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Saturday, 10 December 2016

One Word - Just One Word...

It wasn't long since I read the following story, whether it was true or made up. But it is an interesting case on how I, and probably many others, perceive on how we feel about God:

A local newspaper editor noticed each morning a road sweeper at work keeping the kerbside clear of litter. He was dressed in rags and unbecoming clothes, and his hair was constantly untidy. The editor wanted him featured in an article about the town on which his paper covered. So finding a way to contact him, the road sweeper was invited to the office for a series of photos to be taken of him, in preparation for publication. Feeling rather excited, the sweep turned up at the agreed time - dressed in a suit and tie, his face washed, and his hair combed. The editor immediately dismissed him from his office without a single snapshot taken. His explanation was simple. He wanted the sweep to arrive as he was, without any self-reform to precede his visit. In other words: Come as you are.

And that is one of the biggest problems I face in the Christian life. For example, difficulty in prayer due to the presence of sin in my life, and the need to "clear the air" before asking anything from God - especially during a prayer meeting. Being aware that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. - John 9:31. I wonder just what level I must reach in order to be seen by God as doing his will in a godly manner? There is where I find the snag: just where is the line drawn before the presence of sin turns godliness into ungodliness? It has always been this sense of uncertainty which has cast a shadow over my spiritual life. Is that the same with you? Maybe so. Or maybe you are one of those fortunate ones who lives in constant victory over the dark shadow within, and comfortably revelling in the joy of remaining in his will.

And I wonder just how many of you had at times have been troubled by those statements made by Jesus towards the end of his hillside sermon:

Not everyone that saith unto me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?' 
And I, will profess unto them, 'I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.'
Matthew 7:21-23 AV.

I must admit, I have been troubled by these verses. And although I tried to wrangle my way out by explaining that those standing outside must have been Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Scientists, even Freemasons, Spiritualists, and all others who held false doctrines; I couldn't help feeling that there will be far more than just these. After all, the percentage of all heresies set against Christian belief has always been very small by comparison to the history of human population. And by careful reading, those who remain standing outside professed Jesus Christ as Lord, not Buddha, Shinto, Mohammed, or any other non-Christian leader. They were addressing Jesus. But worse was to come. At our church in Ascot, I was personally judged by another member with these same words. Not that I was guilty of any overt sin. Rather it was because I don't keep the British stiff upper lip, and therefore seen as not conforming for the benefit of all other men around me. Thus I was seen as not living out God's will.

Evidence that not everyone has that confidence and peace in the Lord seems manifest in many churches, if my own experience of them can testify. And to add to this, I have read other people's blogs, watched their videos on You-Tube, and have seen for myself the apparent unhappiness among other believers, especially of a quick arousal to anger when doctrinally challenged. As for an example, I was once shouted at my face by another Christian - a married father of one - for admitting that I believed in Once-Saved Always Saved. I guess this rage between two parties within the Reformed churches has been on-going for centuries. One of the most noted examples took place at a holiday resort of Minehead Somerset, in 1994, when an Arminian speaker had very nearly caused a  mass riot to erupt within a theatre audience - after rebuking them for believing in Eternal Security of the Believer and, very much like I was, they were judged by him to eternal hell-fire for anyone who has married a divorced partner.

I guess this kind of fear - fear of eternal punishment - is thought to keep all Christians living a holy life, with efforts to keep all sin at bay. I could say that in addition, the above mentioned speaker, David Pawson, insists that fear of punishment is the right motive for Christian service, as none of us are yet mature enough to be fully motivated by love, as quoted in 1 John 4:18. Because only perfect love casts out all fear, therefore he assumes that since we don't yet have this perfect love, fear is the acceptable motive. Such is the fruit of his Wesley House of Cambridge University training. As one who came from a Catholic background, I could not help but ponder whether there was something disastrously wrong with the whole Reformation. As I have come to gradually realise over the years, I have eventually concluded it's to to with the meaning of the word Repent, and its derivation - Repentance.

The best way to look into this is to take an example. In this I could say that a little booklet containing a cartoon strip This Was Your Life, drawn and narrated by the late Jack Thomas Chick, which had a massive influence on me since 1972, and it had played a major role in my conversion to Christ. Some influence globally it must have had, for over 46 years since publication began in 1970, around 500,000,000 copies has been distributed, with This Was Your Life being the most famous of all Chick's publications. But rather than this tract stirring a love for the grace and mercy of God, it has instead aroused an awareness of future punishment.

What it says at the back cover gives the reason:

The way to Heaven is:
1. Admit that you are a sinner - Romans 3:12.
2. Be willing to turn from sin (repent) - Acts 17:30.
3. Believe that Christ died for you, was buried, and rose from the dead - Romans 10:9-10.
4. Through prayer, invite into your life to become your personal Saviour - Romans 10:13.

When I read that, of course everything looked reasonable and solid, as it has always been with me to subconsciously absorb as truth everything stated here. But it wasn't long when I realised that the true peace and joy in the grace of God was lacking, and I couldn't understand why. Has God really forgiven all my sins, and furthermore, has set me free from them? Obviously he hadn't, and for decades I have questioned my own salvation as a result. And on top of all this, I have both heard and read testimonies of devoted church-goers feeling queasy over their certainty of salvation - quite a number of times. 

The problem lies with Chick's statement # 2: Be willing to turn from sin, the meaning of the English words Repent, Repentance. I have recently discovered that this is a heresy, and a dangerous one at that, because it has all the hallmarks of Biblical orthodoxy. The English word Repent is seen as meaning forsaking sin, or to be willing to forsake sin, and is used as a condition for receiving salvation. When I read Scripture, especially the Book of Acts, I could see no substance to support this. The truth is, when Peter preached at Pentecost (Acts 2), then to the house of Cornelius (Acts 10); or the evangelist Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), there is no mention of any of them told to be "willing to turn from sin". Later, Paul and Silas, as they were singing whilst confined in jail, the jailer also wasn't told to "be willing to turn from his sins" either. Instead he was told to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will be saved (Acts 16). The same in Athens, when many thought that by quoting the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, his listeners believed that the apostle was introducing another god to add to their pantheon (Acts 17). There was no mention of "having to turn away from sin" as a condition of salvation.

The idea that the English word Repent meaning a change of mind, a change of opinion, has been with me for the last few years. And I have used this definition several times before on this blogger page. This week I have done some research on this, and one thing is for sure - Repentance does not mean Turning from sin in the New Testament.

The word repent is an English word, and its used as a translation from the Greek Metanaeo, a change in the course of one's thinking, a change of opinion, a change of mind. Putting into context in the second chapter of Acts for example, the people were instructed by Peter to change their minds concerning Jesus of Nazareth, from the thinking that he was an imposter who deservingly died a criminal's death, to that of their risen Messiah and Lord, whom God has raised up. And all the other testimonies of conversion found in the New Testament follows the same procedure: for the sinner to change his mind about the risen Jesus of Nazareth being the Christ whom God has raised up.

It is wonderful good news, and gloriously simple! Change your mind about Jesus Christ of Nazareth and be saved. Such simplicity. And that was when the trouble began. It seemed too simple. So simple in fact that some Judaists had trouble with it, and presumed that some work of a kind had to be added as a condition. To them this felt much better, more sensible. Then this teaching began to be spread across the churches in Galatia. Changing your mind about Jesus of Nazareth is not enough. You need to be circumcised as well, and obey the Law of Moses. So they told these churches. But Paul called these perpetrators Cursed. Such teachings nullified the Atonement made on the cross (Galatians 1:6-9).

For the next three centuries the Church, which by the 4th Century, was already had its headquarters in Rome, was struggling with the idea of the Gospel being effective only through a change of mind by the believer. By 382 AD, Pope Damasus commissioned St Jerome to translate the Bible into Latin. In the Greek New Testament, he had trouble with the word Metanaeo, which he already knew that it meant a change of mind. The direct Latin translation of Metanaeo is Motos animi - "a change of mind," or Mutare animum tuum - "Change your mind". Instead, he inserted another word: Paenitentiam Agite, which is literally translated as Do Penance. By the 16th Century, the Latin Vulgate became the official translation of the Catholic Bible, and when the Bible began to be translated into English, especially by John Wycliffe in 1384 and William Tyndale in 1526, the Latin word Paenitentiam was by then so entrenched in the minds of theologians, that by then became the standard meaning for Repent by the Reformers, who were responsible for the translation of the King James Version in 1611, which not only incorporated the original Hebrew and Greek texts but also from nine other versions, including the Latin Vulgate.

This may be a good study during my research, but it wasn't enough to convince me. I wanted independent evidence. It is so wonderful how the Internet can be such a limitless storehouse of knowledge, so with it I had no problem in finding a Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. I then selected three verses at random which contains the English word Repent or Repentance. They were:

Acts 2:38,
Acts 17:30,
2 Peter 3:9.

In the Latin, all three verses contained the word Paenitentiam instead of Motus Animi or Mutare Animum Tuum - the proper translation of the Greek Metanaeo. However, it must be said that St Jerome had by no means acted maliciously. Rather, he felt that gaining salvation by changing the mind about Jesus of Nazareth was too simplistic to swallow, so he substituted Change of mind with Doing Penance - an act of promising to turn from sin in order to receive salvation, rather than to believe in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah who died, was buried, and on the third day risen from the dead, according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:4). In other words, the idea of behaviour modification as a condition for receiving eternal life has become so entrenched in our subconscious, that it has unwittingly replaced the simple truth that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31, also 1 John 5:1).

It is a tragedy to think that substitution of one word for another early in the Church's history could have such a catastrophic consequence throughout the last two millennia. The rise of the Dark Ages, the Spanish Inquisition, social evils such as piracy in the Caribbean, the need for the Reformation, the Calvinist-Arminian debate, the feeling of uncertainness among many believers, the rise of Darwinism to discredit Creationism, and the present-day spirit of agnosticism and atheism existing in modern society - I believe, can all be traced down to the Latin word Paenitentiam, translated into the English word Repent, and allowing the need for behaviour modification as a precedence for receiving salvation. And since it's very difficult to imagine a holy and pure God justifying a sinner who is wicked and having no righteousness in himself, therefore allowing such need for behaviour modification to become entrenched in our minds to the extent that we don't even give it a second thought.   


  1. Dear Frank,
    Thank you for the excellent post on this very thorny subject. I believe you have hit the nail on the head -- repent in the NT means to change your mind, i.e. believe in Jesus Christ as Son of God, Lord and Savior. Faith and belief in Him are the only prerequisites for salvation. To insist on repentance as a condition for salvation, if that is defined as refraining from sin, is a works-based salvation which is unScriptural. A Bible teacher in our church was rightly confronted by the pastor when he said that without turning away from sin you cannot be saved. The teacher resented the challenge and ended up leaving, which I believe was for the best since we cannot endorse false teaching.
    God bless,

  2. A part of repentance requires recognizing one cannot save himself and deciding to allow Christ to do save him. The false teaching places the emphasis on man changing himself to earn his salvation. Excellent post.