"Jesus Makes A Cross For You."


Running from our sin. It’s a natural tendency to want to flee and hide when we are confronted with the reality of our own sinfulness and the ugliness of the sin.

We want it etched from our memories. We want a fresh start. We long for forgiveness.

My son recently turned 4 and he is at an age where he is becoming more cognizant of his fleshly reality. It’s a difficult age, for many reasons, but it is also an exciting age in that he is very moldable and teachable.

I began a series on #GraceForTheSinner a few months back because, after a personal experience of coming to grips with pride in my heart, I felt compelled that there might be others who needed to be reminded of the grace that comes from Christ Jesus. Not a cheap grace that requires no repentance on our part nor grace that doesn’t result in obedience. Rather, the grace that is taught in Scripture came at a very costly price (the life of God’s Son), yet is given to any and all who believe and is more powerful than any of sin’s grip on our lives.


Looking back, I had some unrealistic expectations for Mother’s Day given the age of my child. Yet, somehow I had conjured up images of a day where Philip would be easy and obedient, a day where I got to do what I wanted to do, and a day full of thanksgiving for all that I give to my family. Ahhh. What a nice thought. Isn’t that what Mother’s Day is all about anyway?


Both Osvaldo and I prepped Philip for the day. “Sunday is Mother’s Day, that means we get to celebrate Mommy for all that she does for us.” “You’re going to be a good boy on Mother’s Day for Mommy, right?” spoken in an almost pleading voice.


I’m shaking my head as I even put down on paper the tactic we were using to produce an obedient child for one day. Parents make mistakes too!


It would have been one thing if Philip had been his normal self on Mother’s Day – fun and delightful with a few issues here or there. But no. He began the day and finished the day as a completely different child. He was the exact opposite of the child I had imagined for the day. Screaming, throwing himself down in tantrum style, spitting, kicking, talking back, saying “No,” are just a few of the things we dealt with on Mother’s Day.


Every parent knows exactly what I’m talking about. It was as if the more we tried to produce a good child, the more he rebelled and became exactly the opposite child we were wanting him not to be.


By the end of the day, after I came to terms with my real Mother’s Day (not the one of my expectations), Osvaldo and I were exasperated. We stood in the kitchen and looked at each other with defeat both thinking the same thing, “We are failing as parents!”


We decided it would be best to talk to Philip in his bedroom. Osvaldo began the conversation with, “Philip, no matter what you do, we love you. Our love for you will never change. We will never stop loving you.” Then he followed with, “We are always ready to forgive you when you come to us and say, ‘I’m sorry.’” From there he told Philip what it was that he had done that we did not like.


I followed by saying, “Philip, God gave us to you as your parents to give you a place to live, to give you clothes, to give you food, to take care of you when you are sick, to give you love, hugs and kisses, to play with you, and to even do fun things with you. The only thing God and we ask in return – the one thing you are to do for us – is to obey. When you do what you did today you are not showing love to God and you are not showing love to us.”


Then we left. We closed the door until there was just a crack and left him in his room to think about these things. A few minutes later, I went to peek through the crack to see what he was doing. What I found was that Philip was going around in a circle and every time he stepped on his Superman cape, which was lying on the floor, he grunted.


When we brought him out of the room shortly afterwards, we asked Philip what he was doing in his room. This is what he said: “I was trying to get away from all the bad things I did.” And in his 4 year old speech that needs my translation he explained that he was stepping on his Superman cape to give him the power he needed to get away from those bad things.


We gave him a hug and Osvaldo said, “Philip, you can never get away from the bad things on your own. None of us can. Papi can’t. Mommy can’t. But there is one who can, one who is greater than Superman and who has the power to take away the bad things. His name is Jesus. When he died on a cross, he took away all those bad things. If you turn to Jesus and ask him to forgive you and to take away those bad things, he will do it, Philip.”


Philip said, “Ohhhh.”


We weren’t sure if the truth stuck, but the next evening before dinner, Philip prayed, “Jesus make for me the cross to take away the bad things I did.”


A week later he told me, “Mommy come see.” When I came into his toy room where his Grandpa was sitting on the floor, he showed me that he had made a cross out of two sticks in his room. He said turning to Grandpa, “Grandpa, Jesus makes a cross for you to take away those bad things you did.”


And just last week after telling Philip three times to get into the car without him doing so, I said very sternly, “Get in the car now.” Philip got into his chair and said to me, “Mommy, why did you talk like that?” I said, “Like what?” “Like mean to me.” “I didn’t talk mean to you, but said to get into the car firmly after you kept disobeying.” Philip looked into my eyes and said, “It’s OK, Mommy. Jesus makes the cross for you.”


“Jesus makes the cross for you” is Philip’s way of saying that Jesus forgives you. Jesus, because of what he did on the cross, can take away those bad things from you – to make them as far as the east is from the west.


John Newton, famously known for penning the words to that great hymn, “Amazing Grace,” was an unlikely person to come to faith in Jesus. Prior to his redemption, Newton was a cursing, blaspheming sailor who lived in the 18th century. He lived a life of complete immorality, who immersed himself in the evils of the slave trade and made women and alcohol his hobbies.


While on one of his many journeys at sea, Newton woke one night to someone crying, “The ship is sinking.” It was during this terrifying experience that he later wrote, “What mercy can there be for me?” Biographer Jonathan Aitken wrote about this experience saying that Newton came to the conclusion “that anyone who had ridiculed God and his gospel with so much profanity could not possibly receive divine salvation in the hour of need.”


“Conversely, however, Newton kept on remembering the promises of God, which he had learned from Scripture in his youth. He recalled the extraordinary twists and turns in his adult life, describing them as ‘the calls, warnings, and deliverances I had met with,’ as he wondered whether they could be interpreted as any sort of sign of God’s favor.”


This was the beginning of Newton coming to terms with the great grace Jesus offers to him because of what he did on the cross.


Newton would eventually go on to become a great preacher, pastor and hymn writer. Yet Newton “never forgot that he owed his redemption from a life of sin to a life in Christ entirely to divine mercy.” As he said on his death bed, “I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Savior.”


He made this further clearer by writing the words that would later be the inscription on his tomb:

John Newton Once an infidel and libertine A servant of slaves in Africa Was By the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Preserved, Restored, Pardoned And Appointed to preach the faith He had long laboured to destroy.


Jesus made the cross for John Newton.


Jesus makes the cross for Philip.


Jesus makes the cross for Grandpa.


Jesus makes the cross for me.


Jesus makes the cross for you.


“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Col. 2:13-14


“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross.” Col. 1:20


“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” 1 Timothy 1:15


*My quotes from John Newton and about John Newton come from Jonathan Aitken's "John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace."


Grace for the Sinner Series

Grace for the Sinner Yesterday, I lost my temper with my son, Philip.


After that brief moment where I lost all sense of calm and cool and acted like the child to whom I was directing my frustration, I felt very, very low. I was ashamed. Sad. Broken. Broken-hearted. Upset with myself. I couldn’t lift my head out of my hands to face the shame that I felt and the depth of my sin.


This wasn’t the first time I had been to that place of deep sorrow over my sin, and sadly probably not the last. It took recitation of Scripture, tearful praying to God for forgiveness, and apologizing to Philip before I was able to find the strength to leave that place.


Have you been to that place as well? To the place where you are broken over your sin? To the place where you feel so ashamed of your sin you don’t know how to face God, others or yourself? To the place that David described in Psalm 32 where because of his sin God’s hand was heavy upon him? “For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity.” (Ps. 32:4-5)


It is in these moments of realization of sin and confession that God so graciously meets us to offer forgiveness. Yet, most of us still struggle to accept God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness is clouded often times by misunderstandings and lies that Satan would have us to believe. The portrait of God as seen in Scripture is many times in conflict with the portrait that we have of God in our minds, and it often comes to a head when we are in that place of deep shame and remorse over sin. ("I know Scripture says that God offers forgiveness to the repentant but [fill in the blank].")


This is where I hope Grace for the Sinner series will be a blessing. In this new series, I want to explore Scripture’s teaching on forgiveness and grace. These will be (or at least should be) short devotionals/reflections that I hope will bring you in deeper conversation with and understanding of God and the gifts of grace and forgiveness that He makes available to the repentant.


In this series I hope you will find grace, whether you find yourself as the impatient parent, the self-centered spouse, the disrespectful child, the unforgiving friend, the wannabe perfectionist, the over-controlling individual, the gossiper or [fill in the blank]. Here I also hope you will be reminded of and will find a perfect God who loves and redeems imperfect people.


I was first introduced to the song below at our church in England, and I immediately took to the lyrics. The message of the song is to come as you are -- a sinner -- to Jesus and discover the love and grace he has to offer. "Come, all you vagabonds, come all you don't-belongs, winners and losers, come people like me." Jesus offers grace to the sinner.


Come all you vagabonds, come all you don't-belongs winners and losers, come people like me; come all you travelers, tired from the journey wait a while, stay a while, welcomed you'll be.

Come all you questioners, looking for answers and searching for reason and sense in it all; come all you fallen, and come all you broken, find strength for your body and food for your soul.

Come, those who worry about houses and money and all those who don't have a care in the world, from every station and orientation the helpless, the hopeless, the young and the old.

Come all believers, and dreamers, and schemers, and come all you restless and searching for home; movers and shakers, and givers and takers, the happy, the sad, the lost and alone.

Come self-sufficient with wearied ambition and come those who feel at the end of the road; fiery debaters, and religion haters, accusers, abusers, the hurt and ignored.

Chorus: Come to the feast, there is room at the table! Come, let us meet in this place with the king of all kindness who welcomes us in with the wonder of love and the power of grace, the wonder of love and the power of grace. 

(Stuart Townend)



Table #2: The uninvited guest

"Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many are forgiven -- for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little."

Read Luke 7:36-50.

Have you ever had an unwanted, uninvited or unexpected house guest? To be honest, the first thing that came to mind was the scene from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation movie when Clark Griswold's wife's cousins show up in their run-down RV and park it in front of their house. The look on Clark's face is priceless! Not only is his cousin Eddie loud and annoying, but they seem to be throwing a glitch in Clark's attempt to have a "good old-fashioned family Christmas." But if it weren't for Eddie kidnapping Clark's boss later in the movie, then Clark probably wouldn't have gotten that big end-of-the-year bonus he was so desperately hoping for.

Luke 7:36 begins with the introduction to a second dinner party in which Jesus is invited as a guest, presumably the guest of honor. But right away we notice some contrasts with the previous dinner. Whereas the first dinner party was hosted by a group of sinners and the Pharisees were on the outside looking in, this dinner is hosted by a Pharisee and is presumably attended by other Pharisees. Whereas Levi had found forgiveness of sins and became a disciple of Jesus, Simon was still deciding who he thought Jesus was -- at best, a prophet.

But while these table scenes unfold very differently, the theme is still consistent with where we left off in chapter 5 -- Jesus has come to sinners to offer forgiveness of sins.

Let's take a deeper look.

Although Jesus ended our last passage by saying he is called to go to sinners, it doesn't mean he is refusing the same offer of grace to the Pharisees (the so-called "righteous ones"). Did you notice how often Luke says "Pharisees" within the first couple of verses of our text? We're not to miss that Jesus was having dinner with a Pharisee! Now Pharisees were what you would call legalists; they interpreted the law in such a way that they added more restrictions than the law itself. The goal was to "build a fence around the law," so that one would not even get close to breaking the commands of the Torah. They were very concerned with holiness and separating themselves from those who were sinners or impure. This often led to an arrogant attitude.

So knowing how concerned they were with purity, we shouldn't miss the exclamation in verse 37 -- behold! Oh no! Or, oh my goodness, as my son likes to say. The most embarrassing thing has happened! "A woman of the city" came in uninvited and crashed the party. In case you miss what kind of woman she is, Luke adds, you know, the sinner kind of woman. Most likely, if you can read through the lines and get what Luke is trying to say without saying it bluntly, this woman was a city prostitute and probably had clients who were Gentiles! Not only does this woman come in and break all impurity rules and, God forbid, transmit some of her impurity onto those around the table, but what she does next is completely inappropriate and socially unacceptable. Joel Green writes that this woman's actions were "erotic." He says, "Letting her hair down in this setting would have been on a par with appearing topless in public, for example." Can you even imagine! Well let's not imagine too much, but I think it gets the picture across how shameful her actions would have seemed.

I know this is not the same thing, but what if a house guest of yours took of his shoes and socks and put his feet on the table during dinner? If you have a foot phobia like my sister and my friend Katie, then you probably just shuddered or felt ill. If either of the two analogies (topless or feet on table) made you sick or disgusted, then Simon's judgments might seem defensible. Who wouldn't be offended by this woman wiping her let-down hair on Jesus' feet! Green says further that her actions could have "appeared to be fondling Jesus' feet, like a prostitute or a slave girl accustomed to providing sexual favors." Isn't Jesus concerned by how he might be perceived? Isn't he concerned that associating with her and letting her carry on in this way that he might damage his reputation or his mission? Won't Jesus risk leading men in the room astray? Already we see that Jesus isn't too concerned with whom he associates and how others might incorrectly interpret his associations. Just read Luke 7:33-34! His mission is to bring the message of forgiveness to sinners. Period. End of the story. Jesus isn't so much concerned how their reputation will rub off on him or contaminate him, like the Pharisees thought. Rather, Jesus will rub off on them, so to speak. They will be transformed into his image.

Simon thinks that because Jesus is letting this woman touch him in this way that Jesus must not be a prophet. If he were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman she was! However the irony is that Jesus is able to perceive Simon's thoughts and heart demonstrating that he is indeed a prophet (and much greater!). Jesus reinterprets this woman's actions for Simon (and the others). She isn't asking for favors; rather, her actions show a broken and repentant heart. In humility she washes one of the most undesirable parts of the body giving up probably one of her most costly possessions at the feet of Jesus. She is serving Jesus out of love.

In Simon's judgment of this woman, he failed to see his own sin. It was easy to see this woman's sin. It was obvious. But, unlike Simon, she knew she was a sinner and was broken over her sin. As a result she found forgiveness of sins. Not only does this woman get Jesus and his mission, but through her actions she shames Simon as host. And Jesus calls Simon out over it. Whereas Simon failed to fulfill his role as host or the social expectations of hospitality, this woman acted as host and in her hospitality she went over and beyond what is even expected.

The uninvited and unwelcomed guest was a sinful woman in need of grace. But don't miss this beautiful irony. (I just love this! And it's beautiful for all of us sinners who have found grace!) When the great banquet, called the marriage supper of the Lamb, spoken of in Revelation 19 comes Jesus will be the host and this woman who was once uninvited will be invited. Whereas her name will appear on the guest list, the Pharisees around that table (that is those who never repented) will be the uninvited ones. The uninvited in our story will be invited.

What about you? Will you be on that guest list? Have you found forgiveness of sins like this woman in our passage? Or, like Simon, are you unaware of the sin in your life and unwilling to recognize Jesus as having the authority to forgive sins? Is there anyone you are refusing to invite and welcome to hear the gospel because you've already made a judgment that they are "too far gone"? Is the identity and mission of Jesus as outlined in yesterday's and today's post the same Jesus that you follow? Or are you posturing Jesus as just another prophet or great teacher?

Table #1: Dining with sinners

Come and Dine

Table #3: Where is your faith?

Table #1: Dining with sinners

"And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them." Luke 5:29

Read Luke 5:27-32.

What type of person or what group of people would make you feel real uncomfortable to share a meal with? Think about this for a moment. Addicts? Sexual predators? Legalists? Rich people? Poor people? Someone of a different race or ethnicity? Homosexuals? People dying of cancer? Perhaps you'd feel uncomfortable sharing a meal with your extended family because of severed relationships. Be honest with yourself.

Now take that feeling you have toward a group of people and imagine seeing Jesus sitting among them sharing a meal. What would your initial reaction and feelings be? If I were honest, my first thought would probably be, "What is he doing with them?" "Of all the people these are the least deserving to be at that table." "Why would he extend grace to them?"

Turning to the text, we are told that Jesus calls a tax collector to follow him. Now I think it'd be helpful to know something about tax collectors to understand why the following actions of Jesus were so repugnant to the Pharisees. A tax collector, also known as a toll collector, was "a person given to dishonesty and abuse of authority" and viewed "in the wider Greco-Roman world as a person of low status." "Toll collectors as a group were despised as snoops, corrupt, the social equivalent of pimps and informants." (See Joel Green, Luke, p. 245-246) This really puts things into perspective! Stop for a moment and imagine sharing a meal with pimps. Now imagine seeing Jesus with pimps. Or, imagine seeing your pastor or your Bible study leader at a table with pimps. Get the picture?

If nothing else I want you to hear this today: To dine with Jesus is also to dine with sinners. We don't get to pick and choose who gets the invitation to follow Jesus. We don't get to pick and choose to whom we are to take the gospel. It simply doesn't work like that. If Jesus was lowly enough to go to the least desirable, the rejects of society, then so must we.

Sometimes as Christians we want to show grace to whom we want to show grace; but God's grace pushes the limits we so often put in place. We think that we are somehow more redeemable, more deserving of grace, than others. The fact of the matter is none of us is deserving. (Read Romans 1-2!) That is what makes grace grace. It is unmerited, undeserving. While the Pharisees were shocked by the group of people Jesus chose to associate with, it was for these people he came. Notice that Jesus doesn't try to defend them as innocent people. He acknowledges to the Pharisees who they are -- "sinners" (v. 32). In fact Jesus uses an analogy in which this group of people is compared to those who are sick (v. 31). What Jesus said might be interpreted as harsh in today's postmodern America. We don't want to call sin sin or people sinners. But if we don't acknowledge sin and our state as sinners, then we will never think we need forgiveness of sins or a Savior.

Notice too that although Jesus calls these people sinners, he doesn't expect for them to stay in their current state. Rather, he associates himself with them so that they might be transformed into the image of God through the process of repentance. His mission is to redeem people from sin.

But this passage tells us more than who Jesus dined with; it tells us about the identity of Jesus and his work. Here are some further reflections from this table:

1. Jesus is divine, the Son of God. If you were to read Luke all the way through, you would find that the author is concerned with the identity of Jesus. When an angel appears to Mary in chapter 1 he tells her the baby she will conceive "will be called the Son of the Most High," and "will be called holy -- the Son of God." Then in 5:17-26, right before our passage, Jesus does something that only God Himself can do -- forgive sins. Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic, and the words of the Pharisees are very poignant here. "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (v. 21). They recognize that only God has the power to forgive sins. Jesus then heals the paralytic so that "you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" (v. 24).

2. Flowing out of his identity as God is Jesus' mission and work of forgiveness of sins. His mission and identity go hand in hand; they are inseparable. Let's look at Levi's story. Luke tells us that Jesus calls Levi to follow him. The invitation to follow was an invitation to having a relationship with Jesus, to become a disciple. What is implied in following Jesus is repentance, seen in the act that follows in which Levi leaves everything behind. At first glance we might think he just left behind his career, his place of work, his possessions or salary. But then Luke tells us Levi makes a great feast in his home and invites a large group to come, which would have been very costly. Perhaps Levi did leave behind his work, but most likely what he left behind was his life of sin. He left behind that which was displeasing to God. We can perhaps see it symbolized in that Levi was sitting when Jesus called him to follow him and then Levi stood up and left everything. His repentance was active, a complete change. If we read Levi's calling in conjunction with what Jesus tells the Pharisees in v. 32, I think it is fair to say that Levi's change wasn't just a moral or economic or career change but a heart change. Levi had found forgiveness of sins.

3. I love how once Levi found forgiveness of sins he invited all of his friends to come meet Jesus. We aren't told if or how many people at that table also found forgiveness of sins but it is very likely given the context that many did. Isn't it such an awesome thing that when people experience the grace of God they want to share it with others? All the more reason that we should share our tables with people who need to hear about the love of God.

4. We often want to separate the identity of Jesus from the mission of Jesus. We also have a tendency to reduce the mission of Jesus to something that is merely physical and not spiritual. In the name of social justice, we give people bread and medicine. We want to change their economic status and provide them with education. We want to emulate Jesus by associating with the least desirable. These are all great things! But if we do these things apart from the identity of Jesus and his mission of forgiveness of sins then we are no longer particularly Christian. If we don't couple our social acts with the message that Jesus, who was fully God, also became fully human, to bring salvation and to forgive our sins so that we might be reconciled to God, then we really do not know the Jesus of Scripture. On the other hand, if we preach this but do not extend God's grace to the unlikely of people and dine with sinners, then we aren't being obedient either. We must do both.

So this Easter, we will dress up and look our best. We'll go to church and then have a family meal. Let me ask you, will you consider getting dirty and dining with those who most desperately need to hear the Easter story? Will you be messengers of God's grace to them?

(I took some of this material from a Bible study I wrote for mymissionfulfilled.)

Come and Dine

Table #2: The uninvited guest 

Conditional Forgiveness

forgiveness-ja What is forgiveness? This question has been the topic of many conversations in our Sunday School class at church. It was not until last year that I realized that what I believed about forgiveness as it relates to God and me and what I believed about forgiveness as it relates to others and myself were at odds with one another. Then as I started studying Scripture more carefully and talked to my husband on numerous occasions about it, I realized I had been wrong.

Last week I saw a blog post on this very topic by Kevin DeYoung over at The Gospel Coalition. He also says we have gotten it wrong on this issue. He says that just like God's forgiveness is conditional on repentance so also in human relations. I completely agree with him, and I hope you read what he says as it complements what I say in the rest of this post. Check it out here.

So how is forgiveness being taught in the church? From my reading, experience and talking to others who attend other churches, here's my condensed, simplified version of what is generally being taught about forgiveness.

Forgiveness as it relates to God and humans goes something like this: Forgiveness is offered by God on condition of our repentance in order that we might be reconciled to God. We are the beneficiaries.

Forgiveness as it relates to humans with one another goes something like this: Forgiveness is given by the offended unconditionally with no repentance necessary by the offender. Reconciliation is not the ultimate goal. We simply forgive because it is good for us.

I've heard it said and preached often that you forgive so that you will feel better. Bitterness destroys YOU, so YOU forgive in order that YOU will be set free. Forgiveness is then reduced to something therapeutic and self-centered for the one offended. This teaching also says our unconditional love for our brother means our unconditional forgiveness of his offenses. Unconditional forgiveness is the more "loving" thing to do.

But is it really?

I think DeYoung explains very well in his post how this model of forgiveness of one another has its roots, not in biblical exegesis, but in pop psychology. This explains why the difference in models between forgiveness from God and forgiveness of humans mentioned above do not fit together, and in fact why they contradict each other. Why would God give us one model of forgiveness only to command us to do another model?

One strategy for the psychological model is to posit that this is the way God Himself operates, that is, He gives forgiveness unconditionally. When Scriptures are used, here are the ones. Luke 23:34 is probably the most quoted verse, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." But what most lay people don't know (and what preachers should know!) is that these words are not preserved in the best New Testament manuscripts (omitted by P75). This means that based on the evidence of textual criticism, this was most likely not an original saying of Jesus but rather something added much later. Even most conservative scholars agree on this! So without that piece of evidence, others turn to Stephen's speech in Acts 7 where he prays, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." But this prayer is for God to have mercy on the sinner or offender. Stephen doesn't pray, "I forgive them." Interestingly, Saul is one of the ones for whom Stephen prays and who later experiences the great mercy of God (an answer to Stephen's prayer!).

The problem for those who accept a psychological model is that the majority passages of Scripture that deal with God's forgiveness also demand repentance. See 1 John 1:9 for one example, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." The idea that God forgives without demanding repentance is entirely unbiblical. In fact it leads to universalism. Orthodoxy rejects this idea, as well as most church members (unless you are Rob Bell, that is).

So if there's not good Scriptural support and we reject the idea that God's forgiveness is imputed on a sinner without repentance, why does this psychological model continue to persist? Back to the loving thing to do...

In Matthew 18:15ff, Jesus is quoted as saying, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother." Jesus continues by saying that if he won't repent, then take someone along with you. The idea is you continue to give that brother chances to repent, to receive forgiveness, and to "gain a brother," that is, reconciliation. Then Peter asks how many times should one forgive one's brother. Jesus says 70 times 7, hyperbolic language to make a point. He then follows up with an example or parable. In this parable forgiveness is presented in terms of debt. In both cases, the king and the wicked servant bring the debtor to themselves and demand that their debt be paid. Forgiveness is not something abstract but concrete. It is granted to the wicked servant or denied to the second servant.

If context determines meaning, and Jesus' 70 times 7 answer is couched in between two examples of two parties coming together, then how can forgiveness, which is for the benefit of the brother who committed the offense, be given without that brother knowing it or asking for it?

The psychological model teaches you are to forgive in your heart whether or not the brother repents because forgiveness is for YOU and YOUR sake. Rather than this being the loving thing to do it is in fact the unloving thing to do. Why? Scripture teaches that when we knowingly sin against a brother we also sin against Christ. 1 Cor. 8:12 says, "Thus, sinning against your brothers, and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ." If a brother in sinning against you means he has also sinned against God, then not going to that brother not only keeps him at odds with you but also at odds with God. But, rather, if you love that brother, then by pleading with him to repent you are also pleading that he repent of his sin to God! This is why Paul tells the Corinthian church in 1 Cor. 5 to remove that brother engaged in sexual sin so that he might repent and be "saved in the day of the Lord." The idea is that repentance is for the benefit of the offender! Because by repenting of our sin to our brother we area also repenting of our sin to God! You see how repentance is the loving thing to do and how not asking the brother to repent is actually the unloving thing to do? If you think repentance is unloving, then how do you reconcile God demanding repentance as a condition of forgiveness?

So what I suggest is we change the psychological model of forgiveness and make it compatible with the kind of forgiveness we see in Scripture. Forgiveness then is no longer understood as something we give ourselves, but as something we give to others who have offended us. We no longer define forgiveness as "not being bitter," but as releasing that person from the debt they owe us. Forgiveness is no longer abstract but a concrete reality that results in reconciliation.

So what do you do while you wait for that brother to repent, assuming you have already gone to that brother? You, the offended one, are commanded in Scripture to not become bitter, not hold a grudge and not slander against that brother. We are commanded to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We are commanded to stand ready to forgive. DeYoung writes, "Overcoming anger and resentment is important, but forgiveness is something more, something different, something that involves two parties instead of one." When we forgive we do so because Christ first forgave us. And we forgive like Christ forgave us.

This conditional forgiveness model, thus, moves past the notion that we are all wounded individuals who are forgiving so that we will feel better. Rather, recognizing we are the same members of Christ's body, we work together, repenting to one another, forgiving each other and thereby being reconciled to one another.

Let me leave you with this. A loved one in our extended family is not a believer. He heard a sermon recently on this very topic preaching this second model. After the service, he said something along these lines: So if God tells me I am to forgive everyone unconditionally like He forgave us then I've already been forgiven by God and don't need to repent?

Do you see what we are communicating when we preach unconditional forgiveness? We are preaching backwards that God's forgiveness does not require our repentance. This is one reason why this issue is so important to me! This psychobabble model of forgiveness has for too long been misconstruing the gospel that says: Salvation is in Jesus Christ alone by faith and through the repentance of sins.

I know this is a hot topic and one that stirs many emotions. What do you think about what I have said in this post? Have you ever thought about how we teach forgiveness between humans is actually antithetical to the gospel we preach of repentance of sins?

The Wicked Servant

Jesus told his disciples the following parable:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matt. 18:23-35)

I mentioned in a previous post that a couple of weeks ago I knocked down my friend’s mailbox. And when I say knocked down, I mean splintered the wood post holding up the mailbox into two pieces. The entire mailbox had to be replaced. I was so embarrassed. I asked for forgiveness and offered to pay for the replacement/repair of the mailbox. My friends not only forgave me but waived the debt — out of mercy and kindness.

The week before this incident my father-in-law, who lives with us, accidently broke my creamer container that matches my sugar container. I was so sad because I had become attached to my creamer using it every morning to warm up my Coffee Mate creamer to go in my coffee. I had bought it at Home Goods, so you know it was very inexpensive. He apologized profusely. Even though I accepted his apology, I told my FIL that he would have to buy me a new one. Last week (a week after the mailbox incident) my creamer came back to mind. I got hot. I still did not have a new creamer and I had a good mind to walk down the hall and demand money so that I could go buy myself a new creamer.

But then I stopped. Or rather the Holy Spirit stopped me bringing to mind and heart this parable from Matthew 18. I was that wicked servant! Having been forgiven a huge debt of hundreds of dollars, I was about to go demand a debt owed me of $10. Embarrassed. Convicted. Ashamed. I walked back to the kitchen and asked God’s forgiveness right then and there.

But it wasn’t just this incident that came to mind. How often have I been forgiven by my husband for a $50 splurge in a weak moment on a piece of clothing or household item only to jump on his back for going over budget by spending $2 on a muffin at his work? How often have friends and family forgiven me for a quick-tempered moment or hurtful words spoken by me only then for me to hold a grudge for something spoken by them to me in haste? The list goes on, but the fact remains that even though I want and desire mercy and forgiveness I often don’t want to give it to others. I don’t treat others as I wish to be treated. And, no matter what sin or debt others do or owe me it is nothing compared to the debt of sin that I’ve committed against God. And if God can forgive me of that great of debt, then I can forgive others of smaller debt.

This parable reminds me then of three things:

1. I have been forgiven a tremendous debt by God.

2. Out of my gratitude that I have been forgiven much, I should want to and should practice forgiving others’ debt to me.

3. If I don’t forgive as God has forgiven me, my Father, my God will show me the same unkindness that I have shown to others. Do I fear God enough? Do I believe God to keep His promises?

“Father, thank you for forgiving my debt of sin against you. Now, may I go and do the same to others showing kindness, love and mercy in my words, thoughts and deeds. Amen.”