Full text of Bible teacher Derek Prince’s teaching on ‘Repentance’. In this Bible study, Derek teaches beautifully on what is repentance and why all need to repent, based on Scriptures.
Listen to the MP3 Audio Full version here:
Derek Prince – Bible teacher
This week I’ll be talking to you about one specific form of spiritual experience, which is a must in the life of every one of us…. a must that is, if we’re ever to know true and lasting peace of mind and to lead the kind of life that God intends for each one of us. It’s an experience which we cannot get around, and for which there is no substitute.
And yet, for all that, it’s an experience which is not understood by most people today and which is seldom explained by most preachers.
If I were to offer you several guesses as to the form of spiritual experience I have in mind, I doubt whether many of you would come up with the right answer.
It’s summed up in one powerful scriptural word: Repentance. So that’s going to be our theme today and through this week: the theme of repentance.
WHAT IS REPENTANCE? What Did Jesus Teach About Repentance?
No one in Scripture ever placed a greater emphasis on the need for repentance than Jesus Himself. Listen for instance to what He says in Luke Chapter 13 verses one through five.
Luke 13:1-5: ‘Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’
The people here speaking to Jesus were describing incidents that were apparently fresh in everybody’s mind at that time of dramatic disasters that had come to two groups of people. The first was a group of Galileans about whom the record says that Pilate had mingled their blood with their sacrifices. I don’t believe we have any further details available. But apparently these people were engaged in a religious act of sacrifice, and for some reason, Pilate, the Roman governor, had them executed while they were actually sacrificing, so that their own blood was mingled with the blood of the animals that they’d offered in sacrifice.
This must have appeared a very terrible form of death to the people of the time to be actually engaged in a religious act of sacrifice and to be executed while performing it.
And so the people that were talking to Jesus, asked Him, ‘had these Galileans done something especially bad that this special disaster came upon them? And Jesus answered no, not necessarily.
And then He turned the question around, and said to the people who asked Him, ‘but unless you repent, you too will perish.’
And then the second incident was apparently a disaster in which a tower in Siloam had fallen on a number of people and killed them. Siloam is just south-east from the old city of Jerusalem as we know it today.
But the point is that, though, these two groups of people had suffered especially dramatic deaths which could be viewed as some kind of special judgment of God or a fate upon them, Jesus says don’t imagine that your case is any different from theirs in essence. They perished, because they had not repented, and if you don’t repent, you too will perish.
It may not be that you’ll have some dramatic death, you may simply die a lingering disease, or you may be snuffed out in a moment. That’s not the point.
The point is: there’s one essential requirement which alone can keep us from what Jesus calls ‘perishing’, and that requirement is repenting. And that applies to everybody, no matter what kind of death they may experience.
So in a sense you could sum up that teaching of Jesus there a very dramatic phrase: ‘repent or perish’. And I believe that’s exactly what the Bible teaches: ‘repent or perish’.
Then Jesus continues in that chapter, in the next few verses with a parable, which is obviously related to this theme of repentance.
Luke 13:6-9: Then He told this parable: A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’
See, that’s the basic principle: ‘if it bears fruit let it live; if it doesn’t bear fruit, cut it down.’ That’s God’s attitude and relationship to the life of every one of us. God expects good fruit from our lives. And if that good fruit is not found, then God’s judgment is: cut it down; why should it use up the soil, make room for something more productive in its place.
So in the parable, the phrase ‘digging around it and fertilizing’ is a dramatic way of representing God’s last urgent call to repentance. And if we do not respond to this call, then we must suffer the same fate as the fig tree.
And it could well be that as you hear these words, your life is in that very phase right now where God says ‘dig it around and fertilize it, and we give it one more year. And if at the end of that year there’s no fruit, cut it down.’ Repent or perish; let me burn those words on your mind.
Compare the message of Jesus forerunner, John the Baptist, Matthew 3:1-2: In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Then a little further on the same chapter, Matthew 3:5-10: People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’ (NIV)
The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
What a dramatic statement! The ax is already laid to the root of the tree. The only way to escape the ax is to bring forth good fruit. Every tree that does not bring forth good fruit will be hewn down, cast into the fire.
The message of John was repentance. The Pharisees and the Sadducees who were very religious came to him, but John said in effect, ‘you haven’t repented; there’s no fruit in your life to indicate repentance. Don’t ask me to baptize you. I demand the fruit.’
And John was God’s representative demanding fruit, not leaves. See, religion often produces a lot of leaves, but God says ‘I want fruit; I want real righteousness, real love, real honesty, real sincerity, real faith, toward Me, real commitment of your life, your time, your money. Don’t just offer Me religious leaves, I’m not interested in those. It’s fruit I’m looking for, and every tree that doesn’t bring forth good fruit is going to be cut down and cast into the fire.’
The message: repent or perish.
Repentance then is something we cannot get around; it’s something required of every one of us. If it’s so important, so vital to our well-being and our eternal future, we need to know what repentance really is. What does God really require of us? So I’m going to close this talk today by briefly defining for you repentance.
The first thing you need to understand is: repentance is not an emotion, but it’s a decision of the will followed by appropriate action. So many people think they have to feel something in order to repent. Many times feeling goes with repentance. But unfortunately many times feeling also goes without repentance. And feeling without repentance is not acceptable.
Repentance is a decision of the will; it begins in the will, not in the emotions. So much of contemporary religion is emotion centered and bypasses the will and the result is that we do not have the fruit that God requires in our lives.
There are two words in the Bible basically used for repent, one in the Greek of the New Testament, one in the Hebrew, the Old Testament. It’s interesting to look at the meaning of each of these words.
The word that’s used in the Greek means: literally to change your mind. It’s a common word in the Greek language which is used by that meaning thousands of times in secular Greek literature. So repentance is changing your mind. You’ve been living one way, now you change your mind, and you determine you’re going to live another way; it’s a change of your whole intention, your purpose of life.
The Hebrew word in the Old Testament means to turn or to turn back. I think that’s very significant, the difference between Greek and Hebrew. Greek focuses on the inner experience; Hebrew focuses on the outer action.
So you change your mind about the way you’ve been living, and as a result of changing your mind, you turn around and start to live a different way.
So repentance is a decision of the will; you change your mind; you turn around; you start to live a different way.
WHY ALL NEED TO REPENT
In yesterday’s talk I also defined the nature of repentance. I said in essence repentance is not an emotion, but a decision of the will followed by appropriate action.
And I explained the meaning of the two basic words used in the original texts of Scripture: the Greek word in the New Testament; the Hebrew word in the Old.
The Greek word means in secular language to change your mind. The Hebrew means to turn around. Put them together and you get a good picture of what repentance really is.
First of all, it’s an inner decision of your will; you change your mind. You’ve been living one way; you’re going to start living another way. But that decision has to be followed by appropriate action to constitute true repentance.
So having changed your mind, you then visibly turn around your lifestyle changes. Put the Hebrew and the Greek together, and you get a very clear and vivid picture of what true repentance is.
And I would have to observe that I believe there are millions of contemporary Christians who have little or no understanding of what true repentance is.
Today I’m going to explain why we all need to repent. There is one basic problem in the life of each one of us, a problem to which none of us can claim to be exempt. It’s stated in Isaiah 53 verse 6.
Isaiah 53:6: All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, every one, to his own way. And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
That word translated ‘iniquity’ has in it the significance of rebellion. So that’s the universal problem of the human race: ‘we have all gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way.’ And turning to our own way is described by the word ‘iniquity’ or ‘rebellion’. It’s not something trifling or insignificant; it’s not something about which we may decide whether we will change or not. It’s iniquity; it’s rebellion; it’s turning our own way.
That’s the universal guilt of the human race.
There are many specific sins that some of us have not committed; some have never committed murder; some have never committed adultery. Some maybe have never got drunk. There may be a few who’ve never told lies.
But there’s one thing we’ve all done: we’ve all turned to our own way. And that’s why we all need to repent. That’s why God’s requirement of repentance is absolutely universal, and there are no exceptions to it.
It’s important to understand that our way is not God’s way; it never is. God’s very clear about this.
A little further on in Isaiah 55 verses 6 to 8. This is what God says.
Isaiah 55: 6-8: ‘Seek the LORD while He may be found. Call on Him while He is near.’
And there’s a sense of urgency in those words; you won’t always have the opportunity, take it while you have it.
Isaiah 55:7-8: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will freely pardon. ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways’, declares the LORD.
So that’s a clear statement: our ways are not God’s ways. When we turn to our own way, we have turned from God’s way. We cannot be walking our own way and God’s way at the same time.
So in order to get into God’s way we have to stop walking our own way. Turn around, face up to God and take a new way. That’s repentance.
Repentance there in Isaiah 55 is described as forsaking our way and our thoughts. Notice it’s both the outward and the inner. The inner is our thoughts. The outward is our ways. And again this exactly corresponds with our definition of repentance: it’s an inner change of the mind and the will, followed by a change of outward behavior and action.
One problem that many of us have is that sometimes our way can be a very religious way. And so we often find that religious people don’t think they need to repent.
There’s a verse about this in Proverbs 14 verse 12.
Proverbs 14:12: There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.
See, the Proverb is not talking about a man who knows he’s walking the wrong way, but a man who really thinks he’s walking the right way but in actual fact it’s a way that ends in death. Why? Because it hasn’t been entered into through repentance.
And you remember what Jesus said repent or perish. This is the kind of man who’s religious, maybe self-righteous, maybe he goes to church, maybe he keeps the golden rule, maybe he thinks that in every respect he’s just what he ought to be. He’s walking in a way that seems right to him but the end thereof is the way of death.
You see, religious people are God’s biggest problem. You study the whole Bible, you’ll find God always had more problems with religious people than with plain ordinary unreligious sinners.
So you who are listening, you might be very religious, very self-righteous, a member of a church, walking in a way that seems right to you, but I want to warn you that if you’ve never repented, if you’ve never experienced that total change around, the end of the way you’re walking is death.
I’ve explained that repentance is an inner change that must be expressed in outward action. In the New Testament, there’s one specific outward act which is directly and primarily associated with repentance. And that act is the act of being baptized.
This began with the ministry of John the Baptist who came with the message of repentance and the primary outward act he required from all who responded to his message was that they be baptized. This is stated in Mark 1 verses four through five.
Mark 1:4-5: And so John came baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
Notice: John said repent, and if you’ve repented, then this is the first thing you must do is to be baptized. This is the outward evidence that you’ve come to the end of your own way of life, and as you pass through the water, you’re passing out of that old way, and into a new way which is God’s way and not your way.
And John absolutely required everyone who repented to be baptized.
Now the same applies to the full message of the Christian gospel, which is presented later in the New Testament. For instance, in Acts chapter 2 verses 37 and 38, this is what Peter told the convicted but unconverted multitude that responded to God’s supernatural intervention by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
After preaching a message to them about Jesus, this is what followed:
Acts 2: 37: When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
I’ve often commented that it takes God a long while to get people to the place where they want to know what He wants them to do, but it takes Him very little time to tell them what He wants. And the answer comes pat straight out, clear expressive in the very next verse,
Acts 2: 38: Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
What’s God’s primary requirement? Repent, and then what? Be baptized — the outward evidence of the inner change.
In addition to this outward act of baptism, there are certain specific kinds of action that are appropriate to certain kinds of people.
Let’s see what John the Baptist had to say to various groups of people in Luke chapter 3 verses 10 through 14.
Luke 3:10-14: “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same. Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?“
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.” (NIV 1984 Edition)
You see, in addition to the universal requirement of baptism, there were specific acts that indicated repentance for specific kinds of people. For instance, the man with two tunics had to give away one to somebody who didn’t have any. The tax collector had to be just and fair; the soldier had to avoid using violence and oppressing people.
So the primary expression of repentance is baptism. And then in the lives of each one of us there are certain areas that God focuses on in which He requires us to change specifically the way we’ve been doing things. So just let God speak to you what does He specifically require you to change in your life.
REPENTANCE MUST PRECEDE FAITH
In my previous talks this week, I’ve given a simple Scriptural definition of repentance. I’ve said that repentance has two aspects. First of all, an inner change of will, a change of our mind about the way we’ve been leading. Secondly, an outward change of behavior, turning around, stopping going our own way, doing our own thing, making a 180 degree turn, facing up to God and saying ‘God, I’m sorry for the way I’ve been living. I’ve been trying to run my own life. Now I’m prepared to hear from You and do what You tell me.’ That’s repentance.
I’ve also explained why we all need to repent. The great basic reason is stated in a single verse of Isaiah… Isaiah chapter 53 verse 6.
Isaiah 53: 6: ‘We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way. And the LORD has laid on Him [that’s on Jesus] the iniquity or the rebellion of us all.’
So that’s the basic problem of the human race; it’s not that we’ve all committed murder or adultery or theft. But there’s one thing we’ve all done: we’ve all turned to our own way. And that is iniquity or rebellion.
And because we’ve all turned to our own way, God’s requirement of repentance from the human race is universal: we all must repent.
I’ve also explained how repentance must be expressed in certain specific actions. Universally in the New Testament, the primary expression of true repentance is to be baptized.
But thereafter there are particular actions that are appropriate for particular kinds of persons. And in the third chapter of Luke, we found examples of three kinds of people who came to John the Baptist and said, ‘We have repented; tell us how to work it out in our lives.’
There was the man with two tunics who was required to give one tunic to the man who had none. There was the tax collector who was required to be fair and not avaricious in collecting taxes. And there was the soldier who was required not to exercise violence or intimidation but to be content with his wages.
Being content with our wages is not something that’s found in many sections of contemporary society, let me point out. There’s an area where many might need to repent.
And of course, if we look at it we can see that there are many kinds of people even in churches for whom some specific act of repentance is often required. For instance, there’s the church gossip who goes around carrying tails and poisoning the very atmosphere. That person’s repentance is not effective until that person sees his gossiping.
Or there’s the businessman who cheats on his income tax, he may be a churchgoer, he may give money to charity and so on, but his repentance is not effective until his income tax returns are honest.
Or today we find so many people that are in some way involved in pornography, their minds are being poisoned by filthy books and pictures. And yet they may in many ways have an outward appearance of respectability. For that kind of person, repentance demands the complete destruction of all types of pornographic material. And next time you walk past a place where that material is available, you avert your eyes, look the other way, and walk past. Without that, no kind of religious practice is of any real value to you: you’ve got to repent.
Today I’m going to show you how repentance is the essential first step to true faith. You see, many people are struggling for faith and they don’t know really how to find true faith. But they don’t realize that their problem is they’ve got to repent first. This is absolutely consistently the universal message of the New Testament.
Let’s look at some examples quickly. First of all, the message of John the Baptist in Mark chapter 1 verses 1 through 4.
Mark 1:1-4: The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in Isaiah the prophet, “I will send My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way. A voice of one calling in the desert: ‘Prepare the way for the LORD; Make straight paths for Him.’ And so John came baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.’
John’s specific task was to prepare the way for the promised Messiah to come to God’s people, Israel. And notice he had one message: repent. Repentance prepares the way for God to come into our lives. Many times God cannot come into our lives until we fulfill the requirement of repentance.
Then let’s look at the first preaching of Jesus which is also recorded a little further on in Mark chapter 1 verses 14 and 15.
Mark 1:14-15: After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God [the Gospel]. “The time has come,” He said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Notice, those are the first requirements that Jesus ever gave in public preaching: Repent, believe the good news of the gospel. Don’t try to believe until you have first repented.
After His resurrection, talking to His apostles, Jesus reaffirmed this order. It says in Luke chapter 24 verses 45 through 47.
Luke 24:45-47: Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’”
Notice again the order: repentance, and forgiveness of sins. Before forgiveness of sins comes repentance. Without repentance there can be no forgiveness of sins.
Let’s look also at the first message of the church on the day of Pentecost. Peter, the spokesman both of God and of the church, said this in Acts 2:37-38.
Acts 2:37-38: When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Notice the first requirement: repent, and be baptized. There is no other step, no other act, no other ritual that will ever take the place of true repentance. That has to come first.
And then let’s look for a moment at the message of Paul in Acts chapter 17 verses 30 through 31. He’s preaching to the men of Athens about their idolatry and their superstition. And this is what he says:
Acts 17:30-31: “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent. For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the Man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
Notice God’s commandment: He commands all people everywhere to repent. All people everywhere leaves room for no exceptions. It applies to you, it applies to me, it applies to every human soul.
The first thing we have to do in order to get into a right relationship with God is to repent.
And then Paul, later in Acts 20, describes the message that he carried to the world of his day.
Acts 20: 21: ‘I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.’ (NIV)
Notice, the first step before having faith is turning to God in repentance. The word “turn” indicates the nature of repentance, the inward decision followed by the outward change of life. And that is an essential preliminary to true faith.
Let me make a personal application of this universal principle to you. The principle is that: without repentance, you cannot ever experience true faith. Always the first requirement is repent, then believe. This runs consistently throughout the entire New Testament from beginning to end. There is no more principle more consistently established in the New Testament than that: to achieve true faith, you must go by way of repentance.
You must experience that inner change of mind followed by a willingness to change your whole way of life. Are you perhaps today struggling for faith? Are you trying to believe?
I’ve counseled literally hundreds of people with various kinds of spiritual problems, marital problems, personal problems, emotional problems. And let me just sum up my conclusion very briefly.
My conclusion is that probably 50% of these problems have as their root cause the failure of those people to repent. They’re trying to believe, they’re trying to lead a Christian life, they’re trying to get results from God, they’re praying, going to church, reading their Bible. And yet the results don’t follow.
Why? One simple clear reason: they’ve never repented.
You see you have to remember that faith is a gift from God. You can’t get faith unless God gives you faith. This is clearly stated by Paul in Ephesians chapter 2 verse 8. for it is by grace you have been saved through faith
Ephesians 2:8: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – “ (NIV)
So faith is a gift from God. God can give it, or God can withhold it. And according to the clear principles of the New Testament, you do not qualify to receive from God the gift of faith which you need, which you must have, if you are to be a real Christian… but you don’t qualify to receive that gift unless you’ve repented.
So let me suggest to those of you who are struggling for faith, struggling with emotional personal marital problems, check on your repentance. Have you ever really repented? Have you ever really come to the end of your own way, doing your own thing, setting your own standards, recognized that your way is not God’s way, stop, turn around, face up to God and said ‘God, I’m sorry for the way I’ve been living. Just tell me what You want me to do, and I’ll do it.’
I’ll tell you one thing: a person who has truly repented doesn’t have a struggle with God. He just waits to hear and to obey.
‘BUT I DON’T NEED TO REPENT’
In my previous talks I’ve given you a practical Scriptural definition of repentance. First, the inward change of mind and will; second, the expression of that change in appropriate outward action.
I’ve also explained the great reason why we all need to repent as stated in Isaiah 53:6: ‘We all like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way, and the LORD has laid on Him [Jesus] the iniquity [or the rebellion] of us all.’
So that’s the universal problem of the human race: we’ve all turned to our own way, which is rebellion. The remedy for rebellion is repentance, turning back to God forsaking our way, and starting to walk in God’s way.
I’ve also shown you the direct connection between repentance and true faith. This is the consistent message of the entire New Testament, that before we can exercise true faith toward God, we must first repent.
The order is never varied anywhere in the New Testament, from the message of John the Baptist right through to the message of Paul and even to the message of Jesus to the churches in the book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, the order is: First repent, then believe.
And yet although the teaching of Scripture concerning repentance is so clear, I’ve often met people, usually religious people, who do not see their own personal need of repentance. They tend to use such phrases as these: ‘I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m as good as the next person. I don’t see what I need to repent of.’
Well today we’re going to look and see what the Scripture has to say about such statements and such people as these.
First of all, I’d like to go back to a Scripture I quoted yesterday in Acts chapter 17 verse 30. Paul’s message to the men of Athens; he says this:
Acts 17:30: ‘In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent.’ All people everywhere includes you; it includes me; it leaves out no one.
If you are saying: ‘Well, I don’t need to repent’, you’re arguing with God. God says ‘You do need to repent.’ Can you see what a serious sin that is to be correcting God, saying ‘God, you’re telling me about something I don’t need to do.’ That’s a very dangerous attitude to be in.
God says you need to repent, I need to repent, we all need to repent.
You see, most people have blind spots. There are certain areas in their lives where they have sometimes quite gross sins or failures which they themselves absolutely cannot see. That’s why we need to look in the mirror of Scripture and see what God shows us about ourselves, because it’s not always the way we think about ourselves or we see ourselves.
I’m going to give you three examples today of typical blind spots in people’s lives.
The first blind spot is unforgiveness. And I’m going to read quite a lengthy passage from Matthew chapter 18, dealing with this blind spot of unforgiveness.
Matthew 18: 21: Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy seven times.’
And then He tells this parable to illustrate this principle.
Matthew 18:23-34: Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.’ In contemporary values, that’s several million dollars this man owed. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii.’ And that is of just a few dollars in today’s values. ‘He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers…. [the literal Greek word is the tormentors] until he should pay back all he owed.
And then this is the comment of Jesus: Matthew 18:35: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
So you see the application: each of us is like that first servant in our relationship to God who is our master. We owe Him an immense debt… millions of dollars which we have no hope of ever being able to pay.
But we turn to God in mercy and He forgives us the entire debt. But then what do we do in our relationship to others? Do we go out and find somebody who owes us a few paltry dollars and say ‘I’m not going to forgive you; you’ve got to pay me. I won’t offer you forgiveness.’
Jesus warns us that if we deal with others that way, then this will require that God deals with us that He withholds His forgiveness from us, because we have withheld our forgiveness from others.
There are three very solemn lessons to that parable.
The first is that unforgiveness is wickedness. The Lord said to that servant, ‘you wicked servant.’ You see I’ve preached in large congregations of Christians several hundreds of people when I preached on the need for forgiveness of others and asked at the end how many people realize their need to forgive, usually at least half the congregation have raised their hands… religious people but with a blind spot they didn’t see the terrible sin of unforgiveness in their lives; they didn’t realize the awful consequences it was bringing upon them.
The second fact is that unforgiveness calls forth God’s anger. The master was angry with that servant.
The third fact is that unforgiveness puts us in the hands of the tormentors. For many years as a preacher I wondered why so many Christians were going through so many forms of torments: spiritual torment; mental torment; emotional torment; physical torment. I thought how can it be… and then God showed me this principle: ‘If they don’t forgive others, My judgment on them is to deliver them to the hands of the tormentors and once they’re in the hands of the tormentors, no preacher can get them out till they meet My conditions of forgiving their fellow men.’ So there’s one blind spot that’s common in the lives of many.
Another blind spot is what I would call ‘sins of omission’. Listen to what James says in chapter 4 verse 17 of his epistle.
James 4:17: Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
See, there are not merely sins of commission; there are sins of omission. We are sinners sometimes not because we’ve done something, but because we’ve done nothing. That’s the very sin.
When I was responsible for training African students in Africa some years back, I used to tell them this little parable of mine. I told them about two men… one man was out of work and his wife and children were starving. So he went out and stole bread to feed his family. And I would say to them was, that a sin… was stealing a sin and they would say yes.
I said there was another man — and I usually made him a teacher, because my students were ambitious to become teachers — who was out in his best suit of clothes and he was walking across a bridge over a river and he saw a little child in the water drowning. And he could have jumped in and saved that child but he didn’t want to spoil his brand new suit, so he let the child drown. I said was that a sin? Of course they’d all say yes.
And I’d say, well what did he do? And they would say nothing. And I say there you are, you see. Sometimes doing nothing is a terrible sin.
To him who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, that’s sin. And my students would always agree with me that the man who stole bread to feed his hungry children was much less of a sinner than the man who wouldn’t spoil his brand new suit to save a drowning child.
Could you be like that person in a world where people are drowning all around you where there’s desperate needs: physical needs, material needs, spiritual needs, are you just preserving your brand new suit and walking around in your self-righteousness?
Perhaps God has never been able to show you what a sin that is.
The third blind spot I want to speak about just briefly is self-righteousness. Listen to this parable which Jesus related in Luke 18 verses 9 through 14.
Luke 18:9-14: To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.’ The Pharisee was the religious man; the tax collector was the sinner whom everybody despised. ‘The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself [how typical, how self-centered]: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like all other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ And this is the comment of Jesus. ‘I tell you that this man [the tax collector], rather than the other [the Pharisee], went home justified before God. For everyone who exalt themselves will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
You see, the basic sin of the Pharisee was pride. He was so satisfied with his own religion, his own religious practices, his own righteousness. And what was typical of him was that he had his little set of rules which he observed. And they were rules that were taken from God’s Word, but they were a very incomplete set of rules; they were tailored to suit his own convenience. There were certain things he did, certain things he didn’t do; he based his righteousness on that. Do you know that’s typical of religious people?
There are multitudes of religious people whose righteousness consists in keeping a set of rules of their own choosing. Could you be one of those? Could you realize that that’s not acceptable to God, that you don’t go home from church justified when that’s your religion.
Do you realize that your problem could be a serious one: self-righteousness and you’ve been blind to it?
PICTURE OF TRUE REPENTANCE
Now let me review briefly for you the main points that we’ve covered concerning repentance.
First of all, I defined repentance an inward change of will resulting in an outward change of the way we live.
Secondly, I explained why we all need to repent. It’s summed up in Isaiah 53:6: we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord calls that iniquity or rebellion. So we need to turn back from our own way to find God’s way.
Then I showed you that repentance must be expressed in appropriate actions. And that in the New Testament there’s one specific primary action which is the ordained expression of repentance: the act of baptism but that in various lives there are other specific acts which also must be associated with repentance.
Then we saw that repentance is the essential first step to true faith. The order in the New Testament is always: first repent, then believe. And it’s in vain trying to believe until you have repented. Faith is a gift from God which He does not give to those who have failed to repent.
Finally yesterday we looked at some sins which people often fail to recognize as sins and consequently fail to see their need of repentance. I took three very common examples: the sin of not forgiving others, and then simply sins of omission, things we didn’t do that we ought to have done; and thirdly the sin of self-righteousness, living by our own little set of rules which is not God’s standard but by which we judge ourselves righteous and look down on and despise everybody else, the sin of the Pharisee.
In my closing talk today, we’re going to be looking at a beautiful picture of true repentance, what is for me one of the most beautiful and moving stories of the entire Bible. It’s a parable but it’s a very vivid story. It’s found in Luke chapter 15 verses 11 through 24. It’s usually called the Parable of the Lost Son or the Prodigal Son, though I’m going to point out to you there are two sons in this parable and both of them significant characters.
This is the story.
Luke 15:11-24: Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got all together he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’
So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
That’s the most beautiful picture I know of true repentance: the son who turned his back on his father and home, claimed his inheritance, went out and wasted it all, found himself in shame and poverty in dire need, and then made that vital inner decision: I will arise and go back to my father.
That’s true repentance: the inward decision to change.
How do we know it was true repentance? Because the next verse says, ‘So he got up and went…’ He made the inward decision, he translated it into outward action, and that was the turning point in his life. That was where the downward road ended, and the road back to peace and home and prosperity was open to him.
Let’s just notice a few points in that beautiful story; they’re so vivid to me.
(Luke 15) In verse 12, we read that the younger son said to his father ‘give me my share.’ He was like so many people today he wanted his rights. Do you know what I’ve discovered? People who want their rights usually end in the wrong. That attitude ‘give me my share’ ‘give me what’s due to me’, it’s a starting point to the wrong road.
There’s a phrase in modern Hebrew that’s so common [Ze Magia Li] that’s my due, I’ve got it coming to me.
Be careful friend when you’re claiming what is your due. It’s an attitude that will lead you into trouble.
Then it says about the son he came to his senses. In the midst of his shame and poverty, he suddenly saw reality. He’d been living in a dream world, he’d had romantic pictures of what life would offer. So many many young people today are like that; they’ve formed the false impression in their own minds of what life has to offer where true happiness is to be found. And sometimes it’s a long hard road that takes them to repentance before they come to themselves.
And then notice the son’s decision: ‘I will set out…’ I like those words ‘I will.’ It doesn’t say he shed a lot of tears or he ran forward to the altar of a church, but he made an inward decision: ‘I will set out’, and he carried it out in action. He started back to his father… that’s repentance.
Notice how it goes with true humility. He said… he was willing to say to his father ‘I’m no longer worthy to be called your son; just make me a hired man; that’s all I’m asking.’
He got up and he went… he turned around 180 degrees, he had his back to his father and his home, turned around, turned his back on the pigs, and turned his face toward his father.
And then notice the beautiful response of the father. While he was still a long way off, his father saw him. How could that be? My understanding is the father went out every day and looked to see if his son was coming back. But he never could go and fetch him. With all his love he had to wait till the son made the right decision.
And then what a welcome he got! That’s the way God responds to the repentant sinner. He doesn’t hold our sins against us. He doesn’t speak about all the money we’ve wasted. He just gives us the best that He has: the new robe; the ring; the shoes on our feet; the fatted calf.
I tell you dear friends it pays to repent. You’re missing an awful lot. In fact, you’re missing the really vital things in life if you’ve never repented.
I want to read on the rest of that parable. I want you to see the reaction now of the other son, the elder brother. This is how it goes on.
Luke 15:25-30: Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so that I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
You see, the elder brother’s problem: self-righteousness. He thought he’d always been doing the right thing, and yet at this crisis where the younger brother came home, what was laid bare his character: rebellion. He had an inwardly rebellious attitude toward his father. He showed him little respect, he rebuked his father: how wonderful a way God has of laying bare the things that are really in our hearts and lives, which often are covered up with an outward show of righteousness and obedience.
And then I want you to note the father’s response to the elder brother too.
Luke 15:31-32: ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’
Oh! there’s such wonderful insight into human nature in that story. Notice how the elder brother described his younger brother, he said to the father ‘this son of yours.’ But the father said ‘this brother of yours’. He said ‘Don’t forget, he’s not only my son, he’s your brother, and you’ve got to have a right attitude toward your brother if you want to have a right attitude toward your father.’ How true that is of us as Christians?
How many of us need to repent of a wrong attitude toward a brother, which really lays bare the inward rebellion of our hearts toward God our Father.
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