Darrow Miller and Friends

Repentance: An Everyday Virtue for Everyone

In our consideration of 7 key virtues for social and moral development we come today to the concept of repentance.

When we hear the word “repentance” we usually think of its application to salvation. For example, Jesus taught that repentance is a prerequisite to enter the kingdom (“From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” Matt. 4:17). On another occasion he “issues a call to repent, for disaster looms for the unresponsive.” [Darrell Bock, Luke]

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:1-5 ESV

While repentance in human relationships is an essential virtue, as seen below, it’s also important that we approach God with a repentant spirit. God is the divine Judge.

Every human who has ever longed for justice can be thankful that a Judge lives who cares about human affairs, who has the authority and sovereign power to administer perfect justice, and who intends to make every injustice right. Where would the world be without a judge? But that coin has another side, one that speaks to the need for repentance. Because God is the divine Judge, no one can come into relationship with Him without a posture of repentance. We must show a humble readiness to consider God’s rightful claims on our lives and behaviors, we must respond fully to the truth as He makes it known to us.

Yet another dimension of repentance applies to everyday life. The book of Proverbs teaches us how to live. Proverbs is not salvific: it has little to say about how to get to heaven, but much to say about how to live on earth. In that context, Proverbs has something to teach us about repentance.

If you have ever regretted an action, you have tasted something of repentance. To regret is to feel bad about one’s choices. Virtually everyone has regrets. “I wish I hadn’t said that to my sister.” That’s regret. But regret and repentance are not synonyms.

Repentance goes beyond mere regret. To repent is to acknowledge the wrong in the presence of the offended: “I was wrong to say that to you. Please forgive me.”

The book of Proverbs does not include the actual word “repentance,” yet the concept is clearly there. Two related words do appear in the book. One is “confession.” The Hebrew term (yadah) means to “express praise, extol, i.e. make a public confession of the attributes and acts of power of a person; note: there is a focus on the content of praise, spoken out-loud, usually in the context of the community” (italics added). Note that the confession is public, not merely private.

In Webster’s 1828 dictionary, confession is defined as “the acknowledgment of a crime, fault or something to one’s disadvantage; open declaration of guilt, failure, debt, accusation.” Notice that in each case, something is amiss in one’s life that needs to be acknowledged. It needs to be acknowledged internally, but real confession is taken into the public square. This is a difficult step, but it affirms the genuineness of the repentance.

Both the Hebrew and the English term include this public dimension of confession. Again, we see a parallel to Jesus’ use of the term. Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven (Mat 10:32 NAS).

The second word in Proverbs which relates to repentance is the verb “conceal.” Picture a child who misbehaves in secret. He knows he has done wrong, but tries to hide his transgression. God has given humans a conscience. Even as children, we know when we have done wrong. Proverbs indicates that our efforts to conceal our wrongdoing are foolish and even harmful.

The Hebrew word for “conceal” means to “keep hidden, keep to oneself, not respond with knowledge, i.e. keep information from others, though known and understood by oneself.” Webster carries the thought in English as follows: “To keep close or secret; to forbear to disclose; to withhold from utterance or declaration; as, to conceal one’s thoughts or opinions.” Wisdom calls for repentance, to reveal what has been concealed.

The term “transparency” gets lots of attention today, and it captures this notion of public confession as opposed to when repentance comeshiding our offences. Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy (Pro 28:13 ESV). Who can forget how the Center for Medical Progress exposed Planned Parenthood officials negotiating prices for the body parts of aborted babies … and worse.

James O’Keefe, founder of Project Veritas, has demonstrated repeatedly the tendency of humans to “conceal their transgressions.” O’Keefe’s videos have exposed many acts of malfeasance previously hidden:

These are merely a small sample of what you can read about at the Project Veritas site.

When actions like these are exposed to daylight, things change. People are fired, or resign from their positions as election officials. New Hampshire, Mississippi and Virginia passed photo ID laws. Minnesota passed a constitutional amendment requiring voter identification at the polls. And taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood is on the chopping block.

Kudos to Project Veritas, and to those legislators who have taken corrective action as a result of these undercover investigations. To the degree that misdeeds like these can be rectified only by such means, we can be thankful for efforts like O’Keefe’s.

Here’s something even better: Christ followers modeling in the community and the society the practice of repentance, of self disclosure about one’s own wrongs, and encouraging others to follow suit.

That’s a virtue that could do a lot of good.

       Developed from a forthcoming book

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Gary is the Disciple Nations Alliance editorial manager. He manages Darrow Miller and Friends and serves as editor and co-writer on various book projects. For eight years Gary served as a cross-cultural church planting missionary among First Nations people of Canada. His career also includes 14 years as executive director of InterAct Ministries, an Oregon-based church-planting organization in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Gary is a graduate of Grace University, earned an MA from Wheaton College and a Graduate Studies Diploma from Western Seminary. He lives in a suburb of Portland, Oregon with his wife, Valerie. They have two married sons and ten grandchildren. In addition to his work with the DNA, Gary serves as the pastor of Troutdale Community Church.
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