Tuesday, August 21, 2018

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (10)

Disagreeing with other Christians online is a bit like pulling off a Band-Aid® stuck to the hairiest part of your arm.

There is what I call the “Big BUT” disagreement. This kind starts slowly, with a spate of complimentary disclaimers — “Now, I love this Bible teacher, he’s a great guy and I admire him immensely” — and always ends with a great big “BUT ...”

Or there’s the exquisitely self-effacing “We’re All Just Learning Here” disagreement, which makes every biblical issue a matter of opinion and gives you a convenient way of escaping with a few shreds of dignity intact if it turns out everyone thinks its your interpretation that’s out to lunch.

Then there’s the “Non-Correction Correction”, which is offered so meekly and tentatively that you’re not quite sure whether the first guy was actually teaching anything wrong in the first place.

Me? The older I get, the more I just want to get down to it, pry up end of the Band-Aid and rip the thing off, arm hairs and all. Less painful that way in the end, and a good sight more honest.

The Repentant Christ

In this case, the writer with whom I must take issue is Doug Wilson, a regular stop on my daily online reading list. Doug has this to say about Christ and the matter of repentance [bold emphasis mine]:
“Christ didn’t just die for you, He also repented for you (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:21). From the very beginning of His ministry, He identified with sinners, and He — the sinless one — went through the humiliation of receiving a baptism of repentance. Why would He even do that? The man who administered it to Him wondered the same thing.

‘And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him’ (Matt. 3:14-15, NKJV).

Now He did not repent so that you wouldn’t have to repent. Rather, He repented so that you could learn how to repent, following in His footsteps, freed from all condemnation (Rom. 8:1).”
Meh. I can’t even bring myself to use the words “he repented”. I find the whole idea most distasteful. Moreover, I’m happy to say I don’t have to use those words, because I don’t think the Bible teaches this at all.

The Mind That Didn’t Have to Change

“Repent” in the Greek is metanoeĊ, meaning “to change one’s mind”. It and related words occur sixty times in our New Testaments. But not even one of these is used with reference to Christ.

Why? Because Jesus Christ had nothing to repent of. Ever. He did not have to change his mind about his conduct the way we do when we come face to face with the hard reality that something we have long pretended to ourselves is just peachy is actually terribly displeasing to God. Jesus always thought of sin the same way: he agreed with his Father about its vileness, and rejected it in every form: thought, word or action.

Even if we fudge the argument a bit by specifying, as Doug does, that the Lord Jesus “repented” on our behalf, not his own, “Jesus repented” is a repugnant bit of phraseology that I’d rather not have in my spiritual vocabulary.

No, Jesus certainly underwent a baptism of repentance, but he did not repent. There’s a world of difference.

Learning How to Repent?

Moreover, the reason he insisted upon undergoing a baptism of repentance is vitally important. Doug says “He repented so that you could learn how to repent, following in His footsteps, freed from all condemnation.”

I respectfully but completely disagree.

People had been repenting to God’s satisfaction for thousands of years, and you didn’t need a four-year degree in religious studies to figure out how: even the pagans of Nineveh managed to suss that out in the nick of time, much to Jonah’s chagrin. And John was already baptizing crowds of people long before Jesus ever appeared to have the deed done. Those people may have needed a little instruction in how to demonstrate the reality of their repentance, but they were lining up to repent long before any divine example was presented to them.

No, “how to repent” was not the important lesson of the Lord’s Jordan immersion.

No Repentance Required

Rather, Jesus underwent a baptism of repentance to demonstrate that he had nothing of which to repent. That fact was so splendidly clear to Heaven that the Greatest Possible Witness felt compelled to establish it with the greatest possible clarity by making a public declaration to that effect. Matthew writes:
“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ ”
Yes, Jesus identified with sinners. He was “made like his brothers in every respect.” But in one area, God declined to recognize that, singling out his Son among all others. The same writer who tells us about how Jesus identified with us also calls him “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners.”

So God declared this out loud: “Well pleased!” and the Holy Spirit demonstrated it by coming to rest on him. Jesus was in precisely the right place, doing precisely as had always been intended by the Godhead, and doing it to perfection. He had nothing about which to change his mind.

Where Jesus Christ was concerned, God may as well have posted a sign: “No repentance required.”

That, I think, was the point of the exercise.

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