This weekend I heard a report that one of my friends who was an elder who had resigned from the United Church of God (but had done so in a quiet and private way, not seeking a following for himself) had sought to come back to United. Knowing that he had not been among the plotters and intriguers, but rather had listened to misinformation and having been swayed unwittingly by the agendas of others, I was pleased that he had come to his senses, and welcome him back personally with open arms and no hard feelings, once the report had been confirmed.
The Greek word for repentance is metanoia (it’s a favorite word of mine), and it means to turn around. Despite a lot of the fuss that has been made about reconciliation in various letters, repentance precedes genuine reconciliation. When someone repents of the false accusations and the lies, reconciliation is as easy as a hug, a handshake, and a pat on the back saying “welcome back.” No grudges are to be held, there is to be no holding on to the experience as blackmail to attack someone with it years down the road–the slate is wiped clean and one starts again to rebuild the confidence and trust of one’s forgiving brethren.
The Bible gives the standard of forgiveness in Matthew 18:22, where Christ told Peter that we are to forgive our brother seventy times seven. When someone repents, we are to forgive them. Repentance means a genuine change of heart, not merely an empty sham of an apology. When we repent we cast off the weight of sin, turn around, and commit again to doing what is right. Then we start all over again, as many times as it takes to finish the race of faith.
Likewise, the Bible contains a few words about the attitude we have when that which is lost is found. Luke 15 contains three different parables that tell of the joy of God in receiving repentant sinners, the same sort of joy that we should have in welcoming back our brethren who have returned. Luke 15:1-7 gives the story of the lost sheep, saying in Luke 15:7: “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven other one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. Of course, all human beings are sinners in need of repentance, for we have all fallen short of God’s standard of righteousness (Romans 3:23). Luke 15:8-10 gives the story of the woman looking for the lost coin, saying, in verse 10: “Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Of course, the most famous biblical passage about the lost becoming found is the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32, which closes with the loving father telling his less than happy elder son in verses 31 and 32: “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.”
We should get the point when the Bible repeats it three times like this. When someone repents of their error, we are to celebrate and be glad, knowing how hard it is for repent and how precious it is to be forgiven of one’s sins and to be made blameless, restored to the good graces of God and our brethren. We are not to be sullen or hostile to those who desire to reconcile, having repented, but rather to celebrate that they have come to themselves and found their way again. So let us welcome those who repent with open arms, knowing that none of us are beyond the need to repent ourselves. For who are we to hold a grudge against our brethren? Rather, let us welcome them back with open arms and loving hearts.