Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Confession, Repentance and Forgiveness

Recently, I made a reference to confession, repentance and forgiveness. I’ve been thinking about these things lately.

I go to church with a bunch of very godly people. I can’t say I’m one of them. They’re all my heroes. And I’m not writing this with my tongue in my proverbial cheek. I have a hard time believing that these people really sin much. I know they must sin some. I know that a few others sin more than I do. But I know who I was and I know that although I am forgiven, patterns of the past sometimes haunt my thoughts.

I consider that it is wise to preserve dignity when someone sins to avoid disclosure among the general membership of their church if they repent quickly. That’s certainly a Biblical thing. Even if one is unrepentant and his sin must needs become public, it is wise to put the matter away quickly and not discuss it lest some are tempted to gossip.

On the other hand, what model for normalization do we have for confession, repentance and forgiveness? This, not to mention church discipline. When we sin against another and the sin is not obvious, do we let it drop or will we hear each other's confession in private, accept the attitude of repentance displayed and offer forgiveness? Or do we fear that the blissful view of fellowship we hold so dear will be disturbed by the sinful disclosure of another, withhold forgiveness, and allow the broken relationship to go unmended?

Whose private sins are disclosed in the Bible of righteous men? Job sinned. Abraham sinned. Moses Sinned. Sampson sinned. Saul sinned. David sinned. Solomon sinned. Peter sinned. Paul sinned. These, just to name a few. How do we know they sinned? That is, how was it not held private that it ended up in the Bible? We know one sin of Peter’s that Paul openly wrote about. Yet these men each repented. We are neither justified by our appearance, nor are we justified by the disclosure of our sin openly in confession and repentance. We are justified only by Christ.

Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount that “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Do we do this or do we merely pretend to be reconciled to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ?

As I've said, we keep each other at a distance to preserve some idealized level of comfort. But keeping our distance for this reason is self-centered and shows a lack of concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ. we need to be uncomfortably close in order to bear one another's burdens. Our sins chafe one another. Do we dare approach the forgiveness Christ showed us? He went to his death to bear our sin before the judgment of God. How uncomforatble was that? Can we so bear each other’s momentary sins as the body of Christ unto a more perfect fellowship?

I say these things because I do not think we do this very well. We focus more on appearances. It is certainly wise to preserve the dignity of our brothers and sisters who confess and repent by not disclosing the nature of their sin. However, it’s an easy transition from dignity to pride and the latter can be insidiously deceptive, especially to the proud. It’s a sin and needs to be confessed and repented of.

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