• “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations…” (Jesus, in Luke 24:45-47).
• “They… glorified God, saying, ’God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.’” (Acts 11:18).
• “The sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation…”(2 Corinthians 7:9-10).
• 'Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first…” (Revelation 2:5).
This week, I’m talking to me and you as the offenders, the sinners, the ones who have helped make the world a little more broken. The question we are going to ask is, “How do we genuinely, healthily repent??”
1) Own our offense
People try to find creative ways to say “I’m sorry” that can sound good but often conceal a deflection of blame. A popular phrase going around right now is ‘fauxpology,’ words that sound apologetic but really aren’t.
“I’m sorry I’m not perfect.” (the other person’s standard is too high)
“ I am sorry that you were hurt.”(the other person is too sensitive)
“I’m sorry that I don’t meet your expectations.” (the other person is too judgmental)
“I’m sorry that I was not more self-aware.” (my stupidity is too blame)
Now all of these things might in some sense be true, and it doesn’t mean this should not be part of what you say if you have sinned against someone. But there is a far more important thing to acknowledge. The heart of the biblical words of genuine repentance are as follows: “I have sinned against God and you.” Repentance requires you to own what you need to own. Repentance does not excuse, justify, avoid, deny or cover up. I read an article a number of years ago about Lance Armstrong’s attempt at an apology for the performance enhancing drugs he used:
More than once in the interview Armstrong indicated that his hyper-competitiveness fueled his toxic need to control every outcome. That control was much in display throughout the confession. At one point, Oprah mentioned Betsy Andreu, one of the honest critics that Armstrong smeared. Armstrong acknowledged that he called her a b**** and crazy, but disputed that he ever called her fat. Such defensiveness undermines the whole apology.
An effective apology means giving up your argument with history. It means letting the victims have the last word. But throughout the interview, Armstrong displayed a constant need to have the last word for himself. It’s clear that he is not quite ready to do the heavy lifting of apology. (http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2013/01/18/why-lance-armstrongs-apology-was-just-plain-sorry/)
Repentant people face a hard truth — they have offended God and others. It’s the hardest thing in the world to just take a deep breath and say, “God, I have sinned against you. And my friend, I have sinned against you and really hurt you. I’m sorry.”
Some of you were interacting with me on Facbook this week about this issue and pointed out that our rational, decision-making capacity can be deeply, deeply influenced by our environment. I was introduced to a new term last week: “epigenetic trauma,” which is a fancy way of saying that experiences change our DNA, which effects our genetics. In other words, experiences change our very biology. Or consider that our memory is not stored just in our brains; memory is stored in organs like the heart and can be passed on to heart transplant recipients.
So the impact of our influences should not be overlooked, because they certainly form us and incline us certain directions. “Hurt people hurt people” is a proverb that reflects the reality that we often pass on our woundedness either intentionally or unintentionally. The impact of mental or emotional health issues are important as well. Our bodies reflect the broken reality of this broken world in many ways.
Ideally, when we face this reality, we develop a longing for God to bring us freedom from the damage and sin in our past, at whatever level that has impacted us. And while there are helpful ways to address this with medicine or counseling, we can only be truly healed by the transformation of our hearts and minds that only Christ can bring.
So should we ever give ourselves a pass when it comes to our sin? In Luke 12, Jesus offers a clear principle: “If you are given much, much will be required of you. If much is entrusted to you, much will be expected of you. (Luke 12:48). I think this is a broad way of saying that we are held responsible for what we do with who we are or with what we have been given.
The Bible does not allow followers of Jesus to passively shrug off our patterns of sin because we have found an explanation for “the sin that so easily besets us” (Hebrews 12:1). It demands that on the one hand we repent for the sinful things we have done. Then we beg for the God’s healing mercy, knowing this is our only hope. Then we ask for the forgiveness of others, because no matter the reason we did these things, we hurt them, and we must own our offense.
2) Turn Around
“They were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, [John] said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance…” (Matthew 3:5-8).
Being emotionally undone is not the same as repentance. It might be part of the process, but tears do not equal repentance. Repentance requires a reorientation, a fundamental transformation in one’s relationship with God and others.
“Some tax-gatherers came to be baptized, and they said, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.” And some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” (John the Baptizer, in Luke 3:11b-14)
Once again, you see this idea of a change of direction – a change of life.
By the grace and power of God, the truly repentant will surrender to God’s will and proactively reject their former patterns of sin.
If someone says to you, “I appreciate your repentance, but it’s going to be hard for me to believe that you will not lie to me again/keep watching porn/stop demeaning me with your words,” mere words are not going to do the trick. You need to establish a commitment to changed patterns in your life to show that you meant what you said.
The truly repentant surrender themselves to God’s will, submit themselves to the accountability of others, and deliberately plan to not do what they did before.
This requires God’s strength because we’ve already shown our strength is not enough. This should make us really, really humble. This also requires a community of accountability, a plan where we put people around us who can be strong when we are weak, or who have understanding when we don’t.
Only God can do the necessary interior work in our hearts and minds that genuinely brings about righteousness in what we think and what we love. Meanwhile, we can put safeguards in place to restrain and maybe even retrain us. This does not save us, but investing whatever sweat equity we are capable of shows our honor of God’s desire for our lives.
3) Brace Yourself
After his adultery with Bathsheba, David wrote:
“For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight. You are justified when You speak, and blameless when You judge. “ (Psalm 51:3-4)
David repented – then asked for nothing. He knew what he deserved, and he did not ask God to remove the consequences.
Be ready to harvest what you planted. There is a principle of sowing and reaping God has placed in the world (Galatians 6:7). If you drive drunk and have an accident, God and others will forgive you, but you will still do time. Repentance is not a ‘get our of jail free’ card in a very practical sense. And God designed the world to work that way.
More personally, brace yourself for the intensity of emotions from those you have wronged—anger, hurt, grief, disappointment, and distrust. The truly repentant don’t pressure people to move on. They don’t ask why the other person just can’t get over it. They simply ask for forgiveness, turn around, and patiently wait as God uses His Holy Spirit, time, and our new way of life to heal the wounds. (We will talk about forgiveness next week)
In addition, repentant people accept boundaries. They recognize that they have created distrust and earned caution. Their offense may be of such a nature that trust can be regained – or it might not. That’s the reality of their situation, and they accept their boundaries. To be sure they do this well, they become accountable. They invite people into their lives, and they embrace correction, direction, and encouragement.
4) Pursue Life Together
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24).
If you are right in the middle of focused worship, and you know that you have hurt someone else, Jesus would rather have you try to mend that relationship than continue in your worship. If you show up on a Sunday and see someone across the room who has something against you – that is, you have sinned against them, wounded them, offended them – you should skip music and the sermon and take them into the prayer room and be reconciled before you sing or ‘amen’ as if nothing is wrong. It’s more important.
Once that community has been restored, there is more. David did not see repentance and forgiveness as the whole story. He desired to teach others:
“Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You.” (Psalm 51:13).
David would be teaching sinners as a repentant sinner. His teaching would seek to turn sinners from their sin. Why waste forgiveness and repentance on just ourselves?
Repentant people should be bold. Stories of repentance and forgiveness make beautiful testimonies, but no one can benefit from your experience if no one knows. If you say, “Forgiveness and grace are beautiful things,” and someone says, “Why?” What will you say? “Oh, just because…”
Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).
Paul wrote without shame: ”For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10)