What Does the Bible Say About...Repentance?
A small editorial to prompt us to pray and repent...
"He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and
renounces them finds mercy"
As the White House saga of the past months continues to unfold before a
tired and bewildered public, the concept of
moral responsibility in the United States becomes increasingly blurred. While many in
leadership are outraged by the President's affair, and subsequent lie to the American
people in January of 1998, much of the American public is saying that they are satisfied
with the President's confession and still consider him to be an excellent leader.
While it may seem generous and big-hearted for the American people to overlook the
transgressions of the President, and while it may be true that he can still fulfill other
duties of his office well, there is a deeper issue at stake that far transcends his
affairs, or even his lies. It is the delusion that there should be no real consequences
between choosing right or wrong.
If the President's "apology" on August 17, 1998 was enough to satisfy most
Americans, I can't help but wonder if such a feeble concept of "repentance" is
also what eases their own consciences. Granted, the President has recently made more of a
sincere effort to repent, most notably at a prayer breakfast on the morning of September
11. I pray that his words were spoken from the heart. However, this is not a political
commentary, as much as it a call for the people of the United States to examine what
repentance really means.
God judges nations not only for sins committed by the leaders, but how the public reacts
to those sins. It is true that we are called to forgive. Christians should be the most
forgiving people on Earth because we know the full extent of forgiveness that the Lord has
offered to us. We must forgive because the Lord has forgiven us. The greatest tragedy in
the world today is that multitudes cannot receive His mercy because of their pride and
unwillingness to humble themselves. Forgiveness is free, but only to those who are
contrite. For those who want absolution but refuse to repent, forgiveness cannot be bought
at any price.
How little we know of what it means to repent. "Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is at
hand!" is only a slogan yelled by
wild-eyed sidewalk preachers of questionable theological background. We think it means
just walking down a church aisle
somewhere or muttering a "sinner's prayer" under our breath.
There have been other great leaders throughout history who had affairs and still managed
to serve their nation well. A notable
example is King David of Israel who repented before God with all of his heart when his sin
was exposed. Although he was truly contrite, he still paid a price for his sin. Read Psalm
51; his prayer to God and a hymn for all those poor in spirit. God is eager to
forgive all who are truly repentant. Though we still may reap the penalty of our sin, God
will work it for good.
Saul, the King immediately preceding David also disobeyed the Lord, but when his actions
were exposed by the prophet Samuel, his first reaction was self-preservation.
"I have sinned," he said to the prophet. "But please honor
me before the elders of my people and before Israel" (1 Samuel 15:30). He
admitted that he had sinned, but his motives were only to save his own reputation and
position of power.
God was so displeased by Saul's drive to be admired by the multitudes that He took the
Kingdom of Israel from him. Though
Saul continued to reign for many more years, he was not led or empowered by the Spirit of
God, and spent the rest of his life in insecurity and misery. How different his destiny
could have been if he had only feared God more than man!
One may feel sorrow over sin, but that doesn't necessarily equate with repentance. How do
we tell the difference? Here is the
acid test: Those who are truly repentant will not care if they lose the respect of the
entire world, as long as they make it right with God. They are glad that their sin was
exposed so that it might be dealt with. Instead of scrambling to justify themselves, cover
it up or attack the accuser, they will throw themselves on the mercy of God. They will be
thankful to the instrument that exposed their sin, even if it caused them pain. They will
also be willing to make restoration to those they have hurt.
At the other end of the spectrum, is a shift-the-blame mentality. Our talk shows overflow
with it and our public schools teach
it. Sin is referred to at worst, as a "dysfunction" and at best as a
Yet, even in this the Church is much to blame. In our eagerness to "save"
people, how many people have we "led to the Lord"
without teaching them what it means to repent? How many churches have we filled with
people who have never shed one anguished tear over their sins, and are offended at the
concept? Have we forgotten to preach that our forgiveness, which we
receive so lightly, was purchased by Jesus Christ, through an agonizing and lonely death
on the cross?
If we truly care about our President and this nation, we will humble ourselves before the
Lord and ask Him to shine His searchlight on our own hearts. If I could talk to the
President, I would encourage him to speak the truth, and to weep and
mourn now rather than later. We may not like the thought, but every single one of us will
weep and mourn for our sins one
day whether in this lifetime, or before the Judgement Seat of Christ. It is simply
unavoidable. It is better to be ashamed now,
rather than later. Better to be humiliated in our own eyes before God, than to be
humiliated in front of multitudes when our
unrepentant hearts are exposed.
I cannot speak to the President in person, but perhaps I can do even better by praying
that he will soften his heart to God and
comes to this realization himself. Perhaps, if he truly repents, his humility will light
fires of revival across the land. I pray that even now, he will step out of his carefully
constructed house of cards and into the reality of the knowledge of a God who hears the
testimony of blood shed on the ground and sees deceit of those who are wise in their own
eyes. My prayer is not just for him. It is for myself, and for all who inhabit this
country that I love.
I ask God not so much that He will have mercy on usfor He has already shown us
surpassing mercy in the sacrifice of His
sonbut that we will have the ears to hear what the Spirit of the Lord is saying to
us and the courage to obey Him. His abundant compassion is available to us fresh and new
every day. God is still offering rest for our souls. May we humble ourselves in true
repentance so we can receive it!