Genuine repentance and the Gospel

Yesterday I watched some of the victim impact statements in the sentencing trial for Larry Nasser, who pled guilty to charges he faced as a result of decades of sexually abusing young women and children under the guise of medical treatment. Over a hundred of his victims confronted him in court. One was Rachael Denhollander, who gave one of the most powerful statements about repentance and the gospel that I’ve ever heard:

If you [Larry Nassar] have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way. 

You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.

Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.

I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.

That is my prayer for all who have abused me or my friends or loved ones in any way…that they would (or did before they died) experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so that they may experience true repentance and forgiveness from God.

This is not “cheap grace”. It is very costly indeed. Many who claim to have “repented” have little or no idea what that really entails. Genuine repentance isn’t feeling terrible about what you’ve done, or even making heartfelt promises never to do it again. As long as you are still clinging to one shred of justification for your actions, or minimizing them in any way, or blaming others (“Well, that’s not the way I remember it…how was I supposed to know?… I think she’s overreacting…besides, look at what they did!”) you have not yet faced the truth or experienced the “soul crushing weight of guilt” — what the Bible calls the “godly sorrow that leads to repentance”. One dictionary definition of genuine repentance is “to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life”. It’s not a one-time thing. It’s ongoing. The real repentance is not telling people how sorry you are; it’s the changed way in which you live for the rest of your life.

So if you find yourself tempted to tell the person you’ve sinned against, “I’ve already repented! What more do you want?” because they just can’t seem to let go of the past…maybe you need to get down on your knees and ask for more of that awful truth, more of that soul crushing grief, and more grace to truly repent. [Preaching to myself here…]


Edited to tweak things a bit, correct the spelling of Rachael Denhollander’s name, and add a few things, including the following…

Later in her impact statement, Rachael said some profoundly frightening words:

…In losing the ability to call evil what it is without mitigation, without minimization, you have lost the ability to define and enjoy love and goodness. You have fashioned for yourself a prison that is far, far worse than any I could ever put you in, and I pity you for that.

May God have mercy on all of us. I do not want to be one who minimizes evil, who excuses it, who tries to make it seem less than what it is, especially if it is evil that has touched me — and, even more so, if it is evil that I have perpetuated.

Evil is a strong word, and I am tempted to reserve it for only the most heinous of acts; in other words, the things other people do, not me. But evil is the opposite of good; it is any sin perpetuated against God or against others. My very tendency to make evil someone else’s problem costs me “the ability to define and enjoy love and goodness”. It is too high a price to pay. I would rather suffer the most painful godly sorrow in order that I might truly repent — and walk in the glorious freedom of forgiveness.

I included some more of the impact statement in a separate blog post.

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