Thursday, July 4, 2013

Letting Go of the Wrong: REPENTANCE

REPENT! Or don't so I have permission to hate you forever! ...wait a second

In continuing this series on forgiveness, I'd like to discuss a fundamental part of the concept: repentance.  To repent is to change our mind. It's to admit that we've done wrong in the eyes of God, to both be sorry and to say that we are sorry (that is to confess), to turn again and try to do better. 

There is the only one unforgivable sin. I used to think of "unforgivable" as meaning it was sin so bad that God refuses to forgive it. That's not the case. God cannot offer forgiveness where there is no place for that forgiveness to go. That is, if someone doesn't think that they need to be forgiven. And we cannot offer forgiveness where God can't. We can be ready to offer it. We can let go of the anger and hostility and be at peace. We can offer it to God and we can move on. But neither we nor God Himself can force someone to accept forgiveness when they don't think they need it. Unrepentance, the equivalent of unbelief, is unforgivable because the person makes it so, not God.

Cain and Abel
Jacopo Tintoretto, 1518-1594
Fine then, some of us might say. The jackass who did this to me has never set foot inside a church in his entire life. There is no way he's repented in any sense of the word, to me or to God. He is no brother of mine in any way, shape, or form. ...Yeah, okay, Cain, and where exactly did you leave Abel again? (Genesis 4)

There are, of course, Christians who refuse to see when we have done wrong anymore than someone who has never set foot in a church does. Just because someone hasn't come to the faith yet doesn't mean he isn't a neighbor whom we are commanded to love. (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; Luke 10:27). He is.

If we read those passages and have to ask who our neighbor is, we've missed the boat entirely. EVERYBODY IS (see the Parable of the Good Samaritan) because Jesus died for the sins of the world. And until someone has taken their last breath, there is time for them to repent, and there is time for prayers to be said on their behalf.

Whatever happened to us pales in comparison
to what is happening to an unrepentant soul. 

That's the ugly truth. If we revel in that fact, we have lost our way and must also repent and turn back before we lose our souls as well. That's why forgiveness isn't about finding peace for ourselves. We pray that those who wronged us would come to Christ for their own sake, so that they may be forgiven. In the meantime, we are at peace knowing that Christ's sacrifice is indeed once and for all, and that the forgiveness that is waiting for all of us is real.

...but is he truly repentant? I? Again, the focus has slipped from God and back onto ourselves. The fact is we can never know what is in another man's heart (1 Corinthians 2:11). But we cannot wait until the end of days to forgive each other, and so we must follow the 8th Commandment in its full spirit and give our brother the benefit of the doubt, leaving it to God to sort out the details. Our brother doesn't need to meet our requirements for repentance: only God's, and his sincerity is always between him and God.

We are forgiven in Christ,
not in degrees according to the sincerity of our repentance.

As for our own hearts, confessing that we feel justified when we know we ought to feel sorry and asking God to change our hardened hearts is also repentance. We are always uncertain of ourselves and never perfect. We commit sins we aren't even aware of all the time, for crying out loud! How are we supposed to repent of those?? Well, like this:
I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them, and sincerely repent of them, and I pray you of your boundless mercy, and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor sinful being. (Lutheran Service Book pg. 184)
Corporate confession (and absolution) as found in the Lutheran Service Book, Divine Setting III. Absolution from the pastor, given by the command and in the stead of Christ (Matthew 16:19), follows, as does the Lord's Supper. Complete and free forgiveness of all our sins: of what we have done, of what we have left undone, and of who we are Christ, not of our own accord. Repent. Go to church. Be forgiven. Forgive.

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