I was recently counselling a young Christian man who had been diagnosed with terminally ill cancer. His closest friend and Christian business partner had reacted to his illness with anger and blamed him for being sick because it meant that the responsibilities of the business were now to be his burden. Understandably, this ill man was shocked and hurt and automatically held bitterness against his partner. To this man’s thinking, he hadn’t done anything wrong; in fact, he was in a dark place. Rightly so, he expected a friend to support him in his hour of need, not to blame him or attack him.
It was some years later that the pain of this issue surfaced. Both men had put it under the carpet and pretended that everything was ok between them. The young man had survived his cancer but the hurt was starting to show in his attitude and reactions to his wife. I called both men together to resolve the silent stand-off. The Christian partner admitted that he had done abominably and apologised, and the young sick man who had been offended tried to forgive him. But, was the matter really resolved?
What’s the difference between an apology and repentance?
An apology is saying sorry because you’ve been caught out and you feel embarrassed and don’t want to look bad. The dictionary defines ‘apology’ as ‘defence’. Surreptitiously, we apologise to get out of trouble, and thus defend ourselves against looking bad and somehow excuse away our wrongness. An apology expects the party that we have offended to accept our apology, to forget about the hurt and reconcile the relationship, and gets offended if you don’t comply. Apology is saying sorry but still holding some level of blame; it’s a sorry with a ‘but’ attached. An apology is really just a cheats way to save face and avoid the punishment.
Repentance, on the other hand, is completely the opposite. You say sorry without any expectation or obligation on the other party. You say sorry without any blame apportioned against the one you have hurt. You say sorry with full expectation of the deserved punishment.
Satan’s most lethal weapon
Perhaps Satan’s most lethal weapon is ‘blame’. The temptation to react to being blamed, especially when it’s unjustified, is immense. Human nature has been infected with the automatic response of defending oneself from the attack of blame. Instead of taking full responsibility for his own actions, Adam protected himself by shifting the blame to Eve, and Eve simply shifted the blame to Satan. The consequence of shifting responsibility was separation from God. Consequently, Satan’s lethal weapon worked, and he uses it all the time to destroy man’s relationship with God.
In the case of the two Christian businessmen, the one who had said sorry was really blaming his partner for holding a grudge, and also blaming his wife for driving him to act the way he did. He was really just doing an ‘Adam’ and shifting the blame so he didn’t look bad. And, the partner who had been sick was really blaming his friend for acting so unchristian towards him in his hour of need. They were both caught in Satan’s blame game web. Unknowingly, when you’re caught in the blame game web you are inadvertently being manipulated by demonic powers just like Adam and Eve became servants of Satan to do his will.
No repentance, no salvation
If you can’t repent, you can’t get saved because salvation requires you to repent of your sin. If it’s your habit to shift responsibility with an apology, you won’t find salvation no matter how much you act like a Christian, because your sin isn’t covered with just an apology. Sorry has to be from the heart before it’s repentance and covered by His blood. You can know if you’ve repented if you want to know; if you don’t know whether you’ve repented or not then the truth is you don’t really want to repent; the truth is that you don’t really want to swallow your pride, and thus you retain a small element of justification that it’s not all your fault; your pride has caught you in the blame game!
Why is blame, sin?
When you blame, you’re just being selfish. You’re simply thinking more of your own self than you are of your neighbour; you’re really just afraid for yourself. Consequently, you are fracturing the second greatest commandment.
Blame is not a characteristic of the Holy Spirit
You won’t find Jesus holding a grievance against those who hurt His feelings. If you go to John 21, you’ll read the story of Jesus instructing the disciples to cast their net on the other side of the boat. They were in a state of dejection after the unjust murder of their Master and had decided to cope by going fishing. They had fished all night and wasted their time when someone on the shore yelled out to try the other side of the boat. For some reason they complied and the net was so full they couldn’t cope with the catch. Ultimately, the catch, the net and the boat were all sacrificed and wasted for Christ.
Jesus used this interaction to challenge Peter to face his sin of the denial of Christ. If anyone deserves to hold a grievance against their friend, Jesus did. Peter mouthed-off that he would never deny Christ, but he failed miserably. He didn’t stand up for the Master when he was in most need; he deserted Him. Jesus held no grievance, but Peter had to face his responsibility for his failure and repent, not really for the failure but for the pride of his selfish arrogance. God used the failure to save him through repentance of his pride. Without this failure Peter could not have seen his pride, would not have repented, and would never have been the man called of God to lead the church.
Where did his pride come from?
He was born with it; it’s an inherent human trait. The real question is … how did he feed on it? It’s interesting to note that Peter was the first person called to follow Christ. In his humanity he would have seen that he was first and he would have fed on this selfishness when he envied that Jesus appeared to love John the most (v.7). This is the pride in every one of us that has to be exposed and repented of if we are ever to find Christ and serve Him faithfully. Peter’s denial experience was a gift from God to save him. He’s now got the choice to desert and wallow in his moodiness or own it and repent. Repentance will save him, desertion will kill him.
This story of Peter is not just a story; it’s Spirit and it’s the common path that every genuine Christian must walk to find salvation. If you want to find salvation, your pride has to be exposed and repented of; an apology for doing something wrong won’t do it.
The young Christian with the cancer had full justification to blame his friend for his behaviour, but, through his cancer and this hurtful incident, God was actually giving him the chance to see his own pride and repent and be saved. The whole thing was a gift if he would just open his eyes and see it. He could feed on the hurt and die, or forgive, repent of his own pride reaction, and live.
If you can’t forgive someone for hurting your feelings, then the reality is that you’re blaming them, you’re proud, you don’t trust God to work all things for good, you’ll come under the influence of Satan (Matthew 18:34), and you’ll never find salvation until you repent.
May the Lord open the eyes of His remnant to their own pride and stop pointing the finger at other’s pride and blaming them.
Pastor Jerome Saunders