Religion and repentance
Jake Heppner, Southbrook Baptist Church
In Luke 18, Jesus criticized the professional clergy class as those who would make 'religion' the object of their faith to approach God. In Jesus' lesson to the populace, He tells a parable about the prayer of a religious leader who trusted in his own righteousness. This confident religious adherent stood in the temple and loudly proclaimed, "God, I thank you that I am not a sinner like these other men here! I practice my religion faultlessly." However, Jesus described this leader's declaration as 'praying with himself' - God would not give ear to such a prideful and self-focused expression.
However, as the clergy finished, a known sinner crept into the temple courtyard, hardly daring to lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast in anguish as he wept, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!"
Jesus finished his lesson by stating that the sinner's prayer of repentance and humility was accepted by God, and that individual was the one who left cleansed from his sin.
It is critical that Christians understand what Jesus was teaching about humility and repentance:
First, we have no righteousness of our own. Romans 10 warns of the futility of establishing any form of righteousness on our own through our own morality and religious adherence. Before any morality or religious works will be accepted by God, the individual must abandon all notion of self-righteousness, and accept, through humility and faith, God's free offer of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. God takes great sinners and makes them righteous, but if you rely on your religious credits to be good with God, you are mistaken. Not membership, baptism, giving, or morality will achieve what is required to be truly righteous.
Second, we need to repent to God. The religious law could not make the clergy righteous, but that law did show the sinner that he was a law-breaker and needed to repent. Jesus' lesson isn't meant to tear down all religious structure, but to show that any religious formula without Christ at the center is futile. Early church father Ignatius wrote:" It is impossible for a man to be freed from the habit of sin before he hates it, just as it is impossible to receive forgiveness before confessing his trespasses... "
To be a Christian is to depend solely on the righteousness Christ alone has lived; Christians repent from sin and ask Christ to work His righteousness inside of them, so the worship and love and morality and giving springs from His work in our hearts, not personal effort or ability. Christ criticized the religious hypocrite, but never did He imply a liberty to do whatever we please, we must repent to God, accepting Christ's righteousness via His death and resurrection, and allow God to change us from the inside out. "If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." Romans 10:9, 10