Crouching Tiger, True Repentance

tiger-woods-press-conference-apology-golf-219jpg-c118f65418e01dbc_largeThere is an argument that Tiger’s sexual immorality is private and none of our business. Fine. His very public apology, however, gives us an opportunity to think about the nature of repentance and faith. During his apology Tiger made reference to his wandering from his childhood faith, Buddhism.  He apologized to all those people, including his fans, whom he offended and whom he disappointed. He pledged to do better, to return to the laws of Buddhism, including, one imagines, its requirement for various forms of self-denial. There is one, however, to whom Tiger did not apologize and there is a law to which he did not pledge obedience. That law is God’s law: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything which is written in the book of the law (Gal 3:10; Deut 27:26). The law of God requires “perfect and personal obedience” (WCF 7.2). The one to whom Tiger did not apologize, of course, is the thrice-holy God. However much Tiger may fear losing his wife, his family, or his endorsements, he has much more to fear from God who is a “consuming fire” (Deut 4:24).

Scripture does not know anything about apologies to God. Scripture only knows about perfect righteousness as the way to acceptance with God. As has been said often enough, God does not grade on a curve. Indeed, he does not.

Consider the wholly horizontal orientation of Tiger’s apology and the rather more, if you will, vertical orientation of David’s confession of sin in Ps 32. Discovered for the adulterer (and murderer) he was, David did not hold a press conference. Convicted by God’s Spirit of his sin against God (and Bathsheba and Uriah) he turned his face to God his judge. “Blessed is the man against whom Yahweh counts no iniquity” (Ps 32:2). The God-wardness of David’s repentance is perhaps even more pointed in Ps 51: “Have mercy upon me, O God…blot out my transgressions (Ps 51:1). “Against you only have I sinned” (Ps 51:4). In these moments David understood that sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4) and “the day you eat thereof you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).

True repentance, as distinct from mere apologies, begins with a recognition of reality, of who and what God is and of who and what we are. It begins with the knowledge of the greatness of our sin and misery. True repentance reckons with the law as the perfect expression of God’s perfect and unyielding righteousness. True repentance drives one to Christ, the only righteous man, the only man who ever actually kept the law, and true faith trusts in that one righteous man and in his “one act” of righteousness (Rom 5:18; i.e., his whole, perfect obedience) for his elect.

True repentance, i.e., genuine sorrow for sin against God and heartfelt desire to turn away from it, is born of true faith. Unbelievers don’t repent. Believers do. They know the greatness of their sin and misery. Tiger does not yet appear to know that yet. He seems to think that if he just focuses a little harder, is more disciplined, if he denies himself the pleasures of this world (his language), he can get everything back on track. Perhaps he can—as far as we can see. At the last day, however, it will not matter that Tiger recovered his public image, that he built more schools, that he regained the trust of his family and followers. At the last day it will only matter if he has satisfied the righteousness of God and I guarantee you that, as remarkable as Tiger is, he cannot do it. No sinner can.

The great good news for Tiger and for you is that Jesus has already done it and everyone who trusts in him and in his obedience for sinners is reckoned as if he himself had done all that Jesus did. God accepted Jesus’ righteousness. Jesus was vindicated by his resurrection (1 Tim 3:16). As certainly as Jesus was raised from the dead, so certainly will God and accept Tiger and you and whoever turns to Christ in true faith, i.e., a certain knowledge and a hearty trust that Jesus obeyed and died “for me.”

From that true faith, a believer begins daily to die to his own desires and to live to Christ. He continues to sin for the rest of his life but now we know what sin is and we know what grace is. We know that in God’s free acceptance of sinners for Christ’s sake there is power and new life and real hope for real change; not perfection in this life but free acceptance with God (grace) and mercy and the work of the Spirit in our hearts, minds, and wills. By his grace the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead unites us to Christ, through faith, and is at work in us making us slowly, imperceptibly like Jesus.

Tiger pledged to do better. That won’t be good enough. Pray that Tiger and everyone else who heard his apology realizes the difference between “doing better” and doing “everything written in the book of the law” and that Christians understand the difference between an apology and true repentance.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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11 comments

  1. Thank you. Well said.

    I’d appreciate it if you analyzed Ted Haggard’s recent comments re. the above, as well. His are far more troubling than the Tiger’s. He indicates that his actions were “incongruent” with his person and in need of “treatment.” He furthermore makes a distinction between “healthy people” and “people who have a problem.”

    The former are those who are able to choose, the latter apparently are not. Tiger, and apparently once himself, fall into the latter category. Said another way, both he and Tiger acted contrary to their “belief system.” Thus, it would appear that a return to Buddhism is functionally as good as a return to ‘christianity.’

    Nevertheless the road to healing t/his “incongruity” lies in “therapy,” of course. So, according to Haggard, “Tiger’s doing the right thing by being in counseling, going in therapy….” After all, he dealt with his “compulsions “through therapy” and is now apparently completely congruent with himself (PTT–Praise the Therapist). So, he was “pleased” with what Tiger did and “thought it was perfect….There was nothing more any of us could ask.”

    So, perhaps Dr. Clark, the Lord, and we who speak on his authority, are asking for too much!!

    What to me is most perplexing is that this man, Haggard, was looked up to as a “spiritual” leader in the (Evangelical) church and by heads of state (not so surprising). His lack of godly wisdom and gospel truth cannot have come upon him all at once. Yet none seemed to notice. A perfect example of “Christless Christianity” at work.

    In any case here’s the link to the CNN interview: http://ricksanchez.blogs.cnn.com/2010/02/19/ted-gayle-haggard-after-the-sex-scandal/

  2. Thank you for the Gospel message, prof. Clark.

    When I listen to mr. Woods’ apology, I remember the following verse from God’s Word:

    “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” – 2 Cor.7:10

  3. Implied in Dr. Clark’s remarks is the issue of election. At this point we cannot say that Woods is elect since he has not come to faith in Jesus Christ. The sufficiency of Christ’s atonement for the sins of every individual who believes in the entire world is certainly true. But it is not only unbiblical but illogical to suggest or even imply that Christ fulfilled the law and died for the sins of Tiger Woods unless and until he comes to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Common grace just does not apply here either. Common grace is unbiblical as well since there is absolutely nothing in the Bible suggesting that Jesus died for the non-elect in any sense at all–even to the restraining of wickedness in this life. In short, we cannot say that Jesus died for anyone unless they believe in Jesus.

    So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:7-16 ESV)

    • Charlie,

      Jesus died for sinners. We offer the gospel freely to all sinners, we invite them all, including Tiger, acknowledge their sins, to trust Christ, and to take up their cross and follow him. We don’t know whether Tiger is elect and thus we don’t know whether Jesus came with intention of satisfying for Tiger’s sins but we do know that the gospel is offered to Tiger and to all sinners.

      I’m not trying to guess the divine decree. I’m just preaching the gospel to needy sinners.

      Nothing I said can be fairly construed to contradict our confession of the definite, substitutionary atonement.

      Nothing I said on this point has anything to do with common grace. That’s a different question. When Synod Kalamazoo (1924) spoke of “common grace” they weren’t using it in the Arminian sense and folks need to stop suggesting that they were.

  4. Thanks for the post, Dr Clark.

    Years ago, I commited adultery which lead to a loss of career and the ending of my marriage. I contniue to find great succor in Psalm 51.

    Some calls to repentance seem to lead to a certain introspection (“How genuine am I repenting?”) which seems to be a QIRE. As well it leads to a certain self-consciousness about one’s behavior/works (“Am I producing fruit worthy of and consistent with repentance?”) which can take the focus off Christ and the cross and make the emphasis my works.

    I find I continue to be a “mixed bag”, simultaneously just and a sinner which makes looking inward and looking at the outward changes problematic.

    Any thoughts on how one can prevent repentance becoming a QIRE or form of legalism?

    Thanks for thought-provoking post.

    • Hi Bill,

      Thanks for your candor. Christ is merciful to sinners!

      The key is to focus on Christ and his promises. The ground of assurance is the gospel promise, not my performance or sanctity. If I look to my sanctity I will never find peace. I must always look to Christ for peace and assurance. To look to self for assurance is like trying to find a rose in a garbage dump. Prospects are not bright.

      Keep trusting in Jesus. He will not let you down.

  5. Is it just me, or did Woods seem less than repentant in his statement? Woods used words like irresponsible, selfish, foolish, damage/pain [causing], disappointing, worrying, embarassing.

    All of those stop short of describing his behavior as actual sin — or even it’s reasonable atheological equivalent, wrong. Is that somehow symptomatic of a Buddhist outlook that all is one (so evil doesn’t really exist)? Or is it just conformity to the culture’s therapeutic approach to religion?

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