Truth and Consequences
I was hoping to pontificate for a few more weeks about how you ought to be a better follower of Jesus before I had to begin revealing my own obedience issues. Have you noticed that no one sins anymore? We now have issues. But I sinned/issued spectacularly (again) and I sensed this impression of God that I needed to share it with you. (This isn’t the worst thing I’ve done in the last month or so, but we don’t know each other all that well yet. So here goes.)
I gossiped about another person. Gossip isn’t a lie – It’s truth inappropriately told. Nevertheless, the Bible calls it sin (II Cor. 12:20). I simply had no reason to pass on certain information about a private conversation I had with this person, other than to impress the small group, with whom I was teleconferencing. I made him to appear lazy and me clever – another sin, slander. (I Peter 2:1)
The root cause of my sin was/is pride, and it’s the spring board for the sin of gossip and slander. If you dig deep enough, you too will find that when you sin, there’s often another, more private sin at the root. It’s that root sin you and I have to get at, to have any chance at all “of getting on top” of our sin problem. The place to begin is repentance.
I believe the Bible teaches there are four elements to true repentance:
Confession: This means we say it like it is directly to God and those we’ve wronged or who have observed our sin. “I have sinned. Here’s what I did… I’m truly sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.” And, mean every word of this confession! (I John 1:9 and Proverbs 28:13)
None of this, “If I’ve hurt you I’m sorry”, half-hearted, limp, semi-apology that’s really no confession at all of personal responsibility for a wrong or sin. There should be authentic sadness that we not only sinned against God, but hurt another person, and embarrassed ourselves in the process.
In my case, after I confessed to God, I had to send an email to those who heard me and tell them what I did, set the record straight and ask for their forgiveness. It was embarrassing. These were people I’ve never met. I’m not sure they even noticed or cared about what I had done, but God did and that’s all that ultimately matters. But hopefully, the pain of shame is one way God will use to guard my tongue in the future.
Repentance: This simply means stop doing whatever it is we’ve done, and by the power of the Holy Spirit demonstrate it by a changed life. (Matt. 3:8) But for followers of Jesus, it’s more than a resolution to try harder the next time. It means making some “pre-decisions”.
In The 10 Second Rule book, I wrote a chapter on pre-decisions, which are intentional choices we ought to make, to lessen the likelihood that we’ll be tempted to commit the sin we’ve just confessed, again.
I’m certain that if something went wrong in the department where you work or in your family, you wouldn’t just admit it. You’d gather around and come up with some kind of plan to make it less likely that mistake will happen again. True repentance should involve a profound sadness that drives us to think about how we can make better choices in the future. John the Baptist told the soldiers and tax collectors who wanted to repent, never to extort money again from anyone. Stop it! (Luke 3:12-14)
In the case of my sin, I needed to consciously think about why I said the things I did to begin with. I also had to resolve never to bring that person’s name into a conversation again to impress anyone. Were there other similar conversations like that I’ve had in the past, and what do I need to do in the future to prevent them?
Restoration: It’s always God’s goal that if we’ve sinned, that we be fully restored to a healthy relationship with him and others. However, in my life, I sometimes feel so bad about repeated sin in my life that I don’t even want to pray. I feel like a hypocrite when I do. In my mind there’s only one thing worse than a sinner – it’s a hypocritical sinner. So, I’ll occasionally take a break from prayer until I can get my act together, which is just the opposite of what God wants and I need!
Force yourself to begin talking to God and make a serious effort to restore your relationship with anyone who you’ve wronged even if – especially if it’s embarrassing. You and I were created to be in a healthy relationship with both God and others, and an important part of true repentance is doing everything in your power to restore any broken relationships. (I Peter 5:10; Gal. 6:1)
In my case, I’ve never met the members of this group. However, based on the emails I got back, I sense there will be greater openness and transparency between all of us than there was before. Repentance is restorative.
Restitution: The Bible teaches that whenever possible, restitution should be made for the loss to others caused by us. In the Old Testament, it meant if you stole something, were irresponsible, or your animal damaged your neighbor or their property, it wasn’t enough to simply confess it. You were required to pay for the damage if possible. (Exodus 22:1-15) When Zacchaeus repented, he paid back everyone he cheated, four times the amount! (Luke 19:8)
I tell men who’ve had an affair and whose wives have divorced them over it, that they have more than a legal obligation to their former wives. They have a moral obligation to their family, including their former wife, to do whatever is in their power to mitigate the impact of their sin on their family. That may be doing more than the law requires – it’s doing what justice requires. The law tells us what we must do. Justice dictates what we ought to do. (Micah 6:8)
Obviously, it’s not always possible to make restitution, but when we can, the person who is truly repentant ought to do so. In my case, there were no damages, except to God’s reputation and mine. I think we’re fine now.
It’s been my experience that if Christians, intentionally and humbly do these four things we can substantially mitigate the consequences of our sin in this life and demonstrate to God we’re serious about sin. While confession is good – true repentance is far better.
My questions: I’d like to hear your thoughts on the four elements of true repentance. Do you agree or disagree?
An afterthought: I recently talked to someone who forwards my blogs to his adult children and hopes to discuss them the next time they get together. One woman has introduced them to her Bible study group to discuss weekly. The point is this: If, you’ve found these teachings, or those of another blog helpful, how might you use them to teach others?
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