is. The New Testament Greek word is metanoia. Repent is not a very good translation of this word. Sadly, it has been with us for so long that it is hard to escape. Invert or convert is really closer to what is meant by metanoia. Metanoia is a change in mind. The mind is altered so that it functions differently, with an entirely new basis for reasoning.

That which effects this change of mindset is the Gospel of God’s forgiveness in Christ. When a person hears God’s declaration that in Christ the person’s sins are all forgiven, this turns the person’s mind upside down and inside out. Now the person has been turned from the previous direction and manner of thinking toward the way of Christ. Now the person looks for even one’s identity in the very person and work of Christ.

The Gospel accounts give us some marvelous examples of this.

Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. (John 8:1-12)

Notice what is here portrayed for our observation and learning. The Lord Jesus began the day in communing with the Father. Then He goes into the temple and indoctrinated (taught) all the people who came to Him. This is an important factor that is easily overlooked. They came to Him to receive His doctrine, His words of instruction. Moreover, this was in the temple, where the focus was upon the forgiveness of sins through the preaching and sacraments. The reason for coming to the temple was to receive God’s declaration of forgiveness and to be reunited into the Holy Communion of God’s Church on earth.

For what purpose did the scribes and Pharisees come into the temple and to Jesus? They came to oppose Jesus and His doctrine. They came to bring a woman to the temple for the exact opposite purpose for which the temple was ordained. They came to seek a pronouncement of condemnation and death.

So the Lord Jesus granted them their request. Upon their arrogant insistence, Jesus, who had been sitting and teaching, raised himself up before them and said to them: “He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

They demanded a pronouncement of condemnation, so He gave them one, the one that came from their own mindset. They all pronounced themselves to be condemned and without God’s forgiveness. They walked away in shame.

But to the condemned woman he inquired which of her accusers now condemned her. When she responded that none of them did, He pronounced God’s forgiveness and the power of that forgiveness to live as one who is no longer under the condemnation. He tells her to go and no longer sin.

But the Lord Jesus does not leave the people to imagine that this power to live no longer sinning is a decision or choice that they must perform. He explains that He is that power by which people walk no longer in darkness. He is the light that shines in their heart and mind and turns them from stumbling to walking in safety.

Here is another marvelous example:

And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:1-10)

First, Jesus came to Jericho, where Zacchaeus lived. Again people gathered to Jesus to hear His teaching. As Jesus and the crowd moved through the town, Zacchaeus felt drawn to see Jesus and calculated the path and ran ahead and climbed up a tree where he would be able to see Jesus. That was it. He wanted to see Jesus. He did not call out to Jesus. He did not decide to follow Him. He did nothing more than to hang in the branches above where Jesus would come.

It was Jesus who spoke to Zacchaeus. Jesus invited Himself into the life and house of this little man of ill repute. He pressed His way into the mind and heart of this man through the gentle invitation of His holy presence. Without actually stating it in the usual manner, Jesus absolved this man of his lifetime of sin and unbelief.

Zacchaeus understood fully what Jesus had done for him. His heart was changed by these words of Jesus to him. He climbed down out of the tree with haste and eagerly received his Savior into his home. He understood fully what this meant and responded to it in the same manner as the adulterous woman, only he openly pronounced the change of heart and mind that Jesus had worked in him, saying: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.”

Jesus confirms what had transpired, saying: This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

Oh! This day is salvation come to this house . . . for the Son of man is come (to this house, of Abraham) to seek and save that which was lost.

The Son of Man (Salvation) comes and then the heart and mind are changed, metanoia/repentance. Sin no more = walk no more in darkness but in the light. Jesus is the light.

Repentance is God’s work, not ours. The change is that worked through regeneration.

This is why He can say that a person should go or sojourn and no longer sin, for He has exchanged His perfect and sinless life for ours. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He empties us of sin and fills us with His faith, producing in us life and holiness. How then can the regenerate person ever see things the same as before being baptized into Christ Jesus? Such a person does not say: “I must repent,” but lives no longer in sin, for repentance already has been and is continually worked by God within. Thus Jesus has proclaimed, “Has been fulfilled the time and has drawn near the kingdom of God. Be converted you-all and believe in the Gospel.”. (Mark 1:15)

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