[15:1] Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them."
 So he told them this parable:  "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.'  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
 "Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?  And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.'  Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Luke 15:1-10 (ESV)
“Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. Just so, I tell you there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” “Over one sinner who repents.”
The 99 bring no joy because they do not repent. The 99 bring no joy because they stay in their sins. But there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. It is the joy of a father receiving a son back. It is great joy indeed. The question though is what is repentance? What is it’s relationship to faith? When Martin Luther Penned his 95 thesis the first one claimed that the whole life of the Christian should be one of repentance. He rebelled against indulgences because they short circuited repentance, and all but encouraged sin. Of course, it is often thought that Lutheranism encourages the same with it’s emphasis on Grace alone and faith alone. But this is not true, because where there is no repentance there is no faith, not in the way that Lutheran’s understand faith which is to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. It’s funny about the 95 thesis, that one reading this document that started the reformation, doesn’t notice a whole lot Lutheran about it. Luther wrote those almost as one stabbing in the dark at something that was wrong. There isn’t a lot about forgiveness, there is nothing about faith alone. Behind the document are numerous Roman Catholic assumptions. Yet, he is right when he claims that the whole of Christian life should be marked by repentance.
It is sort of curious to me, today when I hear certain representatives of so called Christian traditions, that refuse to baptize babies, claiming one needs to repent before they can be saved. Denying the Grace of God given in baptism to those whom Christ adored so much as to make models concerning the reception of God’s kingdom is not Christian, and it betrays a false sense of repentance, but a sense of repentance that I think we are often guilty of harboring, even a Pharisaical sense of repentance. It is an idea that gives rise to classifications of sin, self-righteousness, and despair.
Repentance is the call to faith, the call to faith is a call to repentance. It was the call of John the Baptist who was preparing the way, and it was the call of Jesus Christ who is the way. But it is often confused. Repentance is thought of as something we do, and possibly even as something we can do without the help of God. But true repentance, just like faith is an impossibility apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.
There is an earthly sense of repentance, and this is where I think the confusion comes in. Repentance here means a couple different things, that are not necessarily foreign to Christian repentance, but are inadequate for the definition. In the world repentance is a sorrowful feeling over a grievous, and a promise to stop, or atleast and attempt to try and stop. And this is what so many Christian theologies seem to think of repentance. It is perhaps the reason the Amish let their kids go wild for a couple years, so they have something to repent of. The true problem with this concept of repentance is a failure to think of sin in anything but human terms. To think of it only in regards to those things we consider sinful or particularly bad, perhaps mostly because of their ill effects on society, and the disruptions they cause to a peaceful existence, and the hurt it causes in one’s own life and those with whom we share life. And though that is a meaningful distinction, or classification to make, it fails to plumb the depths of what sin is and what we most need to repent of. Drunkenness, adultery, fornication, theft, murder, the despising of parents and other authorities, should have not place in the Christian life, and where there is guilt concerning these things there needs also be repentance even in the earthly sense if faith and repentance in the Christian sense are to live.
But repentance is so much more, and means so much more than adopting the middleclass mores of society at large. And it is this repentance that brings joy to the heart of our Father in heaven and causes his angels to rejoice. It is the repentance that is coming to faith. God does not classify sin in the same way we do, so he does not regard repentance in the same way we do. At the heart of sin, is the great sin of unbelief. All sin is a result of our failure to fear, love and trust in God above all things. This is why even our good works, when done outside of faith can be considered sins, it is why even our good works need to be forgiven if they are to be regarded as good in the sight of God. This is what the Pharisees failed to understand, the reason why the 99 think they need no repentance. They do not see their unbelief as being sin. It is also why we don’t commune people of other faiths or denominations in reality. No one needs Jesus to give up drunkenness, though he might help. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that fornication and adultery are bad for society and for an individual, same with a host of other sins. You can repent of those and still not know true repentance.
True repentance is a gift from God that comes with faith in Jesus Christ who forgives our sin, who forgives us of adultery, fornication, drunkenness, theft, but most of all forgives us of our unbelief, and thus brings us to repentance, and restores our love for God, and for mankind whom he has redeemed, teaching us not to regard others as sinners as if we were not, but people to be loved with the love of God who died on the cross to take away the sin of the world, the greatest sin of all, unbelief.