I’m continuing our teaching series at theWELL tonight on Luke 15 – the story of the Prodigal God/Son(s). The series is called Losing My Religion and we are exploring the difference between Christianity/the God of the Bible and how ‘religions’ normally approach God. The deeper I explore this teaching of Jesus, the more the heart of the father is revealed to me. I’m really excited to share tonight.
Tonight we are going to discuss the topic of repentance. As I prepared for this message, I got to thinking that the word ‘repentance’ conjures up all sorts of emotions in us. Most of them are negative because in repentance we have to admit that we are wrong and need to turn. Martin Luther in his first of 95 thesis stated, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ… willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” That’s a pretty bold statement by Luther (surprising that he would make a bold statement). I mean, the whole life? The more I thought about this quote, the more the Holy Spirit convicted me that I have not spent enough time thinking about this subject, confessing, and repenting. And here’s the thing: it’s not just about the act of repenting, it’s where that repentance leads us.
In the story of the prodigal son we see that he takes his father’s money, goes to a far off country and spends it all, hires himself out to a citizen of that country, and then decides to go back to his father. I am reminded of Paul’s writing in 2 Corinthians 7:8-10 where he states,
8Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— 9yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
I think we see an example of worldly sorrow when the son hires himself out to a citizen of that country. He has lost all of his money, he’s upset, and he tries to make things work on his own. I think there are so many people who live in this place. They know there are in a bad spot, but they just keep digging deeper and deeper. And so, addictions rule us, anger pervades every fiber of our being, relationships fall apart one after another… etc. Paul says that there is a difference between worldly sorrow and Godly sorrow. Worldly sorrow brings death and Godly sorrow brings life.
Well, the son finally “comes to himself” and decides that he is going to walk home. This is the gift of repentance. See, repentance isn’t just about admitting our wrong, its about coming back into relationship with the father. It’s about deciding that we want to live life with him again. It’s about remembering that he has “food to spare.” The road home isn’t marked with persuasive speeches to the the father, in fact he stops the one in mid sentence that the son is going to deliver. It’s not marked by making a deal – the son tries that too! It’s marked by His (God’s) loving-kindness (Romans 2:4). It’s marked by His running. It’s marked by His welcome! Repentance leads us back into relationship with the living God and it is therefore one of the greatest gifts that we have been given. And, as Martin Luther said, it needs to mark the life of the believer.
When grace introduces us to repentance, the two of us become best friends. When anything else introduces us to repentance, it feels like the warden has come to lock us up. But when grace gets involved, the truths of repentance reveal a fabulous world of life-freeing beauty. – Bill Thrall