Was God punishing Jesus on the cross, or was God in Christ receiving and putting sin to death in Christ? This broadcast will help answer that question.
Was God punishing Jesus on the cross, or was God in Christ receiving and putting sin to death in Christ? This broadcast will help answer that question.
This study looks at the life of faith and how we can walk in the power of the Spirit.
One of the biggest mistakes Christians make is demanding the world to live by a Christian standard. According to the Bible, we are all born into a fallen nature. Before I became a Christian, I tried to be religious, but I could not live by the perfect standard of Christ. After becoming a Christian, I didn’t do much better. My struggles didn’t improve until I learned what the Bible meant that I am a new creation, and for this reason, I am called to walk according to the Spirit. Or as the Apostle Paul put it, “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives through me.”
The truth is, a fallen nature cannot live by an eternal spiritual standard. Bruce Jenner’s gender identity crisis is not the problem – it’s a symptom. The problem is that in the flesh – or our old natural state, we are all slaves to our passions. It just happens to be that some people’s passions are socially acceptable. I don’t see Christians blowing up over a sailor that has a girl in every port. Or the countless people in the church that give in to their passions with the opposite sex. Or what about people whose God is their belly (Philippians 3:19). What about the warning of Proverbs 23:20, which tells us not to mix company with gluttons, and to put a knife to our own throat if our appetites are aroused by the foods of the glutton?
This is the very reason why Romans 2:1 says that we who judge others are condemning ourselves, for we are guilty of the same things. The truth is, we are all born in the same boat as Jenner, even though our symptoms may be different.
What is the response the church should be making? Is it to wag our fingers at someone who is clearly tormented by their inner struggles, and condemn them for making choices that they hope will meet their needs? Is this really what the Bible teaches? Or could it be that Jesus showed us how to reach starving souls?
The woman caught in adultery is one of my favorite examples of ministry. Just as we see in the church today, religious people threw this woman at Jesus’ feet and said, “This woman was caught in the very act of adultery. The law condemns her to die by stoning, what to you say?”
Why did they come to Jesus? They didn’t need His permission. The Bible says that Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but bring them into salvation. The same message is given to the church by Christ. He said, “You are not of the world, but I have called you out of the world.” This is the heart of the great commission. Jesus did not command His disciples to force the world to live like Christians. He commanded them to go out into the world, call others out of the world, and make disciples.
The world knew that Jesus lived contrary to it. This includes the religious world. They thought they were serving God, but the Bible calls them enemies of the cross. Jesus even warned that they would persecute His followers while thinking they were doing God a service. Why did religion hate Christ? Because He was full of grace and truth. Grace does not condemn sin. Grace overcomes sin with the goodness of God. This is why the Bible says that our righteousness is worthless to God, but His righteousness is a gift to us. We are righteous by becoming receivers of grace, not accomplishers of the law. In fact, the Bible says that by the deeds of the law, no one will be justified in God’s sight.
The woman in adultery is the evidence of this truth. Instead of pointing at the woman’s sins, Jesus pointed at the sins of her accusers. When He stooped down, He wrote things on the ground that began convicting them. I imagine Him writing things like, Adultery = to lust is adultery in our heart. Thievery = he that is greedy is a thief in his heart. He that covets is guilty of idolatry. One by one, Jesus exposed their hidden sins, then He stood up and said, “Let the one who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her.”
Grace was given to the woman before the call to sin no more was issued. “Are there none to accuse you? Neither do I accuse you. Go and sin no more.”
The thieving tax collector Zacchaeus was hated by the religious community. He robbed people with the Roman tax system, was greedy, covetous, and guilty by any religious standard. Yet without pointing out a single sin, Zacchaeus was transformed by grace when He spent time with Christ. As he was filled with the love of God, he volunteered his money. “I will give half my money to the poor, and if I have robbed anyone, I will repay four times what I took.”
Ironically, the religious rich young ruler refused to part with his money in Luke 18, but the sinful scoundrel who was anti-religious eagerly gave up this world once he experienced the grace of Christ.
And we haven’t even gotten into the prostitute, Mary Magdalene, the foul mouthed fisherman named Peter, or the other thieving tax collector Matthew. Matthew and Peter both abandoned their sin without Jesus pointing out their faults. Once they saw the value of the new life of Christ, their old life suddenly looked like trash. They soon became the apostles that Jesus used to present the church of the New Covenant. Or what about Paul. He was a murderer of Christians, yet Jesus called him through grace, and the very religious Paul declared that his old life was nothing but a dung heap compared to the excellence of knowing Christ.
Another great example was the woman at the well. She was living in open sin. Her sinful reputation was so shameful that she would not go to the well to draw water until the heat of the day. The other women came for water in the cool morning and the cool of the evening, but to avoid the scornful looks and whispers of gossip, she came during the high noon time of the day. In a culture when divorce was almost unheard of, she was a five time divorcee, and was shacking up with a man who wasn’t her husband. She was the town tramp.
Just as it is with the struggles of someone like Bruce Jenner, her life was a symptom of her problem. She couldn’t fulfill the need of her soul, so she bounced from relationship to relationship. She was openly living in adultery, yet Jesus didn’t address her sin. He addressed her need. Her soul was parched and starving, and her life was a symptom of that problem. So how did Jesus address this? He focused on her need; not her lifestyle. “I can give you living water.” He explained that not only could He satisfy her soul, but this living water would become a spring of life that would flow out from her.
As He spoke, she began to recognize her need, though she still believed this need could be satisfied in her flesh. Jesus used the need of her flesh to reveal the only source of satisfaction and fulfillment; the life of the Spirit.
Are we ministering like Jesus did? Are we looking at the Bruce Jenners of the world who are trying to fulfill their need with the dry things of this life, and telling them about the living waters? Did the scorn and condemnation of religious people change the woman at the well? The religious community scolded her, and this only caused her to avoid them. Beating her over the head with the law didn’t do anything to rescue her from her sin.
The truth is that we don’t need to shove condemnation into anyone’s face. We don’t even need to tell them that they are sinners. According to Jesus, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin. That is His job; not ours. Our job is to point others to the living water. When we unveil the grace of Christ, the Spirit unveils the true need – to be rescued from a parched soul corrupted by sin – and in doing so, people are able to see the life-giving living water that is given freely as an act of God’s grace. Grace is the unearned and unearnable love of God.
Trying to chew moisture out of dead sticks only looks good because the spring of life has never been seen. To tell someone to stop trying to draw life from death sounds foolish to someone who sees this as the only hope of their soul. To tell the Jenners of this world to stop trying to find satisfaction from their passions seems foolish. It’s something that cannot be comprehended until they see life. And the church is repelling instead of drawing.
Why were sinners drawn to Christ, but religion hated Him? Why are only religious people drawn to the church, but the church repels sinners. It repels even those who are seeking answers. If sinners are repelled by the church, but were drawn to Christ, what does this tell us about the spirit of our churches?
The Bible tells us that the way of the Spirit is incomprehensible to the natural mind. Yet we are trying to force people into a way of thinking and living that cannot be lived outside of the Spirit. Instead of condemning, we should be pointing others to the living water.
Until Bruce Jenner or any other person is transformed from within, constraining them from the outside is only building frustration, and driving them away from life. We have to remember one of the basic truths of faith. No one can live until they die. When we put our trust in Christ, we were crucified with Christ, buried with Christ, and a new life was given to us as a gift of God. We are born from above, with a new spirit, which has a new nature. That nature is the only way we can live in righteousness. Bruce doesn’t have that nature. Until he does, condemnation is fruitless and we, are becoming the very people who drove the woman at the well into isolation.
Our call is to be like Christ. We should be showing the world that the Spirit is life to their parched soul, and when someone gets a glimpse of true life, their life of the flesh will become worthless. Or as Jesus said, the kingdom of God is like the man who found a treasure in a field. For the joy of obtaining that treasure, he sold everything he had to buy that field. Everything in this life becomes worthless once we discover the treasure of the Spirit. Until then, demanding someone to sell out seems foolish. Grace must come first. Until then, all affection, passion, and value will be on what cannot satisfy – the life of this world.
Let us become preachers of living water instead of condemners of parched souls.
Last week we discussed the prodigal son, and how he believed his sins drove him away from his father’s love. However, his failures revealed the depth of his father’s love in a way that he could not understand until he had nothing but failure to offer him.
In the same way, we don’t understand the depths of God’s love for us until we begin to understand that we have nothing to offer God but sin. In the flesh, even our righteous acts are sin, for as Jesus said, everything that is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is of the Spirit. The works of the flesh cannot produce anything of the Spirit.
When we begin to grasp this truth is when we begin to understand that God doesn’t love us based on what we have done or not done, but based on who He is. God loves you because He is love, and the only barrier God has established is our faith in His word of promise.
Let’s begin studying this truth by looking at love by comparing the Old Testament to the New. The unveiling of our need began when Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptation in the garden. It began with questioning God’s love. Genesis 3:5
"For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
How subtle temptation can be. Man already had the knowledge of good. The only thing he lacked was the knowledge of sin. Before sin entered, man was God-conscious and only saw the good coming from the Lord. Once he stepped into sin, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened, and though nothing in life had changed at this point, they became ashamed. They were ashamed because they now looked for good in themselves instead of receiving the righteousness of God. From the beginning, it has always been God’s intention to be our righteousness instead of demanding righteousness.
Once man set out on a quest to make himself good by human effort, the law began to take shape. In the beginning, there was only one law – don’t eat of the tree. Once the tree was taken away, man was in sin, but incapable of understanding his inability to be righteous outside of God. The Bible says that where there is no law, sin is not imputed. In order to reveal to man that good only comes from above, God began unveiling the law in order to drive mankind into the knowledge of sin outside of Him. The Law cannot make us good, it can only reveal our sin. Look at Romans 7:9-10, 12-14
9 I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.
10 And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.
12 Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
13 Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.
14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.
Let’s look at how the law was introduced, how it drives us to the knowledge we are sinful by nature and cannot become unsinful, and then see how God uses our weakness to reveal His love. In order to reveal the power of His love, God first based the Old Testament law on our love. Look at Deuteronomy 6:4-5
4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!
5 "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
The law was based upon the command to love God with all – not part – of our life. All your mind. All your heart. All your strength. If you fail to give God everything, you are guilty of breaking the law. The nation of Israel was put under the law, and they could not keep it. They began to shape the law into their culture, and then they strove to accomplish it through a never-ending expansion of the law. The question has always been, “Are you doing enough? Are you loving God enough?”
When the lawyers asked Jesus which was the greatest commandments, He quoted the above passage, but He used the word ‘agape’, which is the love of God. Man’s love is ‘philia’, or friendship love. Philia love is dependent upon receiving. Philia love dies or weakens when it is not returned, but agape is the unconditional love of God. Take time to read 1 Corinthians 13. This explains agape love – it seeks not its own, is not provoked, rejoices in truth, endures all things, and so on. It is beyond human capability to fulfill this. What’s more, is that if you do good deeds, and do not have agape love, your good works profit nothing. Look at 1 Corinthians 13:3
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Agape cannot be earned, nor can it be produced. Either our works are produced by God’s agape love, or they are worthless. Even our good deeds are mere acts of the flesh. This is why Isaiah 64:6 says that all our righteous acts are filthy rags in God’s sight.
This is what those focused on the law could not comprehend. This is why grace was a threat to the religious community at the birth of the church, and why trusting in grace is viewed as a threat today. No one wants to believe that their works profit nothing. Yet once we understand the love of God, we discover this doesn’t matter, for by faith we receive the greater blessing than what we were trying to earn before.
When Jesus quoted the law, it was always to reveal to those who trusted in their works the reality of their guilt. To the Pharisee who thought they were keeping the law, Jesus dismantled all their works. They brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus knowing He would not condemn her. They said, “She was caught in the very act. The law says she must die, but what do you say?”
Jesus stooped down and began writing in the dirt. I imagine he was writing the secret sins He knew they were guilty of. Lust, greed, hatred. Perhaps He wrote the command to love God with all our soul, heart, and strength. Then underlined the word ‘all’. Why is Jesus writing these things, they wondered. Then they demanded, “The law says she must be stoned. What do you say?” The law had already condemned this woman, now those who trusted in the law thought the law could also condemn grace. But the reverse was true.
Jesus stood up and said, “Whichever among you is without guilt, let him be the first to cast a stone.” Then He returned to highlighting their sins in the dirt. One by one, they dropped their stones in frustration and walked away.
Under the law, we are all guilty. And if you look to your works or righteousness – or anything from yourself, you will find guilt instead of righteousness. And that is the purpose of the law. Look at Romans 3:19-20
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
The law was intended to show you are guilty because God wants you to understand that you are loved, not because you do good works. Not because of the sins you manage to avoid. Nor does God deny you because of your sins or lack of good works. God doesn’t love you because of what you do or don’t do. God loves you because He is love. God defeated sin for you in order to reveal that nothing can stand between you and the love of God. Nothing but your refusal of His love. People refuse God’s love because they either don’t believe God loves them because of their failures, or because they believe they can earn His love by human success. But the law never produces righteousness. It only reveals whether a person is already righteous by nature.
After the incident with the woman condemned by the law, Jesus began revealing how they are also under condemnation. He said, “You have heard it taught that if a woman leaves her husband for another, she has committed adultery. But I tell you, if you even look at a woman to lust after her, you have already committed adultery in your heart.”
To those who boasted of their righteousness, Jesus revealed their sin. The rich young ruler who said he loved his neighbor as himself was instructed to sell everything he had and give it to his poor neighbors. To those who condemned murderers, Jesus said that hatred in the heart makes you a murderer. To the person who condemns the thieving tax collectors, the Bible says that greed is equal to thievery. To the one who condemns idolaters, loving wealth is idolatry. Every sin we can observe is already in our own hearts, even if pride blinds us to its reality. Pride blinds us to our guilt, but the law reveals our condemnation. A condemnation that is removed in Christ.
Do you love God with everything? Every thought is based on love for Him? Every action is out of a love for Him? Everything in our heart is grounded in love for God? Our love for our neighbor is so great that we give from our own table to them?
Anyone who trusts in the law or believes they are keeping the law is deceiving themselves. Anyone who thinks they love God enough is living a lie.
That’s the bad news of the law. But the good news is that Jesus fulfilled the law for us to give us God’s favor, bore the penalty of sin for us to take it out of the way, and gives us birth into new life by the Spirit whose life is from God.
The Old Testament law is, do you love God enough. The New Testament says, “It’s not about your love at all. It’s about His love.” Look at 1 John 4:16-19
16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.
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.
It was never about our love. It has always been about God’s love. In the beginning, man enjoyed fellowship with God until his focus was turned to himself. Remember the account of the tower of Babel? Their goal was to build a tower to heaven. Man’s goal has always been to make himself good, yet every good and perfect gift comes from God, not from man. The law reveals to you and I that our efforts can never be good enough, and it doesn’t matter. Our failure reveals God’s love.
The law was never about man. It has always been about God. The law unveils God’s perfect character and nature, and it unveils our inability to be perfect or attain to God’s standard of perfection – a standard that has always been about God. Now we see the promise, it isn’t about your love for God, but His love for you. God couldn’t have made this clearer than 1 John 4:10
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
It’s not that you love God, it’s that you know and believe in the love God has for you. That is the message of the prodigal son. It wasn’t about the son’s love. It was that the son could not comprehend the love of the father until he had nothing but failure to give to his father. It was then that he discovered the father loved him only because he was his child, and because that was the father’s nature. It was never about the son. It was about the father’s love for the son.
This is you. You are the focus of God’s love. He loves you because you are His child, and His love transforms you. But that transformation cannot take place until you come to the end of yourself – the point where you stop looking to you and begin to know and believe in His love for you.
You see this in the disciples of Jesus. Peter boasted of his love for Jesus. He proclaimed his willingness to fight for Jesus, die for Jesus, and affirmed that he would never forsake Jesus – even if all these others do. Who was the only disciple to deny Jesus? It was the one trusting in himself and his own love for God.
All the others forsook Jesus and fled for their lives – except one. John went to the palace with the crowd arresting Jesus. He is the one who helped Peter get into the courtyard where Jesus was being tried. He was the only disciple at the crucifixion. He was the one Jesus spoke to from the cross when Jesus delivered His mother into John’s care so she would not have to watch Him die. Now look at how the Bible describes John in these passages?
Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.
Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him."
Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!"
Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following,
Do you notice anything unusual about the disciple Jesus loved? Have you noticed this only appears in the gospel of John? John is called the disciple whom Jesus loved, but this only appears in John’s own writing. John endured because he understood the love of Christ for him. Never does he boast about his love for Jesus. In John’s latter years, he writes to the church and says, “It’s not that we love God, but that He first loved us.” Following this he says, “We have known and believed in the love He has for us.”
From here we have the promise that perfect love casts out fear. No fear can abide in the heart that is receiving perfect love. Human love can never be perfect. Perfect love is God’s love received into our hearts. When you understand that you are the disciple God loves, you will begin walking in confidence. Fear is forced out of your life, for the disciple God loves has no fear of judgment, but has confidence – even in the day of judgment. God loves you so much that He was punished for your sins. Someone who lives in that kind of love could never fear judgment.
There is no fear in life, for God has promised that He has worked out all things for your good – this includes now and in the future. If you know and believe in the love God has for you, and His love has already prepared the way, how can you fear anything this life can throw at you? Look now at Daniel 10:19
And he said, "O man greatly beloved, fear not! Peace be to you; be strong, yes, be strong!" So when he spoke to me I was strengthened, and said, "Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me."
You are God’s greatly beloved. God’s beloved has no fear, but peace. And where does strength come from? God strengthens you and it is by His grace we stand. Don’t believe the lie that Jesus loves you and defends you to the Father. Indeed Jesus is our advocate, but He defends us when the accuser tries to condemn us with the law. Your Heavenly Father loves you and you must know and believe in His love. Look at the words of Jesus in John 16:26-27
26 "In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you;
27 "for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.
You and I are in that day. He is referring to the day when our redemption was complete in Christ. The barrier of the law was removed, sin was taken out of the way, and now the love of God is unveiled in all its glory. When we fall into a humanistic religious mindset, we falsely think God is pleased based on what we do for Him. Not so. Let’s wrap up with Hebrews 11:6
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.
All of this is based on knowing and believing in the love God has for you. Have faith in His love for you. Many children go through rebellious attitudes during the transition from childhood to adulthood. During the dark years of adolescence, children doubt their parent’s love. I’ve heard children say, “My parents hate me,” when I know for certain that youth’s parent would give up everything for their child’s good. They work to provide every necessity, education, and gifts. Yet if a child disbelieves in their parent’s love, they will live life under a false ideology and their own perception becomes a reality in their lives.
We do the same with God. He has done everything to unveil His love for us, yet if we place ourselves under the perception of condemnation, we’ll live under condemnation, doubt, and frustration. We can live as a child who has an unpleasable father and never experience the love given to us.
During Jesus’ last prayer, He said the following in John 17:22-23
22 "And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:
23 "I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
Your heavenly Father loves you just as much as He loves Jesus. You have the glory of God resting upon you, but you can live as a condemned man or woman. Or you can walk in God’s strength and trust in His love.
Know and believe in the love your Father in Heaven has for you. If there is one truth that will transform you into the victorious Christian life, it is this. Once you begin to believe in God’s unconditional love, you will begin walking as a child of the Kingdom. Once you understand you are loved, not because of your own abilities, but because God delights in you solely because you are His beloved child, you will experience a life of love. And God’s agape love transforms lives because it is the power of God within you.
Abide in God’s love. Know and believe in the love He has for you. In this rests all the promises of the life we have been given. It’s all a gift of God’s love for you. You are the disciple God loves!
Eddie Snipes 2014
Listen to Eddie’s weekly podcast at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/hollydale-baptist-church/id893226987
“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
–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.