Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Forgiving and Being Forgiven

Someone wrote to ask “Does your church believe in the literal interpretation of what Jesus taught in Gospels that people need to repent before forgiveness is given and woe comes to those who cause offenses?” He then cited Luke 17:1-4; Luke 18:1-8 and Matthew 5:21-26. Here is my response:

Jesus came preaching, "Repent and believe, for the kingdom of God is at hand." We believe, therefore, that people need to repent and believe. The Greek word for "repent" means to have a change of mind, to think differently. We need to change our thinking about a lot of things—sin, our self-dependence, living like the kingdom of God is not here — and start thinking in line with what God says. In other words, we repent (change our mind) in order to believe God.

A word often related to repentance is the word "confess." For example, "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). The Greek word for "confess" is homologeo (from homo = “same” and logos = “word”). Literally, it means to "say the same thing." That is, when we confess our sins, we are saying of them the same thing God says of them, recognizing that they do not belong in our lives. It is a result of repentance.

Before repentance, we were thinking contrary to God and denying that our sin created a barrier between us. After repentance, we are thinking with God and saying the same thing about our sin that He said. We are acknowledging the problem so that we may then embrace the solution — forgiveness and cleansing by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Does woe come to those who cause offenses? Certainly. It is a matter of sowing and reaping. "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Galatians 6:7). Sow good, reap good. Sow evil, reap evil. Sow offense or woe, reap offense or woe. Woe will come naturally because of what is sown, and it will come unless the harvest is somehow prevented. We believe that repentance and receiving forgiveness is a way that such a harvest can be avoided, mitigated or ameliorated.

In regard to forgiving others, Jesus said, if a brother sins against us, but then repents — forgive him — even if he sins seven times in a day and repents seven times (Luke 17:3-4).

About the role of the offender, Jesus said this: "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-34).

Jesus also spoke about forgiving in Mark 11:25-26, immediately after talking about mountain-moving faith and receiving the answer to our prayers: "And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive you your trespasses."

We don't have to wait for the offender to come and repent or apologize to us before we forgive. In Mark 11:25, Jesus does not even bring up their repentance. He simply tells us to forgive. The other person may never apologize to us — shall we then carry forever the burden of what they did to us, because they refuse to repent?

No, forgive anyway, and be set free from the hurt they caused, be healed from the wound, and let God deal with them. Then our faith and our prayers will be unhindered. But if we do not forgive, we will not be walking in the experience of the forgiveness our Father extends to us.

Our job is not to call down woes on people, but to forgive them — for our own sake as well as theirs. We pray for them that God, in His goodness, would lead them into true repentance so that they might experience the fullness of His blessing.

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