I ask this question because it seems in many different faiths there is a stigma linked to members who strayed and later repented. There is outward acceptance by most. But there is also a distance kept by some who act as if they need further “proof” before they fully embrace a repentant person.
So what do you think? Is loyalty is a better quality than repentance? To answer this question, consider the words of Jesus Christ at Luke 15:1-7. It reads: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
“Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” — New International Version.
How could there be “more rejoicing in heaven” over one repentant sinner than over 99 righteous persons if repentance was not as important to God as being righteous?
Consider another example Jesus gave at Luke 18:9-14: “He also told this illustration to some who trusted in their own righteousness and who considered others as nothing: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and began to pray these things to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like everyone else — extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give the tenth of all things I acquire.’
“But the tax collector, standing at a distance, was not willing even to raise his eyes heavenward but kept beating his chest, saying, ‘O God, be gracious to me, a sinner.’ I tell you, this man went down to his home and was proved more righteous than that Pharisee.” — New World Translation.
Remember, Jesus saw the way those religious leaders treated the common people. He knew what they thought and he exposed their arrogant thinking so that his disciples could avoid the attitude that turned people into spiritual snobs. Jesus Christ was not like that. He was not self-righteous or narrow-minded with a holier-than-thou attitude.
Jesus valued people. He also valued repentance. But he saw how the pious looked down on sinners, even those who came to their senses and needed to be shown reassurance and genuine love. He made the point clear in the famous parable of the Prodigal Son. As you read Luke 15:11-32, try to visualize the story. For our purpose, we only need to focus on the return of this repentant son and the reaction of his righteous brother, a loyal son, who had never disappointed his father — until now.
In verses 25-32, the account reads, “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’” — New Living Translation.
So what do you think? Is loyalty better than repentance? Is it harder to repent than to stay on the right path? Each person must answer for themselves. Do you feel repentance is a lesser quality than loyalty in the sight of God? Both have virtue. Both are needed to please God. Is it fair to treat one quality as better than the other?
I am forever mindful that as imperfect beings, it is not within our power to live up to the perfect standards of God without faltering, be it in a large or small way. Others may see us as always faithful. But God knows, even the most loyal humans must seek His forgiveness many times each day. Perhaps repentance is a part of being loyal?
With that in mind, is it too much to hope that repentant people, whose errors were gross, receive a little more joy on earth like they receive in heaven? Surely, if they corrected themselves when they went off course we could do the same.
Besides, who wouldn’t want to join in a rejoicing in heaven?