forgiveness

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A Myth about Fundamentalists

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Somehow liberals have managed to cast fundamentalists as hard-hearted, self-righteous, unforgiving hypocrites, who are interested only in foisting their repressive, life-numbing doctrine on an unsuspecting public.  This distortion has been so effective that all a person has to do is bark fundamentalist and people will run from convention as if it had the plague.

Maybe it’s time to revisit the meaning of “fundamental.”  Something is “fundamental” when it is basic or essential to the overall structure it helps to construct.  Remove just one of these fundamentals, and it is like knocking a load-bearing wall out of a house–the entire building collapses.

Take Christianity, for example.  Most would agree that the cross is a fundamental aspect of the Christian faith, for without it Christianity is no longer Christianity.  You cannot have redemption in Christ if he did not die for the sins of mankind.

What about forgiveness?  We’re told to beware of Christian fundamentalists, because they hold others to standards they would not even expect of themselves.  Some would have us believe that in fighting the Pharisees, somehow Christ’s movement spawned millions more.  But numerous times Christianity’s founders reiterated the importance of forgiving others and acknowledging that none of us is perfect.

  • “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10).
  • “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
  • “For we all stumble in many ways” (Jas. 3:2).
  • “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt. 6:14-15).
  • “I do not say to you [‘forgive’] seven times, but seventy times seven” (Mt. 18:22).
  • “Pay attention to yourselves!  If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent’, you must forgive him” (Lk. 17:3-4).

You must forgive him. Christianity stands or falls on forgiveness.  It is essential.  Christ and his apostles made it non-negotiable.  If you don’t forgive, you will not be forgiven by the Father in heaven.

The real problem that the world has with fundamentalists is that we won’t bend the rules just because we may fail to live up to them.  We insist that there’s nothing wrong with the rules; we are the problem.  Fundamentalists seek to bend hearts, not God’s commands.  Meanwhile, the liberals and secularists poke their fingers at our chests, saying we can’t take a stand on morality, which in turn establishes a new morality based on culture and tolerance.  In so doing, they make God on their own image.  Now who is being self-righteous?

In my time as a gospel preacher, I have seen countless victims of heartless abuses forgive those who have wronged them and move on.  They did it because of their faith.  They know that at the heart of Christianity is the requirement to forgive, and they understand that nobody’s perfect and that they have themselves committed sin.  This is the true face of Christianity. And as long as the fundamentals of the New Testament are taught and practiced, forgiveness will continue.

As for the critics who misrepresent my faith as heartless and cruel, I forgive them.

Guilty With an Explanation

Thursday, March 6th, 2008

An investigator for social services fraud told of how the courtroom where he served was brought to order each day at 9 a.m. by an assistant district attorney. The assistant DA explains that each person charged is to answer one of three ways: “guilty,” “not guilty,” or “guilty with an explanation.” One morning, he was halfway through the roll call and read off the name of the next person. The man sharply answered, “Guilty with an exclamation!”

If I were to do a roll call for the Christians who are reading this article, I wonder how many of them would answer, “Guilty with an exclamation?” Far too many, I’m afraid. It seems that in every congregation of the Lord’s people there are scores of Christians who are reluctant to believe in the possibility of pardon. In their minds, the past is just too wicked, too ugly to be forgotten.

Fortunately, the Bible shares some important examples to encourage us to believe in God’s willingness to forgive sinners. One is David. It would be hard to imagine a worse crime than David’s. He was the king of Israel who misused his power to commit adultery and then tried to cover up his sin by essentially having his mistress’s husband murdered on the battle lines. After coming to his senses, a person in similar circumstances who is unfamiliar with our God might turn to despondency, thinking that redemption is hopeless. But David knew God would forgive him when he repented. Psalm 51 records his prayers: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow…Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (vv. 7, 10).

Paul is another example. Before his conversion he persecuted the church. Looking back on those awful days, he remorsefully called himself “the chief of all sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15, KJV). But at the end of his life, having obeyed the gospel and having lived a faithful life, he said,

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing (2 Tim. 4:6-8).

Of course, there is the possibility that some feel guilty because they are not walking with God. In this case, confession and repentance is required before the healing will begin (1 Jn. 1:9).

God has promised that the blood of Christ sufficiently forgives all sin (Heb. 9:13-14; 10:22). Believing this promise will purge the conscience of guilt. There is no need for Christians to feel “guilty with an exclamation.”

The Two Sides of Forgiveness

Monday, March 12th, 2007

Everybody wants to forget some of the past. We all sin and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Thankfully, God saves by grace, and Christians enjoy the cleansing power of the blood of Christ (1 Jn. 1:7). This forgiveness is the only way we can keep the past from haunting us like a ghost.

But forgiving is not the same as forgetting. I know that we say “forgive and forget,” but is that really possible? According to the dictionary, “forgive” means “to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.)…to cease to feel resentment against.” But nothing is said about forgetting. There’s no magic wand to erase the part of our memory that contains our mistakes.

God has promised, “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Heb. 8:12). But can we take this to mean that he literally forgets what we have done? How do we harmonize that position with God’s omniscience? An omniscient God cannot forget anything. Therefore, we must understand his promise to mean that he will treat our sins as if they never happened, not that he wills himself into a selective memory lapse every time someone becomes a Christian.

Dealing with our past, then, entails our faith in God’s promise that he will choose to act and feel as though we never sinned, even though he knows we really did. We can believe this promise because it comes from a God who never lies (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). In fact, it is only when we accept this promise that we begin to heal. Through faith we can finally lose consciousness of our past sins (see Heb. 10:1-4).

Christians learn to accept God’s promise to forgive them, but this is only one side of dealing with our past. The other side is more difficult–learning to treat the wrongs others have committed as if they never happened.

Victimization has become a popular way to deal with the past. Perhaps this development owes its existence to several decades of psychotherapy telling us our problems are not our fault. Sometimes it’s therapeutic to understand we are victims, but only if we learn to use that information to help us move on. If by removing the blame we also try to alleviate ourselves of the responsibility, we turn ourselves into selfish little monsters who go through life waiting on things to get better simply because the world owes us something.

Think about what the hip-hop industry has done to urban America. More than a genre of music, hip-hop is an excuse for continuing down a downward spiral. Brandon McGinley of The Daily Princetonian writes,

…hip-hop perpetuates a psychology of victimization that is not conducive to socioeconomic progress. Messages identifying a problem (often associated with a group of people, such as law enforcement) but providing few practical solutions serve only to deepen outrage with no constructive outlet for those boiling passions. Furthermore, it leads communities to wallow in self-pity rather than making concerted efforts to improve their circumstances within the confines of a very free and capitalist economy that is not tilted against them nearly as steeply as they are led to believe.

Another example is what is happening in the radical Islamic communities. Advocacy groups like the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) foment rage among their constituents by pouncing on anyone who says something that might be construed as insensitive and demonizing him as someone who wants to destroy the entire Islamic faith. By making young Muslims feel like victims and stifling the discussion about Islam, CAIR and groups like do nothing but create outrage and incite more violence in an already volatile world.

Churches are full of bitter people who cannot move on because somebody hurt them. What are they waiting for? An apology? Once that is given will they really be satisfied? The answer, more often than not, is no. Bitterness gets into the soul making it difficult for a person to reconcile his differences with others, even when they ask for forgiveness.

It’s important that we emphasize God’s willingness to forgive, but we rob ourselves of the ability to heal when we omit the commands to forgive others. There are two sides to forgiving past sin (Mt. 6:14-15). Only when we acknowledge them both do we find the peace we are seeking.

“Let all bitterness…be put away from you…” (Eph. 4:31).