Recently, in a gathering, as we were discussing that repenting of our sins to God was not part of the New Covenant, someone blurted out, “But, repenting of my sins is what I was taught all my 60+ years of life going to church! What am I to do with that?!” I could relate.
What a quandary – stay stuck in tradition or move into truth that sets you free?!
Have you ever considered how powerful religious traditions are? Jesus sure blasted all ‘the traditions of the elders and the things they received in order to observe’. He summed up His rejection of all their religious observations by stating “you are invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many such things as that.” (Mk 7:1-13) Yikes, Jesus is basically saying, ‘you are invalidating Me by your traditions’!
How many Christian traditions have been handed down to you as a child, with no questions asked? Into adulthood many continue to believe and obey what has been received, unmindful of Jesus’ incredible words: “It is finished.” That sure was my story!
The religious system and those caught up in it say, “No, it is NOT totally finished. We still have to do, we should do, we ought to do…”. Have you ever thought about how many of those handed down traditions place the emphasis on you doing something?
That dynamic of ‘doing’ is at the crux of the religious doctrine of repentance, which basically means we need to repent of our sins in order to get saved and continue to repent in order to maintain a right relationship with God. We have to work at our salvation!
Thomas F. Torrance (Scottish Protestant Theologian, 1913-2007), in his book ‘The Doctrine of Grace in the Early Church Fathers’ explains this ‘do’ mindset – “In the Apostolic Fathers grace lost its radical character. They developed a doctrine of salvation by works of righteousness… A Christian ethic was codified, and the charismatic life under the constraining love of Christ [was] reduced to rules and precepts. The centre of gravity was shifted from the mainspring of the Christian life in the person of Christ Himself to the periphery of outward conformity and daily behaviour.” (emphasis mine)
Before the Reformation, these were some of man’s traditional mindsets about sin and repentance:
- Only sins prior to baptism were forgiven thus emphasizing the importance of baptism (not the finished work of the cross).
- Upon baptism the new believer started with a clean slate, but any future sins were not forgiven.
- Then early church leaders solved the issue of future sins after conversion/baptism by developing the action of ‘doing penance’, later called ‘repentance’ (totally ignoring that the New Covenant confirms He forgave all our sins – once for all)
- Penance was made difficult to do, because the early church fathers did not want the masses to abuse ‘doing penance’ thinking once they did it they were free to sin again, repeat the cycle and all is well.
- Thus a complicated doctrine about sin and repentance was developed – those in charge decided which sins were forgivable, how many times you could be forgiven, how much you would have to ‘pay’ for each type of sin, even the sincerity of your repentance and depth of regret were considered. The early church fathers thought this would discourage people from sinning. It did not!
When scriptures were translated into Latin by Jerome (382AD), these doctrines of penance/repentance were so ingrained that they influenced the translation of the actual text. Thus the Greek word metanoia (lit. to change one’s mind) became purposely mistranslated as ‘acts of penance’ and later as ‘repentance’ (a repetition of penance). They had to make a way for the continuance of their complicated format dealing with sin that brought in much money and kept the masses beholden to them!
Augustine, who greatly influenced western Christianity, used the Vulgate as his preferred translation. His doctrine of repentance was based on Jerome’s erroneous translation of metanoia.
Throughout early church history, this mistranslation of metanoia in the Latin Vulgate, has been pointed out numerous times. One example, in 1430, theologian Lorenzo Valla, decried this error. But the traditional doctrine of penance/repentance was so deeply rooted in religious Christianity that his corrections were overruled. Isn’t that something?!
Now you can see why we are so steeped in this religious traditional mindset of repenting of our sins. What a travesty, as it totally negates the scriptures that proclaim the absolute forgiveness of sin and the removal of all sin. (Col 2:13 Rom 11:27 Heb 10:17)
Our total forgiveness is part of the Good News but there is even more to this stunning Gospel. However, as long as we cling to the tradition of repentance we will be blind to the liberating truth.
No wonder Paul prayed that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” (Eph 1:18) Open our eyes Lord that we may truly see! Oh my goodness, You have so much FULLNESS for us!
- If it is offensive to hear, ”You don’t have to repent of your sins, all of them are already forgiven!”, then you might consider that tradition is influencing your life, not God.
- Religious tradition permeates us in many ways – to keep us confined, controlled, hindered, shallow, deceived, guilt laden, fearful, striving, busy, tired, uptight, rigid…
- If you experience any of the above in your walk with God, then realize that is not His kind of walk for you! Ask Him for the real deal. He will show you! You will never be the same again.