The Keys to a True Apology

apology

Most of us have learned – somewhere along life’s path – that a true apology always includes a few things:

  1. An expression of remorse (“I am sorry”)
  2. An acknowledgement of the wrong or offense  (Verbalizing how the offender wronged the offended utilizing empathy to acknowledge and validate the offended’s feelings)
  3. An acknowledgement of responsibility (“It was my fault”, or “I was wrong”)
  4. An expressed plan to change (I will not do this again, and this is how I will be held accountable)
  5. An offer of restitution (“I will make it up to you by…”)
  6. A request for forgiveness

Few of us follow the mental checklist when we are in the heart of a disagreement or are trying to make peace, but after learning how to restore a relationship in this healthy manner we are keenly aware when we receive (or give) a false apology.  It is like the stubborn toddler that the mother forces to “say sorry” when he steals a toy or hits his sister.  As we grow older, however, our false apologies become a bit more suave.  We “say sorry”, but assign the guilt to the offended:  “I’m sorry if I hurt you somehow…” and make excuses, “It was not my intention to offend you”.  While it may be true that it was not our intention to hurt or offend someone, true sorrow recognizes the pain of the other party and seeks to make it better, not justify himself.

It is possible for the offended party to hear true remorse and in spite of being validated in their feelings, offered restitution and asked for forgiveness to choose not to forgive.  And once bitterness has established a deep root it only becomes more difficult.  This is one reason we must be able to recognize broken relationships and make every effort to restore them quickly.  Bitterness and unforgiveness are also offenses, and thus it typically happens that when a confrontation or problem occurs, both parties need to practice the steps of an apology in order for the relationship to be restored.

Mature adults, and well socialized children have learned the interpersonal skill of a true apology.  Surprisingly, however, the skill is not as widely grasped as one would hope.  Many people skirt through life, floating from relationship to relationship and leaving behind any and all who have hurt them.  Some people and families have mastered the art of “moving on” – simply pretending the problem never occurred and “letting it go”.  (Yes, it is also a healthy skill to learn to forgive when an offense was clearly unintentional, or the value of the relationship is greater than the weight of the offense.)  Some people just verbalize “I’m sorry” without validating the other person’s hurt or offering restitution or a plan to change – and thus remain in a cycle of hurting one another.

This confession process, however, is also the pivotal point on which salvation hangs.  It is what Christians call “repentance”.  Scripture teaches us that there are two kinds of sorrow:  one that is a guilt rooted in pride – sorrow for having been caught in sin or sorrow for one’s reputation being tainted, and one that is rooted in humility – sorrow for having sinned against God and for being the cause of Jesus’ suffering.

“For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while—I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.  For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.”

– 2 Cor 7.8-10

Godly sorrow recognizes one’s wicked heart and is broken over it.  Worldly sorrow recognizes only the punishment or the ramifications to one’s reputation and just wants a get-out-of-jail-free card.  Godly sorrow leads to deep, profound change.  Worldly sorrow leads to escapism, self-justification, and tactics by which one can save face.  Godly sorrow leads to repentance, and repentance requires not only the apology, but the confession of guilt, the seeking to make restoration, and the earnest effort to change.  Simply saying “I’m sorry” or asking God to forgive us and accept us does not exemplify the heart that is broken in humility before God.

This is why Scripture teaches us that even though we are free in Christ, we cannot use our freedom as an opportunity to sin:

“Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.”

– 1 Peter 2.16

In short, we cannot make up our minds to sin and expect God to forgive us.  We cannot decide to go rob a bank and think, “I will just repent later”.  We cannot look at pornography, cheat on our spouse or file for divorce and assume God’s forgiveness while we are continuing in that sin process.  True repentance recognizes personal guilt, seeks to make right what is wrong and takes responsibility to change.  God can forgive the bank robber or adulterer, but part of his repentance process will be returning the money or serving the jail time, and making amends to his spouse.

We also cannot come to God and make a blanket confession, “I am a sinner, please forgive me”, and expect that sinner’s prayer to cover our eternity.  From the moment we begin the repentance process, the Holy Spirit will take up residence in our lives and convict us of sin continually and consistently.  And this is a good thing!  Scripture also teaches us that it is the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance.  It would be unkind of Him to allow us to remain in our sins and headed to Hell!

“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”

– Rom 2.4

Thus we should check ourselves – is the Holy Spirit convicting us?  Have you walked through the steps of confession and repentance with God recently?  Have you walked through the steps of confession and restoration with a friend lately?  It is possible to go long periods of time without hurting or being hurt by a friend, but it is uncommon when we are living life in community the way God has commanded us.  That is just the nature of relationships.  It is not possible, however, with God.  Because none of us will reach full Spiritual maturity and perfection until we are free of our physical bodies.  God knows our every thought and feeling, and while we may not act out on those thoughts or feelings, He knows the sins within.

So let’s get real about our confession and interactions with God.  Even though we preach tolerance in our culture, God does not tolerate our sin.  He hates sin.  And He will not accept us if we just give him a fake “sorry” and continue acting however we want to act.  He must have authority over our actions and decisions, He must be the Lord of our lives and continually guiding us through repentance in order for us to be saved.  So let’s recognize our guilt, confess it, seek to make it right and seek to change.  Let’s also practice these interpersonal skills with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and with the outside world.  People know a true apology when they hear one, and this is just one more brick we can lay in the house of love we are building – by which we seek to be known.  And whenever someone confesses a wrong to us, let us be quick to forgive – for Jesus has always forgiven us of infinitely more than we could ever be asked to forgive.  And not only that, but He promises that God will not forgive us if we are unwilling to forgive others:

“But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

– Matt 6.15

So let us be quick to love, quick to apologize, quick to listen and quick to confess.  Let us not grieve the Holy Spirit but follow His prompting when He convicts us, and let us also be quick to apologize if a friend or family member confronts us in a sin or grievance.  God desires that change, that we love well, and that we be known by our love.

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So you had an affair. Now what?

restoration

Yesterday I wrote from the offended spouse’s position on adultery.  But there are two sides to every story.  There are two players in marriage.  If one spouse is cheated on, then the other spouse is the one who cheated.  If you have come to God for salvation, confessed your sins and begun a Spiritual walk with Him, then chances are high that the Holy Spirit has been all over you throughout your experience of infidelity.  As with most sin, it did not start big, some naked woman did not just jump in your bed.  Perhaps a love scene in a movie caught your attention and you curiously sought out pornography, which after a while could no longer satisfy your desires so you sought out a living person.  Perhaps you reconnected with an old friend on Facebook, and after a few messages decided to meet up just to check in and say hi.  Perhaps you found yourself at lunch at the same restaurant as that hottie at work, and both being alone you decided to sit together and slowly lunch became a habit, and then lunch turned into a relationship.  Yes, it is possible that you intentionally went out looking for a rush outside of your marriage, but much more common is the “it just happened” story.

The first step in moving past any infraction is the recognition of the sin.  God says that any infidelity is sin:  fornication, pornography, a one-night stand, an ongoing affair and even lust.  We all feel badly when we get caught in our sin, and thus we must examine ourselves to see if our sorrow and grief is because we got caught or because we recognize our sin and its offense to God.

We also cannot justify ourselves in our sin.  There is no excuse before God for any sin, and that includes infidelity.  Will your spouse not be with you?  Perhaps you are serving in the military and are serving overseas for long periods of time.  Perhaps your spouse is incapable for the time because of an illness or injury.  There is always a back story, and usually a reason that some people might use to appease their guilt, but when you have fallen into sin it is of utmost importance that we recognize it, confess it, and leave it there.  God does not justify the guilty, nor should we.

“He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous,
Both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.”

– Prov 17.15

After we have confessed our sin, we then begin the long process of restoration.  Unfortunately, in the church today, adultery and divorce are the scarlet letter from which people are rarely restored.  Usually such a one will have to find a fresh start, move somewhere where no one knows him, find a new job and new church, and keep his secret until enough years have passed that he has proven himself “of good reputation”.  But this time of restoration and reconciliation is one of the greatest privileges and benefits of the Church body.  If your church is harsh and judgmental towards a repentant sinner, then spearhead the change!  Everyone who has been forgiven must forgive one another when they repent.  The greater we recognize our own guilt and condemnation before God, the more we can pour out grace on one another and push one another on to holiness.

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

– Matt 6.14-15

“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

– Luke 7.47

Scripture teaches us that sexual sin is indeed a “special” sin, in that by doing it you sin against your own physical body.

“Flee immorality.  Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.”

– 1 Cor 6.18

It is also the primary offense which allows people to divorce their spouses (Matt 5.32).  But it is not special in the sense that it will bring any extra judgment or disqualification upon you.  If a person has broken any of the Law of God, he is guilty – and that unto eternal damnation  – be it lying, greed, murder or infidelity (James 2.10).

Therefore, once we recognize and confess our sin, we must also recognize that there is nothing that can separate us from God, no sin that He will not forgive, and no sin that can forever disqualify us from serving Him.  Perhaps the most beautiful example of this reality is King David.  He was God’s chosen man, he served God tirelessly throughout the years that he was waiting to be appointed as king after Saul.  God blessed him, and he prospered. While the nation was at war, he saw another man’s wife taking a bath and he called to have her brought to the palace.  He slept with her and she became pregnant.  In an effort to try to cover up his sin, he had her husband brought home from battle so that he could sleep with her and believe the baby to be his, but the man was so honorable that he would not be with his wife while his men were fighting.  David’s response?  He had him killed.  That way he could marry the woman and have her for himself.  After all of this had taken place, David confessed his sin and repented, and while there were consequences for his sin, he was still king and still called, by God, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam 13.14).

Now, even if you have been engaged in an ongoing affair, I highly doubt that you have had your partner’s spouse murdered to cover up your affair.  And if you have, then there is still hope for you!

God can and will restore anyone who repents from his sin.

Before we move directly into fighting the sin, the offending spouse must also recognize that this is indeed grounds for divorce.  The offended spouse is required to forgive the offending spouse, but the trust may be broken to the point that the offended spouse chooses to leave, and is Biblically free to do so.  This is simply the consequence of the sin that the offender must be prepared to accept.  If the offended spouse does not choose to leave, then the road to restoration will probably be a long one.

Moving forward will require trust to be rebuilt and temptations to be fought.  Accountability and instruction will be key here.  In short:  get help.  We are given the body of Christ to hold one another up, to push one another on, and to help one another out.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

 – Heb 10.23-25

Chances are extremely high that there is someone in your church who has walked where you are walking.  Whether your marriage has remained together or not, if there is any variation in demographic within your body, someone has fallen and been restored.  If not, then your pastor will know of someone, or a solid counselor.  Confess your sin to such a one:  someone who can help you grow and hold you accountable.  And then set for yourself a structure of accountability.  When someone else knows your sin, you are much less likely to commit it again.  And when you know someone will be asking you directly about your temptations and weaknesses, you are even less likely to give in.

Replace the sin with something God honoring.  If you have been indulging in pornography, focus that time and energy into getting to know and enjoy your spouse again.  Find a hobby, pursue your spouse or pray.  We must have a “go to” when we are tempted.  The immediate response should be claiming the promises of Scripture and prayer to redirect our minds and hearts, and then another activity in its place.  If you intentionally fight for your marriage in the wake of those desires, you will achieve the goal:  restoration.

Understand also that trust takes time to be rebuilt, and you will need to be an open book to your spouse.  Answer any questions they have, and allow time to grieve.  If the offended spouse does choose to remain in the marriage, the expectation is to forgive.  The affair cannot be held over the head of the offending spouse forever, there must come a time when the marriage moves on.  The offended spouse will probably find help and counseling from the spouse of the person who is counseling you.  Meet as a couple with that couple who has found victory.  Or meet as a couple with a counselor or pastor.  Reconciliation is two sided and unforgiveness is not acceptable.  The offending spouse, however, cannot lord this over the offended spouse.  Patience will be key.

There are many books that have been written on the topic, and it is not my intention to exhaustively walk a marriage through restoration.  Simply to note that infidelity is quite common, even within the Church, and there is hope both for the marriage and for forgiveness.

It used to be believe that once someone has broken his vow of marriage, he is forever of ill repute.  The pious would quote the guidelines for Church leadership and automatically disqualify anyone (and usually only those) who has fallen into sexual sin.

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.”

 – 1 Tim 3.2-3

Some would even go so far as to say that the offended spouse, after choosing to leave the marriage, would forever be disqualified from serving God for having been divorced.  They would say, “You are no longer above reproach” – forever.  I have heard this very statement with my own ears.   Isn’t interesting that to such a one, the God of all grace can forgive every sin except infidelity?  And such a one would label divorce the unpardonable sin, when God Himself is the one who gave us instructions for how to rightly utilize divorce?

Do not listen to such a one.  In fact, run hard the opposite direction if someone tries to tell you that you are no longer fit to serve God.  Yes, it will take time for your reputation to be restored and for your office to be returned, but in the same way God loved, kept, forgave and used King David, He can and will love, keep, forgive and use anyone who repents.

This is a very serious sin, but God is infinitely bigger and is not shocked.  He can forgive; He will restore anyone who turns to Him.

On Church Leaders and Affairs, Part II

judas

Yesterday I reflected on the reality that pastors, church leaders and missionaries are human, are elevated to a position of authority and are thus tempted and tested more intensely than lay Christians, and I encouraged Christians to remember that our faith is not in our leaders but in Christ.  I suggested that if someone else’s (anyone else’s) failure or apostasy causes us to doubt or abandon the faith then our faith is in the wrong person.  It is on this point that I want to reflect more deeply today.

What if you happen to be married to the pastor, church leader or missionary who is unfaithful?  Or what if someone in the church hurts you personally and deeply?  How do doubt and faith balance out when it is in our own homes?

First of all, there are two types of people who will fall into these life-altering sins:  those who are saved and will repent, and those who are not saved and will not repent.  Since it is impossible for us to truly see the heart of another human being, sometimes there will be people in the Church who say they are Christians – who may even think they are Christians, but they have never been pushed to the point of true testing and true conviction.  A person can sin – and can sin greatly – when he is a believer, but when He does sin the Holy Spirit will convict him, he will confess his sin, he will repent of it (stop doing it and change), and he will seek the help of the Lord and other believers to help him walk in holiness.  But those who are not truly saved will cherish a sin more than they love God or desire salvation.  When they are pushed to the point of decision to obey God or embrace their sin, they will choose the sin.

There are pastors who have affairs and will repent, will seek the help of accountability partners and friends to root out all temptation from their hearts, who will confess to their spouses and churches and who will grow.  There are also pastors who have affairs and choose the affair, the pornography, the new lifestyle over their faith.  They might appear repentant, they might say the right words – but that is often only because they have been caught.  Usually, however, they choose the sin and throw everything else away.  When the rubber hits the road, they love their sin more than they love God and/or their spouses.

God’s response and our response to these two types is very different.  Consider Peter – one of the greatest evangelists and church planters in history – and Judas – the disciple who was damned for his betrayal.  They both walked with Jesus for three years.  They both preformed miracles in his name.  They both learned from Jesus intimately, and at the end, they both denied Jesus.

Judas:

Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him.  From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus.

– Matt 26.14-16

Peter:

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.”  But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.”  When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and *said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”  And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.”  A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away.”  Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed.

– Matt 26.69-74

Both Judas and Peter regretted what they had done:

Judas:

Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!”  And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.

– Matt 27.3-5

Peter:

And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

– Matt 26.75

And lest we pick on these two too critically, let us remember that all of the disciples were scattered and fell away on that night:

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.’

– Matt 26.31

What was the response of God and the result of these two failures?  Judas was damned, and Peter – just a few months later – began the very first Church planting movement.

Judas:

“The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

– Matt 26.24

Peter:

“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

– Matt 16.18

The Church is commanded to respond in the same way to leaders and non leaders who fall into sin.  If someone is unwilling to repent, Jesus taught us that we should kick them out of the Church and declare them unbelievers (Matt 18.15-18).  If someone is willing to repent, then we restore them gently, understanding that we are all capable of sin – both small and great.

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.

– Gal 6.1

When it is within your home, if your own spouse cheats on you, Scripture gives very clear instruction.  I have written on this extensively here:  Is Divorce A Sin?  But, can we doubt in those situations?  Doubting is natural and a part of the faith journey.  We will all walk through season of doubt and questioning.  And some of those seasons will be stirred up because of the failure of those people we value and establish in our lives as teachers, guides, friends and spouses.  John the Baptist was, according to Jesus, the greatest man to ever live (Matt 11.11), and when he was facing death at the hands of Herod, he doubted Jesus and sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the real deal.  Jesus responded gently, kindly and with compassion:

Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see:  the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.  And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”

– Matt 11.4-6

Jesus will meet us in our moments of doubt and struggle when we turn to Him honestly and beg Him to reveal Himself to us.  If we try to test Him out of unbelief, He will not respond, and our wicked hearts will be revealed as unbelieving.  But when those difficult times come, when our spouses cheat on us, when our pastors fall, when someone to whom we looked for Spiritual guidance proves himself to not be a believer, Jesus will comfort us and walk us through it.  Being hurt, struggling to forgive, and doubting are a natural response to being hurt on such a deep level.  But our faith is proven by our response:  do we turn to Jesus, or do we become calloused and jaded?  Do we press into the Word, or do we throw it all away?

Can God use someone who has fallen so greatly?  Absolutely.  The greatest sin is to deny Jesus, and Peter did that three times.  And within months He was leading the first and only movement.  He was the point man, the main preacher.  1 Timothy does give us clear qualifications for church leaders, and they are mostly character assessments.  Can someone who recently had an affair be of good reputation?  That is for your church leadership to decide.  But we do see the example of Peter as God immediately forgiving and restoring Him.  King David took advantage of a married woman, got her pregnant, tried to cover it up, and when he was unable to had her husband murdered and married her.  After all of this, God called him a “man after his own heart”.  One is not forever ruined for sinning.  He must repent, however.  One can be revealed as a nonbeliever for his choice of sin over God.

So while the structures of God for such situations are outlined in Scripture to teach us how to handle them, that does not mean that our emotions and responses will not be confused.  It is a difficult thing to see someone abandon God, their families, and/or the church.  And while God will give grace to forgive, to restore, or to remove such a one from the church, it will be confusing and difficult to understand.  This is why we must turn to God, we must focus on Him, we must cling to Him, and we must put our faith fully and only in Jesus Christ and the cross.

Confess your sins to one another.

duggar

Yesterday I reflected on the story of Bruce Jenner and how we, as Christians, should respond to sinful choices of nonbelievers.  Interestingly enough, the other major headline this past week has been the revelation of  the sexual misconduct of Josh Duggar, one of the nineteen children of the Duggars from the TV show “Nineteen kids and counting”.  Here we have an example of dealing with sin within the Church, and again need to ask the question, how should we respond, and how do we handle similar situations within our churches?

This is an interesting situation in that it was an offense that happened many years ago, with all involved parties reporting to have made peace with one another.  In short, my personal opinion is that this is none of our business.  Josh, as a fourteen year old child, made a series of choices that would most likely not be punishable by incarceration (and the family did report him legally, only to be released), confessed his actions to his family and underwent counseling to fight his sinful tendencies and achieved victory over his sin.  The daughters who were involved have come forward to tell the world that they have forgiven Josh and that they have been more hurt by the unlawful release of the police report than they were by Josh himself.  The media is sensationalizing a story to prove that Christians are not perfect, and some are going so far as to say that Christian homes and communities foster child molestation and sexual sin.

So how do we, as a church and as Christians, respond to this situation?  If someone in your church comes to you to reveal a sin from fourteen years ago, then we must carefully consider a few things.  Firstly, Jesus gave us instruction for handling sin within the Church:

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

 – Matt 18.15-17

If someone comes to tell you the sin of another in your church, then ask that person if he has confronted the sinner.  If he has not, then he is gossiping and is himself in sin.  Call him on it.  If he has spoken to the sinner, ask him if he is telling you because he has already confronted the sinner and he is unwilling to listen.  If that is the case, then the two of you should go confront him on his sin.  If the sinner listens and repents, then it is over.  Jesus says you have won your brother and we are to leave it there.  If he will not listen yet again, then you need to take the issue to the pastor and leadership of the church, and the whole church should confront the sinner.  If he then repents, it is over and he has been saved.  If he will not confess and change, then we are to remove him from the church until he is willing to confess and change.

Scripture also teaches us that we are to make right what has been wronged by the sin.  So if someone has stolen, he needs to return what was taken.  If someone has told a lie, he should tell the truth and restore the tarnished reputation.  If a law has been broken, then it is not the place of the church to conceal that from the authorities, it should be reported and the guilty should receive the punishment as outlined by the law, to the end that he would be disciplined in public and in the church.

Once one has confessed and been forgiven, we then begin the process of restoring trust and responsibility.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

 – Gal 6.12

Consider a child.  If he exhibits the tendency to take things that are not his, to eat cookies that have been forbidden, then in order to teach him, you remove temptation from him.  You do not leave a big stack of cookies on the counter and let him roam the kitchen alone.  You develop a system of accountability and reward his obedience.  If a teenage struggles with lust, then parents set up structures for their children to not be alone with their boyfriend/girlfriend.  They can help organize group dates, set up a curfew, and they can ask them straight forward questions about their activities and hold them accountable.  This is how we develop character and how we rebuild trust.  We do the same within the church.  If someone is tempted to embezzle funds, then we do not leave such a one alone with the offering, or give him unchecked access to the church’s finances.  If he happens to be an outstanding accountant, then we can restore him to the role as church secretary, but always with accountability and after regaining the trust of the congregation.

This is restoration.  God is in the business of forgiveness and restoration, and so should we be.

“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”

 – 2 Cor 5.18-19

Now, as this relates specifically to the Duggars, I encourage you to watch their interview and listen carefully to what he did and to the steps they took in response.  Josh confessed the sin himself, and that without provocation.  The family took steps to protect the daughters, to help him to fight the sin, and they confessed it to a counselor who took him under his wing and walked him through fighting the sin, and they took him and reported him to the police.  Josh achieved victory over his sin, his sisters forgave him, and he was restored to the family.  As far as I can tell, from an outsider looking in, they handled the situation as best as they could have.  What would you have done differently, if you would crucify them?

Our goal as a body and as believers should be to help one another grow in holiness and righteousness.  We should hold one another accountable.  And when we find ourselves failing, we should confess our sins on our own initiative if no one has approached us.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

– James 5.16

As to the accusation that Christian families and conservative groups fostering sexual sin and not appropriately handling these situations, we need to firstly ask God if this is true.  If we are following the Biblical outlines for dealing with sin, and if we are taking the proper precautions that the law mandates for working with children (background checks, never leaving an adult to handle children alone, etc), then we can prevent and handle these situations well.  Let us be careful, as Christians, not to lash out against unfounded accusations but examine ourselves before God and before men to make sure that we are indeed above reproach and that we are protecting those who need to be protected and restoring those who would repent.

Humility is the key.  I would warrant a guess that very few of us would desire our character and reputation be built on a poor decision we made when we were fourteen years old.  No Christian is perfect, and Josh confessed his sin to his family, to the police, to his bride (while they were dating) as well as her family, and has walked in victory over his temptations.  Have you confessed and experienced the victory of the Holy Spirit over your sins of disposition?  If his sisters, the very victims of his actions, have forgiven him, then this firstly is none of our business and secondly gives us no grounds to condemn him.

God called an adulterer and murderer a man after His own heart.  He called a murder and liar the greatest among men, and entrusted him to lead the Hebrew people out of captivity to the promised land.  He chose a moon worshiper, liar and a man who offered his own wife to other men as their bride to be the very “father” of the faith.  God chooses, forgives, redeems, and changes people who have committed the most heinous of sins to preach His gospel and make His name known.

Let us beware lest we place ourselves in the position of God as judge.  Let us also beware lest we participate in the sin of gossip and slander.  Let us most importantly beware that we paint a picture of perfection and try to convince the outside world that we have no sin.  But let us embrace one another, push one another on to holiness, and confess our sins.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

– 1 John 1.9

Do I have to forgive [him]?

Christians today glorify those humble people who have been sinned against in exceptionally heinous ways and offer forgiveness to the offender.  We have all heard stories of parents forgiving the rapist/murderer who took their daughter, of car accident victims forgiving the drunk driver, and countless other offendees offering public forgiveness to their offenders.  Does the Bible say that we have to do that?  Do we have to forgive everyone?

Let me ask you a very simple question:  Does God forgive everyone?

No.  God does not forgive everyone.  If God did forgive everyone, no one would go to Hell.

What does that mean?  How does that apply to my life?  There are some terrifying verses in Scripture that relate to forgiveness:

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.  But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”

– Mark 11.25-26

If I am unwilling to forgive anyone for any transgression, the promise is that I will not be forgiven by God.  So.  How can that be that God does not forgive everyone, yet if I do not forgive everyone, I am damned to Hell?

First we must understand what forgiveness is.  Forgiveness is the reconciliation of a relationship that has been broken because of a particular (or many) sins.  Forgiveness requires the confession of a sin by the offender:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

– 1 John 1.9

“Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away…”

– Acts 3.19

God does not forgive us until we confess and repent.

Forgiveness also requires the promise of the offendee to put away the offense, to not bring it up, dwell on it, or hold the forgiven accountable.

“Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

 – Heb 10.17

“…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

 – Ps 103.12

 Unless the offense presents itself as a habit that must be addressed later, it is to be removed from conversation, remembrance and the relationship.  Forgiveness is the fullness of the restoration of the broken relationship, through the mutual submission to the Word and will of God by both (or all) parties involved.

When Jesus taught on Church discipline, he instructed that the one who would not repent was to be removed from the church (Matt 18.15-18).  Paul says that we are to turn such a one over to Satan and not even eat with him (1 Cor 5.5, 11).  Someone who is in sin is to not be forgiven if he will not repent, he is to be kicked out of the church and left for God to convict.

If a man (who claims to be a Christian) abandons his family, the church should not embrace him and coddle him hoping to love him to repentance.  Jesus said to kick him out.  If a woman in the Church is caught stealing from her employer and she justifies herself saying that she needs and deserves the extra income, Paul says do not even eat with her.

Until they repent.

When the wayward man or stealing woman understand their sin against God, their families and all affected and they confess their sins, we then must forgive and restore that relationship.  If such a man or woman confesses their sin and seeks to reconcile, if the offended refuses, the offended will not be forgiven by God (Mark 11.26).

So what about the parents whose child was killed by a drunk driver, or whose daughter was raped and murdered?  What is it that they are truly saying when they proclaim forgiveness for the culprit?

There is a very real distinction between a transaction of true forgiveness and a heart that is humble and ready to forgive.  We can only be reconciled with those who repent.  But the offended must deal with the offense before God and be ready and willing to forgive the offender at any time.  God does not allow for His children to harbor bitterness in their hearts:

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

 – Eph 4.31

We also do not discipline one in the church who is in unrepentant sin out of sinful anger or bitterness, but out of love.  It is with the hope of their repentance that we remove someone from the Church.  But it is because of their unrepentance that we must remove them from the Church, lest they justify their sin and draw others into it.

“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

 – Luke 7.47

When we fully grasp the depth of our own sin and the forgiveness that has been granted to us, there is no offense that we cannot forgive.  The depth of my wickedness and the grace poured out over my life prohibits me from holding a grudge and offense against my brother or sister.  Not only that, but if I believe Scripture to be true, I understand that God has punished that particular sin.

“Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, 
In due time their foot will slip; 
For the day of their calamity is near, 
And the impending things are hastening upon them.”

 – Deut 32.35

God is the only one who can and will righteously exact vengeance.  The sin of rape and murder, drunk driving, theft and abandonment of family were either decisively punished in the person of Jesus on the cross or they will vindicated on the head of the offender in eternity.  In Hell.  I cannot and ought not seek to add to the judgment of God, as I will either diminish the cross or I will diminish God’s righteousness in eternal judgment by declaring it wanting.  God forbid I would say, “Jesus’ death for that sin was not enough, I will hate you too.”  Or, “Eternity in Hell is not yet upon you, so I will begrudge you and despise you until your destruction”.

Our hearts, in becoming God’s, must become like God’s.  God is ready and willing to forgive all who repent.  Jesus’ blood is big enough to cover everyone, but it only covers those who repent:

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

 – Matt 26.28

Therefore, these well meaning parents have the right heart and intention.  They are ready and willing to forgive.  Their hearts are humble before God and they would reconcile at the repentance of the offender.  The person who approaches his father who abandoned him in childhood to say, “I forgive you” is truly offering an olive branch to restore the broken relationship.  It requires the father’s confession of sin and repentance to restore the relationship.

It is important to note that forgiveness does not trivialize the sin.  Often the exchange is, “I’m sorry” and “It’s OK”.  Murder, rape, theft and abandonment are never OK.  Forgiveness does not mean that the offended surrenders the offense and declares it “all right”.  The proper exchange should be, “I have sinned, please forgive me” and “I forgive you”.  We should not and may not diminish the weight and burden of sin, but when we practice Biblical forgiveness, we understand that the sin was covered by the blood of Jesus and we promise to let it go.

However if the sin is not confessed, it is not yet covered by the blood of Jesus.

Therefore the struggle of the offended believer is to put away bitterness, prepare the heart to forgive if the opportunity arises, and to trust God that His vengeance is just and satisfying.  To the extent we have been forgiven we must be ready and willing to forgive.

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And while we are on the topic; there is a trend in Christian circles where we counsel one another that at time we must forgive God.  It is blasphemous to propose that God has sinned against us and that we should ever need to forgive Him.

Can God use me?

Have you ever wondered if God can use you?  Maybe I am not smart enough, or bold enough?  Maybe that sin that I did in my past is too terrible?  Or conversely, maybe my life story is not dynamic enough?  Maybe I have had it too easy?

Do you love God and want Him to use you?  Have you repented of your sins and decided to let God’s word stand as authoritative over your life?  Then the answer is simply, and resoundingly,

Yes!

In which facet do you desire to be used?  There are a few times in Scripture that we have outlines for the characteristics of leaders.  Deacons (people who serve the church), elders (Spiritual leaders and advisers for the church), and pastors do have “qualifications” if you will.  The characteristics are quite similar:

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.  An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.  He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.  And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.  These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.  Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.  Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.  For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

– 1 Tim 3.1-13

These qualifications essentially establish that one must be mature and of good reputation.  There is one issue that presents itself as difficult from this passage for many churches, and that is the statement, “The husband of one wife”.  Many people who love the Lord have taken this statement to mean that one who has been divorced can never be used of God in these positions of leadership in the church.  Divorce has become for them the unpardonable sin.

God created marriage, and God hates divorce (Mal 2.16).  There is no question about it.  And while it is true that divorce is against the heart of God almost always a sin,, there are often times unwilling participants in divorce.  If a man has a family and his wife leaves and files for divorce, most states in America leave him with no options legally.  The new “no-fault laws” keep partners from assigning blame and allow for people to separate from one another without the consent of the their spouses.  Paul, the very same author of this passage outlining the qualifications of leaders, states that one who is abandoned as such is free, without sin (if he has managed his emotions and reactions honorably), and is not “under bondage” (1 Cor 7.15).  He may remarry.

Let us consider the character and heart of God for a moment.  He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect life on Earth to redeem sinners unto salvation through His death and resurrection.  He paid the penalty and debt of sin of which we were guilty so that we might become His righteousness, His children, and spend eternity with Him in Heaven.  When we repent of our sins, does it then follow that He would consider the repentant one condemned for the sin of divorce alone?  Would he say, “I forgive you, but you cannot serve me”?  David, the man after God’s own heart, had an affair, killed the man and married the woman.  He was the only man in the Scripture known by this title, and that was attributed to him after the affair, murder and cover-up.  But in his repentance, God used him mightily.  God is able to used a repentant divorced person.  Even if he was the one who sinned in divorcing his spouse.

I once heard a testimony of a couple who had married young before they knew God.  They were married for years, but came to a breaking point and got divorced.  While they were separated they both heard the story of Jesus, repented of their sins and came back to one another and remarried.  They lived a dynamic life of service and leadership within their church and desired to be international missionaries, but the mission board to which they applied denied them because they had been divorced.  Years before.  Before they were Christians.

This is wrong.  Was their divorce sinful?  Yes.  But Jesus redeemed them and paid the penalty of that sin on the cross.  And they, after being saved, repented and returned to one another.  There is therefore now no condemnation, and we put ourselves in a precarious position to condemn such a one (or couple) where God does not (Rom 8.1)!

How then do we know if one has repented?  Has the divorcee sought restoration, forgiveness and submitted himself to the word and authority of God?  Then he has repented.  If he still justifies his sinful decision, or refuses the authority of God over his life and relationship, he has not.  And this is most evidently seen in his conduct.  This is why Paul clearly outlines that one must be of good reputation (within the Church) and able to manage his own household well.  Therefore the “husband of one wife” must refer to his moral and sexual purity.  The term is literally, “a one woman man” in the Greek: not having multiple wives or sleeping around.

Perhaps you have not been divorced.  Perhaps you had an abortion when you were a teenager.  Perhaps you molested a child or raped someone.  Perhaps you embezzled money from your company or robbed your neighbor.  If you have confessed your sin and repented, that sin is covered.  No matter how grave you might believe your sin to be, God Himself died, conquered death and rose again in your place.  Jesus’ worth is infinitely more weighty than the punishment of your sin.  And He covered it, definitively.  Do not let anyone tell you God cannot use you.  There are examples of almost every sin we can imagine within the patriarchs and those people whom God chose to use mightily.

Have you repented?

Have you confessed your sins?

Have you made restitution?

There is therefore now no condemnation, and you are in Jesus Christ!

The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama has written an in depth outline of the Biblical statutes for divorce.  While it is simply entitled, “The Gospel and Divorce“, it is thirteen page graciously and lovingly written document that I recommend to you for further research and insight into the topic.

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