Start with the Holy Spirit

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.

2 Corinthians 7:8-11

One of the main jobs of the Holy Spirit is to bring conviction to our hearts that leads to repentance. Paul calls this “Godly sorrow.” The Holy Spirit has a way of bringing both conviction and comfort. Our sin is exposed, but we are never shamed. We see how far short we’ve fallen, and yet the Spirit shows us how God sees us with eyes of love and compassion. This is the inner work that the Holy Spirit does from the inside out.

Paul contrasts this with “worldly sorry” which brings death. Worldly sorrow often comes in the form of guilt and shame. These are counterfeits of true conviction and repentance. Worldly sorrow exposes sin but it does so in a way that keeps the focus on us. Rather than leading to repentance it leads either to a folding in (despair, hopelessness, shame,) or an exploding out (rage, hatred, violence, revenge). Worldly sorrow is not an inner work of the Spirit but an external work trying to use external pressures to bring inner change. It never works.

As followers of Jesus we must allow Godly sorrow to lead us to repentance. This is the beginning of change. We must allow the conviction of the Spirit to do its work. But if we find ourselves slipping either into despair or violence, shame or revenge, then we’ve entered the realm of worldly sorrow. And worldly sorrow always leads to the death of things rather than new life.

Godly sorrow will always start with repentance. And true repentance will lead to “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). Paul lists some of the fruit of real repentance: “earnestness“, “indignation“, “alarm“, “longing, concern, and readiness to see justice done.”

Our culture, which promotes worldly sorrow and its toxic fruit, so often wants to skip past the inner work of the Spirit and get straight to “doing something.” This approach so often produces self-righteousness. I saw this when I was helping to start a nonprofit that addresses human trafficking. When we don’t begin with personal conviction of our own sin and repentance, we will so often approach justice issues with an air of self-righteousness and a messiah complex. Without the Spirit, we will forget that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

If we want change in our society, we need to ask the Spirit to clean out our own heart first (Psalm 51:10; 139:23-24) . Then we repent for the sin that gets revealed. Start there. We all need to start there.

It was Jesus, through the unity of the Holy Spirit, who managed to bind together two groups that hated each other and then call it the Body of Christ. Jews and Gentiles couldn’t have been more different and their distain for each other couldn’t have been greater. Yet the Spirit managed to bring them together and create the Church out of the two groups. Jesus brought peace and the Spirit gave both groups access to the Father.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Ephesians 2:14-18

It all begins with the work of the Spirit. It all begins with Godly sorrow that leads to repentance. When that comes first, the fruit will be exactly what our culture needs–one new humanity out of the two.

Vengeance

When Shimei son of Gera crossed the Jordan, he fell prostrate before the king and said to him, “May my lord not hold me guilty. Do not remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. For I your servant know that I have sinned, but today I have come here as the first from the tribes of Joseph to come down and meet my lord the king.”

Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said, “Shouldn’t Shimei be put to death for this? He cursed the Lord’s anointed.”

David replied, “What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? What right do you have to interfere? Should anyone be put to death in Israel today? Don’t I know that today I am king over Israel?” So the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king promised him on oath.

2 Samuel 19:18-23

When Absalom, David’s son, was trying to steal the throne and forcing David out of Jerusalem, Shimei was there to “greet” King David as he left. Shimei threw stones at King David as he cursed David and his reign. Scripture says that Shimei was “showering him with dirt” (2 Samuel 16:13) and calling King David a “scoundrel” (2 Samuel 16:7). These were things punishable by death, but David was too ashamed to respond.

This was a classic case of “piling on.” David’s own son was trying to steal the throne and forcing him out of Jerusalem and this man was joining in the fun. But what would happen when King David regains the throne and re-enters Jerusalem? Wouldn’t this man be the first to reap the vengeful wrath and justice of the newly restored King David? Abishai son of Zeruiah thought so.

Yet, we can all learn a lesson from King David’s response. Instead of righteous judgment, David dispenses grace. Instead of revenge, David gives forgiveness. King David had been fully exonerated, fully restored, and fully revealed as the rightful king. This was his moment to exact revenge on all of those people who joined Absalom’s bandwagon–all of those who betrayed him instead of being faithful servants–but instead David showed grace.

It wasn’t only Shimei that David treated with kindness and grace. He did the same to Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son (2 Samuel 19:24-30). He also showed grace to the royal concubines who had slept with Absalom. Though David could have put them out of the royal court to live destitute and in disgrace, instead he never slept with them again and yet provided for them the rest of their lives (2 Samuel 20:3).

How could King David have such a graceful response?

We get a clue from something David said to Abishai. When asked why he wouldn’t put Shimei to death, David said, “Should anyone be put to death in Israel today? Don’t I know that today I am king over Israel?” (2 Samuel 19:22). In other words, David could respond with grace and forgiveness because he knew who he was. It was about his identity. David was secure in his identity as king. He didn’t need to prove it to anyone with vengeance.

What is our response to those who have wronged us after it is revealed that we were in the right and they were in the wrong? When the truth finally catches up to those who’ve spoken lies about us, what do we do? When those who have betrayed us are finally exposed, how do we react?

Is it with grace? Is it with forgiveness? Is it with kindness? Or do we throttle them with revenge, condemnation, and judgment?

We who have been forgiven of so much, we who live by the grace of God, we who have been shown the kindness of God in the face of Jesus, we who had Christ die for us while we were yet sinners, we are called to respond the way King David did. If we are secure in our royal identity as children of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, if we know that we are co-heirs of God’s Kingdom, we will be able to respond in grace. The apostle Paul gave clear instructions to the Roman Christians about what we are supposed to do in these situations.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:17