The Last Days?

Today, the feast of trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) continues for Jews all over the world as their new year. Aside from a time of celebration, Biblically the festival calls for contemplation and repentance in preparation for the Day of Atonement (as mentioned in the previous post). These Jewish festivals established by God Himself call Israel to recall God’s acts of faithfulness and remain steadfast in their commitment for God. As also mentioned in the former post, many of these feasts have fulfillment in Christ’s redemptive work. Furthermore, there are some who speculate that God’s future acts may revolve around the symbolism and timing found in these festivals. Jesus’ crucifixion occurred around Passover and His resurrection during the accompanying feast of unleavened bread. There are also those who speculate that Jesus’ Divine conception or actual birth occurred on the Feast of Tabernacles symbolizing Divinity tabernacling again with humanity. 

For similar reasons, there are some who speculate that Jesus’ rapture may occur around the Feast of Trumpets in light of the 1 Thessalonians 1:16 trumpet of God. While Jesus did say in Matthew 24:36 that no man knows the day or hour of Christ’s return, He did answer the disciples’ question with signs for the timing near His return. So, will Jesus someday rapture His church around the Feast of Trumpets? We have no way to know for sure. We simply know that His return is soon and we must therefore be ready at all times (Acts 1:11, Revelation 22:7)!

Regarding the times of the seasons and the imminent return of Christ, it is indeed interesting what is going on in our own world today.

Amidst all of the turmoil, unrest, and persecution, we also hear opinions about the timing of Jewish festivals and even some talking about signs in the skies like the tetrad blood moon events this year and next year.

Through all of this attention on the end times, what is to be the Christian’s response and focus?

First as foundational and foremost, we must always come back to the Scriptures for they are our bedrock source of truth. The following is simply an attempt to steer our minds that Word-centered direction…

The events of our day are increasingly troubling as we hear of atrocities committed against religious “minorities” on the other side of the world. It’s very easy for us to read of promised persecution in Scripture and somehow diminish it’s seriousness. It’s difficult for those of us, who live shielded from the realities of violent opposition in our “safe” American cocoon, to see the chaos unfolding on the other side of the globe as part of what Jesus promised would come (John 15:18-22; 16:1-4; 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 10-15). It’s hard for us to realize that Hebrews 11:35-38 describes violent persecution that occurred with God’s people that is quite similar to what actually is happening in our own day. 

What then is to be our Biblical response to this ongoing persecution on the other side of the globe?

My mind is drawn to Matthew 24 where the disciples ask Jesus about the sign of His coming, and Jesus responds with the birth pain signs we read through the chapter. At the end of his answer, however, Jesus’ challenge for them is to stay awake and be ready (Matthew 24:41-44).

We may hear David’s anguishing heart for God’s deliverance from his enemies during his life as a fugitive from Saul and be motivated to pray for similar deliverance for those under persecution. Yet, we often don’t see physical deliverance from persecution. At the other end of the Scriptures, we read in Revelation 6:9-10 where the martyrs cry to God for vengeance saying, “How long, O Lord?”

So what can we as Christians living in these last days do?

Answer: We are to be about the very same things Jesus commanded us to live for… waging the war on His mission of preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 28:18-20) and picturing this Gospel through our Christlike actions (Ephesians 2:10, 3:10). This is seen largely in Ephesians 4 where Paul challenges the Ephesian church with it’s calling, which was for those spiritually gifted with teaching roles within the church to equip the rest of the church to do the work of God’s ministry all with the goal of seeing all of Christ’s followers mature into being like Jesus. Thus, our lives are to be about worshipping God, actively submitting to His equipping of us through the church, and then being the church on mission together as we proclaim and exemplify the Gospel to a hurting, sin-wrecked world. 

In Philippians, Paul’s words to the concerned church in Philippi drip with his perspective of suffering for Christ. Writing literally from prison, Paul encourages the believers to be encouraged that Paul views the Gospel immensely worthy of suffering, for he was suffering for Christ’s sake (Philippians 1:29-30). Earlier in chapter 1 Paul shared his eternal perspective that must have been greatly frustrating for his opponents. If the opposition allowed Paul to live, that was for Christ as he still proclaimed the Gospel. If the opposition put him in prison, he still sang praise to God and shared Jesus with those in prison. If the opposition decided to kill him, Paul said that was great gain for He would then be with Christ in heaven (Philippians 1:21)!  

Literally, for us as the church today, if we live, it is for Christ and if we die, it is eternal gain for we too will be with Christ. This is a difficult perspective to sometimes maintain, as our world subtly chips away at it with the gods of comfort, apathy, acceptance, tolerance, and ultimately tragic deception. May our supreme cry of our lives, the very heartbeat of our hearts, resonate loudly with Paul’s in Philippians 3:7-11… that we actively engage in Christ’s purposes all for His glory, which will bring persecution worthy of the redemption purchased at Calvary!

We read from Ephesians 6 that this indeed is a spiritual battle that we must actively engage through the Spirit’s power every day. Never do you find in Scripture the idea that we are to run from opposition that comes from faithfulness to Christ’s mission. We do, however, have promises that opposition will indeed come, especially in the last days.

Regardless of the next opinion of when Christ may return, we must keep our responsibility constant before us. As we continue to see the birth pain signs from Matthew 24 become a reality in our own day and the days ahead, we have two choices with our lives. We can plod forward in complete apathy, numb from the brevity of our calling in life. Or… We can engage in the mission as Jesus’ church and advance through the darkness of this sin-wrecked world in the power of the Spirit, proclaiming the message of Jesus’ redemption, and bringing glory to the Father. 

Engage in our study of Scripture. Engage in our communion with God through prayer. Engage in our pursuit of holiness. Engage in our Gospel-centered, self-sacrificing marriages and parenting. Engage in our raising up successive generations as committed disciples of Jesus. Engage in our Biblically redeemed calling to be men and women according to God’s design. Engage in our submission to living each day in the Spirit and thereby producing the fruit of the Spirit as characteristic of our lives. Engage in our passion to share the Gospel with those God places in our path. Engage in our responsibility of using our own spiritual gifting to intentionally make disciples. Engage in our calling to be committed to the local church. Engage in our calling to intentionally allow ourselves to enter into authentic relationships of discipleship community. Engage in our passion to picture the Gospel through our outreach with the downtrodden and poor.

You get the idea… engage in living as Christ did, all flowing from your worship of Him! We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19)!

Finally, as we see Biblical signs (like intensified suffering) become realities in our own day, may we allow them to have the impact Jesus challenged in Matthew 24 of keeping us awake and ready, fully engaged on His mission for us as His church! If you want to put words to the confidence we have going forward amidst intense opposition and trial, read Paul in Romans 8:18-39 or 2 Corinthians 4:8-18!

 

- Derek

Are You Different?

   "Do not love the world or anything in the world." 1 John 2:15 

   "Many of the distinctions separating Christian conduct from worldly conduct have been challenged if not altogether undermined.  Even the words worldly and worldliness have, within a generation, lost most of their traditional meaning." (James Hunter) The distinctions that were once very clear to previous generations have been blurred and altered to the point that Christians are in crisis. 

    "Today, the greatest challenge facing American evangelicals is not persecution from the world, but seduction by the world."  (C.J. Mahaney)  The church and individual Christians are decaying from within because we've dropped our guard against worldliness.

    Are the lines between Christian conduct and worldly conduct blurry in your mind?  Let me put it another way.  Is your lifestyle different from that of the non-Christian?  Question - If someone were given two reports detailing your conversations, Internet activity, manner of dress, music on your iPod, TV and movie habits, hobbies, leisure time, finances, thoughts, language, attitudes, plans for the future and a non-Christians, would they be able to tell them apart.  If the difference is hard to detect, you might be in danger of drifting down the deserter's path with Demas (See previous post - 2 Timothy 4:10)

    God has given you a warning sign in 1 John 2:15, "Do not love the world or anything in the world."  Warnings are not legalistic restrictions from a God who doesn't want what is best for us.  Warnings are His expressions of His love for us.  He gives them for our good, to protect us from sin and its consequences.

    What is this world that we are not to love?  It's not the world that God created and called 'very good' in Genesis 1:31.  It's the organized system of human civilization that is actively hostile to God and alienated from God.  The world God forbids us to love is the fallen world that is diametrically opposed to Him and His Son Jesus Christ.  Every day we make choices whether we realize it or not, between love for a world that opposes God and love for Jesus Christ.

    Worldliness is choosing the values and pursuits of the world that stand opposed to God.  Worldliness is choosing to gratify and exalt yourself over finding your pleasure in Him.  It rejects His good and right rule and replaces it with our own. It exalts our opinions above God's truth.  "Worldliness is human nature without God." (Joel Beeke)

   Questions for you to ponder: What dominates your mind and stirs your heart?  Is it discontentment with you life? Wanting something you don't have?  Do you long for more power, pleasure or prosperity?  Do you covet the esteem and crave the approval of others? Are you afraid of being rejected for your Christian faith?  Or, do you deeply want to grow in godliness, becoming more like Jesus Christ and bring honor and glory the Lord through your life?

    These are tough questions, but necessary if you're going to discover whether you have been infected with the spiritual disease of worldliness.  More to come...

Cut and Paste Living

Have you ever heard of the Jefferson Bible?  Thomas Jefferson, or second president literally cut and pasted his own personal Bible, taking only those verses that he liked.  It was a book he was comfortable with. 

            Hell didn’t make it.  Anything supernatural, no.  God’s wrath against sin, absolutely not.  As a Christian I am appalled by the thought of someone creating their own Bible by omitting whatever they don’t like.

            And then I thought about how often I have ignored portions of God’s Word.  Guilty!  Here’s a verse that was brought to my attention recently that I think many of us try to ignore in one way or another.  Simple yet piercing if you really try to apply it.  “Do not love the world or anything in the world”  (1 John 2:15). 

            This verse is pointed, “Do not love the world”.  It’s also broad, “or anything in the world.”  It’s aimed at many of my desires, yet I’ve never memorized it or felt like I needed it in my battle against sin.  I’ve read it many times yet many more times I’ve lived like it wasn’t in my Bible.

            How does a Christian know if they are worldly?  Are you immune to worldliness?  If we ignore this command, we are not just guilty of making our own Bible; we’re in peril of being seduced by a fallen world that is diametrically opposed to God.  We are all at risk!

            The Apostle Paul described someone who was in love with the world and what happened to him.  He was a companion of Paul’s and helped him spread the gospel.  He stood by Paul during his first imprisonment.  Yet, listen to what said about him in 2 Timothy 4:10, “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me.”

            What happened? I’m sure he didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to bail out. Before he deserted, he drifted away from his first love, Christ. You know someone like Demas, don’t you, someone who burned brightly for a time and then slowly turned away from the faith.

            So often we’re ignorant of the signs and symptoms of worldliness because a person can carry on looking on the outside like everything is great while slowly eroding away on the inside. Maybe he or she is still in church but on the inside not really excited to be there.  Maybe they sing worship song but without any real affection.  Listen to the sermon but without any conviction.  Spiritual growth wanes as they hear the truth but don’t apply it to themselves. 

            A love for the things of the world crowds out the love for Christ. A love for the world begins in your soul and it causes a subtle shift from the things of Christ to the things of the world.  In this way, the person who was once captivated by Christ, over time is taken captive by sin.  A slippery slope.

            So, are you on the downward slide? Sadly, many Christians are unaware of the peril they are in because they have ignored verses like 1 John 2:15, and become desensitized to the clear and present danger of worldliness.

            More reflections on this to come from my reading: Worldliness – Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World,  Edited by C.J. Mahaney

Evil shows that God is

Evil shows that God is

This post deals with mature topics. 

I have been following the trial of Jerry Sandusky with more interest than most people in the area. (He was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse of minors – the details are unpleasant and are not helpful in this context)  Some of that has to do with the fact that the trial took place in Pennsylvania, near my aunt’s house.  Some of that has to do with the nature of Mr. Sandusky – he and Joe Paterno were minor demigods in the area where I grew up.  If they were at a football game, scouting players for Penn State football, it was a big deal.

To see the details from the trial was sickening.  Further details that came out after the trial about Mr. Sandusky’s relationship with his adopted children were even more sickening.  The man will spend the rest of his life behind bars, which is good but will not heal the victims.  He will have to answer to his Maker – I pray that Mr. Sandusky knows Christ and that his sins were paid for on the Cross of Calvary.

An interesting sidelight, however, has been the (justifiable IMO) moral outrage over the crimes that Mr. Sandusky committed.  People know that a wrong was done (BTW – so did Mr. Sandusky – why else did he commit his crimes alone in the basement or in the showers after hours? John 3:19).  There has been much outrage over the crimes and why no one did anything.  The question I am asking is – why?

Why are people who believe in moral relativism so upset?  Those who say that we make our own right and wrong are angered over Mr. Sandusky’s choices of right and wrong.  I believe that their anger comes from the imprint of God on their heart (Romans 2:14-15).  There is a right and wrong.  We know that.  We did not makes it – we live by it and when we see gross actions that violate this sense of right and wrong, we get angry.

Where does this sense of right and wrong come from?  God.  Where does this anger come from?  God.  The same anger that burns against this sin burns in the heart of God against all sin – were it not so, He would not be a good and just God.  Evil has been defined as the absence of good and of God.  The fact that evil is – and our passionate reaction to evil – shows us that God is.

Passionate Worship

I have to admit this story gave me a smile.  A kindergarten student was so committed to her parents’ alma mater that she would not color a picture of the mascot from the rival school, even though it was a required assignment in school.  The teacher was not happy, but her parents were pleased that she stuck up for her convictions.  Eventually, the little girl colored the picture (Because Mom said she had to), handed it in and threw it away when she received it back from her teacher.  The story spread like wildfire at the alma mater to the point where the little girl was the guest of honor at a recent Big 12 Conference game.  It is a great, lighthearted story that has at least 2 powerful reminders for Christians.

The first one is – how passionate is our worship of Jesus?  Would we do the same thing for Christ?  How quickly we show our passion at athletic events for our favorite players and teams – would we do the same for the Kingdom!

The second brief reminder is similar – how much does passion for Christ please the Father.  The little girl received great ‘rewards’ for her passion to a university.  How much more will the Lord honor those who have suffered and died for Christ!  In fact , we will ge the greatest reward imaginable – we will receive Him! 

Revelation 21:3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

I hope that these story stir up our passion for the Lord and our desire to honor him in all we are, even at the cost of everything we hold dear in this life. 

KS

The Captain

The collision between a cruise ship and a sand bar near Italy has been big news all around the world. The conduct of the captain has some calling for criminal charges. I liked this quote from CNN, quoting a US Coast Guard veteran, lawyer and Coast Guard Academy Instructor – "If you're going to be master of a ship, your responsibility is first to your passengers, second to your crew, then you look after yourself," said Allen, a Coast Guard veteran. "It's shameless and dishonorable [for the captain] to take himself out of the mix like that."

Jesus made a different choice – to insert Himself ‘into the mix’, so to speak. He chose to identify with a rebellious crew of shipwrecked sinners. As Hebrews 2:9-10 puts it (better than I ever could), "But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder (or captain) of their salvation perfect through suffering."

The captain in Italy chose to save himself and was dishonored and worse. Jesus – My Lord, my Savior, my Captain - chose not to save himself, but us. Because of that, God honors Him – and we should to. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” Luke 9:24

KS

Doctrine Study Questions

 Download Pastor John's Call to Ministry and Doctrinal Statement Here

Download a Copy of the Doctrine Questions (Below) Here

Bibliology – The Doctrine of Divine Revelation

Define and distinguish inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility.

What were some of the criterion used for accepting a book as inspired Scripture? 

How would you respond to someone who denied the inerrancy of the Bible based textual variants (the fact that no two manuscripts agree entirely)?  

Distinguish between special and general revelation.

How would you defend a literal account of creation as recorded in Genesis 1-3?

Define and discuss the doctrine of illumination

 

Theology – The Doctrine of God

Defend Trinitarianism

What is the difference between God’s moral attributes and His non-moral attributes?  Give an example of each.

How would you respond to someone who says, “If God is love, then why do bad things happen to good people?

 

Christology – The Doctrine of Christ

Defend the deity and humanity of Christ.

What is the significance of the incarnation?

To what does the Kenosis refer?

What is a Christological theophany and give a Scripture reference.

What does the resurrection of Christ signify for the believer?

 

Pneumatology – the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

Scripturally defend the deity of the Holy Spirit.

What is the role of the Holy Spirit in conversion?

What does it mean to be baptized by the Holy Spirit?

What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?

How would you respond to someone who argued that the charismatic/miraculous gifts are still active today?  What Scriptures would you use?

 

Anthropology & Hamartiology – The Doctrines of Humanity and Sin

What does it mean when the Bible says that man is created in God’s image?

Contrast the dichotomist and trichotomist views of man.  Which way do you lean and why?

Biblically, how do men and women differ?

Where did sin originate?  What are the universal and individual consequences of sin?

How would you defend that people are sinful not only in their actions, but also in their nature? 

 

Soteriology – The Doctrine of Salvation

What is the gospel?

What must a person do to be saved?  How is the Lordship of Christ tied to this discussion?  Is repentance essential to conversion?

Define and defend the doctrine of the Atonement.

Define and defend the doctrine of regeneration.

Define and defend the doctrine of justification.

Define and defend the doctrine of sanctification.

Define and defend the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.  What passages are essential in this discussion?

What is Arminianism?  What is Calvinism?  Respond to each view.

 

Ecclesiology – The Doctrine of the Church

What are God’s requirements for church leaders?  Can a man be an elder who has been divorced in the past?

What is the difference between elders and deacons?  Defend and define the role of a deaconess.

What is the proper process for church discipline?  What circumstances or situations warrant beginning this process?

What’s the difference between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church?

What components constitute a New Testament Church as opposed to simply a gathering of Christians?

What is the role of women in the church?

What are the ordinances prescribed in the New Testament Church?  What is the proper way for administering these ordinances?  

What do you believe is the primary purpose of the local church?

 

Angelology & Eschatology – The Doctrines of Angels and Last Things

What are angels?  Why were they created?  Who is Satan?

Do you believe Christians can be processed?  Oppressed?  

Discuss the binding of Satan?  How would you respond biblically to the charismatic teaching on the issue?

Discuss the various millennial positions (Amillennialism, Postmillennialism, and Premillennialism).  

Define and defend the rapture of the church.  What are the various views? 

Give a general timeline of end time events. 

 

Practical Theology

Can a Christian be possessed or oppressed in any way by a demon?

What does it mean to “give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:27)?

If a Christian asked you what the Bible teaches about divorce and remarriage, what would you tell him/her?

If someone asked you why your church kicks people out, how would you respond?

If someone asked you why your church doesn’t have women preaching or teaching adult classes where men are in attendance, what would you tell them and what passages would you use?

If a Christian asked you if they have to forgive someone who doesn’t ask for forgiveness, how would you answer?

How would you defend the existence of God to an atheist/agnostic? 

 

 

Theology of Suffering

Below is a link to Sunday's message podcast file as well as the full message text and Theology of Suffering Chart download.

Podcast Message Here

Full Message Text Here

Theology of Suffering Chart Here

I pray that God continues using His Word in our lives this week! I'm sure you can relate to those moments where God really speaks to you on Sunday, but as the week ensues those particular truths begin to fade in our minds and practical everyday lives. May we truly reflect on our God's goodness, on His greatness, on His sovereignty, on His power, on His love, and on His perfect plan through the course of history. May we set our minds on His good work in our lives as a part of humanity's history. May we maintain awareness to the fact that He is redeeming a people to Himself throughout each corner of this globe. May we relish in the awesome truth that we as followers of Jesus are a part of God's full plan of redemption.

Finally, may we along with the apostle Paul develop a theology of suffering that causes our hearts to rest in our sovereign God's work of ongoing redemption of His grace-endowed people in a marred world! As we read Paul's address to the Corinthian church and then examine our own lives, may life's hardships not nullify our belief system in our eyes or the eyes of others. As our week and the days ahead ensue, may we steady our minds and hearts with the truth that our God is our sovereign refuge! May we trust in Him!

When suffering and hardship comes knocking at our door, may we submit to God's work and relish in the comfort He gives us. May we submit then to ministry opportunities He gives us as a result of our own hardship and Divine comfort. Finally, may we along with the apostle Paul be able to honestly say, "Blessed (or all praise) be to God!"

"All praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort!"      - 2 Corinthians 1:3

In His Grace,

Derek

 

Below is the video played at the outset of Sunday's service. May we pray for our fellow brothers and sisters in Jesus who suffer persecution for their identification with Jesus. No turning back, we follow Jesus!

 

Also, below is the video posted on Facebook and Twitter on Saturday night. May the message of this song (rooted in Psalm 62), "My Hope is in You Lord," truly frame our worship perspective! 

 

If interested in more in-depth look at this topic, below are two links to two books particularly helpful related to suffering and the sovereignty of God.

Forgiveness

FORGIVENESS

by John Rysdyk

 

         The scene is a classic.  Dirty Harry, the cop, has finally come face to face with the vile criminal whose crimes are unspeakably evil.  With a gun aimed point blank at the pervert, he dares the man to make one false move by saying, “Go ahead.  Make my day.”  Vengeance is glorified as a macho virtue.

         Who has not enjoyed thoughts of vengeance?  We so often tilt the scales in favor of what we deem to be justice, feeling somehow that it is our privilege, even our duty, to see that the guilty party suffers for the wrong they’ve done.  To some degree, that is correct.  God is a God of justice.  In Exodus 23:7 He said, “I will not acquit the guilty.”  In Nahum 1:3 we are promised that “the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.”  And the New Testament reinforces the concept that “whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7) because “God’s wrath is revealed…against all ungodliness.”  So if the proverb is true that it is an abomination to “justify a sinner” (Proverbs 17:15), how does forgiveness fit in?

         Romans 4:5, 7- 8 clearly states that God does justify sinners.  His forgiveness is not contrary to His justice for one simple reason: Christ atoned for our sins.  God’s holy demand for justice was satisfied through the shedding of Christ’s blood, his death on the cross (Romans 3:24-26) on our behalf.  Because of Christ’s “payment,” God forgives our sin debt.  This is the supreme example of forgiveness.  In fact, we are commanded to forgive “just as God in Christ also has forgiven” us (Ephesians 4:32).

         Why is it necessary for us to understand forgiveness?  As anyone with counseling experience will confirm, most people who come for counseling fall into one of two categories.  Either they are suffering from guilt and need to learn about God’s forgiveness, or they are blaming others for something not right in their own lives and they need to learn how to forgive.

 

The Importance of Forgiveness

         Forgiveness is important for a number of reasons.  First, it is at the very heart of the gospel message.  God forgave us!  --Such a simple statement, yet so profound.  Were we deserving of His forgiveness?  No.  Did we earn our way into His favor?  No.  Yet He chose to forgive, having provided us with the redemption of Christ.  Without God’s forgiveness we are all hopelessly lost.  As foreign as forgiveness is to sinful human nature, it is characteristic of divine grace.

         The second reason forgiveness is important is that it is taught in Scripture.  Ephesians 4:32 strongly commands that believers be forgiving because they are to reflect the character of God.  To refuse forgiveness, therefore, is an act of direct disobedience, a vile sin.  Christ himself emphasized the importance of forgiveness when He referred to it in the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:12), then reinforced it immediately after the “amen” (verses 14-15).  His closing argument here is powerful and pointed, “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  This is a severe discipline for being unforgiving.

         Christ later described both a supreme act of forgiveness and an appalling example of unforgiveness in His parable recorded in Matthew 18:23-34.  A servant was brought before a king who was found to owe the king “10,000 talents,” a number commonly used to refer to an infinite number.  Given the immensity of the debt, the servant’s situation was obviously hopeless.  Yet the king showed mercy and completely forgave the debt, even though a debt that large had most likely been accumulated through embezzlement, theft, or some other criminal means.  The mercy shown to this servant should have made him more merciful, but instead he displayed a grotesque lack of gratitude when he refused to show mercy on one who owed him a much smaller amount of money.  What arrogance to assume he had the right to extract vengeance in the same situation where the very king had shown him mercy!

         Likewise, the contrast between our debt to God and the relatively miniscule debts others may owe us is immeasurable, yet we often strut around like the wicked servant, demanding payment.  We are, in effect, saying, “It was fine for God to forgive me, but I reserve the right to refuse forgiving someone if I so choose.”  We are then in the dangerous position of placing ourselves above the King.  There is a sad and sobering conclusion to this parable.  When the master is made aware of the servant’s hypocrisy and callous lack of forgiveness, he angrily orders him to be severely punished--tortured for his evil deeds.  Then comes Christ’s application: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (verse 35).  Christians ought to be the most forgiving people on earth because they have been forgiven as no one else has.  Therefore, those who refuse to forgive are worthy of the most severe kind of discipline from the hand of a loving Father.[i]       

The third reason forgiveness is important is that it is necessary for our own personal healing and well being.  Refusal to forgive ruins relationships with God and with others.  It embitters a person and can even result in physical and emotional health problems.  David Augsburger described the prison of bitterness in this manner:

         “Bitterness slowly sets, like a permanent plaster cast, perhaps protecting the wearer from further pain, but ultimately holding him rigid in frozen animation.  His feelings and responses have turned to concrete, and, like concrete, they’re all mixed up and firmly set.  Bitterness is paralysis…bitterness cuts the nerve to our emotion.” [ii]

 

Being bitter can make people feel justified in blaming others, even God, for offenses.  Early in history Adam blamed both Eve and God for his own transgression (Genesis 3:12).  That surely seemed easier than accepting blame for the way things were.  Bitterness springs from self-centeredness.  A true understanding of biblical forgiveness can free someone from bitterness and restore broken relationships.

 

The Meaning of Forgiveness

For many years I’ve encouraged Christians to forgive others without really explaining to them what that actually means.  In my estimation, a simple reference to Colossians 3:13, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you,” was all that was necessary.  Yet, as I’ve continued to counsel, it has become quite apparent that people have attributed various nuances of meaning to this Christian grace.  So what is forgiveness, anyway?

Maybe to begin with, it would be helpful to explain what forgiveness is not.  First of all, it is not a feeling.  There is nothing in the Bible about “feelings of forgiveness” or “having forgiving feelings” toward one another. [iii]  Regardless of how I feel, God expects me to forgive.  For many in our feeling-oriented society, it is difficult to reconcile how forgiveness can be sincere if a person doesn’t feel like granting it.  To them, such a prospect seems hypocritical.  However, the truth is that many of us do things each day that are contrary to our feelings in order to be responsible.  For instance, I get up every morning--against my best instincts to stay in bed--so that I can go to work, but I don’t view that as hypocritical.  It is simply what God expects of me since I am to be the provider of the home.  In much the same way, there may be times, humanly speaking, that I would rather withhold forgiveness, for instance, should someone commit an injustice against my wife or children, but if that person should repent, God requires me to forgive, no matter how I feel.  It is my responsibility.  The only way it becomes hypocritical is if I say, “I forgive,” but in reality I do not.

Secondly, forgiveness is not forgetting, no matter what the old adage may allege.  Like it or not, it is very difficult to purge your memory of a transgression committed against you, either directly or indirectly.  In fact, the more grievous the offense, the harder it is to let it go.  Yet, because there are Scriptures that declare that when God forgives, He also promises not to remember our sins any longer (Isaiah 43:25; Hebrews 8:12; 10:17), there have been many who have wrongly asserted that God has a perfect “forgetter.”  “But to forget something, though, is to have no memory of it. Obviously, God, who is omniscient, has not lost His memory of our transgressions.  Rather, He refuses to call them to mind.  He promises not to bring them up.”  [iv]  Warren Wiersbe tells the story of the late Dr. William Sangster, one of England’s most effective Methodist preachers.

“He was addressing Christmas cards, and a house guest was shocked to see an envelope addressed to a man who had brutally attacked Sangster eighteen months before.

‘Surely you are not sending a greeting to him,’ the man said.

‘Why not?’ asked Sangster.

‘But you remember,’ the guest began.  ‘Eighteen months ago…’

Sangster recalled the thing the man had done to him, but he also recalled that at the time, he had resolved to put it out of his mind.  ‘It was a thing I would remember to forget,’ he said; and he did.”  [v]

 

In essence, Dr. Sangster was expressing that he was not going to allow this offense to affect his relationship with this man by holding it against him.  He willfully made a choice to bury the past and not to go back and dig it up at any point.  In so doing, he forgave as God forgave him.

         This is a perfect place to turn our thoughts to what forgiveness is.  There are primarily two words used in the New Testament to describe this virtue.  The first is the Greek word, aphiemi.  It means, “to let go, release or remit.”  It often refers to debts or sins that have been paid for in full and as a result, cancelled.  The other word frequently used to describe the act of forgiveness is charizomai.  It means, “to bestow a favor unconditionally,” which implies that forgiveness cannot be earned.  Therefore, forgiveness is an undeserved action that releases an individual of his or her debt for sin.  It is cancelled, never to be mentioned by God again.   From a divine perspective, it is a promise from God that our sin has been dispensed of, once for all, and He will no longer hold it against us.  W. E. Vine wrote, “Human forgiveness is to be strictly analogous to divine forgiveness.”[vi]  Paul put it this way in Ephesians 4:32: We are to forgive one another just as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven us.  Therefore, following in God’s footsteps, when we forgive, we are to let go of the offense and promise to remember it no longer.  Ken Sande, in his book, The Peacemaker, characterizes this as a fourfold promise:

 

By making each of these promises, we open the door to reconciliation, peace, and unity. 

 

The Parameters of Forgiveness

Once a clear understanding of forgiveness is discerned, one might ask, “Is it ever appropriate to withhold forgiveness from someone?”  In other words, is forgiveness conditional?  There is some debate over this matter.  Jay Adams wrote,

         “It should go without saying that since our forgiveness is modeled after God’s, it must be conditional.  Forgiveness by God rests on clear, unmistakable conditions.  The apostles did not merely announce that God had forgiven men, …they were sent forth to preach ‘repentance and the forgiveness of sins’ (Luke 24:47; Acts 17:30).” [viii]

 

W. E. Vine adds, “If certain conditions are fulfilled, there is no limitation to Christ’s law of forgiveness (Matthew 18:21,22).  The conditions are repentance and confession (Matthew 18:15-17; Luke 17:3).”  [ix]  By contrast, David Augsburger wrote, “Christ’s way was the way of giving forgiveness even before asked, and even when it was not or never would be asked for by another.” [x]  As evidence for this astounding statement, he cites Christ’s prayer, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  Augsburger continues, “To think that we needn’t forgive until we are asked is a myth to be punctured!”  [xi]  Em Griffin wrote, “My conclusion is that it’s possible to forgive an unrepentant offender.  Not easy, but possible.  If it weren’t, we’d be condemned to tote around a gunnysack of bitterness.”  [xii]  He offers no biblical grounds for his statement; only life experience. 

Ken Sande, taking a more neutral position, maintains that “ideally, repentance should precede forgiveness” and he cited Luke 17:3. [xiii]  John MacArthur wrote, “It is obvious from Scripture that sometimes forgiveness must be conditional (Luke 17:3; Matthew 18:15-17).”  [xiv]   Yet he goes on to say that there are also times when “forgiveness is to be granted unconditionally.”  [xv]  To defend this statement he uses Mark 11:25-26, asserting that this passage describes “an immediate forgiveness granted to the offender with no formal meeting or transaction required.” [xvi]

In an attempt to sort out this dilemma, let’s begin by considering Augsburger’s use of Luke 23:34 since it is the verse commonly cited by those who propose an unconditional forgiveness position.  If Jesus did unconditionally forgive those who crucified Him, then why did Peter, on the day of Pentecost, implicate those Jews for this very sin and encourage them to repent so that they could receive forgiveness?  It seems quite evident that Jesus’ saying from the cross was not a declaration of forgiveness, but a prayer; a prayer that the Father would answer through the bold preaching of Peter and the apostles.  The same is true of Stephen’s prayer in Acts 7:60, “Lord do not hold this sin against them.”  On this basis alone, Augsburger’s proposition loses validity.  However, even though Augsburger’s use of Luke 23:24 is faulty, I am not convinced his position is totally wrong. 

In fact, in contemplating the arguments on both sides, it appears the two groups come to comparable points of view in the end.  Although each author seeks to specify in detail the uniqueness of his conviction, I believe that when everything is boiled down, the difference is largely just a matter of semantics.  Each author would probably agree with Ken Sande’s statement that the ideal scenario would be for repentance to precede forgiveness.  Yet it is also quite clear that each would agree that there are minor offenses that can and should be overlooked in an attitude of love, for “love covers over a multitude of sins

(1 Peter 4:8).”  This is where the semantic game is played.  Although Jay Adams plainly acknowledges this principle of love, he quickly adds that it is not forgiveness.  He therefore makes a distinction between covering another’s transgression and forgiveness.  Unfortunately, as John MacArthur points out, “The Bible itself makes no such distinction.”  [xvii]  In fact, Psalm 32:1 and Psalm 85:2 clearly equate these two concepts through the use of Hebrew parallelism:

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven,

Whose sins are covered.”

 

“You forgave the iniquity of your people

And covered all their sins.”

 

Since this is true, one must conclude that unconditional and unilateral (one-sided) forgiveness is acceptable and even preferable when it comes to minor offenses.  Obviously, from a practical perspective, if married couples or friends saw it as their responsibility to confront and seek repentance for every offense, the relationships would soon be too much to endure.

         The question, then, is, “When should confrontation and repentance be required?  As a general rule, you should not overlook an offense if:

  1. You observe a serious offense that is hurting someone else.  Scripture permits, even encourages us to overlook sins committed against us personally, but we are forbidden to ignore wrongs done to others (Exodus 23:6; Deuteronomy 16:20; Isaiah 59:15-16; Jeremiah 22:3).
  2. You observe that the offense is harmful to the offender.  To confront someone who is hurting himself or herself is an expression of true Christian love when done in the proper spirit (Galatians 6:1-2).
  3. You observe that the offense dishonors God and may potentially damage the body of Christ.  Some sins have a very far-reaching effect, harming the reputations of both God and His church (Hebrews 3:13; 1 Corinthians 5:1-6).
  4. You observe that the offense has damaged the relationship with another person.  Reconciliation is the goal in such cases (Luke 17:3; Matthew 5:224; 2 Thessalonians 3:15).

It seems that the only time an offense can be overlooked is when you are the only one offended and you are willing to make the promises of forgiveness without a confrontation and without repentance from the other party.  But in such a case, the decision to forgive must be as complete as if the other party had formally repented.

 

The Process of Forgiveness

The next question that must be answered is, “How do I forgive?”  Forgiveness begins in the heart.  Before we can outwardly forgive someone, we must first settle matters with our heavenly Father.  Mark 11:25-26 addresses the attitude a believer must have when approaching God in prayer.  “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”  In commenting on these verses, Jay Adams observes that

“Jesus is concerned about the attitude of the believer as he stands before God in prayer.  If he is inwardly unwilling to forgive his brother or sister, he cannot expect forgiveness from the Father.  Thus, preceding the promise (or granting) of forgiveness to another, one must prepare to lift that guilt so that the promise he makes, even if against his feelings, will be sincerely meant and kept.”[xviii]

 

If we are finding it difficult to forgive, there are some important concepts to keep in mind.  First, the offender is a human soul, the highest unit of value in all of creation (Mark 8:36-37).  Secondly, he or she is a human soul for whom Christ died (1 John 4:20).  God valued that person enough to give the life of His own Son in exchange for that soul.  Furthermore, this soul was meant to be a child of God.  No man is too low to be an object of God’s love.  No man is to be excluded from God’s forgiveness, except by his own unrepentance.  No man can be considered worthless when Christ died for him.  No man is unlovable; if God loves him, then God can love him through me. [xix]  Ralf Luther put it this way, “To love one’s enemy does not mean to love the mire in which the pearl lies, but to love the pearl that lies in the mire.”  [xx]

It is not possible to muster up love and forgiveness for your enemy by sheer willpower.  It is a gift from God, which enables you to see the value of every man’s life and soul.  Therefore, you need to pray that God will enable you to see past the offense.  Ask God to clothe you with “tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, [forbearance, and forgiveness]… in love”  (Colossians 3:12-14).

It is essential to remember that we must renounce personal sin so that our relationship with God is not hindered (Psalm 66:18).  This will include assessing any contribution we ourselves may have made to the problem as well as attitudes of bitterness or hatred.

Your prayer must also include praise.  First of all, you must praise God for forgiving you.  When we remember all God has done in forgiving us, it is easier to forgive others.  We can also praise God for the situation itself, knowing that God will ultimately work all things out for our temporal and eternal benefit (Romans 8:28).  After all, we are commanded to give thanks in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18). 

Once the heart is prepared to forgive, the validity of that forgiveness will become evident when we confront the offender. Having forgiven him or her in our heart and mind, it is necessary to offer forgiveness in word and deed as well, if at all possible.  When we approach an offender, we are cautioned to exercise gentleness and humility (Galatians 6:1-4).  Confrontation is seldom pleasant, yet it can be the beginning of much needed healing.  Ideally, it should result in the repentance of the guilty party.  According to 1 John 1:9, God forgives us when we confess our sins.  Likewise, we must forgive a brother or sister who repents of his or her sin.  Now, it may not always be the case that the guilty party repents.  We have no control over the actions of others—only our response to them.  The focus of forgiveness in scripture is not so much the terms of forgiveness but rather the attitude of the forgiver (Matthew 6:12, 14-15; 18:35; James 2:13). 

Once forgiveness is offered verbally, it can be reinforced by action.  “Loving actions can do much more than change your feelings; they can also communicate in unmistakable terms the reality of your forgiveness and your commitment to reconciliation.” [xxi]  And there is an added benefit.  When you sincerely pray for someone, forgive them, and display acts of love toward them, inevitably you will find yourself experiencing a genuine Christ-like love for them.

One of the greatest contemporary examples of forgiving even when it was difficult is the story told by Corrie ten Boom.

“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S. S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck.  He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there—the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face. 

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing.  “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said.  “To think that, as you say, he has washed my sins away!”

His hand was thrust out to shake mine.  And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendall the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them.  Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more?  Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand.  I could not.  I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity.  And so again I breathed a silent prayer.  Jesus, I cannot forgive him.  Give me Your forgiveness. 

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened.  From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

So I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on Him.  When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”  [xxii]

 

 

The Blessings of Forgiveness

The past is done.  It cannot be changed.  The meaning, however, can be altered. Forgiveness robs Satan of an opportunity to embitter saints, ruin the reputation of Christ, decay relationships and destroy lives.  When a person chooses to be forgiving, many burdens are lifted.  If the guilty party repents, he or she is relieved from the burden of guilt.  But those who choose to forgive even someone who is unrepentant will find a freedom that will bring them peace: peace in their own hearts and minds, peace with others, and peace with God.   As Charles Spurgeon so eloquently put it, “God does forgive sin for the sake of glorifying Christ.  Christ took the shame so that He might magnify His Father, and now His Father delights to magnify Him by blotting out men’s sin.”  We are commanded to forgive as God forgives, and what was His motivation?  It can be summed up in three words: for Christ’s sake.  If there is no other reason strong enough to give you the will to forgive, this phrase alone should be effective.  “For Christ’s sake our love suffers long and never fails.  Do it for His sake.”  [xxiii]

 

 

NOTES

 


[i] John MacArthur, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness (Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishers, 1998), 111.

[ii] David Augsburger, The Freedom of Forgiveness (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 30-31.

 

[iii] Jay Adams, From Forgiven to Forgiving  (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 1994), 11.

[iv] MacArthur, Ibid., 189.

[v] Warren Wiersbe, On Being a Servant of God  (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 136-137.

[vi] W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words  (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1981), 122.

[vii] Ken Sande, The Peacemaker  (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991), 164.

[viii] Adams, Ibid., 34.

[ix] Vine, Ibid.

[x] Augsburger, Ibid., 32.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Em Griffin,  Making Friends (& Making Them Count) (Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1987), 198.

[xiii] Sande, Ibid.

[xiv] MacArthur, Ibid., 119.

[xv] Ibid., 121.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Adams, Ibid., 30.

[xix] Augsburger, Ibid., 25.

[xx] Ibid., 25-26.

[xxi] Sande, Ibid., 173.

[xxii] Corrie ten Boom, from her book, The Hiding Place (Bantam, 19974), p. 238, as quoted in The Peacemaker by Ken Sande, Ibid., 170.

[xxiii] C. H. Spurgeon, from his classic sermon Forgiveness Made Easy, as quoted by John MacArthur, Ibid., 227-228.

...is for us

Recently, I saw the pilot of a new TV show.  It was a cross between The Fugitive and the oracles of Delphi, although much darker in tone.  Actually, since the lead actor played Christ in The Passion of the Christ, it was not hard to see a (distorted) form of a trinity among the primary characters.

The reoccurring weekly plot identifies a person who is at the center of trouble, whether they are a victim or and criminal.  The trinity of characters moves to figure out what the problem is, then ‘fixes’ it.  My explanation describes a very generic concept, for sure, but one that was done well in the pilot episode.  I am not giving any specifics because I am not recommending the show, nor is that the reason I am writing this down.  The general outline is helpful to explain my thoughts below…

One scene of dialogue was fascinating.  The smart, rich person in need of someone who will go and rescue the helpless offered the lead actor a chance to ‘be there in time to stop the evil.”  That is the hook that captivated me – wouldn’t it be great to stop the evil?  To prevent bad things from happening?

God can do this, but He chooses not to.  He can stop evil, but doesn’t.  That is the claim of some unbelievers (and some Christians.)  However, a devotional I read that night by J.M. Boice put this discussion into a different framework.  A rough paraphrase of the devotional would read like this – Everything that happens to us is for us.  Again, EVERYTHING that happens to us is for us.  If you believe in the sovereignty and goodness of God, than this thought must follow.

This is a hard truth, but one that ultimately brings comport.  The escapism that TV and movies offer is shallow à why stop at this fix?  Why not fix my bank account?  My job?  My marriage? Etc.  Rather, the comfort that a loving God is bringing about the absolute best in every season of life gives us hope that the pain and suffering that we are going through will not be meaningless.

KS

Romans 8:28 - And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

A hole in my sock

Because I am a sinner, there is a hole in my sock.  No, it is not down by the toe, it is up above the ankle.  Let me explain…

Yesterday, I got a pair of sock out of my drawer.  They were new and still had the plastic thingy that was holding them together.  I began to look for something that I could cut the thing and free my socks.  My family, the people that God gifted to me to live with, saw that I was searching for scissors.  Instead of helping me with the search, the air was filled with exasperated accusations – someone else had not dealt with the scissors properly.  In stead of assistance, I received comments of blame and sin. 

That sin made me upset, which was a sin on my part.  Instead of looking for the scissors, I decided it was not worth it and I would find a better way to cut the plastic thing  (As an aside – I swear that the people who designed plastic attachments for clothes and toys have an equity stake in psychiatric hospitals – they drive me crazy!).  I grabbed a knife and tried to cut.  While I missed cutting myself, I managed to yank the plastic out of my sock, leaving behind a nice pea-sized hole.

My disgust (instead of love) and pride (instead of humility) are sins I committed against my family.  I was wrong.  When I sin, I choose to sin – no one else’s behavior can control mine.  I must recognize my sins, repent of my sins and deal with the consequences – first to the Lord and then to others I have sinned against.

I am going to keep the socks.  My pants hide the hole, but I know it is there.  I pray that God uses the hole to keep me humble, instead of requiring a matching hole for my head.

KS 

I John 1:8-10 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.