Repentance vs. Defensiveness

Gavin Ortlund | March 12, 2016

It 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).

Default Defensiveness

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. It’s 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, so your identity isn’t at stake. Relax! Is there something you can learn here?

It’s a counterintuitive feeling, like learning to…

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