How the Cross of Christ
Changed the Role and
Definition of Repentance
Rock of Offence Special Commentary
This is Part 1 of a three-part Bible study.
Click on the appropriatle link to access
the other parts.
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." (Romans 1:16)
"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18)
In these Scriptures, the Apostle Paul uses different wording to describe a specific type of preaching. In his epistle to the Romans, he used the term "gospel of Christ" - but when speaking to the Corinthians he used the phrase, "the preaching of the cross." In this unique situation, Paul deliberately associates both of these terms (often used interchangeably) with "the power of God". In our commentaries and Bible studies, we take a similar approach by using phrases such as, 'before the cross' and 'after the cross' - almost to the point of being redundant. Yet, these terms are necessary because the cross of Christ ... fulfilled the entire Old Testament religious program - and then replaced it with a new program established on radically different promises and principles.
"But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He (Jesus) is also MEDIATOR OF A BETTER COVENANT, WHICH WAS ESTABLISHED ON BETTER PROMISES. For if that FIRST COVENANT had been faultless, then no place would have been sought FOR A SECOND." (Hebrews 8:6-7)
"IN THAT HE (JESUS CHRIST) SAYS, "A NEW COVENANT," HE HAS MADE THE FIRST OBSOLETE. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." (Hebrews 8:13)
This change required an exraordinary level of spiritual power, which is why Paul associated "the preaching of the cross" with the power of God. We are given a preview of these changes in the writings of the Old Testament prophets, such as Isaiah :
Behold, I WILL DO A NEW THING, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)
We see the same thing in the
writings of Jeremiah where
he said (speaking for God);
"Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I WILL MAKE A NEW COVENANT ..." (Jeremiah 31:31-32)
Many years later at the Last
Supper, Jesus provides more
detail concerning Jeremiah's
words by declaring;
"This cup is the new covenant
in My blood, which is shed
for you."(Luke 22:20)
The cross - where the Lord Jesus Christ shed His blood represents a major 'doctrinal dividing line' between the Old Testament way God related with the people of Israel (Known as the Mosaic Covenant - or 'the Law') - and the New Testament way God relates with Christian believers (known as Grace). Each of these 'ways or programs' (the Bible refers to them as 'covenants') - are established on radically different rules and principles. In Romans 8:2-4, Paul referred to the principles governing the cross (or the New Covenant) as "the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus" - but referred to the principles governing the Old Testament program of the Law as "the law of sin and death". Most importantly, Paul tells us that the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus SETS US FREEE from the law of sin and death. Once again, we see this dividing line God has placed in His Word. We can see this same 'division' in the words of the Apostle John ...
FOR THE LAW WAS GIVEN
THROUGH MOSES, BUT GRACE
AND TRUTH CAME THROUGH
A vast majority of the worldwide institutional Christian Church (but thankfully not all) chooses to wrongly mix or combine both of these covenant programs together into one uniform doctrine or theology - but continues to call it "Christianity". As a result of this error, we are left with the idea that God treats sin (and the sinner) the same way after the cross - as He did before the cross. Even worse ... this same erroneous way of thinking demands that sin must be dealt with using Old Testament principles and methods (or what Paul called 'the law of sin and death'). All of this is the result of believing that God hasn't changed the Old Covenant way He treats sin - and the sinner.
But, Jesus established
a New Covenant that made
the old program obsolete.
The words “Repent and Repentance” are often thoughtlessly used in many conversations about the Bible without any consideration given to context. The New Testament Greek root word for repentance is "metanoeo" (met-an-o-eh'-o). A study of this root word reveals that it involves “a change of mind”, which results in a separation - or elimination of sin. The simple meaning behind “metanoeo” can be understood when someone is walking in one direction, then changes their mind, turns around and walks in another direction. When God (through the New Testament Scriptures) tells a person to repent, He’s asking them to “change their mind” concerning the direction of their life. It’s a request to change (or turn around) from following their own way (and plan for their life) and begin following God's way and plan. Sin is commonly understood as various acts of disobedience committed against God involving wrong behavior, which may also include violations of His standards of morality; such as lying, murder or committing adultery. According to the Bible, there are many different expressions of sin. Yet, it’s most accurately described as a willful insistence to run my life “my way”, which is always contrary to God’s way.
In the New Testament, “God’s way” involves the initial ‘first step’ of placing our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, who saves us. After obtaining salvation, the next step is learning to follow and obey Jesus as our Lord. Obviously, it was not possible to follow "God’s new and living way through Jesus Christ" (Hebrews 10:19-23) - before Jesus actually arrived on earth and died on the cross. This is why repentance and faith were established on different principles in the Old Testament. Jesus came as our “sin-bearer”. The Apostle John called him “The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world”. Since repentance (or the act of repenting) directly involves sin, then repentance functions differently after the One who “takes our sin away” arrives on the scene.
Major problems begin to surface when well-meaning individuals (usually professing Christians) refuse to accept the fact that Jesus radically changed the way God treats the human sin problem after Christ redeemed us through his sacrificial death. As a result, those who preach the Grace of Christ are often accused of removing the need for repentance from their evangelistic message. But, this common accusation is almost always the result of a failure to define certain Biblical terms.
Through the New Covenant writings of Saint Paul, we discover that "repentance" takes on an entirely new role after the cross. Under the program of the Old Testament, repentance demanded that the sinner had to engage in an intense introspection for sin, which was then accompanied by certain practices known as "works and deeds of the Law". In His letter to Titus, Paul calls them "works of righteousness." Committing to these works was the evidence that the individual was walking in true repentance and had turned away from all sin. But, through Christ's sacrifice at the cross, the way repentance operates radically changed. Paul warns about this change by saying;
"...not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:5-7)
"Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight". (Romans 3:20)
"You have become estranged (separated/cut-off) from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law;
YOU HAVE FALLEN FROM
The reason for this radical change is simple to understand. The ultimate goal of repentance is the elimination of sin from a person's life. Under the Old Testament program - before the cross - this was essentially performed by adhering to a strict practice of self-examination, prayer and the performing of certain religious works and deeds connected to the Mosaic Law. Under the Old Testament program, obtaining and keeping salvation depended on the validity and correctness of this repentance - meaning that it rested solely on the sincerity and obedience of the individual. If their repentance was incomplete or insincere, salvation would be lost.
However ... John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus as "the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world". Jesus permanently took away all human sin. The Apostle Paul later states that by placing our faith in Christ and calling upon His name - God would freely credit this permanent removal of sin - to our account (it's called "free justification" - Romans 3:24-26). After the cross, this means that salvation now rests on the validity of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God - and no longer depends on the merit or behavior of the individual. This is why Paul stated that eternal life was now 'the gift of God' - and could not be obtained through our works (Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5-7). True repentance now only occurs through faith, or "believing on the Lord Jesus Christ", where all our sin (past, present and future) is permanently removed by "The Lamb of God" - and not by our self-imposed religious practices and efforts as previously required by the Old Testament program. It's a repentance that occurs only through "a faith apart from works" (Romans 4:4-8).
As a result, after the cross - when
the New Covenant begins to govern
the message of salvation changes
and becomes ...
BELIEVE ON THE LORD
JESUS CHRIST AND YOU
WILL BE SAVED AND
We see this truth in operation when Peter preached Christ to the Gentiles at the home of Cornelius in Acts chapter 10. Many gathered for this event - and the entire group received salvation before Peter concluded his sermon. There was no indication that anyone did anything normally associated with our religious preconceptions concerning repentance. No one dropped to their knees, confessed their sin and begged God for forgiveness. No one fell on their face and cried out to God for mercy. They simply heard Peter's gospel message about how Christ took their sins away AND BELIEVED IT. The Apostle Paul later refers to this as "the hearing of faith" (Galatians 3:1-4) - and used a different term in Romans 10:8-13, where he called it "the word of faith which we preach". Either way, it’s an evangelistic message that causes the listener to "believe on Jesus Christ" and results in the immediate salvation of that individual - apart from their personal merit and moral state. Yet, counterfeit Christianity attempts to malign this evangelistic message by calling it; easy believism, greasy grace or "the sugar-coated gospel". Red flags should go up when we hear these labels used during a sermon or Bible teaching.
After the event at Cornelius' house,
Peter gave the following report to
his Jewish countrymen :
"And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ IF THEREFORE GOD GAVE THEM (THE GENTILES) THE SAME GIFT AS HE GAVE US WHEN WE BELIEVED ON THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, who was I that I could withstand God?” When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “THEN GOD HAS ALSO GRANTED TO THE GENTILES REPENTANCE TO LIFE.” (Acts 11:15-18 - Emphasis Added)
Notice that when the Gentiles
believed on Jesus Christ
through Peter's preaching,
their response is called ...
SPEAKING BEFORE THE CROSS, Jesus rightly taught that a person must "repent and believe" to be saved. Yet, at that time, He was speaking of the intense introspective type of repentance based on the Old Testament program which was still in operation. Concerning this Law-based type of repentance, Jesus said that "unless you repent you will perish" (Luke 13:3-5). BUT, AFTER THE CROSS, God changed the role of repentance to agree with the new principles of redemption (the New Covenant) established by the sacrificial death of Christ. As a result, repentance no longer follows the Old Covenant model. It is now based on the New Covenant model, where true repentance that brings salvation is "believing on Jesus Christ who takes away the sin of the world".
Today, Christ's words; "unless you repent you will perish" - remain true, but from a different perspective (or context). When we understand that true repentance - after the cross - is "believing on Jesus Christ who takes away our sin" ... then the failure to believe on Christ is what causes a person to perish. The Apostle John said it this way;
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 'He who believes in Him is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotton son of God.'" (John 3:14-18)
This kind of New Covenant
repentance could not legally
operate before Christ's
IN CONTRAST, after the cross - the counterfeit Christ and his "different gospel" that Saint Paul warns about in his epistles and writings - continues to demand that Old Testament Law-based repentance is required before anyone can be saved - and must be religiously repeated each and every time sin is committed to avoid losing salvation. Once again, this popular way of believing the Bible, based on the previous Old Testament program, now becomes a dangerous and deceptive denial of the redemption provided by the authentic Jesus Christ of the New Testament.
Marin Luther, often called "the Father
of the Protestant Reformation" warned
about this popular doctrine of the
counterfeit Christ when he said;
"Either sin is with you, lying on your
shoulders, or it is lying on Christ,
the Lamb of God. Now if it is lying on
your back, you are lost; but if it is
resting on Christ, you are free, and
you will be saved. Now choose what
Jesus Christ as the sacrificial "Lamb of God" fulfills God's primary requirement for repentance (or the removal of sin) for everyone who simply places their faith in Him. This is what happened to the group gathered at Cornelius house in Acts chapter 10 to hear Peter’s evangelistic message. However, a general type of repentance is still proper and right after we securely possess eternal life. God still expects us to "change our mind" and "turn away from sin" - but never for the purpose of 'keeping God's gift of eternal life' or to 'remain saved'. This 'changing our mind about sin' is part of what the Bible calls 'sanctification', which is an ongoing internal work the Holy Spirit performs in the believer's life.
"....being confident of this very thing, that He who begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ." (Phillipians 1:6)
Lack of success in sanctification may cause us to lose rewards in heaven, but it can never take away God's gift of eternal life.
This is Part 1 of a three-part Bible study.
Click on the appropriatle link to access
the other parts.
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