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God’s Forgiveness is Not Automatic

Written by Anne Davis. Posted in

Forgiveness requires repentance, which is not a thought but an action. We do not repent in our minds or in our speech. Instead we must demonstrate sincere regret or remorse by changing in a way that completely eliminates what we regret. Thus, if one commits the same sin again, even once, that person has not yet repented of that sin.

The word from the Hebrew Scriptures that conveys repentance is שׁוּב (shuv), which simply means to turn back or return. When applied to our relationship with God, we turn away from the world and return to God. When the word is expressed as‎ תֵשֵׁב (teshev) it employs the pronoun “you” to convey an incomplete sense of returning that is not yet complete. Thus, “you will return” or “you are returning”. Judaism employs the noun form of this verb, which is 'teshuva', to mean repentance.

'Teshuva' in Judaism draws from Scripture to conclude that there are four stages of repentance. First, the sinner must recognize his sin. This requirement is demonstrated in the account of Yeshua who selected Peter as one of his disciples. After working hard all night and catching no fish, Yeshua entered Peter’s boat and told him to put out his nets once again. A miracle resulted in “a great quantity of fish, and their nets (began) to break… When Simon Peter saw, he fell down at Jesus' feet, saying, ‘Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!’” (Luke 5:8). Peter had taken the first step in repentance by acknowledging his sinful nature. “I am a sinful man” he declared with sincere humility.

The second step is to feel sincere remorse. There is actually a different Hebrew word that is often translated “repent” and which carries this meaning of sincere remorse. The word is נָחַם (nacham), which we find at the conclusion of the account of Job after innumerable trials that had caused Job’s agony and suffering.

“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You;
Therefore I retract, and I repent [נָחַם] in dust and ashes.” Job 42:2-6
God’s loving actions, that may seem extreme to us, have brought Job to the point where he has not only recognized his sinful nature, but he has also come to feel sincere remorse.

The third step in repentance, according to Jewish tradition, is to undo any damage that a sin has brought to another person. This tradition was demonstrated by Yeshua in one of his teachings. “Leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”

Presenting an offering at the altar of the temple was the method of seeking forgiveness from God. However, Yeshua warned that, before God could forgive, the person causing the sin first had to be reconciled to the one whom he had harmed. Furthermore, Scripture tells us that it is not enough to simply ask the other person for forgiveness. One must not only right the wrong but must then go beyond simple restoration. For example, “If what he stole is actually found alive in his possession, whether an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double” (Ex 22:4). Thus, it is not enough to simply restore or repay what one has taken. Restoration to a right relationship requires more than the return of what has been stolen.

The fourth stage of repentance is to resolve never to commit the sin again. We can see this principle in the account of Yeshua and the woman accused of adultery. After her accusers had left, Yeshua said to her, “From now on sin no more” (John 8:11). Thus, the last stage is to commit (indeed to achieve that commitment) never to sin again.

In conclusion, there are four steps of repentance that are required for God’s forgiveness.
1. The sinner must recognize his sin.
2. The sinner must feel sincere remorse.
3. The sinner must undo any damage that has been done.
4. The sinner must successfully resolve never commit to the sin again.

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