[This is the first of a two-part series; the second part can be found here.]
I am working on a project that has me re-reading many of my posts and the comments that followed them, and in doing so, I came across something that I said in response to remarks about making apologies for past hurts.
Over the years, I have read marriage blogs and listened to sermons and podcasts on relationships in which the writers/speakers admonish people to accept the fact that they have something for which they need to apologize. I, myself, have written about sincere apologies, saying that the “If you’re upset, I apologize” isn’t an apology, but a back-handed insult, so I accept the need for truly repenting of something that you’ve done wrong.
However, while I accept that apologies are good, I find myself more concerned with repentance and restoration.
Repentance Isn’t A High Jump, It’s a Start.
Years ago, I read an anecdote about one of the Bob Joneses (I’m almost certain that it was the first one, but I can’t swear to it.) In the story, someone commended a certain individual’s conversion who had given a moving testimony on the night he was saved. I can’t remember why, but Jones, while not skeptical of the efficacy of the man’s conversion, uttered a line that I think we need to take to heart in all matters of repentance, salvific or otherwise:
“I don’t care how high a man jumps when he gets saved. I’m more concerned with how straight he walks after he comes down!”
In a picturesque way, Jones is giving us a truth that we often ignore at our peril. In following up on a reader’s comment about the need for an apology, I cited Jones’ line. I don’t know if it’s because we, as Christians, are so focused on our confessions and creeds, or because we just hear what we want to hear, but for some reason, it seems that we accept words for deeds. I know that we are told that we aren’t to judge, but wasn’t it Jesus who said, “You shall know them by their fruit.”? I don’t think he was telling to hold out for an apology.
The late, great Gamble Rogers, a true nonpareil musician and storyteller, was known for his many pithy aphorisms about human nature. According to Rogers, aphorisms differed from proverbs or adages by their rather wry look at life. An adage on caution might be “Look both ways before you cross the street.” An aphorism about a related topic might be, “Right of way is considered a function of mass times velocity.” Here are a few of Rogers’ aphorisms that have stayed with me:
“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you really wanted.”
“In the final analysis, the size of one’s funeral is always determined by the weather.”
“Never blame a man for being human unless he makes a habit of it.”
My favorite Gamble Rogers aphorism, which I have quoted often, says,
“When your works speak for themselves, shut up.”
I can hear someone asking, “CSL, what does this have to do with apologies or repentance?” Well, a lot, I think, so pay attention…
After making a deserved apology, most will think to themselves, “Well, that’s over with, time to get on with what we were doing before.” Sorry, but wrong.
Speaking as a typical man, I know that we guys can often tell ourselves, “Well, I apologized, things will go back to normal.” Sorry, guys, but if what you have done, what you have had to apologize about, is something that has caused real hurt, you’ve got more to do.
“Why? I said I’m sorry. It’s over and done with! If she’s such a good Christian, she should just forgive and forget!”
“When your works speak for themselves, shut up.” Your works have already done some talking for you, and she heard it loud and clear. If you want her to believe and accept your apology, then you are going to have to do new works for her ears to feast on. Now, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to you guys. After all, in proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom, John the Baptist shouted, “Therefore produce fruit worthy of repentance!”
Like Bob Jones in the story above, your wife may be happy that you apologized, but she is also going to be watching how straight you walk after you come down from your high jump. The thing that we have to remember is that while apologies are good, repentance is better.
I think the problem is that we don’t know what repentance is. As Wife and I were discussing this post, Wife made an insightful observation. She said that the problem is that we confuse confession with repentance. She noted “Confession says ‘I did it,’ but repentance says ‘I don’t want to do that again.'” She’s only right, isn’t she? Repentance simply means a changed “hereafter”. I know we tend to think of repentance as snot and slobber at an altar rail, but the definition of repentance means just one thing: turning around. A 180° turnabout.
Once, when a young minister was tying himself up in theological knots trying to explain the concept of repentance to his congregation, an older deacon couldn’t stand his fumbling any longer. He stood up in the aisle and started walking toward the back of the church, and said loudly, “I’m going to Hell. I’m going to Hell. I’m going to Hell.” He then turned around and starting walking toward the pulpit, saying, “I’m coming to Jesus. I’m coming to Jesus. “I’m coming to Jesus.” When he reached the front of the church, he turned to the congregation and said, “That’s repentance,” and sat down.
He was only right. The proof of the apology AND the repentance is the change in behavior and attitude that demonstrates a desire to not sin/offend again. If you confess but don’t repent, the only thing you have communicated is “Yes, I did it, and I’m sorry I got caught.”
A Confession Too Far?
“Holy Hannah, CSL, it’s not like I sinned against the Lord! Hurt feelings, yeah, but sin? Don’t you think you’re laying it on a little thick?
Actually I don’t. If someone’s action(s) is enough to damage a relationship, then examination of that action needs to take place, and something needs to be jettisoned. We can apologize, but the crux of the matter is are we truly sorry that there is a wounding to the relationship, and are we disturbed that it was our actions that caused the wounding?
Recently, I learned that it’s quite possible that we, as a Church, have not fully understood the dictum, “The just shall live by faith.” We tend to think that right belief determines our eternal outcome. But in my readings into how Israel understood words in Hebrew, and the connotations of the language of Biblical Hebrew, we seem to have missed the full import of the Hebrew word for faith, emunah. Instead of “the just shall live by faith,” it’s quite likely that Hab. 2:4 (the source for Paul’s quotations) should read “The just shall live by his faithfulness.”
It all comes down to this: it doesn’t matter how high you jump when you say you’re sorry. What matters is how faithful your walk is when you come down.
Don’t talk; after you apologize, just shut up and let your works tell of your repentance.
Disclaimer: I am not a counselor, doctor, or pastor. For that matter, Wife says I don’t play well with others. My advice and comments come from my concern for hurting Christian husbands and wives. Someone once said to me, “Church shouldn’t hurt”, and I believe the same thing goes for marriage. I’m going to call ‘em as I see ‘em, but please, don’t take my word as gospel. Yes, read what I say, pray about what I say, but do your own “due diligence.”