What once brought us joy loses some shine after finding God's grace

by Kyle
published November 16, 2013


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There’s a funny little word in the New Testament. I don’t want to tell you it’s English translation yet, though, because its English counterpart is extremely unpopular and misunderstood. It only accounted for .00025 percent of the words in works published in 2007.

So are you ready for a little Greek lesson?

The word is metanoeo, pronounced “met-an-o-eh’-oh,” and is a compound word that combines the preposition “meta” with the verb “noeo.”

When Greek writers use “meta” as a prefix, especially in this case, it refers to what comes with or after a particular action. The root verb “noeo” means to perceive, observe, see or notice. Thus, when combined, the word describes what you do as a result of knowing something new. It is the act of changing your mind and proceeding in a different way as a result.

English translations of the Bible almost universally translate “metanoeo” as “repent.” Of the 26 times “repent” is used in the New Testament, Jesus urges people to repent 16 times. More clearly stated, Jesus frequently urges people to 1) truly change their minds about the nature of their own existence and about who God really is and 2) live it out.

Interestingly, Jesus’ brother James does not use the word “repent” once in his entire letter. James’ audience was a stressed, anxious, shallow, materialistic and dispersed church. In only 108 verses, James commits the believers under his care to 60 different ideal Christian behaviors, but not once uses the word “repent.” There was a lot of wrong thinking and a lot of wrong doing and James not once says “repent.”

But I think he describes the concept pretty well.

In James 4:1-10, James is probably harder on his congregation than in any other part of the letter. He describes quarrels and dissent within the church body. They are fighting and James even accuses them of murder.

I’m still uncertain whether James is talking about a literal murder, or if he is referring to his brother Jesus’ definition in Matthew 5:21-22 where he says, in part, “everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty (of murder).” Either way, things were bad.

James blames this on what members of the church wanted out of life in general. He accuses them of not only failing to depend on God for the things they want, but of being consumed by selfishness and material gain.

He makes the bold accusation that by the nature of the things they wanted and the reason they wanted those things, they had become allies with the world and were thus opposed to God.

James thus calls his church and us to, in not so many words, repent.

James 4:6 reminds us that “God is opposed to the proud” (read: people who act like they don’t need God and have a right to whatever they want) “but gives grace to the humble” (read: people who know they don’t have the strength to live life on their own and need God). James then calls each of us to “submit therefore to God (and) resist the devil” (James 4:7).

In other words, stop following the devil’s agenda and start cooperating with God’s plan for this world. Satan’s plan was made clear in the garden: become “like God” and take over as king (Genesis 3:5, see also Isaiah 14:13). God’s agenda, on the other hand, is for you to love Him and for Him to love you. Each program is voluntary, but you have to choose one or the other.

Because the position of “King of the Universe” was already taken, I personally chose the latter.

James again states the concept of repentance in James 4:9 when he says, “Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.”

He is not saying that the Christian life should be miserable. James is saying that, having changed your mind about what you want out of life and what you are going to pursue, the old things we used to love and chase after — the things that used to bring us the most joy — should lose their appeal. It’s what Paul talks about when he says, “I count all things to be loss compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8).

When you find and love and walk with Christ, shiny things lose their luster.

That’s how the alcoholic more than gets sober, but stops being an alcoholic. That’s how the grieving find more than hope, but joy. That’s how the insufferable, neurotic, angry, caustic jerk more than learns how to hold his tongue, but learns how to actually love people and smile. (That last one was me.)

James begins Chapter 4 with the observation that his readers are not getting what they want out of life. He shows them that what they want is actually hostile to God’s purpose life, noting that “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). Verses 5-9 describe what God wants us to want out of life and how to get there. The result of all this is in James 4:10: “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”

The path to fulfillment and joy in life does not have a direct route.

The word “exalt” describes being raised to the very pinnacle of honor and happiness — the best you can be.

According to the Bible, finding the best God intends for your life does not involve your money or your work or your ambition. None of those things will even help you. Nothing you actually do will ever get you there.

What it takes is changing your mind about your ability to do it by yourself and God’s ability to do it in you. It takes giving up pride and accepting humility. It takes changing your trust from your own strength and wit to Christ’s death and resurrection.

It takes you deciding to repent.

What do you think?

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