The Keys to a True Apology

apology

Most of us have learned – somewhere along life’s path – that a true apology always includes a few things:

  1. An expression of remorse (“I am sorry”)
  2. An acknowledgement of the wrong or offense  (Verbalizing how the offender wronged the offended utilizing empathy to acknowledge and validate the offended’s feelings)
  3. An acknowledgement of responsibility (“It was my fault”, or “I was wrong”)
  4. An expressed plan to change (I will not do this again, and this is how I will be held accountable)
  5. An offer of restitution (“I will make it up to you by…”)
  6. A request for forgiveness

Few of us follow the mental checklist when we are in the heart of a disagreement or are trying to make peace, but after learning how to restore a relationship in this healthy manner we are keenly aware when we receive (or give) a false apology.  It is like the stubborn toddler that the mother forces to “say sorry” when he steals a toy or hits his sister.  As we grow older, however, our false apologies become a bit more suave.  We “say sorry”, but assign the guilt to the offended:  “I’m sorry if I hurt you somehow…” and make excuses, “It was not my intention to offend you”.  While it may be true that it was not our intention to hurt or offend someone, true sorrow recognizes the pain of the other party and seeks to make it better, not justify himself.

It is possible for the offended party to hear true remorse and in spite of being validated in their feelings, offered restitution and asked for forgiveness to choose not to forgive.  And once bitterness has established a deep root it only becomes more difficult.  This is one reason we must be able to recognize broken relationships and make every effort to restore them quickly.  Bitterness and unforgiveness are also offenses, and thus it typically happens that when a confrontation or problem occurs, both parties need to practice the steps of an apology in order for the relationship to be restored.

Mature adults, and well socialized children have learned the interpersonal skill of a true apology.  Surprisingly, however, the skill is not as widely grasped as one would hope.  Many people skirt through life, floating from relationship to relationship and leaving behind any and all who have hurt them.  Some people and families have mastered the art of “moving on” – simply pretending the problem never occurred and “letting it go”.  (Yes, it is also a healthy skill to learn to forgive when an offense was clearly unintentional, or the value of the relationship is greater than the weight of the offense.)  Some people just verbalize “I’m sorry” without validating the other person’s hurt or offering restitution or a plan to change – and thus remain in a cycle of hurting one another.

This confession process, however, is also the pivotal point on which salvation hangs.  It is what Christians call “repentance”.  Scripture teaches us that there are two kinds of sorrow:  one that is a guilt rooted in pride – sorrow for having been caught in sin or sorrow for one’s reputation being tainted, and one that is rooted in humility – sorrow for having sinned against God and for being the cause of Jesus’ suffering.

“For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while—I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.  For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.”

– 2 Cor 7.8-10

Godly sorrow recognizes one’s wicked heart and is broken over it.  Worldly sorrow recognizes only the punishment or the ramifications to one’s reputation and just wants a get-out-of-jail-free card.  Godly sorrow leads to deep, profound change.  Worldly sorrow leads to escapism, self-justification, and tactics by which one can save face.  Godly sorrow leads to repentance, and repentance requires not only the apology, but the confession of guilt, the seeking to make restoration, and the earnest effort to change.  Simply saying “I’m sorry” or asking God to forgive us and accept us does not exemplify the heart that is broken in humility before God.

This is why Scripture teaches us that even though we are free in Christ, we cannot use our freedom as an opportunity to sin:

“Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.”

– 1 Peter 2.16

In short, we cannot make up our minds to sin and expect God to forgive us.  We cannot decide to go rob a bank and think, “I will just repent later”.  We cannot look at pornography, cheat on our spouse or file for divorce and assume God’s forgiveness while we are continuing in that sin process.  True repentance recognizes personal guilt, seeks to make right what is wrong and takes responsibility to change.  God can forgive the bank robber or adulterer, but part of his repentance process will be returning the money or serving the jail time, and making amends to his spouse.

We also cannot come to God and make a blanket confession, “I am a sinner, please forgive me”, and expect that sinner’s prayer to cover our eternity.  From the moment we begin the repentance process, the Holy Spirit will take up residence in our lives and convict us of sin continually and consistently.  And this is a good thing!  Scripture also teaches us that it is the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance.  It would be unkind of Him to allow us to remain in our sins and headed to Hell!

“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”

– Rom 2.4

Thus we should check ourselves – is the Holy Spirit convicting us?  Have you walked through the steps of confession and repentance with God recently?  Have you walked through the steps of confession and restoration with a friend lately?  It is possible to go long periods of time without hurting or being hurt by a friend, but it is uncommon when we are living life in community the way God has commanded us.  That is just the nature of relationships.  It is not possible, however, with God.  Because none of us will reach full Spiritual maturity and perfection until we are free of our physical bodies.  God knows our every thought and feeling, and while we may not act out on those thoughts or feelings, He knows the sins within.

So let’s get real about our confession and interactions with God.  Even though we preach tolerance in our culture, God does not tolerate our sin.  He hates sin.  And He will not accept us if we just give him a fake “sorry” and continue acting however we want to act.  He must have authority over our actions and decisions, He must be the Lord of our lives and continually guiding us through repentance in order for us to be saved.  So let’s recognize our guilt, confess it, seek to make it right and seek to change.  Let’s also practice these interpersonal skills with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and with the outside world.  People know a true apology when they hear one, and this is just one more brick we can lay in the house of love we are building – by which we seek to be known.  And whenever someone confesses a wrong to us, let us be quick to forgive – for Jesus has always forgiven us of infinitely more than we could ever be asked to forgive.  And not only that, but He promises that God will not forgive us if we are unwilling to forgive others:

“But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

– Matt 6.15

So let us be quick to love, quick to apologize, quick to listen and quick to confess.  Let us not grieve the Holy Spirit but follow His prompting when He convicts us, and let us also be quick to apologize if a friend or family member confronts us in a sin or grievance.  God desires that change, that we love well, and that we be known by our love.

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What if I don’t want to go home for Christmas?

christmas drama

As we barrel through the holiday season, many of us will find ourselves forced into situations that are uncomfortable, awkward or difficult.  For the sake of tradition or expectation, we gather with people who might not like us, or whom we might not like.  There are some families out there who are closely knit and well-involved in one another’s lives, but most families have some un-reconciled offense, some level of hostility, or one black sheep or situation that will dominate what should be a joyous time of year.

Thankfully, Scripture offers us help along the lines of relationships.  As believers, we are commanded to be a unified body of faith.  We are instructed to put one another before ourselves, to speak truth in love to one another, and to build each other up; only speaking words that edify:

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.  Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.  He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.  Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.  Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

– Eph 4.25-32

To live in such a way is only possibly by the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling us.  We cannot maintain a righteous anger, we cannot speak only edifying words, and we cannot live without bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and slander apart from the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul says it simply in Romans:

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

– Rom 12.18

Thankfully he is realistic about the nature of relationships.  We cannot force another person to like us, to respect us, or to treat us well.  Thus, Paul simply says, “so far as it depends on you”, do these things.  This echoes the sentiment of Jesus to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and love those who persecute or hate us.

You may not have a family member or acquaintance who is an enemy, but perhaps they have that one quirk that drives you insane.  Perhaps they have the same personality flaw that you are fighting in yourself, so it irritates you exponentially.  Perhaps you had a fight fifteen years ago and he simply will not let it go, bringing up your past failure no matter how many times you ask for forgiveness or simply harboring a bad attitude.

Thus we must remember, “as far as it depends on me”, I am going to love this person and live peaceably with him.

How, though, can we generate such an attitude?  It is by the power of the Holy Spirit.  But we see in Ephesians that it comes from a recognition of our own state:

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

– Eph 4.32

If you look at that issue or that irritant for what it is, it is a futile effort to try to love unconditionally.  Sooner or later we will break.  Rather, we should focus on Jesus and our personal forgiveness.  Only when I revel in the glory of my forgiveness and salvation can I freely pour forgiveness and love out to others.  Only when I recognize that I do not deserve the salvation which I have can I love those who still hold a grudge against me, or who simply rub me the wrong way.  Only when I let the Holy Spirit love me can I truly live peaceably with all men and forgive in the manner I have been forgiven.

As you continue through your celebrations this holiday season, consider Jesus.  Consider why He came:  to save a lost a dying world.  And consider the forgiveness and love that you were given when you were an enemy, when you were dead in sin, when you were wickedly living according to your own pleasures.  Rejoice in that forgiveness, love and salvation, and through that peace, love the unlovable in your life.  So much as it depends on you.

It is morally impossible to come before the cross with pride.

nativity

The Holiday Season brings about a variety of unique situations.  We unite with family and friends to spend a day being intentionally thankful for everything that we have, for everything that has happened the past year, and to enjoy a meal together.  The very next day we exert our energies (and finances) to shop at absurd hours in order to get the best deal on stuff.  We may be thankful, but we are selfish.

Then we take a break for a few weeks, preparing for our second round of family celebrations.  We decorate our houses, we drive ourselves crazy and broke looking for the perfect gift for aunt so-and-so.  We get in arguments with people who would greet us saying “Happy Holidays” because they have removed Jesus from Christmas, but yet we never slow down to consider Him in our festivities.

We are almost always disappointed with how the holiday season unfolds.  We each have different love languages, and those who need gifts to feel loved are rarely satisfied because the gift giver was not thoughtful enough with the purchase he made, those who need quality time feel overwhelmed by the masses and chaos, those who need words of affirmation get lost in the hubub and it is all but impossible for everyone’s expectations to be met.

Why?
Because of the root of almost all of our sin:
Pride.

Our ego and selfish desires are what naturally drive us until we begin the discipline of the Christian walk.  Until we recognize our sinfulness and our deserved damnation, our worldview revolves squarely around what we think, what we want, and what makes us happy.  We may learn the art of compromise or mutual respect:  giving to others what they want in order to get what we want, but it is always to the end of our personal gratification.

When we meet Jesus, however, we are transformed from the core.  In order to enter into a relationship with Jesus, in order to assure our eternity with Him, in order to “be saved”, we must recognize our sinfulness and His provision of forgiveness by paying our debt of death and damnation.  You cannot be saved if you do not recognize your sin, understand the wrath of God against that sin, and ask for forgiveness while repenting from it.

The very nature of salvation is humbling.  There is nothing that you or I can do to earn merit with God.  We simply cannot be good enough.  We are not worthy.  But He loves us anyway, and offers us salvation in spite of our wickedness.

Thus our pride is consequentially slain.

Salvation means recognizing your guilt and inability, and submitting to Jesus.

The death of our pride will be slow and often painful.  Jesus commands us to love our enemies – the same way He loved us while we were His enemies (Matt 5.44, Rom 5.10).  It is not easy to love our enemies, to pray for them, to bless them, or to give ourselves to them.  It is even more difficult to truly desire in our hearts for them to be saved.  We may be able to discipline our actions, but it takes much transformation by the power of God to care for our enemies on a heart level.

Jesus teaches us that the way to learn the discipline is to remember that which you have been forgiven:

“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

The more deeply you understand your own pardon, the more freely you can give it to others and love them.  And this is a necessity, not an option.  Jesus said,

“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

This sounds like a threat, but it is a teaching method of cause and effect much like we use with children.  The result of having been forgiven is that we forgive and love others.  If we do not forgive and love others, we prove ourselves not to be in Christ, and therefore we have not been forgiven.  The result of our salvation is humility and offering love and forgiveness in the manner we have received it.  If you do not offer it, you have not received it.

The cross is the most humbling aspect of Christianity.  Jesus took the punishment that you and I deserve and paid for it.

The glory of the cross is that it puts us in right standing with God, and we can approach the throne of grace with confidence:

“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

– Heb 4.16

Our confidence is not within ourselves, however.  It is in Christ and what He did.  We cannot draw near to the throne of grace in pride.  If anyone thinks He deserves to draw near to the throne of God, He will be greatly disappointed.  If anyone would attempt to draw near to the throne and consider another unwelcome, he will receive a terrifying judgment.  Because God alone is the judge and if we understand our own guilt, we would never pass condemning judgment on another who would seek to repent and be saved.

In the same manner you have been forgiven and loved by God, you will forgive and love others.  The cross is the very symbol of our guilt, and we cannot approach it in pride.  It is morally impossible.

Therefore, as we continue to wade our way through the holiday season, let’s take a moment and die to ourselves and turn to Jesus.  Are you thankful for His provision for your life which He paid on the cross?  Did you stop and thank Him over our weekend of Thankfulness?  If not, do so today.  As we approach the day which has been set aside to remember His birth, be mindful first of all of the sacrifice He made in simply coming to Earth, and most importantly for paying our debt.  And let the measure of your own forgiveness and the love which He has lavished on you be the measure of love you pour out on others.

Put your family and friends before yourself these next few weeks.  Does someone else desire and expect gifts?  Then love them in that manner.  Does someone else long for quality time and good conversation?  Then make the time.  Is there anyone whom you have not forgiven or against whom you are holding a grudge?  Then get over it, for by the same manner you judge you will be judged (Matt 7.2).

Remember Jesus first.  Love others second.  And let us lay down our pride.

Confess your sins to one another.

duggar

Yesterday I reflected on the story of Bruce Jenner and how we, as Christians, should respond to sinful choices of nonbelievers.  Interestingly enough, the other major headline this past week has been the revelation of  the sexual misconduct of Josh Duggar, one of the nineteen children of the Duggars from the TV show “Nineteen kids and counting”.  Here we have an example of dealing with sin within the Church, and again need to ask the question, how should we respond, and how do we handle similar situations within our churches?

This is an interesting situation in that it was an offense that happened many years ago, with all involved parties reporting to have made peace with one another.  In short, my personal opinion is that this is none of our business.  Josh, as a fourteen year old child, made a series of choices that would most likely not be punishable by incarceration (and the family did report him legally, only to be released), confessed his actions to his family and underwent counseling to fight his sinful tendencies and achieved victory over his sin.  The daughters who were involved have come forward to tell the world that they have forgiven Josh and that they have been more hurt by the unlawful release of the police report than they were by Josh himself.  The media is sensationalizing a story to prove that Christians are not perfect, and some are going so far as to say that Christian homes and communities foster child molestation and sexual sin.

So how do we, as a church and as Christians, respond to this situation?  If someone in your church comes to you to reveal a sin from fourteen years ago, then we must carefully consider a few things.  Firstly, Jesus gave us instruction for handling sin within the Church:

“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

If someone comes to tell you the sin of another in your church, then ask that person if he has confronted the sinner.  If he has not, then he is gossiping and is himself in sin.  Call him on it.  If he has spoken to the sinner, ask him if he is telling you because he has already confronted the sinner and he is unwilling to listen.  If that is the case, then the two of you should go confront him on his sin.  If the sinner listens and repents, then it is over.  Jesus says you have won your brother and we are to leave it there.  If he will not listen yet again, then you need to take the issue to the pastor and leadership of the church, and the whole church should confront the sinner.  If he then repents, it is over and he has been saved.  If he will not confess and change, then we are to remove him from the church until he is willing to confess and change.

Scripture also teaches us that we are to make right what has been wronged by the sin.  So if someone has stolen, he needs to return what was taken.  If someone has told a lie, he should tell the truth and restore the tarnished reputation.  If a law has been broken, then it is not the place of the church to conceal that from the authorities, it should be reported and the guilty should receive the punishment as outlined by the law, to the end that he would be disciplined in public and in the church.

Once one has confessed and been forgiven, we then begin the process of restoring trust and responsibility.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

 – Gal 6.12

Consider a child.  If he exhibits the tendency to take things that are not his, to eat cookies that have been forbidden, then in order to teach him, you remove temptation from him.  You do not leave a big stack of cookies on the counter and let him roam the kitchen alone.  You develop a system of accountability and reward his obedience.  If a teenage struggles with lust, then parents set up structures for their children to not be alone with their boyfriend/girlfriend.  They can help organize group dates, set up a curfew, and they can ask them straight forward questions about their activities and hold them accountable.  This is how we develop character and how we rebuild trust.  We do the same within the church.  If someone is tempted to embezzle funds, then we do not leave such a one alone with the offering, or give him unchecked access to the church’s finances.  If he happens to be an outstanding accountant, then we can restore him to the role as church secretary, but always with accountability and after regaining the trust of the congregation.

This is restoration.  God is in the business of forgiveness and restoration, and so should we be.

“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”

 – 2 Cor 5.18-19

Now, as this relates specifically to the Duggars, I encourage you to watch their interview and listen carefully to what he did and to the steps they took in response.  Josh confessed the sin himself, and that without provocation.  The family took steps to protect the daughters, to help him to fight the sin, and they confessed it to a counselor who took him under his wing and walked him through fighting the sin, and they took him and reported him to the police.  Josh achieved victory over his sin, his sisters forgave him, and he was restored to the family.  As far as I can tell, from an outsider looking in, they handled the situation as best as they could have.  What would you have done differently, if you would crucify them?

Our goal as a body and as believers should be to help one another grow in holiness and righteousness.  We should hold one another accountable.  And when we find ourselves failing, we should confess our sins on our own initiative if no one has approached us.

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

As to the accusation that Christian families and conservative groups fostering sexual sin and not appropriately handling these situations, we need to firstly ask God if this is true.  If we are following the Biblical outlines for dealing with sin, and if we are taking the proper precautions that the law mandates for working with children (background checks, never leaving an adult to handle children alone, etc), then we can prevent and handle these situations well.  Let us be careful, as Christians, not to lash out against unfounded accusations but examine ourselves before God and before men to make sure that we are indeed above reproach and that we are protecting those who need to be protected and restoring those who would repent.

Humility is the key.  I would warrant a guess that very few of us would desire our character and reputation be built on a poor decision we made when we were fourteen years old.  No Christian is perfect, and Josh confessed his sin to his family, to the police, to his bride (while they were dating) as well as her family, and has walked in victory over his temptations.  Have you confessed and experienced the victory of the Holy Spirit over your sins of disposition?  If his sisters, the very victims of his actions, have forgiven him, then this firstly is none of our business and secondly gives us no grounds to condemn him.

God called an adulterer and murderer a man after His own heart.  He called a murder and liar the greatest among men, and entrusted him to lead the Hebrew people out of captivity to the promised land.  He chose a moon worshiper, liar and a man who offered his own wife to other men as their bride to be the very “father” of the faith.  God chooses, forgives, redeems, and changes people who have committed the most heinous of sins to preach His gospel and make His name known.

Let us beware lest we place ourselves in the position of God as judge.  Let us also beware lest we participate in the sin of gossip and slander.  Let us most importantly beware that we paint a picture of perfection and try to convince the outside world that we have no sin.  But let us embrace one another, push one another on to holiness, and confess our sins.

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

– 1 John 1.9

Do I have to forgive [him]?

Christians today glorify those humble people who have been sinned against in exceptionally heinous ways and offer forgiveness to the offender.  We have all heard stories of parents forgiving the rapist/murderer who took their daughter, of car accident victims forgiving the drunk driver, and countless other offendees offering public forgiveness to their offenders.  Does the Bible say that we have to do that?  Do we have to forgive everyone?

Let me ask you a very simple question:  Does God forgive everyone?

No.  God does not forgive everyone.  If God did forgive everyone, no one would go to Hell.

What does that mean?  How does that apply to my life?  There are some terrifying verses in Scripture that relate to forgiveness:

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.  But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”

– Mark 11.25-26

If I am unwilling to forgive anyone for any transgression, the promise is that I will not be forgiven by God.  So.  How can that be that God does not forgive everyone, yet if I do not forgive everyone, I am damned to Hell?

First we must understand what forgiveness is.  Forgiveness is the reconciliation of a relationship that has been broken because of a particular (or many) sins.  Forgiveness requires the confession of a sin by the offender:

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

God does not forgive us until we confess and repent.

Forgiveness also requires the promise of the offendee to put away the offense, to not bring it up, dwell on it, or hold the forgiven accountable.

“Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

 – Heb 10.17

“…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

 – Ps 103.12

 Unless the offense presents itself as a habit that must be addressed later, it is to be removed from conversation, remembrance and the relationship.  Forgiveness is the fullness of the restoration of the broken relationship, through the mutual submission to the Word and will of God by both (or all) parties involved.

When Jesus taught on Church discipline, he instructed that the one who would not repent was to be removed from the church (Matt 18.15-18).  Paul says that we are to turn such a one over to Satan and not even eat with him (1 Cor 5.5, 11).  Someone who is in sin is to not be forgiven if he will not repent, he is to be kicked out of the church and left for God to convict.

If a man (who claims to be a Christian) abandons his family, the church should not embrace him and coddle him hoping to love him to repentance.  Jesus said to kick him out.  If a woman in the Church is caught stealing from her employer and she justifies herself saying that she needs and deserves the extra income, Paul says do not even eat with her.

Until they repent.

When the wayward man or stealing woman understand their sin against God, their families and all affected and they confess their sins, we then must forgive and restore that relationship.  If such a man or woman confesses their sin and seeks to reconcile, if the offended refuses, the offended will not be forgiven by God (Mark 11.26).

So what about the parents whose child was killed by a drunk driver, or whose daughter was raped and murdered?  What is it that they are truly saying when they proclaim forgiveness for the culprit?

There is a very real distinction between a transaction of true forgiveness and a heart that is humble and ready to forgive.  We can only be reconciled with those who repent.  But the offended must deal with the offense before God and be ready and willing to forgive the offender at any time.  God does not allow for His children to harbor bitterness in their hearts:

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

 – Eph 4.31

We also do not discipline one in the church who is in unrepentant sin out of sinful anger or bitterness, but out of love.  It is with the hope of their repentance that we remove someone from the Church.  But it is because of their unrepentance that we must remove them from the Church, lest they justify their sin and draw others into it.

“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

When we fully grasp the depth of our own sin and the forgiveness that has been granted to us, there is no offense that we cannot forgive.  The depth of my wickedness and the grace poured out over my life prohibits me from holding a grudge and offense against my brother or sister.  Not only that, but if I believe Scripture to be true, I understand that God has punished that particular sin.

“Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, 
In due time their foot will slip; 
For the day of their calamity is near, 
And the impending things are hastening upon them.”

 – Deut 32.35

God is the only one who can and will righteously exact vengeance.  The sin of rape and murder, drunk driving, theft and abandonment of family were either decisively punished in the person of Jesus on the cross or they will vindicated on the head of the offender in eternity.  In Hell.  I cannot and ought not seek to add to the judgment of God, as I will either diminish the cross or I will diminish God’s righteousness in eternal judgment by declaring it wanting.  God forbid I would say, “Jesus’ death for that sin was not enough, I will hate you too.”  Or, “Eternity in Hell is not yet upon you, so I will begrudge you and despise you until your destruction”.

Our hearts, in becoming God’s, must become like God’s.  God is ready and willing to forgive all who repent.  Jesus’ blood is big enough to cover everyone, but it only covers those who repent:

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

 – Matt 26.28

Therefore, these well meaning parents have the right heart and intention.  They are ready and willing to forgive.  Their hearts are humble before God and they would reconcile at the repentance of the offender.  The person who approaches his father who abandoned him in childhood to say, “I forgive you” is truly offering an olive branch to restore the broken relationship.  It requires the father’s confession of sin and repentance to restore the relationship.

It is important to note that forgiveness does not trivialize the sin.  Often the exchange is, “I’m sorry” and “It’s OK”.  Murder, rape, theft and abandonment are never OK.  Forgiveness does not mean that the offended surrenders the offense and declares it “all right”.  The proper exchange should be, “I have sinned, please forgive me” and “I forgive you”.  We should not and may not diminish the weight and burden of sin, but when we practice Biblical forgiveness, we understand that the sin was covered by the blood of Jesus and we promise to let it go.

However if the sin is not confessed, it is not yet covered by the blood of Jesus.

Therefore the struggle of the offended believer is to put away bitterness, prepare the heart to forgive if the opportunity arises, and to trust God that His vengeance is just and satisfying.  To the extent we have been forgiven we must be ready and willing to forgive.

forgiveness1

And while we are on the topic; there is a trend in Christian circles where we counsel one another that at time we must forgive God.  It is blasphemous to propose that God has sinned against us and that we should ever need to forgive Him.

Deep In Our Hearts

Deep in our hearts let us record
The deeper sorrow of our Lord;
Behold the rising billows roll,
To overwhelm His holy soul.

In long complaints He spends His breath,
While hosts of hell, and powers of death,
And all the sons of malice, join
To execute their cursed design.

Yet, gracious God, Thy power and love
Have made the curse a blessing prove;
Those dreadful sufferings of Thy Son
Atoned for sins which we had done.

The pangs of our expiring Lord
The honors of Thy law restored;
His sorrows made Thy justice known,
And paid for follies not His own.

O for His sake our guilt forgive,
And let the mourning sinner live;
The Lord will hear us in His name,
Nor shall our hope be turned to shame.

– Isaac Watts