Friday, January 13, 2006

Forgiveness, Acceptance, and Repentance

I had a conversation yesterday with the Nashville Cohort about the man who shot the Pope being released, and how the Pope had forgiven him. It led to a discussion about forgiveness and it really got me thinking.

I read in Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis or heard him say somewhere that just as there will be 100% forgiven people in Heaven, there will be 100% forgiven people in Hell. It's struck me as a fascinating concept. I am convinved that forgiveness as we think about it for ourselves is for US, not the people that we are forgiving. If someone wrongs me, I'm sure they don't give a rat's patoot if I forgive them. What it does is release the power of that offense from me. I don't let that anger or desire for retribution control me any longer.

However, through Jesus, we are forgiven our offenses against God by God. The real trick of things is HOW we live in response to that and that's where the repentance and acceptance comes in.

Let's put it into this perspective: Imagine someone who was abused by a family member. The person abused should as a follower of Christ forgive the abuser. However, if the family member continues in that behavior (or seems like he would), then the person abused should not be in relationship with that person. It's not until the abuser changes his ways that the abusee should be in relationship with him.

You see, repentance is not simply saying, "I'm sorry" to God while going ahead and knowing full well that you are going to do the same thing again. Repenting doesn't mean being sorry; it means changing your life to live in accordance with God. It means becoming a new person, being "born again."

But here's the other wrinkle in this whole thing. If we take Jesus' life as the example for how he lived, how do we interact with sinners? The traditional chuch mindset is to have someone agree with what we believe or do and then accept them into our fellowship. Basically acceptance can only happen when repentance happens first. However, Jesus operated in a completely different scope. Look at the story of Zaccheus and any of the other times Jesus was with sinners. For those sinners to be in Jesus' presence, repentance was not a requirement. Acceptance of who they were came first, and the repentance MIGHT follow. I doubt that every person who came into Jesus' presence changed their life, but that didn't seem to change his acceptance of them.

What if all three of these things came into play as we act out as followers of Christ in our daily lives and into our coporate lives as the church, the body of Christ? I hope I didn't ramble too much with all of this and it makes some modicum of sense. How do these three concepts work out you readers?


Adam said...

Your thoughts on forgiveness are right on. You should watch the NOOMA film called "Luggage", which is along the same lines. You'd love it.

Also, about accepting "sinners" into our fellwoship, Brian McLaren talks a lot about "Belonging" and "Believing" and which comes first. He says that if we followed Jesus model, Belonging should preceed Beliving and in many cases Belonging might actually lead to Belief.

jettybetty said...

Great thoughts!

I was just thinking through similar thoughts this week as I read through Luke. Jesus rebukes the Pharisees and heals the sinners.

Doesn't it must make sense that belonging preceeds believing? Do we have to put strings on belonging?

Now I have to go think some more!

Thanks for a great post!

Adam Brooks said...

Hey Phil,

I also picked up on your terminology, "then how do we interact with sinners?" Well, if the first assumption about forgiveness is right, then much the same way that'd we'd interact with any other believer. We are all sinners, and sin everyday. There are really no differences in God's sight between my sins of omission and anyone elses' "major" sin of commission. I think one of the major problems with the church is that we allow ourselves to distance ourselves too far psychologically from our identity as a redeemed sinner. We think of ourselves as repented, not in the process of repenting.


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