Wednesday, September 06 2006
"We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man." Mere Christianity
Repentance, metanoia in the Greek, means a change of mind. In the New Testament repentance is always a change of mind which results in a change in direction. God calls us, through the moral law and his offer of grace in Christ, to change our minds about our self-centered ways of living, to stop going our own way and follow Christ instead. Repentance thus involves a 180 degree turn.
The prodigal son in Luke 15 is often cited as an example of repentance. After he squandered his wealth in wild living the son "came to his senses", decided to go back to his father and offer his services as a hired man. The prodigal son had a long walk home, no doubt. Repentance often involves just such a decision, turning and long walk home.
But in reality the prodigal son is an example of our merely human attempts at repentance. We think of our relationship with God as a bargain. We try to earn our way back into the Father's household where we will pay for our mistakes.
The father in the story will have none of it. While the prodigal son is still a long way off the father runs to embrace him. The dad interrupts the son's repentance speech with plans for a party. He welcomes the young man back home as a son, not a hired servant. They begin to celebrate the son's homecoming together.
Real repentance, at the deepest level, is about accepting the Father's welcome. It is not about the hard work we do. It is not about tearfully enacted speeches. Repentance has nothing to do with earning anything. In fact, as C. S. Lewis points out later in Mere Christianity, Jesus is the only perfect penitent. And so real repentance for us means accepting what Jesus has done for us, through his perfect life, his death on the cross for our sins, and his resurrection from the dead. Real repentance is about allowing Jesus to work true repentance, true change, in us. For in Christ, God the Father has run to embrace us. He wants to welcome us home and throw a party for us. He wants us to be his children, not his hired servants.
The only question is: will we accept God's offer?
"Almighty Father, in whose hands are our lives: we commend ourselves to the keeping of your love. In your will is our peace. In life or in death, in this world and the next, uphold us that we may put our trust in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord." William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1881-1944