Friday, 11 January 2013

TRANSFORMED BY MERCY

Our lives must show evidence of change in thought and behavior after we have experienced God’s love.

Most of us are familiar with the account of the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:3-11). The crowd gathered around her and wanted to stone her.

But Jesus said, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”

Finally, when the crowd dispersed, Jesus asked her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

She said, “No one, Lord.”

And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

                                                                         


This short account has deep theological implications. The recipient of God’s love and mercy ought to show evidence of change in thought and behavior. In other words, the sinner has to repent.

We tend to emphasise God’s love and mercy towards sinners. The need for sinners to bear fruits that befit repentance personal responsibility is often not emphasised to the same degree.

Let us now consider these two familiar passages from the books of Ephesians and Philippians:

God’s part: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).

Our part: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Our part: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

God’s part:  “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

In Ephesians, we are saved (forgiven and made righteous in God’s sight) by faith. But what comes next? We have to live a life evidenced by good works.

In Philippians, God works in us, helping us to obey Him. But we too have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. *

Paul says he has to be on his toes – exercise self-discipline in the spiritual race – lest after preaching to others, he himself should become disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:27). There is no complacency on his part. His attitude towards life is reflective of this principle: “Working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling”.

What about those who say that we only need to change our thoughts at the point of repentance? They say that when we repent we only need to correct our past erroneous thinking.

This argument does not hold water in light of various scriptural references. While it is true that repentance and the believer’s ongoing spiritual journey involve renewing of the mind (Romans 12:1-2), it does not stop there (at the level of our mind).

Repentance must involve a change in thought and behaviour – and goals, aspirations and lifestyle as well:
The adulterous lady has to stop sinning and seek restoration with her husband. It would be ridiculous for Jesus to tell the adulterous lady, “Now you have been forgiven; go back to your lover. It’s OK. God continues to forgive you even if you keep your lover. It’s erroneous to think otherwise. From now on, start thinking aright. Get your thinking straightened out.”

The thief should stop stealing and find honest work (Ephesians 4:28). Those who love to lie and gossip must stop their negative behaviour. Those who make idols should start looking for alternative jobs or businesses.

Sometimes, repentance involves a drastic change at great personal cost:
Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars” (Acts 19:18-19).

Mr. Practical, the apostle James, underscores for us the fact that genuine faith has to be evidenced by good works:
Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17)

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26).

Finally we need to be reminded of the words of John the Baptist: “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God” (Matthew 3:8).

Do we really need to go any further into lengthy theological discussion as to what constitutes repentance? I rest my case.

Footnotes:

 *   A world of difference exists between ‘work for’ and ‘work out’. Author J. Oswald Sanders draws an analogy between salvation and an estate. We do not have to feverishly work for an estate. We have already been given an estate. But we have to work it out – develop the estate’s hidden resources.

The woman caught in adultery
Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.
So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
(John 8:3-11)

Self-discipline to finish the race
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

RELATED POSTS

IS REPENTANCE MERELY CHANGING ONE’S MIND?
Some say that believers only need to change their mind (ie. correct their past erroneous thinking) when they repent. Is this true?
http://bit.ly/15qK4KI

REPETITIVE SINNING
What fate awaits those who sin repeatedly after they have believed?
http://bit.ly/1bz3TUf

MERCY EXTENDED, HOLINESS DEMANDED
In saying, “Go and sin no more,” Jesus was not speaking of sinless perfection. He was warning against a return to sinful lifestyle choices. His words both extended mercy and demanded holiness.
Read more:http://www.gotquestions.org/go-and-sin-no-more.html#ixzz2hNSu5yAv

DOES GOD DEMAND PERFECTION?
Jesus taught us we are to be perfect but Paul tells us he has not attained perfection. How do we reconcile these two differing views? Who do we follow?

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