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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files: Confession and Repentance

Lately I've been getting a little off-topic on this blog, and that's something I wanted to change today.  So I asked myself last night, "Christians in the world today need to know __________."  This post is the result of that thought.

I have noticed a problem lately with the confusion of two common concepts in the Christian doctrine: confession and repentance.  Have you ever noticed this?  The problem is that they describe two separate activities, and they aren't interchangeable.


Confession

-- Defined as, "openly to acknowledge the truth in anything...to concede or allow" according to the 1987 edition of The New International Dictionary of the Bible.  There are two key aspects of confession: openness and accountability, and the truth that risks something.
  1. On the first point, if you confess only in your heart, you have really taken no action whatsoever.  It isn't confession unless someone else hears what you have said/believed/known in your own mind.
  2. On the second point, it isn't confession unless you are telling the real, unvarnished truth.  This is the hard part about confession.  You have to stick your neck out and tell the truth, even though not everyone will appreciate the gesture.  Some might even hate you for it.  In effect, because confession is about telling the truth and not "softening" that truth to make it more palatable to yourself or others, confession makes you lose something.  At the least, confession makes you risk something.  It is not true confession if it is not risky or costly to tell the truth about something.

Repentance

--The New International Dictionary of the Bible defines it as, "the process of changing one's mind...human repentance is a change for the better and is a conscious turning from evil or disobedience or sin or idolatry to the living God."  There are two aspects to this concept, as well: an attitude change, and the positive nature and aim of that change.
  1. On the first point, repentance is a change in attitude.  If there is no real change in a person, that person has not repented, according to the definition of the word.  Repentance is an action, a turning away from something, and it requires a commitment to maintain this new attitude.
  2. On the second point, it isn't repentance if it isn't a positive change toward seeking out good (that is, the living God and His nature and approval), and a conscious rejection of evil.  If someone changes, but it is away from what is good, that is rebellion and disobedience.  Furthermore, if someone changes (turns away from) their lifestyle of blatant disobedience and rebellion toward a more subtle disobedience, that is not repentance, either.  A change from really bad to less-bad is not a conscious rejection of evil; it's actually a conscious attempt to perpetuate evil by veiling it under the evil of a lie.
When we really break it down, we see that confession only goes so far as to acknowledge a fact and risk a little bit of disapproval or rejection from others.  Once something is publicly acknowledged, the entire act of confession is over.  In the case of repentance, however, something has to be done about what has been acknowledged; a change, requiring a long-term commitment, has to take place.  It does more than cause a little discomfort for a little while; it requires permanent disruption of a pattern or routine. 

We cannot have repentance without confession, because how can a person change from one attitude toward another if no one knows about it (no accountability)?  Further, how can a repentant attitude be permanent if there is nothing risked or lost, or any other reason to turn away from a path?

On the other hand, true confession cannot exist without repentance.  It makes no sense to acknowledge that something is wrong and yet have no desire to make it right again.  If a person confesses something and yet holds onto it anyway, it becomes obvious that the confessor is justifying an indefensible point.  This situation cannot exist indefinitely; ultimately, confession results in a second action, that is, a decision to repent or to rebel.

2 comments:

Kamal said...

Rachel. Thank you for the post. It is amazing. I picked up several lines from the post that I added to my quotationary.

I myself was unclear about confession and repentance. It is clear now. Thank you.

One of my most favorite lines from the post is "A change from really bad to less-bad is not a conscious rejection of evil; it's actually a conscious attempt to perpetuate evil by veiling it under the evil of a lie."

Rachel M. said...

I'm glad I was able to clarify this topic for you. I wasn't sure at the time if many people would really want to read this. The finer nuances of meaning come out when we define something, but frequently we just don't go to the trouble. I'm glad I took God's direction on this one. :)

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