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"I'm Sorry" Doesn't Always Cut It

It's November 2013.  If you type the words "drunken stupor" into Google's search engine you'll soon see the saga swirling around Toronto's mayor.   Rob Ford has been backed into a corner that he can't squirm his way out of.  Mayor Ford said "I'm sorry" for smoking crack cocaine.  He then added that he smoked the crack while in a "drunken stupor", suggesting it wasn't a conscious decision, so we should just forgive and forget.  It was clear that he'd continue being the mayor of Canada's largest city and North America's fourth largest city.  If Ford thinks he can beat the odds on this one, he's in denial.  There's too much out there, like that well circulated photo of him with three Somali gang drug dealers; one who has been murdered and the other two who have been arrested for gang related activity.  Then, there's the matter of his part time driver being arrested for allegedly extorting a drug dealer who secretly filmed Ford smoking crack.  Now there's a video showing him in an uncontrollable drunken rant.  He's screaming, swearing, and threatening to kill someone.  It sure looks like there are more "I'm sorries" yet to be uttered.  Why do politicians think a simple "I'm sorry" should cause us to forgive and forget without a second thought?


New Jersey's governor Chris Christie thinks President Obama shouldn't be "so lawyerly".  Christie said that Obama should admit that he misunderstood all the ramifications of his own health care legislation.  Obama did say "I'm sorry" to those who lost a good health care plan because of his health care plan.  What Obama didn't say "I'm sorry" for was his mistaken understanding of his plan.  Why are politicians so reluctant to admit to their mistakes? 


We've seen it all before, presidents, prime ministers, and politicians, attempting to save face by covering up the truth.  When these attempts fail, a simple "I'm sorry" accompanied by a tear or two is supposed to do the trick by causing us to forgive and forget.  Politicians aren't the only ones with these problems.  Pastors, preachers, priests, and the rest of us, suffer from this denial.  Some struggle with denial more than others, but when it comes right down to it, we're all guilty.  It's called sinful human nature.  It's inbreeded in us from birth as seen in Adam's denial.  "The woman you put here with me she gave me some fruit and I ate it". (Genesis 3:12)  In other words, "it's Eve's fault, not mine".  This is why Jesus demands genuine repentance before all is forgiven and forgotten. 


The Greek word "metanoeo" is translated as "repent" in the New Testament.  "Metanoeo" is made up of "meta", meaning "after", and, "noeo", meaning "to perceive".  In terms of Greek language "metanoeo" means "to perceive something after the fact".  In terms of Greek culture "metanoeo" or "repent" means "to change one's mind after rethinking something through". 


Greek culture viewed repenting from sin in terms of "changing one's mind about sin".  That's pretty much our western concept of repentance today.  This is seen in Rob Ford's public admission to messing up.  After being exposed he was forced to rethink things through.  In this process he changed his mind and figured crack smoking didn't do much for his reputation, so he uttered a simple "I'm sorry" to help us forgive and forget.    


When it comes to understanding the New Testament, it's not enough to know what a Greek word means.  We must understand how the Bible uses a Greek word because the Bible often enhances the meaning of these words, as it does with the word "metanoeo".  So, when it comes to "metanoeo", Biblical culture and context will tell us how to understand repentance.  


The New Testament was written primarily in Greek by Jews, or in Luke's case, a Gentile influenced by Jewish thought.  This means Jewish thought and culture is incorporated into the enhanced Biblical meaning of "metanoeo".  Culturally speaking, Jews understood "metanoeo" or "repentance as being more than just changing one's mind about sin, as the Greeks understood repentance.  For Jews, repenting meant to "walk away from sin".  There's a huge difference between the two concepts, which few understand today.   


Biblical repentance is the process by which we admit to our sin, change our mind about our sin, and then walk away from our sin.  Only after these three steps are taken can we or God Biblically forgive and forget.  John the Baptist got it right when he told the hypocritical Pharisees to "produce fruit in keeping with repentance". (Matthew 3:7 - 8)  Simply put, prove that you've genuinely repented and then all will be forgiven and forgotten. 


Rob Ford's crack smoking isn't the only issue when it comes to his constituents.  His misleading statements and overt lies, which he hasn't apologized for, have breached the trust he had with his constituents.  A simple "I'm sorry" does not mend broken trust.  Only genuine, visible, and provable, repentance mends broken trust.  Words are meaningless if not backed by relevant actions.  This is why Jesus demands repentance before we can hand our lives over to Him in a trusting relationship.  In Biblical terms, it's not possible to have genuine faith without genuine repentance.        


The Biblical fact is that before one can forgive and forget there must be practical and provable fruit in keeping with repentance.  If we lower the bar of repentance to merely saying "I'm sorry", we encourage hypocrisy by allowing one to say one thing but do another.   Beyond that, a weakened and distorted view of repentance changes the gospel of Christ into a different gospel, which "is no gospel". (Galatians 1:7)  Understanding Biblical repentance is one serious matter.  We cannot get it wrong.    

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