Earlier this week, I began posting portions of a paper I wrote for my Biblical Theology course titled, “That Times of Refreshing May Come: A Biblical Theology of Repentance.” Part one of this series of posts can be found here. The following is part two:
Repentance: God’s Call for People to Return to Him
The biblical storyline repeatedly presents a humanity that turns away from God. God provides an offer of forgiveness and for a relationship to be restored. Covenant is the concept that illustrates this relationship. God creates a people and makes a covenant with them. They keep breaking that covenant, suffering the curses for doing so. What we discover is that God’s people have turned away from God and their covenantal commitment to him.
What is needed for humanity, as we shall see, is for them to return to God. Repentance, then, is a turning back to God with wholehearted devotion and obedience to him. It is a necessary decision – involving the heart and the mind – in which a person turns from sin to trust in God and obey Him. Repentance is God’s call for people to repent of their sin and rejection of God and return to him. We will now examine this theme in several episodes in the biblical story.
A CALL TO RETURN / REPENT IN TORAH
Background: Creation, Sin, Abraham
The biblical story begins with God, the creator of heaven and earth. The account of his creation reaches its pinnacle with the creation of mankind (Gen 2). The opening chapters of the story present mankind (albeit a couple) as having been granted life and purpose and as being “blessed”. However, this idyllic state is fractured when the couple violated God’s command, rebelling against him, and desiring to be like God. Behind their seemingly minor infraction of eating fruit is a rebellion and rejection of God as God. Their sin results in death and curse.
Genesis 1–11 charts the downward progression of all humanity as a result. All mankind has more than simply wandered away from God in whose image they were made, they have outright rejected him, choosing not to reflect him to their world. Rather than submitting themselves to the rule of their maker they have made themselves like God and thus incurring the divine curse. In what are perhaps the most lamentable verses in all of Christian scripture, the condition of mankind is expressed in the most distressing terms: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). Mankind now has a heart problem, a heart bent on wickedness and not toward God. This rebellion is met with the God’s regret for having even created man (cf. Gen 6:6–7), and he acts in judgment on them for their persistent wickedness.
The storyline shifts when God initiates a program to reverse the curse and bring blessing to the world. This shift occurs with the call of Abram/Abraham (Gen 12). With this call, God intends to use Abram and his descendants to bring blessing (and curse) to the world: “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Gen 12:2–3 ESV).
His descendants, Israel, find themselves enslaved in Egypt. But, God, faithful to his promises to Abraham, hears their cry and saves them from Egypt (Exod 1–14). He makes a covenant with his people, provides them with his teaching and instructions for his “dwelling” and for their worship (Exod 19–40). He then sets out to lead them to the land that he promised Abraham.
However, the journey is fraught with difficulties as the people repeatedly rebel and reject the God who saved them, wishing instead to return to their bondage in Egypt. God eventually judges Israel, and makes them wander in the wilderness until that rebellious generation dies.
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