Grace Emerges

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Inspiring Repentance [updated]

by Brad Duncan

I would like to propose a definition for valid criticism: it should be welcomed by the person receiving it. If they don't thank you for it afterward, your criticism failed. We should choose our words wisely so they have the desired effect.  What good is it to point out another persons sins when they don't want to hear it?

What about spiritual criticism?  Think about it. If our mission is to criticize someone's spiritual values we are working against a very strong defensive mechanism. By labeling sins and pointing to salvation, we are incriminating the person at their core. Calling for complete reversal, by pointing out a person's flawed state. Pointing to God, by saying how displeased he is, and how the person must shape up or else.  To change behavior, we need to inspire the core of the person instead to see things a new way.

Our Christian mission should INDEED call to repentance. But repentance means one thing --> Change. Not misery, but hope!  We can inspire people and lead people to change more effectively by shining light on the good works of God and the good news brought to man, than by criticizing them. God's spirit will do the rest of the work. Inspire people by example, and by showing them the power of working together with God and others to achieve a greater good.

You can pull a rope but you can't push one.  Be a shining example of the change you hope to inspire in others.  Don't push people around hoping to change them.  Use words only if necessary.

Take a look at this interesting passage in 2 Corinthians 2:5-8. It seems that Paul is more interested in the person's response and well-being than in the sin in question. Can we respond more practically when we are offended? Trying to find the road that considers the person more than the offense? Also notice how efficiently and obediently the church chastised this person. Paul is saying "enough already! Now is the time for love. All of this judgment can overwhelm the person being corrected."
Forgive the Person Who Sinned
5 If someone caused distress, I’m not the one really affected. To some extent—although I don’t want to emphasize this too much—it has affected all of you. 6 The majority of you have imposed a severe enough punishment on that person. 7 So now forgive and comfort him. Such distress could overwhelm someone like that if he’s not forgiven and comforted. 8 That is why I urge you to assure him that you love him. [GOD's WORD translation]
How do we inspire repentance using criticism?  It's a tough road fraught with peril...  Maybe we should do nothing about wrongs that are committed?  That's sometimes the better path, but when someone is really getting hurt that leaves us as the accomplice, so that won't do.  No, we need to find a way to successfully criticize when needed, if we want to intelligently defend the powerless and right wrongs.  Would Jesus leave injustice un-addressed?  We need to speak up MORE against injustice, and less against mere differences in opinion on spiritual matters.  Let's invest our words of criticism in things that are important!


  1. this was great; it really made me think, and also to pull out my Bible and read 2 Corinthians. "so now forgive and comfort him." I think lots of us have forgotten that part.

  2. Hi. I just want to say that I think you are really on to something here. Paul's letters present a theology of community that if we were to follow would change the way we relate to one another. Philippians 2.3-5 says: "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you not look to your own interests, but to the interest of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus." (NRSV) I agree with your definition of repentance - change. It's not about guilt or shame and certainly we can't expect positive results if we seek to make people feel this way. We need to listen and speak with compassion. Marshall Rosenberg talks about this in his book "Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life". You should check it out. It's like a manual for a lot of what Paul was talking about in his letters regarding community and our relationships with each other. He doesn't talk about spirituality in the book, but the material certainly lends itself well to a spiritual, faith-based practice. I wish I had more time to comment more on your post. Thank you for your insights.