Monday, November 23, 2015
A STUDY IN FORGIVENESS (REVISIED)
As human beings we often say and do things to one another, that in our heart of hearts, we truly did not mean and at some point, we truly regret. You, being on the receiving end of such treatment, may find it difficult to overcome your feelings of hurt, bitterness and anger! As Christians, many of us are surprised this behavior is still among us. As we interact in the body of Christ, we often find that we are having difficulty forgiving someone or we are in need of forgiveness from someone our selves.
Just why do we have a problem with forgiveness, after we have accepted Jesus Christ and set about becoming a new person in Him? Why do we have conflicts with one another in the church and say harsh things that we later regret? Why do we allow bitterness to remain in us, even after we receive an apology for an offense committed against us at the hands of another? How can we as a follower of Jesus Christ, walk away from another Christian murmuring resentment within? The answer could lay in our lack of understanding of what is “true forgiveness” according to our Christian beliefs, found in the Word of God.
We witness the “acts of forgiveness” from its inception as a consequence of Adam and Eves trespass against God in the Garden; to its dramatic climax in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The Bible is replete with admonishments referring to forgiveness. While this theological term is the cornerstone of our faith, it is at the same time, a stumbling block for many believers. This is a very sad commentary on the Church, which is the Body of Christ! It is total hypocrisy for Christians to stand before unbelievers, proclaiming their testimony of salvation, while holding ill against another believer! It is my prayer that this study will shed God’s Light of Understanding on this subject, which is so important to our growth and development, as followers of Jesus Christ!
George Herbert a Welsh born English poet, orator and Anglican priest once wrote, “He who cannot forgive, breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.” No doubt this saying was inspired from his reading and study of the Bible. Alexander Pope, another English poet and satirist, coined the saying, “To err is human, to forgive, Divine.” We have heard these often repeated references to forgiveness not only in literature and played out in drama upon stage and screen, but in Scripture also. It becomes obvious from viewing our behavior with one another, that there must be some misconceptions about the role of forgiveness in our lives. Even with all of this, what do we know of Forgiveness?
We say “I know God has forgiven me of my sins!”, but do we really believe that? Do we truly understand the “Fact of God’s Forgiveness” of us? Or has the word and concept of “forgiveness” become just another Christian cliche we use to affirm to others “we are saved?” Can a person, be saved, sanctified, spirit filled and yet lack the capacity to forgive others for a perceived wrong against them? Must we daily, weekly, yearly ask for forgiveness of God, for our sins? How can that be, when at the very moment of our salvation, our slate has been wiped clean? We have been totally forgiven of our trepasses against God!
Total forgiveness was in the very blood of Jesus, shed on Calvary, for our sake! His life’s ministry was the divine pronouncement of “forgiveness to mankind!” His last words while nailed to the cross, ushering in the “New Covenent” were “Father…Forgive them!” As followers of Christ, forgiveness is a vital part of our nature. According to 2 Peter 1:4(NIV), we are “partakers of the divine nature.” We have the capacity to forgive because of the nature inside of us. When we believed and accepted Jesus’s once for all sacrifice, God took away our old sinful nature and gave us a new nature. His nature! Although we often do not act like we have a new nature, it is our very nature to be forgiving, like His.
Let’s take a closer look at forgiveness! Let’s view it from the Old Testament Covenent and from the New Testament Covenent. This will clarify our understanding of just where and how forgiveness fits into our Christian lives. Under the old testament covenent, forgiveness of sins took place as an event; once a year, on the Jewish Day of Attonment. The High Priest of the Tribe of Levi, would enter The Tabanacle’s Holy of Holy’s and there make a blood sacrafice of an unblemished goat, to God. This animal sacrafice was prescribe by God, to obtain the forgiveness for sins of the peoples of Israel, for the year. By this sacraficial ritual the sins of the people of Israel, were ‘covered’!
Under the New Testament Covenent, a brand new kind of forgiveness was instituted. By the blood sacrafice of Jesus on the cross, a new kind of forgiveness called “Once for All Forgiveness” came into being. Our sins were not merely ‘covered’ as the blood of bulls and goats accomplished under the old covenent; but instead our sins are ‘taken away’; “once for all.” By the ‘one time’ sacrafice of Jesus Christ, ‘all’ the sins of the world were taken away! Scripture after new testament scripture attest to this fact.
Colosians 2:13-14(NIV) says “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood oppossed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”
This scripture testifies to several things! It is a good capulation of what the New Testament means to us. First, that God made us alive! We were dead in sin without any sign of a covenent with God. (Circumcision) He made us come alive with Christ! It is in Christ, that we live! Second, that He forgave us all of our sins! Notice that He forgave all our sins and forgave is past tense. It is not that He forgave us of just our past sins, but He forgave all of our sins; past, present and future sins. All of our sins were in the future, when Christ died! Next it says, He canceled the written code with its regulations. This is refering to the Old Testament Laws of Moses; sacrifice and regulations; which it says, were against us. Why does it say “with its regulations, that was against us?”
Because, the Law itself was proved to be against anyone living holy. It was impossible for anyone to live by the Law and live up to its 615 codes! Read Leviticus and see for yourself! The Law is canceled for us! And then it says, He took it away…..nailing it to the cross! The laws and regulations of the Old Testament Covenant became obsolete with the death of Jesus on that cross. Hebrews 8:12-13(NIV) says, 12) “For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.” 13) By calling this covenant “new”, He has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” This is clearly a reference to the Old Testament Covenant becoming obsolete and disappearing from practice!
Let’s look at what other scriptures have to say about forgiveness! 1st John 2:12(NIV) says, 12) “I write to you, dear children, because our sins have been forgiven on account of his name.” Notice again that forgiveness is expressed in the “past tense.” It does not say, might be forgiven or will be forgiven, if you ask! There is no contingent in this verse. There is no condition for our forgiveness. It is God’s free gift to us!
Ephesians 4:32(NIV) says it in a similar way, 32) “Be kind and compassionate to one another forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Again the word forgave is present and is expressing a past tense action; God forgave you!
Hebrews 10:17-18(NIV) repeats, 17)”There sins and lawless acts I will remember no more,” 18) “And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” Now we see the past tense words, have been forgiven!
So what can we discern from these scriptures? It would appear that God is trying to tell us something. What he is saying is that our forgiveness is an “Accomplished Fact.” It is expressed in the past tense for a reason! That reason is best expressed by Jesus, when he said “It is finished”; because “It Is Finished.”
What does all of the above mean for you and me as Christians? It means that we are totally forgiven! That there is no condemnation left for us! That we won’t be judged for our sins! We were already judged and the verdict was guilty; the punishment was death; Christ died and took away all of our sins; and there is no punishment left! Propitiation is what Christ has performed in our behalf. Propitiation is a New Testament word that means, God is fully satisfied by the work of Jesus Christ. If God is satisfied with Jesus’ sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins, shouldn’t we be satisfied also?
Jesus says in John 3:17-18(NIV), 17) “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18) Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” And Paul says in Romans 8:1-2 (NIV), 1) Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Both Jesus and Paul make it clear that there is no condemnation for us. We receive total freedom from judgment…. total forgiveness!
Paul goes even further to say in Ephesians 1:7 (NIV), 7) “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” This is an interesting verse also. Notice it says we have two things… redemption and the forgiveness of sins! Do we wake up each morning saying, “Lord, Lord Please redeem me! Buy me back Lord! Redeem me, please!” This is something you might say at salvation, as we are indeed bought back by Jesus’ sacrifice! In Christ we are redeemed! But notice that verse 7 also says we have forgiveness of sins. So, if we don’t wake up every day saying “Please redeem me! Please redeem me! Why do we Christians wake up every day saying, “Please forgive me? Please forgive me!?
Paul is not saying that we should ask God over and over to forgive us for each individual sin. We would not be able to remember each individual sin we committed, even if we tried. We would be truly lost, if our redemption and forgiveness was based upon our ability to remember and confess each of our individual sins! What Paul is saying here is, in Christ we have redemption! In Christ we have forgiveness of sins. It is a package deal! Once for all! Are we asking again and again for forgiveness that we have already received? Would you ask and receive your spouse’s forgiveness, and then ask it again and again daily, each time you came in contact with them? Perhaps, if you did not “believe you received their forgiveness the first time” or that they were “insincere when they gave it the first time!” Do you doubt the “once for all” blood sacrifice of Jesus for the propitiation of our sins? Do you doubt His sincerity in willingly going to the cruelest death a person could suffer? Is it so hard to believe that God loves you and me that much?
As human beings we are not infallible in our efforts to grasp wisdom and understanding from the Word of God. We often put the cart before the horse; as the saying goes! We know that scripture says in 1st John 1:9(NIV), that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” We need to look at the context of this verse. By understanding the context in which a scripture is said, you obtain a clear understanding of its meaning. John was speaking about something that is radically different. The difference can be seen in verse 8, which precedes verse 9 and verse 10, which follows it. In verse 8 he says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” In verse 10 he says, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” John was not speaking to believers! He was speaking to unbelievers… Gnostics!
John, the Beloved Disciple, was writing to warn Christians about dangerous false teachers who were trying to mislead them. He was writing about Gnostics and the heresy they were trying to teach. Gnostics number one teaching was that Jesus was not the Christ, the Son of God and he did not come in the flesh. Their number two teaching claimed that sin was not real! Sin was an illusion! Therefore we could not and have not sinned! This was heresy and against Christ! John was fighting this type of heresy when he wrote in verses 8 and 10. However, in verse 9 he gave the Gnostic Heretics a way out of their heresy when he said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” This was the only way that Gnostics could gain forgiveness; by confessing their sins of “unbelief.”
John is telling them if they do this, they will receive total forgiveness and be cleansed of all unrighteousness, once for all! This was the kind of forgiveness we receive from Jesus, total forgiveness. Not the daily tallying and remembrance of sins, one by one. This scripture did not mean for us to daily confess our sins, over and over, asking for forgiveness. It has been taken out of context.
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” Matt. 6:12 (NIV) And “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” Luke 11:4(NIV), These memorable quotes from the Lord’s Prayer, put forth the idea that in order to receive forgiveness, you must first forgive others who have wronged you in some way. Is this what Jesus meant to teach his disciples when they asked him to teach them to pray? Again, the context surrounding the verse will clarify its meaning and application to us today! With our current understanding of forgiveness, you would not want to stand before God and ask Him to forgive you in the same way that you forgave others. Let’s look at the context of Jesus’ words in relation to other scriptures.
Galatians 4:4-5(NIV) says 4) “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5) to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” Hebrews 9:16-18(NIV) Tells us that, 16)”In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17) because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18) This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood.” The New Covenant did not come into effect with the birth of Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew. The New Covenant of “once for all forgiveness” became in effect at his death on the cross! Galatians 4:4-5 points out that Jesus was born under Law, to redeem those under Law; which was the Old Testament Covenant. From the time of Jesus birth to his death, this period was under law. So, the forgiveness verses of the Lord’s Prayer were appropriate for that period under Law. They were spoken before he gave his life on the cross. Before the New Covenant came into effect!
Hebrews 9:16-18 points out that somebody (Jesus) had to die before their will (New Covenant) would come into effect. What took place the moment of Jesus’ death? The curtain in the Temple, separating the Holy of Holy’s was ripped from top to bottom. This indicated that God was no longer separated from us. There was no longer a need for a high priest to make blood sacrifices for the forgiveness of our sins, in this place. Jesus Christ had just made the one time sacrifice for forgiveness of sins, for everyone who would accept him. A New Covenant between God and man began in which the God says, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” And Jesus is the High Priest of this New Covenant!
Are you forgiven because you forgave someone else? No! What is the means by which we Christians obtain forgiveness? It is by the blood of Christ on Calvary! The shedding of his blood was in propitiation for our sins. Had Jesus’ blood been shed at the time of the Lord’s Prayer? NO…it had not!
Ephesians 4:32(NIV) says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” And Colossians 3:13(NIV) says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Once again we were putting the cart before the horse. What came first? Did we forgive first or were we forgiven first? We were forgiven first by God and are now designed to pass forgiveness on to others! These verses tell us to forgive others because we have already been forgiven!
Brothers and Sisters, we don’t forgive to get forgiveness, as the prayer Jesus prayed before the New Covenant came into effect at his crucifixion! Instead, we are given the free gift of salvation and righteousness! We have been made alive; forgiven and cleansed of sin; in fellowship with God; free from condemnation! That is the beauty of the New Covenant! As we reflect on our forgiveness, are we going to get our theology from passages taken out of context? Or are you going to look back on all the “past tense” references to your forgiveness? That God “forgave” you for his names sake; that your sins and lawless acts, he remembers no more; where these “have been forgiven” there is no longer any sacrifice for sins; and he forgave us all our sins!
What can you do in response to God’s incredible gift of forgiveness? Instead of daily begging and pleading for what He has already given you by the sacrifice of His Son; accept it, say thank you Father and pass forgiveness on to another! We all have needed to extend forgiveness to other people at some time in our lives. And we have often been the one in need of receiving forgiveness from another. Some of us went on, daily, weekly, monthly and yearly; burdening ourselves with guilt, anxiety and bitterness over a person or an issue. Although the scriptures told us we were forgiven of our sins, we just could not forgive someone in our life or an issue that caused us emotional or physical injury. Understanding this truth, that we forgive others because we have been forgiven, grants us an opportunity to display the life-changing Grace of God!
God has forgiven us unconditionally through the propitiation of His Son Jesus. It is when we have an understanding of our complete forgiveness, that we are able to extend the same to others. As believers in Christ, it is the right thing to do! Forgive, release and let go of past injuries and wrongs caused by persons or issues in your life. Forgiveness doesn’t require forgetting…only choosing not to call to mind repeatedly, the offenses or issues of another; while God heals the memories. If we receive forgiveness from God, we must give it to others who hurt us. We cannot hold grudges or seek revenge for wrongs against us. We are to trust God for justice and forgive the person who offended us! Free yourself from un-forgiveness! This is within the will of God!
Your brother, In His Service