Godly sorry that leads to repentance, and the place of repentance in the Christian life

The story at New Life Church has, this weekend, moved along in a wonderful direction. Ted Haggard has released a letter wherein he steps up to the plate and makes a mature admission of guilt.

I asked that this note be read to you this morning so I could clarify my heart’s condition to you. The last four days have been so difficult for me, my family and all of you, and I have further confused the situation with some of the things I’ve said during interviews with reporters who would catch me coming or going from my home. But I alone am responsible for the confusion caused by my inconsistent statements. The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem.

I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that Ive been warring against it all of my adult life. For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.

I don’t know about you but this is a wonderful moment. Christians are not those who proclaim their own morality but those who recognise themselves to be, as someone I have worked for would regularly remind me, filthy beggars pointing other beggars to the food and a hot shower. Haggard here does the godly thing, he acknowledges his sin and takes responsibility for it.

He goes on to ask the church family for 4 things:

1. Please stay faithful to God through service and giving.

2. Please forgive me. I am so embarrassed and ashamed. I caused this and I have no excuse. I am a sinner. I have fallen. I desperately need to be forgiven and healed.

3. Please forgive my accuser. He is revealing the deception and sensuality that was in my life. Those sins, and others, need to be dealt with harshly. So, forgive him and, actually, thank God for him. I am trusting that his actions will make me, my wife and family, and ultimately all of you, stronger. He didnt violate you; I did.

4. Please stay faithful to each other. Perform your functions well. Encourage each other and rejoice in Gods faithfulness. Our church body is a beautiful body, and like every family, our strength is tested and proven in the midst of adversity. Because of the negative publicity Ive created with my foolishness, we can now demonstrate to the world how our sick and wounded can be healed, and how even disappointed and betrayed church bodies can prosper and rejoice. Gayle and I need to be gone for a while. We will never return to a leadership role.

Truly, only a man that understands the grace of God can both be completely honest about his failings and also mirror the words of His saviour “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”.

What is so refreshing about all this is that it is a clear example of the power of the gospel. As the Apostle puts it,

2Cor. 7:9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.

Paul had written to a church where there was sexual immorality and held them all accountable for what was going on in their midst (1Cor. 5) and yet, the light shining into their darkness brought about the gospel response; not an attempt to cover up or excuse away but sincere repentance. What is staggering is that their response leads to him declaring them to be “innocent in the matter”. They had surely been complicit in it but now their repentance leads to innocence.

As we see the same response in Haggard’s life it would be right for us to rejoice in the same way that Paul rejoiced over the Corinthians.

Yesterday at church I led us (as the service-leader always does) in the words of the confession. Confession is a key part of any Christian meeting for it reminds us of the core of what we know about ourselves and God – that we are miserable sinners that rely wholly upon God’s grace. But confession must be properly understood for it is not meant to bring regret and uncertainty but the exact opposite. John writes to his “beloved”

1 John 1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

it is not so much that we must constantly be in a state of confession, in case we are quickly swept away and there remain unforgiven sin. Rather, the Christian life – since it is a life of faithful dependance upon Christ – is a constant confession by it’s very nature. We constantly live in the awareness of our sin and the confidence that Christ is greater than all of it. The purpose of such a life is clear:

1 John 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

The greatest motivation to stop sinning is to know that sin is already dealt with. That repetitive sin that I fear since I know what a hold it has over me is already dealt with at the Cross. But if I should still fall then I may rest assured in the knowledge that Jesus Christ, our advocate, is working on our behalf. He is the propitiation for our sins, right now. That is to say that it will not require a seperate distinct act of confession to make me right with God for Jesus Christ is right now, and in the midst of my sin, my advocate and propitiation.

We remind ourselves of this in confession. It is a time of gravity when it is proper for us to feel the weight of our sin – but only so that we would truly appreciate the wonderful work done for us in Jesus Christ and have confidence in Him.

It should be our prayer that Haggard knows this wonderful truth – a godly sorrow that leads to repentance and a renewed trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. There, but for the grace of God, go us all and there, because of the grace of God, we should stand with him – for that is exactly where we all stand: simul justus et peccator – at the same time a sinner and justified.

Luke 7:40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

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4 comments on “Godly sorry that leads to repentance, and the place of repentance in the Christian life

  1. i’ve really enjoyed your posts on this topic. i agree with your wholeheartedly, and in my sorrow and disgust over this incident, am so thankful for the beautiful example we are seeing of God’s grace for us sinners, from it seems almost all involved parties.

    we do not only show the world who we are and what we believe by our good behaviour, but by our response to our own and other’s failings.

  2. It appears that his confessions are quite voluntary. Many in similar situations would be quick to deny, and go on about their business, and they could very well get away with it. Thus I admire Haggard’s honesty.

    • I’m not sure, to be fair, that they were entirely voluntary. It appears that the facts of the matter slowly caught up with him. As he himself admits, he was not initially clear about everything.

      Nevertheless, once the truth was clear he did the right thing and experienced that wonderful moment of looking into his Judge’s eyes and seeing his Saviour there.

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