A story is told of a mother who brought her son into church one Sunday. The boy stood on the pew and the mother asked the little boy to sit down.
“Please sit down,” she asked.
“No,” answered the boy.
More firmly, the mom said, “Please – sit – down.”
“No!” said the boy.
Exasperated, the mom pushed the boy down into a sitting position with a loud “SIT DOWN!”
The boy looked angrily at his mom and said, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside!”
We don’t want to be like that little boy, looking like an obedient child, sitting so nicely, but in his heart he is actually completely different. What can change our hearts? True repentance.
Jesus once told a series of three parables, recorded in Luke chapter 15, about repentance. Seems that there were certain folks who took exception to Jesus’ continued relationship with people who were known to be of a low moral character. They did not see that these people had repented. Jesus explained the situation to his accusers in these parables. They apparently did not know what repentance really was.
Jesus spoke of a shepherd who had 100 sheep when one wandered away and became lost. The shepherd found the lost sheep and brought it home. In the parable, Jesus equates the shepherd finding the lost sheep as the moment of repentance. What did the sheep do to repent? Nothing.
Then Jesus tells another similar parable of a woman who had 10 coins and lost one of them. She searched and searched until she found it. Jesus again equated the finding of the coin with true repentance. What did the coin do to repent? Nothing.
Knowing that this could be confusing, Jesus tells a third parable to clarify his point. It is often called the parable of prodigal son. In this tale, the younger son insults his father, demands his inheritance before the father dies, and goes off and spends it all on wild living. After he has spent it all, he can’t make enough money to even feed himself. He decides then to ask his dad if he could just be an employee, no longer worthy to be his son.
His dad sees the boy coming from a long way away and runs to him, hugging and kissing him, calling him his son. At this point the boy stopped, and, realizing that he father really did love him, asked for forgiveness. Nothing was said about becoming an employee. Here was the point of repentance: the boy believed his father and accepted his father’s love. This is repentance. What did the boy do? Nothing, really. He just came and asked for forgiveness. The relationship between a father and wayward son was restored. The father initiated, and the son accepted, his father’s restoring love.
The associates of Jesus had reestablished their relationship with Father God by believing in Jesus. They were “sitting down on the inside.” They had repented by receiving Jesus, by accepting God’s love. Like the sheep and the coin, the boy was lost and then found. We too can be found by God when we receive Jesus and His love. This is the heart of true repentance: a change of heart about Jesus. This is how we become a child of God.
The Rev. Steven Ganz is pastor of Clover Pass Community Church
Perspectives is a regular column sponsored and written by members of the Ketchikan Ministerial Association.