Saturday, November 26, 2005

Forgiveness

A couple of days ago I left a couple of comments on Gerry's space. I was responding to what somebody else was saying with regard to Gerry's posting on the subject of forgiveness.

Despite apparently being an American pastor... which would give him some authority, Gerry's visitor had displayed a distinctly unchristian attitude on the subject. He had suggested that Christians only need to forgive other Christians for sinning against them and that it was perfectly ok to withhold forgiveness from non-Christians, that righteous anger is always paramount.

This is so out of touch with the Gospel message. Righteous anger has it's place, but Christ himself whithheld his anger at a time when it was most deserved. No, God's word compels us to love the sinner but hate the sin. You only need look at the Sermon on the Mount to understand this. Lets look at The Lord's Prayer first (Matthew 6:9-15):
"This, then, is how you should pray:

" 'Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."


Just before he said that, he also gave this teaching: (Matthew 5:43-48)

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Now, you could argue that these scriptures seem to be contradicting what we are taught in church; namely that we are under grace through Jesus sacrifice on the cross, that our forgiveness is not dependent on anything on our part... but is a divine gift of God. If God has forgiven us eternally... then surely we won't be condemned if we don't forgive our enemies?

Now look at this parable of Jesus from Matthew 18:21-35:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"
Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. "The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

When we become Christians we turn away from the world's way of doing things, and we adopt heavenly clothing. We take on Christ's attitudes towards things. We are called to become more like Jesus in our daily lives, for Ephesians 5 teaches:

"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."

When he died, Jesus had many enemies... he didn't deserve them. The Sanhedrin, under the influence of Annas and Caiaphas... conspired to have him killed. Pilate ordered his crucifixion, the romans beat him to a pulp, flogged him to within an inch of his life... then frog-marched him with the cross to Golgotha. There they crucified him. ALL of these people wronged Jesus, ALL of them sinned against him. NONE of them apologised. At the time, none of them were Christians.

And what did Jesus do...? What did he say to them for this injustice?

Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

You see, if we have fellowship with God... we eventually become like him. However if we refuse to forgive others... to love our enemies... then we are not living by Godly principles... we are living by the world's standards and not Christ's. If this is the case, then God's grace has no meaning in ourlives and we are not genuine.

The conclusion of the matter then; is that God's grace through Christ is not dependent on us forgiving others... but if we truly love God and have really accepted Christ's forgiveness, then the Spirit of forgiveness will be at work in us... if it is not then we are not in Christ.

I'm not saying any of us is perfect... certainly not me... and we all needs God's grace, not just for our own forgiveness - but for us also to be able to carry out what God asks of us.

If however, you know that you have a problem forgiving others... you need to go and pray through it with someone.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Nick

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