Repentance and Forgiveness in the Real World

The Christian world is big on repentance and forgiveness—and we should be! We’ve all had impure thoughts, displayed poor attitudes, not controlled our tongues, and made a plethora What if ...of other poor choices. Each of us desperately needs forgiveness.

But how should we react if someone repents? What would you think if a known drunkard asked Jesus into his life? What if the town brawler walked into church saying he’d changed?

The London City Mission Magazine recorded a story about C. B. Christopher, one of their deputational secretaries.

When he was only fifteen, he conducted his first Gospel services in a village chapel in southern England. In preparation, he rehearsed his address in a field. His pulpit was a hayrack; his congregation, a dozen cows!

He preached from, “Repent ye therefore and be converted.” The cows paid no attention, but he was astonished to find, on the other side of the rack, a man on his knees pleading for pardon and peace.

“Tell me more about Jesus,” he urged, when he and the preacher met face to face.

“I told him the story of redemption,” says Mr. Christopher, “and a drunkard, fighter, and demon-possessed man entered into peace and blessing.”¹

The role of grace in repentance and forgiveness

grace aloneThe book of Galatians was the apostle Paul’s argument against legalism in the church.

Jewish believers had invaded the Galatian church and began arguing that grace wasn’t enough. They insisted that in addition to Christ, believers also had to submit to the Jewish laws and traditions. Acts 15:1 tells us that they went so far as to say, “Unless you are circumcised … you cannot be saved.”

I can only imagine Paul’s irritation. Can’t you hear it, though, when he writes in Chapter 5,

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.

Wow! That’s a huge, harsh statement, but it’s important for us to grasp how important grace is and the role it plays in repentance and forgiveness.

None of us can perfectly fulfill the law. That’s what brought us to Christ and the cross to begin with. And since we cannot be justified by the law, since grace is what gains us access to heaven, we need to be quick to extend that grace to others.

The question is not if we should extend grace to others. The question is what does the extension of grace look like.

Repentance and forgiveness

Thankfully, Paul also gives us insight into this.

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

  • Brothers and sisters

First, note that Paul is addressing brothers and sisters. That means this verse was written to Christians. Do you love Jesus? Then these instructions are for you.

  • If someone is caught in sin

It’s important to know that the original word translated here as caught means to be overtaken or surprised by something. In other words, it doesn’t just infer entrapping or spying on someone.

It could refer to someone who was found sinning. Or, it could be someone who realizes that what they are doing is wrong, and they come forward themselves to confess.

  • Those who live by the Spirit should restore that person

restoreThe word used here for restore means to put back to how it was before. The word was used among fisherman when they repaired their nets or among doctors when they set a broken bone. Everyone knew the repaired object would be different, but once the process of repair was complete, the object would be strong and useful again.

In other words, once a person has confessed, repented, and changed their ways, the issue is closed. Over. Done.

Now that doesn’t mean that you should put a thief in charge of counting the weekly offering—let’s not plant temptation and be guilty of causing a brother to stumble. But, that same repentant and changed former thief could work with children. Or serve communion. Or play on the worship team.

  • Restore that person gently

Finally, let’s remember that gentleness is a fruit of the spirit. If you love Jesus, if you’re working on growing your relationship with Him and allowing Him to work on you, then you will be growing in the fruit of the Spirit. Including gentleness.

That doesn’t mean you’ll be perfectly gentle, but hopefully, prayerfully, you’ll be more gentle this year than you were last year.

 

Now please understand that I’m not dismissing the other side of this equation, which is the repentant person. Instead, I’m focusing on us, on what Jesus expects of me when I’m faced with someone who aims for repentance and seeks forgiveness.

When you are next confronted with a difficult moment of forgiveness, which part of this do you think will be hardest for you?

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¹Knight, Walter Brown. “Repentance.” Knight’s Master Book of New Illustrations. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1956. 544-45. Print.