June 28, 2013

The Scandal of Repentance

Repentance just isn’t fair.  Not according to the gospel anyway.  We stuff up big time, come in humble repentance before the holy God and he forgives us.  What is so fair about that?  Nothing.

Which is why, now that the priest whose desire to cash in from the bracelet he found (see my last post), and who has been exposed publicly in the press, and has repented and returned the bracelet, must be embraced by God’s people again and forgiven. Which isn’t fair, right?  Which means he is getting away with it right?  Which means it is ok to deface his church building, throw bricks through the window and issue threats, right?

I mean, apart from the gospel, why should he be forgiven?  Why shouldn’t people aggrieved at what he has done, justify their own sinful, violent actions in meting out street justice to this man?  Gospel Repentance is a complete scandal because it means we don’t pay for the injustice we have done and that someone else does – someone else   has. The fact is, as I said of this unfortunate man the other day, a quid pro quo God is one in which we get back what we think we deserve, and subsequently we hand out what we think others deserve. Those who bricked and graffitied the church building think exactly like that. They are handing out what they think he deserves because they think that they are better than he.

Which the gospel says they are not.  I mean, it’s not like he slept with his father’s wife or anything.  Say what?  Why would you bring something like that up?  Because that’s exactly what the situation is in the Corinthian church to which Paul writes (1Corinthians 5).  So locked in are the Corinthians to their predominant cultural milieu that they cannot see what is wrong with this.  They are in fact, proud.

Of course when it all gets exposed, and when the gospel shines its light on the situation through Paul’s words, they do sort it out.  They get rid of him forever, right?  Wrong.  They’d like to, because they don’t get the gospel.  But by the time 2Corinthians rolls around (2Corinthians2), Paul is advocating the return of the repentant one (assuming they are one and the same man, which I am). Find that scandalous?  It is, it’s the scandal of Gospel Repentance. He gets to repent, you get to take him back in.  Just like God has done for you. End of story.  If you find that scandalous, if you find that less punishment than he deserves, then maybe the elder brother syndrome has sunk its teeth into you.  If Paul were here today, he would say “Restore! Restore! Restore!” Let’s leave the lynching to the vandals and the media.

Can such a man remain as a priest? Yes, I think he can.  Maybe he needs to take some time out for emotional, spiritual and relational restoration, but he can come back.  And when he does, perhaps it will be stronger, humbler, wiser, more broken and more rebuilt by the God of grace.  Imagine the legacy that would leave to those to whom he ministers. Imagine the gospel grace that would pour from his pores when he does.  That’d be a good thing to pray for wouldn’t it?

Or we could just keep throwing proverbial bricks, writing imaginary graffito on his walls, and rejecting the Scandal of Gospel Repentance that he, I, and you are so desperately in need of.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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