Christ�s Teaching On Forgiveness
Passage: Ephesians 1:7
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace
Christ taught that forgiveness is a duty for the believer. We cannot stress this enough � it is indeed a duty, but a duty that believers alone can fulfill. For the believer, no limit can be set to the extent of forgiveness (Lk. 17:4) and it must be granted without reserve. There is a sense in which forgiveness is dependent on the desire of the recipient of forgiveness to be forgiven, on their repentance, etc.; but those things being in place, there is no limit on the amount of times that we are to forgive, or on the kinds of things that are to be forgiven.
Jesus will not admit that there is any wrong so gross nor so often repeated that it is beyond forgiveness. To Him an unforgiving spirit is one of the most heinous of sins This is the offense which God Himself will not forgive (Mt 18:34, 35). It is the very essence of the unpardonable sin (Mk 3:22-30). It was the one blemish of the elder son which marred an otherwise irreproachable life (Lk 15:28-30).
This natural, pagan spirit of implacability Jesus sought to displace by a generous, forgiving spirit. It is so far the essence of His teaching that in popular language �a Christian spirit� is not inappropriately understood to be synonymous with a forgiving disposition. His answer to Peter that one should forgive not merely seven times in a day, but seventy times seven (Mt 18:21, 22), not only shows that He thought of no limit to one�s forgiveness, but that the principle could not be reduced to a definite formula.
However, Jesus recognized that in human relationships, there are conditions to be fulfilled before forgiveness can be granted. Forgiveness is part of a mutual relationship; the other part is the repentance of the offender. God does not forgive without repentance, nor is such one-sided forgiveness required of man.
The effect of forgiveness is to restore to its former state the relationship which was broken by sin or offense. Such a restoration requires the cooperation of both parties. There must be both a granting and an acceptance of the forgiveness. Sincere, deep-felt sorrow for the wrong which works repentance (2 Cor 7:10) is the condition of mind which insures the acceptance of the forgiveness. Hence, Jesus commands forgiveness when the offender turns again, saying, �I repent� (Lk 17:3, 1). It was this state of mind which led the father joyfully to welcome the Prodigal before he even gave utterance to his newly formed purpose (Lk 15:21).
It is not to be supposed, however, that failure to repent upon the part of the offender releases the offended from all obligation to extend forgiveness. Without the repentance of the one who has wronged him he can have a forgiving state of mind. This Jesus requires, as is implied by, �if ye forgive not every one his brother from your hearts� (Mt 18:35). It is also implied by the past tense in the Lord�s Prayer: �as we also have forgiven our debtors� (Mt 6:12). It is this forgiving spirit which conditions God�s forgiveness of our sins (Mk 11:25; Mt 6:14, 15). In such a case the unforgiving spirit is essentially unrepentance (Mt 18:23-35). �Of all acts, is not, for a man, repentance the most Divine?�
The offended is to go even farther and is to seek to bring the wrongdoer to repentance. This is the purpose of the rebuking commanded in Lk. 17:3. More explicitly Jesus says, �If thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone� (Mt 18:15-17). He is to carry his pursuit to the point of making every reasonable effort to win the wrongdoer, and only when he has exhausted every effort may he abandon it. The object is the gaining of his brother. Only when this is evidently unattainable is all effort to cease.
The power of binding and loosing, which means forbidding and allowing, was granted to Peter (Mt 16:19) and to the Christian community (Mt 18:18; Jn. 20:23). It clearly implies the possession of the power to a tool that God can use to bring about the forgiveness sins. In the case of Peter�s power it was exercised when he used the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Mt 16:19). This consisted in the proclamation of the gospel and especially of the conditions upon which men might enter into relationship with God (Acts 2:38; 10:34ff). It was not limited to Peter only, but was shared by the other apostles (Mt 16:19; 18:18). Christ left no fixed rules the observance or non-observance of which would determine whether one is or is not in the kingdom of God. He gave to His disciples principles, and in the application of these principles to the problems of life there had to be the exercise of discriminating judgment. The proclamation of this idea and truth was left to the Christian community (2 Cor 2:10). It is limited by the principles which are the basis of the kingdom, but within these principles the voice of the community is supreme. The forgiveness here implied is not the pronouncing of absolution for the sins of individuals, but the determination of courses of conduct and worship which will be acceptable. In doing this its decisions will be ratified in heaven (Jn 20:23). The church, the larger community bears responsibility to act as the arbiter of process, declaring the need for repentance and forgiveness, and declaring the standards by which the process is measured and deemed valid or invalid on the individual�s part. It is not that the church forgives sins, or that the church even declares sins forgiven, that is the province of god alone. Rather, the church (the larger community of God) stands as the judge of the standard, so to speak, for serious believers who wish to be in submission to the Word and to the standards it puts forth. It is a hazardous thing for an individual believer to elevate himself beyond the reach of the church and refuse to submit himself to the standards that the church seeks, righteously and justly, to measure conduct by. This is not legalism , nor is it ecclesiasticalism. Rather, it is a very Biblical application of the principles of accountability and authority.
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