Unless you have been living in Antarctica you are probably aware that one of the world’s greatest athletes,seven-time Tour de France winner, cancer survivor, and chairman of the Livestrong Foundation, Lance Armstrong, has finally admitted to using performance enhancing drugs. What many of us feared to be true of our hero is now painfully confirmed.
It happened on the Oprah Winfrey showwhere, at one time, Oprahhad enthusiastically encouraged her audience to wear the now ubiquitous yellow Livestrong bracelet. Comfortably seated in front of the cameras, the high priestess of everything, “O,” began the interrogation. As many of us sat transfixed to the television screen, it was Lance’s turn to explain himself, and our turn to finally hear the truth.
Did he dope? Yes. Did he boost his blood with EPO? Yes. Did he lie, betray and bully? Yes, to all that. Did he feel guilty? Not really. Guilt and deception without shame. Did it feel wrong at the time? No. Scary, he says. Did you feel bad about it? No. Even scarier.
Now found guilty of doping, Lance has been unceremoniously stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, dropped from almost all of his multi-million dollar endorsement deals, and resigned as chairman of the $46.8 million foundation that bears his name. His personal fortune is in jeopardy and he most likely faces many years of lawsuits. In cynical disgust there is now a new, robust business being done inLiestrong yellow bracelets, hats and t-shirts.
Unfortunately, the staccato confession seemed to lack any sense of true contrition. While none of us can know what is in a person’s heart, Lance seemed, well, less than penitent. Armstrong went on to tell Oprah matter-of-factly that what he was doing was simply leveling the playing field in a sport where apparently everyone was doing it. Was this justification for the lying? Only at the mention of his 13 year-old son’s misguided defense of his dad did we see a hint of emotion.
Armstrong who had lied repeatedly and convincingly over many years seemed unsure how to repent. Shame was hard to detect. Sorrow difficult to see. A man who has been better known for arrogance than humility seemed confused by how, why, and to whom repentance was to be directed.
There is of course another very famous person who was also badly in need of repentance. Like Lance, he was at the top of his game. In fact, he was a king, and not just of a sporting event, but of an entire country. As anyone who has read the Bible knows, Israel’s second king, David, sinned dramatically. Adultery, denial, the murder of Uriah, and then the eventual consequences as a preacher named Nathan confronted David with the ugly truth.
It is precisely here that the similarities between Lance and David evaporate. When David finally comes to grips with what he has done, he is a broken man. The Psalms can often be read as a spiritual autobiography and after David’s sin has been revealed,it is easy to detect in David sorrow, shame, and a true understanding of his guilt. David’s repentance is not a perfunctory admission of a wrong-doing but rather a gut-wrenching plea for forgiveness and restoration from sin.
Most importantly, David knows where to take his guilt. The king knows that his sin was ultimately not against Bathsheba or even Uriah. David knows he has sinned against God, and it is God to whom he is repenting. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight. (Psalm 51:4) Because David knew God he also knew where to go with his disobedience, asking for forgiveness and cleansing. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2)
It is one thing to admit culpability to Oprah and a rapt television audience, and it is an entirely different thing to repent before a holy God who hates sin and yet longs to lovingly restore the truly repentant. Thankfully, most of us will not have the public exposure that Lance and David had. Most of us are ordinary people. Yet, when we are honest with ourselves,we too, find that we are often in need of repentance. Our sin, while less dramatic than Lance’s and David’s, is nevertheless real.
As Christians, our repentance is very different than a simple admission of guilt. A believer’s repentance is uniquely related to our relationship with God. Christian repentance requires sorrow and shame, it is accompanied by true humility, it is primarily directed to God, and it trusts in the ultimate forgiveness and restoration that is only found in Jesus Christ. All of us will mess up at points in our lives. All of us will sin. Our sins will not all look the same. I am quite sure that I will neverbe in danger of blood doping and then lying about winning the Tour de France. At 62, my sin looksvery different than Lance’s. But I have, and will, need to repent of my sin. So will you.
What a wonderful gift God gives us in leading us to a true repentance where there is restoration, salvation, real forgiveness, and a freedom to live life again as a cleansed person. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret…(2 Corinthians 7:10). When this true repentance happens all of us can say with the repentant King David, Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice…restore to me the joy of your salvation (Psalm 51:10 & 12). I hope and pray that Lance will experience that freedom which David knew and I know.