The book of Luke chronicles three very famous parables of Jesus in its 15th chapter. These are the parable of the Lost Sheep, the parable of the Lost Coin and the parable of the Prodigal Son. In case you don’t know, a parable is a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels (Oxford Dictionary). These 3 stories were brilliantly arranged by Luke to tell a concise and consistent story. The main message is the subject we will be discussing with some references to the parables but I highly recommend that you read the entire thing in Luke chapter 15.
In the first two parables, Jesus uses a word that is sadly becoming unpopular today: “REPENT”. In the past, the word was associated with the archetype of the angry preacher yelling damnation at people. However, seeing that our Lord used this word Himself, it will do us good to separate the word from this stereotype and understand as Jesus meant for it to be. The Greek transliteration of the word is “metanoeō” which means to change one’s mind. It means that the repeated phrase Jesus made in verses 7 and 10 can be rewritten as “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that changes their mind”
This change of mind is said to be something that Heaven rejoices about. I take this detour from our line of thought to establish a point. The sinner’s repentance or change of mind is something that is not in the control of Heaven or any supernatural force. This is why there is rejoicing. This change of mind is completely controlled by the will of a man. Therefore, Heaven’s best efforts will only present a compelling argument to the man but he or she can reject that argument no matter how convincing. In the event that someone, anyone makes that change of mind, Heaven rejoices. The third parable illustrates this perfectly.
The parable of the Prodigal Son has some odd bits that can help us in understanding this dynamic. For reference, the Father represents God and the prodigal son represents the Sinner. In this parable, the son asks his Father for all of his inheritance and the Father gives him. We know nothing about how the Father feels about this until much later but we do know the Father does not try to stop him. The son squanders his wealth and becomes painfully aware of his need. All through this experience, there is no interruption from the Father. Finally, the son makes a decision. He changes his mind about living on his own dime. In other words, he repents!
How did this happen? What caused repentance? How does a sinner come to change his mind?
The key is in verses 17-19:
“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home, even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’ (Luke 15:17-19 NLT)
At this point we see a very important action the son took: he said to himself. This is important because the bible tells us that Faith comes by hearing and for that to happen there must be a preacher (Romans 10:14-15). Consequently, 1 Corinthians 1:21 (NLT) says:
Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe.
This means that the ordinary human cannot just think through repentance; we have to have it preached to our minds – even if the preacher is ourselves. In some supernatural situations, the preacher is supernatural like in the case of Paul before he became an apostle in Acts 9. Somehow, every sinner will hear the word of God, every sinner will have the chance to change their mind, to repent. The prodigal son preached to himself and glory to God, he repented.
In verse 20, we see two important things that bring our discussion to a sweet close. First, a change of mind naturally leads to a change of action. Once the prodigal son was convinced of his state and what he needed to do, the next verse opened with “he went and did it”. Many people in our present day cannot reconcile this transition with their lives because we assume that these steps happened speedily. While I cannot make any inference as to how long each phase lasted, I can say from experience that the “preaching” phase is the longest one. Our minds are not quick learners, it takes persistent and consistent preaching for our minds to change. Think of how long it takes for a child to start speaking fluently – Years! It takes even much more for an adult to learn a new language, yet all these are systems that we are naturally inclined to. For a spiritual lesson, our minds reject it but the key is to keep on preaching. Sometimes, we assimilate things intellectually but our minds do not budge. We agree but we do not believe. This is tricky but from verse 20 we learn that the clearest proof of a change of mind is a natural inclination to want to change your actions.
Secondly, we see that in verse 20, the Father responds early and massively at the instance of his son’s repentance. From His response, we can infer that He had been waiting for this moment. We can now see that He considered His son lost and dead when He left. This cannot be easy for any Father. It is not easy for God either. So when His son made that crucial change, He was overjoyed. As great as this joy is, the best part is that the Father took over the responsibility for His son’s restoration. The son did not have to work for His father’s favour or earn his way into salvation. His Father welcomed him immediately and set up a system for the son to be restored. This is what distinguishes Christianity from every other religion in the world. We believe and God does the heavy lifting. Where every other religion gives you a list of things to do, Christianity gives you a list of things to believe, to be convinced about, to change your mind, …to repent.
I will close this off with a very important lesson. It is our job to preach to ourselves or expose ourselves to the word of God. God will not do that for us. However, what we expose ourselves to is now more crucial than ever. Self-help motivations won’t do. Tips and tricks will not work. Our minds are very hard to convince and it truly takes something out of this world to convince them. This is what Christians say that it is the Holy Spirit that does this work. I agree with this notion but the bible actually tells us that the Holy Spirit convicts us by reminding us of the words of Jesus. On this premise, I can boldly say that the functional element for repentance is the Word of God. The Bible puts it this way:
For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. (Hebrews 4:12 NLT)
This means that if you can diligently expose yourself to the preaching of the word of God either by yourself or others. It will only be a matter of time and your mind will cave in. When this glorious event happens, Heaven will rejoice. Even you will notice that something has changed because your desires will switch and what once looked like an unquenchable thirst will be replaced by peaceful satisfaction. The best part is that God, your Father will take responsibility for your restoration. Like the Father in the parable, He will set it all up and you can just rest in His embrace. It really is that simple.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus Chorus by Helen H. Lemmel
Grace and peace family.