Earlier this year I shared some general thoughts about the “Jesus Revolution” and the Asbury Revivals in more detail. It is difficult for me to revisit the roots of my salvation without experiencing that familiar but indescribable joy that accompanied my decision to accept the greatest deal that could ever be offered.
John 3:16 is probably the best-known passage in the Bible. It affirms God’s love for all humankind and invites any and all of us to receive salvation and everlasting life rather than divine condemnation. Judy and I said “YES” together in 1966 and have never looked back with regrets about our decision. We still unconditionally believe in our Lord and Savior.
Are we happy about everything all the time? You must be kidding! “Happy” is a conditional and temporary feeling. The joy of salvation, however, is a state of being that swallows up the pain and suffering which all people must endure until the end of time.
Our joy comes from the anticipation that we will soon be joining the party in heaven that celebrates the finding of what was lost and now is found. We are among those. Knowing that helps us overcome whatever issues we face in this world.
I was studying chapter 15 in Luke’s Gospel the other day and found myself once again engrossed in the parable of the prodigal son. Jesus was teaching the crowd of tax collectors and sinners with the kind of authority that was missing when the leaders of the religious establishment tried to teach them.
They were jealous of Jesus’s popularity and critical that he would surround himself with all these deplorables. They hated him because he offended their self-righteous religious certainties. But he was who he said he was and proved it with signs and wonders along with his powerful preaching. They had to eliminate him by whatever means necessary.
Jesus responded to their criticism by telling them three parables, each a story about something that was lost and found: a sheep, a valuable coin, and a wayward son. In each situation he concludes that there is rejoicing in heaven when one lost soul repents. In each situation a celebration ensues, a party if you prefer.
This was the Lord’s main earthly mission; to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:10). He didn’t come to condemn sinners, but to give himself up as a sacrifice for their sins so that they could be reconciled to the Father. Are we really that valuable? The Lord thinks so.
Jesus concludes his discussion with the Pharisees by telling the story about a father of two sons. The younger one evidently doesn’t want to stay down on the farm and desires the bright lights and excitement of “fast living.” His father didn’t try to stop him. He released his son with his share of the inheritance, probably certain that his boy was going to mess up his life looking for the immediate gratification that personal freedom offers to the foolish.
Irresponsible freedom has been the downfall of many young people. The Deceiver offered the illusion of freedom to Eve in the garden, but it was a costly trap. Now, our sinful nature promptly leads us astray if we are not alert. It is only our love for the Lord that enables us to obey him. Rules and regulations have no power to save us. Mercy and grace are sorely needed.
It didn’t take long before the young man had completely squandered his money and found himself in desperate straits. Doesn’t that seem to be an all-too-common situation these days? There are so many people who are lost and hopeless with nothing but superficial comforts such as alcohol or drugs, either ignorant that their Heavenly Father loves them, or maybe too proud or ashamed to let themselves be found.
Fortunately, the kid eventually came to his senses. He decided to change the course of his life, which was already in ruins. In short, he repented.
Repentance isn’t just being sorry for the bad things you have done, or even for the good things you didn’t do but should have. Yes, confession is good for the soul and taking ownership for your sins, rather than blame-shifting your bad decisions on others is a good first step in the right direction. Wallowing in self-inflicted victimhood gets you nowhere. Nobody is perfect.
We all need to confess our sins to one another. If some temporary shame or embarrassment is suffered, so be it. The wage of sin is death, but Jesus paid that debt already. We just need to claim the receipt.
Also, repentance isn’t ultimately about the past. It has more to do with the future. The son humbly decided to go home to where he was last loved, even more than he ever imagined. His expectations about how he would be received were a lot lower than the love, forgiveness, and restoration that awaited his return.
Biblical repentance is the decision to reject willful sinning and to attempt living a holy life before the Lord; to walk in the light of his love. Intention and tenacity (long-suffering) are necessary elements of true repentance. King David put it succinctly; To dwell in the House of the Lord forever”. (Psalm 23:6)
The father saw his boy coming in the far distance. He had probably long kept an eye on that gate, in hopeful expectation that his lost son would one day return home where he belonged. Many parents today patiently wait in the hope that their lost children will one day come to their senses, return home, and take hold of the joy of their salvation. And what joy it is!
That was the most remarkable aspect about the Jesus Movement and consequent revivals. A visitation of the Holy Spirit that reignites the joy of salvation is the living fruit of true repentance. It changes your life forever and impacts those you encounter. Being found certainly is reason for a celebration.
The last part of the story is sad. The party had already started. Reconciliation and restoration of the younger son was already a done deal. He was dead and now alive, lost and now found. Rejoicing was in order.
The older son, however, was defiantly angry. He refused to join the party. In his self-righteousness he even insulted his father. In his opinion he was the one who deserved the party because he always obeyed the rules and felt he had never done anything wrong. Yet, he got nothing for that.
His “loser” brother, however, gets the big party. The older brother had stayed on the farm, but his heart was just as far away from his father as his lost brother’s heart had been. Nevertheless, the father patiently pleaded with his hard-hearted son, “We HAD to party, your brother was dead and now he is alive, lost and now found.”
It’s not that difficult to see that Jesus is talking to the Pharisees about themselves. They are the older self-righteous brothers who critically judge and harshly condemn “sinners.” They had rejected Jesus and the free mercy and grace offered even to them if only they could repent and believe in him.
But they loved their traditions, theological dogmas, and their earthly authority a lot more than they loved people. There are those within every religious establishment who are much like the Pharisees. They consider themselves too good to even associate with the lost, much less party with them when they come home. That is tragic. They miss sharing the joy of salvation, the fruit of repentance. Perhaps they even miss their own party.
True righteousness is only found “in Christ.” As we submit ourselves in faith to him, the Holy Spirit conforms us to his likeness. As a result, we will prioritize the things that he values. Seeking and saving the lost and reconciling them to God the Father is the Church’s ultimate priority.
Revivals, large or small, are glorious events. Rejoicing here and in heaven will certainly follow. There’s going to be a party. Let’s enjoy it.
[LeRoy Curtis is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Asbury Theological Seminary. He served four years as a U.S. Naval Officer after which he became a pastor, Bible professor, educator, author, and missionary living in E. Africa for eight years where he and his wife developed a curriculum of biblical studies for untrained pastors in rural Kenya. His passion for training young church leaders takes him to various parts of the U.S., Latin America, and Africa. He and Judy are currently residing in Carrollton, Georgia.]