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Lessons from the Old Testament

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The False Repentance of Esau

by Aneel Aranha

I find it difficult to condemn Judas. It would mean condemning all of us; we are so much like him. Judas followed Jesus like the other apostles did. I imagine he did the best he could to live up to the teachings of his master, going as far as his strength and his insight could take him. But at the end, he fell ruefully short and betrayed Jesus, selling him for thirty pieces of silver.

Judas wasn't the only apostle to betray Jesus. Peter did so too. Soon after Jesus's arrest, he witnessed the rough treatment that Jesus received at the hands of his accusers, and scared that he would suffer the same fate if identified as one of Jesus's followers, Peter denied knowing him. Just a few hours earlier he had sworn he would die for his master.

The sins of the two men were great. Yet, one man is a hero in our eyes today, blessed by God with a church that lasts to this day, while the other is damned for all eternity in hell. Peter's redemption wasn't because his act of betrayal—out of cowardice rather than greed—was lesser than that of Judas's but in the way he reacted to his sin.

Peter repented. He wept for his sin. He begged for forgiveness. And Jesus reconfirmed him in faith and love. In time, Peter would give his life for his Lord.

Judas, however, believed his sin was beyond redemption. He didn't understand that God's mercy was great and all he needed to do to be restored was to turn to God in repentance. Instead, he turned his back on God and committed suicide, then well and truly placing himself beyond redemption.

We are guilty of the same sins that Peter and Judas were guilty of, committing them with a regularity that far exceeds anything the apostles ever did. We constantly sell out Jesus for the temporal pleasures of this world that are often worth far less than thirty pieces of silver. We deny him whenever it is inconvenient for us to stay faithful and true. We betray him day after day in hundreds of different ways. Then some of us, like Peter, turn to God in sorrow and are restored. Others, like Judas, don't comprehend the mercy of God and turn away, compounding a great mistake by making an even greater one.

I can attest to God's mercy. I have first hand experience of it and know that there is no sin that God won't forgive if the contrition is heartfelt. In the days before my conversion I had committed every sin imaginable, short of murder, though I was perhaps guilty of that too. When you think something in your head and want it with your heart, the deed is as good as done, and I had committed genocide in heart and mind! Yet when I went to God in repentance, there was no condemnation, no punishment; on the contrary, there was an outpouring of love such I had never imagined possible and tremendous blessings as evidenced by the success of this ministry.

Yes, God's mercy is great indeed. It is vast. It is ongoing. It is limitless. Yet, it isn't "infinite" as we commonly understand the word to be. God's mercy, when not applied for reasons of sovereign grace [see Jacob I Loved, But Esau I Hated: Justice and Mercy], is dependent on the nature and sincerity of our repentance. Esau, again, provides a good study.

A dying Isaac (Genesis 27) told his elder son Esau to prepare one of the wonderful meals that his son often cooked for him before he gave the boy his final blessings. Esau hurried off to hunt some game for the meal, but the instant he was gone his mother Rebekah, who had overheard the conversation, orchestrated a stunning piece of deception to make Jacob, whom she favored, receive the blessing instead. When Esau returned and found out that he had been cheated of his rights as firstborn, he burst into tears, begging his father for his share of the blessings.

But Esau was too late. He was a few years too late, as a matter of fact. In his younger days, he sold his birthright to his brother for a bowl of soup, undoubtedly believing that his inheritance was his by right and it was so secure, it couldn't really be taken away no matter what he did. When he discovered that he had made a grave error of judgment, he wept. But, unlike Peter, his wasn't the weeping of repentance. It was the weeping of frustration and despair at having lost what he thought was his for the taking. And then, rather than accept responsibility for his mistake and be sorry for it, he blamed his brother and swore to kill him the moment their father was dead.

It is the same mistake that all of us who are as blasť of our inheritance as Christians are in danger of making. We sin continuously, selling our birthright for less than a bowl of soup, somehow believing—as Esau did—that our inheritance will still be waiting for us at the end. We believe that God, in his "infinite" mercy, will simply wave us into heaven with a majestic sweep of his hand, overlooking all rebellion that we engaged in against him. Oh, are we in for a shock! Many of us are going to find ourselves in the same position as Esau, and then we will weep in frustration and despair, just as he did, for the rest of eternity.

Be warned. God is not a fool. He knows why we sin. He knows how we sin. And he knows when we are sorry for our sins because he will see the determination in our hearts not to repeat them. He will see how hard we try to stay on the path and he will give us the grace we need to succeed. And when we fall, despite trying our very best, he will forgive us without question if we go to him with a contrite heart, even if it is a million times. He will do so because he is a merciful God.

But if we take a casual approach to sin, believing as many of us do that God understands our "weaknesses" and that a perfunctory visit to the confessional once a year is enough to get us absolved of everything we do, or that merely being baptized in Christ guarantees us eternal life, we are in for a big shock.

Does this sound unscriptural to you? Read this:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

The Galatians whom Paul wrote this letter to were all baptized Christians who had accepted Christ as their Savior; they were not pagans kneeling to Baal or bowing low before Asherah poles. Yet he repeatedly warned these "saved" Christians that they would lose their inheritance if they persisted in their sinful behavior.

Let us understand this clearly, all of us who keep justifying our sins and engaging in them with no fear or thought of the consequences of our actions, that it is a dangerous game we play. We play it at the risk of hellfire.

Repent, therefore, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. (Acts 3:19)

May the Spirit be with you.

Aneel Aranha (February 12, 2005)

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