Thanks for joining me on this series and stay tuned on Monday as I announce a new series from a group of men who will be guest bloggers!!!
So what does forgiveness do? What are the positive aspects of forgiveness. Disclaimer: not putting down Scripture as you can look them up on your own.
- Salvation. Without forgiveness we cannot be saved!
- Peace. Letting things go tends to give us a peace of mind that makes me think of what God feels like when he forgives us. God does not want us to suffer for our sin and so letting it go is something he freely chooses. The same could be said about us in that there is an immense amount of freedom when you let something go or someone let’s something go against you.
- Unity. You go to a church that is forgiving and I can almost guarantee that this church is a unified church. Why? Because this is a church that senses all people are broken and without the blood of Jesus none of us are able to access God so that does not divide us but it unites us.
- Direction. If there is no forgiveness then there is no direction in life. It seems forgiveness is paradoxiacally the ending point and starting point of a Christian spiritual journey. The great news is that forgiveness is a proleptic ministry of Jesus Christ. It is an already-but-not-yet aspect of the kingdom of God in which we continually receive forgiveness but we will not reap the ultimate benefits until the final day.
This was a short post but a no-brainer in my opinion. Do you want to know how to remember it? S.P.U.D. Salvation Peace Unity Direction.
So go out there and forgive and be forgiven. We do not have much time to waste so let things go and be free.
We have looked at the biblical witness to forgiveness and we have looked at the early church father’s practice of forgiveness. We discussed the pressing need for us to let God do what he said he would and that is to forgive us and to not lay hold of things against us. We also discussed in our last post a requirement for us to receive forgiveness: we must forgive others. Letting go is not so easy especially when the hurt someone inflicted on us is to painful for words and brings tears to our eyes just to mention it. Today I will mention some potential roadblocks to forgiveness. I anticipate some of these will only apply to God or to other people but the list is definitely not all-inclusive.
Paul was very wise when he said these words: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:31-32). The number one roadblock to forgiveness is that we are angry at what has happened. This can be directed at people but underneath there is an element directed towards God. ”How could you let this happen?” Paul’s words is to get rid of it all! The solution: forgiveness. Let it go.
Lack of Teaching
Hosea was write thousands of years ago in that God’s people continually are destroyed for a lack of knowledge or understanding (Hos. 4:6). Sometimes we hold on to bitterness and anger because we do not know how to constructively let it go. Sometimes we neglect Scripture, we neglect prayer and seeking God’s counsel and sometimes we shut ourselves in and do not include the wisdom of other people. Sometimes people say, “I wish we would had a lesson on that from the pulpit” and my response is: “We already have. You just weren’t listening!”
Fear grips many of our situations and paralyzes movement towards redemption and reconciliation. During the Civil Rights era I imagine fear caused people to stay away from African-Americans because: “What if my family disowns me?” ”What will others think of me?” Maybe if we accept God’s forgiveness that means there will be repercussions or reverberations from friends and family. Maybe if we finally forgive that person and let it go then we might not have anything to hold on to…they actually might change their lives if we forgive them. Then they won’t get the punishment we think they deserve or the imaginary punishment we created in our brains. Fear ensnares us.
When all else blame sin right? Seriously though have you ever thought why people do not accept the grace given to them by God through Jesus Christ? I mean, it is a free gift! It is because people either enjoy the sinful ways or they are in denial. Take your pick. A governmental study from S.A.M.S.H.A (click here) stated that: “Nearly 7 million Americans age 18 to 25 were classified as needing treatment in the past year for alcohol or illicit drug use, according to a new SAMHSA report. But 93 percent of these young adults did not receive the help they needed at a specialty treatment facility.” Why is that? It is because so many people think they are in control or that they are fine. That is denial!
So what other potential roadblocks do you see? I have mentioned four big ones!!!
My primary concern with this blog is that we must forgive people for what they have done to us or against us. Jesus said this:
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:14-15).
That does not seem like an option but more like a commandment. Forgiveness between humans is a messy business and I do not pretend to say that it is something that is easy to do. Say a wife cheats on her husband and the husband finds out and is notably devastated. The wife wants (yea begs) her husband’s forgiveness but he does not know what to do. On one hand the Bible commands that he forgives her but on the other hand there is the reality of pain that the husband is enduring. If he “lets her off the hook” then somehow it seems like she got a way too easily. She must bear the consequence of what she did…there must be payment for his anger and her sin because there is a void there.
Maybe on a larger scale the atrocities that happened as a result of Apartheid in South Africa. The racial inequality there mirrored (perhaps exceeded) the racial divides in the southern United States in the 20th century. Violence spread and governments were rearranged but instead of full-scale violence the civil unrest was worked through in a non-violent and peaceful way. Desmond Tutu, a bishop for the Anglican Church in South Africa during Apartheid was involved in the peace discussions and reconciliation talks between races. His solution for the problem was “frogiveness”:
“Without forgiveness there can be no future for a relationship between individuals or within and between nations.” (From “Truth and reconciliation”, BBC Focus on Africa magazine, January-March 2000, p53.)
So what does this mean for us? It means that when we are wronged immediately we are drawn (because of the sinful state of man) towards anger and resentment. We want to hold on to this anger because often it is the only fuel we have that keeps us going. Anger soon becomes idolatrous as it is the only thing we can think about and soon the anger makes a move towards vengeance. We want justice…we want them to pay for what they did. Desmond Tutu again relates:
“There are different kinds of justice. Retributive justice is largely Western. The African understanding is far more restorative – not so much to punish as to redress or restore a balance that has been knocked askew.” (From “Recovering from Apartheid”, in The New Yorker, 18 November 1996)
That is what forgiveness is all about…restoration…a promise of tomorrow…and a brand new beginning. Often when I am struggling with forgiving someone I look in the mirror and ask: “What if you had not received forgiveness for all of the atrocities you have done?” I am reminded of how redemptive forgiveness can be when Jesus was ridiucled on the cross enduring the pain and agony at the hands of the Jews, the Romans and one of his disciples. Jesus could have called legions of angels to utterly obliterate every foe that was before him. Jesus, with his right hand, could have ended it all with just one word. But instead….our Lord said this:
“Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots” (Luke 23:32-34).
What do you need to let go? Why are you holding onto this? Just let it go. Move on. Forgive them. Don’t let them still consume you by allowing this anger to burn in your hearts. Let it go. Be free.
Whew!!! We got a lot of theology that we unpacked (not nearly as much as we could have) and now let’s get practical.
I hate stripped-bolts, screws or rounded oil-drain plugs. I have encountered them at various junctures of my life but I met a nasty one underneath my van a couple of weeks ago when I was changing the oil. Apparently I put the drain plug on too tight and it had rusted a smidgen so the more I tried to get the thing off with a socket-wrench, the more the plug became rounded. So I went to my tool-box and tried a couple of things to no avail so I did some research and found out that I needed some Vise-Grips to get the plug off. Perfect, because I had some in the house…or so I thought. One of my kids misplaced them (probably near the lost city of Atlantis) so I had to go to Lowe’s to purachase another set. I got home, clamped the rounded plug and voila…it came off. Why did it come off? Because I’ve got mad skills!!!
In a sad way we approach our spirituality, marriages and relationships with the notion that we can fix everything like a complex problem. If we can create nuclear energy, the lunar module and the hydrogen bomb then surely we have the capabilities to fix things on our own. The truth is that a relationship with God does not work on the basis of us fixing things. Yes we repent of sins…yes we confess our faults…we we are required to do things (see James 2) but the truth is that nothing can be done without God. Forgiveness functions in that realm of God-only and it is something our problem-solving mentalities has to give up. We have to let God do what ONLY God can do.
“But you don’t know what I have done Robbie. If you only knew the depths of my sin then you would understand why God would not want to forgive me!” Really? Are you going to carry that guilt with you to the grave and perhaps hell because you can’t believe God would/can forgive you? Have you not opened your Bible? Have you not heard of Abraham lying, David committing adultery and Peter denying Christ and every single one of those were forgiven? Have you not heard about the nation of Israel? Maybe you just do not want to face reality because this sin in your life has been there and to really let this thing go would mean to move on from it. In some confusing way forgiveness to you is not a possibility because this sin has been your friend for so long.
Scripture is chalk-full of stories of God’s redemptive forgiveness to all kinds of people regardless of class, race, situation or story.
No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)
From the least to the greatest is Hebrew hyperbole for saying, “everyone.” Are you afraid of what might happen if you let God forgive you? Do you think he will take you places you are not sure you are ready to go? That is not a God-problem…that is a me-problem. God is ready to let things go but the question is, “Are you ready to let God?”
When I say early church fathers I mean those early Christian thinkers between about 150ad-350ad. Examples are men like Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, Ignatius, Tertullian and other thinkers. A big disclaimer is that these were just men and their words are not necessarily God’s word. I do find their view of forgiveness somewhat intriguing though. These quotes come from A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs which is edited by David W. Bercot (pp. 4-5). What we think of as forgiveness the early church called “absolution” which was the formal act of a bishop pronouncing forgivness on the penatent sinner.
- “Is it better to be damned in secret than to be absolved in public?” Tertullian (ca. 203 A.D.)
- “He, then, who has received the forgiveness of sins ought to sin no more. For, in addition to the first and only repentance from sins (this is from the previous sins in the first and heathen life—I mean that in ignorance), there is forthwith proposed to those who have been called, the repentance which cleanses the seat of the soul from transgressions, that faith may be established. And the Lord, knowing the heart, and foreknowing the future, foresaw both the fickleness of man and the craft and subtlety of the devil from the first, from the beginning; how that, envying man for the forgiveness of sins, he would present to the servants of God certain causes of sins; skilfully working mischief, that they might fall together with himself. Accordingly, being very merciful, He has vouch-safed, in the case of those who, though in faith, fall into any transgression, a second repentance; so that should any one be tempted after his calling, overcome by force and fraud, he may receive still a repentance not to be repented of. “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” But continual and successive repentings for sins differ nothing from the case of those who have not believed at all, except only in their consciousness that they do sin. And I know not which of the two is worst, whether the case of a man who sins knowingly, or of one who, after having repented of his sins, transgresses again. For in the process of proof sin appears on each side,—the sin which in its commission is condemned by the worker of the iniquity, and that of the man who, foreseeing what is about to be done, yet puts his hand to it as a wickedness. And he who perchance gratifies himself in anger and pleasure, gratifies himself in he knows what; and he who, repenting of that in which he gratified himself, by rushing again into pleasure, is near neighbour to him who has sinned wilfully at first. For one, who does again that of which he has repented,and condemning what he does, performs it willingly” (Clement of Alexandria,Stromata, Book 2.13).
- “In smaller sins, sinners may do penance for a set time and come to public confession according to the rules of discipline. Then they receive the right of communion through the imposition of the hand of the bishop (notice singular) and clergy.” Cyprian (ca. 250).
- “I entreat you, beloved brethren, that each one should confess his own sins while he is still in this world-while his confession can still be received and while the satisfaction and remission made by the priests are still pleasing to the Lord.” Cyprian (ca. 250).
- “O bishop, just as you receive a pagan after you have instructed and baptized him, likewise let everyone join in prayers for this [penitent] man and restore him to his former place among the flock, through the imposition of hands. For he has been purified by repentance. And the imposition of hands shall be similar to baptism for him. For, by the laying on of hands, the Holy Spirit was given to believers.” Apostolic Consititution (ca. 390).
The early church fathers were serious about forgiveness because it meant status in the community. In order to receive communion you must be one who is not a “willful” sinner. If you were then you had to approach the bishop and request forgiveness based on your confession.
I wonder if we took this seriously what would the implications be in our fellowship?
Admittedly the first four lessons of this study is rich in theology but it is always important to have an exegetical framework before you make a biblical assertion. One could say, “God is gracious” but if they do not understand why or how God is gracious then they are making a blind assertion.
Forgiveness in the New Testament might be a bit more familiar to us but it seems there is not much change in meaning from Old to New Testaments. The Greek verb meaning to forgive is aphiēmi and has the general meaning of letting go or releasing (BDAG 156-57). The imagery with the word is that there is a deep hold on to something (sin) or someone and the person holding on to this simply lets it go. When our sins are forgiven we are released from moral obligation or consequence (ibid., 156). In other words sin causes a separation of sorts and instead of God holding us in his hands it is our sin that is being held but forgiveness is the release of that sin and the grasping of our very souls. Here is a brief (embarassingly so) summary of the New Testament and forgiveness…
- Forgiveness comes from God but through the blood of the cross. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding” (Eph. 1:6-7; cf. Matt. 9:6 [Christ has the authority]; 26:28; Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 9:11-28).
- Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is unforgivable (Matt. 12:30-32).
- Forgiveness is required (commanded) between our brothers and sisters to the point that we cannot be forgiven by God unless we forgive others. “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:14-15; cf. Matt. 18:21-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 7:47; 2 Cor. 2:5-7; Col. 3:13).
- Like the Old Testament, there is totality in forgiveness. “Then he adds: ’Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’ And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary” (Heb. 10:17-18; 1 John 2:12).
- Confession (public or private) is a precursor to forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
- Baptism and forgiveness seems to have a dependent relationship much like confession. ““Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for theforgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38; cf. Mark 1:4)
- There is a release not only from the charge of guilty between man and God but there is an emotional release when our sins are forgiven. “The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:6-11; cf. Rom. 4:7).
Take a deep breath…whew!!! That is a lot to sift through isn’t it? But…and this is a big but (don’t laugh at the pun)…the point is that the cross restores/creates our relationship with God and declares us not-guilty so that late at night when we are counting the ceiling tiles or staring at the fan we do not have to worry about where we will go if we do not wake up.
The Old Testament is filled with stories of forgiveness both from God (David and Bathsheba) and forgiveness between man (Joseph and his brothers). The concept of forgiveness as Christians perceive is not the sense in which the Hebrew Scriptures portrays it. The Hebrew word (verb) meaning to forgive (calach) actually undergoes no change throughout the Old Testament and basically carries the same meaning throughout (Vine’s Dictionary). Calach is the primary word for forgiveness in the Old Testament but other words (e.g. ‘awon, naca’ and kapar) can convey the meaning of forgiveness but the primary word throughout is calach.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary states that most of the occurrences of the word are found in the sacrificial laws of Leviticus and Numbers. If a person (or, persons) sinned then they would go to the priests with animals (a bull) to make an offering. The priests (acting as mediators) would offer up the animal and this would be atonement (a price paid) for sin (see Lev. 4:1-35). So you could imagine the priests were very busy killing animals and offering up sacrifices to God because of the sin of the community. If you have your New Testament lenses on then this is all familiar to you as the Hebrew author said there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood (Heb. 9:20). Not long after this the temple was destroyed and sacrifices were impossible but God still said he would bring Israel out of exile and would forgive them of their sins (Jer. 31:34).
This would apply even if people sinned against each other. They still were to go to the priest (Lev. 5) and offer up animals as atonement for their sin. If they couldn’t afford a bull they would get a lamb. If they could not afford a lamb get two doves or pigeons. If they could not afford two doves then they would get a “tenth of an ephah of the finest flour” so the priests could burn it on top of the altar. There are different aspects of forgiveness that Psalmists share with the readers:
- Forgiveness can happen even with the deepest of sins. “But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12; cf. 25:11).
- With forgiveness comes peace of mind. “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (Psalm 32:1).
- There is totality in God’s forgiveness. “Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:2-3).
- Forgiveness is a starting point for a relationship of God. “But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you” (Psalm 130:4).
The Old Testament picture of forgiveness, by way of summary, is something only God can do. The priests were nothing more than mediators of something that God was doing. Forgiveness is something FREELY done by God to those who are genuinely seeking him. The Old Testament seems to point to a time where forgiveness could be realized in its fullest sense where restoration, peace and a return to the Garden of Eden is inevitable. It points to Jesus.
“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy” (Micah 7:18).
Bethel church of Christ and Main Street church of Christ youth groups plan on doing a combined retreat with a focus on forgiveness. We have entitled the retreat Aphesis from the Greek word for forgiveness which literally means “a release.” I think the study is of grave importance because there are looming questions that either haunt us or at least should.
- Who can receive forgiveness?
- How does forgiveness work?
- How often do I receive forgiveness?
- How do I get forgiveness?
- Is there such a thing as something being unforgivable?
Those are the questions that we are usually concerned about and we frame our spirituality or our relationship with God based on the idea of forgiveness. But it is so much more than asking God to release our sins and receiving that release. Matthew 22:37-39 teaches us the vertical relationship with God (Love God with all all your…) but it also teaches us the reciprocal nature of our relationship with humanity (Love your neighbor…). With this type of relationship comes questions of forgiveness that maybe we do not concern ourselves with as often.
- Why can’t I forgive that person?
- If a person is forgiven does that mean we welcome them into the fellowship even if it is a “grave” sin (e.g. adultery, rape, etc.)?
- Why won’t that person forgive me? I have done everything I possibly could and they still harbor ill-will towards me…what do I do?
These questions any many more I hope to at least address either directly or indirectly in this series of blog posts on forgiveness. Why the posts about forgiveness? Why not spend time on something that is a little more relevant? Perhaps I would argue that there is nothing more relevant than the idea of forgiveness. If a person truly grasped the concept of forgiveness and the price that was paid to obtain that release would they still continue in sin like they do? If we really grasped the importance of forgiveness to our neighbor and brother would we not have better relationships in the church and in turn be a more welcoming fellowship? And if we are a more welcoming fellowship that forgives sin because (news flash) WE ARE SINNERS would that not increase our numbers dramatically? So I am going to spend some time in thought about forgiveness but I am not going to hit every nook and cranny about the topic. Just the highlights. Here is an outline of what I plan on doing.
- Aphesis 1 (Introduction)
- Aphesis 2 (Old Testament and Forgiveness)
- Aphesis 3 (New Testament and Forgiveness)
- Aphesis 4 (Early Church Fathers and Forgiveness)
- Aphesis 5 (Letting God)
- Aphesis 6 (Letting Go)
- Aphesis 7 (Some Roadblocks)
- Aphesis 8 (Fruits of Forgiveness)