Articles From Our Bulletins
Who Are We?
Who are we? This question can be answered in many meaningful and beneficial ways, but love is included in them all. God is love and we are children of this loving God. Our Father commands us, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere broth-erly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,” 1 Peter 1:22, ESV. God helps us obey this command to love, for everything God calls us to be and do springs from love. Since we can become distracted and forget who we are and how best to exercise love, let’s remind ourselves by considering two fundamental answers to “Who Are We?”.
We Are Forgiven
Primary of all that we might consider about who we are, is the wonderful truth that we are forgiven. Though we all have sinned, we are forgiven! Our Lord, when he spoke to Paul about his future, sums up the change the gospel creates in our lives when we believe and obey. Our Lord told Paul that he was sending him to the Gen-tiles, “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.' Acts 26:18, ESV. Later Paul reminded the Colossian Chris-tians, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses … God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,” Col. 2:13 ESV
Here is the grand truth about us: God has forgiven us. Our eyes have been opened by the gospel, we have turned from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God; we were dead in our trespasses but now God has made us alive with our Lord. Praise our God, he loves us and we are forgiven!
Yet we must heed the warnings that we can lose our sal-vation. As much as we might want it to be true, once saved always saved, is not what the Bible teaches. Those forgiven in Ephesus were told in a letter from the Lord that they were in grave danger of losing their salvation. He said, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” Revelation 2:5, ESV. Though we can rejoice that we are forgiven, we are to remain vigilant lest we fall: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not real-ize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” 2 Corinthians 13:5, ESV.
One specific way we might fall is to fail to be forgiving in our own lives. Paul instructs the Colossians that they were to be “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Col. 3:13, ESV. Many times Jesus taught how vital it was for his disciples to forgive others. Once he told a parable about a master forgiving one of his servants of a huge sum, then that servant refused to forgive a fellow serv-ant a small sum. The parable ends “And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heav-enly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart." Matt. 18:33-35, ESV. We are forgiven and that necessarily means we are to be forgiving.
We Are Forgiving
There is no doubt that God expects, even insists that we be forgiving. Yet please read what an expert on for-giveness writes after studying thousands of cases where people have been wronged and are finding it very hard to forgive: “I’ve found that literally one hundred percent of problems that people have with forgiveness are based on a misunderstanding of the concept.”1 (Dr. Robert En-right, the “Father of Forgiveness,” emphasis mine.) So, when God tells us to be forgiving, and since we deeply desire to obey Him, it is well worth our time to study His word that we might clear up any misunderstandings we may have about forgiveness. In this short article we will briefly consider four actions that might be confused with forgiveness. Then we will look at five qualities of forgiveness.
What Forgiveness is Not
1. Forgiveness is NOT condoning the offense. When we forgive we are not saying what they did is okay. We are not agreeing with him in doing what he did. In no way should forgiveness be construed as condoning what is wrong. We should not minimize the sin by, for in-stance, comparing it with what we consider a worse sin. To make light of the sin and brush it off as insignificant is not forgiveness and can make it harder for the offend-er to truly repent and change his or her life.
2. Forgiveness is NOT deciding to forget what hap-pened. We’ve heard we must forget to truly forgive, and we are told that when we repent and obey, God will remember our sins no more. But we are never com-manded to literally forget the offence. We remember it, but do not hold it against the offender anymore. Cer-tainly it is wrong and unloving to continually bring up the offence. On the other hand, it is clearly unscriptural (and also unloving) to pretend it never happened. When we forgive someone who belittles and slanders us, it is certainly scriptural to turn the other cheek, but also ap-propriate to protect ourselves by lawful means as Paul did when he appealed to Caesar.
3. Reconciliation is NOT essential to forgiveness. Here we need to briefly distinguish between a forgiving heart and being able to exercise forgiveness -- between the subjective desire for reconciliation that is a natural part of a forgiving heart, and the act of forgiveness that always includes reconciliation. Jesus said “If your broth-er sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,” Luke 17:3 ESV. But if he doesn’t repent – if he dies or refuses to repent so reconciliation can take place, the victim can still forgive him in the sense of letting go of any bitterness and ill-will toward that person.
4. Forgiveness does NOT mean the sin no longer has consequences. Think of David’s sin with Bathshe-ba. “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.’" 2 Samu-el 12:13-14, ESV. David fasted and prayed for the child for seven days, yet the child died. David, though repent-ant and forgiven, suffered painful consequences. But remember that God is love and all he does is out of love. When he insists on consequences one possible pur-pose for the painful consequences is to help a person recover spiritually and grow stronger.
What Forgiveness Is
1. Setting the guilty free – and more. The Greek word translated “forgive” is apheimi and has a wide range of meanings from forgiving a debt, to leaving, to letting go. When we forgive someone that person no longer is obligated to us. We’ve written off the debt, freed the offender of any more need to pay back, or be obliged to us in any way because of the offense. But just as im-portant, we free ourselves. This brings us to the next point.
2. Letting go of feelings of bitterness or revenge. Christians do not harbor grudges. Bitterness of heart toward someone should not be allowed a place in our hearts. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’" Romans 12:19, ESV. It is very important to heed what the Lord says and not allow ourselves to try to do God’s job. Sometimes we can act right, say the right words of forgiveness yet nurse bitterness in our hearts. Trust God when he promises “I will repay” and let go of any ill-will hiding in your heart.
3. A process. Forgiveness is a decision that often can be made instantly and firmly. At other times the decision is implemented slowly as we live through stages of grief and resentment. It can take time, but never should that fact be used as an excuse for purposely moving forward to full forgiveness.
4. Something we can plan. We’re ready to forgive when offended and the offender repents. We can pre-pare our hearts to be forgiving whenever we are hurt or offended. This preplanning can help us be godly in how we treat a relative or friend with a toxic personality and we know ahead of time when we visit we will be hurt.
5. Painful. Genuine forgiveness is painful. We fight ourselves; we bring in check those angry, vengeful emo-tions that begin to arise. Just as we suffer the loss of the buying power of fifty dollars when we forgive a friend of the fifty dollars he owes, so we suffer the loss of righteous indignation when we forgive someone of hurt-ing us. It is painful to decide to forgive but, once made, that decision frees us to be earnest in our love toward him and all.
We are forgiven and as a result we are forgiving. “Is it possible to forgive wrongly? Most certainly it is, and people do it all the time. Just because we seek righteous-ness and virtue does not mean that we automatically do so without error or misunderstanding. None of us has yet ‘arrived,’ which means that we are all a work in pro-gress. [And of course this includes deacons, preachers, and elders – DK] This does not excuse our ignorance, but simply acknowledges that we are all in the process of overcoming it. At the same time, as your understand-ing of forgiveness increases, your moral responsibility to practice it also increases. Good does not want you mere-ly to know better what forgiveness is. More than this, He wants you to be a forgiving person.”2
Dear brothers and sisters, we in large part are a spiritual rehab group. Our Lord emphasized the importance of being forgiving even “seventy times seven” times (Matt. 18:22) because we all fall short at times; we all need for-giveness at times. Let’s love one another earnestly and with longsuffering and clarity of purpose do and say those things that will help one another please our Lord and be ready for his coming .
1 Quote found in Man Your Mark Getting Right What Sampson Got Wrong by Brad Gray, p. 57. The major points in this article are taken from his treatment of for-giveness. The Gospel of Forgiveness by Chad Sychtysz, p.37. This thorough treatment of forgiveness written by a gospel preacher can be checked out of our library.