“Turn” or “Return”?
Seeing man’s situation
from God’s standpoint
may help us to share
the gospel more boldly
The Greek word for “turn around” in the New Testament, epistrephō, also means “return.” So when Jesus “turned around” (Mark 5:30) to see who had touched Him, it is the same Greek word as when Joseph and Mary “returned” to Galilee (Luke 2:39).
This same word is often used to speak of sinners turning to the Lord. For example, Paul said that after the Lord commissioned him, he
…“declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.”
— Acts 26:20; cf. Acts 3:19,9:35,14:15, 26:18, etc.
According to the Greek, then, the verse above could also be translated to say that Paul was urging sinners to repent and return to God; and so with the other New Testament verses along this line. So, which way is correct?
Actually, both are, from different standpoints. And we should appreciate both.
When we look at it from the human standpoint, we speak of sinners “turning” to God. Here is a man who was born in sin, and who has lived in sin his entire life; now we are calling him through the gospel to repent and turn from his life of sin to know Christ as his Savior.
However, when we look at it from the divine standpoint, we don’t see merely a fallen sinner. Rather, we see one who in Adam was created in a perfect, sinless way, and who, as represented in his father, Adam, for a time even had fellowship with God. Eventually, however, this one was captured away from God to follow Satan, and has been living in sin and vanity ever since. Now, through the gospel, we are calling him to return to his true father, God, to fulfill the purpose for which he was created.
And that is why we could also translate the verse above to say that Paul was calling men to “repent and return to God.”
Typically, we see man’s situation only from the human standpoint, and so consider the lost as those who have always been sinners. While that is true, when we look at it from the divine standpoint, we will see that we are not only calling people to repent; rather, by our gospel we are calling them back to their original standing and purpose as human beings, what they were actually created for.
Taking this view will help us to appreciate in a deeper way that to be lost in sin is not the normal condition of man, and that Satan, though indeed “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4) is not his rightful sovereign. And that in turn may help us to present the gospel message more boldly, “holding forth the word of life,” as Paul says, “in the midst of a crooked and perverted generation” (Phil. 2:15-16).
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— 15 July 2023 —