Repentance – The Scriptural Meaning
This subject is vastly misunderstood by very many in the churches. The effects of the misunderstanding are absolutely consequential. While repentance applies to all sins, a major example of the tragedy of the false understanding is seen in the churches’ doctrines of divorce and remarriage. If the failure of the meaning and application of repentance obtains here, the failure is complete in its effects, both for the body of Christ and for the individual. I pose the following challenge now because of the absolute issues that are at stake; the very presence of God among His assemblies and the eternal destiny of the souls of very many. – Before the challenge I assert the following: All sins are forgivable! In fact, the only sin that was ever declared by Jesus as unforgivable cannot, in the nature of the case, be committed any longer. That sin was named the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit by Him. It was unique to the very time that Jesus physically walked in Israel and Judah. This treatise examines HOW sins are forgiven by God according to the situation of the one who sins. My challenge to you: After reading about the Biblical teaching herein set forth as completely opposed to that of the churches regarding divorce and remarriage, I challenge you to show from the Word that remarriage after divorce can be remained in because the sin of adultery is forgiven and the subsequent marriage(s) is(are) acceptable to God. Please read all of what follows and do not skim the subject matter. I will endeavor to serve you properly by making the case as is incumbent upon me since I make declarations so diametrically opposed to the modern churches’ teachings and which have such monumental consequences. You will not be able to prove the churches’ teaching about this matter simply because it is not to be found in the Word of God! In fact, the common doctrine will be shown to be a manifested contradiction. I will also cover the nature of sins as spiritually discerned since this impacts the thinking of many. Sins are different. They cannot be compared as of equal character and effect. Trying to make them stand equal to one another before God and men is like trying to make fixed feasting equal to mere food scavenging.
Let’s begin -
From Luke in Acts: “From Miletus he (Paul) sent to Ephesus and called to himself the elders of the assembly. And when they had come to him, he said to them, ‘You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ…Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.’”
You cannot have Christianity without possessing repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ! You are a Christian only if these leading attributes are in and remain in your life. You can no more have water by having only oxygen or only hydrogen than you can have eternal life by having only repentance toward God or only having faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, to speak this way (of having one without the other) is to speak an impossibility because in God these attributes are never separated and cannot ever be separated. Unlike in the science laboratory where you can separate water into its two constituent elements, in God the belief of eternal life cannot be separated this way. In fact, these two attributes are really part and parcel of believers' standing in eternal life. They are integral parts or essential attributes with one another. Together they compose the whole. Repentance towards God is an essential part of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is an essential part of repentance towards God. The two always stand together as one!
What, then, does repentance mean according to the Scriptures? The word appears 24 times in the New Covenant Scriptures. It is the translation of the word metanoia, which is the noun form of the word. The verbal form of the word is metanoeo. This word appears 34 times in the New Covenant Scriptures. Since the two forms of the word mean essentially the very same thing, the words combine to appear 58 times in the New Covenant. Very much weight is given to repentance from sins according to the will of God.
Before examining the word metanoia, it is best, and highly informative, to understand another related word - metamelomai. Metamelomai is used five times in the New Covenant Word and means “to feel remorse”, “to regret”, “to have a change of mind”. It is a related word because it always embodies the first motions of true repentance. However, it may or may not advance to fulfill true repentance. Because of this last feature it was not used by the writers of the Scriptures for the word that translates true (or complete) repentance. However, the King James translation erroneously renders it repentance in every case that it occurs. Whether or not this fact is related to the churches’ stand (because of the undeniable heritage of the King James Version), the church has sadly and tragically substituted the meaning of metamelomai for that of metanoia where only metanoia is the intention of God concerning sins. For only true repentance from sins is acceptable to God. He does not accept only regret or remorse over sins as a substitution for repentance from sins. I will now consider one of the places where the King James Version translates “regret” as “repentance”, not only as an illustration but to go on to see what true repentance really entails. Paul said to the Corinthians, “For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it-- for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while.” The King James translates thusly, “For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season.” Immediately after this statement Paul declared, “I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance (metanoia - not metamelomai); for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces repentance (metanoia) without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” Paul declares in no uncertain terms that the sorrow of the world (the regret or remorse of the world) tragically fails to meet the requirement of God regarding sins. Only repentance from sins meets His holy requirement. Even a change of mind or viewpoint about sins is not sufficient with God. Only repentance from those sins is sufficient.
Now, what precisely does repentance (metanoia) mean? This is where the case is made and the aforementioned challenge is applied. Metanoia always means “compunction to reform because of guilt which progresses into a reversal of the situation concerned.” In the New Covenant Scriptures the “situation concerned” is the sinful situation, one that stands contrary to the will of God and the reversal (the reformation) is defined by the will and commandments of God alone.
The New Covenant Scriptures unambiguously declare that forgiveness of sins is contingent upon repentance from those sin combined with faith in Jesus Christ! In every place where the word that properly translates repentance is used, the expectation, the demand, is that the sinner leave or put away his sin. He must reverse his situation. He must depart from his sins. He must put them away from himself. It is not enough for him only to regret his sin, to feel sorry about his sin, to hope not to sin in the future. He must end his relationship with his sin. Nowhere can it be shown that anything short of this relationship with his sin, this response to his sin, is acceptable to God. At the very point where actual departure from or putting away the sin is removed from the command, at that very point metanoia (repentance) ceases to exist. If in its place only metamelomai (regret – a change of mind) is allowed to stand, then you have the common (and deadly) position of many in the churches today, both leaders and followers.
The remarriage after divorce case examined: While many in the churches correctly see repentance as involving real and actual (not theoretical) departure from sins, for example, truly putting away and stopping lying, stealing, fornicating, being a drunkard, being a slanderer, being a homosexual, being an idolater, and things like these, when it comes to remarriage after divorce – in this one instance – the rule is assumed to be changed. However, nowhere can it be demonstrated that this one sin is uniquely different from all other sins in the universe. Nowhere can it be shown from the Word that while one must leave the practice of the sins named above (and the practice of all other sins for that matter) in order to receive forgiveness, when it comes to adulterous remarriage one can remain in that sin. One does not have to depart from the practice of that sin. (The pronouncement of Jesus is that one who marries another after divorce IS committing or practicing (continual present tense) adultery – [legal before men though the marriage is].) Regarding that sin, one only needs to be sorry about it.
One reason why the churches view adulterous remarriages as not being like any other sins that exist concerning HOW a person repents from them is because it is taught that even though remarriage after divorce is illegal before God; it is still factual before Him and, therefore, should not be departed from. This really is self-incriminating. Yes, precisely because it is illegal before God (the only Person Who truly matters) it has no basis for being factual. In other words, before God the fact of the remarriage after divorce cannot stand. (This was the thrust of Jesus.) With men things factually and legally stand that are illegal before God. However, as such they stand condemned precisely because they should not stand. The law and legal “right” of abortion is a prime example. Even so, the churches themselves are thoroughly inconsistent about this matter. I have never met a non-liberal church person who holds that homosexual marriages are lawful before God, even though certain states and countries have established that they are lawful. These marriages legally exist. They are marriages according to men. You will say that, obviously, according to God’s Word, these relationships are a fundamental perversion of the will of God concerning marriage and are not seen as marriages in the sight of God. And you are completely correct. They in fact stand, but they should not stand, being condemned by God because they are against His will. Other examples that are against His will (that conservative men may debate but that are clearly condemned by God) regard incestuous marriages. Even though the full range of the law of God concerning them is established in the Old Covenant Scriptures, it is stated in such explicitly universal language that its current application to all men everywhere is unquestionable. The examples that I list obtain whether or not both of the original spouses are living after divorce or even if one is dead without there ever having been a divorce. In this regard they are unlike the normal, non-incestuous remarriages dealt with on this page. I am listing them to show that there are other marriages that can be established before men that are forbidden (or illegal) in the sight of God and, therefore, should not be established before Him. Before God, a man cannot marry his sister-in-law. (The ancient and unique Levirate Law of Israel regarded only one’s male-heirless-deceased-brother and only concerned name-lineage and inheritance rights. It has nothing at all to do with these very same relationship marriages that are utterly condemned by God.) A man cannot marry his daughter-in-law. He cannot marry his step-mother. These marriages may exist as legal before men, but before God they stand as condemned. The first example occurred with relative regularity in pre-civil war America and some people today still think that such is permissible before God if one’s brother has died. All of these are illegal precisely because they are pronounced by God as incestuous. Also, remarriages after divorce are illegal before God precisely because they are pronounced by God as adulterous. In the former examples, the marriages cannot stand because they are between close family members. In the subject of our concern, the marriages cannot stand because they are between someone who marries a married person, even though a divorce was previously secured before men.
Now, the only remedy before God for someone in a homosexual marriage or an incestuous marriage is to forsake the marriage itself, that is, leave the marriage. This is none other than the meaning of Scriptural repentance. Only being remorseful after conviction of sin about these marriages is insufficient. People must repent, that is, reverse the situations by putting away (leaving) the marriages in order to be forgiven of these sins. Most churches still rightfully teach that only being remorseful without actually physically forsaking the homosexual or incestuous marriage itself is outside of and against the Word of God.
This is also the very position taken by the New Covenant Scriptures regarding God ordained marriages. After divorce, the marriage is declared by God as still intact. That is precisely why its violation is condemned by Him as adultery. Without an intact marriage there is no adultery. According to the Word, only the death of one of the spouses frees the other spouse from the marriage. Before God, no-one can be married to someone else’s spouse. Such a marriage stands diametrically opposed to God’s will. Even if men recognize these marriages as legal (as they fully do), God does not and they stand condemned before Him.
The obvious nature of the revealed status of marriage itself as established by God should settle the matter about repentance from incestuous and/or adulterous marriages. But for those still hesitating about conventional remarriages, there is a difference in sins before God and how a Christian deals with his or her sins. The states of sins are different from the remains of sin that the believer struggles with continually. The states of sin are outside of the believer and stand to invade and take over. The remains of sin are within a believer and are fundamental to being in the mortal body, that is, to living on the earth. The states of sin can and should be dealt with in finality. The remains of sin, which can also be viewed as the nature or works of the flesh waging war with the nature or fruit of the spirit in mankind, are overcome daily as Christians are proven worthy of the Lord. Here is one of very many examples. If a person is a Hindu and repents, he is required by God to leave, that is, to forsake Hinduism. Hinduism is a state of sin. It is outside of the man and it stands to rule his life contrary to the will of God. However, that former Hindu who is now a Christian will still struggle with the very same sin of, for instance, fleshly impatience or anger, that he had while being a Hindu and that his other fellow Christians may also struggle with on a daily basis. Those are the remains of sin that he struggles with and repents from when they occur. These remains of sins may even include a disposition particular to him, the temptation to return to the state of Hinduism. The state of sin (Hinduism) must be left completely in all finality. The remains of sin must be overcome upon their occurrence continually. In other words, one cannot repent from Hinduism and remain in it. One must leave it to repent from it. Remorse alone does not provide the remedy. Even after truly repenting from Hinduism, the ex-Hindu will continually repent from the works of his sinful mortal flesh until the day that he is taken to the Paradise of God. Marriages, like philosophies or religions, are outward states. They are not inward natural predispositions. Unlike the inward remains of sin, for example, of anger, adulterous marriage, like another outward state of sin, for example, Hinduism, can be permanently forsaken. The nature of the workings of the mortal flesh (which equals what I’m calling the remains of sin) for the Christian is seen in this declaration of the Psalms: “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” This does not mean that David was born in an outward state of sin, for instance, that he was born an actual adulterer or an actual idolater. Rather, it means that he was born with the inner, operative principle of sin. He was born of a sinner with the inherited sin of Adam and a predisposition to continue to sin.
I will restate the challenge. When the Scriptures overwhelmingly demonstrate that repentance from sins means conviction of guilt about those sins (remorse) and turning away from, that is, actually physically forsaking those very sins, one must demonstrate from the Scriptures that while, accordingly, homosexual acts and marriage must be forsaken, having sex with and/or being married to one’s daughter-in-law must be forsaken, being a drunkard must be forsaken, being a slanderer must be forsaken, or having an extra-marital affair with an unmarried person must be forsaken, – – one must demonstrate that one does not have to forsake being in a subsequent marriage after being divorced from one’s original living spouse. In short, it is imperative, if remarriage after divorce is to stand, to show that this particular sin is the only sin in the universe to which the word repentance undergoes a fundamental change. This position cannot be shown because it is nowhere to be found in all of the New Covenant Scriptures. In order to be saved, believers repent from all of their sins. They cannot keep any or even one in reserve. This is the clear message of the Gospel. If you have read my essay about practical cases regarding the churches and marital adultery, you already know that I covered the common position that if people are in Christ they are new creations and that any pre-conversion remarriages are under forgiveness. If you have not read about that subject, it is imperative that you do so in order to understand the refutation of that catastrophic error. To restate it here would simply be repeating it and would take up too much space. For the response to that common argument read The first concern... Please read the summary below first.
In summary, repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are fundamental to being a Christian. They stand together as inseparable, essential attributes of the life of all Christians. One must repent from, that is, leave all sins in order to receive forgiveness of sins and stand under the saving Lordship of Jesus Christ. No sin is exempt from Scriptural repentance. I stated my position about forgiveness at the beginning of this treatise. I will state it again with fuller emphasis: I assert the following: All sins are forgivable! However, they are only forgivable if they have been repented from. And, no sins are forgivable if they are practiced and are not repented from! This great freedom and constriction is nothing other than comes from the transcendent holiness and the deep mercy and compassion of God! He has provided the way out of sins with their penalties and into eternal life with its rewards!
Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
Return to "The first concern" (about divorce and remarriage)