The Tragedy of the Lost Art of Repentance

It is interesting to me that even the secular world gets disgusted with those who showcase a lack of repentance.

If you follow the NFL at all, you know the league is in some hot water in public perception for how they have handled players involved with domestic abuse.

In the latest sad headlines, Greg Hardy, Pro Bowl defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys, was convicted on charges of domestic abuse against his girlfriend. He had a ten-game NFL suspension reduced to four games. What got him additional headlines were his first comments after his suspension.

Regarding his completed suspension, he issued statements about hoping to “come out guns blazing” and also made comments about his New England opponent Tom Brady.

I love seeing Tom Brady. You seen his wife? I hope she comes to the game. I hope her sister comes to the game.

Needless to say, Hardy’s lack of contrition in his first game back put the coaches and NFL on their heels.

Jason Garrett, coach of the Cowboys, had this to say,

That’s not how we want to operate as an organization. Players and coaches in our organization understand that. We want to distinguish ourselves with our play, not with what we say. We want to define ourselves with what we do, not by what we do.

And the NFL was not too pleased either.

I couldn’t disagree more with Greg Hardy’s comments, and they do not reflect the values of the league. We are working hard to bring attention to the positive role models many other players represent and also to continue our education with all members of the NFL family.

Even sportscaster Jim Nantz, calling the Cowboys game against the Patriots, called out Greg Hardy for his “outrageous, unrepentant remarks.”

Nantz probably was the closest to being truly correct. Even in our secular society that worships athletes and where domestic abuse is hand-slapped by the NFL, where abusing your girlfriend is given the same penalty as the football tampering scandal (Tom Brady), there is still a consensus that repentance is a good thing.

It is noticed.

And though it would not be defined in a biblical manner, each of the three quotes above had the same sentiment: “It would have been nice for Hardy to have shown some humility in his return to the league.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Hardy simply is one more example of what we all know to be true: repentance is becoming a lost art.

The fresh example of repentance

I was reading this past week in Psalm 32 and was taken back by one verse that highlighted itself for me:

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah (Psalm 32:5)

I have read this chapter before and have read this verse before, but the Spirit of God showcased His truth to me in my reading in a refreshing manner. What we have here is David defining the meaning of repentance.

Repentance is so out of vogue today, even in Christian evangelical circles. We have a difficult time admitting we are broken.

“It was not as bad as what you make it out to be.”

“Yeah, that’s true, but that person really did me wrong.”

“Nobody is perfect.”

“Don’t judge me.”

Or the statement that we have been deceived into believing stands for full repentance – “I’m sorry.”

So what is repentance anyway?

Berkhof, in his Systematic Theology book, describes repentance with three necessary elements:

An intellectual element. There is a change of view, a recognition of sin as involving personal guilt, defilement, and helplessness. (Romans 3:20)

An emotional element. There is a change of feeling, manifesting itself in sorrow for sin committed against a holy and just God. (Psalm 51:2, 10, 14)

A volitional element. There is also a volitional element, consisting in a change of purpose, an inward turning away from sin, and a disposition to seek pardon and cleansing. (Psalm 51:5, 7, 10; Jeremiah 25:5)

David, in Psalm 32:5, helps me understand the mindset or attitude that I must possess to lead me into repentance. David has three key emphases.

First emphasis

“I acknowledge my sin to you.”

The hebrew word for “acknowledge” is yada, which is knowing both in a relational manner and an experiential manner. In other words, you get the sense that David did not just give mental assent to his sin; he also knew that it was hurting his relationship with his God, both from a relational standpoint and in how David experienced God.

This is a knowledge of sin that goes to the heart. It understands consequences. It understands there is an incorrect view of God and the gospel. It understands Jesus is better – better than what I was chasing after. And though we are positionally pure, we see our deliberate choice as being sinful and displeasing to God.

Second emphasis

“I did not cover my iniquity.”

Though the acknowledgement of my sin is a start, God’s process demands more. When David talks about not covering his iniquity, he uses an interesting word. To cover literally means to plump or fill in hollow spots. In other words, when I try to cover my sin, I try to alter its form so that it does not look as bad as it is. I do not want to acknowledge the ugliness and so I take my lean soul and try to plump it up to make it look healthier than it really is. I push things into the hollow areas to try to change its shape.

My flesh loves, no actually craves, minimizing my sin so that I appear better than I am. The Bible speaks of our sin resulting in a leanness of soul, where our sin then becomes our “strength” instead of Jesus and instead turns us into sickly spiritual beings.

David made it clear that he did not cover his sin before God.

Third emphasis

“I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”

This final step, one of confession, speaks to my response once the acknowledging and not covering take place. It means to profess with a show of hands extended. It really is the heart response of not clinging to my sin and clinging instead to the righteousness of Jesus. 

The wonderful gospel at work.

And the result? A forgiveness of sin.

I love the way Charles Spurgeon articulates it in his Treasury of David:

Not only was the sin itself pardoned, but the iniquity of it; the virus of its guilt was put away, and that at once, so soon as the acknowledgment was made. God’s pardons are deep and thorough: the knife of mercy cuts at the roots of the ill weed of sin.

The danger of misunderstanding repentance

We are in danger when we do not understand God’s definition of repentance. In a society that so wants to not be wrong by defining their own morality, we must be cautious as believers that we do not fall into this trap and simply Christianize this minset.

To take any of these three elements without the other two leaves you lacking. And in doing this, we end up with a weak understanding of what we think repentance is. Repentance is more than just saying “I’m sorry.” It’s a full and honest self-exposure of the heart that leads to a worship of God. 

And also note that repentance is not acknowledging my sin and then spiraling off into despair.

The gospel frees me from the pride of not repenting of my sin as well as the other side of pride which is self-pity, where all I do is think about my sin. Neither exemplifies gospel repentance.

It is unfortunate that repentance seems to be a lost art today, even among those professing to be Christians. In our desire to be perceived rightly, by God or by others, we end up losing what we are truly desiring, and that is freedom.

Freedom from me. Freedom from managing my image. Freedom from the heavy weight of all the bricks in my backpack due to an unrepentant spirit.

Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free. (Psalm 118:5)

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