Does God hate sinners?

You have likely seen the banners declaring that God hates gays, or God hates America, or God hates sinners. Some go as far as to say that God rejoices when sinners die. You may have even seen these things on picket signs at funerals of high profile celebrities by a vocal group that seeks constant attention. Consider this truth in Ezekiel 33:11a

Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.

 

This truth was so important that God said it twice in Ezekiel.[1] Does God hate gays? Does God hate sinners? Those who declare such things are blind to their own sins. The truth is that sin is sin. The original sin is pride. Satan was the highest angel in heaven and perfect until pride arose in him. His goal was to be independent of God and then exalt himself. And what was Adam’s fall? The temptation was, “You will be like God.” Satan tempted Adam with pride by luring him to seek independence from God. Pride caused his fall and consequences followed Adam’s attempt to become independent of God.

Who struggles with pride? Perhaps a better question would be, who doesn’t? When I do something right, I’m proud of my efforts or accomplishment. When I look down on someone’s sin, I am enthroning myself and exalting my self-righteous attitude over the other. Just as the Pharisee felt proud of his righteousness and condemned the sinner in front of him, the Christian falls into this same trap when they look down on homosexuality, addicts, thieves, or other sinners as though they are worse than themselves.

But which is worse? Homosexuality or pride? Drug addiction or self-righteousness? The truth is that the ground at the foot of the cross is level. We all are in need of God’s mercy and His power to overcome our weakness of the flesh.

I’m driving home this point because I want the reader to recognize that there are no hierarchical sins. What is big in our eyes is not in God’s. What is small in our eyes is still sin in God’s eyes. And the Lord does not seek our condemnation, but our deliverance.

When the religious leaders brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus, they said, “The law says she must die. What do you say?”

A few questions come to mind immediately. First, where was the man she was with? That is the nature of religion. The very people trying to condemn others excuse the sins that are inconvenient to their agendas. No one keeps the law, yet they try to use the law against others. Jesus proved this truth as we’ll soon see.

The second question is, why did they feel the need to bring the woman to Jesus? They didn’t acknowledge His authority and certainly could have executed the woman without His input.

They came to Jesus because they knew that His desire is always for mercy. The Bible says that Jesus was God in the flesh and full of grace and truth.[2] Even Jesus’ critics understood His heart of grace. They knew the law condemned the woman, but they also thought the law could condemn grace.

Jesus stooped down and started drawing in the dirt. I envision Him drawing out words like, Adultery – lust is adultery in the heart. Greed – idolatry in the heart. Covetousness – stealing in the heart. Jesus often showed our need for grace by pointing out that even if we don’t show outward behaviors, sinning in our heart makes us just as guilty as the physical act.

They grew impatient and said, “Jesus, the law says she must be stoned, what do you say.”

After a few more impatient demands for an answer, Jesus stood up and said, “Whoever is without sin, let him cast the first stone.”

Those who boasted of their abilities to keep the law looked at Jesus’ words on the ground and their own consciences convicted them. One by one they walked away until Jesus was alone with the woman. “Where are your accusers?”

“There are none,” she answered Jesus.

“Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

Do you see the glorious message of grace? While the law and others stand as our accusers, God is the only one not accusing. While we think God is our accuser, the truth is that He alone offers grace. God rescues you from sin and then gives you His Spirit. When you are walking in the Spirit, sin has no power and you can go and sin no more.

When you are in the flesh, sin is inevitable. This is true whether you have evil intentions or good ones. In the Spirit, you are abiding in Christ’s righteousness and in Him there is no sin or condemnation.

Whether your sin is substance related, sexual, or anything else, there is no condemnation. God loves the sinner. Every child of God was once a sinner rescued by grace. God is not looking for those who can measure up to a godly standard. Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost.

 
By Eddie Snipes.
This excerpt was taken from God Loves the Addict.


[1] Ezekiel 18:32 and 33:11

[2] John 1:1, John 1:14

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Seeing Christ in the Covenants

(An excerpt from Simple Faith)

As you may know, the Bible is divided into the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament is divided into 39 books, and the New Testament contains 27 books. Generally speaking, the books of the Bible are divided by author or time period. For example, the Apostle Paul wrote two letters to the Corinthian church. Each of those letters stands alone as a book of the Bible.

While the books are divided by author or time period, there is an undergirding foundation to each of the Testaments. The first covenant is the underpinning of the Old Testament. Just before Jesus was crucified, He proclaimed that he was bringing in a new covenant.

The word ‘covenant’ simply means: an agreement made between two people. It is like a binding contract.

On the surface, these terms may sound like theological jargon, but there is an exciting truth unveiled through these covenants that point directly to how God relates to you and I as individuals. I want to show you how the Old Covenant unveils the love of God for mankind that wasn’t fully realized until the New Covenant was confirmed through Christ.

 

God’s Covenant with Abraham

When the Bible teaches the Christian what it means to have faith, Abraham is the example. Yes, the Old Testament patriarch is the model for New Testament faith. Abraham was before the law. This is significant because the Bible makes it clear that the covenant with Abraham came by faith through the promise, and not by the works of keeping the Old Testament law. We’ll look at this shortly, but let’s first take a look at the covenant of faith given to Abraham.

Genesis chapter fifteen is an amazing passage. The chapter begins by God declaring, “I am your exceedingly great reward.” The New Testament points back to God’s relationship with Abraham as an example of how God relates to us as believers. We think of rewards as things, but the true reward is God. If we have intimacy with God, we have everything. If we lack that relationship with God, we have nothing of lasting significance.

The Bible calls Abraham the friend of God[1]. Jesus declared to his disciples, “I no longer call you servants…I call you friends.[2]” In both the Old and New Testaments, the joy of faith is friendship with God. It’s the goal behind redemption.

The faith of Abraham and the relationship he had with God is the same as God offers to the Christian today. God spoke to Abraham and revealed the promise of his inheritance. Then the Bible says that Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness[3]. This is how the Christian believes today. God reveals the promise of our new life through Christ, and by faith we believe God and we are credited with the righteousness of Christ[4].

Hopefully you will begin to see the harmony of the Old Testament and the New Testament. What God did in ancient times was a foreshadowing of what God was about to do through Christ. All the Old Testament points to the coming Christ, and all the New Testament points back to our redemption through Christ.

The same is true for the covenant of Abraham. After Abraham’s justification by faith, God introduced the covenant. If you aren’t familiar with the word ‘justification’, it simply means to be justified – or to be declared as just. Those who were once under the accusation of sin are declared just through Christ, and no longer are accounted as sinners. This is a topic we’ll go into later. For now, be aware that Abraham was justified by faith when he believed God, prior to any covenant.

After being declared righteous, God offered the covenant – or a binding agreement with Abraham. The Lord pointed to the land surrounding Abraham and declared, “I will give you this land for an inheritance, and to your descendants.”

At this time, the land had inhabitants who already possessed it. Knowing this, Abraham asked a natural question – how? God not only reveals the how, but takes it a step further. God explains that the current inhabitants will be deposed once they become morally bankrupt[5], but then God seals the promise with a covenant.

In the ancient times, when two parties entered into a binding agreement, they would take an animal – usually a ram or a cow, slay it, and lay half the animal on the side where one party sat, and half where the other party sat. They would then swear an oath to each other, and both parties would walk between the pieces. The meaning of the ritual was that each person agreed that what was done to this animal would be done to them if they broke their part of the agreement. In other words, the covenant could not be broken without a death penalty. Keep this in your mental cache. It will be significant when we see how God brings in the New Covenant.

Something interesting happens as God prepares to make the covenant for Abraham. He asks Abraham to prepare the sacrifice,[6] but does not allow Abraham to participate in the confirmation. Look now at Genesis 15:9-12, 17-18a

 9 So [God] said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”
 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.
 11 And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
 12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him.

 17 And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces.
18 On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land…

 

At this point, Abraham’s name has not yet been changed, so he is still being called Abram. For the sake of clarity, I will continue to refer to him as Abraham.

Notice that God had Abraham prepare the sacrifice, but did not allow him to walk between the pieces. This is significant. The covenant was with Abraham and his descendants after him. If Abraham had been the confirming party, and either he or his descendants failed to uphold their part of the agreement, the covenant would be broken and judgment would fall. Sin has consequences. Israel (the nation that inherited the promise) sinned and turned their back on God repeatedly. According to the rules of the covenant, the violating party would be slain for breaking the covenant.

To protect Abraham and his descendants, God made the covenant with Himself, but Abraham was the beneficiary. This event was used as an example showing the certainty of God’s promises to us in Hebrews 6:13-18

 13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself,
 14 saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.”
 15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.
 16 For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute.
 17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath,
 18 that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before
us.

 

In other words, to give God’s people confidence in the certainty of God’s promise, He swore the oath against His life; not against the life of any fallible man. Once again, we see the Old Testament revealing the truth of our promise. To make the promise sure, God swore the oath by Himself. Therefore, even in judgment when Israel abandoned God, the people had the promise of returning to the land and obtaining the promise by simply repenting and reconciling with the Lord.

When the people failed, the covenant remained, for God was the guarantee of the covenant. The oath was between God and Himself, not God and Abraham. However, through that covenant, God blessed Abraham and his descendants with the benefit of the promise. Abraham entered into the covenant as a receiver and not as one making the guarantee.

The law that came through Moses is not how God’s people obtained the promise. The promise has always been by faith, and even when the people fell short on keeping the law, the promise wasn’t nullified. Look at Galatians 3:17

And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.

 

Who was the covenant made through? God in Christ. God swore the oath to Abraham through Christ, and the covenant wasn’t dependent upon the law. When the people fell short, they could not nullify the promise of the covenant. Man cannot break a covenant made between God and Himself. Both the Father and the Son were present at the confirmation of Abraham’s covenant, and are symbolized through the smoking oven of judgment and the light of the gospel torch.

The law cannot nullify the promise. The success of the law was dependent upon man, so it failed. But the promise cannot be annulled by the failure of man, because it was confirmed by God in Christ. So even in the Old Testament, we see Christ being the covenant maker, though He was not fully revealed until His human birth.

The Bible says that the weakness of the law was man[7], and that the purpose of the law was to restrain man[8], show man his inability to justify himself, and therefore turn to Christ[9], to teach man about Christ[10], and to foreshadow Christ[11]. These are all roles of the law. One thing strangely absent is justification. The role of the law was not to justify man. Justification by faith was presented as God’s plan more than four-hundred years before the law was given.

Since man is the weakness of the law, it also stands true that any promises that are dependent upon man are at risk of failure. Any covenants dependent upon man are destined for judgment. Therefore, God swore a covenant by Himself with Abraham and his descendants as beneficiaries of the promise. God’s New Testament plan is no different.

 

The New Covenant

The New Testament and all of Christianity is founded upon the new covenant. A bit of study reveals the new covenant clearly foretold and foreordained in the rituals and practices of the Old Testament – a testament founded upon God’s first covenant. In fact, covenant and testament are interchangeable in their meaning, but for the sake of clarity I’ll use testament to refer to the division between the Old Testament times and the New Testament times.

The problem with bringing in a new covenant is that something must be done about the old covenant. The Bible says that it is to be done away with in order to unveil the full plan of God. The old covenant foreshadowed what God was going to do through the new covenant, but the new can’t be ushered in until the previous one passes away.

Remember when I said to keep the meaning of the covenant ritual in your mental cache? This is where it becomes significant. God swore by Himself as a guarantee for the covenant with Abraham. In order to break the old covenant, it must be done to Him as was done to the sacrifice. The person breaking a blood oath must be slain. And yes, this was part of God’s plan from the beginning.

God did not arrive at the New Testament era and say, “Oops.” The Lord foretold of how He would break the old covenant. The Bible says that the old covenant was confirmed by God in Christ[12]; therefore, since Christ is the guarantee of the old covenant, He must lay down His life to break it. And this is exactly what Jesus foretells of Himself in the Old Testament. Look at Zechariah 11:10-14

 10 And I took my staff, Beauty, and cut it in two, that I might break the covenant which I had made with all the peoples.
 11 So it was broken on that day. Thus the poor of the flock, who were watching me, knew that it was the word of the LORD.
 12 Then I said to them, “If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.” So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver.
 13 And the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter” — that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD for the potter.
 14 Then I cut in two my other staff, Bonds, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.

 

So much is said in this passage. Let’s begin at the end. In the Old Testament times, in order to enter God’s covenant with Abraham, one had to be a Jew. Either they had to have been born a Jew, or they had to convert to Judaism. This is why there was so much confusion in the book of Acts in the New Testament. Jesus was a Jew, and so were his disciples. When God poured out His Spirit upon all people, treating the Jews and the Gentiles alike, Jewish believers had a hard time accepting this.

The word ‘Gentile’ simply means anyone who is not a Jew. For thousands of years, God centered His covenant upon Israel. Now that covenant was broken, and the Jewish Christians had a hard time understanding the significance of this.

This is why Zechariah’s prophecy is so important. The Old Covenant was based on the physical descendants of Abraham, but the New Covenant brings everyone into the covenant through a new spiritual birth in Christ. In order to open up the world to the promises of God, the Old Covenant that promised it to the physical bloodline of Abraham had to be broken.

Jesus alluded to this when he said, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.[13]

The Jewish nation looked upon themselves as the sheep of God. God cared for them, nurtured them, and protected them as the fold of His sheep. Now Jesus is saying that another fold will be brought in, and they will be united as one people along with the Jews. This is the gentiles. This is part of the New Covenant. Look at Matthew 26:27-28

 27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.
 28 “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

 

Even Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand this until God revealed his plan to the New Testament church. The cross is where the Old Covenant was broken, and the New Covenant was born. Jesus took the staff of His protection over the flock of Israel, broke it in two, allowed Himself to be nailed to it in the form of a cross, and redeemed all people through the New Covenant.

Think back to the first covenant. Who prepared the sacrifice, and who confirmed the covenant? Man prepared the sacrifice. Abraham prepared it, but God confirmed it by swearing by Himself while making Abraham and his descendants the beneficiaries of the promise. The covenant was between God and God, symbolized in the burning furnace of judgment and the torch of light.

In the same way, man prepared the sacrifice of Jesus, but the covenant was between God and Himself, with us as the beneficiaries of the promise. In the first covenant, only Abraham, the father of the Jews was called upon to prepare the sacrifice. In the New Covenant, God called upon the Romans (gentiles) and the Jews to jointly prepare the sacrifice.

The Jews prepared the sacrifice through the trial that provided false testimony and then condemned Jesus with an illegal court. The gentiles prepared the sacrifice through the Romans who knowingly condemned an innocent man under Governor Pilot, and then executed Jesus on the cross.

Man prepared the sacrifice, but the covenant was between God as the Heavenly Father and Jesus the Son. Isaiah 53 says that it pleased the LORD (the Father) to bruise Him (the Son), and make His soul an offering for our sin.

So we can see that the covenant was between God the judge of sin (burning oven) and the Son who is the light of the world (the flaming torch), with us as the beneficiary to the promise. The promise is our redemption from judgment against sin, and becoming joint heirs, who are now welcomed into the fold of God.

How can we not rejoice in the amazing work of God? And how can we not stand in awe of the foreknowledge of God? He revealed these things from the beginning. The Old Testament saints could not understand these things because Christ had not yet been revealed. We, on the other hand, can see clearly through the lens of the cross and see how God has been working out his plan for thousands of years.


An excerpt from Simple Faith, How every person can experience intimacy with God by Eddie Snipes



[1] James 2:23

[2] John 15:15

[3] Genesis 15:6

[4] 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

[5] Genesis 15:16

[6] Genesis 15:9-10

[7] Romans 8:3

[8] Galatians 3:23

[9] Romans 3:19-20

[10] Galatians 3:24-25

[11] Hebrews 9:19-28

[12] Galatians 3:17

[13] John 10:16

Simple Faith – Part 3

Building upon faith

Let’s take a moment to dispel another misconception of faith. Mark Twain made the following quote famous, “Faith is believing something you know isn’t true.”

Any Christian would refute this statement; however, many live as though this is their mission in life. They try to make themselves believe, and when doubts creep in, they try to overcome doubt by attempting to muster up more faith. It’s purely a human effort – and it’s destined to fail. Best case scenario, human faith is unfruitful. Worse case, people give up on believing. They give up because faith has failed them and they get tired of pretending. Manmade faith is often nothing more than self-deception.

Many years ago, my wife began a relationship with a woman who seemed very religious. As with most Christians, my wife had unanswered questions that nagged at her. She confided some of her struggles with her friend and was summarily rejected. The woman she believed to be her friend sent a scathing letter to her saying, “You have a disease called doubt. As with other diseases, doubt can be spread. I can’t be friends with you or maintain contact with you because I don’t want to catch your disease of doubt and corrupt my faith.”

The absurdity of this lady’s reaction left me stunned. While the Bible tells us to bear up those who are weak in faith, the human-based faith can only survive in a vacuum, and therefore cannot bear up anyone, for it is dependent upon mankind.

The great irony is that many people are shields to their faith rather than being shielded by faith. The Bible says that faith is the shield that protects the Christian from attack; therefore, if our faith needs to be protected rather than being our protection, it is not a true biblical faith.

The woman who feared doubt did not have true faith. Like so many others, her faith only survives as long as she can protect her beliefs from being questioned. She stands as the shield to her faith and through human will, protects the fragile belief system she has placed her hopes upon. Read the testimonies of Christians-turned-atheist. In almost every case, the testimony is the same. “I got tired of pretending.”

Perhaps we aren’t supposed to pretend. A Christian should not be afraid of truth – for all truth ultimately points to God. When you look at the arguments against the Bible they are often a woven tale that avoids anything that affirms the Bible and only accepts the things that are in agreement with the presupposed position, or can be twisted to fit the argument.

Another irony is that manmade faith has the same substance, whether someone claims to be an atheist or a Christian. Atheists stand as guards to their faith in humanistic thinking, weeding out and attacking anything that challenges their fragile belief system. They react with the same volatile emotions when something questions their foundation of sand. There is little difference between the counterfeit faith of religion and the counterfeit faith of atheism. And they both create similar reactions from the possessor when challenged with ideas that rattle their foundation of sand.

Many arguments are fashioned this way, and an entire book could be written with examples. Rather than picking out an example from the plethora of arguments against the Bible, let’s use the Bible itself as an example. My grandfather often used this as a tease, but it serves as a good example in our discussion. In this case, I can only accept the KJV’s wording, and through it, I can prove that women are dangerous drivers. Look at these passages from Acts:

Acts 27:15
 we let her drive
Acts 27:17
 and so were driven.
Acts 27:20
all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.

 

There you have it. The Bible disapproves of women drivers, right? I used the text exactly as written, without alteration, and I am able to prove my point by scripture. In reality, the only thing I have done is exclude information. What’s missing fills in the key to an accurate understanding. By hiding information that doesn’t say what I want to be said, I can give the false impression that I’ve proven something that is actually false.

If we look at Acts 27 in context, we discover that ‘her’ is a ship that the Apostle Paul and Luke were aboard. It was caught in a violent storm, and they struck the sails and allowed the ship to be driven wherever the storm would take them. In despair, the men felt that all hope was lost.

Excluding key pieces of information can make this text to appear to say something it does not say. The same is true for science, history, archaeology, and any other source of information. A critic can present a persuasive argument by excluding what he or she doesn’t want you to know, and presenting what can appear to say what they want you to believe. How do we defend against this? Simply by finding out the whole truth. What is missing is often what dispels doubt. This is why the Bible commands that we study to show ourselves approved.

Sometimes the information we need is not available. Yet if you know what you believe and why you believe it, the missing evidence won’t rattle you. It’s amazing that we can have a mountain of evidence, but if we have one criticism we can’t answer, we’ll doubt the mountain and trust the objection.

Rather than covering our eyes and pretending questions don’t exist, we need to look at the question and explore the objection in light of what we know is true. Only then can we have confidence. The person who runs from the disease of doubt can never have confidence in the truth. Sometimes the questions aren’t answered easily, but honestly seeking for answers will give the Christian confidence. And honestly looking at the mountain of truth will give assurance when the molehill of doubt arises.

In discussions with people who claim to be ex-Christians, I see a pattern. They began by refusing to look at questions honestly and standing as guards to protect their faith. A college environment or another source of influence put them in a position where they couldn’t escape criticism. By sheer human will, they fought doubt until it finally overcame them. In frustration, they declared that their faith was a childish fantasy and they gave up the whole thing.

Now they stand and guard to protect their new faith in humanism against the attacks of Christianity. They use the exact same methods; they have just changed sides. They still will not look at the whole truth with honesty. So now they continue to guard half-truths and protect their new faith, only it’s easier to stand in the atheist camp since there are more allies and it masquerades as intellectualism.

The truth of the matter is that you don’t need to protect God – or your faith. Faith is not forcing yourself to believe something. Faith is being assured of truth so that it becomes your firm foundation. If you can’t stand with confidence, you are lacking a foundation and your faith is manmade.

Let’s now look at what Jesus said about faith. Look at Luke 17:5-6

 5 And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
 6 So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

 

Rarely will you hear this passage looked at in light of what Jesus was communicating to the disciples. Just like the rest of us, the disciples who learned under Jesus struggled with doubt. Daily they witnessed the model of perfection – Jesus Christ. In the light of His life, they recognized something was deficient in their own lives. Throughout His life, Jesus professed absolute trust in the plan of our Heavenly Father. It was a plan that would lead Him to the cross. Yet He never wavered. In the same sense, Jesus constantly challenged the disciples to follow His perfect plan.

Jesus and his disciples knew the religious leaders of the day were seeking to destroy them and several times it looked like they might succeed. Once, they were nearly stoned, and to His disciple’s dismay, Jesus went right back to the city where their lives would again be in peril. Jesus said that He couldn’t die until His time was fulfilled. How could this man so firmly believe in God’s plan that He could walk right into peril without batting an eye? The disciples wanted this confidence, so they said, “Lord, increase our faith.”

Did Jesus give them a list of ‘faith principles’ or ‘laws of faith’? No. He made it clear that they already had all the faith they needed. Jesus often used a mustard seed as an illustration. He often called it the least of all seeds. Jesus wasn’t saying, no seed is smaller than a mustard seed. It was a word picture that every person in that culture could understand. Mustard was a spice that everyone used and it was likely the smallest ingredient people could identify with. One time Jesus held up the tiny seed and declared it to be a symbol of how the Kingdom of Heaven grows from the smallest source.

In regards to faith, Jesus is again holding up a seed that looked so insignificant. “If your faith is this big, it can move mountains.” Jesus used both mountains and trees to illustrate the power of our faith. Both are objects that appear immovable, yet none can stand before faith in the heart of the one doing God’s will. So the answer to faith is, “You don’t need more.”

Jesus again uses this as a teaching opportunity when the disciples experienced failure. In Matthew 7, Jesus gave his disciples power to cast out demons and heal the sick. He sent them out to preach his coming, and they returned in victory, excited that even the demons had no power against His name. However, victory was turned into confusion when their faith was challenged.

After returning from a mountain, Jesus saw a commotion around His disciples. When He approached, the people informed Him that His disciples could not cast out a demon from a man bent on destroying himself. This was after the disciples had experienced great victory and rejoiced that demons were subject to them in Christ’s name. After Jesus cast out the resistant spirit and healed the man, the disciples came to Him to find out why they couldn’t do it. Look at Jesus’ answer in Matthew 17:19-21

 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”
 20 So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.
 21 “However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”

 

The plain meaning is easy to overlook. The reason they failed was because of unbelief. Yet, Jesus made it clear that they indeed had the power, for all they needed was a mustard seed of faith – and then nothing was impossible. Nothing also means this event in which they failed. So we can see that Jesus empowered them to do this very thing. The disciples succeeded in Matthew 7, but here in Matthew 17 they failed. Unbelief caused the failure, and the solution is found in prayer and fasting.

Prayer and fasting does not increase their faith. Jesus made it clear that they already had enough faith. Instead, it was a call to weaken the flesh and build them up in the Spirit. Fasting brings the flesh under subjection while prayer puts their focus on the Spirit.

Unbelief is of the flesh, but faith is of the Spirit. The disciples were so focused on their unbelief that they could not walk by faith. All of their efforts combined could not muster up faith – and indeed it did not need to. They were already given the gift of faith. The problem was that they were walking in the flesh. The flesh verses the Spirit is a topic for another chapter, but keep in mind that Jesus never increased their faith. He always reminded them that they had what they needed. Unbelief may hinder their faith, but the solution wasn’t to gain more faith, but to deal with what was causing their flesh to dominate their lives and empower unbelief.

Romans 12:3 tells us that God deals every person the measure of faith. Faith isn’t something we build, nor is it something we obtain or increase. Faith is a gift from God. Anytime spiritual matters become man centered or man dependent, we have stepped outside of true faith. The Bible never tells us to build our faith; it tells us to build our lives upon our faith. Look at Jude 1:20-21

 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,
 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

 

This passage doesn’t tell us to build faith. The Bible says that we have a most holy faith that we should build ourselves upon. It’s most holy because it comes from the Most Holy God. We keep ourselves in the love of God by keeping his word. This is another avenue we’ll explore later. Let’s also consider Romans 10:17

So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

 

Why does faith come by hearing the word? It goes back to our examination of Hebrews 11. Faith is a sure foundation. The word is our foundation and as we hear the truth of God, we learn how to build our lives upon it. We hear, believe, and build ourselves upon the most holy faith that is revealed in the word. The word is by the Spirit (see John 6:63) just as faith is of the Spirit. You can know the word and still not have faith, but you can’t have faith without the word. The power to believe (or live by faith) has already been given to us by the Holy Spirit. What’s lacking is our understanding of God’s word and how to live in the Spirit where faith is discovered.

Rather than faith being something we force ourselves to believe, faith is believing God. It is God revealing His word to us in a way that creates such certainty that we build our lives upon that unshakeable foundation. Faith is believing God so that we are accounted as righteous. By faith, we move our foundation from human nature, and build it upon the assurance of God and His promises. A false faith says, “I believe,” but then remains on a dead foundation built on the weakness of the flesh. Then all spiritual matters are dependent upon man and have no part in the eternal power of God. When faith depends on mankind, it is a weak foundation and will not stand when we need the rock of a firm assurance.

We have a better foundation. When we believe God’s word and build ourselves upon that most holy faith, the disease of doubt has no power over us and we need not to convince ourselves to believe anything we aren’t sure to be true. We will have the firm assurance of truth and that assurance is the shield and strength of the Christian life.

 

Eddie Snipes
Excerpt from Simple Faith: How every person can experience intimacy with God.

Simple Faith – Part 2

What is Faith?

Faith isn’t a mystical force. As we have seen, faith is believing God and that belief causes us to act in obedience. Faith isn’t a substance as some claim by misunderstanding how the Greek is translated. Let’s take a moment and look at a passage that is often misunderstood, but is very important in understanding faith. Look at Hebrews 11:

 1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

 

The King James and the New King James Versions use the word ‘substance’ in this passage. I’m going to use a little Greek here, but don’t let it turn you off. Knowing how words are translated can bring life to passages of the Bible. In Hebrews 11, the Greek word is ‘hupostasis’, which means: to put under, substructure, foundation, steadfastness of mind, confidence, firm trust, assurance, something of substance, or a real being.

While all these words can be used in translation, it should be self-evident that the context in which a word is used must be consistent with how we define the meaning of the word itself. When translating, don’t think of these as multiple choices where we just pick one which suits our fancy. Rather we need to understand that the translation is based on a definition. The Greek word is an idea, and the translator must choose an English equivalent which best conveys that idea into words, and do so while being consistent with what was being communicated in the original Greek.

Even if you don’t know Greek, you can get an understanding of what the word means by looking at all its possible English translations. Taken together, we can understand what is meant by substance by looking at the overall definition of hupostasis. Substance in this instance does not mean that faith has physical properties, but that it has ‘real substance’ in what it assures us of.

When someone makes empty promises, we say that their words have no substance. In other words, there is little assurance someone will fulfill their word if their promises were empty in the past. The opposite also is true. If someone is reliable and keeps their promises, we say their word has substance. This also applies to how hupostasis is translated in the above passage.

The Greek word ‘hupostasis’ is used four other times in the New Testament. Three times it means to boast or have strong confidence, and one refers to the real being of the person of Christ. The English word ‘substance’ is used two other times in the New Testament. Both are in Luke and both are Greek words that mean possessions or wealth. These examples are physical items, but is not the word ‘hupostasis’ as used in Hebrews 11:1.

Clearly this passage in Hebrews is referring to faith as being our firm assurance of things hoped for. As was the case in Jacob’s life, by faith, we also can have the confidence to hope for what we cannot see, knowing God will stand true to his word even if circumstances seem to indicate otherwise. Only by a firm assurance in God’s word can we have hope in the midst of trials and testing.

 

Eddie Snipes
Excerpt from Simple Faith: How every person can experience intimacy with God.

Simple Faith – Part 1

 

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church and expressed his fear that they might be drifting away from the simplicity of their faith in Christ. The same threat faces you, your church, and every Christian on a daily basis. If we allow human philosophy to muddy the waters of truth, nothing will be clear.

I once had a discussion with someone about faith. In our talk, it was stated that faith was too complicated to understand. Books on theology and Christian philosophy clouded the issue and made things seem too hard to grasp by anyone other than learned scholars. Once again, I pointed back to the simplicity of the gospel. The Bible says, “Abraham believed God, and his faith was accounted to him for righteousness.”

Faith = believing God.

Could it be any simpler than this? What was the evidence that Abraham believed God? When God commanded, Abraham believed the promise and then obeyed the command. I can’t say, “I believe God,” and then act in disobedience. If I truly believe, my life will show it. Disobedience is rooted in unbelief, but obedience is born from faith. Let’s look at an example.

Look back in history to the time of Jacob and Esau in the Old Testament. Esau was the firstborn son. In that culture, the firstborn received a double portion of the family inheritance and received the family blessing. What’s more, these were descendants of Abraham; therefore, the one who held the birthright was rightfully the carrier of the promise that would ultimately be fulfilled in Christ. As we read through the New Testament, we see that God’s promise to Abraham that all nations would be blessed through his descendants was the promise of our redeemer – Jesus Christ.

Esau despised his birthright and willingly forfeited his right to the promise by trading it to Jacob for a pot of stew. He considered satisfying the cravings of his flesh as more valuable than the promise of God. For this reason, he sold his birthright to Jacob for food. When he rejected the promise given through his birthright as the firstborn son, God rejected Esau from the future blessing that carried the promises of God.

In the course of time, Jacob’s mother came up with a plan to obtain the blessing for her son. Jacob and Esau’s father was the son of Abraham, and God established him as a prophet. His blessing was the promise of God. Isaac planned to bless his firstborn, Esau. Knowing the end of his life was near, Isaac called Esau and sent him into the field to hunt for venison. He loved the venison stew Esau made, so the plan was to have a nice meal and then bless his son.

When Jacob’s mother heard the command, she prepared the stew for Isaac while Esau was gone, and sent Jacob into the room to be blessed. Isaac was nearly blind, so he was deceived into believing he was blessing Esau. When Esau returned, he discovered what Jacob had done, and made plans to murder Jacob. To avoid being killed by his brother, Jacob fled the country to live with a relative.

All this background has little direct application to faith, but it sets the stage for one of the best examples of faith in the Bible. God shaped Jacob’s life for twenty years, and then sent him back home knowing he would have to face his brother. Just before Jacob encountered his brother, God changed his name from Jacob to Israel.

As is often the case in the Old Testament, God embeds the gospel into the events of scripture. Jacob had once looked for blessings in the efforts of his own hands. He took what he wanted and hoped he could get enough. He supplanted – or chased after things, trying to take what he wanted. Life was fleeting away, and Jacob struggled to fulfill a desire that could not be fulfilled outside of God.

Previously, Jacob’s goal had been to get what he wanted and life was nothing more than grappling for things he hoped would make him happy. Then the time came when God redeemed him out of his old life, and gave him the promise. No longer was he called Jacob – which means ‘the supplanter’, but now he was called Israel – which means ‘God prevails’. No longer was he dependent upon his own efforts to find fulfillment, but now he would trust in God, who would prevail and cause him to inherit all that had been promised through is forefather, Abraham.

This is a picture of prevailing through the Christian life. Before coming to Christ, we grapple for satisfaction, and the only fulfillment we find is in what we take by the heel and claim for our own. As satisfaction eludes us, we keep wrestling against God and man, looking for the things we think will make us happy. History proves that the one who possesses the most is rarely happy or satisfied, yet because it’s the only way we know, we pursue life just as the rest of the world does. Then the Lord calls us out of that lifestyle, gives us His name, and we become inheritors of the promise.

Now, we too live by the promise that God prevails. Many Christians don’t understand this and still grapple for the world, but the truth is, the promise is ours and all we must do is trust in our God who prevails, and go where He leads.

When the nation of Israel turned from the promise and lived like supplanters, God always referred to them as ‘the house of Jacob’. Yet when blessing them or revealing the promise, God called the nation, ‘the house of Israel.’ We, like Israel, either walk in the failing world system and live like those pursuing something that can’t be obtained in the flesh, or we live like conquerors and walk in the promise of ‘God prevails.’ To walk in the promise, we have to step out of human effort and into faith.

This is the trial Jacob / Israel faced. God visited Jacob while he lived with his uncle and commanded him to go back to his homeland – the very place where his brother waited to take vengeance upon him. God said for him to return, and the Lord would be with him, bless him, and make him a great nation. It’s the call of faith. Go, and God will bless. Step out in faith, and trust in the promise.

Jacob arose, gathered his family and possessions together, and headed toward home. Not knowing how his brother would respond, Jacob sent a messenger ahead of him to greet his brother. The messenger returned and said, “Your brother gathered together four-hundred men and is coming this way toward you.”

That wasn’t a good thing to hear. Shouldn’t God have given him a sign of peace? No one arms four-hundred men and rushes to meet someone just to say, ‘hello’. Clearly, war was in Esau’s heart. Jacob had no army, no defense, and no plan of escape. The normal human reaction would be to turn around and run. No one would blame him if he did. This was the moment of truth.

The command of God was, “Go back to your home,” which was the Promised Land God gave to Abraham. The promise was, “I will be with you to bless and prosper you.” Circumstances seemed to testify against God’s promise, but Jacob chose to believe God over his human instinct.

Let me stop for a moment and point out an important truth. Fear and doubt aren’t necessarily a lack of faith. It’s often said that faith and fear can’t coexist, but this is not true. People are made to feel guilty because they feel fear when in danger or facing a circumstance that seems impossible. The truth is that faith is of the Spirit, and fear is of the flesh. The Bible tells us that the flesh and the Spirit of God are at war against each other. We’ll explore this in greater detail later on, but keep this truth in mind. Jacob didn’t pretend his fear did not exist. Nor did he try to muster up a false faith. He acknowledged his fear before God and prayed for the Lord to guide him.

Jacob divided his family into two groups so one could escape if the other was attacked, and then stopped and took in the dire situation that surrounded him. He had obeyed God, and instead of protection, he was now helpless as an army rushed toward him. He then approached God with a request, and a declaration of obedience. Look at Genesis 32:9-12

 9 Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you’:
 10 “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies.
 11 “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children.
 12 “For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’ “

 

What a wonderful example of prayer founded upon faith! The two companies were his wives and children. They were divided so they could not be attacked together.

Notice, he didn’t deny his fears, he confessed them. He didn’t bargain with God, he testified that he was acting in obedience. He didn’t say, “I obeyed; therefore, you owe me.” No, Jacob acknowledged that he was not worthy of any of God’s mercies. And then he claimed the promise that God gave him. God wants us to trust in His promises. And live by them.

Jacob did not put himself into this position, God did. It was to test Jacob’s faith so he would choose to either trust in God, or turn back to the perceived safety of the old life outside of God’s will.

It’s equally important that we understand the difference between acting in faith, and tempting God. The Bible forbids us to tempt God – or put God to the test. To put God to the test is to take it upon ourselves to put our lives or safety in a position where God must intervene to save us. God has the right to put Himself to the test so we must choose to trust His word or our fears, but we have no right to manipulate God by our will.

When the word commands us to obey and we must face persecution or suffering in order to obey, that is an act of faith. When we decide to place ourselves into harm’s way, that’s an act of the flesh. I can’t jump in front of a bus and pray, God save me. I can’t overspend and then give the last of my money to charity and say that God has to miraculously pay my bills. I’ve even seen people provoke persecution and then wonder why God allowed them to suffer. There is reward in obedience, but not in foolishness masquerading as faith.

In Jacob’s case, he crossed the river separating himself from his brother. He was afraid and was in fear for his life, but his prayer was, “You commanded me to do it. I’m afraid. I know I’m unworthy of your deliverance, but I stand upon your promises.”

Then a crazy idea struck Jacob. He made several bands of goats and sheep, then sent them in droves toward his brother. Messengers were sent with each band to tell Esau that these were a present from his servant Jacob.

In my mind’s eye, I picture Esau scoffing at the idea. “Does he think a worthless flock of sheep is going to stop my revenge?” Then he encountered another. And another. And another. At some point, Esau probably shook his head at the absurdity, and eventually it struck him as funny. By the time he reached Esau, his anger had been pushed aside and he could do nothing but greet his brother and ask about the droves of sheep he kept passing.

The method God uses isn’t relevant. What is relevant is God’s faithfulness. He commands our obedience, and then puts us into a position to either believe his promises, or believe our fears. Sometimes Esau comes into our lives as a sinful desire for what opposes God, or as a fear that calls us to flee from God. Neither are sin unless we choose them over believing God. Faith isn’t the absence of fear and doubt – faith overcomes fear and doubt. Faith is how we overcome. Look at 1 John 5:

 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.

 

Faith can’t be overcome; but it can be neglected. Even in fear, we have the power to believe God. We also have the power to disbelieve God and put our trust in fear.

There will be times when God will put you to the test, for it proves whether you are trusting in Him, or yourself, circumstances, or feelings.

Faith is not complicated, but it is something our lives must be built upon. There are many misconceptions of faith, so in the following section, we’ll dig deeper into what the Bible teaches about faith and how it applies to our individual lives.

Eddie Snipes
Excerpt from Simple Faith: How every person can experience intimacy with God.

Is Unforgiveness ever Justified?

–An excerpt from The Promise of a Sound Mind: God’s Plan for Emotional and Mental Health

 

When the topic of forgiveness comes up, people often ask, “What if the other person refuses to apologize? Do I still have to forgive them?” Sometimes people wrong us but are not sorry. The Bible says if someone asks for forgiveness we must forgive, but what if they are not repentant?

This is a good question and is something every person will have to deal with throughout their life. I’ve touched on this a bit from my life’s experience, but since letting go of wrongs can be difficult, we need to look at this question from a biblical perspective as well. When we stop and look at it from a wider perspective, I’m confident you’ll see why it’s necessary to forgive – period. We can’t hold those who wrong us to a higher standard than we want to be held to. Jesus addressed this concept in Matthew 7:1-2

 1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.
 2 “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

 

This is not saying we shouldn’t use good judgment or evaluate right from wrong, but that we must judge based on the standard we are willing to stand upon. How many unconfessed sins have I committed in my life? Wrong thoughts, selfish motives, words of offense to others, or any number of other things. We are all guilty. Do we want to be judged for our unconfessed transgressions? I know I certainly don’t. Yet if I determine to only forgive those willing to confess, I put myself in a position where I can only be forgiven for what I confess. Can I expect God to forgive my unconfessed sins if I’m unwilling to do so for others? Is this not what God is addressing in Romans 2:1-8

 1 Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
 2 But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things.
 3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?
 4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
 5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,
 6 who “will render to each one according to his deeds”:
 7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality;
 8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness — indignation and wrath,

 

Think about the weight of this passage. Those who judge are condemning themselves, for they are doing the same things. When we judge someone else unworthy of forgiveness, we are also judging ourselves unworthy, for we do the same things. When I refuse to forgive, I am despising the goodness of God. Though I may think I am holding my neighbor accountable, in truth I’m casting God’s mercies out of my own life. I then will stand in judgment against my own behaviors.

My judgment is not because God was unwilling to forgive, but because I was unwilling to forgive. Instead of storing up for myself the treasures of heaven, I am storing up for myself judgment by which I will stand before God to answer for my guilt. And I will be my own condemner as God allows me to judge myself by the standard I have demanded.

Anyone who doesn’t recognize their own sin is blind, prideful, and still in their sins. If I think I’m guiltless, I’m a fool. How many times have I said thoughtless things to my wife, kids, or those around me? Sometimes I don’t even realize I have done this. Other times I have realized it, but just didn’t think it was a big enough deal to address it. If they didn’t say anything, I assume it didn’t bother them. But often they are wounded in silence. Can I now declare my neighbor guilty because he or she failed to apologize to me? If I do, then I am now held by that same standard before God.

What about our hidden sins? As we have seen, Jesus said, any who have ever looked upon someone to lust after them has committed adultery in their heart. Any who are greedy are thieves. Those who are covetous are idolaters. Those who hate are murderers. My life consistently fails to stand up to God’s requirement of perfection. But, when my life turns back to God, I am forgiven and I walk in newness of life. Yet, I have not combed through my past and confessed every sin. That’s impossible. It is my life that has repented and everything is taken out of the way when I look to the cross.

Yet Jesus warned His disciples that if they hold their neighbor accountable and demand judgment, all those sins will not be forgiven of them. God warns that when we don’t forgive from the heart, God returns our guilt upon our own heads.

So the argument of some is that the story of Jesus and the wicked servant is how the man asked for forgiveness and was denied. While this is true, it isn’t the point of the parable. The point is explained by Jesus, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

No exceptions are given. He didn’t say the onus is on our brother to ask. The onus is on us to forgive from our heart – not based on our brother’s worthiness, but based on God’s abundant mercies shown to us. God is not required to honor any loophole we think we can find in His word. The issue is we must forgive from the heart, not out of obligation once a set of rules has satisfied us.

The servant held his neighbor to a higher standard than God held him to. So if someone wants to hold their neighbor accountable for unconfessed wrongs, fine. They should be aware that they are placing themselves under the same standard. Now they are guilty for every sin in thought, word, or deed that they have committed against every person and against God. They must go through every minute of their lives and identify every sin they have ever committed. They must then confess them to God and find the person wronged or they thought evil toward, and confess to them. This isn’t only actions, but thoughts, sins of omissions, words, and even wicked emotions such as lust, jealousy, covetousness, envy, hatred, and unjustified anger.

To demand this method of religion is utterly foolish. A person under this system will never have forgiveness, never have peace, never have unity, and will never experience intimacy with God. God is ready to forgive and show mercy, but not to the one who refuses to do the same. As God stated, “To him who shows no mercy, I will judge without mercy.” (James 2:13)

Hopefully you can see the value of forgiveness. Not only does God show you mercy, but God empowers you to rise above your harmful emotions and strengthens you to forgive. When you forgive, anger will attempt to rise up again, but you must cast it out. Look to the Lord for strength and refuse to allow anger, hatred, and bitterness to rule over you. Forgive, bless, pray for, and do good to those who have wronged you, and the Lord will reward you.

This is God’s desire – to reward you. One of the greatest rewards is the peace of God which will reign in your heart, but this isn’t where the reward ends. Forgiveness releases you from the harmful emotions which rule you, so forgiveness is just as much an act of God’s mercy toward you as it is of your mercy toward another – and more so.

When you forgive, you are putting yourself in a right relationship with God and stepping onto the path of God’s purpose for your life. Forgiveness is a giant leap toward peace and joy. Forgiveness is not only a commandment, but it is necessary for your own emotional and physical health.

 

Examine Yourself.

We’ve looked at the reasons why forgiveness is necessary, but it’s also important to examine ourselves and see if there is anyone we need to forgive. Begin now and search your past. When you think of someone, does your stomach tighten or your heart ache?

Ideally, we want reconciliation; however, this is not always possible. It takes two to reconcile, but only takes your willing heart to step into a life of forgiveness. Do you need to forgive a parent, relative, betrayal of a friend, or the harm caused by a stranger? Remember, God has promised healing and blessings to those who forgive. It won’t be easy, but the rewards are great.

When we refuse to forgive, we give our enemies or those who have wronged us power over our emotions, and ultimately our lives. Forgiveness takes the burden off our hearts and places it on God’s shoulders, where it belongs.

Don’t lose sight of the example of Christ. Though He was betrayed by a close friend, rejected by His own people, tried for a crime He didn’t commit, and executed by a Roman governor who testified, “I find no wrong in this man,” He forgave.

On the cross Christ declared, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do.” They knew what they were doing to Him, but they were blinded by human nature. Foolishly, they allowed their own misguided ideas to drive their emotions into hatred. Then all they could see was that Jesus was a threat to their desires and personal beliefs. Their understanding did not go beyond the quest for self-fulfillment.

Some of the very people who demanded Jesus’ death later came to faith in Christ and found God’s mercies. Though Christ was persecuted and reviled, He didn’t lash back in return. He committed Himself to the Father, who judges righteously. And what does our Heavenly Father desire most? Reconciliation and forgiveness.

When we commit the wrongs against us to our Heavenly Father, it is an act of faith. We are acknowledging our own need and are recognizing God has the right to show mercy to those who have wronged us – just as He reconciled us, who have wronged Him.

Don’t forget that a single sin separates us from our God, for all sin is a challenge to His right to require His creation to live according to His character and nature. We are created in God’s image, but we fall short of this standard when we turn from God and choose our own ways. Since one sin causes us to fall away from God’s image and perfection, reconciliation must go through the cross. On the cross, Jesus was credited with our sins so we could be credited with His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

This means any sin you or I commit is responsible for putting Christ on the cross. We are responsible for His suffering and death; therefore, what wrong can we endure that is greater than condemning Jesus and putting Him to death on the cross?

Forgiveness is an act of faith because we are putting our trust in God to handle the situation according to His own wisdom. It’s saying, “God I trust you to make this situation right. I can only see this from my limited perspective, but you see the good you’re going to bring through this.”

In the Old Testament, Joseph’s brothers hated him with such passion that they could not say a peaceable word to him. They wanted to murder him, but when they saw a band of traders passing by, they decided it would be better to make a little money off him, so they sold him as a slave. They coldly ignored his anguished cries and rejoiced that the brother they hated was gone. Heartlessly, they conjured up a story to make their father believe Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. Grief almost destroyed their father, but they held to their story.

In the end, God blessed Joseph and exalted him to become the governor of Egypt. In hindsight, we see God was preparing the way for Joseph’s family to be delivered from a coming famine. When all things were concluded, Joseph was in a position of authority and could have brought vengeance down on his brothers. Instead he looked at the plan of God and said, “You meant this for harm, but God meant it for good.”

The Lord used the hate of Joseph’s brothers as a tool to test Joseph, shape his character, and then bless his life in ways that would not have been possible if he stayed in the safety of his home. But one important thing to note is Joseph’s forgiveness. He acknowledged the wrong, but then credited it to God. It was something God not only allowed, but He orchestrated these events so Joseph could ultimately find the goodness of the Lord, and be in a spiritual condition to receive it. He forgave his brothers and became a blessing to them.

Joseph forgave because he took his eyes off the wrong and looked to God’s plan. By looking at the bigger picture of God’s plan, Joseph could see the hand of God through the hardships, pain, and then through his exaltation. If his anger had bound him to the wrongs done, Joseph would have been blind to the work of God. He would have then fought against God’s plan instead of being an instrument of blessing.

Could God have used Joseph if he hadn’t trusted the Lord enough to forgive?

Knowing Joseph was in a position where he could now retaliate, his brothers were living in fear, but Joseph spoke kindly to them. “Fear not,” he said. “Though you meant it for evil, God meant it for good. It was necessary to save the lives of many. I will take care of you and nourish you and your families.”

At no time in Joseph’s life do you see bitterness. In fact, his positive attitude caused him to find favor in each situation – including several years when he was wrongfully in prison.

Forgiveness is also an acknowledgement of our need. I need forgiveness. I need God’s mercies. I recognize I’m not upright in all my ways. I want to be, but I fall short. Because I recognize my need, I also recognize the importance of not holding others to a standard I don’t want applied to my own life. Forgiveness is an acknowledgement of God’s mercy over me. I forgive because I have been forgiven.

Unforgiveness reveals the opposite. When I refuse to forgive, I am declaring that I don’t recognize my own need, and therefore do not acknowledge the greatness of God’s mercies toward me.

Unforgiveness is my declaration that God doesn’t have the right to put me through hardships in order to use me to be an instrument of blessing in His miraculous plan. It is to say my temporary comfort is more valuable than God’s eternal plan. It is to say, I’d rather have short-term comfort than be patient enough to see the salvation of the Lord – and have the blessing of being part of that salvation.

I cannot plead for mercy in my own life and then demand justice in the life of others. Consider James 2:13

For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

 

What a beautiful passage! Mercy triumphs over judgment. When you and I forgive, we are showing mercy. The other person has committed a wrong and is indebted to me – whether they realize it or not. But because I have been shown mercy and God forgave me all that debt, I recognize the necessity to show God’s mercy to others.

This is what Jesus was saying in the parable about the two servants. The one with so great a debt couldn’t see his own need.

Instead of holding our grudge as a demand for payment for a wrong, we release it to the Lord, trusting in His mercies – both to us, and to the one we are forgiving. Not only are you setting that person free, but you are setting yourself free as well. The cage of bitterness opens and you walk out. Then you are free from the chains of bitterness and free from the judgment against your debt that has now been overcome by mercy.

Let me reiterate what was stated in the last chapter. Forgiveness is essential for emotional, spiritual, and often for physical health.

 

Eddie Snipes
The Promise of a Sound Mind: God’s Plan for Emotional and Mental Health


 

Life Applications

·         Memorize Matthew 7:1-2

·         Think about something in your life God forgave you of. Thank God for showing mercy.

·         Read Isaiah 14:12-15.

·         Read Proverbs 16:18

·         Read James 4:6-8

·         What was the cause of Satan’s (Lucifer’s) fall?

·         How does pride blind us to our own destructive behaviors?

·         Think upon the ways that pride interferes with your obedience to God.

·         Think about how pride prevents us from forgiving.

·         Repent – or turn from – your own pride, confess this sin to God, and pray for a willing heart to forgive others.

·         Submit to God that He may give you the power to resist temptation – including pride.

Forgiveness

–An excerpt from The Promise of a Sound Mind: God’s Plan for Emotional and Mental Health

 

This topic will be the lengthiest section of this book, so I’m breaking it into two chapters. There is so much we need to understand about forgiveness that it is necessary to cover this topic more fully. All of God’s commands are intended for our good, but few commands produce immediate results like the command to forgive. Yes, forgiveness is a command – not an option.

Let’s first look at the results of unforgiveness. Harboring resentment and anger creates more stress on our minds than any other cause. It’s like a weight than we never put down. We might endure the stress of carrying this burden, but we’ll never thrive as we could. The longer we carry it, the more blind we are to its presence in our lives. This is why childhood traumas have such lasting impacts. Long after we’ve forgotten the specifics, we struggle with the symptoms.

Victims of bitterness often don’t even know why they are bitter. Or why they have certain emotional scars. It becomes part of our personalities and what drives many of our emotional reactions.

Anger and unforgiveness creates bitterness and hatred. Everyone is wronged. Any person who lives among other people will be offended and done wrong. Human nature cannot be removed from our social world. This is even true in church. Sometimes it appears that offenses are more common in churches, but this is because relationships are more intimate in a congregation, and the opportunity to offend becomes greater.

You will be wronged. You may not realize it, but you will also wrong other people. Sometimes one comment, a slip of the tongue, can create a chain of events with consequences we could have never anticipated. Churches split, families divide, friends become enemies – all from one misspoken word which hit an area of sensitivity in another person. Children fight and make up, but adult disputes can last a lifetime. This problem has always existed and we must learn to deal with it. Consider the words of James 3:2, 5-10

 2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.

 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!
 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.
 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind.
 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
 9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.
 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.

 

Let’s first take note of how James introduces this discussion. If anyone doesn’t stumble in their words, they would be a perfect person. Keep in mind, this applies to all. As mentioned earlier, when the Bible uses the word ‘man’ in the general sense, it is referring to mankind – both men and women.

Who doesn’t slip up with their words and say things that offend? No one. Everyone struggles to control their tongue – this includes you and I. Our words are compared to a match in a forest. Sometimes one word can cause a fire that spreads outward and causes much unexpected damage.

We say things thoughtlessly that can create a firestorm, but we also say things spitefully. As James puts it, the same mouth which praises God is a curse to man. These things ought not to be, but they are. James is speaking to the church. Though we should be guarding our mouths, in a moment of carelessness or a moment of anger, we say things which have serious consequences.

Saying, “I shouldn’t have said that,” doesn’t stop the fire. Someone once shared this illustration I believe is fitting. A man took his kids in the bathroom and squeezed all the toothpaste into a sink. He offered ten dollars to the first child who could put the toothpaste back into the tube. Some tried, but no one had success. He then said, “This is what happens with your words. Once they’re out of your mouth, you can’t put them back in.”

King Solomon put it this way, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Sometimes our words are life to the hearers. A word of praise. A word of encouragement. A kind gesture.

Other times our words are death. Discouragement, carelessness toward someone’s feelings, statements that drive right to the heart of another, these can all be daggers to the soul of the hearer. Instead of bearing up those who are weak, we have a tendency to say things that add to their burden and shatter the emotions of those around us. Because we struggle with our own human nature, we have a tendency to speak more words which kill the emotions of others than we use words that give life and encouragement.

I say all of this to make an important point. You are guilty. So am I. We will say things which ought not to come from our mouths. We offend and then expect others to not take offense. Yet we then want to hold them to a higher standard than we are willing to hold ourselves. I’ve seen people apologize and be rejected. “I can never forget what you said,” the offended person says.

If we were held in contempt for every word spoken, the wars would never end. For some people they don’t. For many, it’s a silent war. In churches and families the cold war rages in a never ending standoff.

Think for a moment on our own ways of dealing with words. Have you ever been offended and had someone say something like, “What did I say?” Or perhaps we’ve asked the same question. Someone comes up to us a week or a month later and says, “You hurt me by what you said.” Immediately we rack our brains thinking, What could I have said? I don’t remember saying something offensive.

We live in a self-centered perspective. When I speak, I’m evaluating my conversations based on what I feel and what I have experienced. There are times when people are offended at something that seems ridiculous to me. I can’t see their feelings. I can’t know their experiences. I don’t know what is fragile in their emotional makeup, so an offense won’t make sense to me.

The opposite is also true. What cuts me deeply may seem like a passing comment to the other person. They aren’t bothered, so why am I? They don’t know I’m sensitive about the way I look, or the way I talk, or that I feel insecure because I can’t afford nicer clothes. They don’t know I don’t feel accepted when they mention ‘those people on that side of the tracks.’

We all offend. We all get offended. It’s how we respond that affects our lives. It’s true that we should always seek reconciliation and give a heartfelt apology when we’ve offended others. However, this book is going to focus on how we deal with forgiving those who will never apologize. People will offend and not be able to see the wrong they have done.

There are people who don’t care if they have offended us. There are people who are abusive. There are even people who take pleasure in hurting others. There are also those who cannot see how their actions or words are harmful to others. These will not apologize and if not handled properly, it leaves an open wound. Open wounds don’t heal. But learning the true meaning of forgiveness is the salve that heals.

We learn to handle the offenses of others by learning how to deal with ourselves. The solution is not to change others. You can’t change the other person. You and I must learn how to deal with offenses in a healthy manner while also learning how to take care not to be the cause of offense. It is our responsibility, regardless of who has the greater fault.

 

A personal testimony.

Let me tell a true-life experience that taught me much about forgiveness. Several years ago I worked as an IT professional. I loved the type of work I did and my performance showed it. I was promoted several times and eventually became the team lead for our department. The company I worked for had some financial struggles and were hit hard by layoffs. Our team was cut in half and we were merged with another technical team. My manager didn’t survive the cuts so I now reported to the other team’s manager.

I already knew this manager and quickly established a good working relationship. Then one day I was asked to do something unethical. I won’t go into details, but it was something commonly practiced by my new team in order to falsify performance reporting. When I brought up the discrepancy to my manager, the reaction was immediate and harsh. I was demoted from a lead position and my manager made the comment, “When I right someone off, I never go back and I never forgive.”

No truer words were ever spoken. What I thought had been an honest mistake turned out to be the way the team hid unethical practices. For the next three years my manager did everything within his/her power to destroy me. I was given impossible projects that required 70-80 hours a week to accomplish. Being salaried, there was no extra pay.

When I completed the project, it would be transferred to someone else so I didn’t get credit. The reason for the change, “Eddie wasn’t able to get the job done, so I transferred it to Bob from Account Temps.” Never mind that the work had already been completed.

I was given work in two cities that were due at the same time. One would inevitably go past due. My manager also put me in charge of the parts room. When I was sent to a different state to work, I was still responsible for issuing and watching over the inventory of parts in my home state. My inability to get back in time to issue parts to other technicians was noted as a failure on my performance review, but not the reason why.

To make a long story shorter, anything that could be done to show me in a bad light was done. On my yearly performance review, I was given an unsatisfactory rating and dozens of infractions were listed against me. Knowing this was coming, I logged every email, communication, and job. I disputed my review and provided a thirty-page document detailing every perceived infraction, and proving why the accusations were false. Human Resources (HR) complimented me on the details of my documentation and removed every infraction from my record, but they refused to remove the poor performance rating.

I was frustrated. I was a salaried employee, so I got no overtime, but I had more than double the workload of anyone else on the team. To keep up I put in up to thirty hours a week unpaid overtime. Sometimes forty. I mapped out my coverage area – forty-thousand square miles. The next closest person had one hundred square miles.

When I left in the morning, my kids were asleep. When I came home, my kids were asleep. I looked for another job, but with five kids I couldn’t afford a pay cut, and the economy wasn’t offering many positions at my level. I was growing bitter, grumpy, and miserable. I kept praying, “Lord, why are you letting this happen? Get me out of this situation.” When I applied for jobs within the company, my manager would give a bad report and nix my chances.

Another year rolled by and it was time for my next annual performance review. I knew what was coming. It would be another substandard performance review. The previous year I had disputed the slander and every allegation was proven false. My complaint was noted, but the manager had an explanation that apparently persuaded HR not to act. Now I was in the same position again. Do I dispute? Last year it did no good, created more tension, plus it was stressful trying to present my case to a skeptical corporate Human Resources department – a group that naturally wanted to support management.

While I pondered my difficult situation, I prayed for guidance. In my morning devotion, I came across this passage in 1 Peter 2:23

When He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;

 

It didn’t make much of an impression on my heavy mind at the time. I headed out for the long drive and listened to my Bible on audio. My audio was at 1 Peter and I heard this passage again. What a coincidence. Later in the day, I was driving between sites and turned on the radio. Just as the radio came on, someone was reading scripture for a sermon, “When He was reviled, did not revile in return…but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”

I turned off the radio. Three times in one day. Lord, are you trying to show me something?

I began praying for God to open my eyes to see what He was showing me. That’s a prayer God quickly answered. I couldn’t see it before because I had only been focused on my own misery. My focus was on the wrongs being done, not on the work God wanted to do.

It was like blinders fell from my eyes and the bigger picture of God’s plan unfolded in my mind’s eye. This was a refining process. I had seen God work in my life through the good things and the situations I understood were blessings, but I didn’t recognize the true blessing of God refining my life and showing me what was truly important.

My job wasn’t something I had control over. Nor did I need to fret over it. If it was truly a blessing from God, it was God who gave it, and only God who could take it away. This manager could rage against me, but had no power beyond what God was willing to put me through. And according to scripture, if I’m walking in God’s purposes, everything works toward my good.

Did I believe this was true? I knew it was.

Suddenly I felt a load lifted off my shoulders.

Then God hit me with something I wasn’t sure I could do. Rather than me telling you, let’s look at the scripture’s command in Matthew 18:23-35

 23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.
 24 “And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.
 25 “But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made.
 26 “The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’
 27 “Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
 28 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’
 29 “So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’
 30 “And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.
 31 “So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.
 32 “Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.
 33 ‘Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’
 34 “And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
 35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

 

God was not only teaching me patience and trust, but He was teaching me what it truly means to forgive.

One thing we must realize is that sin is a debt. When I sin, that sin must be paid. The Bible says every sin will be held in account before God. For us as Christians, our debt has been paid, for Jesus bore that debt upon the cross. That’s why Jesus said in the model prayer, “Forgive us of our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

My manager was a debtor to me. Every wrong was piling up in the account I was keeping track of. Even subconsciously, we keep a mental note of wrongs and recount them when something reminds us. Jesus’ disciple, Peter, made a statement he thought was a noble effort. “How many times should we forgive someone? Seven times?”

Seven was a generous offer by human standards. Freely forgiving seven times is more than most people would do. Most times it only takes one offense to create an enemy. Jesus’ answer took the records of debt away completely. “Not until seven times, but seventy times seven.” Four-hundred and ninety times. You see, I can remember seven times, but there is no way I can keep track of four-hundred and ninety. Even if I forgive from the heart, my memory can go back seven times. But Jesus pushed the number beyond our ability to remember. In other words, never stop forgiving. If I’m keeping records, I have failed to forgive. When I remember the wrong, I am commanded to erase it again.

As a self-protection method, I had been keeping track of my manager’s wrongs. I could easily have produced another thirty-page defense. I could have produced a hundred-page defense. But the Lord shattered my rationale. I thought about my record keeping and remembered, seventy times seven.

When I’m keeping records, I am taking my problems out of God’s hands and setting myself up as the debt holder. Which also puts me under the debt, for I have decided to be judged under a human standard instead of by grace.

Do I want God to be in control, or me? At this point, I had a two-year track record. None of my work and recordkeeping had done much good. Easy choice on that one.

But look how many things this person has done to me, I thought – wanting to justify my anger. Then I remembered the passage above. I was the man with more debt than he could pay.

To put Jesus’ parable into perspective, the man who owed ten-thousand talents could never pay it. It’s ironic that he pled, “Have mercy and I will pay all.” The only thing the Lord listened to was, “Have mercy on me.” The debtor could never have paid it all. A talent was a weight of measure which is approximately 130 pounds. In this scenario, it was gold measured out by weight. What would a hundred and thirty pounds of gold cost in today’s market? Now multiply that by ten-thousand. I don’t think a man who was penniless would have any hope of repaying one talent, much less ten-thousand.

A day’s wage in that era was a denarii. His fellow who owed him 100 denarii did have a significant debt. It would take one-hundred days of labor to pay the man back. But what is that in comparison to the billions of day’s wages he owed, but had been forgiven?

The picture Jesus is painting regarding forgiveness is that you can never repay God for the offense you have done. Or I have done. Every sinful thought, action, lie, offense, wrong is a debt we cannot repay. The flesh can never produce good, so even a lifetime of servitude cannot repay anything to God.

Jesus even took sin to the reality of the human heart. “I say to you that anyone who looks at a woman to lust has already committed adultery in his heart.” Think about this the next time you do a double take when an attractive man or woman walks by. He said greed is equal to thievery, envy equals idolatry, hatred is murder, etc. What debt do I have to God? Yet He forgave me of all that debt, and now He is asking me to release the debt of wrongs done to me. God offers grace freely, but I have the right to refuse grace and hold on to human nature.

I tossed aside my records. But that wasn’t enough. It’s not to just ignore the wrongs done, it was to forgive them from the heart. And what is the evidence of forgiveness? Remember the first verse we looked at? God has given us power, love, and a sound mind. Forgiveness flows out of that love and is something God has empowered us with the ability to do. Look now at Matthew 5:44-46

 44 “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
 45 “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
 46 “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

 

This is forgiveness in action. It’s hard to do, but necessary. Until I forgive, bitterness and hatred remain. Bitterness and hatred don’t only destroy the person they are against, these also destroy the one who possesses them. Have you ever seen a hateful person who has joy? Are they happy? Bitterness is the bars of our own prison cell. It becomes a prison we construct to imprison ourselves in order to get back at our enemy.

Love your enemies. How do I do that? According to Jesus, I must bless. I must do good. I must pray for them. Pray for, not against. “God, get them back for me,” is not praying for our enemies. “Lord, I release them of all wrong. Bless them, forgive them, and give me an opportunity to do good for them,” is a prayer of forgiveness.

It isn’t for you or I to judge someone’s worthiness of forgiveness. God’s first desire is always mercy. It’s God’s desire for your enemy to repent of their wrongs, surrender to God’s mercy, and find forgiveness through Christ. This makes your enemy a brother or sister in Christ. Just as those whom you have wronged have no right to demand God refuse mercy to you, you have no right to demand for God to be merciless to another person.

Is forgiveness hard? You bet it is. And it takes time to heal. But this healing is applied each time we forgive. When our mind conjures up past wrongs, it’s a reminder to pray for that person. You’ll find deliverance from your own pain when you deliver that person from debt. Your pain will remind you of that person, and this should remind you of the command to forgive, pray, and seek their good. When you do so, there is a reward. Look at Proverbs 25:21-22

 21 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
 22 For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, And the LORD will reward you.

 

The Lord rewards those who follow His word. Your first reward is peace and deliverance from anger and bitterness. Also, when we forgive, we are placing ourselves in the center of God’s mercy for our own lives.

The choices are to remain angry, become bitter, refuse God’s mercy for our own life, and suffer the consequences. Bitterness is the most destructive force in your emotions. Clinging to it is like poisoning your mind. Yet our human nature would rather poison itself than release the debt of another. We don’t call it ‘a fallen nature’ for nothing. It’s corrupted by sin, but God has the power to give us a new spiritual nature through His righteousness.

After you forgive, the wrongs will come to mind again. And again. And again. You have trained your thought patterns to dwell on the things that bother you. Now you have to change your way of thinking. And this doesn’t come easy.

After God revealed these things to me, the relief was almost overwhelming. No longer was I controlled by my enemy, but I found a peace that had evaded me for two years. As I thought upon these things and began to see how much it caused me to grow spiritually and emotionally, I would have written a ‘thank you letter’ if I didn’t think it would have antagonized the situation.

Then something happened. A new wave of attacks came. Though I had forgiven and felt such sweet relief, all my anger and frustration came pouring back when the next wrong came along. I had to wrestle with my emotions again. I had to go through the forgiveness process again. I had to make myself say the words, “I forgive you,” and then pray for that person’s good. I had to wrestle with my heart so I could sincerely bless that person. Over time I learned how to do this better, but it was never easy to forgive someone I knew would never even acknowledge the wrong. In the end, who is better off? The person saying, “I forgive you and I bless you?” Or the one seething with hatred and trying to find a way to cause more harm?

While my manager was in bondage by the vindictive attitude controlling them, the attacks became my blessing.

It would be another year before God removed me from this situation. On occasions I remember this manager and pray for them. The wrongs I suffered can never be undone, but the Lord rewards and out-blesses any wrong.

 

Eddie Snipes
The Promise of a Sound Mind: God’s Plan for Emotional and Mental Health

Life Applications

·         Memorize Matthew 5:44-45

·         Memorize Proverbs 24:17-18

·         Pick out an offense or someone who has hurt you. Say out loud, “I forgive you.” Consciously release that person of their debt against you.

·         If you have hard feelings against anyone, take time out and pray for that person.

o   Pray for God to forgive them.

o   Pray for God to reveal His mercy to them.

o   Pray for God to bless them.

·         Continue going through any offenses or hurtful relationships and forgive, then pray for the person who has caused you pain.

·         Each time you feel hurt or remember a wrong done, follow the above steps to forgive and pray for the person who wronged you. Don’t allow your feelings to fester.

Review Life Applications from previous chapters.