When is “sorry” not enough?

“But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’  The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway.  Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.

 Which of the two obeyed his father?”

   They replied, “The first.”

   Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do.  For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.” – Matthew 21:28-32 (NLT)

Last week, my wife ran across a quote and posted it on her Facebook page.  I was so struck by it that I, in turn, posted it to my page.  It says, “When you forgive someone you release that person from judgment, but without true change, a relationship of trust is not possible.”  For me this says,  in order to be trusted, one must act in a trustworthy manner.  As followers of Christ, we should know that our willingess to forgive a wrong is tied up with the fact that we ourselves have been willingly forgiven by a perfectly Holy God.  We recieve that forgiveness after we have believed what the Holy Spirit says about our guilt, and our response is one of genuine repentance.  In other words, God says I’m not right and that there is no one who is right, and the only way to be right is to accept His forgiveness and recieve Christ’s righteousness (Romans 3:10).

Repentance is an old fashioned word that we don’t often hear in church anymore.  It sounds “churchy.”  It sounds strict.  It sounds too hard.  Consequently, I believe it may be possible that too many may be like the second son in Jesus’ parable of the two sons in Matthew 21.  Many say they are sorry, but they really don’t believe that they are “all that bad.”  They want salvation and the “abundant life” but many are unwilling to admit their wrongs and let Jesus pay their price of admittance.  The consequence may be that they will someday hear the Lord say to them, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”  And who will they be able to blame at that time but themselves?

If people will try to “run the game” on God Himself in this manner, what makes us think they will not also do the same thing to their fellow humans?  How many will say they are sorry just for expediance sake?  Yes, if they ask us for forgiveness we MUST forgive.  Yes, if they say they are sorry, we would be wrong to reject it out of hand.  But…our willingness to forgive…our willingness to believe the best about a person should not make us vehicles for their continued misbehavior and destructive conduct.  There comes a time, when it is entirely appropriate to say, “Yes, I forgive you,” but then allow them to show the fruits of their repentance.

Even the Lord Himself in sending out His disciples told them,  “But if a town refuses to welcome you, go out into its streets and say,  ‘We wipe even the dust of your town from our feet to show that we have abandoned you to your fate. And know this—the Kingdom of God is near!’  I assure you, even wicked Sodom will be better off than such a town on judgment day.”  In other words, there is sadly a time when we must say, “Enough is enough!  I have presented you with the truth and with a way to forgiveness and by your own actions you have rejected it.”  The time we spend trying to convince one of their wrong may be time stolen from someone else in need.  Ask the Lord to show you when it is time to “wipe off the dust” and move on!


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January 2011
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