Living Hope Community Church

Loving God by Loving Others

Tag: sin

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.

Made Sufficient

Published / by cluckk / Leave a Comment

Colossians 1:12-14 says, “…giving thanks to the father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (English Standard Version).

In the previous passage, Paul expressed his hope that the readers would be strengthened, empowered and enabled to endure with patience a and joy. He then gave them a reason to be joyful: the actions of the Father on their behalf.

The passage tells us that God the Father has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints. ἱκανώσαντι translated as “qualified” is interesting. According to Perschbacher[i] another meaning is “to make sufficient.” This is a powerful thing. God makes us sufficient to inherit with the saints. To be sufficient is to be enough, to be fully qualified with nothing lacking. He does not simply start the process of qualifying us and leave the rest to our own actions. No. He made us completely sufficient to inherit. There is nothing left for us to do but recognize the change wrought, and respond with loving praise, thanksgiving and obedience. We do not inherit our portion among the saints through any quality within ourselves or personal works (Eph 2:9), but through divine action making us qualified/sufficient.  God changes us; we experience the change; God transforms; we are transformed. God is the actor; we are the recipients of the action.

Paul goes into more detail in the next portion when he speaks of our deliverance from the power/authority of darkness and our transfer into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Note that he does not use kingdom to refer to both realms. He speaks of the kingdom of the Son, but of the power of darkness. The power of darkness is not a legitimate ruler or kingdom. It is a usurpation of the rightful rule of God. In our sinful state, we were under the command and power of darkness—sin, depravity, etc. We were ruled by darkness itself, and by the darkness within us. But God removed us, he delivered us, from that dominion. Because of his actions, we have been transferred to the kingdom of the Son. Rather than being dominated by sin and wickedness, locked in darkness, we are not ruled by the Holy One of God, his beloved Son, the bringer of light and righteousness.

The last part of this passage helps us understand this qualifying action: in Christ, God forgave our sins, redeeming us (buying us back from the one to whom our sins had enslaved us). God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together to redeem you—purchasing you—with forgiveness of your sins, and a transfer from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of light. It is their action which accomplishes this.

[i] Perschbacher, The New Analytical Greek Lexicon.