Responding To Repentance

This past week, many in the Evangelical community were stunned by the fall of pastor Ted Haggard. Having pastored for many years in the same church “ having all the appearances of grace and godliness “ but inside he had a struggle, an ongoing struggle with sin which by his own testimony he would gain victory over for a time and then stumble and fall again. The response in the breadth of the Christian community ranged everywhere from howls of pain and betrayal to angry outbursts crying for judgement and even a large number of people announcing their sympathies with a mortal man who had simply given in to temptation and sinned. There were a number of people who responded with œthere but for the grace of God go I.  And most gratifying of all there were some who came alongside Mr. Haggard, listened to the repentance in his voice and vowed to help him gain victory and restoration “ even over the long haul.

Sin is a destroyer. Usually we think of sin only as destroying the person involved but the damage goes beyond one individual. Sin destroys homes, marriages, churches and people.

Pornography destroys the watcher yes, but it also defiles a whole chain of people from the person portrayed, the photographers, distributors not to mention the families.

Alcoholism destroys the drinker, the family, friends, businesses and more.

Lying harms the liar, the lied to, trust, relationships, and more. Stealing, abusive language, hate, gossiping and any other thing which is contrary to God's character and grace are sins which kill and destroy.

None of that should be news to us. Oh, true enough we seldom think about the broader ramifications of sin on the culture or even upon this group of believers here this morning but that doesn't mean there aren't any.

Typically our response to sin is to either ignore it or skip straight to the gossip chain. Seldom do we have the guts to confront a sinning brother the way we ought to. That's probably because we're afraid of losing their friendship. I would like to think we were more afraid of losing their soul however.

Responding to Sin


So how do we handle sin? Matthew 18:15-20 tells us that when a brother or sister in Christ is in sin, we're supposed to go privately to them and urge them to repentance. If they won't listen, take a friend or two with you at the next confrontation. If they still won't repent “ inform the church and if they still won't listen to the whole church, disassociate with them until such a time as they do repent. The latter portion of that section, which is so often used to say œGod is with us  is really a statement of God's guaranteed agreement with church discipline properly enacted.

Responding to Repentance


Even though I begin on the topic of sin this morning I have a bigger question in my mind. Not so much how do we handle sin but how do we handle repentance? It's a significant question. Handling sin is, to a certain extent, easy. It's clear cut and frankly even though it might be painful to do it biblically there is a self-righteous core of sinfulness in us which loves to punish sin in others. We secretly love being judgmental. But when the sinner repents every Christian can righteously have only one response: forgiveness.

Forgive Them


Forgiveness is moderately easy when you're not involved in the crime. My home has never been burglarized so a repentant burglar is likely to find fairly quick forgiveness from me. But I have suffered other pains and those are the pains which I find require more trust in God in order for me to forgive.

Right after the prior passage, Peter came to Jesus and asked him, œLord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?  (Matthew 18:21)

How many of you can resonate with Peter's question? The answer to that question is, as many of you as have ever been hurt by someone else. You see it's one thing to forgive someone in the general sense when they have sinned a general sin in which you remain almost completely untouched. But when you've felt the sting of someone else's sin it's really hard to forgive. Do you know why?

Our problem with forgiveness goes back to that self-righteous core of sinfulness I mentioned. We want justice to be served and we want to be judge, jury and executioner when someone hurts us. But what does God do for you when you sin? He offers you forgiveness does he not?

Consider how important you judge forgiveness to be and how important God considers it and tell me the truth, how righteous are you in forgiveness? When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, part of that prayer should frighten half of us to death. œForgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us. 

Listen to me, I'm telling you the truth. If You're sitting here this morning with an unforgiving spirit in your heart you're doing a whole lot more than just ignoring God's direct command you're putting a wall between you and God which only you can break down. If you're holding a grudge against someone who sinned against you and you're just plain unwilling to forgive them; take it to the bank: God is under to requirement to forgive you either.

Jesus turned and looked at Peter and told him, œNot just seven times Peter, forgive them as many times as it takes.  (TBPV)

If someone repents your first response has got to be forgiveness. Because that's what we expect from God, and that's what he expects from us.

Restore Them


So what do you do if they haven't yet repented? You try to bring them there. Turn in your Bibles to Galatians 6 please and look at the first verse with me. (Gal 6:1) Sometimes we're called upon though to do more than just forgive and walk away. We're called to take an active role in restoring them.

Look at the circumstance described here. It's describing a brother who has been sinning and somewhere in the middle of it all, they got caught. It is now a public sin. What are we supposed to do? We're supposed to restore them. That doesn't mean we gloss over the sin.

Galatians 6 is describing a situation where the sinner is repentant over their now public sin. What is our response? Restoration. That might mean a lot of different things.

It might mean you do what Barnabas did in Acts 9:27 when Saul repented. That Godly man took the repentant persecutor under his wings and brought him lovingly into the fellowship of the saints. He trusted him and invested in him until he could stand on his own two feet. My friends if you a want a ministry that pleases the Lord and which almost guarantees blood sweat and tears, restoration is an awesome ministry which reflects the very heart of God.

I can't help but wonder if Paul thought about that precious experience when he wrote Galatians 6:1. He says, œrestore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. And he adds a careful warning as well. œEach one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.  That temptation is a deadly and frequently unexpected consequence. That's why Paul limits the command to œYou who are Spiritual.  Because restoration is a battleground that has itself claimed many casualties.

Guard Yourself


Turn over to the book of Jude 1:20-23 if you will. {read it}

If you were to ask me why my Spiritual life nosedived I could tell you without much thought. I came to Christ early and wasn't discipled that was bad enough but my spiritual nosedive came out of a failure to heed what both Paul and Jude write about. I had a friend in the church who was drifting farther and farther away from God and Christianity and I remember sitting one day and talking about him with the pastor's daughter. Her name was Kelee. And I said, œKelee I'm going to befriend him. If you're going to save a drowning man you've got to get in the water with them.  I wish I had listened to her response when she said, œYes but you've got to make sure you don't drown with him. 

I brushed her off, befriended that fellow and in the process I turned into something worse than he ever was. (Praise God for his mercy to me!)

Friends let me tell you right now that responding to sin in a Christlike way is a dangerous business; you'd better guard yourself!

So how do you do that? Jude has the answer. Look at what he says, œbuilding yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. 

Time doesn't permit me to develop that fully right now but the guidelines are still clear. You guard yourself by drawing close to God. The recipe isn't difficult. Strengthening your faith comes through exposure to God's word. Prayer is vital for maintaining the relationship. Looking for the return of Christ as John tells us is a self-purifying thought 1 John 3:3).

Look to Christ, not only for the return of Jesus with some selfish motivation that simply yearns for deliverance “ but look for the return of Christ as the revelation of His righteousness on earth.

This morning I want to call you to Christ-likeness.

Some of you here might be struggling with a secret sin. Your sin will find you out. I don't know how and I don't know when, but God has promised that sin will come to light someday. My question to you is, are you ready to stop fighting against it?

Because Jesus died on the cross, I can guarantee forgiveness from God to the repentant soul. I can also assure you of my forgiveness if you need it.

The road to restoration might be long and hard, recovery sometimes requires a support system. You'll find that here.

If you're tired of fighting and losing the battle alone, let us help you. You can come right now and find forgiveness and strength in the family of God. And we will help you, in the power and Spirit of Christ to find wholeness.

Some of you, might be harboring a grudge against someone, even another believer. And quite possibly against someone else who is here this morning. Friend you're unwillingness to forgive is proof enough that you're not really willing to accept the forgiveness offered to you by God. It's time to bury the hatchet. It's time to kill your pride and step out in obedience to God “ forgiving and being forgiven.

If that person is here this morning I want you to stand right now and give them your forgiveness. Don't wait for me to finish talking “ and don't worry about what everyone else will think.

If that person isn't here I still want you to stand and testify to your intent to go home, get on the phone if you have to and clear the air. Brothers and sisters, unforgiveness will destroy you. Don't hold on to it any longer.

Right now is the time. Right here is the place. It's time to prove our faith by seeking, finding and offering the forgiveness which God has purchased at so high a price.

Won't you come?