I wrote about authentic confession this weekend. I had an interesting conversation with a friend at dinner afterwards, and she challenged my thinking on the topic of confession/repentance even farther. At issue was how to deal with partially correct accusations. I am tempted to create a hypothetical situation to illustrate my argument. But I am becoming suspicious of hypotheticals, because they are … hypothetical. It’s pretty easy to create hypothetical situations that justify particular points of view. But they are often deceptive and can be a cop out because we don’t have real situations to illustrate our ideas. So instead of a hypothetical situation, I’m going to tell you about a real one.
This week, someone dropped the ball in a way that hurt me in a ministry setting. Yet, despite the extenuating circumstances they could have used to excuse themselves, they called me on the phone and told me how very sorry they were. They didn’t offer the other good works they were doing all week as an excuse for the problem that hurt me. They just said they were so sorry and what they were going to do to repair things. It ministered much grace to me.
This person could have justified themselves.
Justify – to show by act or statement to be just or right, to defend or uphold as warranted or well-grounded. To absolve or acquit.
Instead, I think they understood that they are already justified, and not by their own works. They were willing to admit their own mistakes without simultaneously needing to look to their good works to absolve themselves. Their apology was the apology of one who understands Romans 3 for themselves.
Romans 3 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
If you are justified by Christ, you don’t need to justify yourself. You don’t need to absolve, acquit, or generally defend yourself. You can say you are sorry for whatever wounded another and begin the work of repairing and correcting it because the gospel equips us to let go of our reputation and empty ourself of our rights. And when this kind of gospel conviction slams up against serious pain and conflict, amazing, miraculous things happen, to the praise of God’s glorious grace.