He Came to His Senses
(Message on Repentance)
Luke 15: 11-31 is a parable that explains the unraveling of a family and its restoration. The younger son asked for his inheritance even before the father dies. Asking for the inheritance was a callous thing to do; it is as if he wishes his father dead. All he cared about was the money and how he can spend. Not only does he reject his loving father, he rejects his nation. He goes off to a distance country, perhaps some place like Las Vegas to enjoy his new freedom. He also rejects his faith and all his father taught him and dives head first to satisfy his immoral desires.
The rest of the parable is the restoration of the family. What is the catalyst for this restoration? It is repentance. In the first two parables, we learn there is no greater joy in heaven than one person who truly repents (15:7,10). The word repentance is not in this last parable, but the youngest son who goes back to the father is an example of repentance. From this passage, let us learn the importance and the anatomy of repentance. The key of doing it and how it affects the community.
First, Repentance is a lifestyle.
Repentance is from the Greek word "Metanoia" which means; a change of mind and heart or change of consciousness. Basically, it means to sees the world, life as God sees it. There are many misconceptions about repentance. Just hearing it makes a person feel burdened. Some think it is violation of human rights. They live motto based on Billy Joel’s song, “Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone.” Modern psychology even thinks it is unhealthy to suppress sinful desires.
What does the Bible say about repentance? The Bible clearly defines that there are two ways to repent and two completely different results. St. Paul said in 2 Cor 7:10 says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
What Paul is trying to say here is that, there is a kind of repentance called "godly grief" that leads to acknowledgement of sin, a confession of guilt that leads to salvation and life. It leaves no regret, no lost of confidence and no gnawing yourself in the dark for years. However, there is a kind of repentance called "worldly grief" that leads to devastation. It leads to persistent guilt, loss of power, lost of confidence and leads to death. And worse, it consumes us for years. We are plagued by events that happened many years ago! So we better get repentance right!
In Matthew's 3:2, Jesus says "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" What Jesus is trying to say here is that if you don't have a "change of heart or mind," I have nothing to give you. I can't give this spiritual power, wisdom and strength. You can't even begin to enter the realm of the spiritual world. Acts 3:19 says of repentance it is a “times of refreshing.” Repentance makes us much happier, less stressful, more forgiving, more like Jesus. People who don’t practice repentance tend to shift blame, argue, lie or evade the issue when they are wrong. However, repentant sinners are ready to admit they are wrong and to make right with others. A person who constantly repents is transparent. They are free from pretense and evasion. They are free from the need to win every argument, free from cursing someone who cuts you off the road, free from making themselves look good. The simple reason for their peace is the kingdom of heaven is in their hearts. Martin Luther said "the whole life of believers should be repentance." It should applied 24 x 7, 365 days a year. Repentance is lifestyle. Repentance is the key to everything. Repentance is the key to joy. Repentance is the key to healing, restoration for ourselves, others and our community.
Second, Repentance helps us overcome sin
According to verse 17, "he came to his senses." we live in a technological age. We want a set of instructions or steps to operate our HDTV or computers. But life is not so simple. Sometimes life doesn’t make sense, sometimes we don’t make sense. We make many bad decisions in life. At the beginning of this parable, the youngest son has no sense. He feels choked by his father and irritation by his self-righteous older brother. He is deceived by his sins of selfishness, lust and pride. Soon his sins disguised themselves as freedom and entitlement. He says to himself, "I'm not selfish. My father is selfish, he doesn't want me to be free. I deserve to be happy!" The sins and shortcomings that create the most problems for you are all by the definition, the ones you can't see. This is the reason why King David said in Psalm 19:12 "Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults." The most harmful flaws is the ones you don't see. Apostle Peter, denied that he was not fearful and was willing to die for Jesus. When the time came to prove himself, he failed to see his hidden sin of fear and self-preservation. Tim Keller said, "The human heart runs on denial as our cars run on gas."
Repentance is not something you decide to do, it comes to you and you have to respond to it. God in his infinite wisdom puts certain events and circumstances that help us to realize our hidden sin. These events and circumstances can come in the form of failures, difficult people to bear, huge financial lost, even success of others, etc. This is exactly what happened to the youngest son, he experienced pain, rejection, humiliation and poverty. When he saw the pigs in the mud were much happier than him, he began to cry and realize how foolishly he was deceived by sin (16). We can say that this is the best thing that happened to him. For without these events, he could not have realized his father’s love. What does the son do next? The younger son responds by “coming to his senses” and with God’s help goes back to the father (18). Liberating repentance always happens in response to life circumstances. What happened if he didn’t respond? He would have died of starvation in the pig pen. What happens if we don't respond? Then you become like a dog returning to its vomit (Prov.26:11). One person I knew was just like the youngest son. He also received inheritance money after his mother’s death. Soon one girl took notice. She did not fall in love with him, but his inheritance money. So when his money ran out, she dumped him. This was God’s wake up call for him to repent of his false worship. Instead, he fell into “worldly sorrow” because he was dumped. Soon he returned to his vomit, he fell into another immoral relationship. The vicious cycle continues in his life. It is a great danger not to respond to life opportunities of repentance. At this moment in your life, is God saying something to you? Let us respond in repentance.
Third, Repentance is vertical and horizontal
Look at verse 18b, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” The youngest son realizes he sinned against heaven and against his father. Here we learn repentance is vertical and horizontal. It is in the right order. Wait a minute! Didn't he hurt his father, elder brother, servants? But when he came to his senses, he realized he sinned against God, first and foremost. In Psalm 51, David confesses his sin. David stole one of his most loyal general's wife and committed adultery. In order to cover his sin, he had her husband Uriah killed. When he starts his confession, he doesn't say "I have sinned against Uriah." No, he says Psalm 51:4 "Against you, you only, have I sinned." Biblical and life-changing repentance is the acknowledgment that sin is committed primarily against the goodness and greatness of God.
Stephen Charnock, the great puritan said "A legalistic conviction of sin arises from a consideration of God's justice. Gospel conviction of sin and repentance arises from God's goodness." This makes all the difference in the world! Consideration of God's justice means, "Oh no! I better repent because God will bring out his big stick! I am going to suffer!" He is only concern about himself! According to Charnock, the other approach is repentance that arises from God's goodness. The youngest son felt great agony because he broke his father's heart by his cruel words and blatant actions. I can understand Charnock’s quote from my life experience. When first entered UIC, I did not do very well. I joined a rock band, two fraternities and did not study. I was always feared of my father’s justice when my grades came in the mail. His loud voice and his belt made me shudder. My motivation to be a better student was fear of my father. I was burdened to study. But what made me change my ways was when I realize, I abused the goodness of my parents. My parents worked hard to pay for my education. My mother had even had to take a factory job to pay for my tuition. I also realized I grieved God by abusing my mind and body with vile things. When I realize I took for granted the goodness of God as well as my parents, I could work hard as a student and son with joy and thankfulness.
In the same way, godly repentance sees God as a good and faithful friend we have betrayed. It is realizing we have broken God's heart after all he has done for us. Real repentance is to see our sin is against the goodness of God. As a result, it helps you hate the sin and it help you hate the thing you did. Looking at breaking God's heart changes your life.
When we repent vertically, we can repent horizontally. This means we are ready to restore broken relationship with others. The youngest son returns and makes no excuses, no blame shifting, he didn't say, “if it was not for my older brother, then I would not have left. “ Repentance enables you to see yourself in the mirror with no self-pity or excuses. When a friend of mine repented vertically before God, he also repented horizontally. He visited his ex-girlfriends and asked for their forgiveness because he used and abused them. In addition, he paid back the taxes he cheated.
Fourth, Repentance should be gospel-centered not religion-centered.
As he was heading home, the youngest son was rehearsing what he would say to his father. Look at verses 18,19, "I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants."' We can read this verse in two levels. At one level, we should try to make right with another person by making restitutions. That is fine. But if the father is God, how do you pay back your wrong? The son's approach towards God is the biggest mistake. Why? Because his repentance is religion centered.
Religion means you are accepted by the works you perform. It is an approach based on a good record or a report card. For example, I minister to people, I go to church every Sunday, I read 7 chapter of the bible everyday. This a straight ‘A’ Christian. Because of my good record, God should bless me. So what is the source of power for this believer? It is your good record! If that is the case, then repentance is a disaster! Why?
Repentance is a disaster because your source of power, confidence and self-image is your good record and not God! When that good record is somehow tarnished, you try to get it back by atoning of your sins. You try to beat yourself up to get your record straight. You live in pretense trying to hide that big“F” in your broken record. You try desperately to get that good record back. You never know when it’s enough. That is what the younger son thought he should do. He says, "I'm going to pay back the inheritance!! I am going to earn back my good record! I will atone for my own sin.” Religious repentance goes on and on. When do you stop beating yourself up? When do you stop condemning yourself? When do you stop living in pretense? Such repentance is joyless, burdensome and a disaster.
The other way of repentance is gospel-centered. It is not what you have done, but what the Father has done! Look at verse 20 “his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Fathers from the Middle East don’t run; boys, girls and women run; but not fathers. This meant he had to pull up his skirt to run. Also fathers expect unruly sons to come to them begging on their hands and knees for mercy in order to be restored. However, the father in this parable embraces him and kisses him. He wipes the dirty from his face with his tears. This is not all. The father gives him a robe to cover his nakedness. He puts a signet ring and sandals on his feet as a sign of forgiveness and acceptance as his son. He prepares an elegant feast to celebrate his return. The father refuses to let the son earn his way back! By sheer grace alone, he forgives and restores him as his son. It’s not our repentance that gets God’s love. But God’s love brings our repentance.
Gospel repentance reconnects you to God, to God’s power, to Jesus’ record, not your own failed record. Earning your way back through repentance is rejected. In this parable, it is God’s love that leads to repentance. Religious repentance source of power is our insecure record. Gospel repentance reconnect you to the true source of your power, source of your power is not your record, but God’s record! It is not what you have done, but what He had done! HE is Jesus. What did Jesus do? Jesus gets rejected, beaten and spit upon; we get a hug and a kiss. Jesus gets stripped naked, we get clothed with the best robe. Jesus gets crown of thorns, we get signet ring. Jesus gets bitter vinegar; we get a fattened calf and feast. God doesn’t answer Jesus’ cry, but God can answer us. When we consider the grace of our Lord Jesus, it totally changes how we live and act as Christians. We love others because he first loved us. We can work hard for his glory because he gave his life for us. At this moment, Let us examine our hearts. What is your source of power? It is your good record or what God has done for you? Do you feel joyless, lack passion and burdened as a Christian? It is an indication that your source of power is misplaced. May God help us to see what Jesus has done for us.
Finally, what kind of community would we be if all of life was repentance? Recently, one Chicago public school student was beaten up, simply because he did not belong a certain community. But when we have a community of repentant sinners, members will not consider themselves better than others. We will have brothers and sister who prayerfully helps us come to our senses. It will be a community of prodigal fathers, who are gentle, humble, patient, love you to the end. It is not based on their good record, but God’s record. May God bless our Westloop ministry be a community of repentant sinners. May we live lives of repentance so we may experience liberation and joy in our daily life. May God’s love bring you to repentance. May you live not based on your record, but on what God did for you.