What Does it Mean to Repent, and Why is it Important? Also: Does God Shoot People With Arrows?! #97
Happy Saturday, friends! Here in sunny and cold California, our shelter in place order has turned into a STAY HOME order, which is a little more restrictive. We’ve been sheltering in place now since March 18 and STAYING HOME starts today. We’re still allowed to go to the store for essential needs, and we can go for walks while maintaining #socialdistancing, so it doesn’t change things a ton for us. Today we took a nice family walk on a trail through rolling hills near our house, and had a good old time playing in trees and dry river beds and such. Normally, we would focus on 1st Thessalonians for today’s pod, but it just so happens I’m preaching on 1st Thessalonians this Sunday, so I didn’t want things to be redundant for our church family, many of whom listen to this pod. Which brings us to a fascinating passage in Psalms 7:
My shield is with God,Psalms 7:10-13
who saves the upright in heart.
11 God is a righteous judge
and a God who shows his wrath every day.
12 If anyone does not repent,
he will sharpen his sword;
he has strung his bow and made it ready.
13 He has prepared his deadly weapons;
he tips his arrows with fire.
That’s kind of terrifying, right? I have a pretty nice bow, but I’m not a bow hunter. I also have a few nice swords, a couple of which are pretty deadly, but I am not a knight or Samurai warrior. If you got word that I was coming after you with my bow, I guess you should be pretty nervous, but honestly, I’m no Robin Hood, and you’d probably be fine, especially if you are moving. I’m a little better with the sword, but one time I chopped off the tip of my own toe with a sword, so you might escape from that situation pretty well too. However…to have God stringing His bow? That’s just terrifying. Not only that, but He apparently has other DEADLY weapons and HE TIPS HIS ARROWS WITH FIRE? What in the world is going on here?! Let’s read our Psalms passages and then come back and talk about what is going on.
So – really scary stuff. Those who do not repent, God sharpens His sword, strings His bow (and those fiery arrows), and gets His other deadly weapons ready. Let’s talk about repenting first. What does it mean? The Hebrew word is שׁוּב/Shub and it means to turn back or return. In the New Testament, the Greek word is Μετανοήσατε (Metanoēsate) and it is the FIRST word out of Peter’s mouth when people respond to his message at Pentecost in Acts 2:
37 When they heard this, they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what should we do?”38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”Acts 2:37-39
The word there means to change your mind. So both the Old Testament and New Testament words for repentance essentially mean to turn away from one direction and turn towards another direction – in the context of Psalms 7, to turn your mind and thinking away from sinful ways or human ways and to turn towards God’s ways. As John Piper notes, the Greek word for “repent” refers to “a change of the mind’s perceptions and dispositions and purposes. . . . Repenting means experiencing a change of mind that now sees God as true and beautiful and worthy of all our praise and all our obedience.” Let’s consider some other explanations of repentance from various pastors and theologians:
The first principle we see [in learning about repentance] is the putting off and the putting on. We touched on it, but we have to hit it. The putting off and the putting on. Putting off means stop doing something, and putting on means start doing something. Everybody knows that change is two-factored, right? Everybody knows that in order to turn, metanoia (repentance means to turn), you can’t turn toward unless you turn away. You can’t turn away without turning toward something else. It’s two-factored. That seems so obvious.Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).
Repentance is a discovery of the evil of sin, a mourning that we have committed it, a resolution to forsake it. It is, in fact, a change of mind of a very deep and practical character, which makes the man love what once he hated, and hate what once he loved.Charles Spurgeon
Repentance means turning from as much as you know of your sin to give as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of your God, and as our knowledge grows at these three points so our practice of repentance has to be enlarged.J.I. Packer
You might have noticed that I am talking about ‘repentance’ far more in the last 30 days than I did in the first 60 days of this podcast. There’s a reason for that. Almost every time I turn to God and His Word and pray in the midst of this pandemic, I get the word to ‘repent,’ as I’ve mentioned before. I certainly believe that God is calling me to personally turn away from other things and turn towards Him in this season, I also believe that is call going out to all people in all nations right now, so I am very, very attuned to the call of God in His Word to repent, and I am extremely moved now, more than ever, of the truth of 2nd Chronicles 7:
13 If I shut the sky so there is no rain, or if I command the grasshopper to consume the land, or if I send pestilence on my people, 14 and my people, who bear my name, humble themselves, pray and seek my face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. 15 My eyes will now be open and my ears attentive to prayer from this place.2 Chronicles 7:13-15
Ponder that passage and pray it. Listen to the Word of God in this season and respond to the leadings of His Spirit. Allow me to close with a great partial message from John Piper on Jesus’ call to repent:
The first demand of Jesus’ public ministry was, “Repent.” He spoke this command indiscriminately to all who would listen. It was a call for radical inward change toward God and man.https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/thoughts-on-jesuss-demand-to-repent
Two things show us that repentance is an internal change of mind and heart rather than mere sorrow for sin or mere improvement of behavior. First, the meaning of the Greek word behind the English “repent” (metanoeo) points in this direction. It has two parts: meta and noeo. The second part (noeo) refers to the mind and its thoughts and perceptions and dispositions and purposes. The first part (meta) is a prefix that regularly means movement or change.1 So the basic meaning of repent is to experience a change of the mind’s perceptions and dispositions and purposes.
The other factor that points to this meaning of repent is the way Luke 3:8 describes the relationship between repentance and new behavior. It says, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” Then it gives examples of the fruits: “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11). This means that repenting is what happens inside of us that leads to the fruits of new behavior. Repentance is not the new deeds, but the inward change that bears the fruit of new deeds. Jesus is demanding that we experience this inward change.
Why? His answer is that we are sinners. “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). What was Jesus’ view of sin? In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus describes the son’s sin like this: “He squandered his property in reckless living . . . [and] devoured [it] with prostitutes” (Luke 15:13, 30). But when the prodigal repents he says, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” Therefore, throwing your life away on reckless living and prostitutes is not just humanly hurtful; it is an offense against heaven—that is, against God. That’s the essential nature of sin. It’s an assault on God.
We see this again in the way Jesus taught his disciples to pray. He said that they should pray, “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). In other words, sins that God forgives are compared to the ones people commit against us, and those are called debts. Therefore, Jesus’ view of sin was that it dishonored God and put us in debt to restore the divine honor we had defamed by our God-belittling behavior or attitudes. That debt is paid by Jesus himself. “The Son of man came . . . to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). But for us to enjoy that gift he says we must repent.
Repenting means experiencing a change of mind that now sees God as true and beautiful and worthy of all our praise and all our obedience. This change of mind also embraces Jesus in the same way. We know this because Jesus said, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God.” Seeing God with a new mind includes seeing Jesus with a new mind.
No one is excluded from Jesus’ demand to repent. He made this clear when a group of people came to him with news of two calamities. Innocent people had been killed by Pilate’s massacre and by the fall of the tower of Siloam (Luke 13:1-4). Jesus took the occasion to warn even the bearers of the news: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5). In other words, don’t think calamities mean that some people are sinners in need of repentance and others aren’t. All need repentance. Just as all need to be born anew because “that which is born of the flesh is [merely] flesh” (John 3:6), so all must repent because all are sinners.
When Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32), he did not mean that some persons are good enough not to need repentance. He meant some think they are (Luke 18:9), and others have already repented and have been set right with God. For example, the rich young ruler desired “to justify himself” (Luke 10:29) while “the tax collector . . . beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ [and] went down to his house justified [by God!]” (Luke 18:13-14).
Therefore, none is excluded. All need repentance. And the need is urgent. Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” What did he mean by perish? He meant that the final judgment of God would fall on those who don’t repent. “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41). Jesus, the Son of God, is warning people of the judgment to come, and offering escape if we will repent. If we will not repent, Jesus has one word for us, “Woe, to you” (Matthew 11:21).
This is why his demand for repentance is part of his central message that the kingdom of God is at hand. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The gospel—the good news—is that the rule of God has arrived in Jesus to save sinners before it arrives at his second coming in judgment. So the demand to repent is based on the gracious offer that is present to forgive, and on the gracious warning that someday those who refuse the offer will perish in God’s judgment.
After he had risen from the dead Jesus made sure that his apostles would continue the call for repentance throughout the world. He said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47). So the demand of Jesus to repent goes to all the nations. It comes to us, whoever we are and wherever we are, and lays claim on us. This is the demand of Jesus to every soul: Repent. Be changed deep within. Replace all God-dishonoring, Christ-belittling perceptions and dispositions and purposes with God-treasuring, Christ-exalting ones.
Oh yes, one more question: DOES God shoot people with arrows? I believe this passage is employing poetic language to communicate that God vigorously pursues people and calls them to repent. Does He literally shoot people with arrows?! Let’s just say this:
30 For we know the one who has said,Hebrews 10:30-31
Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay,
The Lord will judge his people.
31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.