The comparison between the husband of Law and the husband of Grace is one of the most powerful illustrations in the Bible. This study looks at how our death sets us free from the law and takes us from condemnation to perfection.
“Examine yourselves,” the preacher pronounced from the pulpit as he prepared for the altar call. “Look at your life. Have you sinned this week? This month? Do you have any unconfessed sins? Come down and get your life right with God. Confess your sins and be forgiven.”
Some Sundays, the message creates more of a guilty conscience than others. If people begin responding, we’ll sing another stanza of ‘Just as I am’. If no one responds, we’ll sing another stanza anyway because the preacher is sure the Holy Spirit is convicting someone’s heart of sin, but they are resisting.
This is a widely accepted message in many evangelical churches and denominations. Though it seems right because we want to deal with sin, this approach is flawed at its core. What is the flaw? Look at the focus of the message. Where is the focus? Look at your sin. Look at yourself. I recently read a devotional that called for repentance and at the end, it stated, “Resolve now to put off all ungodly conduct and yield completely to obedience to Christ.”
This sounds good, but there is one important flaw. It’s the same flaw that caused the Law of the Old Testament Covenant to fail. Let’s let the scriptures explain. Romans 8:3-4
3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh,
4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
The Apostle Paul goes on to clarify, “The Law is good and holy, and the commandments of the law are good and holy.” In spite of this, the Bible says that instead of producing goodness and holiness in us, the law makes us exceedingly sinful. The reason? Romans 7:14 explains:
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.
The problem isn’t God’s law. The problem is that the law is spiritual, but we are carnal (or of the flesh). The flesh cannot become spiritual and therefore cannot fulfill a spiritual law. The law exposes sin and our utter incapability to measure up; therefore, it makes us exceedingly sinful by pointing out every act of the flesh. The flesh is at war with the Spirit, so it stands to reason that any effort through the flesh fails in its attempt to produce spiritual righteousness. When we view our spiritual condition through human eyes of the flesh, it drives us to despair, which then, if we have understanding, also drives us to the solution. This is also explained in Romans 7:24-25
24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
25 I thank God– through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
Don’t lose sight of this contrast. In the flesh, we can do nothing but serve the law of sin. When we are looking to ourselves, we only have two choices – self-deception, or utter despair. But when we look at the Spirit by focusing on what Christ has done, we are taken out of the despair of the flesh and placed into the promise of God.
And this is why perpetual repentance cannot produce lasting results. Certainly we can drive people to despair by asking them to focus on sin. This will either cause people to shut down and disengage, or it may drive them to the altar. They will beg for mercy and have an emotional appeasement for a moment. However, that appeasement will disappear the next time they fail to measure up to the standard of perfection. Then they will no longer feel right with God. Never will they grow close to God, for their sin will always drive them away. The person depending upon commitment and resolve will never get beyond surface Christianity.
Notice the Apostles didn’t preach to focus on sin. When they looked at themselves, they recognized their wretchedness compared to God’s holiness. However, when they looked to the gift of Christ’s completed work, which was given to them, they could do nothing but rejoice. The message wasn’t, “We must do something with our sin.” The message was, “Christ has already taken sin out of the way; we then receive grace and rejoice in what He has done.”
The message of the gospel is not to become holy, righteous, and resolve to be perfect. The message of the cross is to become a partaker of God’s holiness, righteousness, and to trust in His perfection. Look at one of my favorite passages in 2 Peter 1:3-4
3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,
4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
Paul said it best when he said, “Not having my own righteousness, but that which is through faith in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that Jesus became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. It’s never your righteousness. You are a partaker of God’s righteousness, and you receive it by faith. You trust in God’s righteousness and God promises to overcome sin on your behalf. The more focused you are on Christ, the less power sin has. The more focused you are on sin, the less you will experience the power of faith in Christ. The power of God doesn’t change. Your faith in His power is either your strength or lack thereof.
In the past, when I preached, “Look at your life. Have you sinned…” what I was actually saying was, “Take your eyes off of the righteousness of Christ and look at your flesh.” Then defeat is a guarantee. Our calling is ALWAYS to take our eyes off our flesh and look to His grace. Grace is the gift of God’s unmerited favor. It is the completed work of Christ, given to you without any merit or service of your own. It is received by faith. Faith is believing in God’s works and trusting in His promise that His work is credited to your account. When we believe in Christ’s works, success is a guarantee.
There is only one type of repentance that is valid for the Christian. When we realize we have taken our eyes off of Christ and are again focused on the flesh, we need a change of mind and a change of direction. We repent by taking our eyes off ourselves and placing them back on Christ. We then walk with Him in His righteousness and rejoice that we are partakers of true righteousness. True righteousness is something we cannot produce.
Do you struggle with sin? This is normal. But the answer is not to focus on sin and lament over failure. The answer is to trust in God’s righteousness and focus on Him. When our minds are on Christ, we can do nothing but serve the law of God. When our minds are on the flesh, we can do nothing but serve the law of sin. The carnal mind draws from the flesh and human effort. Even during righteous acts it is still drawing from sinful flesh. This is why Jesus said, “Many will come to Me in that day and say, ‘Look what we have done in Your name,’ but I will declare, ‘You are a worker of lawlessness.”
If it is a good deed done through the flesh, even if it is done in Jesus’ name, it is still an act of the flesh, and whatever is of the flesh is sin. According to the Bible, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Yet this is good news indeed. Your righteousness has already been accomplished. You need to do nothing but trust in the righteousness of Christ, given to you by faith. God only asks one thing of you. Trust in what He has given you. Hebrews 11:6 says:
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
Take your eyes off your sins, failures, good works, religion, or any other self-focus. Believe in Him and receive the reward of faith – trusting in God. Nothing else has eternal significance. When you fail, you have simply stepped back into the flesh, and God calls you to again trust in His mercy and grace. Then receive righteousness and experience perfect fellowship as if that righteousness were your own.
As preachers and teachers, we should be turning people’s focus away from themselves and toward trusting completely in Christ. As listeners and receivers of the word, we should be taking our eyes off both our righteousness and our sin, and we should be looking to Christ alone. Not ourselves. Not our sin. Not our works. Not our righteousness. Christ alone. That is the Christian who will experience the victory already accomplished by Christ, and that person will grow into the faith God has provided. If there is one thing to resolve it’s this, resolve to trust in nothing but Christ. You can’t do it and you’ll only get frustrated with both failure and lack of spiritual fruit in your life. Stop trying and start trusting in Him. Then God has promised to both subdue your iniquities and will cause the fruit of the Spirit to emerge in your life.
Eddie Snipes 2013
Don’t shortchange your faith. Life is so much more than escaping condemnation. Sharing the gospel is much more than lecturing on hell. The focus of the gospel is Christ, not sin. As a young preacher, I was taught an erroneous way of presenting the gospel. Success was measured by two things: how many Christians were compelled to the altar to repent again, and were there any sinners who were convinced to escape hell.
Over the years, I began to recognize some flaws with this style of preaching. The first thing was, what about those who are trying to grow in their faith? “Eddie, you need to preach a fiery message of salvation. Otherwise you aren’t going to get converts,” the pastor who mentored me said. I was preaching at a prison and two other ministries that reached low-income families. But I began to feel a burden for those I knew were Christians. Some I had even seen come to Christ. Do they need to hear a ‘You are a sinner’ type of message?
Another flaw is this: rarely does true faith emerge from the fear of hell. Fear is a powerful tool that can be employed to manipulate people. Politicians use it. The legal system uses it. Employers use it. Many areas of society uses it. Should the church be using it? It is God who said, “My ways are not like your ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, My ways are higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” In fact, throughout the New Testament, we see the Bible stressing how the Christian life and God’s ways are counter culture and counter to human nature. If society is dependent upon fear to control and manipulate, shouldn’t that at least cause us to stop and ask, “Is God’s way different than society’s?”
Funny I should ask, for the Bible does answer this question. Romans 2:4 tells us, “The goodness of God leads you to repentance.” And look at the message of 1 John 4:18-19
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
19 We love Him because He first loved us.
Hell, fire, and brimstone is strangely missing from the gospel message preached by the disciples. On the day of Pentecost, when the church was born and the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples, they went to the very crowd they feared – those who had crucified Jesus. It was the very group that caused Peter to deny Christ out of fear of going on trial with Jesus. But there Peter stood, with the disciples, in front of thousands of people. His words speak volumes. He began his message by explaining that he and the disciples were rejoicing, not because they were drunk as some accused them of being, but because the promise God had given in the Old Testament had come. They had received the promise given of the Holy Spirit that would empower the believer to be united with God and receive from God.
We see similar things in the Apostle Paul’s messages to the unchurched cities where he started new churches. Paul never proclaimed their damnation, nor did he use the promise of a ticket to heaven that would escape hell. He preached Christ. He presented the goodness of God and the power of Jesus. First, the power of Christ to conquer death through His resurrection, and from that position of power we could trust Him to conquer death in our lives. First, the death of the flesh in this life was defeated through Christ, second, the death of our life on this earth would be defeated and we will one day be transformed in our bodies as we can now be transformed in our spirit.
Read the Apostle Paul’s presentation of the gospel to the pagan worshipping men of Athens. He found an altar with the inscription, “To the unknown God.” He used this as an opportunity to present the God these men never knew. From there, he pointed to the goodness of God, explained how God did not hold their ignorance against them, but now calls for them to repent. And repentance means to turn. It is both a change of mind, and a change of directions. He then pointed to the erroneous way of thinking that God could be crafted out of stone or gold, but that His desire is to be united with them.
Indeed there is a place to mention sin, but sin is never the focus. Paul states, the day is coming when God will judge the world in righteousness, but He has given us the assurance of life through Christ. Peter uses a similar line of reasoning in Acts 3:12. They healed a man who had been born a cripple. The people were amazed and rushed to see the spectacle. Peter used this as a second opportunity to preach to the very crowd who condemned Jesus to death.
Keep in mind, Peter is about to present Jesus to the people who knew who He was and consented to His death. Peter then says, “By the power of Jesus, whom you put to death, this man stands before you whole today.” I’ve condensed the speech, but this is the nuts and bolts of his presentation. Then Peter points out that Jesus is the man they crucified with sinful hands, but then shifts the focus. Repent and be converted that your sins may be blotted out and the times of refreshing may come. Indeed sin is mentioned, but sin is not the focus. Look at the goodness of God. Your sin prevents you from experiencing this, but turn to God and He will remove your sins so you also may experience the goodness of God.
There is a big difference between the message, “Look at your sins. Look at hell. Beg God for mercy that He may let you escape hell,” and the message, “Look at the power of Christ, and the goodness of God’s love offered through Christ. Let God remove your sins and transform you into a new creation so you can walk in that love.” Do you see the difference between biblical evangelism and the hell-fire evangelism method? One is self-focused. One is Christ-focus. One teaches the flesh to save itself. The other teaches us to trust in the goodness of God and let go of the flesh.
To see the vast difference between these two gospels, look at the fruit of repentance. Those who are running from hell are dependent upon perpetual repentance and show little love for God. He is one to be feared. Obedience is compelled by a fear of judgment. Those who see the goodness of God and His invitation to join Him in new life overcome fear. God becomes a Father and life is about learning how to enjoy fellowship, not a fear of anger. The Bible says that we are perfected in Christ, yet the above passage from 1 John says, “He who fears has not been perfected.” We love God because He first loved us. It is the love of God that compels people to true repentance. When we see the depth of God’s love for us, we are drawn by that love. When we see the love of God, poured out through the life of Christ and His payment for our sin on the cross, we are drawn to that call of love.
Which shows love? The lord who says, “Serve me or I’ll beat you with stripes?” Or the lord who sees us struggling for survival and says, “Let me carry your burden. Walk with me and trust in my works. If you join me in my labors, I’ll reward you by making you an heir to my kingdom?” The last example IS the message of the cross. Jesus said, “He who is weary and heavy laden, be yoked to Me and I will give you rest.” A yoke is how two oxen were connected so they could plow a field. But the message is not for us to pull the plow, but to be yoked with Christ so we can find rest as He pulls the load. Yet we are still rewarded as if it were our labors.
Ephesians 2:9-10 begins by making it clear that our salvation cannot be earned, it is a gift of grace and not by any works. Yet it ends by saying, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ for good works that God prepared beforehand that we should walk in it.” We are God’s workmanship. We walk in His works as He works to transform our lives into something glorious, and our role is to walk in God’s works. We don’t create our own. But then we are rewarded as if it were our own.
Who will enjoy the Christian walk, the one who thinks he must pull the plow, labor all his life, and fear that it might not be enough? Or the one who joins to the yoke of Christ and enjoys fellowship while walking through the works God prepared beforehand for us to walk in? And we walk through God’s works with Christ for two main purposes – to enjoy fellowship and to be rewarded for the work as an heir of the Kingdom of God. Do you see how God’s goodness can do nothing but lead us to repentance? This is nothing but good news – and that is what the word ‘gospel’ means, good news.
The message of the gospel is not, You have sinned and God’s preparing judgment. The message of the gospel is, Under Adam, we are already under condemnation, but God so loved the world that He gave. He gave Himself as the payment of sin so we could be freed from condemnation and join Him as an heir to His Kingdom. The gospel does not say, “Look at your sin,” but rather, “Take your eyes off your sin and look to Christ. Trust in His payment for sin and enjoy fellowship with God. He has given you all things that pertain to life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3)
Eddie Snipes 2013
In the coming weeks, I’ll be starting a series of articles about understanding grace and what that means in the Christian’s life. Or if you are not a Christian, this will be a good opportunity to understand what the Bible means when it speaks of grace.
There is a reason why the gospel is called, ‘The good news.’ In fact, that is what the word ‘gospel’ means. The Greek word ‘euaggelion’, which we translate as ‘gospel’, means: good tidings, or the glad tidings of God. This is not what most people think of when they hear about the gospel. Most people think of the gospel as condemnation that makes us feel guilty. This is partly because some traditional beliefs are that people must be shamed into coming to the altar, then they try to unload their guilt by penance or repentance.
The Bible says that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world was already under condemnation and He came to proclaim God’s acceptance. At Jesus’ birth in Luke 2:14, the angels announced his coming to the shepherds in the field with these words, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
The word translated into goodwill literally means, to have pleasure, take delight, or have kind benevolence toward someone. When the law stood as man’s condemnation, guilt separated mankind from God, but Jesus came to fulfill the law and give good gifts to men (Ephesians 4:8). The angels announced the beginning of this new work of God at His birth.
When someone is stuck in the old covenant (the law of the Old Testament), they are prevented from seeing the gift of Christ. The Bible also states this by explaining that those who focus on the scriptures of the law have a veil over their hearts. That veil remains in the reading of the Old Testament, but that veil is removed in Christ. (2 Corinthians 3:13-16)
Contrary to what many still teach today, Jesus did not come to proclaim our guilt under the law. The law itself proclaims our guilt. Jesus came to set us free from the law and proclaim the acceptance of God. Look at Luke 4:17-21
17 And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
18 “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”
20 Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.
21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus made it clear that His life is the fulfillment of this promise found in the Old Testament. Though the Old Testament was founded upon the law, all the promises pointed to Christ. In a future article we’ll look at what the Bible says was the purpose of Old Testament law. For now, let’s focus on the passing of the law. I understand many will argue against this idea saying the Law will never pass away, but these two passages clearly teach the Old Covenant passes away in Christ:
2 Corinthians 3:7-18
A new covenant of grace is born in Christ. As we move forward, we’ll look at scriptures that explain how the Old Covenant can be eternal, yet still pass away for those who are in Christ. For you, the good news is that in the past, you were under condemnation. In fact, any who are outside of Christ are still under the Old Covenant and are under its penalties. But the good news is that in Christ, the veil of our blindness is removed, and the new life of the Spirit is revealed. That is when you see the truth of the above passage, “The acceptable year of the Lord.”
The promise revealed in the Old Testament, read by Jesus in the New Testament, and proclaimed by the angels at His birth is the same – now God takes pleasure in showing His good will toward man. The condemnation has been taken out of the way, and you are accepted by God through Christ. No more condemnation – just peace with God and an eternal hope that you can rest your assurance upon.
Eddie Snipes 2013
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. 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. 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.
–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.
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.
· 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.
–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.
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.
· 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.
A few years back, I sat in a congregation and listened to a preacher delivering a message on forgiveness. He shook his fist in dramatic fashion and proclaimed, “We are forgiven of our sins: past, present, and future. That means that you will never be held accountable for anything you do, for sin has no affect on the Christian’s life.”
I have heard and read many messages that make similar claims, but this simply is not true. A popular writer made the statement that if we teach grace the way we should, it will sound like a license to sin. This is true if we teach only forgiveness, but grace is more than the promise that my sins are forgiven. Grace also holds the promise that this forgiveness transforms my life. I am a new creation who has been freed from the bondage of sin in my flesh. We must teach the whole message of grace – not just that we have been rescued from sin. Look at Romans 5:20 – 6:4
20 Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more,
21 so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?
2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?
3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
So we can see the message of deliverance from sin, not merely forgiveness of sin. There must be a walk in the newness of life. The apostles recognized the danger of overlooking the entire message. God’s grace is such an amazing gift, that where sin abounds in abundance, grace abounds more. The message is not to wallow in the mire. The message is, regardless of how defiled a man or woman has become, God’s grace is more than sufficient to reach to the bottom of any pit. No one can say, “God could never forgive the things I have done.” Grace indeed forgives, and that is half the promise. Not only will God forgive, but the past is buried with Christ, and the sinner is raised as a new creation – forgiven, redeemed, and set free. Not free to dive back into the mire, but free to live by an eternal standard that is impossible before we have God’s spirit of grace.
The message is not that we will never be held accountable; therefore, we can sin at will. This fallacious way of thinking makes it appear that sin is a gift from God. The message is that we have died to our old life. Since we have been crucified with Christ, his sacrifice satisfied the penalty of sin; therefore, we are free from judgment, and empowered to live in his presence as we reach toward perfection. Grace is not only, “I’m forgiven”, but grace is also, “I can walk in newness of life.” We can’t separate one from the other.
Scripture does not say that the Christian is not accountable, and it is not true to claim that the world will be held accountable for their sins, but the Christian no longer has a standard to live by. In the remainder of this study, we’ll first look at the scriptures that show our accountability, and then we’ll look at the victorious path God has provided for the Christian. When all things conclude, the Christian stands by the promises in Revelation that begin with, “To him that overcomes, I will give…” There are not only promises, but consequences. We also know the words of Jesus, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The Yoke of the Lord
Jesus’ promise of an easy yoke is a great place to begin looking at our Christian walk toward holiness. Matthew 11:28-30
28 “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
30 “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
This is a wonderful passage, but must be understood. It’s a paradox. A yoke is a wooden beam designed to go around the neck and bind a pair of oxen together. It is intended to keep both oxen side by side so they can work in unison. The great paradox is that Jesus begins by calling those who are straining under the heavy burden of labor, and find rest by taking on his yoke – which binds us together with Christ as we labor for the kingdom. How can we find rest by uniting with Christ in a yoke which calls us to labor with him?
Unlike the labors we take upon ourselves, the work of Christ is not dependent upon man or the strength of mankind. It’s intended to be a paradox because it shows to situations that would normally seem contradictory, but are not because of something unique God is doing. God does not allow man to build his kingdom, but God also does not allow people to sit idly and take his kingdom for granted. Remember the words of Jesus, “I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus never said, “You will build my church.” I already have a study on labor and works, so I won’t spend much time on this topic here, but keep in mind that our burden is light because he bears the burden. He also bears us up when we grow weary. He is our strength, not we his strength.
The same principle applies when we strive to overcome. How does one overcome? When habits and cravings of the flesh rise up and try to draw us away from fellowship with the Lord, how do we overcome? If my efforts to change my life before Christ failed to make a lasting change, how can I expect my human efforts to change my life after knowing Christ? The words of Paul ring true in our daily lives, “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”
The truth is that God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness, and I am completely dependent upon the Lord to give me strength. This is why Ephesians 6 tells us to be strong in the Lord and the power of his might. It is not our strength or power, it is the Lord’s strength and the Lord’s power. The Bible says that God is able to make us stand.
It is when we press against the yoke or slip out of it that we become weary and discouraged. When I try to carry the burden, I may appear to succeed for a while, but frustration is in my future. I’ll be frustrated from my own fatigue because I haven’t rested in the Lord, and because I am not being led, I can’t maintain the straight rows God is laying through the joint work with Christ. When God is not leading where I think I should go, I’m tempted to slip out of the yoke and go my own way. This might be a desire to reach for temptation, or a misguided belief that I must do something God has not ordained.
It isn’t my labor; it is the labor of Christ. It is not my righteousness; it is the righteousness of Christ. It isn’t my works; it is the workmanship of Christ, prepared beforehand that I should walk in it. I can only walk as I am led, otherwise I am not on the path God has called me to follow.
So the burden of living the Christian life does not fall upon my shoulders, it falls on Christ. This is why the Bible constantly stresses the necessity of abiding in Christ and having his word abide in us. Without abiding, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Doing nothing means we can do nothing of eternal significance. So even if I accomplish something that looks grand in my eyes, it means nothing, for Jesus made it clear that the flesh cannot produce anything of spiritual value (John 6:63).
Is the Christian accountable?
There are so many scriptures that address this question, it is difficult to know what to begin with and what to leave out. There is a reason why the Bible calls us to fear the Lord. The fear of the Lord is not to be afraid of God, but it is also not merely a reverence for him as many often teach. The fear of the Lord is to understand he is the creator of all things, and has the right to determine our acceptable standard of behavior. Like a loving father who tries to guide his children into good character, our heavenly father does the same for us. He corrects, rebukes, and chastises. While it is true that God’s desire is to comfort and bless, he will not neglect discipline when his children do not respond to his rebuke. Nor will he bless in a way that distracts us from the path he calls us to follow.
God is more concerned with your eternal character than your temporal comfort. Through Jesus, God has shown us the image we are called to conform to. This is the character God will bless and reward; therefore, he will indeed chastise the wayward soul in an effort to prevent us from walking down the road leading to destruction, and toward the narrow road leading to life.
There is a day of accountability. And yes, it applies to the Christian. In Revelation 20:11-15, there is a Great White Throne judgment where the entire world will stand accountable. According to the Bible, the Book of Life will be searched, and any soul not found there will be judged according to their works. These works cannot merit salvation, for after the works are examined, judgment is declared because their name was not written in the book of life. In fact, when the disciples asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” he said, “With men it is impossible. But with God all things are possible.”
According to Christ, it is impossible for any man to save himself without God’s intervention. And that is exactly what was done on the cross. That’s why Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.”
For those who have entered through Jesus Christ, their judgment is not found in Revelation 20. We know that the believer has already been judged prior to this judgment, because the Christians have already received their reward. At the beginning of Revelation, the faithful are casting their crowns at his feet. The Bible also says that when Jesus returns, his reward is with him. Another clear distinction is that the Bible teaches there are two resurrections. One when Jesus fulfills his promise that the righteous will inherit the earth, and the other after the millennial reign. To understand this, look at Revelation 20:4-6
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
5 But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. This is the Christian. We do not fear the final judgment for we will have already been judged and rewarded as priests and kings who will reign with Christ. After this, the second resurrection is for those who will stand to be judged for their sins and dead works. A dead work is anything accomplished through the flesh – or human effort.
I say all of this to make sure we understand that there is more than one judgment. Though the Christian will not fear the second judgment, we must fear the Lord now, knowing we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Look at 2 Corinthians 5:10-11
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
11 Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.
Why would there be terror for which the apostles felt the need to persuade men? We’ll take a look at this answer shortly, but stop for a moment and consider this passage. It is written to the Christian. This was a letter to the Corinthian church and is an instruction to those who believe in Jesus. The instruction is not to warn the lost of judgment, but to warn the Christian of judgment. How can men stand up and shout, “We will never be held accountable for our sins,” when this passage specifically warns that you and I will be called into account for every thing done in our body – good and bad?
Jesus gives us a glimpse into this day of reckoning when he teaches his disciples in Luke 12. First, he gives the desired result – blessings and honor. Jesus promises that he will return during the time when the church is not expecting. Therefore, it is warned that few will be ready, but we should always be on watch. We watch by doing his will and living as a disciple – someone who learns and practices what God teaches in the word. Those who are found watching have some interesting promises. Jesus said that he will make them to sit down, and Jesus himself will serve them. We, who should be serving our Savior, will have him serve us. He then promises that he will make those disciples ruler over all he has.
That is the good news – the promise which God desires to give us. But the bad news is that few will be found watching. Jesus then gives a warning in Luke 12:47-48
47 “And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
48 “But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.
According to the words of Jesus, are their consequences for sin in the life of the Christian? Jesus warns that believers caught unaware of his return will inherit the same reward as hypocrites, and they will be weeping and gnashing their teeth (Matthew 24:51). The picture is someone lamenting over what they have lost. It is to mourn with such heartache, they grind their teeth.
Along with those who are found unworthy, are those who teach disciples to wink at sin. Look at Matthew 5:19
Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus didn’t say these teachers would be sent to hell; he said they would be called least in the kingdom. They are those who sacrificed everything eternal for a false gospel that invested everything in this life alone. Those who will one day weep over their loss will do so because they ignored warnings, such as passages like Hebrews 12:15-16
15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;
16 lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.
Hopefully you see that God does not want any of his children to miss out on the promise. Esau is given as an analogy for the Christian. As the firstborn son, Esau should have been the heir of what was passed down from Abraham. There was wealth, but the honor of carrying the blessings of God was the greater reward. He should have led the family, which would one day lead to Jesus, our Messiah. He should have been the one God blessed that no one could curse. He should have been the prophet that Jacob became, and should have been led by God’s loving hand. But he forfeited it all to feed his flesh. He couldn’t wait for his needs to be met, so he gave up everything for a meal. He despised his birthright. In the end, he wept on his knees begging to be blessed, but the time of repentance was gone and the consequences were upon him.
You also have a birthright. It isn’t something you must earn, for it is by promise, not merit. According to scripture, we are joint heirs with Christ when we are born again by the Holy Spirit. It is a gift no one can earn, but it is something we can willingly give away. Colossians 2:8 says:
8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.
It is already yours in Christ – but you can be cheated out of it. This is reiterated in Revelation 3:11
“Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.
The reward is to those who remain in Christ. The reward is not to those who earn salvation, nor to those who try to earn rewards. The reward is part of your birthright, and will remain yours unless you despise it as did Esau. To despise our birthright is to trade it willingly for a moment of pleasure. It is to exchange the promise to gratify the flesh. It is claiming our reward in this life because we don’t have faith in the promise to come. Many false teachers claim to be of God, but mix worldly philosophies into their doctrine and lead others into the deception that has captured their hearts. These are those the scriptures warn are false teachers deceiving and have been deceived. This is what causes men to proclaim that we can live as we please without being concerned with consequences.
When someone buys into the doctrines of the flesh, they will not only seek to justify themselves, but they will persuade others in the hope of being comforted in their rebellion. It is for you to discern the truth by knowing the scriptures. To follow these philosophies and empty deceits, rooted in the principles of the world, is to allow yourself to be cheated. Allowing ourselves to be persuaded to follow the flesh is how someone takes our crown. They have given it away, and there is a desire to persuade you to forfeit as well. Surrounding the principles of the world with religious terms doesn’t change the fact it is of the flesh. The Lord has given you the promise, hold fast to what you have already been given.
Living in the promise
As I stated earlier, we cannot merit anything of the Spirit. You may have heard people say, “I’m going to make my light shine,” but this is a misconception. We don’t have the light; we are the light. We can’t shine the light; we can only let it shine, or hide it. Look at Matthew 5:14-16
14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.
15 “Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.
16 “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
If you have the Spirit of God within you, you are the light of the world. Jesus didn’t command you to shine, he commanded you to let it shine and not hide it under a basket. Why does your light and good works glorify God? It is because your light and work is a gift of God. Good works don’t point to your efforts, they point to your heavenly Father who placed his light in your heart and completed his good works through you. Your works are the evidence of God’s hand. Any works that point to our own goodness is a false work with no eternal benefit or significance. A good example of this can be seen in Jesus’ interaction with the rich young ruler. Look at Matthew 19:16-22
16 Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”
17 So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
18 He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, ” ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’
19 ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “
20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”
21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
The first thing we should note is that this rich man was looking solely at the flesh as the source of goodness. He began his question to Jesus by calling him Good Master, or as the NKJV translates it, Teacher. In that culture, teachers were considered masters of knowledge. Many rabbis had disciples and they called them master as both a sign of respect, and an acknowledgement of their special knowledge. This is why Jesus warned his disciples to not allow anyone to call them teacher / master. He isn’t warning that we can’t be identified as teachers, but that we do not put ourselves in the position to be looked upon as being above the people. Though we have different callings and gifts, we are not permitted to be on a higher level than other believers. Jesus said not to let anyone call you master, father, or rabbi (or spiritual guide), for only Christ has that exaltation, and “you are all brethren.” (Matthew 23).
This is what Jesus is rebuking when he rebuffed the ruler for calling him good master. The rich man was looking at Jesus as an earthly rabbi, and placing undo honor on humanity. When Jesus pointed to himself as the Messiah of Israel, he calls himself good (John 10:11-14), but when this man pointed to his role as a master / teacher, Jesus refused to allow people to think of this role with undo honor. It wasn’t his role as a teacher that made him good, it was his role as the Son of God, Emmanuel, God with us. Many rabbis were in Israel, but none had the right to be called good.
Serious problems arise when we try to apply good to any works of human effort. The rich man wanted to know what good work he could do to merit eternal life. Jesus set him up to see the futility of the question by pointing to the law, which is impossible for man to fulfill in the flesh. The man proclaimed that he has kept these things through his whole life. To show the fallacy of this claim, Jesus included the command to love your neighbor as yourself. Then Jesus called him to sell everything and give it to the poor. If the man truly loved his neighbor as himself, sacrificing his possessions for the poor would not have been a barrier to obedience.
Even selling his possessions would not give eternal life. The command was to sell all and follow Jesus. It was to cast off his efforts to make himself good, remove his love for things, and become a new creation in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 13 makes it clear that even if I give all my goods to the poor, and sacrifice my body as an offering, if I don’t have love (agape), it profits me nothing. Agape is the love poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The intent should be clear. If it isn’t the work of God, flowing through us, it is meaningless.
The truth is, we will always place ourselves first if we are standing upon our own works. Place a morsel of food in front of two starving men, and see who puts their neighbor first. It is the power of Christ that enables us to walk by faith, keep the commandments, and experience what it means to live on the rock of Christ. Jesus taught, “You are the salt of the world.” We do not become salt through something we do, we are salt because of Christ. Jesus also warned that the salt can lose its savor and become good for nothing. The salt can lose its impact, the light can be hidden, and the Christian can lose sight of their faith. Instead of being the salt and light of the world, they can become like the world and ineffective in their calling.
Striving to live a life of holiness is not our efforts to become more spiritual, or to gain more faith; our effort is to keep the things of the world out of our life. We remove the things that hide our light and avoid the things that remove the savor of Christ by replacing the gift of God with worthless treasures. Look at James 1:27
27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
Also, add to this 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.
Notice what is being taught. We keep ourselves unspotted from the world. We build our lives upon the most holy faith God has given us. We don’t build faith, we build ourselves upon the holy faith given to us. We don’t make ourselves love God, we keep ourselves in the love of God. These are gifts of grace. God has given us a new life, and the ability to walk in the Spirit. The works of the Christian are not to do something for God, but to walk in God’s works and hold on to the spiritual mercies given to us.
We often approach Christianity from the wrong perspective. Most people think they have to muster up faith, make themselves holy, force themselves to love God, and purify their own souls. The truth is, these things are the work of Christ. Jesus said, “It’s the Spirit that gives life, the flesh profits nothing,” and “with man, [salvation] is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” We come to Christ, trusting in his completed work, and then keep ourselves in the love of God. James 1:4 tells us that we are tempted when we are drawn by our own desires and enticed. Temptation is the desire to leave the things of the Spirit, and pursue the things of the flesh. That can be blatant sins, or the lure of human achievement where we try to produce the work of God through human effort.
Let’s look at how sin applies to the Christian life. It is not temptation overcoming us, but the Christian being lured away from Christ and into sin. The Christian walking in the spirit cannot sin. This does not mean the Christian cannot sin, it means there must be a change in our minds. We must step away from our walk with the Lord in order to commit sin. Let’s examine some scriptures to understand this. Look now at Galatians 5:16-18
16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
This passage goes along with Romans 8:5-6
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
The scriptures are showing a difference in focus. Those who walk in the spirit set their minds on the things above – on eternal things. We must intentionally set our minds on the word of God, and consciously keep ourselves from being drawn by the flesh. The Christian who keeps their minds on the word, and lives according to the truth they have been given will walk in the Spirit, and the drawing of the flesh has no power over their lives. But when we love the world and live only from the perspective of here and now, our minds will be on the flesh and seeking gratification of our desires. We must take care not to be those Jesus said hear the word, and are choked by the cares of the world, never becoming fruitful as Christians. It is a fact that we cannot live in both worlds.
Though I must live in the world, my focus must not be to live for the world. My job is a gift from God, as is my abilities to perform it. My trust is not in my job, or the money I make. I provide for my family, but I should not serve money. Am I living for pleasure, or to glorify God? Am I so determined to fill my life with possessions that I can’t afford to serve God? Jesus made it clear that no one can serve God and wealth, and we must choose which to serve. The sad reality is that most are choosing to serve a passing world at the expense of our faith. This is exacerbated by those who teach that blessings are equal to wealth and that godliness is a means of gain. Neither of which are true.
The desire for things is only part of the human condition that turns our heart from the Lord. The works of the flesh are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, and revelries. Every person struggles with these things to varying degrees, but we are able to overcome through the word. It is a battle between the new creation we have become when we were born as a new person, and the flesh which still desires the life we have abandoned. Look at Romans 7:22-23
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.
19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.
20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.
22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.
23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
Even a spiritually minded man or woman will find themselves being drawn toward the flesh. The battle is fought in the mind. To overcome, we must realize the difference between the flesh and the new man, the new person we have become in Christ. According to the above scripture, the new man is not the origin of sin, but the origin of godly living. It is for us to turn from flesh and not to obey its lust. This agrees with 1 John 3:9
Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.
The new man cannot sin, for it is born of God, yet, daily we wrestle with sin. The seed of God, the Holy Spirit, remains in us and calls us to live according to the inner man. This is why we are commanded to be perfect just as our heavenly Father is perfect. Even so, we know we will sin and the same book that tells us we cannot sin also says that when we sin, we have an advocate through Christ and repentance. Look at 1 John 2:1-6
1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.
3 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.
4 He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.
6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.
John is giving us another paradox. We are battling among two worlds. The flesh and the spirit cannot agree and are at war with one another. In the end, the flesh will be destroyed along with everything invested in the flesh. That includes not only sin, but even positive deeds accomplished by human effort. When we sin, we have stepped into the flesh and turned from the commandments of God. At the end of 1 John 1, we are given the promise that if we confess our sins and forsake them, we will have mercy. Repentance is turning from the flesh and to the Spirit. We are confessing our ways, and again putting our trust in Christ to deliver us from our flesh and cleanse us from our sin. Then, we walk again in the new life, according to the new man, and sin has no power in our lives. Temptation will arise again, but it can have no power unless we agree with the flesh and willfully choose to step into the flesh again.
The Christian has the power to live in perfection, and at times we will experience that perfection. However, the perfection is not in you, but in Christ. Any who walk in the light will experience a life of victory. As we draw closer to Christ, his light reveals areas in our life that are still rooted in the flesh. As we surrender these areas to him, dead works are purged and more of Christ is revealed in our life. It is a process that continues as we strive toward our final perfection.
We know this process will never be fully completed until our final redemption when our flesh will be transformed at the day of resurrection. Until then, our life must be focused on keeping his commandments so we can obtain the promise, and run without hindrance. At times, we will fail. The Apostle Paul said, “The things I do not want to do, I do, and the things I know I should do, this I don’t do.” We too, will have times when our flesh gets the best of us. Instead of throwing our hands up, we repent, he sets us back on the right way, and we strive again toward perfection. Our goal as believers is to remove anything which comes between us and our Lord. Hebrews 12:1-2 explains:
1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
We run with endurance by keeping Jesus Christ in the center of our life while we cast out anything that hinders us. When we stumble in the flesh, we turn from our sin, confess, forsake, and draw toward Jesus so we can walk in the light. As we do so, we are laying hold of the promise, “To him that overcomes, I will give…” Overcoming the flesh and the world removes the things which prevent us from inheriting the promises of God. It isn’t easy because it goes against human nature. The Lord knows it isn’t easy, and this is why the greatest promises in scripture are to those who overcome. The only path to overcoming is following the word, and this requires keeping Jesus at the center of our life and focus. A compartmentalized life can’t live the faith as God has called us to do.
In closing, let me reiterate the principle of righteousness in the Christian’s life. Your righteousness means nothing to God, nor does mine. The Bible tells us that all of our righteous acts are filthy rags in God’s sight, or as Jesus said, the flesh profits nothing. You can’t produce spiritual fruit through human efforts. Every time righteousness is revealed in scripture, it is God’s righteousness given to us. We are not called to become righteous, we are made righteous through faith in Christ. This doesn’t only apply to becoming a Christian; the principles of living the Christian life don’t change after we obtain salvation. My life cannot produce righteousness. I can only walk in God’s righteousness. As Galatians states when rebuking the church, “Are you so foolish to think having begun in the Spirit, you are now made perfect by the flesh?”
The truth is that you and I can never produce the righteousness of God. When we are born as a new creation, we are given the righteousness of Christ. We don’t strive to become more righteous, for we already have the righteousness of God. This is explained in 2 Corinthians 5:21
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
How can you add to the righteousness of God? Why would we think that something was needed in order to make ourselves more righteous than the completed work of Christ? The truth is that we can’t. It is a completed work, and anything added to the work of Christ is a corruption. Jesus and the righteousness he has given is fully complete. This is explained in Romans 10:3-4
3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.
4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Christ is the end of the law of righteousness. What comes after the end? Nothing. It is the end because the work has been completed. Anything added to perfection becomes corruption. This goes back to Jesus’ teaching about us being the light of the world. We are not told to make the light brighter. We aren’t told to stoke the flames and make the light shine. Our only command is to let it shine. Let it shine, not make it shine. Remove the basket that is blocking the light shining in our hearts. We do this by removing the flesh. It is the gospel message of the Old Testament where Gideon was commanded to take a torch hidden in a clay pot, walk down the path God sent him, and shout with victory as he and his men shattered the clay pots to reveal the light. Then God defeated the enemy and completed the work before the eyes of Gideon. It wasn’t his effort, it was God’s work.
Our work is not to create righteousness, do good works, or build our faith. Our command is to remove the things that hinder the work of God in our lives. It is to break the flesh, submit ourselves to the Lord, and allow his righteousness to work unhindered in our lives. You can do nothing to make yourselves more righteous. You have the gift of righteousness in your heart IF you are born again by the Spirit by faith in Christ. Our calling is simple to understand, but hard to live by. We are called to walk by faith as explained in Romans 1:17
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
Notice that God’s righteousness is revealed in us by faith. Our calling is to live by faith and walk in faith. Do a search on righteousness in the New Testament. In fact, do a search for ‘our righteousness in the Old Testament. You will discover some interesting phrases’. Below are a few:
The Lord Our Righteousness
The righteousness of God is revealed
God demonstrated his righteousness to the one who has faith in Christ
His righteousness is accounted to Abraham by faith
God imputes righteousness apart from works
That righteousness my be imputed to us also by faith
We receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness through Jesus Christ
Awake to righteousness and do not sin
We might become the righteousness of God
His righteousness endures for ever
Put on the breastplate of righteousness
The message is clear. If your righteousness is not the righteousness of Christ, you are falling under the same condemnation as those warned of in Romans 10:3, “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.”
The religious leaders who sought to make themselves righteous, never pleased God, never escaped from condemnation, and never found freedom in Christ. Our call is to walk in obedience by faith. Faith is putting your trust in the completed work of Christ. It is also believing the promises of God. Faith equals trust and drives us to action. That action is not our own efforts for God, but our obedience to God. It calls us to walk in the path God created for us before the foundation of the world, and removing anything in our lives that hinders us from walking in that path and being the light of the world.