If Christianity is a contest, we’ve lost already. A reading of Luke 13:1-5 suggests this.
Some who were present with him at that time told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices. In answer, Jesus said to them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans suffered such things because they were more sinful than all [other] Galileans? No, I tell you; rather, unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen [souls] who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them — were they greater debtors than all people who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; rather, unless you repent, you all will likewise perish.
I was once told that, ‘All you need to do to keep God happy is live by the 10 Commandments and Sermon on the mount.’
This is easier said than done. Jesus spent a great deal of time showing how far we are from doing ‘all we need to do’. People naturally think, if they think about these matters at all, that there is a hierarchy of goodness, and if you past 50% (or just do better than others) you’ll be ok. That’s where the Galileans come in.
Galileans, in the minds of your average resident of Judea, were either country hicks or revolutionaries. They were looked down upon by respectable Judeans. A fellow called Nathaniel initially questioned Jesus’ character on this basis: ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’
These particular Galileans were either in the temple making sin-offerings when Pilate took vengeance on them for some crime he thought they had done, OR they were terrorists caught in the act of killing Romans (or Roman sympathisers) and Pilate slaughtered them over the bodies of their own victims.
Were these Galileans worse than all Galileans because this sudden death came upon them? Did they receive a special judgment from God for their evil? Jesus said, ‘No’.
The Lord Jesus says we are all in the same boat as the Galatians; unless we repent, we will all perish. He repeats this message with an example of his own — those who seem to have been taken in an accident – a tower in Jerusalem fell on them. Were they worse than others? No, they were just like us. Unless we repent, we all will likewise perish.
Jesus did not say this because he was somehow in a bad mood that day, and it was not said because Jesus had little concern for the people he was speaking to. His aim was to use some vivid and real examples to benefit people who were in great need but didn’t know it.
What is a Sinner?
Technically, sin is not doing what God requires of us, and it is also doing what God tells us not to do. The sober reading of the law of God shows us that we don’t do what God says and we do do what he forbids.
But in a more basic way, we are born covenant breakers. Our first parent Adam was made good and could do good, but decided not to. By this disobedience, he sinned and brought death upon himself and all of us, his children. David in Ps. 51 says “In sin my mother conceived me.”, meaning that from conception, David was a sinner, and so are all of us.
What is Repentance?:
- It is not ‘turning over a new leaf.’
- Nor is it joining a support group (Alcoholics Anonymous, Weight Watchers, or the local church).
- It is not acting according to ideas of positive thinking or some pop psychology.
So what is repentance? It is a change of mind, not a change in behaviour (though true repentance results in changes of behaviour). In particular, is it a change in our opinion about our own basic ‘goodness’ and a change in our attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ.
Continued in Part 2.