For years, Doug Phillips called me to repentance. He required that those in his congregation call me to repentance. In fact, that was the only contact they were allowed to have with me, and still are. For years, I asked what sin I had committed so that I could truly repent. At the time, I wanted nothing more than to be restored to good fellowship, but no one was ever able to identify my sin. Now, I am certainly far from perfect, but in this case, I had done nothing worthy of being excommunicated and shunned, and my kids certainly had done nothing worthy of their being excommunicated and shunned, simply because they were my children. But, nonetheless, I have been called to repentance for years now.
Now the tables have turned, but now I am NOT going to call Doug Phillips to repentance.
Let me repeat that. I am NOT calling Doug Phillips to repentance.
I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, let’s look at repentance. Ironically, Doug Phillips posted an article just a couple months ago, entitled “True Repentance.” This was written by Doug Phillips himself on August 7, 2013. If my memory serves me correctly, he has written this article before and this is probably an updated, edited version. Nevertheless, the topic is still fresh in his mind.
Article: Too often “repentance” is the experience of offering a half-hearted and self-serving apology to God and man, mixed with large amounts of blame-shifting, pride, and a desire to be done with the whole matter so you don’t ever have to deal with it again. It is the “I have said I am sorry on my terms and in my way, and there is nothing more I need to do, so if that is not good enough for you, then you are the one in sin” attitude.
The Bible describes this attitude as “the sorrow of the world [which] produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). It is a false sorrow, a self-centered and self-serving sorrow. Evidences of worldly sorrow include fear of bad results, a sense of pressure caused by the consequences of sin, and embarrassment over “getting caught.” Worldly sorrow may result in partial repentance accompanied by the telling of half-truths and admission of just enough wrongdoing, and no more, than is necessary. Worldly sorrow is often accompanied by arrogance and pride, because, at the end of the day, the sinner does not believe his crimes are really that bad—at least, they are not as bad as the other guy’s crimes.
This is a sorrow that leaves injured parties worse off because they are expected to accept the apology of one who is at best “sorry” with qualifications and reservations, unwilling to make the injured party whole.
While Doug Phillips’ Statement of Resignation is not an official statement of repentance, am I the only one who detects many of the above characteristics of “worldly sorrow” in this statement?
With thanksgiving to God for His mercy and love, I have stepped down from the office of president at Vision Forum Ministries and have discontinued my speaking responsibilities.
There has been serious sin in my life for which God has graciously brought me to repentance. I have confessed my sin to my wife and family, my local church, and the board of Vision Forum Ministries. I engaged in a lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman. While we did not “know” each other in a Biblical sense, it was nevertheless inappropriately romantic and affectionate.
There are no words to describe the magnitude of shame I feel, or grief from the injury I caused my beloved bride and children, both of whom have responded to my repentance with what seems a supernatural love and forgiveness. I thought too highly of myself and behaved without proper accountability. I have acted grievously before the Lord, in a destructive manner hypocritical of life messages I hold dear, inappropriate for a leader, abusive of the trust that I was given, and hurtful to family and friends. My church leadership came alongside me with love and admonition, providing counsel, strong direction and accountability. Where I have directly wronged others, I confessed and repented. I am still in the process of trying to seek reconciliation privately with people I have injured, and to be aware of ways in which my own selfishness has hurt family and friends. I am most sensitive to the fact that my actions have dishonored the living God and been shameful to the name of Jesus Christ, my only hope and Savior.
This is a time when my repentance needs to be proven, and I need to lead a quiet life focusing on my family and serving as a foot soldier, not a ministry leader. Though I am broken over my failures, I am grateful to be able to spend more time with my family, nurturing my wife and children and preparing my older sons and daughters for life. So, for these reasons I want to let my friends know that I have stepped down as a board member and as president of Vision Forum Ministries. The Board will be making provision for the management of the ministry during this time. To the friends of this ministry, I ask for your forgiveness, and hope that you will pray for the Phillips family at this time, and for the men who will be responsible for shepherding the work of Vision Forum Ministries in the future.
In the True Repentance article, Doug Phillips goes on to describe godly sorrow. The article is actually very good, and well worth reading in whole, but let me pull a few quotes from each section of Doug’s description of godly sorrow:
Brokenness: Those who experience true brokenness over sin are overwhelmed by the enormity of their crime. … He is deeply grieved that he has injured his brother. He enters into the pain of those whom he has wronged, and his heart is full of compassion for them because of the trouble his sin has caused. A truly repentant man is therefore a humble man who thinks less of himself and more of those he has injured.
Forsaking Sin: One of the clearest signs of worldly sorrow and false repentance is that, once caught, the sinner simply transfers his sin to another venue.
Truth Telling: Those who experience godly sorrow and true repentance will therefore tell the whole truth. They will not play word games or withhold those facts which would make them look worse.
Acceptance of Responsibility: True godly sorrow necessarily requires the sinner to take full responsibility for his actions. If you have ever listened to a person “repent” by making excuses for their actions, shifting blame, accusing others in the process, or telling half-truths, you can be sure that this person does not have godly sorrow and, therefore, is not repentant.
Restitution: It is not enough that they will cease and desist from the wrongdoing. They will do whatever is necessary to heal those they have injured by restoring to them what they have taken. Godly sorrow produces such compassion for the injured party that the penitent man aches to bring health and wholeness to those he has injured.
Peace: The man who experiences a godly sorrow unto repentance desires to live at peace with those he has injured, and all the more so when sin has brought strife and division between fellow believers. A sinner who grieves over his sin will go to great lengths to seek peace with those he has injured.
When we first get caught doing something harmful to others, our natural human response is, “I’m sorry I got caught.” That is natural, normal, and just part of the process of being human. That is what the Bible terms as “worldly sorrow.” But “godly sorrow” leads to true repentance. So how do we get from “worldly sorrow” to “godly sorrow?” If we call someone to repentance, will they suddenly turn around and go in the other direction, which we often term as “repentance,” and then will they find “godly sorrow” when they turn their lives around?
Paul tells us just the opposite, that “godly sorrow” itself is what produces repentance. Calling someone to repentance does not produce godly sorrow, but the godly sorrow will inevitably lead to a true repentance.
What is true repentance? Is it just turning around and going in the opposite direction? No, I don’t believe so. That would be a natural result of repentance, but that is not repentance itself. Repentance is simply a changed heart. The only true change in our lives comes from a change deep in our hearts, when we allow God to simply love us. When we come to understand how much God truly loves us, our hearts melt before Him. When we come to realize that God loves us, no matter what “sin” we commit, our hearts are reshaped into love. When we experience God’s unconditional love even in our own self-imposed conditions, we are broken in love.
Let’s break this down a bit. First, we do something that hurts someone else. In this case, Doug Phillips’ relationship with this woman was over a very long period of time. Then we get caught. What is the natural, normal, human response to getting caught? Worldly sorrow. “I’m sorry I got caught.” That appears to be the stage that Doug Phillips is currently in. That is normal. As Doug Phillips comes to realize that God is not angry with him, that God is not keeping a record of Doug’s wrongs, that God has already paid for all his sins, that God is not standing over him with a big hammer, that God is simply loving him like He always does, then, and only then, will Doug’s heart be broken enough to accept God’s love for him. When Doug Phillips comes to know how much God truly does love him, when he realizes this deep inside himself even though he has preached it all his life, then, and only then, will Doug experience the depth of God’s love for him that will produce a change of heart. When Doug Phillips begins to experience this amazing love of God, Doug’s heart will soften and melt before God and before man. That melting heart will lead to godly sorrow, and that godly sorrow will lead to repentance. That repentance will be a heart change, not just turning around and going in the opposite direction.
And that is why I do NOT call Doug Phillips to repentance. The only way that Doug Phillips will experience true repentance is after he comes to know the full love of God toward him at this moment in time. And so, I simply plead with Doug Phillips to allow God to love him. There is no list of “repentance” to follow. There is no one right way to make things right. When there is a true heart change, we will know it. When Doug Phillips experiences the love of God in a new and fresh way, it will be apparent to everyone who knows him.
No call to repentance.
Just the love of God for each and every one of us who hurts others.