Is Repentance Moral Reform? Acts 2:38
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”Acts 2:38
The question I want us to focus on is, Does “to repent” in Acts 2:38 mean moral reform or something else? I have heard it taught as moral reform or as simply a turning to God. However, there are some problems with both interpretations. First, it would seem unlikely that the Apostle Peter would tell devout Jews that they needed to reform morally or turn to God. In the context of Acts 2:38, repentance or turning would seem to mean turning to Christ or to believing on Christ. In essence, Peter was telling his audience simply to believe in Jesus. This would echo the words of Jesus to His disciples in John 14:1, “You believe in God believe also in me.”
However, the text seems to indicate that a necessary part of this turning to God includes baptism or what we might call a bodily and public expression of this turning or repentance. Baptism then would be viewed as the initiation act that puts a person into Christ where His blood cleanses from sin and where one receives the gift of the Holy Spirit (Rom 6:1-3, Gal 3:26,27).
It is also important to note that Peter’s statement is a commandment not a request. Man left God by breaking a commandment, and he must returns by keeping a commandment. Therefore, he is commanded to believe on Jesus or believe the gospel (1 Thess. 1:8). Adam’s sin began in his heart and was consummated in his outward disobedience. In like manner, man returns to God by believing and acting out his faith in baptism and a life that bears the fruit of repentance (Acts 26:20). This is why Paul uses faith and baptism as synonymous. “For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ (Gal 3:26-27 ASV).
We can summarize the teaching of Acts 2:38 by saying that God commands two things: faith in Christ and baptism into Christ. These two acts constitute turning toward God (Acts 3:19). To those who turn to God by belief and baptism, God promises two things: the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
It would be fair to ask the question, Does faith and baptism in themselves remit sin? Absolutely not; nothing but the free action of a forgiving God can do that. Faith-baptism simply puts a person into Christ where one has access to the blood of Christ and the forgiveness of sins, both of which are in Christ (Eph 1:7, Rom 6:3).
Good and Bad People
A friend read my piece concerning what C.S. Lewis said about good and bad people. For those who did not read it, I will quote again: “When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good; a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly; while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil; bad people do not know about either.”
Point to ponder: How do Lewis’s remarks measure up against the views Thomas A. Harris stated in his book, I’m OK, You’re OK ?
My friend brought up two points that I would like to share with others. He said that he thought he was ok. He based this statement on the fact that he lived his life in such a way that he did not hurt anyone. My reply was, “You are asleep.” My friend is very much like a lot of people in our culture who see morality only as a negative. However, there is such a thing as a positive morality. All morality does not begin with “thou shall not.” A positive morality is a morality that tells you what you should do. You should spend time helping the poor, encouraging your friends, etc., in short loving people in a real way. Morality should not be solely defined by what you should not do. A cigar store Indian does not do anything wrong, but he also does not do anything right; he does not do anything but take up space. Doing nothing other than taking up space is sinful. By sinful I am taking the word “sin” in its uninterrupted sense. It simply means “to miss the mark.” We were created for doing good, not for taking up space. Taking up space is to miss the mark.
There also is another problem with thinking that you are ok because you do not break a law or hurt someone. The reason for your success at your negative morality could simply be that you did not have the need or the opportunity to break the law or hurt someone. Where is the virtue in that? The virtue may be in the situation and not in the person. There is no virtue in being faithful if one is never tempted to be unfaithful. You do not know where your limits are until they are tested. A man who prides himself on being faithful to his wife and looks down on other men who are not faithful, may simply be a moralist who never has been tempted by a beautiful woman. Moreover, he may not have been tempted because God knows that he would fail the test. We ought to be careful about judging others. However, to choose one situation over another could in itself be virtuous if a man chose that situation because he knew his weakness and was trying to avoid it by keeping himself from temptation.
My friend, also pointed out that people have different definitions of morality. However, that does get one out of the pickle that Lewis puts us in, because Lewis is not talking about any specific morality. If a man is awake, he will become increasingly aware that he does not even live up to his own personal morality and that he is continually lowering or ignoring it to justify himself. Every time you hear the voice “you ought” and you silence it, the voice gets weaker and you get a little worse. It is a very slow process but if practiced long enough it will kill the voice. LD
Atheism, Natural Law and Self-evident Truth
Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also big bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. Rom 2:13-14
The natural law of God is found everywhere you encounter man and is self-evident to any man who is in his right mind. It has been called a number of different things throughout the world and history. It has been call the Tao (the way) in the Orient, the Logos by the Greeks, wisdom by the Hebrews, self-evident truth by the founding fathers, and the first principles of philosophy or the cosmic order by the Europeans. It has been codified in every culture under heaven and is the bases of all values and morality. Of course, this impulse is stronger in some than others. Some have hardened themselves to it to the point that the voice or impulse is very weak. However, this is abnormal and recognized as such. We call those who have a deficit of these impulses fools, idiots, and morons. Those who have no understanding of it we call psychopaths and label them as being mentally ill. The reason is that we recognize that this condition is totally abnormal. We tacitly recognize what is normal, which is a self-evident truth made known among all men by the cosmic order. For the sake of brevity, in this article we will call this phenomenon the Tao.
We find natural law or the Tao in every culture. The variation of Tao in different cultures comes from the culture filters, which mediate the values and principles of the cosmic order. Therefore, in each culture the Tao is colored by the mediators of the culture in which it is observed. These mediators work like sunglass, which protects the eyes of one looking at the sun, but at the same time can distort it. Jesus spoke of this when someone asked Him why God allowed a man to divorce his wife. He said it was because of the hardness of this man’s heart. In this He was telling the people that they could not bear looking directly at the sun. In other words, some cultures and men are simply not ready for all the implications of the natural law of God or Tao. So God speaks to them through mediators who filter the Tao.
If an unbeliever is a moral person, he himself is the evidence of natural law (principles) or self-evident truth (common sense), for he does by nature what is in the law of God, even though his philosophy ultimately denies the cosmic order of the supreme truth and good. Even in his denial his reasoning cannot escape or silence the moral impulse to do the good and seek the truth. This impulse is so strong in some that it can actually drive one to madness. In conforming to this impulse, the unbeliever shares in the grace of God that comes through the wisdom of God which is known tacitly by all men.
Like the religious person, the atheist may interpret the impulse for the good to be a sign of his own goodness and therefore, falls under the illusion of self-rightness as do some religious people. This illusion of rightness, which is a perversion of the moral impulse, will further his alienation from God as it does the religious person and will reflect the very spirit that atheists hate in religious people, i.e., self-rightness. Self-rightness is nothing more than spiritual pride and is one of the most subtle hindrances to the moral impulse. It distorts one’s view of natural law in the religious individual and unbelievers.
What about the amoral atheists? The unprincipled unbelievers are no different than the amoral believers. They will both pay the price of breaking or ignoring the cosmic order. God’s moral law is much like His natural law. If one breaks the law of gravity enough times, it will catch up to him, and he will suffer some negative consequences. The same is true if one breaks the moral law or natural law. He will suffer loss, e.g., health, relationships, respect and such. In essence; one does not break the law. It breaks him, and he will suffer loss.
Because conformity to the Tao (the truth) is a prerequisite for a person being happy, anyone can experience happiness who does the truth and lives by the principles (wisdom) of God. If the unbeliever’s life is in more conformity to Tao than a believer’s, he will most likely be happier than a believer. I personally know an atheist who found one of the secrets of happiness in the Bible and started to practice it and found that it made him happier. At the same time, I know some religious people who have just enough religion to make them miserable.
 Self-evident truth or natural law can be weakened or even denied by people accepting an ideology or philosophy that is contrary to reality. Common people often refer to those in academia as having no common sense. In saying this, they may be more correct than they think.
 Self-evident truth is experienced corporately and is akin to a social consciousness. It is close to Freud’s group consciousness.
 The words and concepts of law and self-evident truth have been so neglected in Western culture that their meaning has been lost or distorted. One the best books on this concept is C.S. Lewis’s book, The Abolition of Man.