by Al Maxey

Issue #650 ------- March 5, 2015
To err is human, to forgive divine.
Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

Repentance Unto Forgiveness
A Reflective Examination of Luke 24:47

In the Lukan version of our Lord's "Great Commission" we are informed that "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47, KJV). As worded in this particular translation, as well as a few others (such as the NIV, ASV, RSV), repentance and remission/forgiveness of sins are separated by the word "and" (the Greek conjunction "kai"), which tends to suggest, at least in the minds of a few, somewhat of a disconnect between these two actions (one being human, the other divine). However, there are a great many other translations and versions in which this passage is worded much differently. Notice, for example, the wording of the NASB: "repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem." There is a rather significant theological difference between proclaiming "repentance and forgiveness of sins" and proclaiming "repentance for (or unto) forgiveness of sins." The latter translation of the passage (and there are more versions that opt for this reading than the former) is based on the Greek preposition "eis," rather than the word "kai." This raises some legitimate questions: Is there a reason why some translations have chosen one wording over the other, and just how does this affect our doctrine and practice with regard to these two concepts and their place in God's redemptive plan? These are important concerns, and they certainly deserve to be addressed.

Last week I received an email from a reader who stated, "I just presented a lesson on repentance using Luke 24:47 (a great verse, by the way). There is no mention here of baptism, and this same Luke is the author of Acts. My point was that repentance is a theme from Genesis to Revelation, and that repentance is a decision one makes. For repentance to reach its fullness there must be: 1) awareness of one's sin, 2) acceptance or acknowledgement of one's sin, and 3) anticipation of forgiveness. It is also interesting that the Greek preposition 'eis' is used in Luke 24:47." As this reader noticed, throughout the Scriptures our God has called humans (both individually and nationally) to repent (which is a turning away from one thing and a turning toward another), and that there are promised blessings for those who do so. In Ezekiel 14:6, for example, God says to the house of Israel, "Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices." He further says to Israel, "Repent! Turn away from all your offenses" (Ezekiel 18:30). In 2 Chronicles 7:14 (a passage our own nation would do well to heed), the Lord says, "If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn away from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." Yes, as the apostle Paul informed the people of Athens, the Lord God "commands all people everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30).

As most of us realize, however, inner convictions and emotions require an outward, visible expression or manifestation in order that they may be validated in the sight of others. Although God knows the heart, those living around us require some evidence of these inner realities. Love, faith, repentance, and other inner realities need to be shown (not for God's sake, but for the sake of ourselves and others). That is why James stated, "I will show you my faith by what I do" (James 2:18). God knows our heart, but men behold our actions (1 Samuel 16:7). That is why John the Baptist demanded, "Bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8). That is also why Paul provided a list of love's evidences in 1 Corinthians 13. If love, faith, repentance are genuine within our hearts and minds, they will be visible in our lives in various actions and attitudes. Thus, Paul commanded his hearers to "repent, turning to God, proving their repentance by their deeds" (Acts 26:20). As our hearts become increasingly convicted of Truth, our minds, at the same time, increasingly turn away from former pursuits and toward a growing relationship with God through His Son. This "turning away from and turning toward" is, by definition, "repentance," and it occurs along with faith; indeed, the two are inseparable. The two are also internal and invisible, evident to others only when we display them in our outward actions and attitudes. God sees the former, but He expects the latter as visible testimony ("markers," if you will) of the reality He perceives, but desires others to witness. This is where the act of baptism in water comes in: it is a visible act of faith, demonstrating our love for the Lord and our hope in His promises. Those who truly believe and repent (turning away from sin and toward the open arms of the Savior) will manifest those inner realities in many ways throughout their walk with Him (and baptism in water is just one of many such evidentiary acts which validate for ourselves and others around us the reality of those inner convictions).

Yes, we are called to "repent," yet this will only be done by those who genuinely believe in the Lord and what He has accomplished for us in full by His life, death and resurrection. In loving faith we turn to Him and away from our former way of life. For those who, in faith, turn to Him, there is immediate forgiveness and acceptance, blessings which we will display daily in our attitudes and actions. Yes, repentance is unto forgiveness of sin, just as Jesus Himself declared in Luke 24:47. Although a few translations (like the KJV) have Jesus saying that we are to proclaim "repentance and forgiveness of sins," the majority of versions proclaim a more intimate connection between the two: "repentance for/unto forgiveness of sins." Yes, God wipes away the sins of those who, in faith and love, turn away from the world and turn toward Him. Wrapped in His saving embrace, we then demonstrate our forgiveness and salvation, and our gratitude for these realities, in our daily lives. Thus, we who are called to proclaim the Good News (and isn't that ALL of us?) must daily call sinners to believe on Him who died for them and to repent of their sinful ways. Those who do this will receive His gift of forgiveness and salvation. We then challenge these penitent believers to SHOW that faith, love and repentance in their daily lives -- and, yes, one of those evidentiary acts is baptism in water: a participatory reenactment of the very act by which our God made possible our forgiveness and salvation -- our Lord's death, burial and resurrection (something we also remember in a participatory way when we partake of the elements of the Lord's Supper). Both acts are reflective, not redemptive; they are symbols (not sacraments) given unto saints whereby we reflect (and reflect upon) the reality of our Savior's redemptive act on our behalf; they are a means whereby we proclaim His grace, rather than a means whereby we obtain His grace. [NOTE: Invariably, someone will bring up Acts 2:38 at this point. I would encourage a careful, prayerful reading of Reflections #515: "Peter's Problem Preposition: Reflecting on 'EIS' in Acts 2:38."]

So, why do a few translations use the word "and" in the phrase from Luke 24:47? The answer is: there are a few Greek manuscripts that have the word "kai" in the text, rather than the word "eis." As a greater number of manuscripts became available (more reliable manuscripts), scholars realized that far more of them had the latter word than the former. Thus, they opted for the term they felt was the one Luke most likely employed. "On the basis of what was taken to be slightly superior external attestation, and the probability that, in view of the following eis, copyists would have been more likely to alter the first eis to kai, rather than vice versa, a majority of the Committee preferred the reading eis" [Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 188]. The Greek scholar Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll concurs, stating we are all commissioned by the Risen One to preach to all nations the sweet message "of repentance unto the remission of sins" [The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 1, p. 650]. "The beginning of the gospel preached by Christ was the word 'repent' (Matthew 4:17). Now He solemnly and emphatically urges that repentance is to be the great fact in New Testament preaching. The end to be ever before the church is 'to open the eyes, and turn men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Me' (Acts 26:18). And with this repentance is to be associated the blessing of the kingdom: remission of sins" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16: Luke, part 2, p. 284]. "There is no probation or apprenticeship to be served; we have not to wait to approve ourselves; we are not sentenced to any form of expiation by menial service before we gain our childhood. At once, so soon as we return in spirit unto God, that moment we are welcomed to the side and to the home of our Father. Thus, those who speak for Christ are to invite all sinful men to put their trust in Him, the Savior of mankind, the 'Propitiation for the sins of the world,' and, accepting Him as such, to take the full, free mercy of God unto eternal life" [ibid, p. 294].

We too frequently have a tendency to make God's grace and mercy, by which He imparts forgiveness and salvation, conditional upon our own outward acts. Thus, we preach that one must have faith and that one must repent, yet these "don't count" until we perform (perfectly according to "the pattern") some outward act (i.e., baptism in water). The moment our nose breaks the surface of the water of the baptistery, then, and not a split-second before, we are forgiven and saved. I have sought to show over the years in my teaching (writing and speaking) that this is not true. Yes, we most assuredly must show/evidence/manifest our love, faith, repentance in our lives on a daily basis, but these various acts do not, in themselves, impart the free gift of God's gracious salvation. God acts on what He perceives in our hearts, but He then expects His sons and daughters to visibly demonstrate unto others on a daily basis the reality of what He knows is within us. May God give us the courage to preach the message of our Savior, rather than the message of our sect. One saves, the other only enslaves.

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Readers' Reflections

From an Author in Texas:

I noticed that Cuba Avenue Church of Christ has begun using sisters-in-Christ to serve Communion. That is cool; very good! I have no problem with our sisters serving in such a fashion, or even with praying, and I just wanted to write and offer my encouragement. I simply encourage you to hold fast to Truth over tradition, for the onslaught against you for this waits in the wings. They are wrong, of course, but that won't stop them from attacking you. Be encouraged to always follow God's leading, and be not afraid! Blessings to you, your family, your ministry, and Cuba Avenue Church of Christ.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Greetings, Al. Do you plan on attending this year's Tulsa Workshop in a few weeks? If so, will you be bringing copies of your books so that I might purchase them from you there? Thanks.

From a Reader in Delaware:

Brother Al, would you please send me your two CD set: "An In-Depth Study of Galatians: The Magna Charta of Christian Liberty." My check is enclosed. I enjoy your weekly Reflections, finding them informative, engaging, and stimulating. Blessings to you!

From a Reader in Colorado:

My husband and I enjoy listening to your sermons that are posted on the Cuba Avenue Church of Christ web site. However, we would love to hear more than just those few. Therefore, our check is enclosed for the past couple of years of your Sermons on CD. Thanks again for all your ministries. Also, my daughter and I were just discussing yesterday how great it is to now have clear thinking on the eternal destiny of the unsaved (as per the teaching in your latest book "From Ruin To Resurrection" and your two CD set [MP3 audio recordings] on "The Nature of Man and his Eternal Destiny"). It is a great concept to share with others, for I believe everyone has to be bothered by the traditional view of a God who would send people to a living death (everlasting torment). Unthinkable!

From a Reader in Florida:

Thanks for this most outstanding issue of Reflections on "The Church Building: Is it a Blessing or a Curse?" (Issue #649). I agree 100% with everything you said in this article. Thank you for writing this article, and for the time and study it took to provide it to us. I have a request -- I write a daily devotional, and I would like your permission to share this article of yours with my readers. (NOTE: I gladly gave him permission to share it; indeed, any of my studies may be shared with others. Al Maxey). Thanks, Al, for all you do for the Kingdom of God. Have a wonderful, blessed day!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Brother Al, you definitely hit the nail squarely upon the head with this one ("The Church Building"). Our church buildings have helped us develop into Churchianity, thus taking us away from Christianity!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Just wanted to thank you for the article on church buildings in your last issue of Reflections. I enjoyed it very much, and I have passed it along via Facebook. I also provided them a link to your web site. Your writings definitely cause one to reflect and dive more deeply into God's Word.

From a Reader in Hawaii:

Al, I can not really even begin to thank you enough for all you did to open my eyes during the six years you were the minister here, as well as through your Reflections in the years since. Mahalo.

From a Minister/Author in California:

Once again you have provided us with a superb article ("The Church Building"). I wrote a similar article about 35 years ago for the old Gospel Guardian periodical, and they actually published it! You are correct: way too many brethren look on the "church" as a physical structure.

From an Author in Nevada:

I haven't yet read your latest Reflections, but I'll share something I've been saying for the past 60 years: church buildings are Satan's most effective weapon in his fight against Christ!

From a Reader in Canada:

The church building and its "brand name" over the door (or on a sign on the lawn), does more to divide than it ever did to unite. I know we need to meet, and that necessitates a place of some kind, but these things create so many misleading images in our minds.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

I really enjoyed your latest Reflections ("The Church Building"). I have always been bothered by another topic along these same lines: where does "worship service" come from? I do not believe this phrase can be found anywhere in the New Testament writings. I also believe the current "worship service" is not what Jesus intended at all. The "worship service" has become corporate and lost. What I read in the Bible is that Christians came together daily, not just on a specified day. My personal belief is that our meeting together should be focused on building up each other and not on spreading the Word to unbelievers (that is for each Christian to do each day). I also believe that we are taught through the Word that partaking of the Lord's Supper is not restricted to Sunday. What are your thoughts on this?

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Happy Birthday, my dear brother in Christ. You're only 66? I've got ten years on you! I have to wonder if your parents had to remove pretty wrapping paper and bows from you when you came into this world, for God certainly gave all of us a wonderful gift that day. I thank God for sending you to become one of the world's most knowledgeable scholars, teachers, and authors. You're the best! This morning I reread chapters 21 and 22 of your book: One Bread, One Body. Superb!! I fully share your conclusions. Again, I thank God for you and all your talents. May God bless you and all you serve, and may He give you many more years to continue reflecting His glory.

From a Reader in Florida:

We have been studying the life of Moses in our Bible class, and it's been great. A quick question: once the spies came back and the Israelites decided not to enter the land of promise, but had to wander in the wilderness for the next 40 years instead, was the cloud still leading them?

From an Evangelist in Tanzania, Africa:

"The Church Building" was a great article, Al. I remember years ago, when I was charged with the responsibility of conducting a funeral for a dear sister, that the family asked me to be certain that I told everyone how faithful she was in her attendance. You have probably heard this statement ("faithful in attendance") many times. It indicated she/he was there every time the doors of our church building were open. Now, personally, I think this is a very good thing. And I assume that it was meant to "prove" that she/he was a faithful Christian. I just hope that their attendance was a sign that they were growing to look more and more like Jesus, and not just something they felt they had to do out of a sense of duty.

From a Reader in Alaska:

Again, your Reflections article is right on target. The way I see the "church" is: it is a collection of ALL those who worship the Lord, regardless of the denominational name they meet under. As long as these Christian groups do not allow their man-created traditions to interfere with their relationship with Christ, all is well. Traditions, including the building (and all that is done within it), can become fences/barriers the sectarian leaders build around "their" flocks. It is hard to reach others for Jesus "through a sectarian fence," one held in place by petty ideas and rules that have very little to do with Christ Jesus. Al, thank you for your teaching, and thank God for your understandings of the Word which you share with us.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

GREAT Reflections, Al ("The Church Building"). I have been thinking this way for quite some time. Your article helped me expand my thinking on this matter, and it added some new perspectives. Thank you!

From a Reader in West Virginia:

Greetings from chilly West Virginia. Your thoughts on church buildings reminded me of a statement I often shared with others when I was preaching: "Christianity has become church-focused, churches have become Sunday-focused, Sundays have become building-focused, and what happens at/in the building has become preacher-focused." That is scary! As an aside, can you imagine our President or government doing anything to support Christianity, let alone build a church building, as Emperor Constantine did?!

From a Reader in Alabama:

That was a great article on church buildings! Even within the building, something done in a classroom (a woman speaking out and sharing a truth regarding some Scripture) is not regarded the same as if it occurred in the main auditorium (the "sanctuary") where the real "worship service" occurs. That same woman would not be allowed to share that same thought/statement in the latter setting. Well, the debate goes on, but your Reflections article was really good, and it looked at all sides of the discussion.

From a Reader in California:

"The Church Building" was nice! Another keeper! One of my ancestors from way back (born in 1703) was Shubael Stearns, the founder of eleven Freewill Baptist churches in the South. His biography says that he would meet in a clearing in the woods. The hard scrabble pioneers (some of them pretty wild and unacceptable in civil society -- think: homeless men) would hear the church bell, and hear the singing, and come to find out what was happening. They didn't have to enter a church building; they could just stand back at the edge of the forest and see what was happening. And, if they liked it, they could come back. And in that way the churches grew. That is a model that is still going on when Christians feed the homeless in a park and offer an informal "worship service" there, rather than a formal "service" in a church building.

From a Reader in Ottawa, Canada:

Great article, Al ("The Church Building"). It's amazing that in China, where the Gospel is producing amazing results, most of the people meet in homes, and they do so realizing that it can result in persecution, and even being thrown in jail. Yet, these groups are growing exponentially. Hopefully, your article will give people a reason to think about what they are and who they represent!

From a Reader in South Africa:

Thank you so much for another interesting and well-researched and well-written article ("The Church Building"). I can say "Amen" to the tenor of your articles. The quotations and references are impressive. My wife and I can honestly say, after half a century in the Churches of Christ, that the last ten years have been the happiest and most fulfilling in our lives, for we have been honoring Jesus Christ by meeting in our home and in the homes of other like-minded people. Having observed (and survived) all (and more) of the negatives that you have enumerated in your writings, we are now experiencing the close friendships and fellowship that dedicated small groups enjoy. Millions are being duped into being passive audiences, missing out on the most rewarding life Christ wants us to have: enjoying one another. Men and women participate in our group, sharing their studies and experiences, and alert children follow amazingly. We have no formal order of service or time to finish. While we do not have the numbers that the modern scenario of audience/performer gatherings generate, we do have a quality of peace that often leaves us astounded. With the Western mode of Christianity in dire straits, getting back to NT basics, away from Constantinian traditions, should be the goal of all who want to follow in the footsteps of Christ. Please continue your good work of stretching minds!

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