Sunday, January 14, 2024

Guilt Gospel (6) Repentance

The modern evangelical church has confused remorse with repentance. Remorse is defined as a “deep sense of regret, sadness or shame about a past action.” Remorse is the natural response to guilt. Many Christians assume that repentance requires remorse.

Repentance has a different meaning. The Greek word usually translated as repent is “metanoeo”. It means “to think differently”. “meta” means “after or with”. “noieo” means “to exercise the mind, think or consider”. Consequently, repentance means a complete change in thinking about life and the world. It is not remorse for past actions.

Paul is a great example of real repentance. He was a hard-core Pharisee. He persecuted Christians and tried to kill them because he believed they were undermining God’s purposes for Israel. Given what he believed about the Jewish relationship with God, killing Christians was a logical thing to do. Other Jewish leaders were not doing the same, because they were not as serious in their faith as Paul.

On the Damascus Road, Paul had an encounter with Jesus. He realised that his understanding of God and his relationship with the Jews and the world were totally wrong. In an instant, he had to change his world view and his way of thinking about God and what he was doing.

Paul did not wallow in remorse for his treatment of Christians before his encounter with Jesus. He acknowledged that it was wrong, but he understood that it was his understanding of God and the world that was the real wrong. His killing of Christians was the logical consequence of his beliefs about the world. It showed that he was serious about serving God, as he knew him and his ways.

When writing to the Philippians and describing the bad thinking that he had to repent from, he spoke of his circumcision, membership of the tribe of Benjamin, being a Hebrew of the Hebrews, being zealous Pharisee and confidence in his righteousness based on the Law (Phil 3:4-6). His persecution of the church was the action that naturally responded from this thinking about God and the world. I am sure he felt remorse about the Christians he had killed, but that remorse would not be enough to change him into a new man. It was his repentance/change of thinking about God, the world and his role in it that enabled him to become a new man. Once he had changed his thinking about God and Jesus, it was logical to give up killing Christians.

When we preach the good news of Jesus, we should be explaining to people that they need to change their thinking about God and the world. Getting them to feel guilty/remorseful about the things they have done is the past is a poor substitute for true repentance. Wrong behaviour is the logical outcome of wrong thinking and the bondage to evil spiritual powers that it produces.

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