Things That Are Above

Gospel Thinking for Gospel Living

Posts Tagged ‘judgment

A Call to Repentance

leave a comment »

Last month it was my privilege to preach at Eastside Baptist Church in Winfield, AL, on Genesis 6:5-8. This text functions as a call to repentance, as it gives four reasons why people should repent and turn to God in faith that he will save them by Jesus’ death and resurrection:

  1. Repent because God sees your wickedness (v. 5).
  2. Repent because God grieves over your wickedness (v. 6).
  3. Repent because God will judge your wickedness (v. 7).
  4. Repent because God offers you salvation from your wickedness (v. 8).

My sermon can be listened to here.

A Universal Call to Repentance in Proverbs 1

with 2 comments

I have recently begun teaching the book of Proverbs to Calvary’s youth group for our Wednesday night Bible studies. Tonight I’m finishing chapter one, which is a text full of application to us today (whether young or old). In Proverbs 1:20-33, “Wisdom cries aloud in the street” (v. 20, ESV, as are all subsequent Bible references) and calls the simple, scoffing, foolish readers of Proverbs to “turn at [her] reproof” (vv. 22-23). She, however, will judge the people’s continued unrepentant folly (vv. 24-32) unless they listen to her by repenting (v. 33). In his commentary on Proverbs, Tremper Longman III contends that Woman Wisdom “is the personification of Yahweh’s wisdom and thus stands for God himself” (Proverbs, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, 111). Based on other biblical texts, Longman’s identification of Woman Wisdom with God himself is accurate, and this identification makes Wisdom’s call to repentance in Proverbs 1:20-33 foreshadow God’s universal call to repentance upon the death and resurrection of Jesus.

How Wisdom Personifies God

Proverbs 1:20-23 describes Woman Wisdom’s public call to repentance:

Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
in the markets she raises her voice;
at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you,
I wil make my words known to you.”

Wisdom’s call to repentance in these verses is public. She “cries aloud in the street,” for all to hear. “She raises her voice” to a large and diverse audience “in the markets.” The streets in which she issues her invitation are “noisy” with the hustle and bustle of city crowds. Indeed, she addresses everyone as they pass through “the entrance of the city gates.” Wisdom calls everyone to repent of their foolish scoffing of the knowledge of God (cf. 1:7, 29).

Of special note is the promise Wisdom makes people if they repent: “If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you.” This promise parallels God’s promise in Ezekiel 36:27: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Since God is the only one who can give a spirit, Wisdom is performing a role that only God can fill when she offers her spirit to repentant sinners. Furthermore, Joshua “was full of the spirit of wisdom” (Deut. 34:9), which would “rest upon” the coming Messiah (Isa. 11:2), and Paul prays that God would give the Ephesian Christians “the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph. 1:17). Wisdom offers her spirit (an offer that only God can fulfill), and God is the one who always gives the spirit/Spirit of wisdom, whether to Old Testament leaders or to New Testament believers; therefore, Woman Wisdom in Proverbs is a personification of God. Metaphorically speaking Wisdom personifies God (Longman, 59).

How Wisdom’s Public Call to Repentance Foreshadows God’s Universal Call to Repentance

Since Wisdom personifies God, her public call to repentance foreshadows God’s universal call to repentance upon Jesus’ death and resurrection. Consider Paul’s sermon to the Areopagus in light of Proverbs 1:20-23:

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each of us, for

‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:22-31)

At the Areopagus, Paul addresses Gentiles, people who for centuries had worshiped a pantheon of gods. They had lived in ignorance of the one true God, Yahweh, the God of Israel, and God had “overlooked” their former ignorance (v. 30). Paul is not saying that God did not hold these idolaters’ sin against them; rather, Paul is saying that God had placed that judgment in the future on the basis of Jesus’ sacrificial death for the time of his second coming (v. 31). Because of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and coming judgment, God now “commands all people everywhere to repent.” The public call to repentance in Proverbs 1 has become a universal call to repentance in Acts 17.

In Proverbs 1, Wisdom publicly addresses everyone within earshot to repent, but her audience is largely limited to Jews (with the exceptions of the occasional Gentile proselyte). With the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, however, the God of all creation now commands “all people everywhere” to repent. The audience of Proverbs has thus expanded from its original Jewish readers to readers the world over. As Longman puts it:

The reader of Proverbs … is represented by the son, or in the case of 1:20-33 and 8:1–9:18 by all young men. These are the implied readers of this part of the book. However, … the preamble broadens the audience of the book to include everyone, male and female, naive and wise (1:1-7). Thus, all actual readers must identify with young men, who are the implied readers of the book. (60)

Wisdom’s appeal in Proverbs 1:20-33 did not merely foreshadow and anticipate God’s universal call to repentance as preached by Paul in Acts 17:22-31; in light of God’s universal call to repentance, Wisdom’s public call to repentance becomes universal in its scope.

But if God calls people to repentance, we need to understand what repentance is, what it means to repent. In his Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, Ceslas Spicq defines repentance as

the attitude of unbelievers and sinners returning to God…. The change is that of the soul, of the whole person (the new creature), who is purified of stains and whose life is transformed, metamorphosed. … [T]his contrition is inspired by the knowledge of God and has as its effect eternal salvation. (trans. James D. Ernest, 2:475, 477)

Understanding repentance in this way helps us to see repentance as the difference maker between judgment and salvation. As Paul said to the Athenians, God now “he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed,” Jesus Christ (Acts 17:30-31). Those who repent, who return their allegiance to God, will be found righteous by faith on the day of Jesus Christ’s judgment of the world. (John Murray rightly notes that repentance and faith are inseparable: “It is impossible to disentangle faith and repentance. Saving faith is permeated with repentance and repentance is permeated with faith” [Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 113].) Those who do not repent, however, will be condemned at the final judgment because of their disobedience to God’s command to repent.

Judgment or Salvation?

The reader of Proverbs 1:20-33 is thus presented with a choice. Will you repent of your idolatrous folly and be saved from sin, or will you continue in your idolatrous folly and face eternal judgment for it?

“Because I have called and you refused to listen,
have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
I also will mock at your calamity;
I will mock when terror strikes you,
when terror strikes you like a storm
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
would have none of my counsel
and despised all my reproof,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
and have their fill of their own devices.
For the simple are killed by their turning away,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
and will be at ease, without dread of disaster. (vv. 24-33)

Vv. 24-32 focus on judgment and actually explain in two rounds why God in his wisdom judges unrepentant folly (vv. 24-25, 29-30) and how God in his wisdom judges unrepentant folly (vv. 26-28, 31-32). This opera of gloomy judgment ends, however, on a single quivering note of hopeful salvation (v. 33).

God judges unrepentant folly because it is sinful rebellion. Those who remain in their folly “refuse to listen” to God and do not “heed” his outstretched hand (v. 24). Fools “ignore God’s counsel” and “have none of his reproof” (v. 25). Ultimately, this rebellion to God amounts to a rejection of God. Wisdom, speaking for God, indicts her audience for “hating knowledge” and “not choosing the fear of the LORD” (v. 29). She condemns unrepentant folly because it rejects her wise “counsel” and “despises all her reproof” (v. 30). John Kitchen comments aptly: “What may appear as ‘neglect’ of wisdom is in fact simply that we ‘did not want’ it” (Proverbs, Mentor Commentary, 50). God in his justice cannot leave such sin unpunished and will judge such sinners for their sinfulness at the second coming of Christ.

God’s coming judgment is a prime example of poetic justice. Solomon has already warned the reader that those who “make haste to shed blood” actually “lie in wait for their own blood” and “set an ambush for their own lives” (Prov. 1:16, 18). Wisdom similarly judges those who do not listens to her pleas by not listening to their pleas when they finally get around to calling for her help.

In their own good time, the foolish will reciprocate wisdom’s invitation and search. … However, it is their timing that is the problem. They wanted to go their own way and God has granted them their wish. (Kitchen, 52).

As we in the South like to say, “You reap what you sow.” This indeed is Wisdom’s sobering message. She will mock those who had scoffed at her. Those who hated knowledge will “have their fill of their own devices” (v. 31). Those who are simple and had refused to fear the Lord, who had turned away from him instead of turning to him as Wisdom had entreated, will be “killed by their turning away” (32). G. K. Beale’s thesis in his book on idolatry is applicable to our discussion of God’s judgment on unrepentant folly: “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration” (We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, 16 and throughout, italics removed). Those who had revered themselves rather than God will be ruined precisely for their self-reverence, for their unrepentant folly of rebelling against and ultimately rejecting God.

But as Beale noted in connection with idolatry, there is the hope of restoration for those who revere God rather than themselves. “Whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster,” Wisdom promises (v. 33). Reading this verse in light of the New Testament, we understand that “dwelling secure” is eternal in its extent. Jesus’ letters to the seven churches in Revelation are apt. I will use the first and last to prove my point:

“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. … He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (Rev. 2:5, 7)

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. … The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev. 3:19, 21-22)

Just as Wisdom does in Proverbs 1:20-33, Jesus in Revelation 2-3 exhorts people to “repent.” Although his words are addressing seven particular churches in Asia Minor at the end of the first century, he exhorts anyone (“he who has an ear”) to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Jesus’ message, like Wisdom’s plea, presents readers with one of two options: judgment or salvation (see Beale, 252-254). Those who “repent” and “conquer” are rewarded with eternal life at his judgment (Rev. 2:7) and reign with Jesus (3:21). Those who do not “repent and do the works they did at first” are eternally cast out of Jesus’ presence at his judgment (2:5; cf. 21:8 and Matt. 7:21-23). In light of the New Testament, “dwelling secure” refers to eternal life, which Jesus in his letters to the seven churches of Revelation refers to as a result of repentance.

Just as “dwelling secure” refers to the eternal life of the repentant, “disaster” likewise refers to the eternal punishment of the unrepentant. The Greek Septuagint of Prov. 1:33 translates the Hebrew word for disaster as kakos, which appears in the New Testament in connection with eternal punishment:

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil [kakos]. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Tim. 6:9-10)

By looking at the relationship of v. 10 to v. 9 in 1 Tim. 6, we see that a specific evil that the love of money bring about is “destruction,” which in Hebrews and 2 Peter refers to eternal punishment:

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Heb. 10:39)

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. … And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Pet. 2:1, 3)

“Destroyed” in Heb. 10:39 refers to eternal punishment because it parallels the “preservation” of the souls of the faithful, who enjoy eternal life. “Destruction” in 2 Pet. 2:1, 3 refers to eternal punishment because it is coupled with “condemnation,” which refers to the condemnation at the last judgment. Since 2 Pet. 2:1, 3 and 1 Tim. 6:9-10 describe greed as a cause of destruction or eternal punishment, and since 1 Tim. 6:10 describes this eternal punishment as an example of “evil” (kakos), then we understand “disaster” (kakos) in Prov. 1:33 to have within its purview the eternal punishment of the wicked, whom Wisdom in Proverbs 1:24-33 describes in terms of unrepentant folly.

Conclusion

I have attempted to prove that Wisdom’s public call to repentance in Proverbs 1:20-33 foreshadows God’s universal call to repentance as preached by Paul in Acts 17:22-31. To do this, I have shown that various biblical passages corroborate Tremper Longman’s suggestion that Woman Wisdom be identified not merely as God’s wisdom but as a personification of God himself. Since Wisdom is a personification of God, her call to repentance anticipated God’s universal call to repentance. In light of God’s contemporary universal call to repentance, we now read Wisdom’s call to repentance in Proverbs 1:20-33 as universal in scope. Similarly, her threats of judgment and promise are salvation are also enlarged upon by the New Testament revelation of Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, the Christ, the Savior of all who believe and repent. Wisdom’s reasons for and methods of judgment are consistent with Jesus’ reasons for and methods of judgment upon his second coming. As wisdom commended repentance for resulting in dwelling securely, so now Jesus’ command to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15) results in dwelling securely for eternity. The New Testament reveals that the “disaster” to which Wisdom consigned the unrepentant is none other than the eternal punishment to which Jesus will consign the unrepentant at his final judgment.

When we acknowledge a universal call to repentance in Proverbs 1 in light of the New Testament, we see how urgent the gospel is, both for us and for others. If you’re not currently trusting Jesus Christ to save you from your sin by his death on the cross, I pray that the message of these Bible passages would prompt you to trust him now for salvation, repenting and turning away from your sin to follow him. For those of us who are already Christians, we do well to heed Jesus’ words in Revelation 2-3. As Beale notes,

The use of the formula “he who has an ear let him hear” in Revelation, while indicating a spiritually anesthetized majority in the churches, is an address to those who really do have spiritual ears to hear “what the Spirit is saying” to them in order to persevere, not compromise and to continue to reflect the image of God in the world. (282-283)

Jesus’ words, while addressing churches, were written to mixed audiences of both believers and unbelievers. The call for us believers is, as Paul puts it, to “examine ourselves, to see whether we are in the faith”; you are to “test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you–unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor. 13:5). Or as Paul had written earlier to the Corinthians: “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). May we take seriously John’s words: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). J. D. Greear is absolutely right: “Salvation is not a prayer you pray in a one-time ceremony and then move on from; salvation is a posture of repentance and faith that you begin in a moment and maintain for the rest of your life” (Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved, 5).

May God help us, fellow Christians, prayerfully to examine our lives for pockets of remaining sin. May God help us to confess those sins, when found, to him. May he help us to combat those sins, and may he help us to maintain our repentance for the rest of our lives, to the praise of his glorious grace in predestining us to be adopted as his sons and daughters in Jesus Christ! Amen.

%d bloggers like this: