In the Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, repentance and forgiveness are discussed explicitly. These acts serve as our attempt to become better Christians. Only in repenting our sins and working for their forgiveness are we able to embrace the workings of God. Additionally, it is only through the word of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, and the grace of God, that man is forgiven. But, if one does not repent and change one’s ways, receiving God’s forgiveness is impossible.
In explaining these aspects of Christian faith, they also help to explain the static relationship between God and his people in the earlier Books of Genesis, Exodus and Job. Consequently, the New Testament gives a new perspective on these ideas since God had sent His only Son to earth to be our Savior. With the teachings of Christ as the basis for our actions, we know to forgive others and to ask God for His Grace.
Luke’s Gospel contains many of Jesus’ most famous parables. Through them, He teaches us the values of redemption and forgiveness. But, Luke stresses that both redemption and forgiveness through Jesus is universal. Anyone who believes in Him can be saved. The parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the Prodigal Son are representative of true acts of forgiveness and repentance. All three parables deal with
The parable of the lost sheep is an example of God’s desire to bring back one repentant man. As the Shepard celebrates the recovery of one wayward sheep from his flock, so too does the Kingdom of God, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). Although only one sheep out of one hundred had been lost, the desire to bring it back is enough to leave the other sheep alone to search for the lost one.
Similarly, the parable of the lost coin is symbolic of the same idea. But the idea of searching through the house using a lighted candle is important. The lighted candle is also another symbol of Christianity, symbolizing the light of God’s knowledge. During Easter, lighted candles also represent the coming of Christ.
Here, as the woman uses the candle to search for the coin, so too does the sinner need the word of God to be redeemed. The celebration in heaven over the recovery of one sinner is similar to that of the previous parable and the idea is thoroughly reinforced, “… there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). Likewise does
The greatest parable of repentance and forgiveness is that of the Prodigal Son. Leaving his family for a life of pleasure, the son returns penniless, expecting the life of a servant as punishment for his wantonness. Speaking to his father and expressing his dire straits, the son returns, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). Regardless of what had happened in the past, his father welcomes him back with open arms. His other son, who had remained loyal and hard-working all of his life, expressed anger at his father’s quickly forgiving his brother. But as seen before, the return of one wayward soul is more joyous than the continuation of a good life. In the father’s own words to his “loyal” son:
Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
It was fitting to make merry and glad, for this your brother
was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found. (Luke 15:31)
Similar ideas are found within the Acts of the Apostles, but in this book, the focus broadens to the forgiveness and repentance of Gentiles. The prerequisites for salvation are expanded to the Gentiles. St. Peter understands the need to include Gentiles within the new Church, “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34). It is the active work of the disciples who bring people into the Church. As seen with the work of St. Peter and St. Paul, these two men preached of universal salvation.
St. Peter begins the acceptance of new members into the Church. As leader, he finally understands God’s desire to bring the Word to the Gentiles. In St. Peter’s words, “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God…” and in receiving his message the people realized the need too, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:17-18).
St. Paul’s efforts to spread the Word to the Mediterranean World is also a success, “For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts13: 47). Both forefathers of the Church played an active role in infusing the Church with new blood. As the Gentiles received the Word of God, they too receive the opportunity to be forgiven:
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.(Acts 17:30-31)
The death of Christ is the door through which one gains God’s forgiveness. The main aspect of St. Paul’s teachings is that becoming Christian involved receiving the Word of God as well as the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Choosing to become Christian is useless without divine knowledge and divine inspiration.
Lacking the redemption from the Death of Christ, the early books of the Bible regarded God the Father as the only way to salvation. In the Books of Genesis, Exodus and Job, the Trinity had not yet come into existence. The Holy Spirit had not yet come to inspire the masses nor was Christ there to teach the world.
The interaction between mankind and the Lord was more active (e.g. Moses and God), but His help was confined only to those of His “chosen people”, the Israelites. The Gentiles received no support. The covenants made between the Lord and Noah, Abraham, and Jacob are only for His people. But since the death of Christ, He eventually grants His word to Gentiles. As seen through St. Peter’s realization, there is no one “chosen people”. Instead, the inhabitants of the entire world are candidates to be saved. Also, without the active intervention of God, the Church’s messengers had to actively work to show people how to be model Christians.
A basic belief of the Christian faith is that forgiveness and repentance come exclusively through active faith. Believing in the workings of Jesus Christ will result in one’s sins being forgiven. But, strict belief in Christ is not enough. It is but one aspect of receiving absolution. The penitent person must be willing to examine his/her character and work to change existing flaws – only then can one be truly forgiven, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). Only by striving to live through these words will a one find forgiveness.
The Holy Bible – Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition. Ignatius Press, San Francisco. 1966.