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  • Writer's pictureStephen Percy

Let Me Confess

Let me level with you; I’m writing this partlybecause I’m procrastinating and ought really to be working on something else. But, I’ve also got a bit of a bee in my bonnet, so putting pen to paper – metaphorically, at least – is catharsis.

Within the Christian community we are a unique people. No, that’s not a polite way of referring to people I may find to be a bit ‘odd’, it’s to recognise that something absolutely radical has happened to us that marks us as different to the rest of mankind – we’ve been forgiven! When people turn to Jesus in an act of faith to express their sorrow for the wrongs they’ve done (what we call repentance), God loves nothing more – in fact, He can’t help himself – than to show mercy and kindness in forgiving them. And, just so we don’t lose sight of this, this isn’t just ‘the ticket in’ but the daily reality of those who know and love Jesus. Yes, we blow it, but thank God He’s there ready and willing to forgive…. Time and time again.

With such incredible privilege of knowing our sins are forgiven comes a great responsibility. A cursory read of the Gospels shows us that Jesus teaches those who have ‘been forgiven much’ (that’s you and me, in case you’re wondering) to be generous in the way we extend forgiveness to others.

Lest we miss it, the Apostle Paul picks up the theme. He writes to a church in modern-day Turkey, instructing them to forgive one another. Almost pre-empting the response: ‘But Paul, how should we forgive them?’, he goes on ‘…just as God, in Christ, forgave you.’

So there it is. A biblical mandate to forgive one another. Not in a miserly kind of way, or begrudgingly out of duty, but taking the same delight in show mercy and compassion that God takes in dealing with your own sin.

Update: So far, no bees and no bonnet. But listen carefully and you may hear a light buzzing sound.

My concern is this (and I want to tread carefully here) that we embrace the Bible’s teaching on forgiveness either in a wonky way, or at best in an way that fails to balance other aspects of its teaching. I see too often in church circles the unfortunate imbalance of this teaching, to the neglect of another important one… that of repentance.

I’ve been delivering some very short inputs on a friend’s radio station recently on navigating relationship conflict, and was reflecting last week on the words ‘I am sorry’. I referred to an account Jesus shares with a gathered throng in arguably his most famous sermon. Paraphrasing slightly, he says: “If you’re going about your business – even your important religious-looking stuff – and remember that your actions have grieved someone, go and put it right; Be reconciled to them.” (You can read it without my paraphrase here.)

Interesting, huh? The emphasis here isn’t on the wrong-ee to forgive, but the wrong-er to go and say sorry, to express remorse and to repent to the individual.[1]

And this is kind of my gripe; that too often we fear the lowly and uncomfortable position of humbling ourselves to admit that we were wrong, that we acted/thought/spoke etc in a wrong manner and hurt someone.

It doesn’t sit comfortably.

So we avoid it.

Too often, church life trundles along with heaps of hurt caused remaining unconfessed and swept under the carpet, as we settle for an awkward ‘we-don’t-talk-about-that’ co-existence until enough time has passed to awkwardly resume the relationship.

And frankly, we’re the poorer for it.

I guess when things are black and white and one person is completely to blame and another is totallyin the right then the whole repentance and forgiveness thing is a bit easier. The trouble is, life is seldom as neat or tidy as that. We live in the shades between black and white. Often, messy and difficult situations are co-created. In other words it’s often the case that two parties have conduct or attitudes to reflect on and repent of (and by extension to forgive the other for). The worst thing that can happen? Either party – or both – sits back and waits for the other to realise their wrong.

I wonder if we’re a little too quick to focus on the other person’s behaviour so we don’t have to face up to the fact that we could also be in the wrong.

So let’s keep preaching a message of forgiveness of one another. Let’s be quick to put it into practise and to be committed enough to allow it to continually push the boundaries of our comfort or convenience. But let’s also raise our game in terms of our recognition of our sin towards others and our repentance for it. Let’s not dilute the joy of forgiveness by stripping out the part of repentance.

Let us forgive one another as God, in Christ, forgives us. How does he do that? Gladly, extravagantly and readily… when we repent.

What could church or community life look if we stopped looking at our self-constructed image of another’s wrong and took responsibility for our own failings? Perhaps we could start a revolution?

[1] *I’m fully aware that wrong-ee and wrong-er aren’t proper words, but you get my drift…

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