Friday, July 4, 2014

Impossible Change

The image is used under Creative Commons license,
from en.wikipedia.org, photo by Dainan Kaplan
It's Independence Day, here in the US.  Depending where you are in the country, it celebrates the transition from rule by England or Spain.  And, if I left that statement there, it wouldn't mean much.  We'd be looking at a land mass with a leaderless people.  Not much to celebrate with fireworks, parades and barbecues.

That's part of a thought process that made last Friday a banner day for me.  I got some important things done, earlier in the day.  Then I went early to our church for the last full day of our convention.  I was hoping to catch a few folks I still hadn't caught up with, for some fellowship.  What I got next was an impromptu discussion with my pastor and a group of our pastors from around the world.  My pastor started with a question for all of us.  What does "It is finished." mean to us.  My thoughts on it are the basis for today's post.

The thought that came to mind was that The Finished Work is the only power that can make impossible change possible.  We've all been or known someone who has something in their life that needs changing.  And they'll say they will fix it or make efforts to modify their behavior.  But, unless they change the inner core that causes the behavior, the original problem will just repeat itself.  It's kind of like finding a piece of rotten meat and putting it in a nice package.  The outside may look nice, but the inside is still rotten meat, capable of poisoning anyone eating it.  Our problem isn't what the externals look like, it's the nature of what's inside the package.  And the fact is that, just like the rotten meat, we can't change what's inside the package by ourselves.

That's what we face, too, when we think about repentance.  It's basically the same thing.  We can change the outside -- our words, behavior, etc.  But we can't change the basic nature of our inner attitudes and thinking without outside assistance.

Numbers 23:19 (KJV)  God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

Interesting contrast, isn't it?  "God is not a man....."  It's man that needs repentance.  The Hebrew terminology for repentance refers to remorse, comfort, and change.  The New Testament Greek speaks of turning from something, with an implication that there's also a turning to God.  And that's where it gets interesting.

I think all of us in the US, maybe elsewhere, have had someone start a spiel by telling us we need to repent.  The famous version is John the Baptist in Matthew 3:2 (KJV), "And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.".  If you're like me, you've been verbally bludgeoned with that one. Maybe more than once.  And it brings up valid questions.

If John the Baptist was telling people they had to do something for their salvation, was He saying there is something we can do to save ourselves?  Considering his close relationship with his cousin, Jesus, would John negate the prophecies of the Cross?  Perhaps the most important concern is about those final moments on the Cross.  When Jesus said, "It is finished." (John 19:30), was He wrong because there was something more we had to do for our own salvation?

Let's look at what I believe is the proper alternative.  Remember that Jesus was always positive about John the Baptist, his followers, and his doctrine.  The Father made sure, when John baptized Him, that everyone knew Jesus was the promised Son, the Messiah.  According to Scripture, the Messiah was the sole source of salvation.  I've seen nothing where any reputable scholar has said John the Baptist disagreed with that.  And, if you pay attention to the Jewish nature of the Scriptures, they understand "the kingdom of God" or "the kingdom of heaven" to be less a physical place like heaven and more to be experiencing the presence and blessings of God.

So, what kind of picture does that give us of Matthew 3:2?  I see John the Baptist telling people to repent because it's part of the package of salvation.  Anything else will be fruit of the flesh, which will be limited and temporary.  So, the call to repentance is really saying that we can enter areal salvation, with real repentance.  Or we can, like the Pharisees, put on an outward show with no real repentance.  The difference is whether someone made a profession or had a real salvation, not whether someone repented to get saved.  Real salvation makes impossible change possible.  It also takes a leaderless people and gives them the best leader possible.  And that's something we can celebrate whether there's a holiday or not!  It brings us the kingdom of God!

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