Monday, August 04, 2014

The Folly of Demanding Repentance

“Conviction of sin is one of the most uncommon things that ever happens to a person.”
Oswald Chambers.

For a very long time I've tried to put my finger on why I'm bothered by much of what is called Christian blogging. It's not the act of blogging which disturbs me (of course not); nor is it the efforts to expose untoward behavior of Christian leaders and Christian ministries; nor is it the defense of high-profile Christians who come under the intense scrutiny of others.

I think I was finally able to pinpoint what bothers me about Christian blogging. It came to me this past weekend.

It's all the 'demands' for repentance. Everybody wants everyone else 'to repent.' Church members are demanding church leaders repent. Church leaders are demanding church members repent. High-profile Christians are demanding discernment bloggers repent, and discernment bloggers are demanding high-profile Christians repent. Blogs expose Christians who have lied, and demand they repent. Christians who have been 'attacked' on blogs demand bloggers repent of their bullying. Everybody demands everyone else repent.

It seems to me we like playing the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ said that when the Holy Spirit came He would convict people of sin (John 16:8). When the Holy Spirit stirs a person’s conscience, it is not relationships with others that bothers him, but his relationship with God
“Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil." (Psalm 51:4)
I wonder if we began to understand that true repentance in another person will only spring from our goodness towards that person, then maybe we would stop demanding that anyone else repent. Maybe if we would simply seek to be kind towards sinners, then maybe we would become an instrument for real repentance.

Of course, that doesn't  mean we 'hide, or cover, or enable' sin in other Christians or Christian ministries -- but it does mean that when we expose what we believe to be wrong, we always speak the truth in love, and we seek creative ways to be good toward those of whom we are writing.  It means that instead of always 'demanding' others repent, we would personally delight in doing good toward those who are in sin -- even our enemies.

If "it is the goodness of God that leads to repentance" (Romans 2:4), then maybe that should be 'good' enough for us.


John said...

Excellent post. Thanks for reminding us that repentance cannot be demanded as people cannot repent unless convicted by the Holy Spirit and given the gift (grace) to do so. 2 Timothy 2:25

Unknown said...

Wade, I think your words confirm what I read here from @jonthanmerritt "When Christians have grown so bitter toward someone that we can’t even accept their apologies, something has gone seriously wrong." - See more at:

Anonymous said...

Amen, I can't count the number of times I have had individuals come to me for prayer and support because they would tell me they knew I would not condem them.I had one person confess cheating on thier spouse. In one moment they were about to get angry when I had to assure them it was sin but when I explained Christ forgiveness for it and that they were loved and forgiven they felt better. They have been active In church for years now.People need to hear Christ in us as you said not condemnation.

Anonymous said...


And it fits well with something we have been noticing about evangelicalism in particular. It has gone from preaching about sin, salvation and the need for repentance and new birth in the life of the individual hearing the message to preaching about "them" and how "they" need to repent and change.

Let's us sit in our smug little pew and feel good about ourselves, I guess, but doesn't seem to be bringing the revival we need.

So don't stop telling me (or anyone else) to seek God and seek that He would grant us repentance. We need that. But yeah, can we stop the calls for "them" to repent with nary a word about "our" need to do so?


Anonymous said...

One can't make someone else repent. Personally, I advocate for accountability.

Anonymous said...

Usually when they demand repentance it means that they want the person or persons "repent" toward them and they even want to dictate what that "repentance" should be.

The sad thing is that the Holy Spirit is the one who can and does the convicting. Some have even said that only a saved person can repent since a natural man does not have the capacity to repent apart from the Holy Spirit.

Biblical repentance is a far cry from the faked outrage of most bloggers.

Anonymous said...

Just think of how many times you have tried to repent and failed. It can't be done without the power of the Spirit.

Aussie John said...


Terrific! Love that last sentence!

kt said...

excellent post Wade,I could not agree more. I often wonder about how far is too far in exposing each others faults? One thing I do know is that Jesus died for all those sins as well.
I can not fathom how deep His love is for us especially when it comes to situations like this article you speak of. I am so glad that when the Father looks at me he sees in me His Son in whom he is well pleased.
Thanks Wade for a number of messages these last months as I do not always comment on how God has spoken to me through them, but please know He is!

Chris Gilliam said...

The Best post ever from you (and you have had some good ones). I pray this goes viral. Thanks Wade

Bob Cleveland said...

The proclivity to demand repentance comes from the same inherent traits in people that cause churches to want to determine who should and should not be served communion, when the Bible clearly states that each person should examine himself. In that sense, it's understandable.

Perhaps it is, that people don't recognize God at work when they don't trust Him to do as He has said He'd do.

Anonymous said...

Good thoughts on what repentance really consists of. have sat in too many prayer meetings where the "saints" call on God to make so and so repent of such and such.
Lord have mercy on me a sinner.


Alaskan in Texas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alaskan in Texas said...

Thank you for giving thought and reflection to decipher the reason behind your discomfort with the words and attitudes of polarized believers. I think you've hit it right squarely on the head. Calls for repentance from the pews and pulpits place those believers in alignment with the worst periods of Christian history: E.g. the Inquisitions and Puritan witch hunts. There is something that corrupts us when we take on the role of the Holy Spirit. Good stuff, well said, Brother Wade

Julie Anne said...

I have lost track on how many times people have told me to repent, that I'm a Jezebel. Great article, Wade. Here's the thing - someone is yelling at you to repent - - and that's supposed to quicken your heart to respond? Really? Are they expecting some sort of spiritual awakening by that word that is going to knock you to your knees and cry your heart out to God? Is there something magical about those words? And the thing that goes along with it is the air of superiority that they are all-knowing into your spiritual life. That kind of bully behavior repulses me.

Loddie R said...

Wade, a dictionary definition of repentance is “deep sorrow, compunction, or contrition for a past sin, wrongdoing, or the like. Regret for any past action.” The problem with this definition is that any of these emotional states can be actuated by accusations, humiliation, shame, condemnation, etc. In true biblical repentance such emotional responses can be a precursor to real repentance but are not of themselves actual repentance. Paul wrote that worldly sorrow, which would include the above definition with all of the associated emotive responses, often leads to only deadly consequences. (2 Corinth 7:10) Judas would be an example of this when he “repented” (no doubt a strong emotional response within himself for betraying Christ) but then went out and hung himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)

The Holy Spirit by John the Baptist gives a clear and unambiguous understanding of what is true repentance. “‘Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” The crowds asked, “What should we do?” John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?” He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.” “What should we do?” asked some soldiers. John replied, ‘Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.’” (Luke 3:7-14) I think in the New Covenant age we could understand John’s words to mean “Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are Christians, believers in Christ.’”

True Gospel repentance will always involve a change in the way one is living their life. It may involve major changes as happen to Saul of Tarsus or it could be more subtle changes as happen to Cornelius, a centurion, who already was “a devout, God-fearing man, as was everyone in his household. He gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God.” But change there will be.

The apostle Paul confirmed to the Colossians the Gospel of Christ always brings changes to those who hear and embrace its truths. “For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News. This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.” (Colossians 1:4-6)

I think we would all be more Christ like in rejoicing over the changed lives of others who have encountered Jesus rather than demanding obeisance or capitulation to our own set of doctrines, beliefs or lifestyles. Check out Jesus and Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. Just saying!

Cindy R said...

I think you have some great ideas here but I have a question.
How would you advise someone in an abuse situation? The church tends to tell the victim to love more, turn the other cheek and in the case of abuse it does NOT work in fact it enables the abuser to do further damage.
Been there, done that for decades.

The Blog bites better than the Bullet. said...

I think calling someone to repentance should only be done by coming alongside and as an equal. If we don't think we could fall in the same ways those we critique have or regularly do, there might be a problem. I do believe abuse hurting many must be called out. But people created in God's image must be treated with the same dignity and respect we would treat a loved one, albeit perhaps a dysfunctional one. People tend not to change if they are yelled at, except perhaps out of fear, but love is what sets people free. I think that's the heart of the gospel.

The Blog bites better than the Bullet. said...

And everything JA just said.

The Blog bites better than the Bullet. said...

PS- in such cases where you are yelled at for speaking the truth it isn't repentance they want, it is for you to stop hindering their continued abuse.

Christiane said...

If anyone ever doubts the power of the Holy Spirit to prompt us to return to Our Lord again, let them spend some time journeying with Him in prayer during a Lenten season.

I think it takes a great spiritual strength to say ‘Yes’ to the Risen Lord,
and that strength comes not from within our earthly physical selves, but from the God whose image we bear.
The power of discouragement and despair become much lessened in a world where the dead return to life again.

The ancient Scripture that asks us to say ‘YES’ to life, so that we may live is a scripture that reaches far beyond its time and on into the future, and in our own world, we have Life Himself to say ‘YES’ to, and we do this every time we turn in humility toward His light as we turn away from the darkness.
Saying ‘YES’ to the Risen Christ is on-going;
that is what many forget . . . but saying ‘YES’ to the Risen Lord
is what makes our sojourn both difficult and also possible.

It was impossible for death to hold Him, alleluia. It is impossible for a Christian to ignore the Holy Spirit's prompting to return once again to Christ, to seek His forgiveness, to reconcile with Him, to have broken hearts healed and renewed.

The fire of the Holy Spirit enables and strengthens us to kneel again in the presence of the Risen Lord so that we might look upon the Face of God and live.

The Squirrel said...

I have been guilty of this.

I repent.


Todd Harvey said...

Wade, so effectively, you want all those who have been calling on others to repent, to repent themselves. Right?

Tom Kelley said...

"From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:17)

"how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 20:20-21)

Demands? Or polite suggestions?

Of course we can only repent by the power of the Holy Spirit. JUst as we can only believe by the power of the Holy Spirit. But both come through the proclamation and hearing of God's Word calling us to repent and believe. This call doesn't end when we become believers, it starts.

Yes, the goodness of God leads us to repentance. But the Bible never declares that to be only way He leads us to repentance.

"And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh."
(Jude 22,23)

GMurray said...

After reading your excellent article and agreeing wholeheartedly with it, I was thinking about it and was diverted in my thoughts to something broader than this.If you would permit me please to try and put this into words,here goes..for some time I have been exercised about the anonymity of bloggers and the freedom it gives to express views and comments for and against some leading evangelicals .While I understand that victims of spiritual and sexual abuse need to do this for obvious reasons,I am not sure that it is spiritually and ethically correct for the rest of us to do this..If we have something to say,surely we should be open and honest to reveal our identity especially when we are seen to be commenting on the morals and behavior of our fellow Christians..I read a few blogs but am becoming increasingly disturbed by the tone and may I say it,judgmental 'blogging' In writing this I confess that what little I blog has been under another name but I am not comfortable doing this and will seek to remedy this in the future..The words I speak and write should be in sync and I should be accountable for both..
I would love to have your comments and correction if needed.

Anonymous said...

As a mother I don't presume to tell my child to repent. I do tell them what they did wrong, why it was wrong, what that does to the sibling they hurt, why I have the rule about that thing. But I don't tell them to repent, to apologize, to do any outward behaviour which "looks" like repenting. If some sort of restitution is appropriate I might require that.

I think it is a gift to a mother to overhear the quiet words of apology. It may take a little time and space before it happens, though.

I am convinced that I am not my child's conscience! And the best way to help them understand repentance it to be genuine and willing to repent myself.

I approach the Christian blog world the same way. I am only looking for the truth. The truth about God, the truth about what has been said and done by all manner of players in the Christian world.

Repentance isn't mine to require or even to validate. In fact, because of all I know about how adults and leaders can manipulate and abuse, I am wary of expressions of repentance from any of them.


Christiane said...

As a teacher, I remember something I used to say to children who had done or said something 'unacceptable'. . .

I remember saying:
'You are better than that.'

It was always something that helped them. Moms and teachers can make a difference in how a child evaluates what they have done, and depending on what is said, a child can and will respond positively to someone who consistently sees more in them than their behavior, their words, their mistakes, their failures.

Christiane said...

forgot to add that 're-penting' has a lot to do with re-thinking our behaviors and words in the light of Christ crucified (the Agnus Dei)

"Christ died for men precisely because men are not worth dying for; to make them worth it."
(C.S. Lewis)

"I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn." (Zechariah 12:10)

Gordon said...

The Apostles presented God's forgiveness of sins which comes through believing in the divine person of Jesus Christ and by trusting in his atoning work on the Cross. This message brought conviction to the hearts of the hearers, and started the process of turning the believers from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.( Acts 26:18).

"For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him " (John 3:17).

Preach forgiveness and the changes will follow.

The Govteach said...

Maybe your best blog yet...and I know I've said that before.....
I'm a blogger on so many different topics, and you'd be amazed at the times I've been told to repent by folks. These are the same folks who wouldn't have a meal with me at the point of a revolver.
Once again, keep up the good work....

The Blog bites better than the Bullet. said...

That is beautiful, Heather. I think true heart work is what a good parent wants to see, not a socially acceptable fake apology. I think that's how God parents us! :)

Kristen said...

This is good, and worth keeping in mind. However, I would make one exception to the plan of not calling for others' repentance: when a public figure has issued an apology that shows no actual intention to change their ways or compensate those they've hurt, and when they appear to believe that said fake apology is the same thing as real repentence, they need to be reminded that it's not.

Ron said...

Thank you Wade. As always you are the best at putting situations in perspective and getting to the important points.