Tag Archive: forgiveness


The Basis of Forgiveness

… is a recognition
1. of my own sin. These days it is unpopular to consider personal guilt; it is approached more like a neurosis than a moral fact. But all mankind displays this tendency to sin. No amount of education or social engineering can change that.
2. God really has forgiven me. This incredible gift is given not because I earned it, but because of His love for me.
3. Universal guilt also means we can’t brag about how much better we are, and none can judge. The Christian lives purely by God’s grace., and this is key if we are to avoid a holier-than-thou attitude.
4. As we live in this forgiveness, our hearts start to change for the better in practical fact. And that is just plain incredible.

Advertisements

Fundamentalism

Religious fundamentalism is viewed by most modern thinkers as the starting point of many great evils; that if we did away with it, the world would be a better place.

But I think that depends on what your fundamental is.

A few years ago a gunman went to an Amish school and shot ten young girls, of whom a number died at the scene, before taking his own life.

The families of the victim forgave the gunman and took up a collection for his widow.

To say this goes against the grain is an understatement. And if the Amish aren’t fundamentalists then I don’t know who are.

The difference is that their fundamental is a Man dying for His enemies. The cultural and political baggage that has sometimes attached itself to Christianity (and there is plenty) aside, this is what lies at the very heart of the Christian faith. Christians are told to forgive the same way that Jesus did, and for his sake. If they don’t, they are departing from its teachings.

What’s your fundamental?

Why Did Jesus Have To Die?

A lot of folks these days want to emphasize Jesus’ teachings as if that was the main reason He came. This demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Bible actually says about His mission. What He taught was important, but the centre lies in what He came to do: to die an atoning death, and then to resurrect. But why did Jesus have to die before God could forgive?

Justice is a balancing of accounts. We’ve all seen the statue of Justice in front of courthouses. Blindfolded and holding scales, the image suggests the evening of accounts (the scales) and impartiality before the law (the blindfold).

The Moral law is at its heart a value system. The Law says people possess inherent value that goes beyond their usefulness or beauty: that everyone matters just because God made them.

But we have a problem. When I decide what I want is more important than someone elses’s rights and I act on it, I am basically saying that they don’t matter as much as my agenda. I offend against their worth as human beings. The Bible calls this sin.

If God is just, He must punish sin; the account must be settled. If He just lets it slide, He denies the value of the wounded party. We see this in everyday life when a criminal gets a slap on the wrist for some heinous crime. The outrage we feel at injustice is real and appropriate; it would be unfair to the victim for the Creator of the moral law to turn a blind eye to their hurt. And God is fair.

We all sin, in big and small ways, everyday. History gives ample proof that no utopian system of education or philosophy can change the human heart; our history is filled with guns and whips and wars. Granted that as moral beings, there are many instances of nobility and goodness, but we can’t get around the fact that none of us keeps the moral law perfectly. Humanity’s history is, to say the least, chequered.

And since we sin, God must judge us. Our actions have made Him our enemy. How then can God be just and yet show mercy? We’re in a hopeless position.

But what if another took our punishment? One who was sinless, and somehow suffered for us? Justice would be served, the value of the victim upheld, and God could then forgive.

That is why Christ’s atoning death is important.

People misunderstand if they think that in doing so God turns a blind eye to suffering and evil. This is where Christ’s atoning death is key: nothing less than the death of God incarnate was enough to account for the sin of humanity. He paid what we couldn’t pay so He could offer forgiveness to all.

And there is sort of a wonderful symmetry to it all: we were separated from God when we decided not to trust Him – that we knew better, and chose to ignore His law. But His atoning death only becomes effective when we decide that He knows better: that we accept our guilt and decide to trust in His justifying work for us instead of our our own attempts to justify ourselves through good works and religious acts. To choose to trust him is the exact opposite of what got humanity into its bind in the first place. It’s quite humbling.

And both Justice and mercy being satisfied, the choice to trust God changes our hearts in real ways; it’s the work of a lifetime, but we are being remade from the inside out. We look to Him, not our own selfish attempts to justify ourselves: and in doing so become sons and daughters of God in practical fact.

Faith and Forgiveness

The heart that really understands God’s power can afford to forgive, to live a generous, open life.

To resent and hold things against people is the mark of a shrunken, insular spirit, turned in on itself and trying to live on its own meagre resources.

Guilty Christians?

“I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me”.
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭4:3-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Why do Christians still struggle with feelings of guilt?

I think it’s because we continue to judge ourselves and our motives. Being the imperfect humans we are, we always come up short. It robs us of the joy we should expect as Christians.

Many blame this guilt on organized religion, but I think that’s throwing the baby out with the bath water. I think the problem actually lies deep within our own hearts.

We are still trying to justify ourselves. When we judge ourselves or others, we are measuring our performance as the indicator of our spirituality. This kind of justification is not by grace, but still on works; our own or others. We have fallen from grace, literally.

Why would we even want to go there? His justification is free. Might it be because in justifying ourselves we can still feel we are our own boss? We desperately want to call our lives our own.

True grace and who’s really in charge of our life are two sides of the same coin. We can’t hope for His grace without submitting to the death of our own agendas, for that is what making Him Lord in our lives really means: what He wants must become more important than what I want.

What counts now is simply a decision to please Him in obedience to His revealed will, and the daily seeking of the grace to do so. We may take it as a given that we will act out of (at best) mixed motives, but God has forgiven us. We can’t change our hearts; that’s His business.

Give Him your life, do your best, and trust Him as your justifier. And stop beating yourself up.

Can We Live As We Want?

Many people think that because Jesus paid for our sins, we can relax and just live as we please. He’s a forgiving God, right?

Not so fast.

Even a casual reading of the Bible will tell us that God cares, and cares very much, about how we live. Christ’s death puts us in right standing with God, but if we have any concept of what it cost God to pay our debt, we would hardly live to further indulge that which separated us from Him in the first place.

In Galatians, Paul lays it out pretty plain: God’s moral law delineates simple, unselfish living: love God, and love your neighbour as yourself. But when we try to do this, we often fail; there is sort of a moral gravity that pulls us towards selfish thoughts and actions, and even though we know better, we break this law. Our inability shows us our need for an intervention.

Our failure to be perfectly moral serves now as our “schoolmaster to bring us to Christ”; it is only by knowledge of our moral imperfection that we realize our need of God’s grace.

The gospel tells us we don’t try to earn our way into God’s good books by keeping the rules but by admitting our need. We have to trust Him and His provision. And if we hope for forgiveness we must bear in mind that codes and creeds don’t forgive, but persons: and we are dealing with a real Person, not just a religion. And that relation will change us from the inside out.

Anyone who thinks they can now live without care for their own behaviour simply shows they neither understand nor appreciate the Grace that is offered them; it’s only the heart that weeps for its own spiritual poverty that stands ready to accept forgiveness.

God will always care very much about how we live. If we are really His, our lives will reflect it, dead to our old selfish ways and following Him not because we’re being forced to, but out of humble gratitude for the work done on our behalf.

If Justice is real and people have intrinsic worth, and if truth is a real thing that goes beyond personal opinion, the sensible thing to do is to seek it. And if there is a real truth, it must stand above other claims.

Where shall we look? Many people think science can tell us all the truth we need to know, but is that really so? Science (as useful as it is) only deals with “how” questions, and facts like the boiling point of water. As to questions of right, wrong and value it is silent.

History deals with evidence and historical records. This is more useful in our quest, but can’t prove things with mathematical certainty. We have to take certain things on the authority of evidence presented to us, but we can investigate the reliability of these sources to at least make informed decisions.

Philosophy and logic bring us closer still. We can examine the various truth claims for contradictions and outcomes.

Religion gives us codes and creeds, “to do” lists and techniques to achieve a higher place. They generally agree that moral truth is not man-made, but a fact that stands above humanity, and to which we will have to answer to. Of particular interest is how they deal with the fact that even though we know what right and wrong are, we sometimes make choices we know are wrong.

Hinduism gives us Karma and reincarnation (you keep coming back until you get it right), Buddhism teaches detachment from this world, Islam a fatalistic, earn-your-way-to-paradise structure. If it is Allah’s will, you’ll be fine. Otherwise…

Even Christianity is understood by many as just another way to earn your ticket, like St. Peter is going to put your deeds on a big scale and decide whether he’ll let you in the pearly gates (I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to be the poor person who only got 49.9 percent on that test!).

But the truth at the centre of the Christian Gospel is structurally different: that of a Man dying for His enemies. It is the historical record of love for the unlovely, and the defeat of death. It is the truth of humility, of the recognition of our value, the depth of our rebellion, and the wonder of our redemption – not earned, but freely given to all who admit their need and simply accept it.

It is the story of Grace. Of forgiveness that is freely given out of a love that chooses to give.

There are many kinds of love. Friendship, affection, erotic love… but above them all stands what the Greeks called agape, gift love, the love that recognizes the inherent worth of the beloved and chooses to love even its enemies. It doesn’t look for what’s-in-it-for-me, but seeks the best for others before itself. It affirms the inherent worth of the individual. It is the love of choice: not reactive, but proactive, a love that takes the initiative.

This is why Jesus told us to love even our enemies; not because they deserve it, but because God made them too. He demonstrated it on the cross, while we were still rebelling against His righteous claims on our lives.

Religion as commonly understood is all about being good to get to heaven. The problem is that when we feel we’ve earned something, we also feel we can judge those who have made poorer choices.

But when we receive forgiveness as a gift, we’ve got nothing to brag about, and that’s the entire point. What got us into trouble in the first place was that we wanted to be first: pride places self above the Other, above God and His moral law. When our ancestors decided to disobey God, it was an act of pride, deciding that we knew better: and we do it ourselves, every time we act selfishly.

But the person who comes to Christ does it through humble trust in the Giver, not through the “I can do it!” attitude of pride. No amount of effort can heal our wilful hearts; when we finally recognize this and ask for God’s help, we dance Adam’s dance backwards.

Jesus was notoriously casual about who He hung out with. His retinue included a former prostitute, a tax collector, a handful of blue-collar fishermen and other plain folk. He mostly got mad at the religious types. The prostitutes and tax collectors had no illusions as to where they stood; the religious ones, on the other hand, were proud of their religiousity, and (ironically) were further from God for it.

Modern takes on religion want to leave the pride in place while appearing spiritual. We’re proud of our openness and our tolerance, but never get to the point where we will have to make a decision on the real, unavoidable truth of our own fallen natures and its consequences. But the God Who Is calls to us. What will we choose?

Afraid to Forgive

Maybe the reason we have trouble forgiving critical people is because we’re afraid they’re right. By holding the hurt against them we feel we’re pushing back, that we are affirming ourselves against the pain they cause us. We shout back, “No! You’re wrong!” We fume and fret and want to put them in their place. Who are they to talk like that to us, anyways?

But at the root of it is our own insecurity – which is just inverted pride because It’s Still All About Us. As long as we are in that state we can’t help but worry about what others think.

We’re whistling in the dark. What if they’re right? We make an idol out of our desire to be respected.

Against this stands the Christian understanding of our true nature. We are told we are bent, that we were created good but separated ourselves from the only real source of life through our own pride and self-will. We understand right and wrong, but we still make poor choices, and this tendency is so ingrained and our rebellion so heinous that only the sacrifice of God incarnate could make a way back for us.

But the Bible also tells us we were that valuable, so intensely desired by God that He would do such a thing for us. We were built for an eternity with Him.

And that is where our true identity resides: redeemed sons and daughters of the One who made it all. Instead of shouting back at a world that sometimes seems indifferent to us, we can rest in God’s valuation. He thought we were important enough to die for, and if I fill my head and my heart with that, it’s easier to forgive.

Wouldn’t it be great to not lie awake at night steaming about slights and offences, just to be able to let it all go? To get rid of that angry, burning knot in your stomach? It’s possible – but how?

I think that to really forgive others we have to first acknowledge our own guilt and need of grace. We have hurt God, offending against His law every time we put ourselves and our own interests above those of a loving God or our neighbour. It cost God the death of His own Son to put it right – the only way He could show us the mercy we needed while still remaining just.  When we finally get this we can understand what it cost God to purchase our own reconciliation – and the undeserved forgiveness offered to us.

In our politically correct, self-actualizing, all-about-me world, that really runs against the grain. But it’s just common sense if you take a minute to think about it: if we offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us on any other basis, we’re telling ourselves (whether we’ll admit it or not) we’re better than them, and so pass judgement on them. And if we go there, we may ask ourselves if we really have forgiven them.

God has done this wonderful thing for us, and we are commanded to do likewise for the people in our own lives. We can’t forgive on any other basis, and it’s frankly easier to forgive when you realize you’ve blown it too. It’s humbling in the best sort of way.

Forgiveness

When you hate, the object of your hatred holds a certain power over you; and whatever form your retaliation takes, it will always be a reaction to something they did to you. To hate is to be locked in a perverse dance of death with person you despise, and is a part and parcel of this fallen, natural world. It is a reaction. Someone snubs you, insults or marginalizes you, and you stew and fume and fret and imagine how you’d get even if you had the chance and nerve. And it makes us smaller.

 

To forgive breaks this power they hold over us, because forgiveness isn’t a reaction but a moral choice to take a higher road. It is a rising above, it is a becoming of the true selves we were created to be; it ennobles us. This also is part of what I believe Jesus meant when He told us to love, to forgive our enemies, to turn the other cheek. We are taking our places as twice-born sons and daughters of God. Remember the natural life is one of action and reaction. God’s way is a path of a different sort: one of free choice, inserting new causes into the world through the moral choices of love and forgiveness.

 

In this sense we become creators with God. We are creating new things, something quite literally out of nothing: for where there was hate we choose to insert forgiveness, where nature would have reacted with anger and revenge. Forgiveness isn’t natural – in the best sense of the word. Forgiveness comes from outside nature, and it is to this we are called.

 

And this (in our own strength) is practically impossible. This is where we realize our spiritual poverty, our need of God’s continuing grace, His help just to live as  a true disciple.