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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sorry, Not Sorry

In recent days, I have heard a lot of people utter the phrase, "Sorry, not sorry."  I know it's just a quirky catchphrase that is popular in our culture right now.  I know it's one of those things that people say, hoping to elicit a laugh.  I like the phrase about as much as I like the "thumbs up" stickers on Facebook.  If you know me, you know that's not very much...

I also recently had a conversation about sincere apologies that started like this, "I don't think we should be saying, 'I'm sorry, but'...'"  If you have to add the conjunction, how sorry are you?

I bring this up, because I think we often equate repentance with apology, and heaven knows the correct response to an apology must always be, "It's OK," or, "I forgive you," lest we should be judged unmercifully as we judge others.  But lately, I'm not so sure that saying "sorry" is enough, and lately I'm not even sure that being "sorry" is enough.  What does the Church of the Nazarene have to say about repentance?  Let's take a look at Article 8: 
VIII. Repentance

8. We believe that repentance, which is a sincere and thorough change of the mind in regard to sin, involving a sense of personal guilt and a voluntary turning away from sin, is demanded of all who have by act or purpose become sinners against God. The Spirit of God gives to all who will repent the gracious help of penitence of heart and hope of mercy, that they may believe unto pardon and spiritual life.

(2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalms 32:5-6; 51:1-17; Isaiah 55:6-7; Jeremiah 3:12-14; Ezekiel 18:30-32; 33:14-16; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 3:1-14; 13:1-5; 18:9-14; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 17:30-31; 26:16-18; Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:8-11; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 2 Peter 3:9)

I think we'd better take this phrase by phrase.

We define repentance as a sincere and thorough change of the mind in regard to sin...

There is something I like about this.  There is something I really like about this.  If I'm honest, I don't think we spend nearly enough time, in the church, talking about the mind, but the mind matters.  What we think matters.  Our thoughts inform our actions, our being.  I think we might do well to throw Romans 12:1-2 into the mix of verses that support our theological definition of repentance here.  And, in fact, I think these verses would also help us to flesh out the definition a little more, making it not only about a turning from sin but a turning toward transformation, because, again, our articles are couched in negative language, but I think there are positive connotations if we dig deep enough for them. 

So I like that we consider the changing of the mind to hold great importance, but there are two things on which we might expound.  First, this should not be a fickle changing of the mind.  We might change our minds about whether to have pizza or tacos for dinner.  We might change our minds about whether to vacation in the summer or the winter.  We might change our minds about which socks to wear (OK, probably not me, flip flops and all), or which nail polish color to choose, or whether a tie or bow-tie is best for any given occasion.  And then, we might change our minds again.  But what I really like about these verses in Romans is that they talk about a renewing of the mind.  This is redemptive work.  When we change our minds about sin, hopefully there is no going back.  That's not to say we will never sin again, but we really should stop loving it.  Permanently.  The second thing, though, is that repentance changes other areas of our lives, as well.  It's not enough to change your mind about sin.  One day you love it, and one day you hate it, but then what?  We must also allow for the transformation of our physical, emotional, and spiritual beings.  You see, sin has a way of encompassing all of these, and to turn from it, we must pay careful attention to ourselves as whole people.  Compartmentalization will not do here.  We might, instead, discuss the original Greek, metanoia, which means, put simply, a change of mind that also involves a change of heart, direction, and trajectory.  Repentance is holistic and requires movement in a different direction.

... involving a sense of personal guilt...         

They lost me here.  The word, "guilt," is actually used very sparingly in the New Testament.  And when we think of guilt, it is often connected with consequences or punishment.  So, personal guilt would almost have to come from some intentional act, and I do think it's essential for us to turn from those types of things.  Yet, I think we limit repentance when we make it about guilt only.  What if it was about responsibility?  What if it was about becoming the people we were created to be, more and more each day, even if we hadn't done anything blatantly sinful in the given number of hours since we last repented?  What if it could be corporate in nature?  What if we were constantly repentant, recognizing that transformation is a continual process that requires more than a crisis moment here or there?

... and a voluntary turning away from sin...     

Yes.  And a voluntary turning toward transformation and holiness.  We choose this.  Except... demanded of all...

Wait.  How can this be both voluntary and demanded?  And, is God demanding?  Something about a demanding God tends toward a coercive God or maybe even a panicked God who cannot get what God wants without forcing it upon us.  I'm not entirely sure this lines up with God's nature of love and authority, and I definitely don't think it lines up with the God of prevenient grace, whom we explored in another post.  I have trouble reconciling the God who demands with the God who goes before and draws us near.  And as another thought, how well do people respond to demands?  I feel as if God might have a better way.

...who have by act or purpose become sinners against God.

We've covered the "act", but what is this "purpose"?  Can someone really, by purpose, become a sinner against God without engaging in sinful acts?  On the flipside, can someone really, by purpose, be transformed without turning from sinful acts?  Perhaps this is redundant, but I have to say that it seems so much more serious to me that anyone would self-identify his or her purpose to be that of a sinner.  Even the people I know who do not love God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength... yet... don't usually go this far.  In fact, they often think they're pretty good people, and let's be real, they often are.  I think this purposing to become a sinner against God is a stretch for most and a representation of a very small number of people.  I'd rather see the article focus more on what turning from sin looks like.

The Spirit of God gives to all who will repent the gracious help of penitence of heart and hope of mercy...    

This I love.  Here is where the Holy Spirit steps in, and though I might disagree on exactly how or when this grace and hope are imbued, there is no doubt that a penitent heart, followed by a confessional and repentant life, can only be found in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

... that they may believe unto pardon and spiritual life.

Again, I don't necessarily want to get into a chicken and egg discussion, but surely belief brings pardon brings life brings pardon brings belief.  These things are not necessarily linear, but they are all important.

And that's the article, but if I may, let's get back to this discussion about the practicality of apologies.  I have actually stopped using the, "It's OK," language as much as possible, because sometimes, even when others are sincerely sorry, there is nothing OK about whatever preceded the apology.  "I forgive you," works better for me, because it means that I do legitimately recognize the remorse and I no longer want you to suffer because of what you did to me, even if I'm decidedly not OK.  That's sufficient for when other people offer apologies to me.  But what about when I am the one who needs to apologize?  I think there is no way to do this with a sincere heart if I am not also willing to change my behavior.  Let's not let ourselves off the hook too easily.  Sorry, not sorry, opens the door for sin to be ongoing.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have the ability to completely reorient our lives and choose a better way.


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