I WAS WRONG

i’m sure there are many reasons why, but a lot of us have a hard time saying “I was wrong.” As I have grown older, I have noted that it has become easier for me to acknowledge my mistakes. Perhaps I am giving myself too much credit, but I think a readiness to admit when we are or were wrong is a sign of maturity.

In the words of Mark Galli, one of the reasons we find it hard to say “I was wrong” is because “we remain addicted to the drug of self-justification.” We justify ourselves because the person we wronged was also wrong. (Are you familiar with the saying “two wrongs don’t make a right?”)

Or we justify ourselves because of other things that were going on in our lives at the time. We had too much to do, or were short on time, or we didn’t feel well, or had a bad day, or any number of reasons we might give to others and ourselves. Our personal situation may elicit some sympathy and understanding, but it doesn’t make doing something wrong right.

Sometimes we won’t say we were wrong because of pride–we are simply too proud and too stubborn to admit we made a mistake. It often does require humility, but that can be very good for us.

For Christians, this matter of acknowledging we were wrong is the first step of repentance. Repentance is not a popular or particularly admired word in most circles today, but it is an important word in the Bible. We might remind ourselves that Jesus launched his public ministry with a call to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17).

To admit we were wrong is to take responsibility. We admit it to ourselves, we acknowledge it to the person or persons we wronged, and we confess it to God. But acknowledging we were wrong is just the first step.

Next, repentance involves being sorry we were wrong—feeling remorse and regret over what we did or said. It is not being sorry we were caught or found out, but being convicted or conscience stricken by it. Sometimes it includes doing what we can to make things right.

Finally, repentance leads to a resolve to do better in the future. That means we make a commitment to be more aware of our weaknesses and tendencies so that we strive not to do what we did again. But it’s even more than that. Theologian J.I. Packer presses the point when he notes repentance “is an actual abandonment of what has been wrong in order to replace it by what is right.”

When was the last time you did something wrong? When was the last time you admitted you were wrong? And when was the last time you repented? I’m hoping the frequency of needing to say those three magic words “I was wrong” lessens in my life, but I’m learning the importance and value of saying them.

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DO YOU NEED THIS?

Although I’ve never participated in Ash Wednesday, like many Christians, for many years I have focused my devotional life in a variety of ways during Lent. As we approach Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, I have been intensifying my focus. Earlier this week I read something that has given me a fresh challenge during these last two weeks of the season.

I was reading a 2004 college commencement address by Dallas Willard and his definition of repent got my attention. He said “Repent means to change the way you’ve been thinking and acting.” I don’t know about you, but given that definition, I need to do some repenting.

Most of the time we think of repentance as something that is needed and takes place at the beginning of the Christian life. Both John the Baptist, as well as Jesus, called people to repent as they launched their public ministries. And on the Day of Pentecost, when the Church was born, Peter told those present they needed to repent.  Clearly there is an initial repentance in becoming a follower of Jesus; but I don’t think that’s the only time believers need to repent.

With Willard’s definition in mind, I went to an old book by William Barclay I remembered that had a brief discussion of repentance. In it he reports that repent “literally means an afterthought as opposed to a forethought. An afterthought, a second thought, is usually a changed thought.” It’s not as crisp a definition as Willard’s, but if you read it slowly it has some pop.

As I read Barclay’s description I could not help but think about Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal/Lost Son in Luke 15:11-32. In the story, after the boy had lost everything, Jesus tells us in verse 17 “When he came to his senses” he had a change of heart and decided to go home. Verses 17-20 paint a picture in Barclay’s words of an afterthought, a second thought, which was a changed thought. I think the boy repented.

The general understanding of repentance is that it requires three things: a recognition of having done something wrong, regret/sorrow for doing it, and a resolve to do better. I hope you see why I don’t think repenting is something limited to the beginning of the Christian life, but is needed throughout the Christian life.

Today through Easter Sunday seems to me like a good time to consider the practice of repenting. Beyond that, participating in the Lord’s Supper seems like an appropriate time. Would it be too much to suggest we give it some thought on a daily basis?

Feel free to leave a reply below and/or share this post on Facebook.

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