Summary: Repentance from dead works and faith toward God. Resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.
Repentance from dead works and faith toward God
Reading Ps 32; Mt 15:1-9
Last time we saw that a passage can look straightforward when we read it superficially; obscure when you look at it more closely and then straight forward again when you read it in its context, bearing in mind its original audience!
Doing this we saw that the references to the doctrine of baptisms and laying on of hands were not references to the NT practices, but to those of ceremonial washing and the symbolic transfer of sin from the sinner, or the whole nation, to the sacrifice in the Tabernacle or Temple.
As a general rule interpretation of difficult passages should begin with the straight forward, not the obscure texts. Starting from the obscure is the origin of a lot of heresies, but that is exactly what I have done here! If my conclusion that the middle couplet refers to OT doctrine is right, what of the others? If they don’t easily fit then we should be guided by them and not the more obscure ones.
Repentance from dead works
The first couplet is repentance from dead works and of faith toward God. But what is repentance?
• A change of mind, accompanied by regret and sorrow that leads to a change in behaviour.
• An about turn.
An essential part of the gospel in OT times
Ezek 33: 11 ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’ 12 "Therefore you, O son of man, say to the children of your people: ‘The righteousness of the righteous man shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression; as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall because of it in the day that he turns from his wickedness; nor shall the righteous be able to live because of his righteousness in the day that he sins.’
13 "When I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, but he trusts in his own righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous works shall be remembered; but because of the iniquity that he has committed, he shall die. 14 "Again, when I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right, 15 "if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has stolen, and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 16 "None of his sins which he has committed shall be remembered against him; he has done what is lawful and right; he shall surely live.
The elements are all there:
• turning from sin
• doing what is lawful and right
• making restitution
• giving up reliance on our own righteousness
Of course repentance is equally important in the Gospel:
Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Mt 4:17
"Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord Acts 3:19
They glorified God, saying, "Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life." Acts 11:18
But why does is it say repentance from dead works?
The term is only used twice in Scripture, here and in Heb 9:14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? But that doesn’t explain the term.
Perhaps the answer can be found in Rev 3:1 "to the angel of the church in Sardis write, … "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. I think these are the works of someone who is going through the motions – performing rituals, giving money, etc. in an attempt to satisfy God and earn His favour.
This naturally links with the reference to washings. The Pharisees and Sadducees were masters of taking such OT practices and turning them into convoluted rituals – as we saw in Mark 7 last time. They got hung up on the ceremonial, but completely missed the underlying lessons about personal holiness, purity and kindness. It is well summarised in the words of Isaiah (29:13) as quoted by Jesus in Mt 15: 7 "Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honour Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’"