Saturday, October 9, 2010

An Old Man Who Changed His Mind (A Little)

Okay, maybe one more post for now about repentance, and then perhaps we’ll move on to another topic. I don’t have much of a plan for where we go after this. This will be a shorter post and anecdotal, but it is something I have thought about a lot in connection with how much a person must or must not change his mind in order to believe in Jesus.

In our ministry in Papua New Guinea, one couple we worked with was an old, frail couple named Dua and Agnes who were nearly on their deathbeds. Their lives consisted of moving outside into the sun when the weather was nice, going inside into their little hut which they shared with some pigs when it was raining or the sun was too bright, and waiting for their family to bring them food. We used to go and visit with them, take them some food, and teach them from the Bible.

Dua and Agnes had been well steeped in animistic Catholicism and put all their hope of heaven in the Catholic system. But as I taught them, one thing that kept coming up from Dua, the husband, was that when he was a young man he had stolen a pig and had never gotten caught or paid any compensation for it, and he was worried that maybe that sin would send him to hell.

As I taught Dua, I taught a lot about how we as fallen people are helpless sinners and are unable to keep God’s laws or do anything to save ourselves. But when I would ask him about being a sinner, it always seemed to come back to that stolen pig. I don’t know how much Dua ever grasped the depth of his sinfulness outside of that one sin, but to the best of my knowledge he did understand that Jesus had paid for his sins and that Jesus alone would freely save him. And to the best of my knowledge, Dua did believe in Jesus as the One who would indeed save him and give him eternal life.

Now, the reason I have thought a lot about Dua in regard to repentance is that I have heard people who believe that repentance refers to a change of mind say that a person must understand that he is a helpless sinner before he can truly believe in Jesus. Many would say that a person could not truly believe in Jesus if he was only scared about the consequences of one particular sin, rather than seeing himself as a sinner completely beyond remedy. There was a time when I would have agreed with them. But now I realize that it must either be true or not true that a person can entrust his eternal destiny to Jesus and be secure.

I understand that God’s law was intended to point out sin and that God desires that all of us would understand the depth of our sin and thus the depth of His mercy. I also understand that a deep awareness of sin often leads people to faith in Christ. At the same time, I saw in Dua an example of a person whose understanding of such an important biblical theme was very limited, and yet who, as far as I could tell, believed that Jesus would give him eternal life. As I think about Dua, it makes me wonder, how much do any of us truly understand the depths of our sinfulness? When can we ever say our minds have been changed enough?

The fact remains that no matter how much more a person needs to understand about himself, about his sin, about Jesus and about his relationship with God, Jesus told us “whoever believes in Me, has eternal life.” That is the promise of our Lord, and we can take that to the bank.

Just some thoughts to ponder in connection with thinking about repentance as a change of mind. Any thoughts?