“But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Scary words from Jesus in Luke 13. Scary because it brings up the question: Have you done this?
And as soon as the question is asked, it leads to more questions: have you repented enough? Have you shown that you really have? What sins might you have missed, or what evil do you continue to cherish? Are you really penitent of heart?
All of these questions assume a definition of repentance that I grew up with: repentance is abandoning your sin and coming to the morality of God. Repentance produces change, a change of mind that leads to a change of life. Repentance is being sorry enough to stop what you are doing and change your behavior.
Holding to this view leads to self-examination to see if you are in the faith. It leads to identifying and removing, one by one, all the sin that you do. Or at least trying. Because if you don’t, then you aren’t repenting. And you aren’t saved.
But… wait a minute. Is that the right definition?
Repentance translates a Greek word meaning ‘change your mind.’ And, remarkably, it isn’t used of changing your moral behavior. Rather it refers to changing your mind about how you are saved.
“Repent and believe in the gospel,” John the Baptist says. He saw two paths. One was to trust in the good news of Jesus. The other is… the opposite. That’s to trust in your own self-righteousness.
This is absolutely critical, this “foundation of repentance from dead works,” as Hebrews 6:1 says. Our repentance is from the works that we think make us good before God.
Like the Pharisee in Luke 18, we come to God and thank him for making us righteous, and rattle off examples of how we avoid sin and do good things. We are glad that we aren’t like the immoral pagans. Yet that immoral tax collector, who sees he has no righteousness in himself and turns to God (that’s right, repents), he’s the one who is actually good.
Like Paul “not having a righteousness” of his own from rule-following, but only the goodness of trusting Jesus, repentance is turning from self-righteousness to Jesus.
Jesus our righteousness.
So abandon the hope of self-improvement, self-advancement, self-goodness, like somehow that’s God’s plan for you. Instead come to Christ, where all self dies and we trust in the gift of His righteousness for us.
Unless you repent, you will perish! Praise God that he repents us, opening our eyes to our sin and giving us the incredible gift of Jesus!