The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 9. Responding to the Guilty: Expecting Repentance
Jn 8:11 “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Recapping Misconceptions: So we’ve been considering popular misconceptions in respect of guilt: off-loading does not absolve from blame, temptation may create only temporary pleasure, beware misjudging a situation, and finally rejecting a sense of guilt imposed by others but not God.
Moving On: In this subject of guilt there are various attitudes or ways of thinking that are important to consider:
– being honest and accepting when we’ve got it wrong,
– dealing with it scripturally – repenting and receiving God’s forgiveness and cleansing,
– rejecting wrong misconceptions about guilt
But then there is the critical one of how we respond to the guilty person.
Wrong Responses: As a starter we should suggest that instant responses are usually wrong responses. Jesus before the guilty woman in Jn 8:1-11 suggested to her accusers (with their spiritual knives out!) that the one who had never sinned could cast the first stone. Someone has said that the Christian Church is the only army that kicks one of their soldiers when they are down. When someone has failed and got it wrong – and the Jn 8 woman had seriously got it wrong – we can have one of two responses: to slap them down or to seek to restore them. Jesus demonstrated the latter response.
The Repentance Element: Now repentance wasn’t the main thing John was seeking to bring out in that story but it is a necessary ingredient in such things. Again the important thing is to trust that God sees if repentance is likely to be forthcoming so we should not make prior judgments. One also notes that when the Lord is moving powerfully, he holds His people to a higher level of accountability, hence the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Peter didn’t pronounce the death sentence over Ananias, he simply spoke out his sin of lying and deception (Acts 5:3,4). It was only when he saw God’s judgment could he speak it over Sapphira (v.9). In a church in a state of revival, they should have known better. Similarly the saints in the church in Corinth knew the power and the presence of the Spirit and should have known better when they came to communion and when they were careless, Paul had to point out, “that is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 11:30) Repentance should have been forthcoming without prior warning.
“Stop it!”: The point is that Jesus wants to restore us to a good place but that comes through repentance. He may not actually speak the word ‘repent’ always – although he often does (see Mk 1:15, 6:12, Acts 2:38) – but he does expect it, hence his words to the woman: ““Go now and leave your life of sin.” (see also Jn 5:14) We have seen how scripture (1 Jn 1:9) allows for us to receive forgiveness and cleansing and restoration (implied). Let’s always seek to redeem the situation and restore one another, being slowly careful how we proceed, careful about what we believe of others. Be Jesus to one another.
Action by the Church: In a recent series we noted God spoke through Zechariah indicating that sins of action and of words have no place in the church (see Zech 5). Mostly it is down to the leaders to preach and teach and set the standards of scripture before the people; that is how the church comes to understand these things. However Mt 18:15-17 lays down a process where the individual finds obvious sin in the life of another believer, and the purpose in each stage is for the sinner to repent and be restored. When the last stage says, “tell it to the church,” (v.17) I suggest that means take it to the leadership so that they can take action, to check out the truth of the life of the other person, call them to repentance gently and graciously, and do all they can to facilitate repentance. If they fail, that is the point where they may need to put that person out of the church as Paul did in 1 Cor 5:1-5 (also 1 Tim 1:20) where the goal was to remove the protection of the church so that Satan would be allowed access to the rebel and deal with him and bring about repentance (which 2 Cor seems to suggest happened).
We should be very clear that dealing with a perceived sin is not achieved through gossip, but by handing it on to the leaders for their wisdom to prevail. Some sins, such as adultery, abuse etc. are sufficiently ‘big’ that in the case of leaders they need to be stood down for the sake of the flock. Trust sometimes needs rebuilding and that often takes time, but the bigger point here must be, don’t jump to wrong conclusions, let’s not assume guilt until it is proved to be real and let’s look to restore where possible.
And So? Let’s state some simple basics:
– God does not want sin in the church.
– As human beings we will get it wrong and, hopefully, deal with it ourselves.
– Where we see it in others, don’t jump to conclusions but seek God’s humility, grace and wisdom to confront it in your friend.
– If it is a big issue, take it to the leadership and let them deal with it.
I am aware that for a large number of churches in the UK at least, this is an alien subject because of the oft-poverty of teaching and certainly the subsequent lack of authority in the church. Such leaders will have an accounting with the Lord (as I have had in the past), for their inability to deal with these things. But to think more on this, we need to go on to the next study.