For many people, the word “repent” carries religious overtones. It means you’d better be sorry. You’d better change. It involves an element of fear, of eternal condemnation and separation. No doubt there are many people who have responded to a Jesus loves me but I better repent and believe message. Frankly many years ago, I was quite moved by a “sharing and scaring,” a “choose or lose” sermon.
Yet many others scoff at the notion that a God of love is going to burn them forever if they don’t follow the preachers instructions and publicly recite a “Sinner’s Prayer.” This so-called prayer is preceded by a feeling of conviction over wrongdoing and then an admission that you are a sinner who is separated from God. After establishing that fact, you proclaim that Jesus is the Savior and invite Him to come into your life.
Is this what repentance is? Does the act of reciting a Sinner’s Prayer actually save me from a godless eternity, or is it possible that Jesus had already saved me solely because of what He did and not what I subsequently was compelled to or cajoled to do?
Let’s consider the parable called The Lost Sheep. It includes the word repent, but so much more;
Luke 15:1-7 – Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man (Jesus) receives sinners and eats with them.” So He told them this parable, saying, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
Our English word for repent comes from the Greek word metanoia. It means to “change one’s mind, to think differently.” Being sorrowful for sins is not a bad thing, it just not a required thing. I don’t believe that a drowning person as a requirement needs to request or grant permission to be saved by a lifeguard.
Here’s what I see in the all-important Parable of the Lost Sheep:
- Religious people (Pharisees and scribes) were irritated that Jesus fellowshipped with people whom they defined as sinners. Many, I repeat MANY of the parables, including this one, were squarely directed at showing these arrogant so-called leaders that they had it all wrong.
- The Shepherd already owned the sheep. The sheep did nothing to become his property. They just were.
- One of the sheep wanders off and became lost. The Shepherd assumes responsibility and searches for it.
- When he finds the lost sheep he does not discipline it. He picks it up, places it on his shoulders and he rejoices!
- When he comes home, he implores his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him.
- The parable closes by stating that there will be more joy in heaven when a sinner repents than over 99 people who do not need to repent.
- The entire parable shows that it was completely the actions of the shepherd that resulted in the sheep getting ‘saved.”
- Thus I view “salvation” as something that I, like a helpless sheep or a drowning person, do nothing to effectuate. After the fact, can I / should I rejoice? Absolutely! I personally am grateful that Jesus, as a Good Shepherd, saved me. Saved all of His creation for that matter and then revealed to me what He already did. No prayer that I have ever prayed or will pray made this salvation effective. God didn’t need my help nor did He consult me. The fact that I am now grateful is a bonus.
In closing, I believe that heaven rejoices when the Good Shepherd seeks and saves the lost (Luke 19:10) because they already belong to Him (Ezekiel 18:4) and repenting involves realizing, changing our thinking, and understanding who He is and what He has already done. “He is the propitiation (the atonement, the payment) for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
The Gospel is good news…for all! I don’t make this good news happen by doing something, such as reciting a Sinner’s Prayer. Rather, my repentance is to change my thinking, to realize that it already happened, that I was already rescued. Frankly, this causes great joy, thanksgiving and gratitude to dwell up within me. Apparently Heaven feels the same, for this was and is, the Savor’s Plan.