Let’s get real.

I am a new mom.  My little bundle of joy is now 9 weeks old, and she came three and a half weeks early.  I have two sisters who have both had two children, I am involved in a small group and there have been three babies born in that group in the last 10 months.  I have a mom and a mother in law and a mentor.  And I am from the midwest, so almost all of my friends are married and have a few children.  You would think that with that type of community I would have had all of the support and insight needed to go through pregnancy – on top of my doctor’s input.

But yet, I got sick.  I try to take care of myself as best I can.  I run four to five days a week (I made it up to week 34 running) and I try to eat well.  But yet as I went through pregnancy I was terribly worn out.  I could not understand how I was such a wimp!  Everyone talked about the second trimester energy bump and how fun pregnancy was, but I was just sick and tired all of the time.

As I entered into the third trimester we found out that I had preeclampsia.  The doctor ultimately put me on bedrest and planned induction at 37 weeks, but I ended up delivering at 36 1/2.  My body was shutting down, the placenta was dying and the baby was at risk – she was not getting nutrients and had not grown in a few weeks.  No wonder I was exhausted.  The  closest anyone came to noticing was my parents.  They came into town to visit around 25 weeks and said that I looked bad.  Exactly what every pregnant woman wants to hear!  I told them that I was just pregnant and thought little of it.  I had never been pregnant before, I thought it was normal and that I was the weakest of my friends.

God has given us community for our Spiritual well-being and growth.  He has provided us with the local body of believers known as the Church to reach the world with the Gospel, but also to push one another on to maturity and to work together to glorify God and to fight sin.  We are all given different gifts and strength and they are given specifically to serve God by serving the Church (1 Cor 12).

“But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

– 1 Cor 12.7

We are commanded to look out for one another and to push one another on to holiness.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

And then we are given some really practical, yet strange sounding applications:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children

Titus 2.3-4

Have you not heard that every woman (and man), the moment they lay eyes on their newborn child immediately is overwhelmed by a love they never knew possible?  While this may not be the case for every parent who ever lived, it does seem funny that the blanket instruction for women in the church is that we need to be taught how to love our husbands and children.

Or is it?

Our culture is teaching us that love is essentially spoiling and unconditional affirmation, awarding effort instead of achievement and overall narcissism.  It takes very little mental effort to realize that we do, indeed, need to be taught how to love.  No marriage will survive if two individuals think that the other exists for their pleasure and service.  We must all learn how to put others before ourselves and die to ourselves.  We also must learn how to discipline when we want to spoil, encourage when we want to excuse and truly love our children by teaching them how to love God and love others.

But these things are not natural.  No one naturally dies to himself.  Therefore, the wise among us must know how to ask the right questions and diagnose the heart.  We need to develop Spiritual doctors among us, and we need to become them ourselves.  Only the doctor recognized and diagnosed my preeclampsia because she took my blood pressure, measured the baby, found unhealthy levels of protein in my urine and saw my face.  She knew the signs of the illness, she knew the potential consequences of the illness, and she knew how to give both me and the baby the best chance for survival.  My parents knew that I looked unwell but were unable to recognize the source of the problem and those who were closest to me who saw me get sicker little by little every day never noticed the problem.  Why?  Because it was gradual and they did not know the signs to look for or the questions to ask.  They are not doctors.  We actually do have one doctor in our small group Bible study, but he is not an ob-gyn and and he is not my doctor, so he never ran any tests on me, he never diagnosed the problem.

If we have never learned how to recognize, identify and fight sin in our own lives we are completely unable to help others fight sin.  If we have never learned how to die to ourselves and love one another Biblically, we will never be aware when our friends are selfish in their marriages or fail to love others well.  We must learn Spiritual maturity from those who have gone before us, apply it in our own lives, and pass it on to our community and others.  Paul shows such an example:

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

– 2 Tim 2.2

Our goal in learning is to apply truth to our own lives, and to teach it to others in such a way that they will be able to apply and also teach the truth.  We must have a multi-generational worldview in our Spiritual maturity and accountability.  We must recognize the signs of the sin, ask the right diagnostic questions and then set up a treatment plan to fight it and eradicate it from our lives.

This requires vulnerability.  It requires true community.  It requires transparency.  And it requires a varied level of maturity.  Unfortunately, many of our churches are creating pockets of like-minded and Spiritual peers.  Small groups are popping up all around the country that are full of really solid and mature Christians, or young and immature Christians.  We like people who are like us, and therefore the young adults have their own thing going while the seniors have theirs.  The youth are led by those adults who want to relive their glory years of High School or even worse – we train the youth to lead the youth.  Yes, there are spiritually adept 16 year olds, but a baby Christian will learn infinitely more from an adult who was successfully fought sin and developed a relationship with God after navigating High School than someone who is in the throws of the same temptations and struggles.  This is why older women who have already raised their children are commanded to speak into the lives of women with children.  Men who are addicted to porn will find more help with a man who has overcome the same sin than a man who is struggling with the same sin.

So let’s get real.  Let’s find those who are further down the path than we and learn from them.  Let’s also find those who are just starting down the path and utilize the skills we are learning to teach them.  Let’s learn to diagnose our own sin, teach others how to diagnose their sin as well, and walk in community in a way that recognizes the subtle signs of it – because we understand the consequences of it.

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

– John Owen

Why We Cannot Be Switzerland.

switzerland

Do you remember the childhood pacifist response to confrontation, “I am Switzerland!”  You could listen sympathetically to two friends who were mad at each other for any reason, but when a quarrel would break out in a large group the peace keepers would refuse to take sides, claiming to be neutral – like Switzerland always is – and just wait for the conflict to be resolved and everyone to be happy again.  This is a fairly safe method of conflict management for seven year-olds because rarely is the offense worthy of a life-long feud and while the reconciliation process might be lacking, the conflict is quickly forgotten by distraction.

What does last, however, is the implantation of the worldly worldview that it is best not to intervene.  Our young minds were molded into pacifism, cowardice and selfishness all because we were never trained to rightly and Biblically handle confrontation and sin.  We think if we bury our heads in the sand, someone else will figure it out.  We think that it is not our problem or business, so we turn our backs and ignore the situation.  We do not recognize the eternal consequences of the situation and just wait around for things to work themselves out.  We do not want to pick sides, try to befriend both sides, and end up with nothing in the end.

Does the Bible have anything to say about all of this?

Yes, actually.  It has a lot to say.  First of all, we must approach life, relationships and conflict in humility.  If we have been saved, then we have recognized our own sin, we have recognized the weight of that guilt, we have confessed our sins (and are continually confessing them) to God and to close friends, we are repenting of our sins, and we are forgiving those who offend us (Matt 6.12, 18.22).  If we all were capable of dying to ourselves at every moment and in every situation – putting one another first the way Scripture commands – this would be a non-conversation.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

 – Phil 2.3-4

Secondly, we must approach life, relationships and conflict in love.  It may feel like the loving thing to let people do whatever they want, but we all know that sometimes love intervenes.  Loving parents do not let children put themselves in harm’s way.  “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk”, right?  And we all know the intervention that is required to help a friend who has been allowed to destroy themselves for years.  But more importantly, we recognize that when someone’s heart has been hardened against repentance, his eternity is at stake (Heb 10.26).  This is why Scripture commands us to confront sin in one another, pushing one another on to holiness, and holding one another accountable.

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

 – Matt 18.15-17

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

 – Gal 6.1

“…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…”

 – Heb 10.24

Notice here, that Jesus does not say “If a brother sins against you”, but rather “if your brother sins”.  We often try to excuse ourselves from responsibility because we are not a part of the conflict.  But Jesus says no matter what, confront him so that we might see him repent and be restored and pulled back from the snares of the devil!  It is the loving thing to address sin, so as to help one another along the way to salvation.  We do this with greatest humility and tenderness, knowing that we ourselves are not perfect or above temptation:

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

 – Gal 6.1

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

 – Matt 7.3-5

Thirdly, we will be convicted to approach life, relationships and conflict when we understand God’s expectation of us:

“Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me.  When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.  Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself.  Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he will die; since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand.  However, if you have warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and you have delivered yourself.”

 – Ez 3.17-21

If we do not confront sin in our brothers and sisters, their blood is on our hands.  If love and compassion for our brother who is toying with his Spiritual walk and eternity will not drive us to say something, then perhaps the direct commandment from God and the consequence of forever having his blood on our hands will.

“Silence in the face of evil is evil itself:  God will not hold us guiltless.  Not to speak is to speak.  Not to act is to act.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

But how do we know?

Ok, so now we know that we are commanded to confront one another and it is the loving thing to do, how do we know what to say and when to say it?  To oversimplify, we take note of the unrepented sin.  As redeemed and forgiven children of God, we should not walk around looking to beat people up for mistakes and sins that they have committed.  Rather, when we observe that someone has given in to any sin, they have made peace with it, they are not changing from it.

What this means, first and foremost, is we must know what God calls and considers sin.  He is God, and He gets the final say.  Everything from murder to sexual immorality (lust, fooling around with someone and sex outside of marriage, pornography, adultery), to lying, to bitterness, pride and selfishness.

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

 – Gal 5.19-21

Secondly, this means that we recognize repentance is the key.  We will all stumble and fall into sins at times, we will all willingly choose to partake in sins at times, but the determining and damning factor is our response to that sin.  Do we make peace with it?  Do we enjoy it and continue in it?  Or do we recognize it, confess it and repent from it?  If you see someone repeatedly participate or give in to a sin, then we lovingly confront them and walk them through repentance holding them accountable.  If we see two friends fighting, and they are unable to come to resolution, then we confront the pride, bitterness and division – walking them through repentance and holding them accountable.  The expectation of God is not for us to simply point out sin in one another, but to actually enable and walk alongside one another to maturity.

We also understand that God is sanctifying us all differently and we are at different points in our Spiritual development and maturation.  So when we breach a topic of sin, we first pray and rely on the Holy Spirit’s leading, then we bring the Scripture with us – because the person may not yet know that his actions are indeed sinful!  The Holy Spirit might not have gotten there yet with him.  The person may not be hardened in sin, but immature.  This is no excuse, and it is still our role as brothers and sisters to confront and walk alongside.  This is also much easier than dealing with someone who has given in to sin and has hardened his heart against God and Scripture.

Finally, this means that we do take sides.  We take sides against sin.  So often we gloss over confrontation and division and desire to remain neutral, but Scripture teaches us that division itself is a sin (Gal 5.20).  Has a husband abandoned his wife?  That is a sin.  We stand up against that sin.  Has a wife had an affair on her husband?  That is a sin.  We stand up against that sin.  Is someone stealing from the Church or their job?  That is a sin.  We stand up against that sin.  Is someone proud, sleeping around, unforgiving or a gossip?  These are all sins.  We stand up against those sins.  It is very rare that a conflict is based purely on one person’s sin.  It does happen, though typically there is guilt on both sides.  What then?  We stand up against all sin, and we forgive, overlook and hold accountable the repentant.  Our hope and prayer is that all parties repent.  Our instruction is to push all parties to repentance, and to maintain the purity of the body by removing the unrepentant from among us.

Sin is no laughing matter.  It is, in fact, what merits our eternal damnation.  We must, in love, push one another on to holiness and for the sake of our own conscience and confront sin.  We do not want blood on our hands.  We do this all in love, all in humility, and all to the glory and honor of God, hoping that we maintain purity and holiness in our families, churches and communities.  Let us consider one another – better than ourselves – and hold one another accountable!

The call to love is not a choice.

tough love

Did you watch the Super Bowl this past Sunday?  Did you see the culmination point in which the entire stands were involved, holding rainbow-colored pieces of a warm and fuzzy mantra that read, “Believe in love”?  For generations, Americans have believed that simple love would solve every political and social problem we have.  “All you need is love” was written to give the world a message during the sixties, and countless love-enthusiasts pushed back against the Vietnam war proclaiming “Make love not war”.

It all sounds good in theory, but unfortunately we all have varying opinions of what love actually is, and we all have a conscience and morality by which we value justice.  Even if we can agree that love seeks a person’s best, and therefore does not necessarily give another what he wants but what he needs, people can disagree on what exactly a person needs!  Love alone does not answer all of those intricacies.

Thankfully, we have the Bible to direct and guide us.  In Scripture, we learn fundamentally that God is love (1 John 4.8).  He has been love since the beginning, and every aspect of life on Earth is a reflection of His love for Himself and His love for His people.  He uses every circumstance to work things out for our best and for His glory (Rom 8.28).  Sometimes we wish we could change our circumstances, but when we recognize God’s sovereignty and nature, we come to realize that He has something planned which we simply may not yet understand.

Because God is love, when we come to understand His love through salvation, we are commanded to love.  The apostle John is poignantly and painfully clear on the fact that when a person is saved by God, the natural response will be an outpouring of God’s love for God, for brothers and sisters in Christ, and for the lost.  He states, in fact, that if we do not love, then we do not know God:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

– 1 John 4.7-8

And this is not simply a a character assessment.  He narrows it down to even one person:

“The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now.  The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.”

– 1 John 2.9-10

If there is one person whom we are incapable of or willing to love, then we are in the darkness.

This is one reason the Scriptures weigh heavily on our obedience and intentionality to die to ourselves and work on our salvation (Phil 2.12).  If we simply coast, we will not fight back against bitterness, jealously, envy and strife.  If we do not keep our emotions and actions in check, we will fall into those normal pitfalls and justify our wicked hearts and actions.  Anyone would hate her rapist, the murderer of his child or the one who stole his job, right?

Everytime I am tempted to justify my bad attitude, my ill feelings of another person, I remember that Jesus loved and cared for the people who were murdering Him.  If Jesus can love those people, and we are called to follow His example, then I am not justified in hating someone who stepped on my toes or who hurt my pride.  We are commanded:

“Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…”

– Heb 12.15

The root of bitterness is so sly.  Unless we are intentionally loving someone, hurt feelings or distrust can quickly turn to a twinge of bitterness.  And any small inkling of bitterness will only grow unless purposefully rooted out.

But does that mean we should let people walk all over us?  Are we just doormats who get taken advantage of, and we smile all the while?  No.  Absolutely not.  In fact, Scripture teaches us plainly and clearly how we are to handle sin.

First of all, Jesus commands us to love God with everything we have (Matt 22.37).  Secondly, we love one another – namely, the Church (Matt 22.39, Gal 6.9-10).  Lastly, we love a lost world, and your enemies (Luke 6.27).  The way we love God is different from the way we love other believers, and the way we love other believers is different than the way we love the lost and our enemies.  We love God by submission and absolute trust.  He is our Lord, He is in charge, and we submit to His authority and His leadership.

We love one another by pushing one another on to holiness (Heb 10.24).  Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matt 22.39).  This means that our first and primary concern is their Spiritual well being and maturity, while our secondary concerns would be meeting physical needs:  food, clothing, a place to sleep, a job.  A brother or sister in Christ is someone who has confessed belief in Jesus Christ for salvation and calls himself a believer.  Such a person needs accountability in his walk with Christ and every day life.  We all need that.  Thus, we do not tolerate sin and we help one another conquer sin.

We love our enemies by recognizing that they have not yet understood the Gospel and have not yet submitted themselves to Jesus Christ for salvation.  In the same heart as loving our brothers and sisters, our primary concern is their Spiritual well fare – and this simply means their salvation.  Since they do not yet know Jesus, it serves us no good to fight against any of their sins because until they are saved they are Spiritually dead.  Putting makeup on dead people will not help them out eternally.  So we love them by trying to introduce them to Jesus, and also helping meet their physical needs to the best of our ability.

God is so concerned about our loving one another that He even gives us instructions for how we are to handle a person who claims to be a Christian, but yet will not submit to God’s commandments:

“But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.”

– 1 Cor 5.11

Jesus teaches us that if a “brother” sins against us or we catch him in sin, we should confront him privately.  If he confesses his sin and repents, then it is over and we have gained our brother.  If he will not confess and repent, then we should take one or two trusted people with us to confront him.  If he confesses his sin and repents, then it is over and we have gained our brother.  If he will not confess and repent, then we should take it to the church.  If he confesses his sin and repents, then it is over and we have gained our brother.  If he will not confess and repent, then we should remove him from the church and completely disassociate with him (Matt 18.15-17).

Repentance and humility are the key.  None of us is perfect and none of us will be completely without sin – this side of Heaven.  The problem is not the fact that we will all sin, the problem is choosing to embrace sin and an unwillingness to submit to God as Lord over our lives.  God gets to define sin, we must submit to Him.  If we do not submit to Him, then He is not our Lord and we are not saved.  Thus, if someone can be confronted four times without repentance, he is proving himself to not be a believer.

We disassociate ourselves with such a one because he already knows the truth, and it is up to God alone to work in his heart for conviction.  Thus we understand Paul’s teaching more clearly:

“I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.  But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.  For what have I to do with judging outsiders?  Do you not judge those who are within the church?  But those who are outside, God judges.  Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”

– 1 Cor 5.9-15

We must associate with non-believers who act like the world, in order to show them the love of God and win them to salvation!  We must not, however, associate with those who know the Truth and continue to live like the world willfully and in light of confrontation.  We must be concerned with the purity of the body of Christ, because we love God first.  Again, this does not mean that we are perfect, it means that we confess and repent from our sins when we commit them and/or when someone confronts us in them.

Is it then unloving to disassociate with a false brother who is established in sin?  Absolutely not.  We do this out of love for them, to show them the severity and penalty of sin.  God does not tolerate sin, and we long for their repentance so that they can be right with God.  If they will not walk away from it, them we disassociate with them until they do.  The moment they repent, we welcome them back with an embrace – the same way the father received the prodigal son.  We should and may never disassociate with someone out of bitterness or anger, that would be sin on the part of the body.  It must always be out of brokenness, love and with a Spirit of humility, praying for the restoration of such a one.

God is love, and we are commanded to love as He has loved.  This does not simply mean making everyone happy, it means pursuing everyone’s Spiritual best.  How is your Spiritual walk today?  Are you making peace with any sin?  Are you choosing not to love anyone?  Is there anyone in your body who needs to be confronted?  Are you choosing to disassociate with someone who is in unrepentant sin for the sake of their salvation?  Or are you still friends because it’s just not that big of a deal?

Let’s love.  Let’s love boldly.  Let’s pursue one another’s and the world’s Spiritual best, and that in the way God commanded us.

So you had an affair. Now what?

restoration

Yesterday I wrote from the offended spouse’s position on adultery.  But there are two sides to every story.  There are two players in marriage.  If one spouse is cheated on, then the other spouse is the one who cheated.  If you have come to God for salvation, confessed your sins and begun a Spiritual walk with Him, then chances are high that the Holy Spirit has been all over you throughout your experience of infidelity.  As with most sin, it did not start big, some naked woman did not just jump in your bed.  Perhaps a love scene in a movie caught your attention and you curiously sought out pornography, which after a while could no longer satisfy your desires so you sought out a living person.  Perhaps you reconnected with an old friend on Facebook, and after a few messages decided to meet up just to check in and say hi.  Perhaps you found yourself at lunch at the same restaurant as that hottie at work, and both being alone you decided to sit together and slowly lunch became a habit, and then lunch turned into a relationship.  Yes, it is possible that you intentionally went out looking for a rush outside of your marriage, but much more common is the “it just happened” story.

The first step in moving past any infraction is the recognition of the sin.  God says that any infidelity is sin:  fornication, pornography, a one-night stand, an ongoing affair and even lust.  We all feel badly when we get caught in our sin, and thus we must examine ourselves to see if our sorrow and grief is because we got caught or because we recognize our sin and its offense to God.

We also cannot justify ourselves in our sin.  There is no excuse before God for any sin, and that includes infidelity.  Will your spouse not be with you?  Perhaps you are serving in the military and are serving overseas for long periods of time.  Perhaps your spouse is incapable for the time because of an illness or injury.  There is always a back story, and usually a reason that some people might use to appease their guilt, but when you have fallen into sin it is of utmost importance that we recognize it, confess it, and leave it there.  God does not justify the guilty, nor should we.

“He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous,
Both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.”

– Prov 17.15

After we have confessed our sin, we then begin the long process of restoration.  Unfortunately, in the church today, adultery and divorce are the scarlet letter from which people are rarely restored.  Usually such a one will have to find a fresh start, move somewhere where no one knows him, find a new job and new church, and keep his secret until enough years have passed that he has proven himself “of good reputation”.  But this time of restoration and reconciliation is one of the greatest privileges and benefits of the Church body.  If your church is harsh and judgmental towards a repentant sinner, then spearhead the change!  Everyone who has been forgiven must forgive one another when they repent.  The greater we recognize our own guilt and condemnation before God, the more we can pour out grace on one another and push one another on to holiness.

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

– Matt 6.14-15

“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

– Luke 7.47

Scripture teaches us that sexual sin is indeed a “special” sin, in that by doing it you sin against your own physical body.

“Flee immorality.  Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.”

– 1 Cor 6.18

It is also the primary offense which allows people to divorce their spouses (Matt 5.32).  But it is not special in the sense that it will bring any extra judgment or disqualification upon you.  If a person has broken any of the Law of God, he is guilty – and that unto eternal damnation  – be it lying, greed, murder or infidelity (James 2.10).

Therefore, once we recognize and confess our sin, we must also recognize that there is nothing that can separate us from God, no sin that He will not forgive, and no sin that can forever disqualify us from serving Him.  Perhaps the most beautiful example of this reality is King David.  He was God’s chosen man, he served God tirelessly throughout the years that he was waiting to be appointed as king after Saul.  God blessed him, and he prospered. While the nation was at war, he saw another man’s wife taking a bath and he called to have her brought to the palace.  He slept with her and she became pregnant.  In an effort to try to cover up his sin, he had her husband brought home from battle so that he could sleep with her and believe the baby to be his, but the man was so honorable that he would not be with his wife while his men were fighting.  David’s response?  He had him killed.  That way he could marry the woman and have her for himself.  After all of this had taken place, David confessed his sin and repented, and while there were consequences for his sin, he was still king and still called, by God, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam 13.14).

Now, even if you have been engaged in an ongoing affair, I highly doubt that you have had your partner’s spouse murdered to cover up your affair.  And if you have, then there is still hope for you!

God can and will restore anyone who repents from his sin.

Before we move directly into fighting the sin, the offending spouse must also recognize that this is indeed grounds for divorce.  The offended spouse is required to forgive the offending spouse, but the trust may be broken to the point that the offended spouse chooses to leave, and is Biblically free to do so.  This is simply the consequence of the sin that the offender must be prepared to accept.  If the offended spouse does not choose to leave, then the road to restoration will probably be a long one.

Moving forward will require trust to be rebuilt and temptations to be fought.  Accountability and instruction will be key here.  In short:  get help.  We are given the body of Christ to hold one another up, to push one another on, and to help one another out.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

 – Heb 10.23-25

Chances are extremely high that there is someone in your church who has walked where you are walking.  Whether your marriage has remained together or not, if there is any variation in demographic within your body, someone has fallen and been restored.  If not, then your pastor will know of someone, or a solid counselor.  Confess your sin to such a one:  someone who can help you grow and hold you accountable.  And then set for yourself a structure of accountability.  When someone else knows your sin, you are much less likely to commit it again.  And when you know someone will be asking you directly about your temptations and weaknesses, you are even less likely to give in.

Replace the sin with something God honoring.  If you have been indulging in pornography, focus that time and energy into getting to know and enjoy your spouse again.  Find a hobby, pursue your spouse or pray.  We must have a “go to” when we are tempted.  The immediate response should be claiming the promises of Scripture and prayer to redirect our minds and hearts, and then another activity in its place.  If you intentionally fight for your marriage in the wake of those desires, you will achieve the goal:  restoration.

Understand also that trust takes time to be rebuilt, and you will need to be an open book to your spouse.  Answer any questions they have, and allow time to grieve.  If the offended spouse does choose to remain in the marriage, the expectation is to forgive.  The affair cannot be held over the head of the offending spouse forever, there must come a time when the marriage moves on.  The offended spouse will probably find help and counseling from the spouse of the person who is counseling you.  Meet as a couple with that couple who has found victory.  Or meet as a couple with a counselor or pastor.  Reconciliation is two sided and unforgiveness is not acceptable.  The offending spouse, however, cannot lord this over the offended spouse.  Patience will be key.

There are many books that have been written on the topic, and it is not my intention to exhaustively walk a marriage through restoration.  Simply to note that infidelity is quite common, even within the Church, and there is hope both for the marriage and for forgiveness.

It used to be believe that once someone has broken his vow of marriage, he is forever of ill repute.  The pious would quote the guidelines for Church leadership and automatically disqualify anyone (and usually only those) who has fallen into sexual sin.

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.”

 – 1 Tim 3.2-3

Some would even go so far as to say that the offended spouse, after choosing to leave the marriage, would forever be disqualified from serving God for having been divorced.  They would say, “You are no longer above reproach” – forever.  I have heard this very statement with my own ears.   Isn’t interesting that to such a one, the God of all grace can forgive every sin except infidelity?  And such a one would label divorce the unpardonable sin, when God Himself is the one who gave us instructions for how to rightly utilize divorce?

Do not listen to such a one.  In fact, run hard the opposite direction if someone tries to tell you that you are no longer fit to serve God.  Yes, it will take time for your reputation to be restored and for your office to be returned, but in the same way God loved, kept, forgave and used King David, He can and will love, keep, forgive and use anyone who repents.

This is a very serious sin, but God is infinitely bigger and is not shocked.  He can forgive; He will restore anyone who turns to Him.

Bear One Another’s Burdens

bear burdens

The community of faith is one of the greatest blessings God has given us in the local Church.  We meet for weekly worship, we gather for Bible study and community, and we rally around one another in the midst of a crisis or life change.  Meal trains are established after surgeries and babies, and those most intimate communities pull together finances for one another when a sudden need or trauma arises.

We bear one another’s burdens.  
Or at least we should.

But have you ever stopped to consider the context of that commandment in Scripture?  Where Paul teaches us to bear one another’s burdens?

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.  For each one will bear his own load.”

– Gal 6.1-5

It is good and right that we know one another well enough and that we care for each other enough to help meet needs and comfort one another during times of difficulty and suffering.  God is a God of comfort, and He gives us one another to help ease some of our momentary suffering (2 Cor 1.3).  He loves His Church, we are His bride, and we are commanded to look out for the needs of those within our local body first.  Before we seek to meet the needs of those outside of our body and the unsaved:

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.  So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.

– Gal 6.9-10

This is not permission to overlook anyone, we are indeed commanded to take go the extra mile for anyone who would take advantage of us, to love our enemies, to meet the needs of the poor (within and without of the Church), but just as Christ’s first priority is the Church, so should our’s be.

The context of this specific command, which we so regularly quote, however, is to bear one another’s burdens of sin.  John Piper eloquently teaches us,

“A sinful act is vastly more harmful that any…other burden, and if [we] love them, [we] will not only comfort them in their troubles, but confront them in their sin.”

For most of us it is easy to go visit someone in the hospital and take meals to a family who is struggling or expending their energy taking care of a sick family member.  For many of us it is easy to listen, offer a hug, and to console someone who is suffering a loss of some sort.  But not everyone in the Church who is bearing a burden is a victim.  Some people are bearing the consequences of their sin.  Some people are stuck in an habitual sin.  And sin is the most dangerous burden, and that from which we should be most intensely seeking to help one another escape.

Scripture is clear that if we continue in sin after confessing Jesus as our Lord, there is no hope for us.  This is a terrifying situation:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

Therefore, if we have been commanded to do good and to take care of the body of the Church first, and if the greatest threat to our well being is sin, then we must be diligent about confronting our own sin and holding one another accountable.  It is the greatest act of love – from a fellow Christian – to help me in my sanctification process and to conquer a sin.  We should never just write a brother off, we should never simply react to one another’s sin, we should never refrain from saying anything out of fear, or because “it’s just not my business”.  It is your business.  It is my business.

Is someone in your community stuck in a sin, or blind to a sin in his life?  It is your responsibility to humbly, in love, help bear that burden.  And when someone approaches you to confront a sin to which you are blind or needing help to conquer, remember that this is the greatest act of love a fellow Christian can give you.  He is looking out for your soul and eternal well being.  Let us embrace accountability and community.  Let us press one another on to good works and maturity.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…”

– Heb 10.23-24

 

Keep fervent in your love

community1

“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”

– 1 Peter 4.8

Perhaps the most direct and difficult commandments of the Bible have to do with love.  The Old Testament Law is written on the foundation of loving God with all of our hearts, minds and strength (Deut 6.5, Matt 22.37).  And beyond that, Jesus commands us to love one another in the same way we love ourselves.

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

– Matt 22.39

Scripture gives us a wide array of teachings on love, to help us understand how exactly we can (and should) love one another as ourselves.  Most of us give ourselves a lot of leeway and grace.  Did you overreact in that situation, did you indulge that pesky sin?  Have you allowed an aspect of your personality to get overgrown or annoying?  Are you so far down the path of rebellion, pride or ego that you cannot even see it anymore?

Insomuch as we feed our own indulgences and make allowances for putting our feet in our mouths, or “slipping up”, we should give grace to one another when our friends, neighbors or acquaintances when they put their feet in their mouths, slip up, or engage in that particularly annoying habit.  We must be fervent in our love for one another and let love cover a multitude of sins.

There are times when we must confront ourselves in our own sin and when we must confront one another.  The most loving thing we can do for ourselves and others is to seek Spiritual well being, and if I have a blind spot in my life, I need others to point it out.  If you have a blind spot in your life, it is necessary for your friends to point it out to you.  If someone in your life is continually practicing a sin, it is your God-given responsibility hold them accountable and help them grown and mature.

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”

– Gal 6.1-2

When we confront sin in someone else, we must also be mindful of ourselves and our own sin.  None of us will ever be perfect and without sin, therefore it will always be sinful people confronting other sinful people.  We often shy away from that confrontation asking ourselves, “Who am I to call him out?” considering our own tendencies and sinfulness to be grounds of disqualification for holding others accountable.  But Scripture is clear:  we must hold one another accountable and all the while considering our own tendencies so that we will not be tempted too.  We are gentle, understanding and compassionate in our efforts because we, too, fall into temptation so easily.

Love.  This is the outworking and the fruit of love, to push one another on to holiness.

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”

– 1 Cor 13.1-3

Without love we are nothing.  We can preform great acts and accomplish much, but unless we are rooted in and driven by the love of God, we are nothing.

Do you love God today?  Do you love your neighbor?  No one has to teach us how to love ourselves; we are constantly seeking our own best and our own interests.  But let us consider that measure by which we love ourselves and examine if that is the same measure by which we love one another.  Cover a multitude of sins.  Seek one another’s best interests.  Hold one another accountable.  Be humble.  And make allowance for one another.

Loneliness in the Church

grieving

Christianity today, by in large, has missed the boat on the topic of sin.  As a culture we have determined that everyone has not only the ability, but the right to define truth and their own morality.  Consequentially Christians are no longer defining the problem of sin and damnation as that form which we need saving, but simply offer Jesus and salvation as a bonus and eternal security.  Gone are the days of preaching Hell, fire and brimstone, and now are the days of the prosperity Gospel.  We believe that we are fundamentally good beings and adding Jesus into our lives will secure success and happiness.

Such a worldview and belief system leaves us exceptionally lonely, however.  Because when we come to Jesus for salvation, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within our lives, and the role of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin and righteousness and live through us so that we die to our sin and become more like Jesus, more holy, throughout our daily lives.

“And [the Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

So we all have a sin problem, and the Holy Spirit is revealing that problem to us daily, but yet we are left in a situation where we are unable to confess that problem and find accountability and comaraderie in working through it.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said most profoundly:

“It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness.  The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners.  The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner.  So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship.  We dare not be sinners.  Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners.”

-Bonhoeffer

We are all sinners.  “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3.23).  And while we are constantly fighting against our sin by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are given the body – the Church – to help us along in that fight.  We are commanded to confess our sins to one another:

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

– James 5.16

We see throughout the New Testament that there are still times when people are suffering illnesses and even death because of their sin.  Paul taught that many were sick and dying for taking the Lord’s Supper with the wrong heart (1 Cor 11.30), and Ananias and Sapphira died for lying about the percentage of revenue that they gave to the church (Acts 5).  And James teaches us that the confession of sin and the prayer of the faithful brother can heal and restore one who has sinned.

We know that when we do sin that we have an advocate in Jesus Christ who stands before the Lord and declares that sin covered by His blood:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

But until we confess to one another our weakness, our failures and our sins, we will never find the level of intimacy and accountability that Christ expects from the body.  We are playing games and we are lying to one another.

Now, I am not saying that we need to be unwise with our emotions and hearts.  Scripture also teaches us to guard our hearts diligently:

“Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.”

– Prov 4.23

There are people in the Church who are non believers – wolves in sheep’s clothing – who will destroy the church.  There are those who will gossip, those who will not forgive and harbor bitterness, and those who will take your confession and condemn you.  Jesus has forgiven us our sin, and in Him there is no longer any condemnation:

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

– Rom 8.1

Therefore, we must be confident that the person in whom we are confiding is one who will hear our confession as Jesus does:  condemning the sin, forgiving the believer, and helping to establish methods for keeping the penitent from falling into the same sin again.

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness;each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

– Gal 6.1-3

This accountability is beautiful and of utmost importance.  Our souls depend on it.  Scripture teaches us that if we continue in sin after claiming Jesus for salvation, there is no hope for us:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

But if we find brothers and sisters in Christ whom we can trust, confess our sins to one another, pray for one another, hold one another accountable, then we can fight well the fight of faith as a body and as a community.  Until that point we will remain alone.  We will be blinded to some of our sins.  We will believe the lies that others around us do not struggle with sin, and we will either condemn ourselves or justify ourselves – neither of which finds favor with God.

So let’s get real.  Find those friends.  Engage in a body of believers and open up.  There is healing.  There is community.  There is accountability.  And we will find strength and encouragement by helping one another press on to the goal of righteousness and godliness.  And the love of a Christian brother will cover and encourage us.

“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”

– 1 Peter 4.8

Where two or three are gathered…

huddle

God has blessed believers with a wonderful form of community known as the Church.  There is the Universal Church which encompasses every believer who has ever and will ever live, and there is also the Local Church, those believers who live geographically near enough to one another to gather corporately to worship, study, serve and make disciples.  Some people hate the church.  They have this ill-conceived notion that if someone goes to church, he must be perfect and is disappointed when that person is not perfect.  Some people hate the church because they hate authority and they think that faith and religion is personal – not meant to be practiced corporately or with accountability.  But if you are a Christian, God has created you to be a part of the Church and given you a special gift and role in to play in the body.  Jesus is the head, and you are a body part.

Many, when considering the Church, quote Jesus in an effort to claim His authority or His presence in their agenda.  We all know the verse well, and when someone begins the sentence, often times we finish the thought or stop listening because the point has been made:

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

– Matt 18.20

But have you ever stepped back to examine the context of this passage?  We quote it most often in prayer meetings and mission trips.  Here we are, setting out to do something great for God or to pray and ask something of God, and we are going to affirm ourselves that we will be successful because there are at least two of us.  Therefore Jesus is in our midst.  We cannot fail.

But Jesus made this profound statement at the end of His outline for Church discipline.  A person who calls himself a believer has sinned.  Jesus commands us to go to that person one-on-one and confront him about the sin.  If he repents, then the issue is over.  If he will not repent, then the confronter is instructed to take two or three others with him to confront the sin again.  This ties into and relies on the foundation of the Mosaic Law – that no one could be condemned on the witness of one person alone – there must be two or three.  It also works directly with the human conscience.  If a group of trusted friends points out a sin or pitfall in one’s life, it is difficult to refuse and not listen to a group whereas you can just shut out one friend.

Lastly, if he will not listen to a group, then Jesus commands us to take it to the church.  This level of accountability shows publicly that the person is either unwilling to submit to God’s law and definition of sin and therefore not a believer, or this person will repent and change when the entire church knows of his sin.

Jesus gave us this outline so that we would protect one another from allowing sin to take root in our lives, and He also gave us this instruction to help weed out false believers:  wolves in sheep’s clothing.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin, and if we do not respond when someone confronts us about a sin in our lives, then we are proving the Holy Spirit to not be active in our lives (John 16.8).  We are not born again.

Jesus says,

“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

– Matt 18.17

In short, kick him out.  Have nothing to do with him.  Paul says that this is turning him over to Satan, with the hopes that he will repent and be saved (1 Cor 5.5).  But Paul also defines this exclusion as not even eating with such a one (1 Cor 5.11).

Now, Jesus knows that this is difficult.  It is hard for us to condemn someone and kick them out.  We see our own guilt, we have compassion, we are friends with this person.  It is not, and it should not be an easy thing to kick someone out of the church.  And because of the gravity of such an event, Jesus affirms us:

“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.  Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.  For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

– Matt 18.18-20

Jesus gives the church a level of authority in the Spiritual realm.  Spiritual accountability and repentance is always the goal within our community and relationships.  God gave us one another to encourage and exhort one another while serving the poor and making disciples.  And if we see that one is not submitting to God, we must “bind him”, we declare him as not one of us, and we must “loose him”, we remove him from the church – all with the hopes that this will lead to his salvation.

This is a blessing.  If someone is functioning in the church and is not a believer, but we are too afraid to call him out for his sin, then he might live an entire lifetime convinced that he is saved and going to Heaven when he dies.  He will be devastated on judgment day when Jesus says, “Depart from me, I never knew you” (Matt 7.21-23).  But if this person is held accountable, then he has an opportunity to be saved and to be made right with God before meeting Jesus as the judgment seat.

This is why Jesus affirms us as two or three to hold accountable a brother.  When we stand up against sin, Jesus has our back.  We are not guaranteed that the response will be repentance and restoration, but we are guaranteed that we stand on Scripture and when we fight against sin as a unified body, He will support and endorse it.  Standing up for Biblical truth will be honored and upheld both on Earth and in Heaven.

Scripture does indeed teach us that when we are born again that the Holy Spirit resides within us.

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

– 1 Cor 3.16

“I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”

– Ez 36.27

“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

– Rom 8.11

And we know that when we gather as a body that we are honoring God and fulfilling part of our purpose.  But the promise of Jesus in our midst, affirming our decisions and actions is given to encourage us when standing up to fight sin in one another’s lives.  He does not give us a flippant approval just by nature of gathering together.  He does not say that we will be successful just because we are working together with other believers.  He promises to uphold His standards and statutes and will fight against sin boldly, with us.

So let us gather with other believers.  Let us be vulnerable with our community.  Let us confess sins and allow the Holy Spirit to convict us and change us.  And let us follow the outlines that Jesus gave us for holding one another accountable so that many will be saved.  And let us claim with joy and thanksgiving the promise that Jesus supports accountability.

And let us also be careful how and when we claim Jesus’ authority.  Many have been hurt and disappointed by not understanding well His promise and provision.  Let us ask Jesus to reveal to you His will, His path, His plan.  Let us not assume His blessing just because a few of us have united in pursuit of a specific goal.

When Jesus Won’t Forgive You.

forgiveness

As Christians, we like to give ourselves a lot of leniency.  We claim boldly the wonderful offer of grace and forgiveness, yet sometimes forget the price that was paid so that we ourselves could be forgiven.  We forget that it is only because Jesus humbled Himself to the point of becoming a man, taking on flesh, and suffering physical and Spiritual death that we can be forgiven and welcomed into the presence of God (Phil 2).  And in that spirit of leniency, we allow room for ourselves to not offer grace to the extent that we have been shown.  Jesus, however, gives the harshest and most terrifying of stipulations on that very point:

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

– Matt 6.14-15

We must be diligent when we read Scripture to place it in the context of the Bible as a whole, and in the context of the passage.  Otherwise we can distort the Truth and end up believing heresies.  For example, we know that grace is a free gift from God and that there is nothing we can do to earn it (Eph 2.8-9, Rom 6.23).  But this teaching of Jesus implies that we earn our forgiveness by forgiving one another.  We will never and can never earn our salvation and forgiveness from God.  What Jesus is teaching here is the sobering reality that anyone who has been forgiven by God will forgive others.  We will prove that we have repented and been forgiven by forgiving others.

When we hear the Gospel, we must understand it in its fullness.  We must grasp the reality that we have sinned (Rom 3.23), and that the just punishment for sin is death and damnation (Rom 6.23).  We cannot repent and be saved until we realize our sinfulness and the penalty for it.  The moment we realize that there is no hope for our souls, but then we see Jesus crucified and raised from the dead in our place, we receive that free gift of salvation and we repent.  We die to our flesh.  We allow the Spirit to lead us to quit sinning, and to confess our sins in brokenness when we do sin.

Ultimately, when we have been through that Spiritual process of grasping the weight of our own sin, confessing it, repenting from it and accepting God’s magnificent gift of forgiveness, there is no way that we can not forgive someone else when they sin against us.  If you have been forgiven by God, you will forgive others.  It is only by having not walked that path of repentance and confession that you can harbor a grudge.  Because there is no sin that someone can commit against you that is greater than the burden of sins you have committed against God.

No one can sin against me more deeply than I have sinned against God.
And God forgave me.
Therefore I must forgive those who sin against me.
If I refuse to forgive someone, it proves that I have not been forgiven by God.
I am still lost.

Now, forgiveness is a tricky bird.  There are people who have not been forgiven by God, even though He offers forgiveness to everyone.  What is the determining factor?  We must ask.  We must confess.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

– 1 John 1.9

“Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away…”

– Acts 3.19

Our sins are not forgiven us until we confess them.  Our sins are not wiped away until we repent and return.  If there were not a condition on forgiveness, then no one would go to Hell.  Jesus’ death would cover everyone.  But Jesus did not die for everyone, His death covers only those who repent and confess.  Those who do not repent and confess their sins will go to Hell, because the wages of sin is death.  Jesus will forgive anyone who asks.  We have only to ask.

And not only that, Jesus gave us very clear (and difficult) instructions on how to handle someone who claims to be a believer but will not repent for his sins:  He teaches us to kick them out of the church (Matt 18.15-18).  Paul says we should disassociate with them to the point that we will not even go out to eat with them (1 Cor 5.5, 11).  The reason for taking such an extreme approach here is because such a person knows the Truth.  They can recite the Gospel.  They even claim to believe it and to be a Christian.  But the fruit of their hearts reveals them to be unbelievers, and thus they are wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7.15), they are false prophets (2 Peter 2.1), and they will destroy the Church by leading people astray (Matt 24.24).  They will tell us what we want to hear so that we can live how we want to live with a false assurance of salvation (2 Tim 4.3-4).

As Christians we should continue to eat with those who are not Christians and claim to not be Christians, because these people need to hear the Gospel and these people might still be saved.  It is still possible for the person who has been removed from the Church to be saved, too, and Paul teaches us that it is in fact for the hope of their salvation that they would be disciplined by being removed from the Church (1 Cor 5.5).  Our ultimate goal in everything that we do is to exemplify the Gospel and to see people saved.  For those who do not claim Christ through reasoning and prayer, and for those who falsely claim Christ by distance, discipline and prayer.

This is what separated many of the Pharisees from the penitent.  This is why Jesus hung out with repentant people:  both pharisees and what many considered sinners.  And it is because of this reality that Jesus taught plainly:

“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

– Luke 7.47

If you understand the weight of your salvation, you will forgive others.  It is only by not understanding the forgiveness offered that one can harbor bitterness and not forgive.

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

– Eph 4.31

Therefore, let our hearts and attitudes towards those who have offended us be a test by which we examine ourselves.  We are instructed:

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”

– 2 Cor 13.5

It would be a terrible thing to think that we have been forgiven and to think that we are Christians, and arrive at the judgment seat to find out that we never were saved.  And this is one test by which we can examine our salvation:  Do we forgive others?  Are we ready and willing to forgive others when they ask?  Or do we harbor bitterness, and therefore set our righteousness and worth above Jesus’?  An unforgiving Spirit fundamentally says, “this offense against me is greater than any offense that Jesus has forgiven”.  And we all know that Jesus has willingly forgiven every sin under the sun, including murder, adultery, theft, deceit, abandonment, and anything you can name.  Jesus said that if we are unwilling to forgive, we prove ourselves to have never been forgiven.  Therefore let us become people of grace and forgiveness, let us prove ourselves to know God.  Let us confess our sins to one another and let us forgive.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

– James 5.16