Musings on Christianity 21

Musings on Christianity 21

Do We Have To Forgive Everyone?

There have been times in my life where I felt truly, and honestly offended. I’m not talking about the offense I feel when a guy cuts me off, or a person says something rude to me. Those things bother me, but I can probably get over it with a bit of time. However, I’m talking about the person I trusted with my darkest fears using them against me. I’m talking about a biological father who should have raised me to love and honor God molesting a sibling. I’m talking about a church surrounding my mother and ordering her to forgive that same biological father to keep the marriage united.

When I look at Christ and all he’s done for me, it can be convicting to see how He acted and realize I chose vindication over a forgiving heart. Have you ever wanted someone to be punished? I have. I’ve wanted people to pay for what they’ve done.

But how willing was I to pay for any of my wrong? Not at all. I want all the forgiveness. If that’s so, shouldn’t I then be willing to offer it? 

But do we have to?

Jesus commanded us very clearly to forgive those who ask of it.

“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying , ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17: 3-4)

This is easy Christian math. If someone asks your forgiveness, you must give it. We’ve talked for two chapters about why this is important and why we have no right to withhold our forgiveness. This chapter is more about a few areas people may not understand so well. I know I didn’t.

First, let’s look at the mechanics of forgiveness. When we’re offended, Christ orders us to rebuke him. He doesn’t instruct us to yell at him. He doesn’t tell us to punish him. The greek word for rebuke in this verse is epitimeson. It means to censure. You might use it to chide or admonish or warn. That word is used two more times in the Bible (according to my research), Luke 19:39 and 2 Timothy 4:2. In all three there’s an tone of scolding.

We have to approach those who wrong us and address our grievance. We do this for a few reasons: First, we have to let out those feelings. How often have you tried to hold in your anger only for it to explode as something much larger than the initial offense warranted? Rebuking those who sin against us allows us to express our hurt in a healthy manner instead of going nuclear the thousandth time your husband leaves the toilet seat up. Second, it allows the person who wronged you the opportunity to repent.

Now, here someone might tangentially say to himself, “Oh he knows what he did!” or “She should know that bothers me!” Maybe, but this is still Biblically important. We sometimes don’t ask for forgiveness out of shame. We sometimes don’t ask because we think we got away with it. Maybe the person we wronged doesn’t realize we’ve done something to them, but God does, so the need to repent is still there. So even if you know, and you know they know, we still need to allow them the opportunity to repent. Doing so gains us a brother. (Matthew 18:15-17. Cross reference Luke 17:3-4)

In the previous paragraph, I said there is some Biblical importance. There’s also precedent. Let’s look at the first sin:

“He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:11)

Here God, who absolutely knew what Adam had done, shows us exactly what Christ instructs us to do later (it helps when they’re one and the same). He had every right to punish Adam and say, “You know what you did!” But He didn’t. Yes, He did punish Adam, but not before allowing Adam the chance to repent and ask forgiveness. Adam didn’t. He went straight to blaming his wife, who then blamed the serpent. None of them even asked for forgiveness or confessed of their sin. (Genesis 3:12-13).

So, it doesn’t matter if they know what they did or not, we’re commanded to rebuke them. So how did God rebuke them? See the passage above. Even in that situation, God didn’t shout or scream. He asked a question. That’s not the only way to rebuke someone, and we’ll talk more about how to rebuke in the next chapter. For now, please know that rebuke doesn’t in any way mean, punish. Remember, the goal is repentance. That’s God’s goal for us, and so it should be our goal for those who wrong us.

Therefore, we must rebuke those who sin against us. Then comes the essential clause “if he repents.”

No, you don’t have to forgive someone who doesn’t ask for it. God certainly doesn’t. Remember, only those who repent of their sins and accept Christ as their Savior receive their gift.

But, that doesn’t mean we can’t forgive them. It doesn’t mean that our forgiveness doesn’t matter in those cases. Let’s look at what our Savior chose do to even as he Hung on the cross:

“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34b)

As He hung there, they ridiculed Him and mocked Him. Not a one of them asked forgiveness during the crucifixion. In Acts, Peter rebukes them and offers them the chance to repent (some of them did). (Acts 2:36)

For those of you who might want to find the plot hole and say Christ didn’t rebuke them, yes, he did. In Luke 23:28-31, Christ very clearly warns the mourners to mourn for themselves, “ … weep for yourselves and for your children …  For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Now that we’ve tied those ends, we can return our focus to what matters. The simple answer is this: If someone sins against you, and you rebuke them, but they don’t repent and seek forgiveness, you don’t have to forgive them, but you can. And that graciousness will still be applied to you because as you were forgiven, you have forgiven others (Ephesians 4:32).   

Don’t, however, fall for the trap of thinking those who ask “deserve” forgiveness and those who don’t “don’t deserve” forgiveness. Remember, no one deserves to be forgiven. It is a gift, and to be a loving, giving person is wonderful fruit to bear as a Christian. It’s hard to do, but there are so many benefits to a heart God strengthens enough to do so.

Who in this world would blame a person for wanting vengeance of wrong? But if it is grace we want from God, shouldn’t we then offer it to others?

Evil men hold grudges. Evil men plot revenge and mete out punishment. Is that who you want to be?

Be forgiving, so that you are a forgiving person. Be loving, so that you are a loving person. I tell my sons (one of whom is bullied), that if you give in to your hate and mete out vengeance, you only make yourself one of them. This isn’t the same as defending yourself or rebuking those who sin against you. However, when push comes to shove, you can do as others do, or you can do as Christ did. Who is it you want to be like?

A significant portion of this information was at the very least derived from an article by Tabletalk Magazine, by R.C. Sproul.

For our panel: How is forgiveness given? What should one do if the one we’ve rebuked doesn’t repent? What if that person isn’t a brother? If we don’t have to forgive people who don’t ask for it, why should we? Why is it some people seek forgiveness so desperately, but they don’t offer it to others? How does someone help that person see what he’s doing?

Musings on Christianity 20

Musings on Christianity 20

Can Anyone Be Saved? Can Anyone Be Forgiven? Can I ever forgive anyone?

Last chapter was a pretty convicting chapter. It certainly was for me when I saw myself through that filter. However, once a person sees the depth of one’s own sin, the beauty of Christ’s love becomes all the more amazing.

Even in the time of Christ, people had a desire to compare themselves to other men, which is the wrong measurement.

A Pharisee and a tax collector went to pray. The Pharisee told God all the things he wasn’t and all the things he did that made him righteous. The tax collector only asked for mercy. (Paraphrase of Luke 18:9-14)

When we see our own sin, we understand our need. Now, once that happens, we see how merciful God, through Christ, can be.

We also already discussed the thief on the cross. (Luke 23:39-43) If that story doesn’t show you just how wonderful Christ’s forgiveness is, look at one of the most recognizable apostles ever.

Saul  of Tarsus was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. (1 Timothy 1:13) He witnessed at least one stoning and confessed he voted to execute several other Christians before Christ approached him on the road to Damascus.

There are some people who truly mourn their sin. They punish themselves, feeling as though God couldn’t love them because of their sin. On their own, that’s true. With man, it’s impossible to reach Heaven, but not with God. (Matthew 19:26)

Through Christ, any man can be forgiven. Christ, the perfect Lamb of God, paid the price for whatever sin it is you carry. By God’s grace, we can receive the gift of forgiveness. There isn’t a thing you need to do. Heck, there’s not a single thing you could do. It’s a gift! He didn’t do it because you deserve it. That’s what mercy is.

Don’t let the sins you mourn cause you to look away or hide from Christ. Instead, rejoice! Rejoice that those sins have been punished.  The list of our debt was set aside and nailed to the cross. (Colossians 2:14)

Repent means to turn away. I still emphasis the turning away as evidence. Stop the sin that weighs you down. Don’t continue to live in it simply because you feel it’s too late. It’s never too late. The thief one the cross taught us that. Don’t simply live in it because you feel you couldn’t ever be forgiven! Paul taught us that.

This was a huge stumbling block for me. I carried guilt with me, nurturing it in my heart because I thought I deserved to be punished. I took every bad thing that ever happened as evidence of my forsaken nature. I was blind to how wonderful forgiveness is. I was so focused on how horrible I felt, I didn’t realize just how light a burden Christ really is. (Matthew 11:28-30) I thought I had to earn redemption. I thought I had to earn righteousness.

The problem was I knew that one who’d already sinned in any way could never be righteous.

But then I stopped looking to myself. I looked to the only being in all the world in any religion who not only was perfect, but paid the price I couldn’t pay. And He did it for one reason: Love.

The other hurdle was wanting to live in a world where I could be forgiven but others could not be. I wanted to put myself on the throne of God, telling myself my sins weren’t “that bad.” I arrogantly decided that “these” sins were too great, but my sins were so much less horrible, and therefor tolerable. This put me on a horrid cycle of guilt and self-justification.

But then I stopped trying to classify sin and focused instead on Christ, whose blood washed away all sins. This meant I had to let go of my own self-righteousness and hate. Some who read the last chapter will say I’m lying and I’m still judgmental. Stating the truth that the price of sin (regardless of degree) is death is a far cry from offering a list of the saved and the damned. Challenging anyone to look at the sin in their life isn’t a condemnation; it’s simply a challenge.

When you accept that challenge under the correct mindset, realizing that sin leads to death, you realize your need is as equally desperate as any maniac or murderer. Once you see that, you understand that Christ still paid the price.

Through Christ, God forgave my sins. If I were to try and name or list my sins, even just the ones I was aware of and felt guilt over, I’d never be able to get to anything else. But if God forgave me all my sins, shouldn’t I be able to forgive the man who cut me off? Shouldn’t I be able to forgive the father who shattered our family?

Consider the worst sin you’ve ever committed. For you, it may not be “that bad.” Forget for a moment that sin is sin, and your sin is indeed “that bad.” Think about the guilt you carry. How heavy is it? Mine felt like a mountain I couldn’t crawl from under. Through Christ, God forgives. But if he can forgive all your sins, every, single, one, including the one that gives you the most guilt; can’t you then also forgive the person who did the worst thing ever to you?

I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying it’s “fair.” Fair means we’re all condemned. Grace means we deserve punishment, but we’re passed over anyway. Grace means we realize our guilt, but praise God for the gift of grace He’s given us.

Rather than live in a world where “some” people “aren’t perfect” but still get to go to Heaven and “other” people are “much worse” so therefore deserve condemnation, consider for a moment the beauty of a world where even though we’re all wretched sinners, we can have redemption through Christ.

Yes, that means we have to forgive, but is it really so terrible? Again, I didn’t say it wasn’t hard, but is it so awful to think that anyone could be forgiven? Is it so awful when you remember that you were forgiven, too?

Why not forgive as we were forgiven? (Ephesians 4:32)

I acknowledge it’s easier said than done, but I can also tell you from experience that it’s actually easier to forgive than it is to carry that resentment and anger with you your whole life. I can tell you finding the ability to forgive others is easier when you take stock of the sin in your own life first.

This doesn’t mean we just randomly forgive anyone all the time. At least, I don’t think it does. That’s the question I mean to ask in the next chapter.

For our panel: What verses do you turn to, to contemplate how wondrous the forgiveness you’ve received is? What do you do when you know you should forgive, but still find it so hard to actually do? Can God really, really, forgive any sin through Christ? Should a person who honestly doesn’t feel like the’ve commit an “unforgivable sin” contemplate their own salvation?