Repent, Believe and Receive
© September 2004 by Asher Intrater
It is possible to divide the general message of the Bible into three basic categories. The first level is kind of a condensed version of all the messages of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible (tenach), summarized in the word, "repent." This was the message of Yochanan (John the Baptist), who may be considered the last of the Old Testament prophets preceding the Messiah.
This message presumes that there is a coming day of judgment, where people will be rewarded for good deeds and punished for evil deeds. Therefore we must repent, that is, make a decision to change our deeds from bad to good, and ask for forgiveness, before that judgment day arrives. It is the only logical conclusion for a created being with free will, who has sinned, and must give a moral accounting to a righteous God.
The second level has to do with the good news from God, that He has sent the Messiah to offer us forgiveness, for those who have repented. It is God's gracious and logical answer to those who have asked for forgiveness. Obviously we have to believe in that good news in order to receive it (and by the same token, believe in the one who has come to offer that grace to us). So we must "believe" in the Messiah and his offer of forgiveness.
Yeshua's "gospel" or "good news" was to offer the forgiveness of sins, in addition to the message of the prophets to demand the repentance of sins. He did not "do away" with the prophets, but added the next level to it. He came to add, not to subtract. The offer of forgiveness of sins does not cancel the need for repentance of sins, but confirms it; and brings it to a positive conclusion.
Since forgiveness of sins was given on the basis of the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah, we have to believe in Yeshua's death and resurrection in order to get the benefit of the forgiveness that it entailed.
After we repent, we can be forgiven. After we have been forgiven, we can receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Repentance empties us. Forgiveness cleans us. Receiving the Holy Spirit then fills us. That is the third level of the biblical message.
This verse from the Shavuot (Pentecost) sermon of the apostle Shimon (Peter) is a good summary of all three of the levels. We could list them as: 1. repent, 2. believe, 3. receive; or, alternatively: 1. repentance of sin, 2. faith in the Messiah, 3. indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God would like us to receive all three of these messages and apply them in our lives. However, since all three require free will to receive them, it is possible to walk in just part of them.
I will exaggerate here to make a point. There are mathematically eight possibilities as to which elements one receives. We could list them as: 1,2,3; 1,2,X; 1,X,3; X,2,3; 1,X,X; X,2,X; X,X,3; X,X,X. All of those combinations exist in real life and in biblical examples.
Can one repent without believing in Yeshua? At least partially that is true. Many of the "Old Testament" people could be considered in that category, as well as some parts of "non-evangelical" Christianity. There are systems of "moral codes" in different philosophies. The Bible even states that a human being with a moral conscience has the ability and even obligation to repent when considering the natural creation (Romans 1 and 2).
Can one believe in Yeshua without repenting? I am sorry to say, that there is a significant percentage of so-called Christians who have done just that. Their theology disassociates faith in Yeshua from moral repentance. That is a tragic flaw, and what gives much of the Muslim and Asian populations the impression that Christianity is a cover-up for immorality.
Can one believe in Yeshua and reject the offer of the filling of the Holy Spirit? One can see that phenomenon in the bitterness and persecution on behalf of some "fundamentalist" Christian circles against "charismatics." On the other hand, many charismatics proclaim their faith in Yeshua and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, while "skipping" over the part about moral repentance. Yeshua said that those who cast out demons and proclaim faith in His lordship, but do not obey His commandments, would be in danger of eternal damnation (Matthew 7:21). However, He also said that to reject the work of the Holy Spirit, even in the casting out of demons, was an unpardonable sin (Matthew 12:31).
Faith in Yeshua as the Messiah is the central message of the Bible. However, repentance of sin is the requirement of that faith, and the filling of the Holy Spirit is the result. Yeshua calls us both to repent and to be filled with His Spirit.
Let's also analyze this by order. The logical biblical order is: 1. repent of sins, 2. believe in the Messiah, and 3. be filled with the Holy Spirit. However, people did not always receive in this order. Therefore, the total mathematical matrix of possibilities (of both content and order) is: 1-2-3, or 1-3-2, or 2-3-1, or 2-1-3, or 3-1-2, or 3-2-1, or 1-2, or 1-3, or 2-1, or 2-3, or 3-1, or 3-2, or 1-, or 2-, or 3-.
Condensing the biblical message into three categories is surely an over-simplification; and the dividing up of the possibilities into a mathematical matrix is more "analytical" than spiritual. This model is simply a tool to evaluate our spiritual lives in an objective way. Let's look at some examples in the book of Acts.
In Acts 2, the 120 in the upper room had already repented and believed in the Messiah. They had 1 and 2, and then added #3 when the fire fell upon them. The crowd on the outside went from 0 to 1 to 2 to 3 all together in that order on the same day. (It could be said of Yeshua, on the day He was immersed in water and the Spirit came down on Him like a dove, that He also went from 1 to 2 to 3, although He was the only human being who didn't need to repent of His own sins.)
The group of believers in Samaria (Acts 8) already had repented and believed in Yeshua, but they had never heard of the Holy Spirit. The apostles came to them to help them go on to #3 since they already had 1 and 2. Simeon the sorcerer was there. At Philip the evangelist's meeting, he believed in Yeshua. At Peter's message, he wanted to receive the Holy Spirit. He wanted to go from 2 to 3 without #1 (repentance). However, Peter wouldn't let him. If he had, Simeon would have become a Christian Charismatic sorcerer (danger!).
In Acts 10, Cornelius' home group had already repented of their sins. When Peter started preaching, they received the Holy Spirit. The Jewish believers were upset that these Gentiles had received the Spirit in the wrong order. They jumped from 1 to 3. So they immediately had them immersed in water to make sure they had #2 (faith in Yeshua) as well.
In the case of Apollos, he was a great preacher, who had only revelation of #1. He humbled himself in front of a mere tent making couple (Aquila and Priscilla) and received the revelation of #2. He then began preaching faith in Messiah Yeshua as well (Acts 18:24-28). Unfortunately, when Saul (Paul) then came to Ephesus, Apollos had already left. His ministry was succeeding as a famous evangelical Bible teacher, but he did seem to have time for an "extra revelation" from the eccentric charismatic, but less famous Messianic Jewish apostle (See Acts 19:1; perhaps pride in the growth of his ministry kept Apollos from being able to receive from Paul, see I Corinthians 16:12; and perhaps cause confusion among the believers in Greece to understand apostolic authority, see II Corinthians 11:2.)
We have seen a number of cases where the Holy Spirit has touched a Jewish person before he has either repented or believed in Yeshua. If, following the supernatural anointing of the Holy Spirit, the person can then find Yeshua, he will be saved. If not, he is in danger of new age mysticism, and sometimes Jewish "kabbala." (Notice that Madonna was in Israel for the high holidays for a Jewish mystical experience.)
The bottom line question of all this analysis is: Where do we stand? Have we humbled ourselves to receive what the prophetic message of the Bible really has for us? Are we making theological excuses? Is religious tradition covering up for lack of spiritual reality? Has there been a moral change in our lives? Are we walking in the real power of the Holy Spirit? Or are we just faking it (II Timothy 3:1-5)?
For those of us who are teachers of the Word, we need to check the content of what we are preaching. Are we focusing on these major themes of the Bible, or are we developing the theology of our particular group or movement? Are making side issues more important than the central ones? Have we become so sophisticated in our teaching that we have drifted away from these simple and basic messages (II Corinthians 11:3)?
Let us repent of our sins, dedicate our lives to following Yeshua, and walk in sensitivity to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Let us preach the message of the Bible in a direct and straightforward way, as did the prophets and apostles of old.
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