‘Turn from your sins’
“Turn from your sins.”
A simple command. Only four words. But this is some of the deepest, most profound truth in the entire Bible.
Sin is about breaking God’s law. God’s law protects his creation – including people – and defines how the world is supposed to work. Breaking that law violates the shalom peace and justice that is supposed to rule God’s creation. God’s standard of justice is the highest imaginable. When we make choices that fall short of that ideal, we miss the mark.
Sin appeals to our weakness for attractive lies. The object tempting us might even be a good thing – such as control, significance, or comfort – yet in some way it falls short of God’s shalom.
The heart of sin is rebellion against God and his ways. Stubborn self-seeking sets us in opposition to the Creator King. We make ourselves God’s enemies.
Not a bad thing to turn from.
So what does it mean to “turn”?
In the Bible’s original language, the word means “to change your mind or purpose for the better.” The older Jewish idea involves deep feelings of regret that lead to a change of attitude toward God, and an action of turning away from sin and turning toward God. The result of such a profound change is that someone who has made himself God’s enemy is forgiven, rather than punished.
If you have hung out much with church people, or read pretty much any of the English translations of the Bible, you have seen the word ‘repent’ used here. One of the greatest experts on Bible languages called that translation “a linguistic and theological tragedy.” He said that because ‘repentance’ is mostly about feeling sorry for what you have done. Think ‘penitent’ and ‘penitentiary.’
The word in the Bible’s original language means so much more than that. We don’t have an English word for what we are talking about. ‘Turn’ doesn’t actually get much closer than ‘repent.’
The word being translated is metanoeo (met-an-o-eh’-o), a Greek word that signifies a radical a change of mind. Just how radical a change can be seen by looking at a related word, metamorphoo (met-am-or-fo’-o). We get our English word ‘metamorphosis’ from that Greek root. Metamorphosis is a radical change of form – like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.
If metamorphosis is a radical change of form, how radical a change of mind would metanoeo be?
Nothing short of revolutionary! Coming back full circle to the shalom relationship with God we had before that first sin in the Garden. Actually experiencing God’s promise to write his law on the hearts of his people. Jesus talked about being “born again.” The apostle Paul talked about becoming new creatures: “The old life is gone. A new life has begun!”
This is the ultimate revolution! And where do you find this revolution’s Freedom Square? Paul says: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
A person who has experienced such a revolution must live differently. His relationship with God and others changes completely. Instead of seeking self, a person focuses on the way his Creator intended the world to be. Instead of doing things her way, she sets her mind and heart on the way God’s kingdom works. Instead of going about his own business, he gives first priority to the Father’s business.
This God-seeking revolution against the self-seeking world must begin in each individual’s heart. But recognizing my own sinful brokenness and allowing God to transform my mind is not the end of the matter. No longer God’s enemy, I have become God’s friend. A friend of God is an enemy of captivity, oppression, and injustice. God’s intention for every soul, for all his creation, is shalom. If I am God’s friend, I must be an agent of his shalom revolution. Where any lost child of God suffers because of human brokenness, my mission is to bring God’s justice into that oppression.
Turning toward God means turning against sin – fighting my own captivity, setting other captives free.
The bad news, of course, about “Turn from your sins” is that broken people cannot fix themselves. Summon every ounce of your will power, and all you can do is try harder. A caterpillar does not become a butterfly by gritting his teeth and grunting. In the battle against sin in my broken heart, and sin in this broken world, I am as good as dead.
The good news is that there is Good News.
Think about it
What “caterpillar becomes butterfly” change have you experienced – or need to experience – in your life?
Have others helped you make that kind of change? If so, how did they help?
‘Railway boys’ in India find a home
Life for boys living in India’s railway stations is a real-life “Hunger Games.” If they don’t fight, they’ll be killed. If they don’t find food and survive in this arena, they’ll starve on the train tracks. Click here to read more.
Next chapter: ‘Believe this good news!’