Bad company

Shortly after his ministry got started, Jesus developed a reputation for spending time with the wrong kind of people. Two religious groups known as the Pharisees and the scribes made a point of criticizing Jesus for his lack of discretion in choosing his companions. In what may have seemed like a deliberate attempt to antagonize these two religious groups, Jesus chose as one of his disciples a man by the name of Levi, aka Matthew, who was a tax collector. Some of the local Jewish men were employed by Roman tax contractors to collect taxes for them. “Because they worked for Rome and often demanded unreasonable payments, the tax collectors gained a bad reputation and were generally hated and considered traitors” (note on Matthew 5:45). Matthew’s status as an outcast of society made him an unlikely candidate for Jesus’ close knit team of evangelists, but his friends were the target audience of Jesus’ teaching, and therefore, Matthew’s conversion clearly demonstrated to them that all were welcome in Jesus’ community of believers.

On one occasion, when Jesus and his disciples were eating at Matthew’s home, “many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples” (Mark 2:15). At that time, sharing a meal with someone was a sign of friendship, and it also suggested that a union or association existed between all those who were invited into the home. As a sign of their disapproval of what Jesus was doing, it says in Mark 2:16, “when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?” Jesus’ response was a rebuke to the scribes and Pharisees hypocrisy, but it also identified an important difference between those who claimed to be God’s chosen people, and those who actually were. “When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17).

Jesus’ use of the contrasting terms whole and sick, and reference to himself as a physician emphasized his ability to diagnose and heal the ailments of the human heart. The Greek word translated sick, kakos (kak – oce´) means badly (2560). Kakos is derived from the word kakos (kak – os´) which means worthless (2556). “Kakos indicates the lack in a person or thing of those qualities which should be possessed and means bad in character morally, by way of thinking, feeling or acting.” Jesus’ claim to be able to heal or cure someone of his bad behavior was corroborated by the change that was evident in Matthew and his fellow tax collectors. It says in Mark 2:15 that these men “followed” Jesus. The Greek term translated followed, akoloutheo means to be in the same way with, suggesting a likeness or similarity in lifestyle and/or behavior (190). Repentance is not just a change of heart, but a reversal of the effects of a previous state of mind. In other words, when Matthew and his friends repented and became followers of Jesus, they not only walked away from their jobs as tax collectors, but also gave up the money and power their previous jobs afforded them.

Mixed Reactions

At the start of Jesus’ ministry, it became evident that there were some people among the Jews that did not welcome the good news that their Messiah had finally arrived. In particular, those who knew Jesus as a child questioned whether or not someone like him could actually be the savior God had promised to bring to his people. In Luke 4:16 it says of Jesus, “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.” Jesus read Isaiah 61:1-2 to the people and then stated “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21). After declaring himself to be their long awaited Messiah, Jesus foretold of his rejection and eventual ministry to the Gentiles. It says in Luke 4:28-29, “And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill where on their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.”

Following this incident, Jesus went to a seaside fishing village called Capernaum which became a sort of home base for his ministry. It was there that Jesus called four fishermen; Simon, whom he renamed Peter, his brother Andrew, and their business partners, James and John to be his disciples. The story of Peter’s conversion showed that Jesus understood this man’s reluctance to give up his independent way of life.

Now when he had left off speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. (Luke 5:4-8)

Peter’s awareness of his need for a savior was a result of the conviction he felt about his lack of faith when Jesus told him to let down his nets for a draught (Luke 5:4). Peter thought there were no fish in the sea, but in reality there were so many fish, his ship couldn’t hold them all. After Peter’s perception of the situation had changed, Jesus said to him and his fishing partners, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him” (Luke 5:10-11).

Repentance (Step 1)

The five-step process of repentance begins with an awareness of our need for forgiveness. Our ability to justify our own actions often prevents us from seeing the wrong we do to others. In particular, when we do something that offends God, we are likely to excuse our behavior because, after all, we are sinners by nature. The point we usually have to reach in order to really want to change is complete devastation, as some people say, we have to hit rock bottom.

For God’s people, the bottom fell out when they saw the city of Jerusalem lying in ruins. The question they had to ask themselves was, “How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people!” (Lamentations 1:1). It made no sense that God would arbitrarily destroy his own city and holy temple, so there had to be a reason for what happened beyond his people being the innocent victims of Babylonian tyranny. In actuality, the experience of losing everything was designed to bring God’s people to their knees, for them to ask the question, why is this happening to us?

At first, the people were merely overwhelmed with sadness. All they could think of was the tragedy of their loss. In a cry prompted by self-pity, they exclaimed, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger” (Lamentations 1:12). The focus of the people’s lament was what God had done to them. They felt as if they were the target of his wrath, but didn’t yet see their need for repentance.

The initial reaction of God’s people to his divine retribution was sorrow. The Hebrew word translated sorrow, mak’obah (mak – o – baw´) means anguish (4341). It is derived from the word ka’ab (kaw – ab´) which means to feel pain or to grieve (3510). Naturally, the people grieved over the loss of their loved ones, but it is a different king of sorrow that leads one to repentance. In 2 Corinthians 7:9-10, the apostle Paul talked about a type of sorrow that leads to repentance. He said:

Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For  godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

Godly sorrow is the type of sorrow that results from a feeling of conviction about our sin. For the most part, we never feel godly sorrow until after we come to know Christ. That’s why the process of repentance was ineffective in Old Testament times. Really, only those who had the Holy Spirit could feel such conviction, and he, the Holy Spirit, did not work in the lives of believers as he does now. In order for anyone to repent, he must first know that he is separated from God, and then, want his relationship with God to be restored.

An indication that the people of Judah and Jerusalem that went into exile were capable of repentance can be found in Lamentations 1:20 where it says, “Behold, O LORD; for I am in distress: my bowels are troubled;  mine heart is turned within me; for I have grievously rebelled.” The phrase “mine heart is turned within me” means that the person speaking had a change of heart or had changed his mind about having rebelled against God. The Hebrew word translated turned, haphak can refer to transformation or being converted. One of the uses of this word is in 1 Samuel 10:6 where it says the spirit of the LORD would turn Saul into another man and in 1 Samuel 10:9 it says, “God gave him another heart.”

Conversion

King David said, “The law of the  LORD is perfect, converting the soul” (Psalm 19:7). What he meant by that was there was contained within the Mosaic Law enough evidence to convict every person of their own sinful nature. Even if you narrowed God’s law down to just the Ten Commandments, everyone would be found guilty. Therefore, the law of Moses was able to bring people in the Old Testament to a place of repentance where they recognized their need for salvation.

Over time, the Israelites’ hearts became hardened and they were unwilling to repent and turn to God. The process of conversion is really a matter of repentance more than anything else. The word convert is translated from the Hebrew verb shuwb (shoob). “The basic meaning of this verb is movement back to the point of departure…The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (7725).

The life of Manasseh king of Judah illustrates the process of conversion perfectly. Manasseh’s father, king Hezekiah was a righteous  man who trusted God and he was able to prevent Judah from being taken into captivity by the Assyrians, but Manasseh chose to do that which was “evil in the sight of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 33:2). Manasseh not only practiced idolatry, but is says in 2 Chronicles 33:6 that he “observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards.”

Manasseh had a very negative influence on the people of Judah. As their king, he had the power to force them to worship as he did. It says in 2 Chronicles 33:9-10, “Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and do worse than the heathen, whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel. And the LORD spoke to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken.” The prophet Isaiah used the word err throughout his writing to refer to the leaders of Israel causing the people to veer off the course God had established for them, the Mosaic Law.

Rather than punish the entire nation of Judah and undo the good that Hezekiah had accomplished, God chose to single out Manasseh in order to bring him to repentance. It says in 2 Chronicles 33:11-13:

Wherefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God.

After Manasseh acknowledged God’s sovereignty and was returned to Jerusalem, he showed evidence of genuine repentance. It says that “he took away the strange gods and the idol out of the house of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 33:15). Manasseh not only stopped practicing idolatry, but he also began to worship the LORD and commanded the people to observe the Mosaic Law (2 Chronicles 33:16). Manasseh’s example of repentance was one of the few seen in the Old Testament, particularly among the kings of Judah and Israel. It could be that his captivity in Babylon was such a horrifying experience that he realized spending eternity in hell was not a good option.

Compromise

Solomon’s wisdom was supernatural. His request for an understanding heart (1 Kings 3:9) was not about seeing things from a human perspective, but about seeing things from God’s perspective. Solomon’s wisdom enabled him to discern between good and evil and gave him experience in Divine things (2449). As a result of this understanding, it says in 2 Chronicles 8:11 that “Solomon brought up the daughter of Pharaoh out of the city of David unto the house that he built for her; for he said, My wife shall not dwell in the house of David king of Israel, because the places are holy whereunto the ark of the LORD hath come.”

Solomon’s solution of building a separate residence for his foreign wife was a compromise. Solomon didn’t want his marriage to interfere with God’s blessing on the nation of Israel, nor did he want to jeopardize his alliance with Pharaoh, so he came up with a solution that would keep everyone happy. In addition to his discernment of good and evil, Solomon also had prudence in secular matters. He was able to adapt what he knew to what he ought to do in any given situation.

The problem with Solomon’s compromise was it opened the door to secular worship practices in Israel. Solomon’s wife did not convert to Judaism, but remained an Egyptian both culturally and spiritually. She was afforded the luxury of living in God’s holy city without becoming holy herself. An example of this today is the person that goes to church every week, but never becomes a Christian. Solomon’s Egyptian wife never experienced conversion.

Conversion

I have always taken my responsibility as a parent very seriously, so when my oldest son got a DUI and ended up in jail, I was devastated. My initial reaction was to ask myself, where did I go wrong? How could this happen to my son. It took several years for things to get sorted out. Eventually, John told me that he had given up his faith and viewed himself as an agnostic. He didn’t think he had ever truly given his life to Christ and wanted nothing to do with the church.

Proverbs 22:6 instructs us to “train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” The Hebrew word translated way, derek means “a road (as trodden)” (1870). Figuratively, derek refers to a course of life or mode of action Regarding our behavior, derek means our manner of life, the way we conduct ourselves. Derek also “refers to a ‘condition’ in the sense of what has happened to someone…In one passage derek signifies the overall course and fixed path of one’s life, or his ‘destiny.'”

My son’s declaration that he was no longer a Christian forced me to considered whether or not he had actually been converted as a young boy. As I looked back at his life and thought about his behavior, I was certain his commitment was real. Even though John no longer attended church, he was the same kind and loving person underneath his rough exterior. As a mom, it is hard to watch my son struggle and make mistakes, but I know that his life is in God’s hands and I believe someday his faith will be restored. I did all I could to point him in the right direction, the outcome is God’s.

 

Conversion

David said, “The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness. According to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me” (2 Samuel 22:21). The word translated cleanness, bôr (bore) means purity (1252). It is derived from the word bârar which means to clarify or examine (1305). A similar word is zâkak (zaw – kak´) which means to be transparent (2141). The cleanness that David was referring to was the result of confessing or admitting his sin to God.

David knew that he could not hide his sin. After he was confronted by Nathan the prophet about his sin with Bath-sheba, David openly admitted that he deserved to die, but once he had confessed his sin, God pardoned him. Transparency with God made it possible for David’s sin to be removed from God’s record book. From that point forward, David was free from guilt.

The Hebrew word that is translated as recompensed refers to a process called conversion. “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (7725). You could say that David was converted at the moment that he said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Samuel 12:13), but it wasn’t until much later that David was aware of what the LORD had done for him.

David said, “For thou art my lamp, O LORD: and the LORD will lighten my darkness” (2 Samuel 22:29). The word translated lighten, nagahh (naw – gah´) means to illuminate (5050) and the word translated darkness, chôsek (kho – sek´) is used figuratively to mean misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness (2822). David’s comprehension of the salvation he had received wasn’t clear until he saw the outcome of his life. In spite of the sin he had committed, God continued to deliver David from his enemies and kept his kingdom in tact.

At the end of his life, David declared, “God is my strength and power: and he maketh my way perfect” (2 Samuel 22:33). David’s referral to perfection had to do with his relationship with God. One of God’s requirements for the Israelites was that they were to walk in the ways of the LORD (Deuteronomy 10:12). They were to follow the course that God laid out for them and their behavior was to be like that of God. When David said that his way had been made perfect, he meant that through the process of conversion, he had completed the course that God had prepared for him and accomplished all that God had intended him to in his life.

Your heart’s desire

When God sets out to do something, he always succeeds. His work is described with words like amazing, awesome, spectacular, and fantastic. David said, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1). I believe David chose the heavens as an example of God’s amazing work because nothing can be compared to it. It is far superior to anything else we can think of or imagine doing ourselves.

Next to God’s creation, David compared his law and says, “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul” (Psalm 19:7). “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (7725). The word translated converting, shûwb (shoob) is also translated as repent and return. “The basic meaning of the verb is movement back to the point of departure” (7725).

In regards to the sin that has separated us from God, it is not always our sin, but sometimes the sin of others that causes us to turn away from God. The important thing is that there is a turning point, a time when you have consciously chosen to walk in the pathway of sin rather than righteousness. Even though we all sin and from a very young age know the difference between right and wrong, we do not necessarily follow a pathway of sin just because we have sinned. The turning point when we consciously decide to ignore the rules and follow our own desires is what separates us from God and makes it impossible for him to guide our footsteps from day to day.

When a person is converted, repentance causes him to want to get back on the pathway of righteousness. David said about converting the soul that “The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:8).

Once conversion has taken place, it is possible for God to guide our steps again, but he does not always guide us to the same destination he originally planned to. Along with conversion, there is often a new calling or vocation for one’s life such as when Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle. In the process of conversion, the turning point becomes the focal point around which everything centers from that time forward. What was once a point of departure becomes a launching pad for a new life in fellowship with God.

Inside every person is a longing, a secret desire that only God knows about. It is so personal and intimate that to discuss it with anyone would take so much courage that you would rather die than let it be known. As a shepherd, tending his father’s flock, David may have secretly desired to be king of Israel, but it wasn’t until Samuel showed up and anointed him that it became David’s destiny. When a person is converted, that which was a secret is brought into the light and made to happen. David said after the LORD made him king, “Thou hast given him his heart’s desire” (Psalm 21:2).