Repentance & Faith
Repentance & Faith
Through the virgin birth God became one of us. The eternal Son of God took on our mortal frame. He added a genuinely human nature to His divine nature. Jesus, though truly and fully human, is truly and fully God. As Luke’s narrative unfolds, Jesus reveals Himself to us through His complete and perfect obedience to God’s commands. In His teaching, He tells us who He is. Through His signs and wonders, He shows us who He is. Jesus is the Man who exercises the prerogatives of God. This is the fullest and finest revelation of God that we possess. Jesus is God’s final word (Hebrews 1:1-3). Through Jesus, God comes to us in a form that we can “handle” and speaks to us in terms that we should be able to understand. This perfect revelation of God is met with our complete and utter rejection of God—We slaughtered God in the flesh via a cruel public execution. By saying “we”, I am including us in this ancient atrocity. I am justified in this because Scripture is uniform in its witness—human nature is sinful in its core and has not changed since Adam’s fall. What happened to Jesus in the 1st century would certainly have happen if God had chosen to reveal His Son in the 21st century. This cross indicts us all. Yet, rather than leading to our certain doom, God reverses our verdict by raising Jesus from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead vindicates Jesus’ life and reveals His cross to be the “once for all” sacrifice for sinners. Amazingly, our ultimate act of rejection becomes the means by which God forgives sinners and adopts them into His family.
How are we to respond to this good news? Luke gives us two words that characterize a proper response to the gospel: “Repent” and “Believe”. Jesus warns, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Scripture promises, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). While Luke peppers His Gospel with the terminology of faith and repentance, he does not define the terms per se. Rather, Luke demonstrates the nature of repentance toward God and faith in Christ by showing us people who respond properly to Jesus. This allows us to visualize what it means to repent and believe.
The most compelling example of repentant faith happens at Jesus’ cross. Two criminals are executed with Jesus. One looks to Jesus to escape the consequences of his sin when he cries, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39). His plea is ignored. The other criminal, by a miracle of grace, sees his own sin clearly. He rebukes his companion in suffering, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:40-41). This man embraced his guilt before God without excuse. He deserves only justice, yet in faith he turns to the dying Jesus and seeks mercy by asking, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).
Because of their crimes, it is obvious that some people are sinners. Do people who are not criminals need God’s forgiveness? Luke’s Gospel is careful to point out that even religious and morally upright people are guilty before God. Jesus tells a story of a Pharisee and a tax collector who “went up into the temple to pray”. The Pharisee prayed, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11). He then proceeds name the sins he avoids and the religious duties he performed to justify himself before God. The humble tax collector pleads, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Because he owns his sin, Jesus tells us, “this man went down to his house justified” (Luke 18:14). How we measure up in comparison to one another is no justification before God. It is like one corpse boasting to another corpse, “I’m less rotten than you!” God is holy and self-righteousness is as damning as the worst crimes. Ecclesiastes 7:20 states plainly, “there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” All need to repent and turn to Jesus.
Returning to the scene at Jesus’ cross, we see one criminal only seeks to escape the painful consequences of his crimes, while the other sees that he deserves to die. What is amazing is that the repentant criminal also sees Jesus as an innocent sufferer, dying unjustly. Yet, this does not dissuade him from turning to Jesus in faith— “Remember me, when You come into Your kingdom.” Jesus rewards His repentant faith with these assuring words, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42). This is a perfect picture of repentance and faith. Repentance is turning from sin; faith is turning to Jesus. Faith is realizing that only Jesus can save you. Of course, it is the Spirit of grace that allows this criminal to perceive what Jesus’ executioners, enemies, and even family and friends did not comprehend at that time. After Jesus’ resurrection, it became clear to Jesus’ followers. Decades later Peter would write, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh made alive by the Spirit (1 Peter 3:18). Jesus’ resurrection tells us that Jesus’ death on the cross is a “once for all”, decisive sacrifice for sin that “brings us to God”.
Only Jesus of Nazareth was righteous enough to earn for us what we could never gain by our own efforts. Only Jesus’ death could pay in full the penalty that our sin deserves. You can trust that God accepts you because He has accepted what Jesus had done for you since the Father raised the Son from the dead!
The believer’s life begins with repentance and faith. As we avail ourselves of means of grace God has provided, the preached gospel, the sacraments, the fellowship and ministry of the body of Christ, we will find that we will continue to be driven toward a more profound repentance and an ever more clear-eyed faith. The cross and the empty tomb will loom larger and larger in our esteem as we advance toward the paradise Christ has promised us—the resurrection of the body and life in the world to come.