Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Repentance & Forgiveness

I originally wrote this on November 11, 2010...and it's a bit long...

Recently I have been thinking about the ideas of repentance and forgiveness.

I think at many points in our lives those things are difficult to truly grasp. When I became a Christian I didn’t really have anything in my past that I felt deeply repentant about. I mean, I knew I had done selfish, mean, or wrong things before, but nothing that I felt truly sorrowful and grieved about. Maybe it was a hard heart or maybe I just truly had never done anything “that bad” (at least in my own eyes). In the Bible we can find many examples of repentant characters: David, Jonah, Peter (just to name a few) all committed sins that they were deeply grieved and repentant over.

In Psalm 51 David said, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. (verses 1-4)

Jonah said (from the belly of the whale), “I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple…those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them…salvation comes from the Lord.’” (Jonah 2:4, 8-9).

In Matthew 26 it says, “Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know the man!’. Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: ‘Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times’. And he went outside and wept bitterly.” (verses 74-75)

From studying both the Old and New Testaments it is clear that repentance is an integral part of God’s activity in a person’s life. There are many examples, but just to name a couple,

From the OT: “…the LORD says, ‘If you repent, I will restore you…’” (Jeremiah 15:9)

From the NT: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…” (Acts 3:19)

If you look up the definition of repentance it will say something about deep sorrow over sin or wrongdoing. However, we’re not talking about the perfunctory “sorry” you might say if you step on someone’s foot or that moms teach their children to say. Sometimes I wonder if we’re doing children a disservice by teaching them to say “I’m sorry” to other children because you know they’re not and they know they’re not so the idea of being sorry turns into a “I know this is how I should feel, so I’ll say I do” concept; that’s not true repentance. True repentance is the feeling you get when you’ve done something you regret, you deeply wish that you could take it back or go back in time and make a different choice, but you can’t and you have to live with the consequences of your actions. That deep, horrible pain, anguish, and sadness and the desire to confess it to someone, to get it off your chest, to admit your wrongdoing to the one you wronged and make peace – that’s repentance. Sounds humbling, huh?

So why do we repent? Well, this is just my hypothesis, but social creatures that we are, I believe all true repentance is driven by relationships. Most normal (and I use that term broadly) human beings desire to have harmonious relationships with other human beings (or at least some human beings) and most people don’t want to live in a constant state of conflict and strife. Therefore, we learn in relationships what is expected of us and what is unacceptable to the other person and when we mess up in one of those areas, we feel repentant because we want to have a good relationship with that person (I think this is also why we frequently don’t care what people we don’t know think of us and why people will be rude to strangers). The relationship (and obviously the benefits of the relationship) motivates us. The same goes for our relationship with God, except that He is the most important relationship that we have. Pride probably also motivates us to repentance (thinking we’re “better” than our bad decisions)…but that might not be a good thing…so let’s stick to the relational motivation theory!

OK, now what do we repent of? This one is more tricky and can be contributed to my over thinking mind. The obvious answer is: sin! Repent of sin. Easy. But I don’t think it is that easy. Of course it can be good to repent of outward sin, like embezzling money or stealing supplies from work or murdering someone, but most the time it’s not going to work if you just vow in your heart to never do those things again, you have to ask yourself why you’re doing those sinful things. Jesus compares it to a tree bearing good or bad fruit, we don’t just look at the fruit, but we consider the source of it, the tree, the roots, the soil. In Luke 6:45 Jesus says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil things stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” In other words, if you’re doing things you shouldn’t do, it’s because there are things in your heart that shouldn’t be there. And I say those things are beliefs. Here my counseling background comes out, but I firmly believe that our actions are motivated by our beliefs. If you believe no one loves you that will motivate your behavior to seek out love anywhere you can get it; whereas if you believe you are perfectly loved by a perfect God that will also motivate your behavior to love others and live securely. That’s just one example.

So, why all this talk about repentance? Well, recently I have had some things in my life that I have felt very repentant about. I won’t go into the details because, well, I don’t want to, but suffice to say I am deeply sorry for some of my past decisions and actions. I have been mulling over all this for over a week now and it didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that although my behavior was problematic, the real problem was the root that my behavior was growing from. What did I believe that is just not true? Just to simplify a little:

Believing LIES about yourself, life, the world, and God = bad fruit, sin, behavior that will harm you and others

Believing TRUTH about yourself, life, the world, and God = good fruit, right living, behavior that will benefit you and others

Just as a disclaimer: when I say “behavior that will benefit you” I don’t mean you’ll get everything you ever wanted. God is not a genie or fairy god mother. What I mean is behavior that will benefit you in that you will be living the way God intends, which is always the best way.

This brings us to the question: what were the lies I believed? Wouldn’t you like to know! Well I have known for some time now that I have doubted God’s goodness, but never has it been made so clear to me as it really was in a Beth Moore devotional I’ve been doing. Before I moved to Portland at the beginning of September my cousin Amy gave me this devotional: Jesus: 90 Days with the One and Only. I’ve been doing it on an almost daily basis (let’s be honest) and it’s been weird how the themes of the days have coincided with what’s been going on in my life; really weird. Last week there were two days that focused on Scripture concerning John the Baptist…

When the men [John’s disciples] came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’ [John was in prison for his obedience to God at this time]… So he [Jesus] replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me”. (Luke 7: 20, 22-23).

Now what I am about to say I am not directly attributing to Beth Moore…this is just what I personally got from her devotional, my own thoughts, and the Holy Spirit.

We first meet John the Baptist at the beginning of Luke when he is proclaiming that the Messiah is coming and then when he sees Jesus for the first time he KNOWS that Jesus is the long awaited Savior, there is not a doubt in his mind, he KNOWS. So then why, a few chapters later, do we find John questioning whether Jesus really is the Christ? The answer is in John’s circumstances and perspective. When John is baptizing people in the Jordan River he is experiencing God’s Spirit and calling, he is witnessing people sincerely repenting and turning towards God, and he evens get to baptize the Messiah; it is the pinnacle of his earthly life, of course he would joyously believe. Fast forward a bit and we find John in a prison cell, facing death, this is probably not what he imagined happening next. John was in a place of extreme despair and it seemed like Jesus was not helping him at all even though John had played an important role in Jesus’ earthly ministry. I can’t imagine how depressing, frustrating and hurtful this must have seemed to poor John. Jesus’ reply indicates that John already knows Jesus is the One, but then Beth explained something interesting about that last verse.

Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.

Blessed. What would we deem blessed? Health, wealth, an easy fun life? Not God. This word blessed means that God is intimately involved in a person’s life. His involvement could result in health or wealth or an easy, fun life, but those things are not guaranteed. What is guaranteed is the Almighty’s INVOLVEMENT. And if the all-powerful God of all that exists is involved in your everyday life, then you are BLESSED, regardless of your circumstances. Stumble. By this Jesus means having a lack of faith. Putting it all together and Jesus is saying to John and to all of us that God is intimately involved in our lives when we do not let our perception of Jesus’ activity or inactivity in our lives cause us to doubt his authority, power, and goodness. For me this was HUGE! I had recently doubted God’s goodness because for the life of me I could not see how Jesus was working in my life. Sometimes it seemed like Jesus could care less about my life, which I’m sure is how John felt as he sat wasting away in a prison cell! The truth is that God is intimately involved in my life even when I cannot perceive it! What a relief! I guess intellectually I would have already said I believed that, but it was certainly not what I felt in my heart and it was motivating my actions. I was thinking (maybe somewhat subconsciously at times), well if God’s not going to help me in this situation, then I’ll just do it myself, or take whatever I can get. When in reality my (limited) perception of his inactivity did not in any way truly indicate that he was inactive in my life. It was just my perception. John literally couldn’t see what Jesus was doing because he was in a prison cell, but that didn’t mean Jesus wasn’t doing anything. Jesus was alive and active and working, but since John couldn’t SEE it, he needed to have FAITH that Jesus was who he said he was and was doing what he said he would do. Doubting God’s goodness, power, and love is one of Satan’s favorite lies to plant in our hearts.

Which brings us to Faith. Yes. Faith can be defined as trust or confidence in something, in someone or something’s abilities; it can also be defined as belief without proof (I believe this would be usually based upon confidence in characteristics or abilities). We demonstrate faith all the time in our daily lives. When you go to sit in a chair that you’ve never sat in before you don’t wait for scientific proof that the chair can safely hold your body weight, you confidently sit in the chair because you trust that the chair has the ability and characteristics to do what it was made to do. When you make a lunch date with someone you have faith, or you trust, that the person will show up at the right time and place because you know the person and the person said they would. However, those examples (and many more) involve things that we can experience with our senses, that make sense to our human minds, and that we usually have had previous experiences with. You’ve probably sat in hundreds of chairs in your life, so it’s not a huge leap of faith to trust that the next chair you sit in will support you. If only everything were so simple. Some situations ask for a faith or trust that seems a little more risky or unsubstantial. Getting married involves putting A LOT of faith in another person and that he/she will do what they have promised to do. Having open heart surgery requires you putting A LOT of faith in the doctor and his/her abilities. Surrendering your life to God’s will requires A LOT of faith is his goodness, love, and power to work in your life.

Which brings me to the next insight I gleaned from my Beth Moore devotional: Beth suggests that there are two kinds of faith: head faith and heart faith. Head faith is more like intellectual belief, but it’s still faith (not scientific proof). This would be like saying you believe in marriage in theory. Or that you trust that the heart surgeon could successfully perform open heart surgery on you. Or that you know Jesus loves you and has good plans for your life. But at the same time avoiding marriage for fear of commitment, refusing to get a much needed heart surgery, or trying to control and manipulate your life instead of entrusting it to God’s hands.

Heart faith is when you put your head faith to the test; it’s when the truth about the state of your heart actually comes out. I think it’s similar to sayings like, “talk’s cheap” or “actions speak louder than words” because it’s easy to say you believe in something, but to actually act on your supposed beliefs is another story. Of course heart faith is riskier and it hurts more when it is disillusioned or let down, that’s why we have to be careful (to an extent) what we put our heart faith in. That’s why you shouldn’t marry someone who mistreats you and you shouldn’t have heart surgery performed by someone who’s never been to medical school; those things aren’t worthy of your faith and trust put into action. The good news is that Jesus is completely worthy.

But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to son-ship and daughter-ship. (Galatians 4:4-5)

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside our Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Jesus in Matthew 6: 29-31)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness”, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus might also be revealed in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:6-10)

The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. (Jesus in John 10:10)

And hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

Based on the head faith/heart faith distinctives I came to the conclusion that if I’m having trouble living out what my head believes it’s because my heart isn’t really believing it, which is a matter of faith and ultimately choice. Some things that we put faith in are instinctive or out of necessity (that our hearts will keep beating), but other things that we put faith in are our choices. We choose a mate to put faith in. We choose a doctor to put faith in. And we choose what we believe about God (hopefully from what we read in the Bible). Now I’m not going to try to explain what the Bible says about God…that’s what the whole thing is about! But I will say that studying the Bible reveals that God is completely worthy of our faith and trust; it really comes down to not his worthiness or him proving himself, but us choosing to believe. You cannot partially believe in God’s goodness, love, and power. He either is good, powerful, and loving or he is not. For most of my believing-life I have been trying to partially or sometimes believe those truths about God and other times give in to my doubts and all too often act on my doubts.

In Matthew 6 Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money [or doubt or pride or lust or the world, etc.]”. (verse 24).

I am being deceived if I think I can do both. Lately I have been living what I thought was a double life: good, Christian girl who trusts the Lord on the one hand and girl with lots of fears and doubts who gives into her weaknesses on the other hand. My actions reveal that I have not been doing both, I may have thought I was, but in reality I was living out of a heart of fear, doubt, and unbelief. Not in my salvation, but in my daily life with Christ. The thing I ask myself is, if I can’t trust him with my daily, earthly, temporary life, what makes me so sure I have trusted him with my eternal life? Is it head faith or is it heart faith?

All this takes us back to repentance. Last night I was having trouble falling asleep due to the turmoil of thoughts and emotions in my head and heart. I was just in a state of unrest, and so I turned on my lamp, put on my glasses, and got out my Bible to flip to the concordance and start to read verses about repentance and forgiveness. These stuck out to me: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you…” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10) and “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” (Luke 15:7).

True repentance not only involves godly grief, but an active turning away from the sin you are repentant over. So you can’t just say you’re sorry and then go right back to it; that would prove you weren’t sorry. I think this is important to keep in mind if you think you need to repent of something. Which you do, trust me 

Anyway, last night after reading those verses and thinking through things (my specialty) I believe I truly repented of my recent sinful behavior, and not just the behavior, but the root of the behavior, the unbelief. I have to make a conscious, daily, hourly, moment by moment, second by second choice to believe God is good, God is loving, God is all powerful and in control of everything. Satan has already been defeated by Jesus’ triumphant conquering of death; his only game now is to deceive us into believing and living out LIES. And who wants to live a lie? When you can live the truth (and the way, and the life – John 14:6).

Repentance is good, but what’s even better is forgiveness. Forgiveness is pure grace. Forgiving someone does not mean that you’re saying what they did was ok. Forgiving means that even though you have acknowledged their wrongdoing, you are going to be gracious and not hold it against them. Because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the Cross, God can look at those of us who are in Christ and figuratively drench us in His Grace, and while acknowledging our wrongdoing, not hold it against us ever again. That kind of grace means freedom. No need to mope around with a heart that feels like it’s a ton of bricks and a mind that’s telling you you’re a despicable person. God, and only God, has the right to be your judge and if he declares you free from judgment, shame, and punishment, then you are free indeed. Some important things to remember are that shame is never from God, godly repentance that motivates you to change is, but heavy shame that paralyzes you with misery is straight from you know where. Also, once you’ve repented and been forgiven, as far as God is concerned it never happened, so you don’t need to keep asking for forgiveness for the same sin over and over and over. If you’ve truly repented and walked away from your sin and are choosing Christ then it’s done! Persistence in asking for the same sin to be forgiven reveals a lack of faith in God’s forgiveness (another thing to repent over…).

So I’m kind of running out of steam about now, but overall I just feel so much better. God is always so good to me and feeling as though I have truly repented and accepted God’s forgiveness just feels so good and right. Now comes the daily tasks of choosing to believe the truth about the Lord and asking for protection from the lies. I know that he is good and faithful and will continue to see me through all the trials, tribulations, and joys of life. One lesson at a time.

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