All posts tagged Repentance

Jesus Forgives Sins Committed Against Me

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitantly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offenses. This makes sense only if He really is the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin (p. 51-52).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I don’t think I was properly offended by Jesus’ words, “Your sins are forgiven (Luke 5:20),” until I read this quote. As with so many things in Scripture, I do not think we have fully grasped a truth until we are offended by it (or felt our life disrupted in some way).

If I hear “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23)” as an abstract reflection on the general moral condition of people, it doesn’t change me. When I am offended by it, then it has the power to transform me and take me through the rest of the book of Romans.

I used to read Luke 5:17-26 as a philosophical discussion of the deity of Christ. Since I am for the deity of Christ and Jesus won the debate, I liked the passage. I was against (on the other team) those guys who were arguing with Jesus. I was on the bench calling out “get ‘em” to Jesus.

Then C.S. Lewis had to go and ruin the passage for me. Lewis showed me that Jesus was forgiving every person who has sinned against me without my permission (or even seeking my consent). Frankly, I would like to be consulted on the matter. After all, I have been personally harmed and violated by the subjects at hand.

Now I am having to wrestle with the deity of Christ in a way that I didn’t think I needed to. If Jesus is God and life centers on God, then in the “economy of forgiveness” I am (at best) second. I liked holding the power over those who sinned against me. I found satisfaction in knowing they had to come to me in order to have their account cleared.

Jesus’ deity took that from me. In my sense of injustice I overlooked that in making no man my slave, Jesus also freed me from being a moral slave to any man because of my sins. But I’d rather not talk about that (it’s too “negative”).

To clarify, this does not mean that interpersonal repentance is unnecessary. Scripture still calls us to go to those we have offended and seek their forgiveness. What it does mean is that I cannot hold anyone hostage by refusing to forgive their sin against me. Jesus’ deity means that his forgiveness trumps my bitterness.

This takes me to one big point: God’s view of life is the true view of life. I may still view the person I refused to forgive (this assumes their repentance) as a vile sinner with an unchanged heart (after all, I “really know them”), but Jesus view of them as forgiven is true. In that case, “my reality” is not reality at all.

This helps me greatly. There are many things that God says which I struggle to see (accept, believe, rest in), but God’s view of life is the true reality. Through my struggle to forgive, God graciously helps me to see the way out of many of my cognitive-emotional bondages. I accept His deity and live as if what He says is true (because it is truer than “my reality”).

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Forgiveness” post which address other facets of this subject.

Humilitarian: The New Moral Diet

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death is not something God demands of you before He will take you back and which he could let you off if He chose: it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like. If you ask God to take you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back. It cannot happen (p. 57).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

That last line, “asking Him to let you go back without going back,” sounds so much like us. How often do we try to apologize without acknowledging wrong or personal responsibility?

  • I’m sorry if your feelings were hurt.
  • I’m sorry if you took what I said in an offensive way.
  • I shouldn’t have acted that way, but you were being so unreasonable.
  • Maybe I over-reacted, but I’m only human.

We want conscience relief without moral responsibility. We want forgiveness without ever having to be guilty. We want heaven without really needing Jesus.

As C.S. Lewis concisely summarizes, “It cannot happen.”

All of this reminds us again that repentance is more than remorse. Repentance is the beginning of the end – the end of our pride, the end of justifying our sin, the end of self-reliance. At heart, we are all good addicts. We see this in the moment of conviction, but quickly convince ourselves it is not the case as soon as the crisis of our sin is over.

Lewis is staging an intervention. In a moment of non-crisis he is pointing out how wrong and self-contradictory our thinking really is. Only our fellow sin-addicted friends would even consider telling us we’re right.

The question of repentance becomes, “What do you want more: to return to God or to move forward in your sin?” There is no middle ground. We spend a lifetime trying to say this simple question is “really more complicated than that.”

But its not complicated; its just difficult. The choice is clear – die to self and live for God It’s the execution that is challenging, because repentance is a way of life not an event. This is not a one time slice of humble pie. It’s a lifestyle as a “humilitarian” (that’s a hybrid word from vegetarian and humility).

As Christians, we propose a life lived exclusively on a diet of humility. We say that it is the prescription for mental, relational, and spiritual health. We propose that diet with any amount of pride, defensiveness, or self-justification is toxic.

This is why we need Christ. We know what is healthy and can advocate it with passion for others. But we want to “go back without going back” until we are completely won over by the One who experienced the real death of which repentance only reminds us. That is what shakes us from our prideful stupor and makes it clear that what we saw as “going back” was really “going forward” all the time.

Crisis Forgiveness vs. Post-Crisis Forgiveness

  • A spouse has been unfaithful
  • A spouse hides a major amount of debt
  • A teenager “borrows” the car and wrecks it
  • A friend shares your damaging secret

There are many times when we are called to forgive. Usually the moment when the offense is revealed is a powerful moment. It often feels overwhelming. Frequently, in these times, we can muster up the courage and love to say, “I forgive you and I am willing to do whatever it takes to restore this relationship.”

The time after a statement like that can be trying. We battle with fear, anger, mistrust, shame, and intrusive thoughts. We feel the full battle of redemption. We catch a glimpse of why Jesus had to die on a cross to pay for our sin. Forgiveness is excruciating.

By God’s grace, often the battle lightens. Things become a bit “normal” again. At first that is a relief; a welcomed respite. But then, as our mind and soul recovers, we begin to realize that we are “living as if nothing ever happened.”

When we offend (in lesser ways) the person whom we forgave, we are now the one to repent. Everyday irritants call for patience and grace but we still feel like we have been gracious and patient enough. Our spouse, child, or friend offends us again (in lesser and different ways) and we are called to relate to them independent of the original offense. This is post-crisis forgiveness.

Crisis forgiveness was, in many ways, easier. It was heroic. It was focused. It forced us to our knees in reliance upon God’s strength. Post-crisis forgiveness comes when we are grace-weary. It is mundane. It must cover a multitude of (little) sins, not just one big one. It can easily be distracted by so many things we are trying to catch up on (which we neglected during crisis forgiveness).

Post-crisis forgiveness calls us to appreciate the incarnation as much as the crucifixion. Christ came and lived among us for over three decades. Christ lived in our sin (a fallen broken world with selfish, manipulative, backstabbing friends) in addition to becoming sin for us. Post-crisis forgiveness calls us to emulate this aspect of Christ-likeness as well.

Too often we assume that the restoration process will go directly from forgiveness to peace. However, especially when the offense being forgiven has traumatic qualities, there is a middle stage. If we forget this, we may wrongly assume that we have failed to forgive when we meet these new challenges. Rather, it means that we have moved to a new stage of restoration; from cancelling the debt to restoring trust.

Saying that there is sometimes a middle stage to restoration does not change the necessity or requirements of forgiveness. Nor does it allow the one being forgiven to rush or demand quicker restoration.  It does remind us that the Bible is more than a collection of commands. It is a portrait of our complete life experience captured in the person of Christ and with every struggle we face it is a call to marvel and emulate more of His character.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Forgiveness” post which address other facets of this subject.

The Forgiveness Trap

Forgiveness is never simple or straight-forward because it always involves both sin and sinners. Worse yet, it always involves a sinner who has sinned against another sinner.

Usually in the post-sin, pre-forgiveness stage of the process there is some clear role definition that occurs. One person is the offender. The other person is the offended. I acknowledge that we are all sinners, but for repentance and forgiveness to occur, these roles must be defined even if they are alternated.

During this middle phase there is usually some delay of time when the offending party(s) is trying to decide if they are going to repent. They replay the events looking for a way to justify their actions. Maybe they weigh out whether their actions were “wrong enough” to warrant an apology. But in order to enter “the forgiveness trap” the offending party must come to the person they offended in repentance.

Eventually they come to the person they offended and say, “I was wrong for doing what I did. Will you forgive me?” The trap has been set.

But wait a minute. You’re thinking, “What is wrong with that?” Nothing. That is exactly what should happen. I am not saying that the trap is manipulative or intentional.

So what is the trap? An immediate role reversal in which if the offended person does not promptly reply with absolute forgiveness, the sinner vs. saint roles are reversed. The white hat and the black hat switch heads. Often times a hesitancy in forgiveness becomes a greater sin than the original offense and the offended person is not even given the same period of time to forgive that the offending person took to repent.

I am not saying this is what should happen, but it’s often what does happen. Sometimes, it is an innocent misapplication of biblical teaching on forgiveness. Other times, it is manipulative form of repentant-revenge.

I am not saying that forgiveness is optional. Even if the offending person does not repent, forgiveness is commanded as an authentic expression of our appreciation for Christ’s forgiveness of us (Eph. 4:32). To fail to do so angers God greatly (Matt 18:15-35).

But too often, “the trap” assumes this must be done immediately and that full trust must be restored upon forgiveness. We must remember that while God can command forgiveness, the offending person cannot. The offending person requests forgiveness recognizing forgiveness is an act of grace. To demand forgiveness and use Scripture to pressure forgiveness is a sign that the “repenting” person does not understand what he/she is asking.

As a general guide line, I advise a repenting person to wait at least as long as it took them to repent before they mention the offended person’s obligation to forgive. In cases of traumatic offenses or painful betrayals it may be wise to wait longer. If not, it falls into the “now I’m the good guy and you’re the bad guy… God’s on my team” trap.

It should also be noted that the restoration of trust and forgiveness are two distinct but related things. One can “cancel a debt” without being eager to “give more credit.” Attacking someone with their fault is a sign of unforgiveness, but a hesitancy to potentially place one’s self in harms way again is not. If these two things are treated as the same thing, they create another “forgiveness trap.”

10 Pre-Marital Questions on Sex (Part 7)

This series of blogs comes from FAQ’s from the guys in Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry. They represent a conglomeration of questions from many different husbands-to-be during the Engaged Discovery Weekend. If you are interested in serving as a marriage mentor or are engaged, click here to learn more about Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry.

How long is reasonable for my fiancé to get over my sexual past?

This is a good question, but one that is hard to provide a specific, or even a principled, answer. There are so many variables that could play into a given relationship. I will begin by providing a list of influences that could determine the length of time that would be “reasonable” to “get over” a fiancé’s sexual past. Then I will provide some helpful “next steps” for a couple struggling in this area.

  • Was your sexual past during or before your current courtship?
  • What ongoing consequences exist from your sexual past (i.e., child, legal action, STD, etc…)?
  • Was your sexual past confessed or found out?
  • Were you completely honest about your sexual past once the conversation began?
  • Have you been defensive about or justifying of your sexual past?
  • Was your sexual past a onetime event or a pattern/addiction?
  • Have aspects of your sexual past been repeated in this relationship?
  • How have sexual events shaped your fiancé’s family of origin or past relationships?
  • Has your fiancé ever experienced sexual abuse of any kind?
  • How much time has passed since your fiancé learned of your sexual past?
  • What steps have you taken to protect against a repetition of your sexual past?
  • Who else is aware of your sexual past that might create ongoing social awkwardness for your fiancé?

These questions impact what a “normal recovery time” would be in a relationship. It is important to remember that you are asking for more than (but not less) forgiveness. You are asking for trust. More than temporary trust, you are asking for the level of trust necessary to commit to a lifelong covenant and the establishment of a family.

If your answers to these questions reveal that you have compounded the impact of your sexual past with how you have responded to your fiancé, then you need to take those responses as seriously as your sexual past. You are establishing now how the two of you will respond to difficult circumstances. It is your obligation as her protector to ensure that such conversations are had without defensiveness, anger, deceit, denial, minimizing, blame-shifting, or other unhealthy patterns.

When this is a struggle within an engagement it is wise to seek counseling in addition to standard pre-marital counseling. Just because you realize some of the variables that would cause it to “take longer” for her to “get over” your past, does not mean the two of you are equipped to navigate that alone. An important way you can show your fiancé your commitment to a healthy marriage is to seek advice on how to proceed.

If you or your fiancé are unwilling to seek counseling because you do not want to be embarrassed or for other people to “know your business,” this is major red flag. It reveals a tendency to deal with powerfully disruptive matters on your own out of fear or pride. It means that the struggles that the two of you do face will have a strong propensity to compound and fester rather than being resolved effectively.

Hopefully as you go through the process, the goal becomes larger than you fiancé “getting over” your sexual past. The larger goal should be to establish a relationship based upon integrity and trust while establishing a pattern of dealing with sin through honesty, repentance, and forgiveness. If this is accomplished then God will use these painful events (your sexual past and the restoration process) to bless the marriage and prepare it to succeed.

One final note, do not feel like you should rush through this process. In the end there are no “bonus points” for how quickly you navigate this journey. Guilt, shame, and embarrassment often accelerate the pace at which we try to put things behind us. Your patience with your fiancé will be richly rewarded as you lovingly walk with her in this process even at the sacrifice of your own awkwardness and pain. As with every challenge of life in marriage (or preparation for marriage), this is an opportunity to love her as Christ loves the church. Begin now training yourself not to lose sight of that.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Sex and Sexuality” post which address other facets of this subject.

How Christianity Works

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“That is not how Christianity works. When it tells you to feed the hungry it does not give you lessons in cookery. When it tells you to read the Scriptures it does not give you lessons in Hebrew and Greek, or even in English grammar. It was never intended to replace or supersede the ordinary human arts and science: it is rather a director which will set them all to the right jobs, and a source of energy which will give them all new life, if only they will put themselves at its disposal (p. 82-3).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

How much “how to” does the Christian faith and text of Scripture provide? C.S. Lewis begins to answer this question with the assertion, the Bible does not intend to be an exhaustive work – covering every detail of every task to which it calls a believer. Those who try define “the sufficiency of Scripture” to imply prescribing the details of life ask more of the sacred text than it contains. The logical conclusions of this assertion begin to become silly.

C.S. Lewis concludes his answer by asserting that the Bible is (or should be) the director, energizer, and Lord of all human learning. Applying these kinds of principles has been the center of fierce debate within Evangelical Christian Counseling. What role does the Bible play in developing a Christian psychology? Or, vice versa, what role should psychology play in developing a robust application of the Bible?

If the Bible did not intend to be exhaustive even on points it addresses extensively, how do we engage the field of counseling under the direction of Scripture, energized by Scripture, and submitting to the Lordship of Scripture while studying a complex field like counseling? As complicated as it sounds, every believer does it (or at least attempts to) every day.

I think we start by acknowledging that none of us do it perfectly and that there are no pure systems or exact principles for this type of work. We should also acknowledge that the more involved we become in the life of real people’s suffering and sin, the less clear the process will become. The more “lives” our subject; the less exact our science. Hence, chemists are more reliable than weathermen.

To answer the question better, we must examine the nature of Lordship as we experience it in real life. Lordship expresses itself through continual repentance and learning. I know Christ is my Lord not because I obey Him perfectly, but because each time I fail, I repent and learn more of His character.

Similarly, academic submission to Christ’s Lordship (expressed through submission to biblical teaching) will be expressed through repentance and learning. We will strive to know real, hurting people and use Scripture to help them. Sometimes we will apply Scripture in artificially rigid ways. Other times we will offer practical, “common sense” advice without thinking that it contradicts Scripture. It is inevitable that we will do one or the other (probably both) repeatedly.

The mark of a growing biblical counselor (and there is no other kind) is the willingness to repent and learn. The standard of repentance will always be the violation of biblical teaching. The content of learning will always be the fuller application of Scripture. However, the context of both repentance and learning will be the willingness to love others by placing ourselves in messy situations for which we do not have pre-scripted solutions.

That is how Christianity works. It provides the grace to allow us to repent and learn as we strive to do the things it calls us to do, love those it calls us to love, and carry out the mission it says should define our lives. It is in that reality of grace that “fuels” (i.e., source of energy or is the life for) all forms of the human arts and sciences are practiced by those who seek to be “Christian” at their trade.

Deity: An Unfair Advantage

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“I have heard some people complain that if Jesus was God as well as man, then His suffering and death lose all value in their eyes, ‘because it must have been so easy for him’… In one sense of course, those who make it are right. They have even understated their own case. The perfect submission, the perfect suffering, the perfect death were not only easier to Jesus because He was God, but were possible only because He was God. But surely that is a very odd reason for not accepting them?… That advantage—call it ‘unfair’ if you like—is the only reason why he can be of any use to me. To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself? (p. 58-9).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

That final question cuts. It reveals the human tendency to vilify anyone that could be of assistance to them. Students resent teachers. Athletes complain about coaches. Employees think bosses expect too much and pay too little. Vice presidents dream of how much better things will run when they’re president. The person up the totem poll is rarely viewed as “on my team.”

The main reason for this is not abuse of power (although that definitely exists) but because we are competing to be them. You cannot be on the same team as the person with whom you are competing. Therefore, because we want to be our own god (deciding on our own what is best, right, and good), we critique God rather than trust Him.

The question becomes, “Do we really want to serve someone stronger than ourselves or would we rather drown in our own perceived self-sufficiency?” That is the kind of question that initially sparks either anger or guilt. But if we allow the initial wave of emotion to distract us from thoughtful consideration, then we miss the watershed truth that caused the reaction.

I want my accountant to be better at math than I am. I want my surgeon to be smarter and have a steadier hand than I have. I want my mentor to have more experience and wisdom than I have. I want my bodyguard (if I had one) to be stronger than I am (which wouldn’t be hard).

Why then, would I hesitate to embrace a Savior morally superior to me because I feel judged or like His deity gave him a leg up in the competition? Answer: Because I view it as a competition. We are not, nor have we ever been, competing with God for character, peace, hope, or love. God is all of those things and He freely gives Himself to us. We only lose them, when we interpret life as a competition with their source.

That is why the first response to the Gospel is repentance – a willingness to surrender our efforts and embrace what Jesus has already done. We wear ourselves out competing with God (trying to make our definitions of right, good, and satisfying work). We see that God is not wearied by our relentless effort and we grow to resent God as if His lack of fatigue were taunting us.

In reality, God’s lack of fatigue in the face of our sin, rebellion, and efforts at self-atonement is the only hope we have. If we did weary God by the magnitude of our sin, then hope would be in jeopardy. God’s restfulness is an invitation. Will you accept it as a gift of grace or will you resent it because it is His to give?

It Takes a Good Person to Repent

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“In fact, it needs to be a good man to repent. And here comes the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person – and he would not need it (p. 57).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

That thought – it takes a good person to repent – almost makes me laugh. But I’m afraid it is too true to be funny. I have noticed that those I look up to most repent the best. Let me illustrate with a story.

Six years ago we were visiting friends from seminary (a couple my wife and I viewed somewhat as mentors). During the visit we walked our children to the park (so the adults could talk). Our play date was cut short by rain. My wife and I forgot our umbrella. To which my friend’s wife said, “I apologize. I packed an umbrella for my family and did not think of yours. Will you forgive me?”

I replied playfully, “Why should I forgive you because I failed to check the weather?”

Her response stunned me, “I want to love my neighbor as myself and I thought of my family without thinking of yours. That does not represent God’s character. I see that. I want to change and you were affected by it. Will you forgive me?”

Her repentance was clean. It was motivated by love for God more than personal guilt or embarrassment with people. I do not think I had ever repented like that in my life before that moment. Up until then repentance was only something I had done when I was caught or felt guilt. I cannot say that I had ever repented as an act or worship and exclusive longing to be more like God.

Her repentance also revealed how irrelevant I perceived God to be in that moment. I was thinking God was only relevant in that moment if I had stolen her umbrella or yelled at my wife because I forgot ours. I had reduced repentance to a “work” I performed to make up for what I did wrong.

I do not want to idolize my friend’s wife. But I do want to use this example to illustrate two reasons why we need Jesus to repent (admitting there are many more than two).

First, Jesus is the only one sinless, and therefore other-minded, enough to repent. As soon as we sin, we become focused on self-preservation. This mindset distorts repentance into an interpersonal tactic to get back on even footing with the other person. It is Jesus, the sinless One, who took on sin and was able to experience pain of sin without any defensiveness. Jesus is the only One to experience sin selflessly, so He is the only One who could respond to it appropriately. We are partaking of His righteousness even when we repent well.

Second, it is the cross that breaks the tendency to reduce repentance to a “work” I perform to regain God’s acceptance. I must understand that repentance is a gift that God gives me not a gift that I give God. My confession is merely the “thank you” response to God enabling repentance to be possible and effective at the cross. It earns nothing. God does not respond because of the eloquence, sincerity, or emotional intensity of my repentance. God responds favorably to my repentance because of Jesus.

Repentance Is Harder Than Eating Humble Pie

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“Now what was the sort of ‘hole’ man had got himself into? He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself. In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor—that is the only way out of our ‘hole’. This process of surrender—this movement full speed astern—is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder that merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death. (p. 56-7).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

This makes repentance sounds like a great deal more than saying, “I’m sorry.” Lewis makes my average attempt at repentance sound junior varsity at best. Most of my repentance stops at an acknowledgement of wrong and an expression of remorse. According to Lewis, I am stopping at the beginning.

In addition to acknowledgement and remorse, I should be:

  • Confessing a heart that wants to be independent of God
  • Recognizing each sin reveals that my heart is pointed in the wrong direction
  • Unlearning a way of life designed to please me first
  • Re-training my mind, will, and affections to value God most
  • Experiencing a form of death to my “old self”

That is what I should do each time I am impatient with my children, neglect the care of my wife, or allow my emotions (i.e., anger, fear, depression, hope, etc…) to be unduly tied to temporal things. Each occurrence of sin is a time when I should remember who I am as a fallen creature with a bent to resist my Creator.

As I think abut it, I should add another sin to the list – repenting in a way that treats my sin as a trivial offense. I so agree with my sin that I respond to God as if He should see it my way. I so buy into the lies that made my sin seem “second nature” that I almost believe God is sorry He has to call me on my sin. I repent as if He and I both “know” that He meant that rule for someone else not in my situation.

I am not sure how else I could explain “casual repentance.” As I just write this phrase, it seems like a glaring contradiction. Yet when I do it, “casual repentance” seems so natural. I think this must be what Lewis is referring to the “self-conceit and self-will” that humanity has been perfecting (in the worse sense of the word) for thousands of years.

This reminds me how much I need God. I would not even repent right apart from His grace and His Word transforming my heart and my mind. I am also struck by how much this must impact my human relationship (even more than I see). If I am willing to “casually repent” to the Holy God, how much more guilty must I be with my friends and family? After all, in those cases I can fall back on, “I’m not the only one at fault here.”  All of this to say, I think we (very much including me) need to take repentance a bit more seriously.