Repentance versus Defensiveness

gavel judge courtIt seems to me that we tend to respond to accurate criticism in one of two ways: repentance or defensiveness. These two reactions are as different as heaven and hell. A defensive heart says, “but look at what I did right!” (diversion). A repentant heart says, “here specifically is what I did wrong” (honesty). A defensive heart says, “but look at what was done to me!” (distraction). A repentant heart says, “here is how I contributed to the conflict” (ownership). A defensive heart says, “it wasn’t that bad” (downplaying). A repentant heart says, “it was a big deal” (admission).

Our default mode – in and out of the church – seems to be defensiveness. I know mine is. Nothing is more natural when we feel threatened by a criticism than to divert, distract, and downplay. Its as instinctive as flinching when a punch is coming. In my experience, a heart of repentance is something I have to work at. I have to say things like, “wait a minute. Think this through. Why does this criticism hurt you the way it does? Remember your identity is in Christ. Remember you’re identity is not at stake. Relax! Is there something you can learn here?” Its a counter-intuitive feeling, like learning to use a muscle we didn’t know we had for the first time. Or better: learning to relax a muscle for the first time that we’ve always kept tight. Its a kind of paradox: an effort at relaxing, a striving to cease striving, a struggle to give up.

The gospel alone can free us for honesty, ownership, and admission, because the gospel alone destroys the sting and judgment associated with criticism. The gospel takes away the fear that drives defensiveness and frees us to openly admit our shortcomings. The gospel says, “in the place of your deepest failure and shame you are loved most tenderly.” The gospel says, “your deepest fears were already born by Christ.” The gospel says, “your sins were exposed and dealt with at the cross. The battle is already over.”

It makes me think of a man who is standing on trial before a large audience. A long list of (accurate) charges is read. Everyone is watching. And the man responds, “the charges against me are 100% true and fair. I am responsible. No one else is to blame. There is no excuse. And it is a big deal.” A man who is free to be that non-defensive is the happiest and most indestructible man in the world.  He has died to himself; his identity comes from something or someone else. He is fearless.

This is what the gospel does for us. In the court of God, which matters infinitely more than any human court, we have already been tried, and through Christ we have already been acquitted. Thank you, Jesus. Help us to be so secure in your love that we are fearless to repent.

18 responses to “Repentance versus Defensiveness

  1. This is a powerful statement, Gavin: “Remember your identity is in Christ. Remember you’re identity is not at stake.” Wow! If we know our identity is in Him, we won’t be so easily offended. I had no idea what a powerful writer you are, by which I mean that your thoughts are profound, but also extremely well articulated, employing marvelous literary technique. I think you are following in theliterary and theological footsteps of your author/pastor grandparents.
    Blessings,
    Lynn

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  3. Amen!

    The gospel frees us from having to be on the defensive. Then we can live outwardly…freely…as Jesus lived…well sort of…when we’ll do it.

  4. “the charges against me are 100% true and fair. I am responsible. No one else is to blame. There is no excuse. And it is a big deal.” This is SO FREEING–a wonderful phrase to commit to memory and practice in front of the mirror.

    For, knowing Christ sees our confession, pities us and positively DIGS IT when we adopt His humility, His smile warms our hearts and is reward enough. This is Godly sorrow which “leads to salvation” and not to shame, knowing in our hearts that He has accepted us into His family.

  5. “Its a kind of paradox: an effort at relaxing, a striving to cease striving, a struggle to give up.The gospel alone can free us for honesty, ownership, and admission, because the gospel alone destroys the sting and judgment associated with criticism. The gospel takes away the fear that drives defensiveness and frees us to openly admit our shortcomings. The gospel says, “in the place of your deepest failure and shame you are loved most tenderly.” The gospel says, “your deepest fears were already born by Christ.” The gospel says, “your sins were exposed and dealt with at the cross. The battle is already over.”

    I am going to borrow that passage sometime! It was beautifully said. Because this discipline is such an important key to good mental health, especially for us melancholic types who tend to let criticism go inward sometimes too deeply with a kind of worldly sorrow. Instead we must deflect all criticism to Christ! And it It is a paradox: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, In quietness and trust your strength.” ( Isaiah 30:15)

    What freedom we can have, when we just agree with our accusers! Especially when it is the accuser of the brethren who knows every secret vulnerability, and every ugly desire, who lays before us our sin. To agree, and say “Well, you are absolutely right. Is there anything more you have to say?” It is so disarming to our foes, to be clothed completely in the righteousness of Christ.

    Thank you so much for this.

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  9. “In the place of your deepest failure and shame, you are loved most tenderly”. Thank you for this, Gavin! I need to hear these words right now, as I’ve been haunted (again) recently of old sins committed. I know it’s not HIS voice who condemns me, but the very enemy of my soul and stealer of my joy.
    Lynn, who comments above, told me of your blog. I’m so glad she did. Your writing is exceptional. I have read a few of your Grandma’s books and always admired her.)

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