Reflections of Gospel-Driven Repentance: Processing the Sin

Thursday, February 21, 2008

One of the most difficult parts of the repentance process is the discovery. The discovery process is all about asking wise, discerning, key questions to figure out where the fallen brother or sister's heart is. The focus here is finding out if they are properly processing what they've done.

Some immediately retort that this doesn't matter. For example, I was told this past week that what matters is that God has forgiven them, if they are a believer (and sometimes, even if they are not). One of the friends to whom I referred in my first post on this subject cursed at me Tuesday night, asking, "What the hell good is forgiveness from God if nobody wants to treat you like you've been forgiven?!" This from a friend who solicited prostitutes for two years, ran up credit cards, and demands from his wife that she submit to his authority as head of the household after this came out some three weeks ago. Do you think he has processed his sin properly?

Forgiveness is a tricky thing sometimes. We definitely and desperately want the fallen brother or sister to understand forgiveness. Without it they may as well commit suicide, because living with guilt in fallen world is already difficult enough as it is without the conclusion that God might not have forgiven the sin or else will not forgive the sin. The promise of Scripture, however, is that the person to whom God does not count sin is a happy person indeed (Psalm 32:2)!

On the flip side, however, is the fact that a person who is continuing in a sinful attitude about their sin evidences in the least that it is worth asking the question as to whether or not the Spirit of God is living inside them. For the Holy Spirit is that very person of God residing in a person who ultimately overcomes their pride and clouded thinking about sin, by loosening the power of that sin, and bringing them to the light of the truth. He is the one who helps them properly discover and process their sin in light of God's thoughts, expressed only in the Bible.

There is a place for both in the repentance and restoration process, then. Telling them that those whose sins are forgiven are truly happy people is the right first step. But if after a few days or weeks they are not very happy, it is right to ask why. Maybe they are not appropriating forgiveness properly. But then again, maybe they are not properly processing what they've done in light of what God says about it. After all, a proper processing leads to a proper appreciation for and appropriation of God's forgiveness.

Here are some helpful questions I use to discern how a person is discovering and processing their sin.

1. What all did you really do?

Helping a person see everything they did when they sinned is helpful in getting to see what God sees in their sin. The Ten Commandments are very useful here. When I get sinfully angry, for example, I put myself before God, I set myself up as an idol, I profane God's name in the way I act, I murder with my hateful attitude, I bear false witness by saying I have a right to get angry, and I covet my convenience more than I do God's vision of the conflict. And all that is just for starters. Getting the person to see what God sees is crucial in the discovery process. They need a vision for just how deep the roots of that sin extends into their hearts so that they will sense the kind of desperation they need from God to kill it and the kind of joy they have in God for already setting them free from it.

2. What are the consequences of what you've done? Count and consider the ripples.

This is also a huge help, since most men who sin sexually do not understand, as much as they can or should, the ripple effect their sin has caused themselves and so many others. Humility is generally displayed in those who understand that all the bad things that happen after their sin is exposed are generally a result of that sin. Pride is usually displayed in those who try to analyze, critize, and condemn certain ripples as being "not fair" or undeserved, as if they can pick and choose which ripples will emanate from the boulder they just threw in the lake of their family's life.

3. How much time are spending reflecting on all that you've done? Are you comfortable with the pace of the discovery, repentance, and restoration process?

The temptation when a sin of greater magnitude has been exposed or confessed is to get over it too quickly. The pains of consequences can be so great and massive that the normal self-preservation mode can kick in and stimulate us to make the process of repentance and restoration as fast and painless as possible. Pride is manifested in impatience with the process. Humility is generally accepting and welcoming of whatever can help recover true fellowship with God and others.

The fact is, gospel-driven repentance and restoration is a process. But the fact about process is that no one can really define what that should look like. What can and should happen, however, is a defining of what that process cannot look like. It cannot look like impatience and angst with the process. People are complex and it takes lots and lots of time to process the hurt and heal from it. 

Impatience with this process is about as fruitless as standing in the mirror and trying to make your hair grow. And it cannot look like frustration over why people aren't responding the way you think they should. Putting yourself in their shoes for a moment and considering what they are feeling (something that wasn't given much consideration when the sin was being committed) is the way to accurately get a hold of this process.

In the end, pursuing gospel-driven repentance takes time. It cannot be impatient, and it cannot be arrogant in its use of God's precious forgiveness. It cost Him His precious Son's life. And the process will cost us some precious time.

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