The parable of the prodigal son is the perfect picture of repentance. In his sermon this past weekend Pastor Kong Hee taught the church about the importance of heeding the Holy Spirit’s conviction and turning over a new leaf.
“There is a mourning that can bring you tremendous joy and happiness—one that is out of this world,” said Kong Hee, City Harvest Church’s senior pastor, as he began his sermon on the weekend of 30 April and 1 May.
In Matthew 5:4, Jesus taught, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Pastor Kong explained that in this context, this is not the sort of mourning that happens over a death or a loss, but grief over a person’s sinful fallen condition.
“You are filled with godly sorrow because your sin is affecting your relationship with God,” he expounded. “The mourning Jesus is talking about is repentance. Repentance always brings great joy, delight and pleasure.”
He went on to elaborate on the importance of repentance in the Bible—Jesus preached it and He repeatedly commanded the disciples to preach repentance. In fact, all through the Gospels, from John the Baptist to the Apostle John, repentance is a running theme: Peter preached repentance on the Day of Pentecost, Paul told the people at Athens to repent and in Revelations, John wrote to the seven churches and exhorted them to repent.
Pastor Kong went on to teach that repentance is a combination of three things.
REPENTANCE IS A GODLY SORROW
Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians that godly sorrow ultimately brings about repentance that leads to hope and change (2 Cor 7:10). This grief is the work of the Holy Spirit. It convicts the individual of his rebellion towards God and the sins which have damaged his fellowship and relationship with Him.
“However, it is important to be convicted by the Holy Spirit and not be condemned by the devil,” said Pastor Kong. Conviction is for a specific matter, and it provides a clear path to transformation through God’s patience and kindness. Conversely, condemnation from the evil one is vague and produces shame, depression, and a feeling that life is meaningless.
Fortunately, there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1). The conviction of the Spirit is a godly kind of sadness that propels one to change. “Most of us don’t change because we just don’t feel bad enough. There is no real conviction that our sin is grieving the Lord and affecting our fellowship, so we become cavalier about it,” the pastor suggested. At times, people even justify their sins by blaming others or even their genetics.
The good news is that the Holy Spirit came to give believers a new heart so that they can take responsibility for their own actions and change for good.
REPENTANCE IS A CHANGE OF MIND
“Repentance is more than a feeling of regret or remorse,” Pastor Kong continued. In Greek, it is the word metanoia which means “a change of mind”. “When Jesus says you’ve got to repent, He is saying that you must change the way you think—specifically towards sin—about the wrong way you have been living,” the pastor taught.
It is making a decision not to lead life to please oneself but to do life God’s way, to live a life that will please Jesus. However, there cannot be complete repentance without the third element, which is a change of direction.
REPENTANCE IS A CHANGE OF DIRECTION
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for repentance is shud, which means “to turn around”. At this point in the sermon, the lights in the hall went off, plunging the congregation into darkness. A beam of light shone from a corner of the stage on to Pastor Kong. He demonstrated that one in sin faces darkness, when he makes a conscious effort to turn his body around, he faces God’s light.
“To repent is to fully change in the direction and purpose of your life,” the pastor explained. Complete repentance is possible only when one puts all the three elements—godly sorrow, the change of mind and direction—together.
THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON
To illustrate what complete repentance looks like, Pastor Kong brought the congregation to the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-31). Jesus told the story of the rebellious younger son of a wealthy family who demanded his inheritance from his father. This was shockingly rude, seeing that his father was still alive. But, his father loved him and granted his request. The prodigal son took his inheritance and wasted it on wild living (Lk 15:13). Soon, he lost everything and found himself working for a farmer feeding the pigs, the lowest job a Jewish person could have.
“At this point, he was filled with grief and sorrow. The Holy Spirit began to move in his heart,” Pastor Kong shared. The prodigal son came to his senses and realised what a selfish and rebellious person he had been. He changed his mind and made the important decision of turning back to his father. (Lk 15:20). Lastly, he changed the direction of his life, returned home, confessed his mistakes and lived the rest of his life pleasing his father.
Little did the prodigal son know, his father had been waiting for his return since he left. Pastor Kong highlighted that this is how God is to His children—He is always waiting for them to return to Him. In the same way the father ran toward his younger son to hug and kiss him, God loves His children and welcomes them home unconditionally. This makes repentance worthwhile.
Jesus brings up the elder son of the family. While he was the leader in his father’s house, his relationship with his father was cold and distant. The point to note here is that it does not matter how senior a person is in the house of God, or how hard they work—it is about the relationship one has with the Father.
When the elder brother heard about his younger brother’s return and that his father had thrown a feast for him, he was furious and refused to attend the celebration (Lk 15:28-30). Confronted by his father, he unleashed a rude and accusatory response. The sinful issues in his heart surfaced, all that he had not dealt with: greed, pride, envy and resentment.
“Jesus is teaching a very important lesson here,” noted Pastor Kong. “It is not just new converts who need to repent, every Christian in the household of God needs repentance.”
For the Christians, repentance must be a permanent daily lifestyle. “The will of Jesus Christ is that the entire life of the believer be one of repentance,” was Martin Luther’s first article of faith in the 95 Theses that he nailed to the wall of the Catholic church.
Jesus taught His disciples in the Lord’s Prayer:“Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt 6:11-12). Just as a person needs daily provision, they need daily forgiveness of sin. “Because without purity and holiness, no one can see the Lord,” Pastor Kong preached.
A sin is a sin—regardless of the severity—as it eventually results in separation from the Lord. Something small, like a bad attitude or behaviour that is inconsistent with the will of God can snowball into something serious if it is not dealt with.
While some sins are easy to overcome, there are those which could take years to shed. Pastor Kong shared that while he had successfully stopped his excessive drinking and use of profanities by the grace of God over four decades ago, there were other sins he only managed to conquer recently, and yet others that he is still working on.
“God will not convict all our sins at one go; instead, He shows us little by little so that He can continue His works in our lives,” said Pastor Kong. “You will wrestle with God. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, you will learn to put to death these cravings of the flesh.”
God is patient and kind—He has given His believers an entire lifetime to repent from their sins (1 Jn 1:8-9). “The more you have victory over sin, the stronger your faith becomes. The more pure in heart you are, the more you’ll see God,” taught the senior pastor.
He closed the meeting by praying for those who need to be set free from their sins, as well as those who are tormented by emotional struggles.