What is the difference between legitimate and illegitimate repentance? What is the difference between legitimate and illegitimate forgiveness? I recently heard about a church that read the names of three men before the congregation who had left their wives and families, and refused to repent. The church moved to step three of the disciplinary process by making sure that everyone knew what was going on so that the rest of the members could reach out in love and seek to regain these brothers to Christian obedience. The pastor and elders had spent months counseling these men about their sin. They repeated went to them, spent time with them, called them and did everything they knew to do to show them their sin. One by one, each man refused to repent. Now the entire church is in the process of reaching out to these men to urge them to repent. Only time will tell what will become of the men. Perhaps God will grant them repentance, demonstrating that they are true believers after all. Perhaps He will not, demonstrating that this particular leaven needs to be removed from the body of Christ. Either way, the Church’s only concern is with the words of Jesus: go show them their sin. Of course, the burden is for repentance and restoration. However, that may not be realized. Now imagine what the elders would say if all three of these men said, they repent of their sin, but they are not going back to their wives. Imagine them saying they forgive whatever perceived short-comings their wives have, but they are not going to return to the family. What do you suppose the elders should do? What do you think Jesus or Paul would do?
In I Cor. 5, Paul has to deal with a very immoral situation where a man had apparently married his stepmother. The Law forbade such practices (Lev. 18) and was exceptionally taboo in the Greco-Roman world. Drastic action had to be taken. Paul judged the matter harshly and with urgency even in absentia. To the entire congregation at Corinth that had refused to take action regarding this matter, Paul said, “You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.” (I Cor. 5:2) The church that refuses to act is seen as arrogant. After all, what right does the church feel it has to excuse such wickedness? The church steps into the shoes of God when she thinks in this manner. The church has no right other than to address the sin. Paul sees the deliberately refusal to address the sin as playing God. Jesus saves the church in order to be her Lord, her Master, not so that she can continue to be her own lord and master. Secondly, Paul says the proper response is to mourn. The church should have sensed great sadness regarding this evil. How many churches today sense great sadness over the sin in their communities? In our hyper-individualistic culture, our attitude is that it is none of our business and we leave these matters for others to work out. Moreover, in some strange and convoluted manner, we manage to escape the sense of duty that ought to be weighing heavy on our hearts all along.
“Repentance is needful for hypocrites. I mean such as allow themselves in the sin. Hypocrisy is the counterfeiting of sanctity. The hypocrite or stage-player has gone a step beyond the moralist and depressed himself in the garb of religion. He pretends to a form of godliness but denies the power (2 Tim. 3:5). The hypocrite is a saint in jest. He makes a magnificent show, like an ape clothed in ermine or purple.” [Watson, Thomas. The Doctrine of Repentance 68]Broken hearts and humble walkers, These are dear in Jesus' eyes."
[Spurgeon, C.H. Love's Commendation-v. II, pg. 411]
"Break off the yoke of inbred sin, and fully set my spirit free!
I cannot rest till pure within, Till I am wholly lost in thee."
[Wesley, John. Repentance of Believers-v V, pg 169]