I’ve often wondered what she looked like – the woman caught in adultery. (John 8:3) Did she grab a bedsheet to cover herself as she was dragged before Jesus? The Pharisees and teachers of the Law who pulled her in front of the people crowded around Jesus in the Temple courts didn’t care if she had true repentance or not. They were hoping to use her to bring Jesus down.
I’ve wondered, “Did she tremble with shame, stare at the ground, or look defiantly at her self-righteous judges?”
Ultimately, Jesus would ask them to throw a stone at her if they had no sin in their lives. One by one they dropped their stones, walked away, and the woman was left alone with Jesus. Quietly, he asked her, “Where are they? Did anyone condemn you?” “No sir,” she replied. “Then neither do I condemn you.” Jesus said. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:10-11)
Did she get off too easily?
Some, reading this Bible story and thinking of their own life experiences – maybe they have a spouse who cheated on them – might ask, “Jesus, shouldn’t she have been required to do more? In just telling her to leave her life of sin, was there any assurance she would? How were those who were hurt by her compensated?
Reasonable questions, right?
But maybe we are able to sympathize with the woman in this story – perhaps she was poor and alone. Maybe her only way of getting by was through depending on men – as a professional prostitute or simply offering sex for their care in a casual way. Maybe she loved the man with whom she was caught. We don’t know. We can sympathize because, especially in ancient times, women were so dependent upon men for survival.
But, I think we can empathize for another reason.
All of us have fallen short of the glory of God. All of us have sin that needs confession and releasing. It’s true even for those who have walked with Jesus for a long time.
I think an awful lot of us identify with this woman. We feel tremendous relief at those words, “Neither do I condemn you.”
Yes, many of us see ourselves in the story…
We’ve all done that thing that we would hate for others to discover. We remember that mistake that years later we’re still beating ourselves up about as we pray yet one more time, “Father forgive me.”
And that is the person I am writing for in this moment. Yes, there are people who have deeply hurt us – and some, maybe several, have been stubbornly not sorry. We’d like to school them on repentance! But they are not my audience today. I’m writing to the one who just can’t let go of shame and guilt. You keep going over old mistakes and re-apologizing to God.
I want to establish for you that you have truly repented if you’ve taken certain steps – (we’ll talk about those in a moment).
And I want you to leave this page feeling assured that Jesus has forgiven you and said the same words to you, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11)
Steps to genuine repentance
What are the steps that lead people to truly being sorry for wrong words or actions, truly making amends, and then to walking forward in accountability? I can’t think of a better resource for doing a self-check on wrong behavior than several steps (4-10) from the 12 Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous or AA. These are helpful whether you are an alcoholic or an addict or not.
AA has really spelled out the pathway to not only saying, “I’m sorry,” which is remorse, but then for moving into changed behavior, which is repentance. By the way, here is a short definition of repentance:
“Repentance is the process of turning from our sinful way of life and turning to godliness. It is characterized by a change of thinking and a change of behavior.” This is from an article posted by Mark W. Gaither on genuine repentance. (I will add a little more to this definition in a moment.)
How AA describes the repentance process
4. made a searching and fearless moral inventory.
5. admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. was entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
8. made a list of all the people we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
Summing up all these steps
Repentance, then, is taking stock of what you are doing or have done wrong. It involves admitting it to God, saying, “I’m sorry,” and asking God for His help to change. Then, it involves changed behavior, making amends if you can, without causing fresh pain.
If you have sincerely done these things, you have repented. The meaning of repentance is to turn and go in the opposite direction. But, I would say one more thing. It’s taking your eyes off the wrong path you’ve been on and turning around to fix your eyes on Jesus, Savior and Helper. By dwelling on Him, His love for you, and His character, the things that need changing in you fade by His power at work in you.
Will my repentance be good enough?
Jesus died to set us free from sin and to fill us with Him, His resurrected life. So, in the big picture, if you believe in Jesus and have received Him into your heart by faith, you are forgiven. Period! However, if you fail and stumble again, just tell Him and ask for forgiveness for that particular sin.
The Bible promises in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” There it is.
If you have never asked Jesus for His forgiveness or to lead your life, you can do that by praying these words:
“Lord Jesus Christ, I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life. (Take a few moments to ask his forgiveness for anything particular that is on your conscience.) Please forgive me. I now turn from everything that I know is wrong.
Thank you for dying on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free. Thank you for offering me forgiveness and the gift of your Spirit. I now receive that gift.
Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit, to be with me forever. Thank you, Lord Jesus. Amen.” – from the prayer ministry of Christ Church Anglican, Overland Park, Kansas
How does Jesus feel about me?
The reason I put a picture of a judge and an inmate as the main image for this post is because of this:
Jesus is like the judge and we are like the man. The judge must pass a righteous sentence when someone commits a crime. “GUILTY!” And then, a punishment fitting the crime is decided. It is the prisoner who pays that penalty.
But, God so loved the world that this typical scenario did not take place for humanity. Instead, the judge stepped down to take the punishment and let the prisoner go free. We, human beings, who deserve punishment for our sins had someone take our place – Jesus.
God is love. When you sincerely repent, your sin is forgotten. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12) Or as it says in Micah 7:19, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” God keeps no record of wrongs.
If you have been deeply hurt
As I mentioned above, some reading this may have been deeply hurt by another person. You may have been grievously wronged or abused. That is another topic to cover in another article. But if this is your situation and if the person has not asked for your forgiveness or made amends to you, you might find comfort and help from a writer named Jennifer Greenberg. Her article, 8 Signs of True Repentance, can be found here.
Now let’s celebrate our total freedom in Christ by worshipping. Don’t look down. Look up. When you’ve repented and He’s forgiven you, the past is THE PAST.
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