The Intent of Repentance, Matt 21:28-3

August 17, 2013

by Dan Nelson, pastor
FBC Camarilli, Calif.

Jesus’ ministry was constantly confronted by religious leaders of Judaism, pharisees, who were responsible for the true worship of God from the heart. They had not repented themselves, however. They may have admitted they were God’s chosen and looked down on the publicans and sinners because of their sinful past.

In reality, Jesus rocked their world by dismissing their false pretense of religion and saying the publicans and sinners would enter heaven before them because they had at least repented.

The pharisees’ position was even more dangerous position than the publicans and sinners. They were in great danger because of their unrepentant heart. The greatest danger of hypocrisy was met with the call to repentance by John the Baptist when he demanded they repent, crying, “Who has warned you of the wrath to come” (Matt. 3:7b).[1] To be unrepentant before God is a dangerous position.

There are many dangerous ventures today: Cleaning windows on skyscrapers is dangerous. Skydiving is dangerous. Motorcycling (especially back and forth through traffic) is dangerous. Working around radioactive material is dangerous. Defusing a bomb is dangerous.

But an eternal danger, greater than all of these put together, is to stand before the Lord under false pretenses, thinking you are believer having repented of your sin, trusting in Christ to save you but really haven’t done so. What will you do when you hear the sentence of guilty pronounced by the judge of the universe?

Jesus told a parable to illustrate the folly of pretending to repent when you haven’t. He told of two sons whose father told both to go work in the vineyard. The first son refused to do so at first but then repented of going against his father’s will and went to work. The second son said he would work, but despite what he said, he never did; and he never repented of not doing what he told the father he would.

The first son represented the publicans and sinners who refused God’s will initially but later repented and came to God despite being looked down upon by the pharisees.

The pharisees were represented by the second son who said he would go work but never did. Despite their holier-than-thou attitudes, they were the ones in greater danger and would not be in God’s kingdom because they never had repented. The story can be understood as we examine it in detail. There are several insights from this parable:

(1) Repentance is to offer more than lip-service to the Father

The publicans and sinners gave evidence of a life-change. Although disobedient in their sin initially, they still repented. It doesn’t matter how lost you are, God will still accept a U-turn in your life.

Lip service is cheap. To know to do right and fail to do it however is a sin (James 4:17).

Sins of omission are just as great in their effect as sins of commission. An omission is like having a fire alarm that you were going to install and never installed, so your house burns down. Neglecting to install a functioning alarm to warn you and your family of the fire is the same as being responsible for its effect as if you had actually set the house on fire yourself. Neglect leads to destruction (Heb. 2:3).

It is easy to praise God here in church. It is much more difficult out there when the going is tough, when things aren’t going well.

The Pharisees prayed long prayers (Lk. 20: 46-47) and were careful to observe the letter of the law. They were looked upon as the elite in Judaism and would make others lift heavy burdens to join their list of laws, but were mouth-professors without giving God heart-possession. Jesus rebuked them all throughout His ministry (Mk. 7:6, Luke 16:15, Matt. 23:27).  They cheated their parents, ignored the poor, looked down on others, condemning them and not offering to help them. They omitted the fruit of the Spirit and they rejected Jesus as the Messiah. They were lacking in a very crucial condition: They had not repented of their sin.

You see, true repentance helps us to view sin as so repulsive that you wouldn’t dare go back to it. Instead, you breathe the sweet air of God’s forgiveness, are cleansed, and stay cleansed from unrighteousness. Yet, the pharisees had never known God in the first place.

(2) Repentance removes any false-impression of hypocrisy

Transparency removes hypocrisy. Pretending to be something when we are hiding behind a cloak of hypocrisy only covers up our sin even more.

Evangelical churches are full of people who do not exhibit the fruits of salvation, but who are not embarrassed to say they are Christians.

The pharisees who said, “I will go work in the vineyard,” yet never did was an indication that their heart was not in the work to which God had called them.

Famous people have tried to minister in a lost condition, pretending or even thinking they had repented and were not saved.

Listen to John Wesley’s sad testimony before he was converted: “My preaching was defective and fruitless, for from 1725-1729 I neither laid the foundation of repentance nor of preaching the Gospel, taking it for granted that all to whom I preached were believers, and many of them needed no repentance. I saw little fruit, but it was only a little and no wonder for I did not preach faith and the blood of the covenant.”[2]

God saves people so that they will do good works (Acts 26:20) and live as His bond slaves (1 Thess. 1:9). Therefore, any salvation experience that does not turn a rebel sinner into an obedient servant is spurious. We are saying repentance must produce a change in nature, good works, the fruit of the Spirit and love for God, His word and the church, or it is not true repentance. If you have no repentance, you have no salvation.

Repentance involves: conviction, coming to the cross, and casting care on Christ.

People are first awakened with a sense of their miserable condition by nature, the danger they are in of perishing eternally, and it is of great importance to them that they speedily escape to get into a better state.

Jonathan Edwards said, “Those who before were secure and senseless are made sensible to how much they were in the way to ruin in their former courses. Some are more suddenly seized with conviction. Their consciences are smitten as if their hearts were pierced with a dart.[3]

Many don’t understand what repentance is though. Some mistaken notions or incomplete statements about repentance are recorded by B.H. Carroll in his Interpretation of the English Bible where he lists several of these definitions:

Sam Jones: “Quit your meanness”, D. L. Moody: “Right about face”; Alexander Campbell: “Reformation”; The Roman Catholic Bible of Matt. 3:2: “Do penance”[4]

John Miller in his book: “Repentance and the 20th Century Man,” said, “Self-justification is the goal of this effort. In practice, this means that man always has one more scheme for getting things right with God and conscience. The sinner doing penance always says in his heart. ‘Give me one more day, a new religious duty, another program, another set of human relationships or get a better education and then things will come right-side up.’”[5]

Carroll continues to review these misguided notions as: A. W. Chambliss: “Godly sorrow for sin;” Matthew 27: 3 in a common version: “Remorse of conscience.” Many speakers and writers: “Restitution.” M. T. Martin: “Knowing God and turning from dead works” (ceremonialism).[6]

People can be in the church and even have positions of leadership but have never repented and come to God’s salvation in Christ. No life change has taken place in these individuals.

Someone has said, “People use mighty thin thread when mending their ways.”[7] Repentance then is turning from sin to Christ and His sacrifice for our sins for salvation. In John’s case, it was what Jesus was going to do.

John Calvin asked, “Can true repentance exist without faith? By no means,” he says… “But although they cannot be separated, they ought to be distinguished.”[8]

This is no small change of mind for it is a transformation of life. We are not prone to do this. It is God who changes our desires and actions. We begin to love the things of God, His word, and His church (Cor. 2: 14; Rom. 12:2).

A perfect example of repentance is the prodigal son when he came to himself and arises to go to the father (Lk 15: 18). The hymn I will arise and go to Jesus expresses this return to God when it says, “I will arise and go to Jesus / He will embrace me in His arms / In the arms of my dear Savior / Oh there are ten thousand charms.”[9]

(3)  Repentance Leads To doing the will of the father

The big teaching in this parable is the son who actually did the will of the father. God’s will is clear in the scripture in I Pet. 3:9b, for it says, “God is not willing that any perish but that all should come to repentance.”

To pretend you did the father’s will and didn’t do it is lying. We cannot whisk people into the kingdom of God and repent for them. We can show them the way but we cannot repent for them. To pretend you did the father’s will when you did not is striving against God, and it will not be overlooked.

God is not cruel, but He is holy. He desires sinner’s salvation Lk. 15:7. You can’t carry your sin with you into heaven; you must repent of it. One day judgment will be swift and certain. In eternity, we will see God’s mercy designed to lead us to repentance Rom. 2:4. The question is: Will we repent?

The publicans did God’s will, although they may have been farther away from God in the bondage to sin. Yet, they repented and trusted God’s salvation as pictured in the animal sacrifices in the temple and fulfilled in Christ.

George Whitefield illustrated why repentance is essential for a nature change and suitability for heaven when he said: “Let your old ways and be separated; you must resolve against it, for there can be no true repentance without a resolution to forsake it. Resolve for Christ; resolve against the Devil. If you were to be admitted into Heaven with your present tempers, and your impenitent condition, Heaven itself would be Hell to you.  The songs of the angels would be as enthusiasm, and would be intolerable to you.”[10]

(4) Repentance is necessary for coming into God’s kingdom through Christ

 Jesus said to the pharisees that in the coming kingdom, the publicans will be way ahead of you because they did the father’s will and repented. You did not repent so you won’t even be in the line. Think of the blow to the ego that was for the pharisees. They had been guardians of the law all this time and yet they were not even God’s children. They rejected the Messiah and had not repented of their sin. So He said regardless of your standing, the publicans will go in before you.

But don’t wait to be saved at the end. The end may be tomorrow and you are not saved. On his first trip to Georgia, George Whitefield encountered the cook on the ship who had a drinking problem and said he wanted to keep living as if he was and repent about two months before he died. He died in less than six days after he said that.[11] Don’t wait like the publicans and sinners. Repent today!

Jesus said John came preaching the way of righteousness. He said, “Repent and believe on me and you have not.”

Jesus told them that publicans and harlots who repent would be in the kingdom before the pharisees ever made it. Why? “You should have known who I was but did not turn me in repentance after you should have seen it in scripture.”

Jesus said, “Don’t try to figure out the justice in the cause of people’s deaths,” in Luke 13. If you do not repent, you will perish in eternity. And you know what? We will all perish; we all will go to hell unless we repent! Did you catch that? “Unless you repent, you will perish.” This means there is a way out. There is a way we can avoid spending eternity in the fires of hell. There is a way to escape God’s judgment.

We need to be careful in evangelism that we help people to understand trusting Christ as Savior involves turning from our sin and placing our faith in His sacrifice for our salvation. It is not just intellectual belief that saves. You need to place faith and trust in what Jesus did for you. People need to understand that trusting in Christ as Savior is a life-changing commitment that involves repentance.

John Miller said: “Modern men have burned themselves out with transitory experience-oriental religious, drugs, the occult, and sexual perversion. We must not invite them to embrace Jesus as the latest fad. Instead give them the full riches of God including the Lordship of Christ.”[12]

Repentance is a part of another commission. The Lord Jesus commissioned believers to preach three things: first, Christ died; second, He rose again; and, third, repentance for the remission of sins (Luke 24:45, Acts 3:19).

Would we be happy with a cross-less gospel or a resurrection-less gospel? How, then, can we be content to preach repentance-less gospel?

The difficulty some have in entering the doorway to the kingdom of God is like the experience the little boy had when he got his hand caught inside an expensive vase. His parents were upset and they tried to apply soap suds and cooking oil without success. When they seemed ready to break the vase as the only way to release the hand, the frightened boy cried, ”Would it help if I let loose of the penny I’m holding on to. So, it is all-too-often with us. We cause others great anguish and risk the truly valuable because we will not let go of the insignificant things we possess today.[13]

Whatever we grasp that keeps us from repentance is nothing compared to the benefits repentance and faith in Christ can give. Don’t pretend you have repented when you have not. Let go of your pride or anything that will keep you away from God’s best for your life. We need to need let go, come to God in repentance, and trust Him to change us.



[1] All Scriptural quotations or citations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise indicated.

 

[2] Perishing for a Lack of Repentance Luke 13: 1-9, Mark 25, 2007 sermon by Dan Nelson.

[3] Pershing for a lack of Repentance: Taken from Narrative of Surprising Works by Jonathan Edwards.

[4]B.H. Carroll, Interpretation of the English Bible (Baker: Grand Rapids, MI, 3rd Printing, 1978)  168-169.

[5] Miller, 20.

[6] Carroll, 170.

[7]Quotation from The Daily Walk, source and date unknown.

[8] John Calvin, edited by Tony Lane and Hilary Osborne The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Baker: Grand Rapids, MI , 1987) 311.

[9] Tom Fettke, compiler The Hymnal, (Word: Waco, TX, 1986).

[10] Peter Gunther, compiler, Great Sermons by Great Preachers. Moody Press: Chicago, 1960, 71.

[11] Michae1 Green, editor, 500 Sermon Illustrations, Baker: Grand Rapids, MI, 2000, 301.

[12] Miller, 82.

[13] Green, 300.