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Theological, Doctrinal, and Spiritual Musing - and whatever other else is on my mind when I notice that I haven't posted in a while.
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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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The Buzz

Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
- Marc Heinrich

His posts are either funny or challenging. He is very friendly and nice.
- Rose Cole

[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
- C-Train

This post contains nothing that is of any use to me. What were you thinking? Anyway, it's probably the best I've read all day.
- David Kjos

Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
- Jonathan Moorhead

There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
- Carla Rolfe
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Thursday, July 29, 2010
1005: Do not be distressed.
There is a scene in Genesis (c.f. Chapter 45), where Joseph's brothers are reacquainted with him. Recall that as a youth, his brothers despised him first because their father favored him, and again because he had dreamt two dreams that, when interpreted, suggested his brothers would all bow down to him one day. On a day when the brothers were together, and far away from their father, Joseph came to them, and having seen him approaching from a long way off, they determined to kill him.

That's some serious hatred.

Now to be sure, not all the brothers were okay with murdering Joseph. Reuben sought to preserve Joseph by suggesting they kill him by tossing him into a deep and dry pit (where presumably Joseph would die of thirst). That way, I suppose, they can tell themselves they (personally) didn't kill him, they just put him in a pit. Thirst killed him - or something like that. I am speculating of course. What is certain however is that putting him in the pit was intended either to end his life, or perhaps to just hold him while they thought of how they were going to kill him.

It happened of course, and you know the story, that they saw an opportunity in the form of a passing caravan, and rather than simply let Joseph die in a pit (or alternately, kill him themselves), they should sell him, thereby ridding themselves of Joseph, and making a profit at the same time.

That was the last time they saw Joseph, and now he was standing before them endowed with power over them by virtue of both his exalted status, and again by their pronounced and obvious poverty. Here was a man that had it in his power to enslave them all, or worse, have them executed.

Can you imagine? Here was the man they had abused so long ago, and it was he who now had supreme power over them. The roles were reversed big time, and they were cut to the core with this knowledge - stunned by it; suddenly aware that a "biblical proportion" come-uppence had just opened their barred door, and waltzed into the center of their lives, and that they were powerless to do anything. What little squeaks might have come out of them had someone squeezed them in that moment I can only guess, but here is what Joseph said to them, "And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life".

The thing is, even though Joseph clearly forgave them, they didn't really believe it.

Oh sure, they lived as though they were reconciled to Joseph, but deep down they said to themselves, Joseph is only forgiving us for our father's sake. I say this because when Jacob passed away, the brothers resumed their old terror once again, even putting a post mortem command into Jacob's mouth concerning their well being. We see this in the last chapter of Genesis:
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him." So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, "Your father gave this command before he died, 'Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.' And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father."
This is the not a picture of people who believed Joseph the first time - they doubted his sincerity even as they lived years in the proof of it. How did Joseph respond to their fear and doubt? Read and see:
But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
Okay, so what does that picture.

I mean, seriously.

There are believers today who ought rightly to be called doubters. They doubt God loves them, they doubt God *really* has forgiven them. They live their lives in the fear that God will suddenly realize that they still commit sin, and in His wrath He will disown them. They refuse to believe, just as Joseph's brothers refused to believe, that there could truly be forgiveness for them.

Their problem is the same problem as Joseph's brothers were experiencing - just as they didn't trust that Joseph had really forgiven them, so these, though they claim saving faith, do not trust that God will forgive them in the end.

Don't be like that. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Do you doubt God's love or His forgiveness? Maybe you doubt His steadfastness or immutability? These do not persist in you because God's character is lacking, they persist because your knowledge and certainty of God's character is lacking.

If this is you, then I say read the bible ... moron1.

1Of course I mean "moron" in jest, but the admonition to read scripture is dead serious.

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posted by Daniel @ 7:15 AM   2 comment(s)
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
1004: Christian Parenting Decisions: Spiritual vs. Religious Superstition
My wife and I received a godly friend over yesterday for a visit. In the course of the visit my youngest daughter came in, all giggles, and shared her (latest) favorite scene from Nickelodeon's Avatar: the Last Airbender.

Our guest was a little shocked, because the characters in the cartoon live in a world that has been modelled after a fantasy medieval Asian, where reincarnation is not only believed, but a reality, where there are spirits who influence the world, and where there are people with supernatural abilities to manipulate either water, fire, earth, or air. The main character is fashioned after a young Buddhist monk, and is expected to save the world from the king of the Fire Nation, known as the Fire Lord.

Sounds like a regular pagan party doesn't it? I mean, seriously, reincarnation, spiritism, then the whole savior thing. One might ask, "What were you thinking exposing your little ones to this sort of influence?" I mean, even if it seems harmless, the argument is that it will erode good Christian teaching, since it exposing young minds to (albeit cartoon-ized exaggerations of) pagan mythology.

The question I have had to ask myself before I allowed my children to watch this stuff was whether or not that was a both a valid portrayal, and again a valid argument.

Now, I want to say this up front. This shock from our friend set my thinking in this direction, as I found myself justifying the choices I had made as a parent, and in thinking them through I thought it would be a good thing to set the process out here, for others to benefit from, or in the case that I am way out in left field, correct me.

Consider the argument, in its distilled form: Any parent who exposes his children to people (or depictions of people) who practice other (false) world religions is doing something wicked and evil.

That is, I believe, what the argument comes down to. I have heard it argued that Satan uses such things as inroads into darker things - like drug dealers push the relatively harmless drugs on people first (i.e. marijuana), then later, when they are comfortable with the idea of doing illegal drugs, they are more open to try harder substances.

Now who in their right mind is going to deny that entry level drugs lead to darker things? No one with a sober conscience and any exposure to these things. I personally have seen many of my friends and family disintegrate over the years as they moved away from the (relatively) harmless "beginner" drugs, and into darker things. It happens, and there is no sober way of denying it. There may be exceptions, but no argument is very sound when it depends upon the exceptions. So on the outset when this kind of argument is imposed on the idea of watching shows with fictional cartoon depictions of a hodgepodge of pagan notions, it seems rather reasonable, and even convincing for many.

I mean, seriously, once that argument is given, if it is challenged, the fall back would naturally be that it is wiser to avoid it, "just in case" - I mean, why take chances on this stuff ...right? Surely no good parent would knowingly put their child in harms way. In the same way, one ought not to expose their little ones to anything that could possibly be used as an inroads into spiritism and paganism.

Now, before I attend to that thought I want to say that I respect that. If a parent is convicted that letting their child watch a cartoon wherein the characters are not Christian, on the grounds that their children may be influenced to abandon Christ by a quirky and fun cartoon depiction of non-christians doing things together, then I don't want to say that they are bad parents or even over-reacting. To their own master they stand or fall, and it is not my place to judge their actions, especially if their hearts are focused on Christ. In other words, what I write here is not intended to suggest that they are wrong in what they do, provided what they do is being done in the service of our Lord.

The question I have had to ask myself is whether it is okay for my children to be entertained by the adventures of cartoon characters living in a mythical cartoon world based loosely on medieval Asian culture, given that such things as reincarnation, and good/evil spirits are presented as real in the cartoon setting.

I remember this one lady who claimed to be a Christian. She sent her children to a Christian school, and they were not allowed to read any books or watch any television, or see any movies or hear any music that had anything whatsoever to do with such things as magic or spiritism, or paganism or anything. I never would have known this except I chanced to strike up a conversation with her daughter one day, and was amazed to learn that she was not allowed to read, "the Hobbit" because the book had a dragon and a wizard in it (or something like that).

This girl knew the difference between real and make believe; but her parents didn't want her to be influenced by anything that was both make believe and supernatural.

I was struck by the absurdity of these parents protecting their children from the influence of make believe stories. The question I asked myself at that time was whether it was godly zeal, or just empty religion for these Christian parents to presume upon the possibility that their children were so feeble of mind and understanding that they were in danger of blurring the distinction between real and make believe should they be exposed to the make believe sort of supernatural stuff that fuels most sci-fi fiction today.

I confess, My four year old has been influenced by watching Star Wars the Clone Wars™. Much of his play time involves whooshing around a plastic lightsaber, and making "Weearr, Weeoww" noises, often punctuated by holding his hand out in a gesture of pretend power and saying in his own fumbly English, "I use-the-force you!". Clearly he is being influenced by mythology of Star Wars, but is he confusing make believe for what is real? Does he really believe that there is such a thing as the force? Is he in his bed at night praying to the force? Frankly, let me say, that he isn't, and it would be a little more than frivolous to imagine that he was in any danger of doing so.

Likewise with Harry Potter. Oh my! There are witches and magic in Harry Potter! Listen, even children know that these witches and their magic are all make believe, and even though that is self evident, yet when I watched a Harry Potter movie with my children, I took time to explain the distinction.

You see, here is my concern: I don't want to protect my children from make believe things. I want my children to know what real witchcraft is - appealing to demons for information or assistance. I want them to understand that it is real, and evil, and that no-one who loves God would dare to dabble in that. I don't want to equate Harry Potter with witchcraft, because what Harry Potter does is not witchcraft, it is make believe. He isn't summoning demons, nor is using spells as a means to motivate demons (or if you prefer, "spirits") to obey him and perform supernatural phenomenon. He is using a make believe ability ("magic") and those who have this ability in the Harry Potter story, are called "witches" or "warlocks" etc. No sober person ought to confuse what takes place in those movies for genuine witchcraft.

Now, that is not to say that I think Harry Potter movies are all spiffy and okay. Frankly I am offended at the way authority is portrayed as clueless, pointless, and more often wrong. I am offended on all kinds of parenting levels - but the concern that my children are going to become interested in witchcraft after seeing such a movie is not one of them.

Herein lies the heart of this post. You see: we need to protect our children (and ourselves!) from real danger, and real evil influences, but we stand to injure our selves and those whom we protect if we fail to make clear and sound distinctions between the real threats, and those things which have the appearance of a threat but are in fact (more or less) harmless.

We do not honor Christ by presenting ourselves as incapable of discerning between real and make believe, or worse, as actually being incapable of discerning between real and make believe.

I want to qualify this, lest anyone imagine I am saying that there is nothing whatsoever to be concerned about in secular children's programming. There is much to be on guard about. The world is not neutral, but is pushing an agenda that marginalizes (if not ridicules) Christian thought, and influence. We must be on guard against the philosophy of the world - the mind set of the world, as it is beamed into our houses daily in everything from commercials, to entertainment to news. The media is biased towards the flavor of the moment, and pretty much all content we find in the theatre, the television, and the radio is silently evangelizing the secular philosophical cause, and this isn't even (always) intentional. The media just wants to be relevant and modern, and in tune with the values of the society in which it sells itself.

So I do not suggest for a moment that children's TV shows (such as The Last Airbender) or movies and books primarily aimed at children (such as the Harry Potter movies/books) are harmless because most children are capable of distinguishing between real and make believe. Far be it from me to suggest that these things are "just fine" because children are capable of making elementary distinctions. What I -am- saying is that make believe depictions of pagan religions are no more dangerous than actual depictions of genuine pagan/world religions. The way we guard our children against genuine false religions, is not by sheltering them from the reality of other faiths, but rather by preaching the gospel to our children, and educating them about the Christian faith.

I don't suggest, in saying that the main argument against letting your children watch something like the Last Airbender or Harry Potter is naive, unbalanced, and even invalid, that for this reason parents should let their children watch anything the world has to offer. Rather I am suggesting that such decisions must be made according to what is reasonable, rational and real.

Am I protecting my child from a genuine danger, or am I blowing the whole thing out of proportion? Am I contending against the enemy, or am I contending against a straw man made to look like the enemy?

I believe that children are not stupid (mileage may vary here, I suppose, but in general). Children may be naive in their innocence, but any child who is receiving sound instruction in the word of God, and who sees that same word directing (and therefore transforming) the lives of their parents, is not going to confuse fictional religion, for real religion; such will not try to become Wiccans because they liked a Harry Potter movie (and I stress that I am making an apples and oranges connection here that even the dullest child would never make); likewise, such a child would not become a Buddhist because he hopes that in doing so he will be able to create fire in mid-air by thinking about it. Kids are simply not that stupid.

If a parent wants to restrict what their child is exposed to, I say amen and amen! I restrict what my children are exposed to. If there is something in as show or movie that leans on, or even exalts some world philosophy or religion, I am careful to discuss the same with my children so that they know, in no uncertain terms, the truth of what they are being exposed to.

I want my children to be strong in their faith, and that means they need to be able to distinguish between a real danger (look, there is a wild bear!) and the appearance of danger (Look, there is a poster of a real cartoon bear!). There is a danger, I think, and this is more pronounced in certain fundamentalist, and/or ultra-conservative congregations, of overstating the influence of pagan or secular philosophy and religion as it pertains to such things as books, and television shows or movies.

Can I be frank? Sure I can, it's my blog! I don't doubt that the enemy has found (manufactured?) a great tool in television. How better to lull the faithful into bed with the world than to inundate them with the message that worldliness is the norm, and good people are okay with it. How better to estrange the faithful from their Lord than by enticing them little by little through the veil of entertainment? They don't need to be told to be evil, they just need to be occupied with things other than Christ. Displace Christ in your life with anything, however small, and you injure the servant of the Lord.

The argument that this show or that show is especially bad is a tempest in a teapot. Look, if you, as a family, watch an hour or two of television a week, you are probably not displacing the Christian life with a secular one. But if you are watching two to six hours of television or movies each day (or if your poison runs in the direction of sports or hobbies) you are going to suffer loss. Loss in fellowship with the Lord, loss in growth, loss in assurance, and the work of faith (and the reward for that work). You will slowly grow cold, and it won't be because you have been influenced by worldly or secular philosophies, it will be because you have given yourself to gluttony, using your time to escape from, rather than pursue, the Lord.

But to guard against the thought that I am merely saying, X is only a little bad, and Y is very bad, so let's concern ourselves with Y before we concern ourselves with X - and thereby say that X is okay, because (relatively speaking) it isn't as bad as Y, let me say this: if anyone believes their children are going to turn in to Buddhists by watching the Last Airbender, or turn into Wiccans by watching Harry Potter - let them act accordingly. I don't suggest that because I let my kids watch such and such, that you're a bad Christian unless you do also. I leave room for this thought - that I may be naive in my thinking, I may be simply be justifying myself, I am a sinner after all, and like all sinners, if I can justify some sin, I am likely to continue in it, and boldly so. Perhaps I am just not spiritual enough to see this particular straw for the needle in the haystack it truly is. I leave room for the Lord to convince and convict me. But there will be proof in this pudding eventually; if my children turn into Wiccans and Buddhists on account of my having allowed them to watch cartoons depicting non-Christian characters in a make believe world, then I shall amongst all men, be most ashamed and filled with regret.

My position is not, therefore, that because there are bigger things to be concerned about, we ought not to consider soberly this particular thing. No, what I am saying is that in my estimation, there is no real substance to the idea that my children are going to be so influenced by cartoon versions of paganism that they will embrace the same or fail to see what is make believe or even false, for what it is.

The argument, as noted above, is truly about sheltering your children from non-Christian people, as opposed to simply non-Christian philosophy. I say this because just as their is no Christianity without Christ and without Christians, such that you cannot discuss Christianity without discussing those who bear the name, so also you cannot talk about sheltering your children from paganism without talking about sheltering them from actual pagans. The truth is they are going to meet people who have false faiths, and that these will likely make up the overwhelming majority of their acquaintances. Cartoons and movies that depict false faith, whether accurate depictions of real world religions, or just make believe stuff like magic and "the force" etc., are probably the least harmful way to introduce your children to the reality of the world in which they live and will live when you are no longer there.

If you are careful to explain the things you expose your children to, I do not believe you are committing a sin in watching a Harry Potter movie, or an episode of a show such as the Last Airbender (I am not talking about the movie by the way. I haven't seen it, and don't plan to).

My closing caution then is directed at those who tow the "Christian" line without ever having sat down and considered what it is they are doing. Yes we are to evil in our conduct, and cling to what is good in the same, but we can't use that scripture to isolate ourselves from the world in which we live. How can I abhor what is evil unless I learn what evil is? That isn't to say that I should indulge in evil in order to know what it taste likes, so that I can avoid it later - it is to say that in all things I must choose to abhor what is evil and cling to what is good.

Consider the rapist who pursues his own sexual gratification at the expense of his victim. Does the physical pleasure this man extracts from an act of violent violation make the physical pleasure of intimacy in marriage evil? Certainly not. There is nothing evil about the pleasure of intimacy - and yet there are some who in their zeal and ignorance, deny themselves the pleasure of intimacy in marriage for fear that they are sinning in enjoying it. Do we rejoice at their zeal? We are more likely to scoff at their ignorance.

In the same way, it is certainly wrong to take pleasure in abominable worship of false Gods, or portraying such worship as valid and spiritually acceptable. But it is not wrong to have a conversation with, or even (gasp!) befriend someone, who practices a false religion. It is wrong to think that a false religion is spiritually valid, but it is not wrong to recognize that false religion as culturally valid. We must live in this world without being of it, but some, in practice, go further than that. They so insulate themselves from the world, that they are not in it at all, but living in a cloistered Christian bubble, out of touch with the people in the world, as a matter of religious zeal, and think themselves to be doing the work of God in keeping themselves clueless.

Which is not to suggest, as some do, that we should all be worldly in order to reach the people of the world. You know, the whole church ought to be all coffee-sipping on comfy couches in ripped jeans while we have vague but interesting conversations about our selves in some religious context. I do not mean that we adopt some new, worldly scheme or way of doing church. I mean only that we have our houses next door to people who don't know Christ, and we work alongside people who do not worship their Creator, we live in this world wherein Christ is not exalted by His creation, and we are messengers to those who live here, going about the work of proclaiming what God has done, and living in the truth of it. Or at least we should be.

It is easy to try and press ourselves into various forms of religion, various images of righteousness, than to actually search out the Lord for ourselves. I know where I sin, and let me tell you, it happens in my heart, and not in my living room. I experience moments, as every parent does, where I am more concerned with entertaining myself and my family than I am with honoring God. I have moments where I am more concerned with my own time and how I spend it than I am with caring for my family. I am a sinner, and these are the things I take to the throne, and by faith overcome in Christ. Would that all His work was already completed in me!

But I cannot, in good conscience accuse my little one of sin when he pretends to be using "the force". I know the difference between make believe and reality, and I think my son does also. I do not believe that I am sinning in exposing my children to entertainment that makes use of science fiction or even imaginary people living on imaginary planets wherein there are imaginary personalities - some of which are not human, and wherein life and death have imaginary rules. I recognize that in many cases there will be real world philosophies and even false religions influencing these forms of entertainment, and when I see such things, I am as much on my guard as I know how to be, in order that I may faithfully guide my children around or through any worldly ideas as they are presented, with the end game being that they will themselves be able, in their faith, to navigate a sound course through and around the influences this world has to offer.

In the final analysis, we cannot, even if we tried with all diligence, truly isolate ourselves from the influences of the world, what we can do however, is not allow those influences to take hold in our lives. I think that is what we are called to do, as opposed to hiding ourselves and our children from them.

Of course, if someone wanted to, they could say that I am arguing that it is okay to expose our children to all manner of evil, but that would be to make a caricature of what I am saying.

There is a difference between allowing our children to watch a show that is otherwise harmless (provided the parent guides them through it), and allowing our children to watch things that will scar them for life regardless of whether or not we explain it to them.

I like to think that in the same way that any loving parent knows the difference between firmly padding a child's butt in loving correction and savagely and abusively beating a child in a fit of rage. So also most parents will recognize the difference between a show that is going to scar their child, and one that will not. Perhaps I have an overly developed sense of hope in parenthood. Time will tell.

Thus, Christian parent, if someone comes to you and says you are a sinner because you read a Harry Potter novel to your children, or because you watched an episode of Clone Wars, or the Last Airbender, or whatever - take that to heart. Examine yourself. Recall that this person is probably taking a chance in mentioning it - the chance that you might get angry or not like them anymore, or what have you. In other words, don't be offended if someone takes an interest in your spiritual health. Their interest, unless it is purely legalistic, is an act of love, if not towards you, certainly towards Christ whom they are trying to serve. Be honored therefore that they have counted you as faithful and are approaching you for your benefit, and not their own.

They, more often than not, want to err on the side of caution, as we all should. Perhaps it is nothing, but they refuse to ignore it, lest it fester unchallenged and hurt you and your family later.

At this point, if you are not soundly convinced from scripture and conscience that what you are doing is acceptable to God. STOP DOING IT, and thank your friend for calling this to mind.

If on the other hand you are convinced that what you are doing is not a senseless and selfish act of rebellion - but is in fact something you have reflected upon and embarked upon only after you have determined that in doing so you will offer no offence to your Lord, then patiently explain yourself (if time and circumstances allow) to the one who is concerned for your soul, and do so with thankfulness and humility - leaving yourself open to instruction, lest in pride you continue to sin.

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posted by Daniel @ 2:49 PM   3 comment(s)
Thursday, July 15, 2010
New Header.
Yeah, so apparently something wacky was going on with my blog so that it refused to load for people using Firefox (I am looking at you Mr. Kjos...) So, because my header was a swf file, I figured that might be the culprit. I slapped up a rather ugly temp header, and that was good enough for the day.

It turns out the problem was not in my header at all, but in one of the scripts running on my right hand column. I removed most of them, and it started working again. But by then it was too late to get back my header. Well, not really too late, but decided rather than pop up the old stand by, I would take another crack at making a header.

Last time I wrote a flash header. This time I played with a 3D image rendering product called "Blender" (it's free of course), and the result is my new header. I don't care if you don't like green - it was mom's favourite colour, and I like it too.

Anyway, let me know what you think.
posted by Daniel @ 11:41 PM   7 comment(s)
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
994: Repent vs. Repent
If you google "define repent", the first link is to a survey of various "web" definitions - a sort of dictionary aggregator that lists definitions for "repent" from various sources: Princeton, Wikipedia, Wictionary, etc. etc. In order of appearance, here are the first ten definitions given (omitting references to things like plays or poems that have the word "repent" or "repentance" in the title):

[1] turn away from sin or do penitence; feel remorse for; feel sorry for; be contrite about

[2] Repentance is a change of thought and action to correct a wrong and gain forgiveness from a person who is wronged.

[3] In religious contexts it usually refers to confession to God, ceasing sin against God, and resolving to live according to religious law.

[4] To cause (oneself) to feel pain or regret; To cause to have sorrow or regret; To feel pain, sorrow, or regret for what one has done or omitted to do; to be sorry for; To feel pain on account of; to remember with sorrow

[5] remorse for your past conduct

[6] a stage in salvation where the believer turns away from sin.

[7] The condition of being penitent; A feeling of regret or remorse for doing wrong or sinning

[8] Acknowledge one's wrong and turn away from it.

[9] Feeling regret for sins committed and asking for forgiveness.

[10] A turning with sorrow from a past course or action

One could easily summarize the list by saying that repentance is "turning away from sin in the wake of personal remorse" or something similar to it.

I think that most people, even many Christians, if asked to define repentance would give an answer that falls in that ballpark. Many look to the NT Greek and focus on the verb "metanoeo" (μετανοηω) which is often translated as "repent" and noting that the most wooden English translation possible is to "change one's mind" they forever after flavor every English instance of the notion of repentance with the lexical salt of changing one's mind.

The verb itself is rather rare in scripture, and means first to make a note to oneself about a thing after it has transpired or is too late to have done it right the first time. It does mean to change one's mind, but in the sense of changing one's purpose or even feelings - that is, changing your mind in the sense that you no are no longer persuaded in the same manner as you previously were. If it is perceived that a previous mind set was wrong, the verb takes on the sense of regret, or remorse and often carries an ethical nuance.

You see, I knew that God granted repentance, so I was wondering why it was, with me at least, that I was not being spiritually manipulated by God into obeying Him.The noun, metanoia (μεταοια) can mean 'later knowledge' or in less clumsy English, 'subsequent emendation'. It more commonly denotes a change of mind, whether in feelings, will, or thought. Again it carries the notion of regret if there is dissatisfaction with the previous mind set and whatever pain or consequences the previous mind set invited.

All of which is to describe what the word itself means. But there is more to biblical repentance than a lucid and accurate definition of the verb or noun used in expressing the whole thought. We all know what the verb "spread" means, but that doesn't mean that spreading a bed sheet and spreading jam on toast are one and the same thing. In other words, knowing what the word repent means is very important, but we also must understand what exactly we are repenting of if we are to understand what biblical repentance is describing.

Here is a bible-reading tip for you. Just because a word is primarily used to describe some theological idea, does not mean that every time it is used it must describe that theological idea. The Greek word for baptize simply means to immerse fully. Pickling recipe's from Christ's day in Palestine speak of baptizing cucumbers in vinegar, and burial practices spoke of baptizing the body fully beneath the earth, etc. By the time the NT was translated into English, the word for "immerse" had picked up so much theological baggage, that rather than translate it as "immerse" they instead transliterated it into English - thereby avoiding the controversy that was sure to arise from those who, because of some latter day tradition, had learned to practice baptism by sprinkling.

My concern is not with baptism however, but just to make the reader understand that words can pick up a theological tradition over time, such that in latter days, after a word gains some tradition meaning, latter day interpreters may clumsily (though perhaps well meaningly) replace the original meaning in a text with a theologically charged meaning that is entirely alien to the context, and would never have been assumed by first century readers or writers.

So that when I speak of metanoeo or metanoia, I want to be on guard against projecting 20th century tradition and usage back into my understanding of what biblical repentance really is. I think most of us, if presented with the choice of understanding a text in accord with the intent of its author or in accord with our own some latter day spin on the text would choose the former.

That isn't to say that having a sound definition of the words we use is beside the point, for if one has a poor understanding of these words, one is necessarily going to have a skewed and errant understanding of biblical repentance. Consider the person who thinks of repentance as feeling remorse over something, and presumes the something he is to feel remorse over is the fact that he is condemned by sin. The gospel, under this persuasion, becomes: Feel bad that you're condemned, and believe the gospel and you will be saved!

What of the person who thinks that repentance means to stop doing evil, and to start doing good? To this one the gospel becomes, start doing good, stop doing evil, and also believe, and you will be saved. Can you see how a wrong understanding of what it means to repent can turn the gospel into a man centered, works based effort to save yourself? Don't laugh, there are Christians who reject the notion that repentance is necessary for salvation because they have failed to understand what repentance really is. They will argue till they are blue in the face that you can be saved without repentance, and that repentance is a work, but really they are beating up straw men.

Again, the person whose understanding of repentance is that you stop committing sin, they likewise will end up with a sort of works gospel - stop sinning, and believe, and you will be saved. Has ever a Christian, however pious, zealous, or holy, managed to stop sinning altogether? Some might say, "yes" - but in order to do so they have to redefine sin. The short answer is, "no". The gospel is not "become sinless and believe" not, "stop sinning and believe".

That is why it is important to have a right understanding of what repentance is, because if you don't it messes up your sanctification (drawing near to God in obedience) and can mess up the gospel that you preach.

So what exactly is it that the bible says you are to have a change of mind/purpose about?

I think the knee-jerk answer is actually wrong, and that because most people will say that you have to change your mind about "sinning" - and by sinning they mean, committing sins. They would say you have to decide once and for all that you are going to stop sinning, as a rule of life, so that the gospel is that you turn away from sinning, and believe the promises of God.

But I have a horse/cart kind of problem with that.

You see, sin is rebellion against God, and to speak of sin in terms of "doing" or "not doing" is to cut God out of the equation. I should think that the devil has his hand in any theology that essentially cuts God out of the picture.

Repentance, or so the scriptures say, is something God grants.

I write from the perspective of one who has spent many years as a fool on this front. You see, I knew that God granted repentance, so I was wondering why it was, with me at least, that I was not being spiritually manipulated by God into obeying Him. If repentance meant a stop to all sin, and God granted this - why was it that I was still sinning? When was God going to grant me repentance? How many times have I begged the Lord to grant me repentance? I cannot say.

But while genuine sanctification inevitably and inescapably flows from genuine repentance (and this is granted by God) yet the sort of "sanctification" I was looking for was not actually biblical (though I assumed it was at the time), but rather was my own invention. The idea that God was supposed to pony up and stop me from sinning became a silent thorn in my side. At times I felt like maybe this proved that Christianity was all bunk, that it was all in my head, that I was just kidding myself. At other times I felt like this proved that I was somehow illegitimate - a sad and confused person who was presuming upon his own salvation while having tragically failed grasp it for real.

It was only after I understood what both sin and repentance were, according to scripture, that I was able to understand how God grants repentance.

To start with, I had to stop thinking about sin as a shorthand way of saying committing sins -that is, I had to see sin for what it really was: rebellion against God. Here also I had to think properly about repentance - it was indeed a breaking away from some previous mind set, and wholly embracing a new one - a decisive turning away, but not turning away from "committing sins" rather turning away from rebellion against God.

You might, if you were biblically literate, describe rebellion against God as walking in the flesh, since the flesh, we're told in scripture, in enmity against God, not being subject to God's rule, and worse, being incapable of subjecting itself to God's rule. No one can, without direct intervention from God, respond to God in any other way than to rebel against His rule. This rebellion manifests itself in our lives as committing sins, but it is not the committing of sin that is the rebellion, but the state of the heart that is rebellious. The flesh is, and until redeemed, always will be, in a state of rebellion. Thus in order to "repent" one must be someone else, someone other than oneself, for left to our own devices we would only ever, continue to rebel against God. This someone else, as it turns out, is God in the Person of the Holy Spirit.

God initiates faith in this way: On the day that God chose before the foundation of the world, He imparts to that one whom He has providentially brought to this place, an ability whose origin is not in the person who is considering the gospel, but in the one who Authored it. That ability is the ability to genuinely desire to be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ.

This change of mind from not wanting to be reconciled to God, to suddenly, and irrevocably desire, with every fibre of your being, to be truly and eternally reconciled to your Lord and Creator, God. This change of mind did not originate in you, for your flesh could by no means produce it. In fact, it is the flesh that remains right now that continues to hate God's rule, and takes every opportunity to exert itself so that you find yourself torn between doing what you want to do on the one hand (indulge some sin) and doing what "you" want to do (obey God) on the other. you're not going mad, you're just experiencing the pull of two warring influences - your flesh, and the Holy Spirit.

The gospel then is simple: Stop rebelling against God, and instead receive that reconciliation which God has offered to all of mankind, and this is the offer, that if you believe that Christ's sacrifice will reconcile you to God, not because of your worth, but because of God's grace, and in the certainty of that truth, you cast yourself upon the Lord - you will be reconciled to God in Christ.

The moment you do so, in truth, you demonstrate that God has worked in you both to will (He made you desire it) and to do (He granted you repentance), what He had planned from the start for you. God granted you this repentance - this turning away from self rule, and embracing as right and proper God's rule, and God seals this with the Holy Spirit who immediately begins to indwell the new believer and continues to cause that new believer to draw near to God, and away from sin.

There are, therefore, several competing understandings of what it means to repent. Common to those understandings which paint repentance as stopping sinning, or doing good, or feeling bad, or changing your opinion about God etc. is the notion that you do something, and God responds to it. But when we understand repentance biblically, we understand that we come to the place of reconciliation because God has drawn us there, and that our change in purpose, from self rule, to God's rule, was not manufactured by our own righteousness, or desires, for such desires are foreign to the flesh, but were in fact put there by God in order to reconcile us to Himself through Christ - then and only then, do we understand that the nature of repentance depends on our relationship to the Author of repentance.

The trouble with language, and shallow definitions is that Person A can say "repent" and mean "x" and person B can say repent and mean "y" - and both can say, "repent and believe the gospel" and in doing so expressing two radically different gospels.

There is a world of difference between the message that, "if you stop sinning and change your opinion about God you will go to heaven", and the notion that God has made a promise that cannot be broken, a promise to accept any and all who are willing to forgo their rebellion against Him, and embrace His rightful rule over their conduct and life, that He will forgive them all their rebellion, and be reconciled to them for no other reason that because they [1] believed His promise, and [2] sought to be reconciled to Him under that promise - then He will, according to His promise, reconcile that person to Himself through Christ, that is, through faith in His promises concerning the Christ.

Hasn't the gospel been watered down in our generation? Of course it has. Say this prayer and you will be saved:

"Dear God, I repent of my sins, and believe that Jesus died for me, and committing myself to you, I embrace Christianity as your child. Thank you God for receiving me, amen."

I mean, ten people could pray that prayer with equal vigor, zeal, and sincerity, and only a few or none be saved. To say that you repent of your sins might simply mean to the one praying that he or she has changed his or her opinion about their sins, from, "you probably overlooked them anyway" to "You definitely were offended by them" , and believing that Jesus died for you can mean that the person believes that Jesus died on their behalf, or maybe that Jesus died as an example for them. Committing yourself to God might mean that you are embracing His rule for your life, or it may mean that you have decided to join God's team, and call yourself a "Christian" rather than say, a "Buddhist". You may say that you are embracing "Christianity" when in fact you are embracing a heresy that rejects the gospel itself.

It isn't a prayer that saves you, it is Jesus who saves you. I don't share the gospel by saying, follow me in this prayer, I say plainly that a person doesn't have the power within Himself to be saved. That he is a sinner at heart, and irrevocably so. That he will never, and can never desire to be reconciled to God, and yet that the gospel is this, that if you will turn away from your rebellion, and call out to God to be reconciled - yet God will save you. If they want to understand how all that works, I am happy to explain it, but the gospel isn't in the explanation, the gospel is in the call to repent and believe that God will keep His promises.


posted by Daniel @ 1:20 PM   4 comment(s)
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