Repent!

From that time began Jesus to preach, and to say, “Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

“I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all in like manner perish” (Luke 13:3).

Repent!

This is the message of the New Testament, and as with many such messages, there is some confusion as to what it means. How do we “repent”? Of what do we “repent?” What happens when we “repent”?

The matter of repentance is somewhat complicated by language differences. In English, “to repent” involves expressing great sorrow for doing something. It is true that we are to show great sorrow for all of the sins that we have committed, and mourn for what our sin required– the death of Jesus (cf. Zechariah 12:10). Yet repentance requires much more.

The Greek word meaning “to repent” is metanoeo, and it fundamentally means “to change one’s mind” (Thayer’s). To repent, therefore, is really to change your mind.

This is why repentance is one of the fundamental elements of Christianity. We must indeed believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and be willing to confess that truth (Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9-10). Yet demons also believe, and shudder (James 2:19)! Belief alone cannot save (James 1:22-25, 2:24), for it does not lead to any form of reformation of person or character.

A lot of people want to put the emphasis on changed behaviors. Yes, it is true that Christians are to no longer engage in the works of the flesh, but should instead develop the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:17-24). But where do deeds come from? Jesus says that deeds come from the thoughts and intents of the heart (Mark 7:20-23). Solomon indicates that as a man thinks within himself, so he is (Proverbs 23:7).

A man cannot truly change until his mind changes. This is why God calls men everywhere to repent– they must change the way they think if they are going to change the way they act (Acts 17:30).

We should not need to justify this mandate to change our minds, for it should be evident that the natural ways of our thinking are flawed. We think we have a good handle on what we should do, yet we really do not (Jeremiah 10:23). When we live in the world and have no hope, we think in worldly ways and justify things that the world justifies (1 John 2:15-17). The end of this way of thinking is death (Romans 6:23)!

When we learn of Jesus Christ, we learn of a better way. We should now strive to have the “mind of Christ,” and try to understand all things spiritually (1 Corinthians 2:12-16). Jesus did all things according to the will of His Father (John 7:16-18, 28-29). While we will never be able to plumb the depths of God’s knowledge and insight (Isaiah 55:8-9), we can do the best we can to understand how God in Christ would have us think and act in any given circumstance. What would God think of what we are doing? What would God think about our thoughts? Would God have us do this or that?

Repentance, in short, is learning how to see ourselves, our fellow man, and the world in the way that God sees them. It is not limited to a momentary decision before one is baptized– it is a journey, something we must constantly do as we grow and develop in the faith. Without truly repenting, we will not discover eternal life. Let us repent of our sins, change our minds, and think and act in godly ways!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Repent!

The Prodigal Son

And he said, “A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father,
‘Father, give me the portion of thy substance that falleth to me.’
And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together and took his journey into a far country; and there he wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called your son: make me as one of thy hired servants.”‘
And he arose, and came to his father. But while he was yet afar off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
And the son said unto him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called thy son.’
But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring forth quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat, and make merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’
And they began to be merry (Luke 15:11-24).

He was a young man who was likely raised well and had a comfortable living. When he comes of age, it is time for him to get up and have a good time; he obtains his share of the inheritance, and goes off. He has a great time “living it up” in the world. That is, until the difficult days came.

The money ran out. A famine happened. Desperate times called for desperate measures. This Jew now stoops to the level of feeding unclean swine, yearning to be fed with the food he provides for them. In the Jewish mind, there was no further to fall.

He finally comes to his senses. Even if he humiliates himself and degrades himself before his father, and becomes a servant, he will at least have food. Humiliation with bread is better than pride with starvation! So off he goes, back to the house of his father. His father sees the change of heart in his son, and is willing to receive him back as a son!

This, the parable of the prodigal son, resonates with many people. In some sense or another, we have all played the part of the prodigal. We all have taken our share of the inheritance of our Father– the blessings of this world– and used them to satisfy our own desires and lusts, regardless of what God said. Things may seem great for awhile, perhaps even for many years. Blessings abound.

But then the difficult days come. Perhaps the money runs out, the spouse leaves us, a loved one dies, or some other disaster. Maybe our habits finally catch up with us. What are we going to do?

We could remain in our pride, refusing to admit error. We could stubbornly hold on to the ways that got us to where we are. But how well has that gone for us?

Perhaps we know that we should humble ourselves and return to our Father, but we fear that He will be harsh and cruel with us. We ought not to fear: God makes it clear that He will pardon us and redeem us (Romans 8:1-17).

We would do well to be like the prodigal son in this story: come to our senses, humble ourselves, and return to our heavenly Father as a servant, so that we can be adopted as sons (Romans 8:14-17). Humiliation with eternal life is far better than pride with eternal condemnation, no?

We all, at some point, are the prodigal son. Will we remain in our uncleanness, and never bother to consider our fate? Will we have that moment when we come to our senses and realize what we have done? And if we do, will we be willing to humble ourselves and turn to God? God stands willing to receive you again and forgive– but only if you will come!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Prodigal Son

Jesus, Sinners, and Pharisees

And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he entered into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. And behold, a woman who was in the city, a sinner; and when she knew that he was sitting at meat in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster cruse of ointment, and standing behind at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee that had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying,
“This man, if he were a prophet, would have perceived who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner.”
And Jesus answering said unto him, “Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee.”
And he saith, “Teacher, say on.”
“A certain lender had two debtors: the one owed five hundred shillings, and the other fifty. When they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him most?”
Simon answered and said, “He, I suppose, to whom he forgave the most.”
And he said unto him, “Thou hast rightly judged.”
And turning to the woman, he said unto Simon, “Seest thou this woman? I entered into thy house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath wetted my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. Thou gavest me no kiss: but she, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but she hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (Luke 7:36-47).

One of the difficulties with humanity involves perception. It is easy for people to look at a given person or circumstance through one particular set of lenses and to make confining judgments.

This story clearly illustrates this difficulty. Simon the Pharisee is not an evil man or an evil-willed man. We have no reason to doubt his sincerity and his passion for the Law of Moses. Nevertheless, he looks at both the woman and at Jesus through certain lenses, and does not consider any other alternatives.

The woman, according to Simon, is a sinner. To Simon, this makes her unclean, spiritually if not physically. On account of this “sin” condition of hers, she ought not even be present before himself and Jesus, at least in the eyes of Simon. It does not matter how she feels about her sin– she remains a sinner.

Likewise, if Jesus really was who He said He was, He would know these things. Simon is willing to doubt that Jesus is a prophet because He is not holding to Simon’s expectation of holiness: “surely” a prophet would withhold himself from such a sinner. He would have nothing to do with her!

It is easy to see how such narrow-mindedness leads to hardened hearts: Simon would not be alone in this. He has his own set of expectations based on his judgments. He may question other things, but those judgments are not as questioned.

Thankfully, Jesus breaks out from all such narrow-mindedness and myopia. Did Jesus know what type of woman this was? Most assuredly He did! But the woman was not some unrepentant sinner– she came and demonstrated her repentance by her actions. Jesus’ parable illustrates the reality of God’s Kingdom against the speculations of Simon: those who are forgiven more are more thankful. She loved more, therefore, her sins were forgiven!

It was a shocking statement in first century Judea indeed, but it was true– prostitutes and sinners would enter God’s Kingdom before the Law-loving Pharisees (cf. Matthew 21:31). At the close of this scene, the “sinner” woman, and not Simon the Pharisee, is forgiven, and reconciled to God.

We would do well to learn from this story and to maintain Jesus’ attitude. It may very well be that the “terrible sinners” enter the Kingdom before the “good, moral people.” The Kingdom might be full of people with whom we would not automatically choose associate. Let us not attempt to confine the work of God based upon our perspective. We might find ourselves in the wrong position before the Lord! Let us repent of our sin and mourn for it, and love the Lord Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus, Sinners, and Pharisees