Years ago, when I heard for the first time that Josh Duggar--of "19 Kids and Counting" fame--had been unfaithful to his wife, I was grieved, but not surprised. It’s not that I had any suspicions about the sincerity of his faith. Quite the contrary! In fact a friend of mine grew up near Josh and his family, and has informed me about the sincerity of his faith. No, I was not surprised, simply because followers of Jesus are not perfect, just forgiven. We are human. And this side of Heaven, even with Jesus in our lives, humans like you and I and Josh Duggar still sin.
I also wasn’t surprised when the first public response Josh Duggar made after the news broke was an articulate statement saying how sorry he was for his sin. He was sorry he had sinned against God, against his wife and against his marriage vows. He was very clear: Because he had sinned, he had repented of his sin to Jesus and asked God to forgive him through Jesus’ shed blood. Josh’s response didn’t surprise me. As a committed follower of Jesus, he did what all of us are supposed to do when we sin: Run to Jesus, not away from Him. We must repent of our sin, trust Jesus’ blood for forgiveness, and ask Him to help us not to commit that sin again.
What did surprise me, however, was what happened in the aftermath of Josh’s statement. Here’s what I posted on social media: “While it's always heartbreaking to see a Christian brother fall into sin, as Josh Duggar has today admitted, I am so thankful that he is running to Jesus in repentance over that same sin. When we sin, instead of running from God, we need to run to Jesus, and receive the forgiveness that only His blood can give.” I thought that was a fair and reasonable post that would be “liked” and celebrated universally by others. Not so! Instead, it was met with responses of this nature: “He’s only sorry because he got caught, not because he sinned.” Wow!
Maybe that’s true. But because of the scandal of forgiveness, how much does it matter? That’s the question to ponder here. Before you dismiss this question easily, think about it deeply, because the implications of your answer are pretty significant.
In 1 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul tells us that we as believers do need to judge/hold people accountable who profess to be followers of Jesus. Read the chapter, you’ll see what I mean. But how did Paul judge the offender he references in that chapter? By his actions. Actions can be seen. May I also add here that we can easily judge people by their words. Words can be heard. Both actions and words are objective. They are things that all people can both see and hear. They are good ways of judging someone when that is necessary.
Motives are not. Motives are tricky. They are subjective. The judging of motives is best left up to the Holy Spirit, who alone can know the heart and mind of men and women. When Josh Duggar publicly admitted his sin, declared his repentance, and stated his trust in Jesus, that’s good enough for me. And it should be good enough for you too. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean that there should be no consequences for his sin. It doesn’t mean that those close to Josh should immediately go back to trusting him; that takes time. But when we hear someone confess, repent and trust Jesus for forgiveness, we should celebrate that, and not judge the motives behind it.
One of the most lovable characters in any of Jesus’ parables is the Prodigal Son’s father. Of course, he is a symbol of our Heavenly Father. This old man, upon spying his son in the distance coming home, having repented of his sin, ran—I say, “ran”—out to meet him! Old men don’t like to run, you know! But this man ran to welcome his repentant son home. And then he celebrated, just like the angels do every time one sinner comes home to Jesus in repentance.
Conversely, one of the least likable characters in any of Jesus’ parables is the Prodigal Son’s brother. He didn’t share his father’s joy. He didn’t want to celebrate his brother’s repentance and homecoming. His attitude went way beyond not trusting his brother. I believe he was questioning his brother’s motives for coming home. “Oh, he’s just coming home because all his friends left him and all his money ran out.” Maybe that was true. Maybe. But I ask you that question again: Because of the scandal of forgiveness, how much does it matter? I’d rather celebrate with the father than sulk with the brother.
The classic example of a “deathbed conversion” in Scripture is the story of the thief on the cross. Was he sorry for his sins just because he had gotten caught and was being punished for them? Maybe. Possibly. We don’t know the motives in his heart that prompted him to say “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And that’s OK. Because we know enough; the Bible tells us enough. We know what he said, and we know Jesus’ response. It’s the response that sings the sweetest music the ears of any sinner can ever hope to hear: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Once again, the scandal of forgiveness wins, and the angels rejoice along with the Father!
The scandal of forgiveness is this: When we repent of our sins by trusting the shed blood of Jesus, we’re forgiven. Period. No qualification or clarification. Does that mean we are given some spiritual “Get out of jail free” card that will forever pardon us from all future sins? No. Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery: “Go, and sin no more.”
But the scandal of forgiveness really is this: When we repent to Jesus, He does forgive us! Even if we are repenting more because we’re caught than because we’re sorry. Even if we’re returning home because we’ve spent all our money on wine and prostitutes. Even if we’re deservedly hanging on a cross and fearfully staring eternity in the face. It doesn’t matter. Because the blood of Jesus really is powerful enough to forgive all sins. Even if we may doubt the motive for repentance.
The scandal of forgiveness is this: Pick the most notorious figure from history you want. Adolf Hitler. Joseph Stalin. Jack the Ripper. If any of them chose to sincerely repent of their sins before they died, the blood of Jesus would forgive them. Jesus’ blood was shed for their sins too. And I, for one, sincerely hope that they did make that decision before they passed into eternity, because I don’t care whether people accept Christ early in life or right before their last breath, I just care that they accept Christ.
Christians really aren’t perfect. We really are just forgiven. And I, for one, am eternally thankful for that scandalous fact.