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by Al Maxey

Issue #747 ------- April 13, 2018
God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but
He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.

St. Augustine of Hippo [354-430 A.D.]

Repentance Unto Salvation
Rejoicing in the Fruit of Godly Sorrow
Reflective Study of 2 Corinthians 7:10

Lew Wallace (1827-1905) was a fascinating character in American history. He was a lawyer, a Union General in the Civil War, Governor of the territory of New Mexico (my home state), and a well-respected author. His best known work is "Ben-Hur" [the full title is: "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ"], which "is a classic, and the number one selling novel in the US in the 19th century." It has been reproduced for the stage and screen a great many times, with Charlton Heston in the leading role in the 1959 movie. There is an interesting quote from Wallace's book (which was first published in 1880) that is relevant to the focus of this current issue of Reflections: "Repentance must be something more than mere remorse for sins; it comprehends a change of nature befitting heaven."

Regret can be a powerful emotion, but it is not repentance. One may well regret, and even be quite sorrowful over, one's attitudes and actions, yet still continue engaging in them. Remorse, also, though certainly a step in the right direction in many cases, is not the same as genuine repentance, as Lew Wallace noted in his novel. One who is regretful, remorseful and sorrowful will most certainly be in an emotional state conducive to repentance, but such emotions do not constitute or guarantee that result. One who is truly repentant is one who has willingly and actively sought and embraced "a change of nature befitting heaven." I really like the definition given by our beloved, and recently departed, brother-in-Christ Billy Graham (1918-2018), who wrote, "Repentance means to change your way of living. It means to change your mind. You are going in one direction in your life, but then you turn and go in another direction" [Decision, "We Have Hope," January 1993].

I fear too many disciples of Christ underestimate the importance of genuine repentance in God's plan for man's ultimate redemption. We are quick to assign value to externals such as weeping and wailing, verbal confessions of our vileness, loud and long prayers and petitions; and we most certainly expect to see our religious rituals prominently displayed, especially baptism in water. But how many times have you ever witnessed a remorseful person being taken aside by a loving, caring brother or sister for the purpose of ascertaining the most important truth of all: has a genuine redirection of life and purpose begun, and, if so, is there any way we can help this person, in his/her daily walk, to more fully realize this "change of nature befitting heaven"? Yes, we can wipe their tears and wet their bodies, but until they themselves waken to the need to move beyond regret and remorse to repentance, no amount of religious ritual will ever result in that changed nature and redirection of life that evidences the reality of our redemption. We humans tend to focus on the external; our God focuses on the internal. We want to see actions; He looks to our attitudes. "For God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). That pretty much says it all.

When you stop and consider what God truly expects from us, you will quickly see that these are, by their very nature, not readily visible to the human eye, but they are immediately perceived by the Lord: Love ... Faith ... Repentance ... Hope ... Compassion ... Mercy ... Honesty ... just to name a few. These are what define us in HIS sight, yet they are not realities immediately visible to human sight. God sees them, but for others around us to see them, we must evidence, show, manifest them (e.g. James 2)! What is hard for some to discern, however, is that our eternal redemption is not based on the evidencing of these realities by us, but on the existence of these realities within us! Yet, there are some who will apparently deny God the ability to save based upon the existence of these realities until they, mere men, are given the ability to see the evidence of these already present realities! Friend, God doesn't need your vote to render His verdict! Yes, those who are genuine in their love, faith, repentance, compassion, etc. will manifest these in their lives, but it is NOT the showing that is saving; rather, it is the fact that they are in a relationship with the Father through the Son by virtue of the presence of these items within their hearts that truly makes the difference. THEN, as they walk with Him, they will witness to these realities, as well as to Him and His will, in countless ways every day of that journey home!

Our Father has urged His children to take advantage of every opportunity to evidence (show, manifest, make visible) the fact that we are loving and compassionate, that we have faith and hope, that we are kind and merciful, and that we have genuinely turned our lives around: leaving the darkness and embracing the Light. We show these things to those around us not in order to BE saved, but because we ARE saved! "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!" (Psalm 107:2). Amen! Let them say so; let them show that it is so; let them live in such a way that others see that it is so ... because it is so!! God, in His grace, has called us to receive His free gift of salvation, and we embrace this gift of grace by faith, and as we are believing in Him, if that faith is genuine, we are at the same time turning to Him. It is an inner process of redirection that is multi-faceted: there is a growing love, a growing desire to grow in understanding of His will, a growing sorrow for our sin, a growing desire to be more like Jesus, a true longing to leave all behind so as to spend our lives walking worthily, and, yes, a growing resolve to show all of this every day as we are given ability and opportunity. When our God sees this in our hearts, and He will perceive it long before it becomes visible to others (and perhaps even to ourselves fully), He pours out mercy, acceptance, forgiveness, justification, salvation!

There are a great many places in Scripture where this truth is conveyed, but let me share with you one that may have been overlooked (partly because many translations have added a phrase that can be a bit misleading). The text is 2 Corinthians 7:10, but before we examine the text, we must not neglect to establish the context. The bulk of this chapter deals with an episode in the life of this group of believers that had caused Paul a great deal of discomfort and spiritual concern. Part of his discomfort was the fact that he felt the need to take a very firm stand with them, and even to rebuke them, for their lack of action with regard to a certain sinful situation within their midst. In some ways he regretted doing this (at least on a personal level), because he knew it caused them great sorrow. Most scholars believe the situation was the one mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5 (although other possible scenarios have also been put forward by scholars). In 2 Corinthians 2 it appears the group followed Paul's advice and dealt with the problem, and that it turned out well. Then, in chapter 7, Paul does a bit of reflecting on why he felt the need to take the approach he did. It is within this overall context that we find our text: "Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it -- I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while -- yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death" (2 Corinthians 7:8-10, NIV).

Please notice that last sentence (which is vs. 10), and especially notice this phrase: "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret." Every aspect of this passage describes spiritual realities that are, at least initially, not visible to the eyes of men, for they happen within us. Sorrow and repentance take place in our hearts and minds. These are inner responses to God's calling, and salvation is God's gift of grace when He sees our hearts melt and move in response to that call. How can there be any regret, says Paul, when we turn to Him and are saved?! Part of the motivation for that resolve to redirect our lives was "godly sorrow." This stands in stark contrast to "worldly sorrow." The outcome of the former is life; the outcome of the latter is death. Worldly sorrow in connection with our sins is a grief that occurs because of the consequences we suffer for those sinful actions. We regret it turned out the way it did, because it is proving personally costly and uncomfortable. I'm sad because I am hurting. Godly sorrow, on the other hand, is a deep grief felt because I am hurting God. David wrote, "Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Thy sight" (Psalm 51:4). David truly felt this "godly sorrow," and he knew that no religious ritual was going to suffice unto salvation! Rather, it was a "clean heart" he sought from God, a "renewed spirit within" him (Psalm 51:10). It was the "joy of salvation" that he longed to have restored (vs. 12), for such joy was lost as he sorrowed over sinning against his God. "Thou dost not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; Thou art not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise" (vs. 16-17). Godly sorrow is also evidenced by the penitent thief on the cross: he had nothing to present, no work to do, no ritual or sacrifice to make; but he could offer a broken spirit and a contrite heart; he could believe; thus he knew the "joy of salvation."

Godly sorrow can be a great motivator! In a receptive heart it can be quite effective in redirecting the focus of one's mind and the course of one's life. Paul, in his statement to the brethren in Corinth, says their godly sorrow resulted in their repentance of the actions that had caused him to initially write that corrective epistle to them. Although Paul regretted, to some degree, writing the harsh letter, he most certainly did not regret the outcome. The brethren were now back on the right path. They had turned things around (repentance). Joy of salvation was restored, and there is certainly "no regret" either for them or Paul in such an outcome. All of this seems rather clear and easily grasped in light of the overall context. Yet, if we take a portion of one sentence in 2 Corinthians 7:10 out of this context, and seek to enshrine it as a proof-text, we can find ourselves in a theological quandary rather quickly. That phrase is: "repentance that leads to salvation." If you examine a host of versions and translations, you will find about half of them read "repentance that leads to salvation" and the other half read "repentance to salvation." In the Greek text one simply finds the preposition "eis" (which is generally translated "into, unto"). This may not seem like a "big deal" to many, but it is larger than some may realize. The question is this: Is repentance merely one of many steps "leading to" a state of salvation (but not actually achieving it), or is repentance an inner reality by which a broken spirit and contrite, trusting/believing heart is gifted by God's grace with salvation? A lot of the confusion, frankly, centers around the Greek preposition "eis." This is not the only passage where this little word has generated enormous debate. I would refer the reader to my article "Peter's Problem Preposition: Reflecting on 'EIS' in Acts 2:38" (Reflections #515) in which I have given some valuable interpretive principles that will prove helpful in the present textual evaluation.

For those who may not take the time to examine the above rather extensive material, let me summarize by simply saying that one must always, when seeking to understand a passage, take into account the wide variety of usage and meaning of most Greek words and phrases, as well as authorial intent, theology and overall context. "One size does not fit all" in the work of biblical translation and interpretation. The sectarian sacramentalists, for example, will fight to the death to translate "eis" as "for" in Acts 2:38, but they will attack you as a heretic if you try to do so in 2 Corinthians 7:10 or Matthew 3:11, although "eis" is used in both of those. If baptism in water acquires forgiveness of sin, then does repentance acquire salvation? Matthew 3:11 is even more confusing, for John the Baptist says that he baptizes "eis" repentance -- is he saying that baptism in water acquires repentance? Is repentance the result of baptism in water? Be careful lest you allow your party preferences to interfere with translating and interpreting a text in a way consistent with ultimate Truth. If you have to manipulate a text to make your point, then you have clearly missed His point!

Salvation, justification, redemption, forgiveness -- these are gifts of grace; gifts of God. You do not earn them; you do not merit them: they aren't your due for what you do. No religious ritual or sacrament secures them. Psalm 49 makes this point very clear: "No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him that he should live on forever and not see decay; the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough" (Psalm 49:7-9). There was only one price that could suffice: the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. The price has been paid; thus, what we now receive is a GIFT, and it is freely given to hearts broken by their awareness of personal sin against a holy Father, hearts and minds resolved to turn their lives around and direct them toward the Light, and persons genuinely resolved to love and trust the Lord and live daily reflecting His nature as best they can. When God sees such hearts He does not hesitate to respond by fully accepting us! It is done! We then spend our lives living for Him and displaying our love, faith, hope, mercy, gratitude, etc. in countless ways every day. "True penitents will never repent that they have repented, nor of anything that was conducive thereto" [Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. Exactly Paul's point in our text. Maybe the perfect capstone to this text is found in the following statement by Paul to Timothy in which we find yet another "eis" construction: "From childhood you have known the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15). That last phrase says it all, doesn't it? "Through faith in Christ Jesus." The Good News is this: "By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). God examines your heart, and when our loving Father sees within that heart a godly sorrow for sin, a genuine love for and faith in Him, and a true resolve to leave the past and walk with Him into the future ... God's Gift of Grace is Given!!


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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Al, after many months of starving (spiritually) without the benefit of your company (via your writings), I have just three words: Gotta Have It. So, please add me back on your mailing list for your Reflections.

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, I would like to have a signed copy of your book From Ruin To Resurrection. My check is enclosed. Thank you, and may God bless you and your family.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Hey, brother! I enjoyed your recent Reflections article titled "Stomachs, Sewers and Pork Purges: Christ Confronts Religious Ceremonialism" (Reflections #746), but I really enjoyed the brief exchange you had in the readers' section with the elder from New Mexico!! I plan on buying your book, From Ruin To Resurrection, because I have struggled with this issue for all my Christian life. Interestingly enough, my wife believes the same as you do (Conditionalism), while I have waffled back and forth between that view and Traditionalism on the nature of man and what happens after death. Anyway, I look forward to diving into this study with your book and THE Book!!

From a Reader in Ohio:

Greetings, Brother Al. I hope this finds you well. I have a couple of things that have been on my mind, and I wondered if you might elucidate them if you have a moment. (1) When we die and sleep in the grave awaiting the resurrection, what happens to the indwelling spirit during that time? Does it sleep in the grave with us? I'm curious if you have thoughts on that. (2) Do you have any Reflections articles on Matthew 27:52-53? I find this event fascinating, but I'm not sure I have ever heard a good explanation of the meaning of it. Thanks, as always, for your time and consideration, brother!

From a Reader in Unknown:

I recently read your article titled "The Bible Used by Paul: Analysis of the King James Version" (Reflections #88). I have come to understand there is no perfect English version of the Bible. Further, I am not distressed by this fact; it only means we must dig deeper during our "due diligence" to come to Truth. I was wondering if you have written any other evaluations about other versions. If so, I would like to have this information as I approach this study of the various versions I use. I was raised to trust only the KJV. This is what I was taught. However, after Bible college I began to study out of several versions. I am on a quest for Truth on this, and have turned to you.

From an Elder in Oklahoma:

Al, could you do an analysis of the New Living Translation? It appears to be gaining in popularity. God bless you in all you do, especially in the writing of your Reflections. They are a great blessing!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Maxey, you may not remember me, but I emailed you several years ago and was very pleased to receive a response from you. I truly find your writings insightful and challenging, and very much in line with my own thinking. I have been scouring your writings recently due to a current study we are having here this quarter on the Lord's Supper. On this subject your writings are a wonderful source of commentary and logical views on the subject. What I am looking for additionally is something you have written that explains your hermeneutic. I desire this information because I am hoping to be able to lead some of my brethren (who happen to be ultra-conservative) to the understandings I have found in my study. To do this I think it is paramount that I be able to adequately show them, and explain to them, a better hermeneutic than the old CENI method most legalists use. I also want to convey to them that I am not trying to advocate "change" per se, but that I believe that "we" (i.e., in the "Churches of Christ") are increasingly finding ourselves on "thin ice" with the way in which we bind things here on earth that our Lord God simply does not bind (e.g., with regularity we pronounce things to be "sin" that are never called "sin" by God). I will anxiously await your response. Thank you for your time, Brother Maxey.

From an Author in Arizona:

I just got around to reading your article "Stomachs, Sewers & Pork Purges: Christ Confronts Religious Ceremonialism" (Reflections #746). Needless to say, for it is quite obvious, another eye-opener from your pen has hit its target. It should prove to be quite a stomach ache for contemporary Pharisees! May its message spread far and wide among the community that believes they, and they alone, have arrived, and that all others are still stranded in the valley of ignorance!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Al, I'm sending you this week's bulletin article; just another sample of the pablum from our pulpit! It is really hard to sit through his nonsense!! But then, he is the only one who knows what the Bible teaches! Everything he says is true, and so long as you agree with him you are not a heretic! All denominations are evil; "we" are the only True Church! I am learning to ignore the rants from the pulpit and to accept the fact that I will never change anyone here! In the end, Jesus will straighten it all out; Jesus knows who all belong to Him, even though some of my poor brethren will be shocked when they see who is saved at the end!! Love you, brother; you are a real inspiration to me!

From a Reader in California:

Brother Al, I just wanted to drop you a quick note to let you know I found a fascinating podcast on the History of Rome. One of the episodes was on Roman marriage practices. What I learned put the Scriptures in a whole new light. As you are undoubtedly aware, marriage was much more about contracts and possessions than about love. It was kind of strange that one could marry a first cousin without raising eyebrows if it was a maternal first cousin, but if it was a paternal first cousin, then it was considered incestuous. Also, incest was deplorable because it messed up property issues. Go figure! The thing that I found really interesting was: men who actually loved their wives were often held up for ridicule. Pompey the Great married Julius Caesar's daughter Julia, mainly for political reasons, but it ended up that they actually had a very loving marriage. Pompey was mocked by other upper class Romans for actually loving his wife. Also, people would get divorced if the business arrangement ceased to be beneficial to the husband. Women would be cast off like trash. Sometimes the husband might try to find a new husband for the wife, but that didn't always happen. The aforementioned Julius Caesar divorced one of his wives because she was slightly tainted by a scandal (even though she wasn't actually involved), making the statement: "Caesar's wife must be above reproach." In this context we put Ephesians 5, where Paul commands men to love their wives in an extremely intimate way: i.e., like they love themselves. To a Roman audience, this would have sounded downright embarrassing! Also, to a wife, this would have sounded like the most beautiful music! What we take for granted today was a radical teaching back then! Anyway, after hearing this, the Scriptures ring truer than ever. The light of God's Word shines brighter in a dark place. I hope you and yours are doing well. I truly appreciate your work for the Lord.

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