“It’s not a sin; it’s a crime.” I read those words in an article criticizing the reactions of Josh Duggar’s family to his behavior when he was a teenager. They sort of stopped me in my tracks because it made something glaringly obvious. Our culture no longer understands the concepts of God, sin or repentance.
It’s sort of ironic to me that I never watched the Duggar’s show, and yet, now, when they are in disgrace, their story holds a number of important lessons.
In my last post, I shared how we have a skewed view of forgiveness, and after reading multiple articles dissecting the whole Josh Duggar story, I realized we also have a skewed view of repentance – and I don’t just mean out in culture, but in our churches, as well.
Here’s the thing. Sin is a big deal to God. It’s really easy to point my finger at someone else’s sin, yet call mine a weakness or an issue. It’s easy to excuse myself and condemn someone else. I think we are all wired this way (at least I hope I’m not alone in this tendency).
Think about it – what did Eve really do? She ate an apple she wasn’t supposed to. On the surface, that doesn’t really seem like that big of a deal.
There are other times in the Bible, where I read the story and then scratch my head. For instance, in the Old Testament, a man went to gather sticks in the woods on the Sabbath. He was stoned.
In another Old Testament story, Uzzah reached out to steady the ark of the covenant because it was going to fall off of a cart. He was struck dead for his troubles.
Some of you might say, “Well, that’s the Old Testament, before grace.” Okay, well then, what about Ananias and Sapphira. They lied about how much they gave to look good. While that doesn’t smack of integrity, striking them both dead seems a bit harsh.
I’ll be honest and say, I have never really understood these stories. They seem to contradict a God who loved us enough to send His Son to die for us. They seem to be overkill (excuse the pun) for infractions that don’t seem like that big of a deal to me.
But, here’s the thing – I’m not God.
That seems obvious, I know, but follow me here. In his book, Come Follow Me, David Platt gives an example that finally resonated enough for me to get this.
If I slapped my friend, what would happen? Probably, she would be shocked and surprised, and I’d have to apologize pretty profusely.
Now, what if I slapped, say, a guy walking down the street? The outcome of that would be more iffy. He might just haul off and hit me back. He might call the police. Whatever happened, it would probably be worse than if I had slapped my friend.
Let’s take it a big step further – what if I slapped the leader of some Middle Eastern country? I would probably be dead. If I was really lucky, I’d be allowed to live but I’d probably be punished in some horrible, painful way.
What I consider not a big deal, is a much bigger deal to God, because it’s not what sin we commit, but who we commit the sin against that makes the difference.
So, going back to the the quote I started with – our culture thinks when we refer to sin, we mean it’s not that big of a deal. That a sin and a crime are somehow mutually exclusive. This is probably because we are always talking about God’s grace (which isn’t a bad thing), but we’ve cheapened grace to being kinda sorry for our sin.
This misrepresentation came about because of good intentions of sharing God’s love, but we have somehow left out a key ingredient to the whole thing – repentance. Without repentance, without an acknowledgement of real sin, what do we even need grace for anyway?
This might be because there are as many myths surrounding repentance as there are forgiveness.
So, what is repentance?
Repentance and being sorry are not the same thing. Repentance involves confessing to God and the appropriate parties what you have done wrong, taking complete responsibility for what you have done, turning in the opposite direction and walking away from that of which you are repenting.
Repentance is not a feeling. It is not empty words. It is an action.
A lot of people are afraid of true repentance because they do not understand God’s love.
In Romans 2:4 it says, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance.”
It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance – doesn’t that feel like the opposite of what you really believe? Do you usually link God’s kindness and repentance in the same sentence?
The thing is God wants us to repent, not just because He hates our sin and it is disgusting to Him, but because truly repenting is the best thing for us.
It is in His kindness that he breaks us. Not because He enjoys seeing us shattered, but because He did not create us to be sinners. He created us whole, and it is only through repentance that He can take the pieces that are our lives and rebuild us and restore us into what He created us to be.
The thing is, though, even though when we repent, God IS faithful to fully forgive and restore, that doesn’t mean that there are no consequences in this world. Our actions have consequences and trying to avoid them under the guise of “God’s grace” just makes it look like Christians sweep things – like sexual abuse – under the rug.
Yes, I believe we serve a God big enough to restore any sinner for even the vilest actions. After all, the Bible is full of people who did really bad stuff. David took another man’s wife, slept with her and then killed the husband to cover things up. Paul went around murdering Christians. Moses ended up a fugitive for 40 years after killing someone in cold blood.
However, true repentance leads to actions that restore and reconcile. That includes taking full responsibility if something we did was hurtful, destructive or criminal.
We don’t see this example of ignoring consequences in Scripture. A prime example is in a tiny book wedged in toward the end of the New Testament called Philemon.
This book shows what repentance and restoration/reconciliation really look like. Onesimus was Philemon’s slave and he ran away. Slavery was a fact of life in Paul’s time, and his primary purpose was to show both masters and slaves how they should act as believers.
Onesimus becomes a believer and he realizes that he has broken the law. He knows he should return to his master, but there is a very real threat of death if he does so. So, Paul writes to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus to encourage Philemon to offer forgiveness and grace, rather than the death penalty that was his right to inflict under Roman law.
You’ll notice Paul did not hide Onesimus away or encourage him to break the law. Instead, he encouraged Onesimus to do the right thing, but at the same time, Paul became his advocate, willing to walk alongside of Onesimus and go to bat for him.
Let me be really clear. What Josh Duggar did was a crime AND a sin. Under the law, the statues of limitations has run out and there is nothing our legal system can do to punishment Josh Duggar.
However, God cares very much about his victims. In Mark 9:42 (and also Luke 17:2 and Matthew 18:6), Jesus says, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.”
Even though the law can no longer touch Josh Duggar, God can and will – unless there is true repentance. I pray that that is the case for Josh Duggar. I hope that he has repented to his victims and has rebuilt their trust with his actions.
The grace and mercy given to us after repentance does not negate the awfulness of the sin. It does, however, show the love and greatness of a God who can take messy, broken, sinful creatures and make them whole again.
That is the essence of the Gospel. That is why it is called Good News.