Forgiveness - A Doctrine Gone Cold
Matt.6: 14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Mk.11: 25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
In a general and colloquial sense the word redemption is synonymous with the word forgiveness. In these last days the western church has confined forgiveness as something extended to someone who has wronged you. That is quite the constriction placed upon such an important doctrine. I mean, look at the 15th verse of Matthew 6. God will hold your sins against you if you do not forgive? That’s quite a principle, and yet most churches deal with tithing much, much more than forgiveness. And this forgiveness issue, which should reflect the forgiveness found in the cross, is not just something we show when offended, but something in which we should walk.
Unforgiveness and condemnation are bondage. And so often we tend to let “discernment” spill over into areas for which is was never intended. Your neighbor’s wife dresses extremely inappropriately and expresses a pro-gay marriage perspective. Although she sometimes attends a local church, you discover she is the youngest daughter of the pastor of the 1st Baptist Church. You not only spread what you know to your friends, but you take out an add in the local paper and divulge the information publicly. “Love covers a multitude of sins” no longer matters. Discernment has become a multi-faceted beast whose tentacles grow longer by the day.
In a certain town there are a growing number of electricians. Now some of these electricians have left the normal way to fix electrical problems, and their methods are causing many problems in addition to allowing the original problems to remain unsolved. Now the older electricians become very concerned because the problems are not only continuing, but these new electricians are convincing people that their problems are being solved. The concerns of the older electricians are valid.
So the older electricians who espouse the proven methods that fix these problems begin to expose these false electricians and reveal to everyone just how hollow their methods are. They want to warn those who have not called for the false electricians yet so that they will reject them. Over and over they continue to show people the error of these new ways. Many heed these warnings and many reject these new electricians.
But yet there remains a very large problem. The older electricians are endorsing the older methods on paper, but yet they do not seem to be fixing many people’s electrical problems. Yes, their manuals are quite explicit and do articulate and illustrate the correct way to fix an electrical problem, however the actual practice of those instructions is severely wanting. Although many are passionate about the instructions, many seem ambivalent about doing them. Words far outweigh deeds, and the electrical problems persist.
Forgiveness is not only germane to the Christian faith, it is the Christian faith. And this kind of forgiveness goes way past the cute little examples of forgiving the guy who cut you off, or forgiving your boss, or all the other tepid examples of forgiveness which elicit so little sacrifice and self denial. The Christ kind of forgiveness is more a constant walk than a specific act applied to a given circumstance when we deem it warrants such. To constrict it more to a doctrine than a practice is heresy. Forgiveness is a life giving force received as a gift of grace through faith, and those who have been given divine forgiveness are required, I said required, to give it freely to others.
How can a person show contempt for others and yet share God’s forgiveness to others? That kind of sharing is hollow and self serving, and many times believers go through the sharing motion in order to protect them from indictment, or to offer a doctrinal token to prove their orthodoxy, rather than an expression of what lives and breathes in their own hearts. No wonder the church by and large operates with no authentic sign of divine power. No wonder we are bound to earthly strategies and organizations and immense staffs since we no longer can draw from a divine reservoir of power, and sadly we no longer seem to want or need it.
But it is very startling when you view the entire spectacle in context. A sinner, lost and without hope in this world, is drawn to Christ by the power and faithfulness of God’s Spirit. In an eternal act of grace, that same sinner believes on the Lord Jesus Christ and he is forever redeemed. His entire life begins a process of change, and his mind begins to speak to Him with knowledge and perspective he has never had before. And while he experiences all kinds of wonders, he is filled with gratitude and worship. He is a new creature in Jesus Christ.
But soon he begins to hear what more “mature” believers are saying and how they are living. He begins to wonder if he is a little too utopian in his views. Perhaps he has placed the bar too high, and perhaps his interpretation of Scripture is way too literal. How can those who know much more Bible than does he talk about people like that? How can they complain about their circumstances like they do? How can they say those things about the president? This new believer begins to assume the Bible allows such behavior. Soon he offers short quips among them, and not too long he is engaging in the same rhetoric as are they.
His heart begins to be filled with all sorts of disdain for liberals and gays and Muslims and economic policies and all sorts of political issues.
Unknowingly he begins to lose the joy of his salvation and his walk with Christ dries up and his spiritual food is now American and cultural issues. He now knows which people to disdain, which side of moral issues to take, what economic policies to hate, which Americans should be our heroes, which wars are God’s, and he begins to feed his patriotic spirit. He has become a passionate American who professes Christ through his doctrine.
But can you not see what has happened here? This new convert has been molded to look and act like other people rather than like Christ. Because he has been received into that local fellowship, and because many in that church have been saved for decades, he assumes their expression of Christ is normal and Biblical. Slowly and with bite sized pieces of examples all around him, he has become deceived. But because he tithes, and because he attends regularly, and because he now fits in with all the rest, pretty soon people say he is “growing”. He is growing alright, he is growing into a western, carnal believer. We have made him into our own image. God help us.
Here are a few of the discipleship courses he takes and the communications that identify each course:
* Did you hear what Obama said yesterday?
* These gays are attempting to push their agenda on all of us.
* We’re not too far from Sharia law.
* I can’t stand these welfare handouts.
* Look at her, she’s gotta be a flaming lesbian!
* How long do we have to listen about the slavery of the past?
* He did the crime, fry him!
* We should bomb the living fire out that Iran!
* That Rick Warren makes me sick.
* There may be enemies in that village? Release the drones on them.
* Obama is a Muslim and a socialist.
* Whatever happened to the Constitution?
* Arrest them all and deport them!
These are some of the more genteel observations. There are many which are much more incendiary and even racist. But this kind of communication is what passes for Christian because the church has morphed into a bastion of morality and nationalism. And forgiveness has become an expression of Christ but not His followers. Hatred is now righteous indignation. Mocking is acceptable.
But let us be very clear, in order to walk in forgiveness we must walk in a brand of humility which seems foreign to the western church. Boldness on conservative issues is now in vogue, and that includes pamphlets, signs, and all kinds of tee shirts. Yes, we have become moral warriors whose mission is to search out and destroy God’s enemies. The Limbaugh’s and Hannity’s and Beck’s are now our generals. Instead of taking up the cross, we take up the Ten Commandments. Instead of the martyrs, we follow the founding fathers.
We will admit that any sinner can be forgiven if he repents and trusts Christ, but until then certain sinners will continue to receive our verbal assaults. Yes, we believe we have a command from God to verbally eviscerate certain sinners especially if their sins are outside acceptable norms.
But at the heart of all this carnal speech and behavior is us. We have learned, even in church, to be consumed with our surroundings, our prosperity, our issues, and even our nation. And forgiveness as a lifestyle and constant heart attitude has been all but lost. What once was a flaming fire of forgiveness has grown cold. While the martyrs forgave those who led them to their death, we cannot even forgive those we call “liberal”. And woe to those who adversely affect our pocketbooks. And what kind of Christianity is that? None at all.
Forgiveness is the foundation of our faith. How can you say to an unbeliever, “God can forgive you of your sins but until then I will not”. Remember, it is not your calling to hold sinners accountable for their sins against God. That is His business. We are called to spread the good news of redemption to every creature. Do you think that the native idol worshipers in the Amazon are any more of an affront to God than is Barak Obama? Then why do you dislike or hate President Obama but not all the primitive idol worshipers around the world? Its because you believe Barak Obama has adversely affected your finances. That is not only being a respecter of persons, but that is narcissism.
As I alluded to previously, unforgiveness is a self righteous expression of the flesh. How can we believe the Scriptures command us to forgive those who personally trespass against us, but we do not need to walk in that same forgiveness toward those who we do not know but with whom we disagree politically? That is hypocrisy and it can be cured in one small but life changing step. Refuse to have any politics and you will be free in your spirit. Are you not weary of the conflict that rages within your heart? Do you not realize that your prayers, if you do actually pray, will not be heard with all that unchristian refuse living within you?
If Christianity is anything, it is forgiveness. Not just the forgiveness that hides well within forests of doctrinal understandings and theological dissertations and like Sequatchie, there are stories of its existence but it is rarely seen. This forgiveness must be presented raw and unvarnished and completely unprotected by fallen man’s transparent attempt to appear righteous in the midst of profound self righteousness. This forgiveness will always come at a cost. Oh yes, the eternal cost has already been paid, however all who wish to manifest that forgiveness must lay down their own reputations, their own self esteem, and their own lives. If you wish to be a vessel fit for the Master’s use you must be broken and spilled out of all that is you.
Please do not minimize that incredible process. Most will never know anything of that process, and most will never desire it. The cost is way too high, and after all, Jesus paid it all. Hiding behind the cross so as to avoid anything remotely resembling it is spiritual cowardice. We have made living for Jesus a pleasure cruise with Christ as our activities director. But the lord of that faith is Adam, not Christ. But forgiveness is the currency which separates God’s kingdom from man’s. Forgiveness is not just spent on those who we deem worthy. Forgiveness must be a river flowing from a redeemed heart.
Condemnation is a hard task master. It is always hungry and exacts a level of performance not exacted from the vessel from which it emanates. It grinds people to powder and it surreptitiously grinds its conduit as well. It serves a meal of poisonous self righteousness which is devoured by those it has deceived. Condemnation is a literal fort of self righteousness, erected to protect the supposed status of all who embrace it. It is the practice of death itself.
But forgiveness is Christ.
In 2006 a deranged a man, Charles Roberts, murdered ten little Amish girls inside their wooden school house. One of the older girls even stepped forward and asked the gunman to shoot her and let the others go. They all died at the end of a gun fired by this man’s hands.
On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, "We must not think evil of this man.” Another Amish father noted, "He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he's standing before a just God.” Jack Meyer, a member of the Brethren community living near the Amish in Lancaster County, explained: "I don't think there's anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts."
A Roberts family spokesman said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them. Amish community members visited and comforted Roberts' widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held Roberts' sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him. The Amish have also set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter. About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts' funeral, and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of one of the victims.
Enter into that if you can; enter into that if you dare.