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Bill & Ellen Bontrager

SHEPHERDS FOR PEACE

1710 C.R. 121, Hesperus, CO 81326

970-259-3384

wdb@frontier.net

CONFESSION AND FORGIVENESS -- KEYS TO RECONCILIATION

Throughout history, mankind has offered mankind many different models of conflict resolution.

There is the "total victory and unconditional surrender" we see in wars and courtrooms. Because I am a former lawyer and judge, I can acknowledge the latter! Had God practiced this, he would have killed Adam and Eve and started over.

There are the "run away", "ignore", and "enable" methods. But if God practiced that, we would still be lost in the bushes, naked and afraid.

There is the "powerful person ordering you to do or not do something" -- judges, arbitrators, parents, and dictators. This may end the commercial aspects of a conflict, but it leaves the soul empty.

There is the "come let us negotiate and find a compromise with the help of a benign neutral" model. But these also leaves the soul unsatisfied.

There is the "seek wise counsel" model. [See Confusion in Counseling]

And I am sure there are many others.

My questions are:

(1) If these are so great, why do so many people, at the end of these processes, still cry for justice? [See Reconsidering and Redefining Justice]

(2) If these are so great, why is there, at the end of the process, so seldom reconciliation of relationship between people who once respected and trusted one another?

And, as a Christian, I ask:

(3) Are any of these biblical, or any parts of any of these biblical, and, if so, which, or which parts?

I ask these last questions because I am a person who needs absolutes. Although trained as a lawyer -- to whom absolutes, at least in the U.S., do not exist -- I found law unsatisfactory in so far as "justice" was concerned. That dissatisfaction led me to Christ, which led me to the Bible, which showed me absolutes. Now I try to compare all things to the biblical things.

In other writings I have touched upon the issue of confession and forgiveness in the matter of conflict resolution. This will be an effort to expand upon those two principles. However, this is based upon a fundamental proposition: Without being in right relationship with God in those matters related to a conflict with another person, it is impossible to have conflict resolution as that term would be understood from a biblical perspective.

Please re-read that last allegation, for if you can't accept it, then there is no point in your proceeding.

But if you accept it, then I want to give some words of encouragement -- for the question of getting right with God so that I might get right with another person can strike terror to the level of paralysis. So here is some encouragement:

I, just like you, do things I don't want to do, and don't do things I want to do -- things which often hurt others in the process. And I often cry in the dark for release from my self-torment (and the torment of the Devil). [Rom. 7:15, 18-19, 24]

Second, I know Rom. 8:1 says that because of Christ: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

Third, I have come to see that there is a great difference between condemnationand conviction. Both look at past events in terms of the future. Condemnation makes you see that future as a dark hole without hope -- you are doomed because of the things of the past; paralysis towards the future is the consequence. The recognition of being under conviction brings with it realization that while the future cannot be known, it can be lived in peace if the things brought under conviction are dealt with according to God's standards.

In fact, that is exactly what Rom. 8:28 then promises -- "any thing" can be turned to the glory of God if we will love Him by dealing with the matter according to His purposes (methods).

So, fourth, freedom in Christ does exist. What is Gods method for attaining this peace?

In its simplest, it is: (1) confess, to God and to those whom you hurt by your actions, the fact that you did the act which hurt, and seek to make things right; and (2) convey forgiveness to those who have done some act which has hurt you, and extend yourself towards a possible transformed relationship with them.

Please notice two things at the start: (1) there is the idea of this confessing and forgiving being done "face-to-face" if at all possible, and (2) there is implied the idea that you cannot have any expectation of some particular outcome as you go through the process (other than expectation of peace with God).

With these things said, let's look at confession.

Psalms 51:4 tells us that all sins are against God and Him alone. Therefore, our first confession must be to Him.

And it is from God that we receive forgiveness -- I Jn. 1:9.

But that forgiveness is not received by us until we deal with the consequences of the sin according to His rules. When we sin -- at least in the vast majority of instances -- we hurt someone else. It is no longer just between myself as an individual and God. It is now between myself, God, and those whom I have hurt.

When David sinned against God and took Bathsheba, the consequences included: a husband and wife were separated; a husband was killed; a child died; children turned against their father; brothers fought brothers; and a kingdom was divided. Sin enters in and relationships get fractured.

Can you really imagine God saying you can apologize to Him, do nothing about the chaos set into motion, and then be in right relationship with Him? What utter foolishness!

The Bible commands us to "do justice" (Micah 6:8); it does not promise us justice in a tangible sense this side of Glory. So what "justice" am I to do?

First, confess your fault to the one whom you hurt -- Jas. 5:16. Confession never contains a "but" -- explanation, rationalization, justification, excuse, blaming of another or circumstances. Confession carries with it the idea of: "I did this act; I chose to do this act; I had the power to choose; I know it hurt you. I want to try to make things right." Confession is ownership of one's actions, and the consequences of the actions, even when the actions were righteous. (Yes, I am proposing that a righteous act which you know has hurt another be confessed -- taken ownership of -- to the person who is suffering so that healing might have an opportunity to develop.)

Second, ask God what acts He would have you do towards the other to help make things right. Our legalism makes us think in terms of "restitution", and we think of the Old Testament model of equal payment (or even multiplication of value) -- see Ex. 22:1-10. And this may be exactly what we need to do. But Rom. 13:8 also talks about "owing nothing except love" -- and an act of love towards your victim may not look like restitution, yet it may suffice for restitution within the heart and spirit of the victim.

Third, the confession must go as widely, and as publicly, as has the spread of the sin, and the consequences of the sin. I am reminded of a lady who came under conviction of having acted wrongly towards a man in the church. She confessed that to the man. Several days later, she recognized that she had walked about the church for years complaining about this man to whomever would listen. The very next church service, she stood and confessed to the entire congregation -- for all had been impacted by her sin.

Fourth, you do not have to ask the person to forgive you. In fact, asking them to forgive you may negate the entire process; it may put a spiritual trip on them and make them feel compelled to do what the Holy Spirit will try to convict them is necessary to do. Besides, you have just, by your confession to them, received God's forgiveness -- which is the only forgiveness you can guarantee taking place, and the only forgiveness which is important.

Fifth, your confession and acts of repentance only opens the door for resolution of conflict and reconciliation on the human level -- the other person must now act to complete the process. If the other refuses their part of the process, you will have reconciliation with God but not man. But you will also have resolution of the conflict from within yourself, and you can be at peace even as the conflict rages inside the other person.

To contemplate confession to those whom you have hurt -- particularly if it means a public act -- fills us with fear. Only faith is an antidote for fear -- which is why God gave us Rom. 8:28. His promises produce faith when we act upon the promise. But maybe looking at a Bible story of the consequences of sin may also lead us to faith. You read it -- Joshua 7:1-13 -- and then I'll offer a few comments.

The first thing which struck me was that Joshua and the leaders were, literally, on their face before the Lord (v 6), but the Lord's comment was, "Arise! There is work to be done, not some passive act of prostrate confession."

The second thing which struck me was God's declaration of the implications of the un-dealt-with-sin for life (the thing which was "under the ban in their midst"): "Therefore the Israelites will not be able to hold their ground against their enemies; they will have to turn tail before their enemies" (v 12). Literally, we cannot face the person we have harmed, and we are inhibited in facing all of life.

Why should this be? Because we now live in fear of our sin being uncovered. We worry about how "man" will view us rather than how God views us. We do not realize that if we are uncovered by another we will look worse to man than if we uncover ourselves -- and being uncovered by another does not gain us God's blessing which our uncovering of ourselves will bring.

One final word on confession, and then on to forgiveness. The longer you delay, the more you deny having done the act, the more you excuse, rationalize, justify or cast blame, the worse things will get. You will harden your heart against God and man. If today, as you read this, you realize that you are sleeping with the frogs of a conflict (Ex. 8:1-10), remember that Pharaoh had hardened his heart to the prior miracles God had done through Moses -- and kept on hardening his heart. Don't lose the blessing; act, in faith, today.

FORGIVENESS

There are, of course, reasons why people do not want to confess to those they have hurt -- privately or publicly: it is a sign of weakness; it may open the door to being taken advantage of; it may negatively impact legal rights; and you may be cut off from individuals or groups.

But, surprisingly, forgiveness seems equally difficult in our times and culture: it ought to be seen as a sign of strength not weakness; it does not open the door to being taken advantage of (for you still have the key to the door), it can't affect legal rights, and it would never lead to being cut off. Yet we do not do it -- at least in the biblical way -- even though forgiveness is the other gateway to appropriating a sense of justice and peace in a setting of conflict.

Why?

In the Old Testament, a main word for forgiveness was nasa. It meant "to lift up and take away". In the New Testament, we find apoluo -- "loosing the bonds of a captive, bidding them to depart, and giving them the liberty to depart".

Within these two words, if we look closely and thoughtfully, we will see two people who may benefit by forgiveness (and confession): the offender and the victim.

Picture the offender, burdened down by guilt and a sense of condemnation, having no idea of what restitution might look like and no possible means to make restitution. He is terrified that his confession will send him to prison, etc. But he bucks up the courage to go and confess to his victim in the manner I described as true confession. Believe me, the weight is lifted, and the bondage is broken. He is free even though the victim is screaming at him, and even if the victim continues a prosecution of the criminal charges.

Freedom -- like justice -- is a personal, internal, highly emotional, spiritual, feeling a person in conflict receives from God when they deal with the conflict righteously. Freedom has nothing to do with where you live -- prison or on the street. You can be free although in the former, and in prison although on the latter. The choice is yours and comes from your actions.

But also picture the victim -- weighted down by "bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice" (Eph. 4:30-32), having people leave him in disgust (Heb. 12:15), kicking his dog for being in the way, up to his neck in a sense of "victimization," etc. One morning he wakes up and says to himself: "This is foolish; I have done far worse than this and been forgiven by God; I will go and extend forgiveness." He does so, and instantly he is free. This is the message of Matt. 6:14-15, and 18:21-35.

Please understand that confessing and forgiving, even if done biblically, do not resolve the conflict or result in reconciliation and restoration. They give personal freedom and open the door for resolution, reconciliation, and restoration. Once the door is opened, the other party must choose to do their part to bring the "3 R's" into being.

I say this because people often think forgiveness means entering right back into what was an abusive relationship of the past or being taken advantage of. But that is not the case. Forgiving the abuser does not re-create the old relationship. If the abuser confesses and repents biblically, a new and transformed relationship is created, with new agreed and complied with rules of conduct, in which both parties are honoring God, possibly given oversight by other members of the Body.

If the abuser does not confess and repent biblically, there is still a level of relationship -- but it is based upon, and controlled by, the lack of confession and repentance, and is thus not harmful to the forgiver who is acting in a manner which honors God.

And it is exactly the same for the confessing offender met by an unforgiving victim -- the offender will construct a new, biblical, relationship with the victim which will honor God. It is the eyes of God towards the parties which is important -- not the judgment of man or the thoughts of man.

So, what is involved in forgiveness?

First, it means, as in confession, a face-to-face communication if at all possible.

Second, it means demonstrating the truth of the freedom being offered. Do you remember that God made clothes for Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21) even before they confessed or repented? Yes, sometimes forgiveness may mean sacrifice -- even bearing the burdens of the one who wronged you, and even when they are still locked in their sin. That was how God dealt with you, and you are, after all, made in His image.

Third, it means being willing to confront the matter once, and being willing to not bring it up again outside the process of Matt. 18:15-17. If you continue to drag the matter up, it offers no freedom to the other, and demonstrates that you have not become free either. If the offender does the same offense again, the new offense is confronted without the "this is just what you did before; once a drunk always a drunk" attitude we so often adopt.

Fourth, it means stretching yourself forwards towards a new and righteous relationship. God did this towards you before you confessed and repented. He did it knowing you would blow it in the future. And He keeps on doing it. Should we, His sons and daughters by the blood of Christ Jesus, do less?

I end with this thought -- in Matt. 18:31, it says this: "When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved." Our proclamations of being a Christian turn harmful to the world when we do not confess and forgive according to the biblical process.

And you can do confession and forgiveness from wherever you may be at the moment -- upon the street or locked in a prison. Letters and phone calls can begin the process, while you pray for the day of face-to-face reconciliation.