the name of my son’s new residence at Stellenbosch University! The word caught my eye beside the other Afrikaans names. Ever curious, I googled metanoia and was bowled over by what I discovered. In classical Greek, meta means movement or change, also implying something beyond ourselves. The suffix noeo refers to the mind: its thoughts, perceptions, inclinations, motives and goals. So Metanoia is a complete overhaul of the mind— a new internal allegiance which radically changes the identity and trajectory of a person’s life. Metanoia is what happens when a train switches tracks and goes full steam ahead in an entirely different direction, generated by a new engine and directed by a new train driver.
It is difficult to find an English word to fully convey metanoia, but it is translated in the Bible as “repentance.” To repent encompasses much more than mere regret or remorse for sin, a few tweaks, new habits or surrender of negative energy. Nor is it like our new year’s resolutions which don’t last beyond January. Instead, repentance is a supernatural, Holy Spirit-driven process that is radical, ruthless and relentless. Metanoia is the only root of lasting change, and it will bear the fruit of life and peace in even the most shattered lives (Rom 8:6).
Metanoia stands on four legs: a)a complete surrender of ourselves, b)turning to God, c)laying aside of the old, and d)putting on the new (John Calvin).
“Christ says, “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good…Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked–the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.” (Mere Christianity)
Metanoia lies at the heart of our text today, extracted from Peter’s first sermon to Jews in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost.
Acts 2:22-41: 22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[a] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.25 David said about him:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’[b]
29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”’
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “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. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Cut to the heart
Three thousand of Peter’s listeners were pierced by the sword of God’s Spirit that day! (Acts 2:37) Their sliced hearts are proof that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged-sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”(Heb 4:12).
As Peter cites Old Testament Scriptures (Ps 16; 110), it dawns on his Jewish hearers that they have killed Jesus “whom God made Lord and Christ.” The Holy Spirit gives them 3-D glasses to see the screen of their hearts clearly and it’s not a pretty picture. Their rejection and violation of God’s chosen Messiah… Their offence and defiance against Yahweh himself… Their utter contempt for His love. As Jews, they knew God’s anger was rightly on them and they desperately needed forgiveness. The Holy Spirit pressed familiar prophecies against their hearts to convict them: “To him (Jesus), all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)
Now, let’s turn to Peter the preacher. He is saturated with the Holy Spirit as he speaks. Scripture drips from his lips. This uneducated fisherman is confidently delivering his debut sermon to thousands of Jews, many of whom were probably scholars (Acts 2:14). Yet he is not the least bit intimidated nor diplomatic. How did such power come from the same quivering man who, just fifty days earlier, thrice denied knowing Jesus and then abandoned Him, crushed by his own cowardly betrayal? Peter’s confidence is living proof of his own metanoia and the Spirit of God in him. When 3000 desperate Jews cry out, “What shall we do to be saved?” Peter speaks from personal conviction as a fellow traitor of Jesus. He prescribes the one and only remedy —Metanoia!
Repentance guarantees not only that God will wipe out their sins, but will also make his home in their hearts by his Spirit. What a relief for us to hear Peter’s next words: “The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39). The offer is not just for believing Jews and their children, but also for Gentiles who stand outside the privileges of the Old Testament covenant! Most of us are the ‘far-off ones’ and the offer is for each one of us who answers the Lord’s call.
The power of conviction
Like his listeners, Peter had been cut to the heart by his own betrayal of Jesus. It was the lowest point for the zealous man who had been first to follow Jesus (Mark 1:16) and confess Him as Saviour and Lord (Matt 16:16, 17). But Peter had repented and been restored by His beloved, risen Jesus (John 21:15-17), then taught by Him for 50 precious days thereafter. Peter preaches with the conviction of one called to feed and take care of his master’s sheep (John 21:16). Fearlessly he obeys God’s call “to preach and testify that Jesus is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). He fears the judgment of God more than man’s approval as he calls them to save themselves from their generation, crooked with sin (Acts 2:40). He could be speaking to us today and our own generation. He looks not to his audience, but to the risen and ascended King to empower his life of obedience (Acts 2:31-32).
Peter’s sermon displays the extraordinary power of metanoia in a person’s life. His urgent tone reminds me of the words of another apostle called by the risen Jesus, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16, Paul.)
Radical, relentless, and ruthless repentance always bears powerful fruit: supernatural peace, power and purpose start to characterise the lives of those who allow themselves to be shaped by it. I have seen it personally in Christians who have truly come to the end of themselves and fallen at Jesus’ feet in desperation. Their personal conviction is deeply compelling.
“But I haven’t denied or rejected Jesus!” you may be protesting. “And I certainly haven’t killed anyone.” Nor had Peter’s Jewish listeners physically nailed Jesus to the cross. Yet, Jesus’ demand to repent is for the Jew and all the nations alike. That means us too! And it’s not just for unbelievers.
If we haven’t ever been cut to the heart as Peter’s listeners were, we must ask ourselves what Jesus asks us: Do you always worship, serve and live for God alone (Matt 4:10)? Have you ever accepted and loved the worship of others (Acts 12:23)? Have you ever been embarrassed to speak up for Jesus to cynical friends (Luke 12:9)? Have you always put your neighbour first and never hated anyone (Matt 5:21; 22)? Have you obeyed God’s top ten rules? Are you holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16)? Are you never arrogant (Phil 2:3)? Does your life give glory and thanks to God rather than yourself?
We are all traitors of Jesus. Jesus has not come to call the righteous (in their own eyes), but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32).
Personally, the more I know the holiness of God, the more I see how my pride offends his majesty (Prov 16:5). The more I experience the goodness of God, the more I see how his grace trumps his justice (James 2:13).
If you are battling to see the need for metanoia in your own life, this is the opportune moment to ask God for the gift of repentance and His Spirit to show you the true condition of your heart. Do not ignore the fleeting moment of the Spirit’s conviction.
Kairos and the call of the Spirit
Just one last word on metanoia! In Greek mythology, Metanoia was a shadowy goddess who accompanied Kairos, the god of the “fleeting moment” that determines a man’s fate. In his statue, Kairos is bald with a lock of hair on his forehead and wears no clothes. He is running, balancing on a razer blade. Kairos is a symbol of opportunity: If you grasp Kairos from the tuft in front, you can hold him, but once he moves on, no one can pull him back. According to ancient Greeks, the fleeting moment must be grasped. Otherwise the opportunity is gone and cannot be re-captured! Kairos is the brief moment in time, the favourable moment when great things are possible (Aesop fable 536).
My beloved readers, if you feel the Holy Spirit cutting your heart like a razor blade, it is a fleeting opportunity, a favourable moment for metanoia– a Kairos moment. Conviction is a precious gift from God and a great loss if you ignore it, leading to a hard heart or seared conscience over time. Each year, day, moment or crisis appears only once in a lifetime. Metanoia is not a once-off emotional experience when we are first saved. Metanoia is what we do each time the Spirit of God calls our name. That’s why we read the Bible, pray and meet with Christians. We want to be cut to the heart by the Spirit’s conviction! We don’t want to be numb or dumb or left alone in our blindness! Sometimes the call of the Spirit may pierce you with anguish, deep shame or regret. Sometimes his call woos you with a great longing, emptiness or urge to follow him in a more costly way than ever before. Sometimes the Spirit convicts us in moments of pain and brokenness. Don’t ignore or distract yourself from these calls! Each time the Spirit of God touches your heart, it is a unique, God-given opportunity for metanoia. Jesus is calling you to switch tracks and drive full steam towards himself.
Join us next week as we walk through the gateway of repentance to the lifelong journey of sanctification.
Pray the words of Psalm 85 as your own.
CS Lewis: “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor- that is the only way out of a “hole”. This process of surrender—the movement full speed astern—is repentance.”