Day 35: “Forgiveness!” Part Three 09.26.2018
Matthew 6:12-15 (NIV) “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
The last couple of articles in our series have raised more questions and comments than usual. A few people have written and shared about how hard it is to forgive and the implications of unforgiveness. Perhaps others are troubled in our treatment of this topic. I understand because I am troubled too. And I suspect that Jesus wants us troubled. And he makes no apology for this very simple and clear statement: “If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
No matter what else I do and how much I say I am saved by grace, if I am unforgiving, according to Jesus, that will be the evidence that I am not really saved. This is frightening. What could possibly be the reason for this great dichotomy between living as a Christian claiming to be forgiven and saved by grace …. but stubbornly refusing to forgive others and be reconciled? A few thoughts …
First, I do not really and truly grasp my own sinfulness. I have heard so many times how the atoning death of Christ upon the Cross took away the penalty for my sinfulness. True. Got it. But that death and merciful provision did not, in itself, take away my sinful nature. It did not change me in a moment. It saved me but I am now in a civil war with my own sin nature. In other words, having saved me (and you) Jesus now wants me to be “sanctified.” Set apart for Holiness.
The unexpected thing is that salvation by grace can, if misunderstood, eclipse my own realization of my sinfulness. It can even make me indifferent to sin. And it can certainly make me dismissive about just how much I have been forgiven. And because I am not in touch with my own sin, I may be saved but unmoved to forgive others. Consider this …
Awhile back, I read about a man who had smoked all his life. Finally, he had a lung removed to prolong his years. He shared how shocked and stunned he was when the surgeon showed him the diseased lung. Black as tar. Shriveled and sickly and totally grotesque. He said, “I had no idea it looked like that!” But he had been carrying that lung around inside of him everywhere he went. And he had no idea that it was in that condition! Now, according to the Word of God, that is the natural state of our spirits. Darkened. But when Jesus takes away the penalty by removing the diseased lung in our souls, do we resume smoking? Do I realize …. do you realize … how much forgiveness we have received? The condition we were in? No. Why not? I think I know what part of the problem is. I think I know why this topic about the conviction of sin does not come up much in most churches.
My thoughts on this …modern evangelicalism hardly ever speaks of sin. It is simply not the way to grow a church. And since church growth is the goal, we keep the sin discussion off the menu. Even from the pulpit. I was, at times, guilty of the same neglect but I have really seen it in the “evangelical attitude” of both clergy and flocks. So many Christians were “recruited” to Christ with phrases like “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” The problem was that too many people did not read the rest of the “laws” including the ones that speak of being “tainted by sin.” Usually the modern church and Bible-believing pulpits leave these themes out. Instead of demanding we confront sin and sanctification (being made Holy) we present church as fun. ARE WE AFTER CHURCH FUN OR SANCTIFICATION? In many ways, church should make us uneasy and convict us of our sinful spiritual DNA.
In the 1600’s, the puritan writer John Owen wrote his book “The Mortification of Sin.” It was about the New Testament call to put sin to death in our lives. He quoted much scripture including Paul:
Romans 8:12-13 (NIV) “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation–but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live…”
Putting sin to death in ourselves is something the Holy Spirit must do. Without His supernatural help, it cannot happen. Owen wrote: “A man may easier see without eyes, speak without a tongue, than truly mortify one sin without the Spirit.” We are helpless to kill it off…sin within us. That is why we struggle to forgive. Now what?
The Christian has to decide if he or she really wants to become Christlike and really wants to put sin to death. We like being saved and we’re delighted to be booked for Heaven because of Jesus. But do we really like being made Holy? How many of us have, as our goal, putting our sinful inclinations to death? When did we last see a small group whose topic was repentance and reformation of our spirits and hating sin? The devil hates it when we start to think this way!
Interesting that in his prayer, Jesus slipped in this phrase between the discussion about forgiveness:
Matthew 6:13 (NIV) “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.”
We always think “Oh yeah, that’s about being careful because the devil will tempt us to sin with gossip or greed or sexual wrong doing.” Perhaps but I doubt it. I think Jesus is saying the favorite place of the devil to tempt us is with unforgiveness. And that is because he knows it’s not much work for him. He knows that we have usually not begun to grasp our own sin. In fact, the devil knows the Word of God better than we do. He knows we are only a couple of steps removed from the ways of the wicked: The Psalmist said:
Psalm 36:1-2 (NIV) “An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes. For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.”
This is troubling because it leaves Christians saying, “Maybe I’m not really saved.” Take heart. If this lack of hating your sin bothers you, that is a good sign. Let us pray, me too, that God will bring us to hate our sin. Including unforgiveness. Let us pray that He will show us our spiritual lungs. Are they blackened and hard and unhealthy?
Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV) “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Next: “Fasting and Acting.” Peace. Pastor Alberta