Jesus gave the parable in Matthew 18:23-35 to show us an example of a trusted, gifted servant who is suddenly revealed to be the chief of all debtors. Here is someone who is undeserving, full of wrong motives, not worthy of compassion at all. Yet his master forgives him freely—just as Jesus did you and me.
Let me say a brief word here about repentance. This concept is often defined as a “turning around.” It speaks of an about-face, a 180-degree turn from one’s previous ways. Also, repentance is said to be accompanied by godly sorrow.
Yet, once again the New Covenant takes an Old Testament concept even further. Repentance is about much more than merely turning away from sins of the flesh—more than sorrowing over the past and being sad for grieving the Lord. According to Jesus’ parable, repentance is about turning away from the mind-sickness that allows us to believe we can somehow make up for our sins.
This sickness afflicts millions of believers. Whenever such Christians fall into sin, they think, “I can make things right with the Lord. I’ll bring Him sincere tears, more earnest prayer, more Bible reading. I’m determined to make it up to Him.” But that is impossible. This kind of thinking leads to one place: hopeless despair. Such people are forever struggling and always failing, and they end up settling for a false peace. They pursue a phony holiness of their own making, convincing themselves of a lie.
Tell me, what saved you? Was it your tears and earnest pleading? Your deep sorrow over grieving God? Your sincere resolve to turn from sin? No, it was none of these things. It was grace alone that saved you. And like the servant in the parable, you didn’t deserve it. In fact, you’re still not worthy of it, no matter how godly your walk is.
Here is a simple formula for true repentance: “I must turn aside, once and for all, every thought that I could ever repay the Lord. I can never work my way into His good graces. Therefore, no effort or good work on my part can wipe out my sin. I simply have to accept His mercy. It’s the only way to salvation and freedom.”