Living Hope Community Church

Loving God by Loving Others

Tag: obedience

Earned Forgiveness?

Published / by cluckk / 1 Comment on Earned Forgiveness?

My wife and I have a show we love to watch together. One night, the storyline included a man having a hard time forgiving his father. I could relate to this because of issues with my own late father. Another character recommended forgiveness. His response was, “I’m just not sure he deserves to be forgiven.” Of course, the way my mind works, I spent the rest of the evening turning that statement over in my mind. It is a common feeling, and I am sure it influences many people’s decisions on forgiveness. I have sat across from people in counseling sessions who said very similar things. The problem with this should be easy to see but gets hidden under layers of failed expectations and lost chances.

Can we deserve forgiveness?

This is the key question and reflects definitions. To forgive someone, I choose to not hold them responsible. It means I no longer hold over them what they have done but am willing to let past hurts be laid aside in order to move on. It is impossible to deserve forgiveness. This is so true as to be a tautology: “One deserves to be forgiven only if one has no need to be forgiven.” I say this because of the fact that a person needs to be forgiven means they have done things that need to be forgiven. How can I deserve forgiveness? Now, some will say we deserve forgiveness if we make amends. This is a problem though. If I make amends, then it means I have made a transaction making up for my actions. For example, let’s look at the Old Testament treatment of thievery. Exodus 22 gives laws of restitution. Look at a couple. If I stole your sheep, then butchered it. I can not give you the sheep back. But the law says restitution must be made. Verse 1 says that I must pay back four sheep. This restores your sheep and goes beyond by making you better than you would have otherwise been. If I am unable to pay back extra—which would have only been possible if I had stolen a sheep I did not already need—then I would be sold into slavery to make restitution. This is severe. But notice it says nothing about forgiveness. That’s because this passage and these laws have nothing to do with forgiveness. They have to do with balancing the scales. If I take one sheep but give back four sheep then there is really no question of forgiveness. What is there to forgive? The initial taking? If I can make up for what I did, then there is no longer a need to forgive me—the affront has been removed.

But what about things that cannot truly be restored? What about those sins for which there is no restitution possible? Those experiencing these may expect forgiveness to be deserved through acts or signs of contrition. For some this may mean a direct confession of wrongdoing. This could mean showing an appropriate amount of remorse. In this case, one watches the wrongdoer to see if they are acting in a certain way before forgiveness is given. But is this any different from restitution? Not really. It is identical. All that has changed is the restitution payment demanded. Restitution, as defined above, is giving an appropriate physical payment. But demand for contrition is simply to change the type of payment. It is a demand that the person who sinned earn my forgiveness. Earned forgiveness is not forgiveness.

Is this truly important? Shouldn’t those who need forgiveness (those who have sinned against another) make up for their sin and show proper contrition? Of course. But that is not my point. My point is why I forgive. I forgive because (1) I have been forgiven, and (2) I have been commanded to forgive. Let’s take these in order.

I have been forgiven

This means I needed to be forgiven. It also means that I received something I did not deserve or earn. Remember, if I could reverse what I have done then I do not need forgiveness. Upon what basis was I forgiven? It was received based on one thing alone: Christ died for my sins; he paid the price in full; he made restitution on the cross. These are all one and the same. When I insist another make up for what they have done before I forgive, does this not call into question the ground upon which I claim to be forgiven? The song “Jesus paid it all / All to Him I owe” is made a lie. If Jesus’ sacrifice was not sufficient payment for sins against me, then it is not sufficient payment for my sins against others.

Of course, some will say, “Yes, but I have to ask forgiveness first. They have to ask me forgiveness first.” It is true that scripture says that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). But be careful that we do not make divine forgiveness into a transaction: I pay for my forgiveness by confessing my sins. This passage is not describing a transaction. The context is those who seem to claim to be without sin. This passage is sandwiched between two passages addressing this. Verse 8 says that if we claim to have no sin, we deceive ourselves and are liars. Verse 10 says that if we have not sinned, we make God a liar. The purpose of this passage is to show that those who know God and his Word understand their sinfulness and are quick to confess their sins. We do not earn forgiveness by confession. Forgiveness was purchased long before we ever came to understand our sinfulness. Christ died two millennia ago. He went to the cross long before you ever committed a single personal sin. That payment was sufficient. Our confession is nothing more than an acceptance of that truth.

We are commanded to forgive

I remember a lecture by R. C. Sproul. He was talking about a lecture in his seminary where they were discussing election. Some were wondering if God elects to salvation, then why should we evangelize. This blog post is not to answer that question. However, it is important because the professor asked a young R. C. Sproul why and his response was, “Because we have been commanded to do so.” The point is that even though it may make little sense to us, the fact that Christ is our Lord and has commanded us to forgive should be all that we need. My master has commanded; I must obey. As our Lord, we do not have any right to weigh his commands and decide if we will obey. Once we understand our command, we are compelled to obey. We have no choice. To refuse to forgive—to withhold forgiveness from anyone for any reason—is to refuse to obey our master. If we refuse to obey our master, then one of two things are true:

              Either we are a disobedient servant, or we are no servant at all.

To refuse to forgive—without restitution or acts of contrition—is to deny the very Lord we claim to serve and to deny the very sacrifice that paid for our own sins. Stop demanding people “deserve” forgiveness. If for no other reason, do it because God happily forgave you though you did not deserve it.

Of course, some will say, “But you have no idea what they did to me!” True. And you have no idea what I have experienced. But God does. He knows exactly what they did to you. He knew they would do it before the foundation of the earth. It did not catch him by surprise. He is also the one who made payment by sending Christ to die for that sin. He is also the one who commands you to forgive. You see, when you refuse to obey, it is him you are not obeying.

Excuses, excuses!

Published / by cluckk / Leave a Comment

A central focus of my life and ministry has, for some time, been prayer. I strive to spend regular times in prayer. Part of this includes a daily prayer time, a weekly period of a couple hours where I get away to pray and let God speak through authors and Scripture, as well as making a habit of lifting before the Lord anyone who comes to mind through the day.

Before you look at this and gush that Pastor Ken is so holy, understand that this is what I strive for. I fail at it often. For the last few weeks, my daily prayer time in the mornings has been sadly, and sinfully, lacking. I, like anyone else, can let other concerns get in the way. This morning, I started thinking about the things which keep us from going before God in prayer. I considered four causes (they are not in order):

First, we get busy. “Sorry Lord, but you know how busy I am this morning.” This has happened to me with my educational efforts. I have a great deal of homework, and only a limited amount of time to do it. It is easy to get tempted to lay aside the prayer time to concentrate on other work. Pastors are notorious for this, because the work we most often do is in service to the Lord. But this is the problem. It assumed we can serve the Lord without going before him on our faces, seeking his presence and his power in our lives. In effect, we say, “I’ve got this God. You sit this one out.” We don’t have it. We need God’s active presence in everything we do. This is true for me, as a pastor. It is true for you in whatever vocation or trade God has placed you in.

Second, has to do with getting busy. In the first, we get so busy doing good that we try to do it without God. The second is different, but subtle. We have a limited time of day to do everything. If I don’t finish this assignment or project it effects my grade, gets me in trouble with my boss, cuts into my profit margin, etc. However, if I don’t spend time with God, he will forgive me. This is true. But this consideration shows something about our heart condition. Can you think of any greater reason to spend time with God than his mercy and love? He forgives me because he loves me, and it is in his nature to do so. Now, I respond by taking advantage of that love. Rather than cherishing the relationship, I take it for granted. This is just not right. God, the loving and merciful, deserves far more attention than the squeaky wheels in our lives.

Third and fourth have to do with maturity and relationship. The third reason I considered for not praying is that we find it boring. Many do find it boring to pray. I used to be one of them. For me this is confounded by the fact that my mind was always running after things I needed to do. However, this is the problem. Consider your relationships. I was once a young man—a long, long time ago. My wife and I were once dating—my kids can’t even imagine such a thing. When we were dating, she was fascinating. I loved to just sit and look at her, consider her face, hear her voice and just spend time together. We didn’t even need to talk. Just being in her presence made my head spin. Now, after thirty years of marriage, we it’s harder—much harder. It takes restraint sometimes when we sit down to eat to not pull out the phone and check email, etc. Is it possible that you are bored when you pray, because you are living on an old relationship? Everything new grows cold. Fan into flames your love for Christ. Build desire, like you once did in the relationship. How? That will depend on yourself. Find your passion in Christ. What about him still brings you excitement? What gives you a desire to learn, to listen, to implore?

Fourth, is related to the third. Some of us don’t put off prayer because of boredom, or being busy, but because we just don’t know what to say. This is the easiest fixed, but also one of the most commonly cited causes. Imagine someone who longs to have a deep relationship with you, but you avoid them just because you don’t know what to say. If they want such a relationship, perhaps they will do the talking. There’s an option! If you don’t know what to say, open your Bible and ask him to speak to you. Then, sit silently for a while. From time to time, read and pray the words before you on the page.

Prayer is the work of a disciple. It is the one thing we can do which requires no special gift—we all receive that gift when the Holy Spirit comes upon us in salvation. Prayer is also the most powerful thing God has given us. Imagine, the God who spoke the universe into existence, wants to hear how your day is going. Imagine, he loves you enough to take not only an interest, but also an active role in your day.

Lay aside the excuses. Go to God; spend time with him.