The Gospel’s Extension & Preservation (Acts 8:1-25)

The Gospel’s Extension & Preservation (Acts 8:1-25)
CrossWay Community Church
January 27th, 2019

Podcast link.

The Meaning of “Rend Your Hearts” (Joel 2:13)

The following was a short exegetical essay for Dr. Richard E. Averbeck’s Hebrew Exegesis course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Directly after describing the imminently impending Day of YHWH, Joel calls for the people to repent (שׁוב) in order that YHWH might relent his vengeance against them (Joel 2:12-14). Joel creates an inclusio—וְקִרְע֤וּ לְבַבְכֶם placed directly between two שׁוב imperatives (vv.13-14; notice also the alliteration with these three parallel verbs in 12c, 13a, and 13c). As such, an understanding of וְקִרְע֤וּ לְבַבְכֶם is vital to the interpretation of this text as it essentially defines the nature of this וְשׁ֖וּבוּ אֶל־יְהוָ֣ה that may result in salvation from God’s wrath (v.14). One might even callוְקִרְע֤וּ לְבַבְכֶם the central exhortation in the entire book of Joel!

The practice of renting or tearing one’s outer garments was a common feature of Israel’s cultic sphere, which is seen in texts such as Isa 32:11; 2 Kings 18:37-19:1; 2 and King 22:11(Allen, 79). As a customary rite in lamentation, individuals tore their clothes as an outward manifestation of their inward turmoil. This custom typically commenced with its accompanying aspect of clothing oneself in sackcloth (Crenshaw, 135; Wolff, 49).

Interestingly, however, rather than exhorting his audience to rend their garments, Joel deliberately and purposes diverts from this common tradition by calling them to rend their very hearts. Joel’s change in the object to be rent has the immensely powerful rhetorical effect of providing a visual illustration of the inward repentance for which YHWH longed—a whole-hearted return (שֻׁ֥בוּ עָדַ֖י בְּכָל־לְבַבְכֶ֑ם; 2:12c, Crenshaw, 135). Unlike the typical contemporary, symbolic notion of “heart” as the center for feelings and emotions, לֵבָב in Hebrew refers to the center of one’s being, involving thoughts, reflection, volition, disposition, etc. In other words, Joel’s “intention is not so much that people should [merely] feel bad (they already do) as that they should subject their minds to YHWH in obedience and faith” (Barton, 80; cf. Crenshaw, 135).

The significance of וְקִרְע֤וּ לְבַבְכֶם֙ is greatly informed by Joel’s next words— וְאַל־בִּגְדֵיכֶ֔ם. Joel commands his audience literally to “not rend your garments.” As Barton notes, most scholars generally agree that Joel’s aim is not to provide an anti-ritual polemic (80; cf. Joel’s commands in v.12). One might translate v.13 as, “Rend your heart and not merely your garments.” Nonetheless, the negation וְאַל־בִּגְדֵיכֶ֔ם enlightens what Joel intended by וְקִרְע֤וּ לְבַבְכֶם֙—“Ritual repentance, however fervently carried out, is of no use if the heart is unchanged” (Garrett, 346). Joel was reacting against the dangers of vain ritualism—providing a false sense of security to the spiritually dulled worshipper—seen throughout the Old Testament as a besetting problem for Israel (Isa 1:11-15; 29:13; 58:1-9; Jer 4:4; Am 5:21-24; a rebuke picked up by Christ as well Mt 23; Mk 7:6-7). Although “Yahweh’s appeal had been for penitence within the cultic sphere, neither conscience nor cultic” are “sufficient without the other” (Allen, 79; cf. Ps 51:17)

In closing, Joel’s exhortation is predicated on (note the causal כִּי) the nature of YHWH as one who is merciful, gracious, and slow to anger (v.13; cf. Ex 34:6). Joel’s instruction is not deceitful, not a mere psychological remedy. Joel offers his audience the genuine solution to their position of wrath before YHWH—sincere repentance from the heart, a repentance symbolically presented in terms of the lamenting custom of tearing one’s garments.

J.D. Greear on “Leading My Kids to Jesus”

In light of J.D. Greear’s helpful description of Faith as a Posture (see this previous post), he says the following about leading young children to Christ.

As a father of four young children, I have often reflected on the best way to lead them to faith. I want their decision to follow Jesus to be significant, but I also don’t want them to go through what I went through [continual doubt about salvation]. I know that when you present kids with a “Don’t you want to be a good girl and accept Jesus and not go to a fiery hell?” of course they say, “Yes.” “Praying the prayer” in such a situation may have little do with actual faith in Christ and have more to do with making Daddy happy.

For that reason, many parents don’t want to push their child to make a decision for Christ. What if we coerce them into praying a prayer they don’t understand, and that keeps them from really dealing with the issues later when they really understand it? Might having them pray the prayer too early on inoculate them from really coming to Jesus later, giving them false assurance that keeps them from dealing with their need to be saved?

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Faith is a Posture

Evangelical shorthand for the gospel is to “ask Jesus into your heart,” or “accept Jesus as Lord and Savior,” or “give your heart to Jesus.” [pg.7]

“Praying the sinner’s prayer” has become something like a Protestant ritual we have people go through to gain entry into heaven. [pg.9]

I have begun to wonder if both problems, needless doubting and false assurance, are exacerbated by the clichéd ways in which we (as evangelicals) speak about the gospel. [pg.7]

Placing an overemphasis on phrases like “ask Jesus into your heart” gives assurance to some who shouldn’t have it and keeps it from some who should. [pg.8]

The biblical summation of a saving response toward Christ is “repentance” and “belief” in the gospel. [pg.7]

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David Wells on “The Life of Convertedness”

David Wells wrote a book on conversion called Turning to God: Reclaiming Christian Conversion as Unique, Necessary, and Supernatural.

He describes conversion with this statement:

Christianity without conversion is no loner Christian, because conversion means turning to God. It involves forsaking sin, with its self-deifying attitudes and self-serving conduct, and turning to Christ, whose death on the cross is the basis for God’s offer of mercy and forgiveness. Jesus was judged in our place so that God could extend his righteousness to us. Conversion occurs when we turn from our waywardness and accept Christ’s death on our behalf.[1]

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