Reflections of Gospel-Driven Repentance: Whose in Control?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

While in the discovery process of a person's repentance, a key area to focus on is the status of the pride in the fallen brother or sister's heart. Everybody has some operating in their hearts. It's really inescapable since we are born in sin. That fact alone means it's woven into the very fabric of our soul.

That said, discovering to what extent it is operating and controlling the person's behavior and thoughts is extremely crucial. And the important thing to remember is not to take any display of pride personal. Reacting to the pride may impede the discovery process, for that means I've forgotten what I'm really after, which is humility. Responding to the pride is the way of wisdom, which uses the display to teach the person that humility has not quite had enough work in the heart.
A major way in which pride shows itself in the behavior of the fallen Christian is a desire to control the process or the outcome. If I had to name the single most significant impediment to the restoration process, especially in cases where men have sinned sexually, it is the desire to maintain some control over the process, whether great or small. In most cases, they are just not willing to do whatever is asked of them...unless they have been able to bargain in some way with those expectations.
  • When key questions are asked and there is resistance to answering with adequate or complete detail and explanation, they are in control.
  • When questions are asked about what needs to be given up or surrendered in order to fully give oneself over to true repentance and restoration, and the person exhibits ambivalence and non-compliance, they are maintaining control of the situation.
  • When he or she bristles or squirms at reasonable and wise requests that are made, they are holding on to control.
  • If such a person was in a position of leadership, the way they accept their removal will reveal whether or not they desire to maintain some control.
  • But when a person realizes their sin, sees it the way God does, feels the burden and gravity of its consequences, and is in agony over the fall, he or she will hardly ever resist any requests. 
  • If they are truly broken they will place themselves in a position to be humbled, and realize that they really have no right to ask anything of anyone. Such humility will accept any help, counsel, or wisdom that is given.
  • Such a person truly has a divine view of their sin when they genuinely expect nothing and desperately accept everything.
The most practical thing I can do in a situation where a brother or sister has fallen is to help them see the necessity of restructuring their life for change, and then to help them see that they must actually do it. They are two different things, and they can be very difficult things to work through...but not when gospel-driven repentance is at work in the soul. 

In almost every case, the person's life-structure created a context where they could sin and get away with it. That structure needs to change when the sin is revealed, and that change will often mean great discomfort. Reacting to it means there is yet more work to be done by God in the heart, first. Responding to it means hopeful but watchful progress. The heart is so desperately wicked and deceitful here.

Generally, one who is desperate for change does not display resistance to change. They are so overcome by the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual effects of their sin that they are willing to do almost anything that is asked of them. In some situations, however, a person's reluctance may indicate genuine confusion of the why (why do I have to do this?) and the what (what is it again you think I should do?). 

But don't quickly conclude that the genuine confusion is not genuine pride, working to deceive themselves and you into thinking they are not really resistant when in fact they are. Confusion and pride are hard to differentiate in discussion, but are generally identified quite readily when consequences are communicated, expectations are explained, and decisions are made.

On the whole, the goal is for those who are restoring to feel a humble and wholehearted compliance from those who have fallen. Anything less is most likely flowing out of pride that has not yet been completely dealt with by the mere revelation and confession of the sin. Thus a reflection of gospel-driven repentance is, once again, this visible, tangible, and humble display of the kind of sorrow that is in utter agony over the sin, and has a sense of utter desperation to make things right, restore fellowship, and sometimes to simply breath.

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