We Don’t Need No…Repentance?

Of course we do, but how do we Christians define such a term? What is it’s use?

From the most common understanding I have within Christianity repentance functions as an act to not committ the action again (ie: stealing). It means to change our behavior concerning the said action in question (develop new actions to take the place of that one – like buying the stuff we want – ie: get a job and make some money to afford what you want).

I think that alone is quite good, but there is more to repentance than we are giving on. Jesus believed in repentance that had a more personal aspect to it (like Yom Kippur in some ways):

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matt 5:23-24)

Process seems to be: (1) Go (2) Reconcile w/brother (3) Return & Meet w/God

Repentance is about the confession and the abstaining from the sin again, I agree 100% with this aspect of repentance. However it is more – it is making things right (reconciling) with the party that was hurt/ripped off. See next verses.

Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison” (Matt 5:25)

Process seems to be: (1) The Judge (2) The Officer (3) Prison (court of law scenario)

In Jesus’ days and according to his faith (Judaism) – they followed the law and the best route to avoid any penalty was to make sure to make things right with the injured party (ie: stole something from him so return that something or something of equal value as part of the ‘reconciliation’). If not, one could find themselves before the court and eventually facing prison for their breaking of the law and hurting their neighbor.

But the process of repentance seems to be about confession (apology) and reconciliation (making the wrong right) and then adopting the strategy of not doing it again (following God’s teachings – making your offering after the first part is done).

In Christianity we do not look at the reconciliation part that thoroughly because Jesus paid that part (we owe nothing). We can basically rob someone of a hundred dollars and then end it with an apology…no payment back – and we expect them to forgive us (even if we never rectified the situation). We need to take repentance a step further…confess, then pay back, and then approach God in humility of our actions (making the promise not to do it again).

Repentance process seems to be: (1) Go to hurt party (2) apologize to hurt party (3) Pay back the hurt party (make it even) (4) Return to God and make your ‘offering’ (chance to change)…or face the consequences of the crime.

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20 thoughts on “We Don’t Need No…Repentance?

  1. Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and G-d, not for sins against another person. To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible. That must all be done before Yom Kippur.

  2. **Can you sin against man though?**

    I would think you could. Sin literally means “to miss the mark,” and one could “miss” by harming another person. This means, though, that one’s original view includes the idea that humanity wasn’t originally made to harm one another. Our “mark” was living in harmony (didn’t mean to phrase that so New-Agey.”

  3. “Can you sin against man though?” (Xander)

    Yes. Many of the commandments Jesus breaks down and teaches on deal with this relationship (human to human). I pulled the scripture from Matthew 5 – which pretty much addresses this relationship idea in many ways (ie: murder and adultery).

    Also, the 2 greatest commandments include 3 parties:

    (1) Love God (relationship)

    (2) Love your neighbor (a relationship)

    (3) Love yourself (a relationship)

    The totality of Christian ethics and the commandments from the Torah seem to address each area and how when we ‘breach’ one of these areas via ‘living below the standard’ (ie: sin) – people can get hurt (relationships can get hurt).

    The sin is the definition of the problem – the consequence of the sin is the actual problem. Repentance comes in at this point – to help us (not neccesarily God) get things back to the shape they deserve to be in.

  4. We differ here. Since God is the one telling us what to do and what not to do, I see breaking it as a sin against God, since He alone can set the mark. I might commit a wrong against a person, but I have not sinned against that person.

    ** Repentance comes in at this point – to help us (not necessarily God) get things back to the shape they deserve to be in. **

    It sounds like you put a lot of emphasis on the person to rectify the situation instead of God.

  5. “It sounds like you put a lot of emphasis on the person to rectify the situation instead of God.” (Xander)

    True…but for good reason.

    The law was given to Moses (and the people of Israel)…God gave it to humans to help rectify their behaviors and to work out their faith amongst one another (this is the pattern).

    If we steal from someone – do we just make that right with God? Or is there more to this situation…like the one we ripped off? I see making the situation right with others as also making it right with God…and this seems to be a biblical norm.

    Paul and James, in their letters, both state the summation of the law as ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ (or just love your neighbor).

    “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8)

    “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”” (Gal 5:24)

    “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well.” (James 2:8)

    It seems to me the focus of the law was to ‘love one’s neighbor’ and by doing this we ‘fulfilled’/lived the law. So it’s not only a ‘God thing’ with repentance…our repentance is also aimed at our neighbor quite heavily.

  6. “I might commit a wrong against a person, but I have not sinned against that person.” (Xander)

    Seems like semantics to me.

    ‘Wrong’ and ‘sin’ are basically the same thing. They are both seen as ideas that ‘miss the standard mark’…we can be ‘wrong’ according to what is ‘right to do’ or ‘sin’ against another and miss the ‘mark’.

  7. **I might commit a wrong against a person, but I have not sinned against that person.**

    The parable of the prodigal son does have the son saying to his father, “I have sinned against God and against you [the father].” So there’s at least one instance of the idea that it’s possible to sin against a person.

    • Most versions say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.

      The word for against here is eis where the word for before is enōpion. The NIV versions and NET translation have it changed to sin against both.

      I think you can wrong someone and sin by doing it, but maybe it is just semantics. If sinning sends you to hell and you are not forgiven by the person you “sinned” against, where does that leave you? That is my opposition to sinning against a person. That and if they set a mark/standard, what is it?

      • Xander,

        That’s what I get for not looking at the original text. 🙂

        We’re looking at this two different ways. From what I’m getting with your viewpoint, the only way you can sin against someone is if that person is the one setting the mark. God sets the mark, if one misses the mark, one has sinned. People don’t set the marks, so they can’t be sinned against.

        I’m looking at it with a there is a mark set — doesn’t matter who sets it — and if that mark is that one is nice to other people, and one is in fact not nice, then that person has sinned against other people.

        I’m also not looking at this from the whole sinning sends one to hell and the only way out of it is if someone forgives you. That doesn’t enter the equation with me.

      • OSS,

        I see where you are coming from and it does make sense. I am looking at it to see who am I accountable to. If there comes a time when I have to answer for my actions, who do I have to try and justify myself to.

        I don’t use the possibility of hell to motivate me. That is not a pure motivater as it is derived from fear. Usually the conversation with sin leads to possible outcomes, so I was trying to point out why I keep sin separate if it is against God or against a person. Regardless, people should love each other and treat them that way. Maybe that is what my point should have been. God said to love everyone so we should because we want to and not because we have to.

  8. “If sinning sends you to hell and you are not forgiven by the person you “sinned” against, where does that leave you? That is my opposition to sinning against a person. That and if they set a mark/standard, what is it?” (Xander)

    I would say the ‘mark’ is already set – the idea of an ethic like ‘do not steal/covet your neighbors property’ (pretty straight-forward). I would say the standard comes via the law.

    If sin sends you to ‘hell’ – who does it matter who it is against – but I think the law is set up to ‘protect people’ – not neccesarily to ‘protect God only’. If the law insists it is to protect God alone – then the sin is only against God IMO. If the law is set up to protect people – then the sin is against others also.

    And this is where that wonderful teaching from Jesus in Matthew on repentance comes in – the whole leave the gift at the altar and go reconcile to your brother prior to coming to God. I think the honest attempt to make things right is what is required there (nowhere does it say you will be forgiven by the victim). Forgiveness takes time – but if we want that process to work then we need to play our part (as perpetrators of our neighbors). We need to move to confession, apology, and trying to repair.

    So in that passage at least we see the idea of repentance being directly connected to our actions towards another – and this effects our relationship with God.

  9. So stop thinking sinning sends anyone to hell or even that there is a hell and this problem will take care of itself.

    The way I see it is, there is no black or white when it comes to people. There is no, “If I always do A, then B will happen.” People are much more complex than that.

    If I ask someone to forgive me and they refuse, I ask them two more times. If I really was repentant, and I know if I was or not, and have shown by my actions that I am repentant so that they know, yet they still refuse to forgive me, it is no longer my problem but theirs. It doesn’t mean I shrug my shoulders and walk away, but it does mean I’ve at least done what my traditions requires. Most people are more than happy to make peace, some few are not. If someone refuses to accept my apology I am left perhaps sadder but still the wiser to be more careful in my relationships so I don’t find myself in this same situation again and so I don’t do the same thing to someone else. I will remain hopeful that the story with this person may not yet be ended, but also realize that some things cannot be repaired.

    The standard each person sets is personal. What offends one may not offend another, what offends someone one day may not offend them on another. That’s how it goes with people. I am curious if you are implying that we cannot figure out when we have offended someone unless there is a fixed standard? That everyone must have the same expectations all the time or we will be thrown for a loop? I guess I don’t see this is all that difficult, unless of course someone is still looking for black and white; as long as you stay on this side of the line you have passed the test?

    Anyway, if someone thinks all they have to do is ask Jesus to forgive them and they’re free and clear, how does this teach them to be careful how they treat others? It doesn’t even matter does it since Jesus supposedly already forgave them for everything they’ll ever do?

    And since I’ve never conversed with you before, let me introduce myself. I’m a Jew who adheres to Judaism; my comments come from a Jewish perspective; the things we do are for the purpose of bringing about a just society and repairing the world, not for securing a place in Olam Haba. Personally, I could care less about sin, I don’t talk about sin and, aside from Christians, I don’t even know anyone who talks about sin. I’m not sure if a Jewish perspective on teshuvah, repentance, can even make sense to those who think everyone’s goal in living must be to avoid hell. I have studied Christianity quite extensively, from quite a number of points of view, but I absolutely do not believe in Jesus (and refuse to interact with any Jews who do, BTW). Jason found me online about three years ago now and we have been blogging together ever since. He thinks Christianity needs a Jewish perspective, I remain skeptical, but since he doesn’t think Judaism needs Jesus, I have no real issues with him trying things on to see how/if they work.

    • No. I was getting at the miss the mark meaning for sin. If a mark is set by God, then there is a set standard that people are called to live up to. If you can sin against a person, then that person would have to set the standard for you. That is why I was disagreeing that sin is not limited to actions against the mark God has set.

      I truly appreciate the Jewish point of view because I don’t understand everything. I don’t understand how Christians can take make the foundation of their faith based on Judaism and yet cast out everything that is Jewish about it.

      I might be misunderstanding your position, but from what I gather, your goal is to live according to God’s law and try and make this world a more righteous place. What happens when you die?

  10. I’m not Orthodox so I don’t consider Torah to have been given by God but to instead be my people’s understanding of the divine. Torah is our foundational document, Talmud is what teaches us how to live as Jews. I find within Judaism much wisdom for living, that is what I seek.

    My usual response to Christians asking me what will happen to me when I die is that I will be buried in a Jewish cemetery. That is my main concern about my death, to make sure I have a proper burial. After that I freely admit I loss all interest. I have been reading Rabbi Neil Gillman’s The Death of Death to see if he could spark any interest on my part but it didn’t happen. Perhaps some other day.

    Not a more righteous place, but a more just place where people can leave together in peace; righteous to me sounds quite Christian. I’m sure this sounds quite utopian, however, I have no illusions of succeeding but instead take to heart the teaching of the sages, I am not required to finish the task but I am also not allowed to desist from it.

    As far as Christianity and Judaism go, for centuries Christians have been telling us Jews that Jesus is the basis our texts, so I must admit to feeling a certain amount of amusement at the reactions Jason gets from Christians with his turning the tables by telling Christians that Judaism is the basis of theirs, but also a certain amount of empathy. (He actually sounds quite like the Netzarim rather than the messianics.) I didn’t like what Jason was doing at first either, I’m still the skeptic, but, he’s not slapping a Jewish veneer on top of a Christian core, nor is he trying to ‘save’ Jewish souls, so from my side of the deal it came down to, no harm, no foul. He and I can have interesting conversations as he continues on his journey and whatever conclusions he reaches at the end, he will at least have learned Christianty from Christians and Judaism from Jews, not vice versa.

  11. Maybe Jesus realized there was no god to meet with but that at the core of the spiritual life is correct relationship with people — maybe relationships with people was his real religion.

    But Jesus didn’t succeed making friends with his opponents — for they did worse then throw him into prison.

    Well, proverbs are proverbs. Witty little things that don’t always hold true.

  12. “maybe relationships with people was his real religion.” (Sabio)

    All I know is it’s the core focus of my life!

  13. “If there comes a time when I have to answer for my actions, who do I have to try and justify myself to” (Xander)

    I think if we see heaven as a courtoom (ie: God has a court) – then I think God would be the Judge. However, we will likely have to defend our actions to God and why we did what we did to others…with others playing prosecuters or even witnesses. The full story will come out – nothing will be hidden in that courtroom.

    That being said, I don’t think God is condemnatory – but reconciliatory in nature. Those proceedings will likely be done to cause peace and allow for people to deal with each other and see how limited we were in our decisions at the time…and in our mistakes.

    Then again, I have no clue how heaven looks.

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