This is the sixth in a series about forgiveness. Click here to read the first post in the series.
As I struggle with issues of forgiveness and reconciliation over the years, as I tried to reconcile with a Mom who would acknowledge none of her failures and none of my strengths, and who would not forgive me for not fulfilling her expectations, I realized that a major hindrance to relationship is an inability to repent. Repentance is the key to relationship.
I began to learn about repentance as I began to study how God treats us when we fail Him in an attempt to understand how I am to treat others who fail me. In today’s Christianity, many have reacted against condemnation of failures by focusing entirely on Christ’s love and forgiveness, stressing that it doesn’t matter what we have done, we are loved and forgiven. There is no mention of the need for repentance.
It is true that we are sinners with no ability to save ourselves. It is true that God “so loved the world” that He gave His Son to die in our place. It is true that salvation is a gift, given freely. It is true that God is merciful, compassionate, and gracious, and that there is no sin that cannot be forgiven. However, millions of people have died unforgiven and are in hell. Why? We have forgotten about the need for repentance. God forgives us completely when we repent. If we do not repent, we do not receive forgiveness, we have no relationship with God, we remain His enemies and under His wrath. Romans 1:18-28 begins with this statement: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness…” The passage goes on to say that eventually God will “give over” (read “wash His hands of) those who continue rejecting truth. Leviticus 26:21-46 is another interesting passage that begins with, “If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve….” The key to relationship with God is repentance. If we repent, we experience God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness; if we don’t repent, we experience His wrath and hostility.
Look at the following verses from both the Old and New Testament. There are quite a few of them, but I’d like you to see that repentance is mentioned throughout the Bible.
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chron. 7:14)
This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. (Isaiah 30:15)
Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings. (Prov. 1:23)
“Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. (Ezekiel 18:30)
He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Luke 3:3)
But unless you repent, you too will all perish. (Luke 13:3)
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)
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)
I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. (Acts 20:21)
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
I believe that not only are we to repent to God when we sin against Him, but the Bible also teaches that repentance is necessary in our relationships with others. Luke 17:3 says:
So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. (Luke 17:3)
Most people have protested when I have shared this. It’s not a popular idea. It’s almost as if “repentance” has become a dirty word. I think people have the idea that repentance is a humiliating, degrading, groveling act of utter subservience. However, that is a perversion of what repentance really means.
True repentance is a beautiful thing, not a negative one. It is not an angry, “I won’t forgive you until you grovel to me,” but a humble acknowledgement of wrong-doing that leads to restoration and healing in a relationship. When we repent, we are acknowledging that we hurt a person, that we offended him. Our repentance is like a salve that can heal the relationship. “I’m sorry I hurt you” is a powerful, powerful “medicine.”
A person who cannot repent is a person who can’t acknowledge her own failures and weaknesses. Because she can’t acknowledge her own failures, she cannot forgive others for theirs. Instead, she arrogantly claims a moral superiority, seeing herself as right and others as wrong, seeing herself as superior and others as inferior, seeing herself as a god who judges whether the other has done enough to earn her forgiveness. This attitude prevents her from being able to acknowledge her own need for forgiveness. Because she cannot acknowledge a need for forgiveness, she cannot accept forgiveness from others. It doesn’t matter how much one person acknowledges her faults, asks for forgiveness, and seeks to reconcile, if the other refuses to do the same, the relationship is broken beyond repair.
It is only when we can acknowledge and repent of our own weaknesses and failures that we can have compassion for the weaknesses and failures of others. When (not if) we fail each other, the only thing that can restore the relationship is the genuine willingness to forgive AND be forgiven. This requires humility, an understanding that neither of us has any moral superiority. This is what repentance is, and this has the power to heal broken relationships.
In a wonderful article about repentance (teshuvah in Hebrew), John Parsons, a Jewish believer, author, and administrator of the Hebrew4Christian website, listed the steps of repentance:
1. Forsake the sin. According to traditional Jewish views, there is no atonement without repentance.
2. Regret the breach in your relationship with God and others.
3. Confess the truth and make amends with those we have harmed. We must ask for forgiveness from others before receiving forgiveness from God.
4. Accept your forgiveness and move toward the Lord through faith.
In my next post, I will discuss when NOT to forgive.