The Nature of True Confession

May 24, 2012 at 10:25 am | Posted in Grace and Faith, Questions for Pastor Glenn, Theology | 6 Comments

“If I’m pretty sure that I’m going to commit the same sin again, how can I repent and turn the other way?  Does confession at some point become a lie?”

What a great question!  It came to me from the comments of a fellow blogger, who then asked me for my opinion on it.  It’s a great question because it is so honest, because it reveals the depth of our sinfulness, and because it reveals the nature of genuine faith in Christ.

The simple answer is, “No.  Confession of that nature is not a lie; it is, in fact, more honest than most confessions.”  Moore to Ponder’s words about 1 John 1:8-10 are a great commentary on this point.  (My gut reaction is to say that the most damaging lie we could utter is “I have no sin.  I sinned once, but I will “never” commit “that” sin again.)  True confession recognizes not only the sinful act but also the sinful heart from which the act proceeds, and it admits dependence on God to overcome that sinfulness because we know we probably will do it all again, if not the same act, another which comes from the same heart.

A more in-depth, theological answer could take an entire book, and indeed the theological issues that touch on this have filled many books.  But here is my brief attempt:

Those who follow the biblical teaching are quick to confess that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone.  And this question was wisely asked on a post about that very issue.  However, those of the Reformed tradition are also quick to point out that, though salvation is through faith alone, genuine faith is never alone.  In other words, saving faith is always demonstrated by how we live our lives.  Biblical faith is not simple head knowledge, or even assent to the facts of Jesus’ death for our sins.  Biblical faith is a total trusting of one’s self to those facts.  Faith and repentance, as understood correctly, are two descriptions of the same thing.  Faith emphasizes turning to Christ, while repentance emphasizes turning away from other things; for if genuine faith is total trust, then nothing else can be trusted, and whatever one trusts before following Jesus must be trusted no more.  Just like faith in Jesus has a beginning, sometimes in an event, but is an ongoing experience for the Christian, so also repentance may have a beginning in an event, but is really an ongoing experience of Jesus’ disciples.  In other words, confessing and repenting should be a part of our normal and daily experience.

This thought raises the question of what confession really is.  We often think of it as admitting certain acts of sin to God.  However, confession should go much deeper than that; it must include the heart attitude that gives rise to the act of sin we committed.  Acts of sin come from a sinful heart, a heart that in some way or another puts self on the throne where the Lord belongs.  Many Christians may confess a certain act, like offending people by speaking out of turn (I know that one well), but never confess the heart attitude of wanting to be noticed or thinking of one’s self as the expert or of wanting to prove someone else wrong.  Yet those things are the deeper sins that also must be confessed.  Sometimes we don’t even know the depth of our sinful motives. I addressed that issue in this post.

Also confession must never be seen as the condition of our forgiveness.  That attitude puts our salvation into our own hands, but the truth is that our salvation is in God’s hands and not ours.  We are forgiven because of Jesus, not because we confess.  The popular misunderstanding of 1 John 1:9 that gives rise to this idea is one I addressed here.

There is much in 1 John that touches on this topic.  This little New Testament book was written so that Jesus’ followers would have assurance of their salvation (5:11-13), and it gives many tests of the true believer.  True believers, according to John, trust in Jesus; they confess their sinfulness; they love Jesus’ other followers.  However, there is one particular test in 1 John which is important to this discussion:  True believers make some sort of progress in righteousness.  Though we are and always will be sinful, if we are truly regenerated by God’s Spirit, then we will demonstrate that regeneration by how we conduct our lives (2:4-6, 15-17, 29; 3:4-10; 5:4-5).  The discussion of faith in James makes this same point; genuine faith is demonstrated by good works.  I mention this here because we must understand the nature of new life and of true repentance.  If your attitude is, “I will go out and sin as much as I want, because I can confess it to God and be forgiven,” then you either confuse the sinful act with the sinful heart or you may not have experienced a genuine conversion.  God’s people may have to confess the same sins over and over, maybe even for a lifetime, but they will not intentionally sin with the attitude that they can simply confess later.  When they do sinful acts, and when they see the depths of their sinful attitudes, they will be repentant in attitude and action.

If you struggle with certain sinful activities and attitudes, confess those to God, trust Jesus’ death as the payment for your sin, and tell God that with his help, you will go out and live a righteous life.  When you fail, do it all again, knowing that Jesus’ sacrifice has already covered all your sinful acts and all your sinful attitudes and motives.

I think this post is too long already.  If some of you are interested in more on this topic, read a good theology book about regeneration and/or perseverance of the saints.  Those are the theological terms that I’ve touched on here.  In the meantime, keep pursuing righteousness and keep confessing when you don’t

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ESV vs NIV2011 (Volume 4)

May 22, 2012 at 11:08 am | Posted in English Bible Translations | Leave a comment

I haven’t posted on this topic for a while.  Though my thoughts about it have been abundant, my time to write has been in short supply.  However, I recently ran across a review of the NIV2011 that, though lengthy, is worth the time to read.  Dr. Wallace’s discussion of literal verses accurate is alone worth the cost of admission.  I often run across people who equate those two things.  You can link to his article here.  I have linked to part 4 of 4 because that page has links to the other three.  Read the Word!

For my conclusions of a year of reading and comparing these two translations (NIV2011 and ESV) go to this post.

Herod’s Family Tree

May 8, 2012 at 11:52 am | Posted in Questions for Pastor Glenn | 3 Comments

Below is a simplified family tree of Herod the Great.  It shows the descendants who appear on the pages of scripture,  including the four I have written about in the previous posts.

Here are links to my articles on Herod the Great;  Herod Antipas, also known as Herod the Tetrarch;  Herod Agrippa I;  and Herod Agrippa II.

Herod Agrippa II – One Who Won’t Be Persuaded

May 8, 2012 at 10:18 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Grace and Faith, Wisdom | 2 Comments

The last ruler of the Herodian dynasty was Herod Agrippa II.  He was too young to become a ruler at his father’s untimely death, but was appointed by Claudius to his uncle’s throne a few years later, at the age of 23.  He reigned in various parts of Palestine until his death at age 73 in the year 100AD.  He was an expert in Jewish law and religion and was used by Roman authorities as a resource on Jewish matters.  Among other privileges, he was given the authority to appoint the Jewish high priest.  He comes into the biblical narrative during Paul’s trial in Caesarea in Acts 25-26, where he is called simply Agrippa.

Paul had been tried before Governor Felix, who understood Jewish matters pretty well, and whose wife was a sister or half sister of Agrippa.  Felix kept Paul in prison hoping for a bribe from him (Acts 24:26).  When Felix was replaced as governor by Festus, who didn’t have much understanding of Jewish matters, the case of Paul was still undecided, so Festus brought it up again.  When Agrippa came to town, Festus asked his opinion of the case (Acts 25), and Paul made his defense before King Agrippa (Acts 26).

At the end of Paul’s defense, Festus called him crazy, but Paul said he was speaking freely because Agrippa understood these matters.  Then Paul asked the direct question to the King, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets?  I know that you believe.” (Acts 26:27 ESV)  Agrippa wouldn’t be persuaded, so instead of giving a simple answer, he turned the question back to Paul saying, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (28)  Agrippa’s question has been interpreted as jest, as gall (how dare you, a prisoner, attempt to persuade me, a king), as avoidance, and probably many other ideas as well.  What I want to consider for our thoughts today is some of the reasons Agrippa wouldn’t be persuaded.

Perhaps Agrippa was too proud.  He was known as a Jewish expert, and he would have to admit a misunderstanding if he told Paul he believed the prophets on these matters.  He might appear to Festus to be wishy-washy rather than knowledgeable and strong.  Yet he couldn’t bring himself to say he didn’t believe the prophets either, because the people thought he did.  He used this question as avoidance of a direct answer that might embarrass him.

Perhaps Agrippa was afraid for his position.  He couldn’t admit that he was a sinner.  The event which included Paul’s defense was accompanied by great pomp, and all sorts of officials were in attendance (25:23).  Yet Paul had just talked about repentance and forgiveness.  It is difficult for a public official to admit wrongdoing, especially in such a public setting.  Four generations of pampered living and protective leadership had taught Agrippa to hold on to his position.  I wonder if the story of his father’s death haunted him into a place of indecision on religions matters – afraid of losing his position by admission, afraid of losing it by denial too.

It is possible that Agrippa would not be persuaded because he knew he was a sinner but loved his sinful lifestyle.  This is the reason many people don’t want to hear the Gospel.  Agrippa arrived in Caesarea, Luke tells us, with Bernice (25:13), and Bernice was present at Paul’s defense (25:23).  A little history will help explain what Luke’s contemporary readers knew that today’s reader may not.  Bernice was King Agrippa’s sister, who lived with him as his wife.  It was a major scandal in Rome, where everyone knew about the relationship.  Like his great uncle, Antipas, and his aunt, Herodias, Agrippa loved his openly sinful life too much to repent.

Herod Agrippa I – A Life of Self-Glory

May 4, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, It's All About God | 1 Comment

The third generation Herod to rule in the biblical narrative was Herod Agrippa I.  Though he was the grandson of Herod the Great, he was not the son of Herod the Tetrarch.  This Herod appears in Acts 12 where he put the Apostle James to death and later arrested Peter.  This chapter contains the fun story of the angel who releases Peter in the middle of the night and Rhoda who wouldn’t open the door when she heard Peter’s voice.  It’s dramatic and comical; go read it if you aren’t familiar with it.  However, the chapter ends with the sad story of Herod Agrippa’s death, and that is what concerns us today.

Luke, in the New Testament, and Josephus, the Jewish historian, both tell us of his death.  Luke tells the story quite simply, “On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them.  And the people were shouting, ‘The voice of a god, and not of a man!’  Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” (Acts 12:21-23 ESV).  However, Josephus adds some sparkling details:

“On the second day of the spectacle he put on a garment made wholly of silver, of a truly wonderful texture, and came into the theater early in the morning.  There the silver of his garment, being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays, shone out in a wonderful manner, and was so resplendent as to spread awe over those that looked intently upon him.  Presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another, (though not for his good) that he was a god.  . . .  Upon this the king neither rebuked them nor rejected their impious flattery.  But he shortly afterward looked up and saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings.  . . .  A severe pain arose in his belly, striking with a most violent intensity.  He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, “I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death.  . . .  And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age and in the seventh year of his reign.  (Antiquities 19.8.2)

Josephus isn’t inspired, and he has a reputation for exaggeration, but I still find it interesting that even his secular history credits Herod’s death to his arrogance against God.  Of course, the inspired writer hits it on the head when he says “because he did not give God the glory.”  So many people in places of power suffer from the malady of self-glory.  They take credit for everything good thing that happens while they are in power.  The actions of our presidents and congressional leaders during times of prosperity and depression are a perfect example.  But in this case, God ended the self-glory abruptly.  I sometimes wish God would treat self-glorifying politicians that way today, but then I am reminded that I too rob God of his glory in various ways, and am grateful for his grace.  Herod Agrippa reminds us that God should get all glory and praise for anything that happens in our lives.

Herod the Tetrarch – A Vacillating Tragic Life

May 1, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Wisdom | 1 Comment

After the last post, I was thinking that there is so much confusion about Herod’s family in the Bible, that I might write a post about each of the major four Herods with lessons we can learn.  Herod the Great, as history knows him, reigned over Judea, Samaria, Perea and Galilee as a king, but still under the authority of Rome.  He called himself “The King of the Jews.”  The previous post was about him, and his life could be called one of self-protection.  He had numerous offspring that ruled various parts of that area for four generations, and four of them are significant rulers in the biblical story, while many others show up in the Bible.

One of Herod’s sons ruled over a part of his father’s kingdom, and came to be known as Herod the Tetrarch (literally means ruler of a fourth); he is also called Herod Antipas.  This Herod was the ruler when Jesus was in his adult ministry; he was a part of Jesus’ trial, where he apparently asked Jesus to do a miracle for him (Luke 23:7-9); and he put John the Baptist to death.  His life can be called one of vacillating tragedy.  A part of his story is told in Mark 6:14-29.  I see four reasons for his poor leadership.

First, Herod the Tetrarch had no theological foundation.  The most basic theological issue of life is the true identity of Jesus.  Herod didn’t know who Jesus was; in fact, he thought Jesus might be the resurrection of John the Baptist.  Though there were some theories about Jesus amongst his people, none of them were correct, but Herod seemed not to care about that.  He also seemed to care little about the Old Testament Law his people held so dear.

Second, Herod the Tetrarch had no experience of grace, and so he operated from a sense of guilt which seemed to haunt him (16).  When a person operates from guilt, everything he does becomes a cover up or a legalistic rule or an effort to please.  His murder of John was all of these:  a cover up of his illegal marriage, which John spoke against; an effort to please his step-daughter and his guests, and a legalistic stand on his ridiculous promise.

Third, this Herod had no moral compass – no true sense of right and wrong.  He arrested John even though he knew him to be righteous and holy (20).  His marriage was illegal (17-18  By the way, this wife was his niece, another descendant of Herod the Great).  He was puzzled by a man who did speak truth (20).  He invited his step daughter to dance at his dinner party (22).  To clarify, this was no mild ballet that impressed his guests; the word used and the context indicate it was an erotic dance.  And Herod killed John the Baptist, even though he did it on a rash promise and even though he was distressed by it.

Finally, Herod the Tetrarch was a man with no spine, no mettle.  He was influenced by rumor instead of truth (14); he was influenced by his wife’s bitterness (19, 24); he made an impulsive promise to an erotic dancer (22-23); and he kept that promise because of his guests (26).  Herod could have told his step daughter that her request was out of line because it was wrong and because it undermined Herod’s authority and thus was more than the “half my kingdom” he promised.  But Herod wouldn’t stand up for what was right in any of these situations.  Certainly politicians today are not unique in that regard.

If we want to be leaders that matter, we must be people of solid theological and moral conviction.  At the same time, if we want to elect leaders that matter, we must vote for those who show theological and moral conviction.

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