08 December 2009

Studies in repentance, and not (1): "my sentence inconveniences me!"

by Dan Phillips

[Parental warning: it delights me that some kids read my blogs. In this case, however, you should read beforehand, and decide how to proceed.]

I've seen enough stories similar to the following one, that it finally occurs to me that a series might be in order. I begin, though, by noting that this (like any such post) is written under the provisional assumption that the news article is accurate.

The Bible says a lot about repentance. The common Hebrew verbs used are one that means to regret, feel sorrow; and another that means to turn around, to do an about-face. The most common Greek verb means to have a paradigm-shift, a change of mind that issues in changed behavior.

For our PoMo culture — where if you simply say you're a butterfly, then by jingo you are a butterfly — it is important to remember John the Baptist's words: "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matthew 3:8). Nor can any take shelter in the fiction that repentance is an exclusively Old Covenant notion, for Paul sums up his New Covenant ministry as declaring "first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance" (Acts 26:20).

There is forgiveness in God, but the forgiveness is conditioned on repentance.  God has nothing happy, sweet nor head-patting to say to the man or woman who refuses to repent. "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper," God warns, adding "but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy" (Proverbs 28:13). But God makes it crystal-clear that "He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing" (Proverbs 29:1).

So what is our story, today?

Michael Yavorski pleaded guilty to molesting a child. The middle-aged man reportedly "twice fondled [a twelve-year-old] girl and gave her beer." His victim has repeatedly been to the hospital since, and allegedly cuts herself to relieve the tension. The judge sentenced Yavorski to "three months to two years behind bars, plus a year of probation." The "misdemeanors of indecent assault and furnishing alcohol to a minor" do not require that Yavorski register as a sex-offender.

Yavorski's attorney argued that the sentence should be reduced because it could have a negative impact on Yavorski's business as an ice-cream stand owner.

I'll shift gears a bit, and speak as if I were speaking to Yavorski as a Christian, though I have no idea of the spiritual condition of any of the participants. On the face of it — which is all we have — this doesn't sound as if Yavorski has accepted full responsibility for his crime.

Here's what repentance does. Repentance says I and I alone am responsible for what I did. Repentance says what I did was wrong in God's eyes, and merits Hell. Repentance utterly damns the deed, it puts it to death and buries it with no gravestone and no flowers, and repentance turns one from the deed and from everything that gave birth to the deed.

But wait. There's more.

Part of damning and killing and burying the deed involves restitution to anyone affected by the deed. That is the Bible's orientation from start to finish (cf. Matthew 5:23-26). Did you steal something? Give it back (duh) — with interest. "Justice" according to the Bible is precisely the same. Perpetrators are not rewarded with "three hots and a cot" at victims' expense; they are required to repay. There is virtually no jail system in Biblical law.

How would that apply in this case? I don't know that there is anything Yavorski can do directly to or for his victim, except stay far away from her forever. Obviously, if he lied about her or otherwise slandered her to cover up his crime, he would need to undo that emphatically. But I would think that he would, at the least, accept his sentence and not complain of the inconvenience it cost him.

The perspective would be: I never ever should have done this, and so I will accept what justice requires, and then do more.

For our purposes, I don't want to get into a debate as to whether the sentence is justice in the absolute sense.

The point is, this is justice according to our system, and like Cain, Yavorski is saying — not "My guilt is greater than I can bear," but — "My punishment is greater than I can bear" (Genesis 4:13).

Which isn't, as far as I can see, repentance.

Dan Phillips's signature


David Regier said...

Dan, this is an excellent post.

There is something in my flesh that responds, "Repentance is a work!" and tries to go on to justify continuing in sin on that basis.

But repentance is a ceasing of work. Evil work.

I'll be considering this prayerfully through the day.

Courtney said...

that is so sad for that girl! 3months prison and one year probation? disgusting.

mike said...

repentance is in the heart, which brings about the work. We of course do not want to begin to feel that our works will have value to others, this guy cannot really help that little girl, nor can they change our standing before God, this guy and the rest of us are not good, we should not shrink from the word "work".
we were in fact made for it, called to be zealous for it, and ultimately all men are to be judged by it.
when due to true repentance, someone like the ice cream vendor seeks restitution, and accepts whatever punishment, and attempting constantly and daily to bring his body to subjection, then that is a good thing, but of course still not Salvational.
actually it may well be an indication of salvation, but that’s it.

your point of it being a ceasing of evil work is good, but technically, even that is a work.

brothers and sisters let us never tire of pursuing good works that Christ may be glorified.

Brad Williams said...

Ugh, I agree 100%. I don't see how his punishment messing up his business is even a valid consideration.

On a side note, Cain may have done better than this guy...at least temporarily. He could have said, "My guilt is too heavy to lift." The word translated "punishment" there is usually associated with iniquity, and the word translated "to bear" is almost always "to lift." I can't transliterate on here or I'd give you the words.

SandMan said...

I don't know that there is anything Yavorski can do directly to or for his victim, except stay far away from her forever.

And every other little girl everywhere... especialy places where they might like to hang out (you know, like an ice cream stand)! If you are to follow the prescribed Levitical justice system, wouldn't this fall under the penalty for rape? In which case, wouldn't he be stoned to death? (Deuteronomy 24:24-29) Makes losing your little business seem less intense, huh?

BTW, I get your overall point that repentance requires that I own up to my sin and bring restitution wherever possible. As the father of little children, I'll need to calm down about Yavorski first.

DL said...

Good post Dan. I'm wondering if you would agree with Mike Horton in his newest book: "Repentance means 'change of mind'... Often repentance is more broadly defined to include actual change in character and behavior, but Scripture describes this as 'the fruit of repentance' (Matt. 3:8) or 'deeds consistent with repentance' (Acts 26:20; cf. Matt. 7:16; Luke 3:9;l 8:15; John 12:24; Rom. 7:14; Gal. 5:22; Col. 1:10).

Lee Shelton said...

I was just listening to an explanation of repentance this morning that contrasted Peter and Judas. Each was sorry for what he did, but one returned to Christ and the other took his own life. True repentance and faith go hand-in-hand.

DJP said...

You'll have to get my book, Darby, whenever it comes out. I talk about it there.


Seriously, haven't read Horton. The Greek word does mean "change of mind," but that definition has gotten a bad rap. I think that's because people's internal lexicon translates the phrase as "change of opinion," which doesn't do it justice. Perhaps "transformation of mind" is a better gloss; I used "paradigm-shift." If behavior doesn't change, you haven't changed your mind (in this sense).

donsands said...

"Repentance says I and I alone am responsible for what I did."

When the heart knows this, and feels this, and confesses this, that heart have been blessed from above.

I have talked with people in the church who say they have repented and believed in Christ. And as we chatted, they would begin to blame others, and events in their lives why such and such is part of my life.
When you confront them that maybe they haven't really repented, they usually are offended, and they hit the road.
At least that's what I have encountered. And that's what have done my self on occasion: Played the blame game.

Thanks for the solid teaching on repentance. Very good lesson indeed.

Hayden said...

Good teaching.

Seems the man views himself as in the 'victim' category, much like Cain did.

What a world, when the perpetrator becomes the 'victim'.

A good resource from a medical doctor that is a great counselor (www.gracecounsel.com)

NoLongerBlind said...


Any idea of the release date?

I'm looking for ideas for my Christmas list!


Nash Equilibrium said...

Getting expelled from the Garden really messed up Adam's fruit business.

Fafa Fo Hei said...

Up front, I am not talking about anything even close to the same level of Yavorski. I am talking about stuff most of us have done and some may still frequently do (eg stealing time from our employers, numerous lies throughout life, etc.).

My question is, how does one go about making restitution for all the wrong they've done...especially from their pre-conversion days?

Even attempting to do so, it seems, would consume a few years of my life and likely put me in a situation where I am unable to provide for my family.

I don't have that lifestyle anymore and am saddened, disgusted and ashamed of how I used to live. So, my heart, mind and lifestyle have undergone some dramatic changes. However, it seems that attempting restitution for a lot of things from years ago would be extremely difficult if not impossible (ie to find the person - eg to pay restitution to someone for smashing their car door in the parking lot and taking off) or likely cause more harm than good (I suppose, in the later case, those attempts would not be, by definition, restitution).

I am sure I am looking at things too legalistically (as I seemingly trend towards that, frequently feel the weight of it and run to the cross), but I was born again less than 2 years ago and am still pretty wobbly-kneed when it comes to the walk.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Do what your conscience tells you to do in any specific instances of restitution you may think of, otherwise rest in the grace of God's forgiveness.

SandMan said...

What Stragagem said.

You never know how God mught use your testimony in the life of the one you once sinned against.

CR said...


In the Latin repentance means to think again. We see this demonstrated with the parable of the two sons. One of the sons said he would not go out and do what his father said but then he repented and did what his father said. But you can't stop at thinking again because you can think again and think wrongly again. That's where we get from the Greek repentance meaning a change of mind or attitude.

We all start off thinking wrongly about ourselves and who God is. I haven't read Horton on this. But most Christians have repentance wrong and put change of conduct at the beginning of repentance. They say first, "I have to stop being a homosexual or an adulterer.". Well, change of conduct comes at the end of repentance not the beginning.

What people first have to do is to think again and change their mind about God. (that's why we spend a lot of time explaining who the biblical God). And then once we have a right understanding of who God is then we have to think again about who we are and change our mind about ourselves. ( e.g. we are not basically good people). And then at the end of repentance by the aid of the Spirit does our conduct and behavior change.

Eric said...

"Any idea of the release date?"


At first read I thought you were talking about the jail release date for the perpetrator and were contemplating buying him a Christmas present. A little more reflection and I realized that was not the case!

allen said...

The biblical teaching on repentance seems to be one of several glaring omissions in many modern approaches to ministry/church/preaching/evangelism/sanctification,...; I think that in order to "see results, get converts, appear positive and with it", many deliberately blunt the sharp edges of those hard truths from our Lord and His apostles.
Ive been thinking a good bit about how many of those hard sayings there are that turn the half-hearted back. Repentance is the first one that comes to mind in such a list.
Many today would assure this man of God's unconditional love just as he is, and would encourage him to believe for a prosperous ice cream stand!

DJP said...

Absolutely true, Allen.

And yet to whom do we see Jesus saying "Repent" most often?


Nash Equilibrium said...

I'm afraid that repentance and "we're not basically good people" couldn't make it onto K-Love. It's not positive or encouraging. Sorry. Next idea.

VcdeChagn said...

How many times have I tried to explain this to my sons when they get punished.

One indication of a truly repentant heart is willingness to accept your punishment.

They haven't gotten it yet.

WatchingHISstory said...

Repentance is never directed toward the unregenerate, wonder why? Always to the regenerate!

DJP said...

That isn't a distinction you could prove from the Bible, to say the least.

WatchingHISstory said...

Thoes who use the Bible to prove a universal offer system say the Bible supports that and thoes who believe in a consistent Calvinism say the Bible supports their view. One group believes that there is a free offer to all to repent and the other only thoes for whom Christ died for repent subsequent to regeneration.

DJP said...

Um... Studies in Derailing Meta's is down the hall, third door on the right.

Back to the topic.

WatchingHISstory said...

The Bible says a lot about repentance.

I am not surprised you would avoid my comment amd defer in a condescending manner!

Typical of a man without an answer. ..or a weak answer!

DJP said...

Read more slowly. I didn't avoid it. I answered it: it's unbiblical. Then to your "Say, let's argue about Calvinism and general call!" I said, "Off-topic."

Now, get on-topic (i.e. talk about something related to the post, or move along.

allen said...

To watching: the command to repent is to both unregenerate (Acts 17:30,31) and regenerate (Rev. 2 & 3) so your blanket statement doesn't work.

WatchingHISstory said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DJP said...

Watching: Did I stutter?



Allen and all: okay, there's been one counter to the latest attempt to incarnate our opponents' caricature of Calvinism.

Now we are OFF that topic.

Back to the post, please. (By "please," I mean I will delete anything other.)

allen said...

"Repentance is to leave
the sins we loved before
and show that we in earnest grieve by doing it no more."--from an old hymn

chuck p said...

okay try this. My best friends wife ran off and married another christian who did the same to his wife. If they are truly repentant and this also involves restitution, should they divorce and go back to their respective spouses? My best friend is willing to take his wife back.

chuck p said...

If repentace also includes restitution then what do you say to a christian couple that I know that dumped both their spouses and ran off and got married. This is what happened to my best friend. If that couple came to you and was repenting, would you advise them to leave and go back to their respective spouses? My friend would be willing to take his exwife back as he feels they are still one flesh

DJP said...

You created a screen name to ask that question twice? And you yourself are none of these people, but you just want to know what they should do?

We had some go-around about that general topic once a while back, as I recall. You don't say enough — and I don't really want you to go into it any further — for me to say that restitution would of course never mean committing a second sin to "right" a first sin.