March 18, 2007: Repentance Means Talking The Talk And Walking The Walk

Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we ask that You speak to our hearts in Your holy Word. Show us our sins—all of them. And then move us to freely come forth and to seek You out for forgiveness. Yes, today teach us the true meaning of repentance while in the process making us whole again. Amen


TEXT: Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

All of you have heard the expression: “Actions speak louder than words.” I dare say, I’ll bet that most, if not all of you have said those very words, too. In the Church we use a variation of that expression when it comes to people who are caught up in a sin, confronted with it, and then ask for forgiveness. We tell them to bring forth fruits of repentance, too. This truth of coupling confession over sins with the fruits of repentance was laid out by none other than the greatest human repentance preacher of all times, John the Baptist. For when the self-righteous Pharisees and Sadducees came to him seeking John’s forgiving baptism in order to put on a show, he told them: “Produce fruits in keeping with repentance.”

The parable before us, the story of the lost, or prodigal son, is all about such repentance. It is an important piece of our Lenten puzzle which, if glossed over, means that our Easter worship will be incomplete at best and pure folly at worst. So, let’s examine it in depth by pondering the fact that:



The visible church of Christ’s time, just as today, contained both sinners hungry for real forgiveness and sinners who liked to piously talk the talk, but not walk the walk. So, Jesus told them a parable about what real repentance means. The first character in this story is a wealthy father (Who stands for our Father in heaven). He has two sons who stand in inherit his entire estate. One son is the hard working type who labors tirelessly in the family business. He never gives his dad any trouble. On the surface he’s a model child. The other son is lazy and a bit of a ner-do-well. He wants to experience the world. He wants his future glory right now. So, he approaches his dad and tells him, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” The loving Father follows through and the younger son goes off to a distant country and spends all his money on a sinful lifestyle. He gambles. He drinks too much. He consorts with prostitutes. Everyone is his friend. He’s having a great time until his money runs out. Then, suddenly, everyone deserts him, he finds himself hungry, and the only way he can feed his body is by slopping pigs.—This something no pious Jew would ever do! He becomes a broken man. Even the pigs eat better than he does. Then, one day, he resolves to swallow his pride and return home. “When he came to his senses…he got up and went to his father.”

Note well that the father sees him from a great distance—apparently he’s been waiting for this day with bated breath. The father runs out to him, thus making the first move. We’re told he was “filled with compassion” because God loves even lost sinners and proved it by sending Christ to die on a cross to save them—us. The father hugs him, kisses him, and welcomes him. And what is the son’s response? “Father, I have sinned against heaven (real repentance always puts God first) and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” On his own, without any coercion he apologizes from his heart.

What happens next? Well, the father can both see and hear that not only does this wayward son talk the talk, he now walks the walk of genuine repentance. He’s overjoyed! He calls his servants together and tells them to prepare a feast. He puts new clothes on his son and even an expensive ring on his finger to show his status as his beloved son. Why? “For this son of mine was dead (in sin) and is alive again; he who was lost is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”


What a beautiful picture of God’s grace! What love we see here! But now jealousy rears its ugly head and seeks to diminish that joy. The older brother, who is working hard in the field, hears of this and is put out. All the months or perhaps years of worry, all the past slights his brother inflicted on him, all that emotional pain wells up in him and he becomes angry. He even refuses to be a part of this celebration! Jealousy and grudge bearing destroy family ties and Godly ones, too.  Here we see that up til now this older brother did the opposite of that ner-do-well in that he walked the outward walk of repentance, but now he fails to talk the talk!

And what does the Father do? He seeks to calm his troubled mind by both explaining and showing what grace really is. “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again (real repentance makes us alive!); he was lost and is found.” And of course, the point of this for the Jews was that God welcomes sinners into His fold by grace alone. And He wants those sinners to both talk the talk and walk the walk!


When I was new to the ministry I never really thought that someone could misuse and abuse the beautiful truths of this parable. After all, it’s pretty straight-forward, isn’t it? But some years back, I ran across a fellow who did abuse it. It seems he had been caught in a particular sin against another Christian and called to account because of it. That fellow hemmed and hawed and finally admitted he was wrong. But he never then sought out the very one he had harmed and said: “I’m sorry.” Which, of course, left me with the thought: “Are you sorry because you got caught, so sorry you did it?” Weeks went on and no apology was given to the hurting party. Finally, I had to seek this fellow out again to solicit that apology and the hemming and hawing happened all over again. Outwardly he talked the talk of repentance but he had failed to walk the walk. He failed to bring forth fruits—in this case an apology. So, eventually I told him: “I cannot minister to you anymore.” And at that he threw this story of the lost son in my face. To him repentance meant merely mouthing the right words, but not really acting on them. To him apparently God doesn’t care if we fail to walk the walk, as long as we outwardly talk the talk.

My friends, both are necessary for the Christian. Confession entails both saying: “I’m sorry” to God and then bringing forth visible fruits of that sorrow. We see that repeated in the confessional service, when the minister asks the congregation: “I now ask you before God, is this your sincere confession, that you heartily repent of your sins, believe on Jesus Christ, and sincerely and earnestly purpose, by the assistance of God the Holy Ghost, henceforth to amend your sinful life? Then declare so by saying: Yes.”

John the Baptist was right and Christ was right when they tell us to repent of our sins by both talking the talk and walking the walk. For to do otherwise means we’re living a lie. Don’t let that be a picture of you! Talk to God from your heart and then show forth the love and forgiveness that He offers to you! In other words, repent and be saved! Amen