Kung Fu Repentance…

Fighting-Kung-Fu-catsRepentance is not one of the most exciting topics in the world and perhaps you are not getting into my series on the subject. That’s ok; you’re busy and are looking for more uplifting and encouraging reading. However, be aware that you may be suffering from a form of Kung Fu Repentance and not even know it.

It has been my observation that many people who think they are evidencing true repentance are really not because their penitence is accompanied by self-defense. We can often see this in our marriages; we are sorry for something we have done, but our apology is accompanied by some form of justification. I remember counseling a man who was broken because his wife had left him. I can still hear him say, “It is all my fault. I have tried to control her with my anger and manipulate her by my silence, and I have failed her as a godly husband.”

I was thrilled by what he said and heard the faint rumblings of a repentant heart coming from a very proud and quirky man. However, then he said, “But I wish she would respect me more and listen to what I tell her to do.” I smacked him upside the head! Just kidding, but I sure felt like it because he just Kung Fu’d his repentance right out of my office.

In 1 Samuel 15 we see a very clear example of defensiveness and self-justification hidden behind what looked like repentance. King Saul was commanded by God to wipe out the Amalekites as part of God’s judgment upon the sinfulness of that people. Instead, Saul disobeyed by sparing the king, some of the best livestock, and the money. He did this for his own self-aggrandizement because he had already built a monument to himself (1 Samuel 15:12) and in his mind he was the most important star in the universe. What a change from a man who was at one point “little in his own eyes” and began his career by building an altar for God! (14:35)

Samuel confronted Saul about his disobedience, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears”? Saul had started in with his Kung Fu—“I saved the best animals to give to the Lord.” That is what I call “Religious Kung Fu” where we justify our sinful behavior by spiritualizing it away. Then Saul used the oldest excuse in existence; “It wasn’t really me but my soldiers who took the spoil for themselves.” That one I call the “Adam-style Kung Fu” named after the first guy who blamed his sin on his wife. I wonder if all of this blah blah blah sounded like bleating to Samuel?

After Samuel told Saul that he had been rejected by God as king because of his repeated disobedience, Saul fell on his knees (good posture for repentance) and cried out “I have sinned!” Now we’re getting somewhere… however, notice what followed; “but honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me that I may bow before the Lord your God.” (15:30) Here we see just plain old Kung Fu; nothing fancy, just pure selfishness which had sunk to the level of charade. Saul was done, and lived the rest of his life in depression with momentary flashes of regret.

Let’s go back to the guy who had tried to Kung Fu me in my office. I told him about Saul. I also told him that true repentance would be demonstrated by going to his wife and getting down on his knees, coming clean with the viciousness of his angry manipulative behavior, telling her that he had failed her and God as a husband, and asking her for forgiveness even though he did not deserve it. I told him one more thing; “when you get off your knees, do not expect your wife to suddenly trust you and take you back into her life. You have hurt her deeply and she will be watching you carefully to see if you’ve really changed or whether this is just part of your manipulative bag of tricks.” He never came back to see me, and he Kung Fu’d his marriage.

Repentance without excuse is the life-breath of the Christian. I think it was Gary Thomas in his book Sacred Marriage who said that “couples don’t fall out of love as much as they fall out of repentance.” Maybe the way to reinforce this lesson is to give someone permission to speak into your life and say to you, “what’s that bleating sound I hear?”

A Constant Weeper Be…

crying_729-420x0Good Friday is the proper context for examining another misunderstanding of repentance. The Gospel of Matthew sets in juxtaposition the dastardly deeds of two of Jesus’ intimates. It tells of Peter’s denial he ever knew Jesus—not once but three times, and in the end Peter “went out and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:75) It also tells of the betrayal by Judas and his recantation by giving back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and confessing to them that he had betrayed innocent blood. Then “he departed, and he went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5) So, if you did not know the end of the story, who would you say seemed more repentant?

We often make the mistake of equating repentance with sorrow. While there is a place for sorrow, the danger is that a person may be filled with remorse but not be truly repentant. We have had examples of preachers and presidents caught in the web of infidelity and adultery. They have stood before us and confessed their sin with tears. We have also known others in public office or church ministry who have been “caught” and responded with great sorrow. We ourselves know of the remorse and regret we experience when we see the messes we have made. Some of our friends have been filled with such remorse that they have taken their own lives. Surely, both Peter and Judas were terribly sorry for what they did. On the surface, Judas looked even more repentant, but was he?

In 2 Corinthians 7 Paul regretted sending a harsh letter to the church which caused them great sorrow. Yet, at the same time, he did not regret it because it produced a godly sorrow. What is the difference between sorrow and sorrow? “For godly sorrow produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly sorrow produces death.” (v. 10)

CH Spurgeon preached a message in 1881 entitled “Sorrow and Sorrow” and this is part of what he said: Some persons seem to think that mere sorrow of mind in reference to sin is repentance; but it is not. Read the text…”Godly sorrow worketh repentance.” Therefore, it is not itself repentance. It is an agent employed in producing repentance, but it is not itself repentance. There is, in the world, a great deal of sorrow on account of sin which is certainly not repentance, and never leads to it. Some transgressors are sorry for sin for a time; they are convicted of guilt, with a transitory conviction, which soon passes away. Many are sorry for sin because of its temporal consequences; and many more because of its eternal consequences… They are as fond of sin as ever they were, but they sorrow because they see that it is bringing them down to the gulf of perdition. Now, that kind of sorrow is not repentance. A moth may burn its wings in the candle, and then, full of pain, fly back to the flame. There is no repentance in the moth, though there is pain; and so, there is no repentance in some men, though there is in them a measure of sorrow on account of their sin. Do not, therefore, make a mistake in this matter, and think that sorrow for sin is, or even necessarily leads to, repentance.

Spurgeon continues: Next, do not fall into the other mistake, and imagine that there can be such a thing as repentance without sorrow for sin, for there can never be such a thing… It is an entire and total change of mind, a turning of the mind right round, so that it hates what once it loved and loves what once it hated… Here is a man who says, “I repent.” But are you really sorry that you sinned? “No,” he replies. Then, my dear sir, you cannot have truly repented; for a man, who has not got even so far as repentance, is often sorry for having done wrong. When a man is convinced that he has transgressed against God he ought to be sorry; and if you tell me that there can be such a thing as Spiritual repentance, and yet no sorrow for having broken the law of God, I tell you that you do not know what you are talking about… If there is no such sorrow as that in your heart, one of the things necessary to a genuine repentance is absent.

Judas and Peter were both filled with sorrow on that first Maundy Thursday/ Good Friday. The worldly sorrow of one led to death; the godly sorrow of the other led to repentance and life. There have been many who have known the way of tears and even the mutilation of the flesh, but have never come near to true repentance because it was more about them than it was about their own sin. Like Esau, they have sought repentance with tears but could not find it (Hebrews 12:17).

“Lord, let me weep for nought but sin, And after none but thee; And then I would – oh, that I might! A constant weeper be.” (Spurgeon)

Penance or Repentance?

penanceLent is a season of repentance; yet many people are often confused as to the meaning of the word. There are many watered-down versions of repentance out there, which are not only cheap alternatives but tend to divert us from experiencing the joy of the real thing. One of those versions is the concept of “penance.”

Many of you recognize penance from your religious background as a sacrament consisting of contrition, confession, and the carrying out of certain works which render satisfaction for the sin committed since baptism. The Douay-Rheims Roman Catholic translation of the Bible actually replaces the word “repentance” with “penance” thus giving universal credence to this imitation of repentance.

However, we “Prots” also have our own version of penance. Though we are saved by grace, we are still driven to act in such ways that curry favor with God. Many co-opt the Lenten season with self-denial and acts of self-abnegation. Somehow our human nature feels better when we think we are impressing God by the sincerity of our outward actions, failing to comprehend that the real issue is the inner condition of our hearts. Not only does penance divert our attention away from the real need of our souls, but penance also anesthetizes our consciences so we gain momentary relief from our guilt.

Somehow we feel that our penance balances the scales and tips them in our favor, and yet, it is nothing more than a vicious cycle. We do good things to make up for our bad things; then after being good for a while we think we deserve a little bad, which we then try and make up for by being good and… so on and so forth. Penance makes us like little gerbils on a never-ending wheel of trying to please God.

The prophet Isaiah held out the free grace and mercy of God for his people when he cried, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for things that are not bread, and your labor on things that do not satisfy” (55:1, 2). And in the closing chapter of the New Testament, the Spirit and the Church cry out, “Come, and let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires to take the water of life without price” (Rev. 22:17).

If we can do nothing to achieve our salvation, why do we think our actions (now that we are God’s children) are in any way meritorious or sanctifying? Why do we measure God’s love for us by how much we do for him rather than by what he has done for us? Penance may drive us to a bed of nails or to stand barefoot in the snow for three days, like Henry IV did to show how sorry he was to Pope Gregory VII in 1077 AD. However, repentance will always drive us back to the cross and to God’s love and mercy which continues to flow for us. The same gospel that saves me also sanctifies me.

Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess:
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.
(Elizabeth Clephane, 1830-1869)

Penance keeps us tied into our past through fear of God’s justice. Repentance frees us up to hope for a new future because of God’s love. May God drive us back to the cross!

But Dave, if repentance does not lead me to tears and showing God how sorry I am, is it really repentance? Good question! We’ll talk next week- on Good Friday.

Repaint and thin no more…

repaintThat is the punch line for a joke about a minister who wanted to save his church some money by painting one of its buildings with watered-down paint. When the job was finished, there was a huge down pour which washed all the paint away. Then there was a voice from heaven that said, “Repaint and thin no more!”

Obviously, for you quicker people, this is a reference to the phrase “repent and sin no more.” Many believe this phrase is in the Bible, but it isn’t. Some may find this confusing and cite the passage about the man in John 5 who was healed by Jesus and then revisited by our Lord and told “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you” (v.14). Jesus did not tell him not to repent anymore, but to stop doing the things that may have contributed to his sickness in the first place.

Also, some may reference the woman who was caught in adultery and brought to Jesus by the Pharisees to see if he would be faithful to the law in requiring her death. You probably already knew that it was actually a set up to trap Jesus because she alone (not the couple) was brought to him, which in itself was a violation of the law. Jesus talked the Pharisees off the ledge of stoning her by pointing out that they were not in a moral position to be her judges. Then he said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11). How do you think she would have understood this? Would she have heard him say that she no longer had any need for repentance in her life? Would she have concluded that for the rest of her life Jesus expected her to be sinlessly perfect? OR, do you think she would have understood these words as strong encouragement from Jesus to be done with this adulterous relationship and to change her lifestyle completely?

In many respects this has happened to each of us who has experienced the grace and forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ. Like the lame man and the woman, we have been shown mercy and saved from the firing squad of God’s righteous judgment. The punishment for our sin was suffered by Christ and “by his stripes we are healed.” Yet, he tells us “to be perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5). I do not believe that this holds out for us the expectation of sinless perfection, but sets the course and direction of our lives to evidence a Family likeness in showing mercy to others. (Check me out on the context.)

Nowhere does Jesus ever say “repent, and sin no more.” The reason is because repentance is not only the first word of the gospel (Matthew 4:17), but it is also one of the key characteristics (the other is faith) of the Christian life. You will not stop repenting as a follower of Jesus until you stop sinning. And when do you think that will be? When I talk to people about living as a Christian, I not only emphasize a continuing need for trust in Jesus but also a continuing need of a repentant heart—a lack of which will be apparent in our marriage and in our relationships both inside and outside of the church. The same gospel that saves us also sanctifies us.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’d like to unpack this concept or repentance. We will look at what isn’t, what it is, and how it affects our relationship with God and others. Stay tuned, and by the way, don’t water down your paint this summer (if it ever comes) just to save a few bucks.