The sword of the Word of God has two edges, and I can generally sense when the Lord is prompting me to sharpen the “other edge,” rather than the one I have been working on in my recent blog postings. A conversation I had with my wife, Jill, last week about forgiving others, who, in my estimation, have sinned against me, gave me the final nudge to transition from discussing our part in the kingdom of God to again examining the gospel of His grace. Looking at forgiveness is a great way to do that.
At first glance, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Verses like Matthew 6:14, 15 jump off the page as we read the New Testament, typical of a whole surplus of verses that say the same thing: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
It would appear that me being forgiven is completely dependent on my willingness to forgive others myself. That idea strikes fear in my heart, because it doesn’t come naturally or easy to me. That means there is something I must do (and a very difficult thing at that!), in order for God to forgive me for my sin.
However, the message of the New Testament from beginning to end is that our salvation from sin has nothing whatsoever to do with anything we do or don’t do. Romans and Galatians were written to counteract the idea that it does. Here is probably the best known of these grace-oriented New Testament verses that sums up this truth in a nut-shell:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
At first glance, this looks like an unsolvable conundrum; there is something I must do to be forgiven, yet salvation is not achieved by anything I do! I knew it. This settles it, The Bible is full of contradictions!
Waaait just a little minute! What do you think of THIS verse, one of my favorites, found in 1 Robert 1:1? This is what your eye-doctor says or implies every time you go to see him: “If you can read the bottom line of the eye-chart, then your vision is 20/20.” Your ability to read the bottom line had nothing to do with making your vision 20/20. How does that compare with what the Bible teaches again and again, “If you forgive your brother’s sins against you, then God is forgiving yours.” His forgiveness of you has nothing to do with you forgiving others.
That makes perfect sense. We’ve got to simply get “the order of events” straight. Perfect vision created the ability to read the 20/20 line, not the reverse. But Satan, the father of lies, has deceived us. We are addicted to the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and we feel more “comfortable” when we confuse cause and effect (means-results, subject-object, horse-cart, etc.) when we “do something” for our forgiveness.
In the illustration, reading the eye-chart did not improve my vision one tiny bit. It was not the cause in any way; it was simply the naturally occurring effect. It was evidence that my vision was already 20/20, just as speaking with an Oklahoma accent (as I do) does not make me a Sooner, but is evidence that I am one! So, God’s forgiveness of us has nothing to do with our ability or inability to forgive others. Our forgiveness of others is a naturally-occurring result.
However, Satan continues to use our addiction to the good-evil dichotomy to keep us in bondage to the law. We read these forgiveness verses, and because of that addiction, we unconsciously think either, “Oh, goodie! Here is something I can do to be a good boy.” Or we think, “I’m sunk! I know I can’t forgive people who have really screwed me over!” In either case, we have tragically made obedience the cause of God’s forgiveness of us rather than the naturally occurring, unconscious effect of our experiencing it!
If we as believers are not experiencing the overwhelming love, joy and peace that is the experiential result of “walking by faith,” I believe this confusion of cause and effect is the reason. We are continuing to listen to the Father of Lies as he continues to say to us, as he did to Eve, “God knows that in the day you eat of it (the forbidden fruit) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
We want to be like God ourselves, deciding what is “good” and “evil” for ourselves, independently of God, no longer trusting in Him for all of life, but charting our own course, determining our own destiny, taking care of, protecting and advancing our own persons. We are, often unknowingly, but sometimes purposely, refusing to let a loving, completely sovereign God be that God in our hearts.
But don’t worry. The gauge showing God’s love for you is stuck on “full.” No matter the rebellion, stubbornness, unwillingness, apathy, and all the other sins you feel He takes into account, He doesn’t even notice. Listen to what 1 Corinthians 13: 5 in the Amplified NT says about His love for you: “(Love) takes no account of the evil done to it—pays no attention to a suffered wrong.”
That kind of love makes no demands. It just is, it will never give up, and it will track you down until it captures your heart, and you eagerly give yourself to Daddy, unreservedly, like a little child.
When we all do so, can you see what will happen in our hearts when others sin against us? That’s next week.