The Gospel: Forgiveness

 At the very heart of the Gospel (the good news) is the cross, and the heartbeat (or the outworking) of the Gospel is forgiveness.   Forgiveness from God, and reconciliation with GodForgiveness , and reconciliation
 
It’s as though when we come to the cross on which Jesus was suffering, His dying heart beats with love,……I forgive you ……I forgive you…….I forgive you
 
If I said nothing more today in this short talk, that would be sufficient. Because unless we are forgiven we stand condemned and without excuse!
 
But God intervened in history, and made this wonderful provision for mere mortals like us to encounter the Divine personality and character of God himself!   He allowed his precious Son to take on human form, live an exemplary faultless life, and take upon Himself the penalty for all our wrongdoing.
 
Jesus was the only permanent single sacrifice that qualified to wipe away forever every sin that would ever be committed.
 
And He did it because He loved us despite our behaviour and the ugliness of our lives, wanting us to know forgiveness and restoration to God himself.
 
Adam was tested and failed, and as a result we all fail too
Jesus stood in our place, was tested, and gloriously succeeded, so we as a result can succeed too!
 
1 Cor 15:21-22
For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
 
God’s heart is to forgive us our wrongdoings. The whole Bible is littered with instances where God forgives even the most serious of wrongs.
 
However, Jesus himself, when asked how we should pray, taught this…..
 
Matt 6:9-15
 
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
13 And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
 
And then he elaborated on just this one point, no other……just this one
 
14 "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Now that is serious stuff! This is not the interpretation of scripture by a man, but the words of the Lord Jesus himself!
 
“But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses”
 
We must forgive those who wrong us ……..no other option is available. To harbour resentment and the desire to ‘get even’ will cause us grief not only in this life, but also the consequences of our Heavenly Father not forgiving us!
 
The bitterness that we harbour through failing to forgive, can and often does result in mental and physical illness.   And it’s something that we were never built to endure.   God never equipped us to handle bitterness and resentment.    Not only can it make you feel wretched, but it will make you ill if it’s not dealt with!
 
Handling Offense
The Bible teaches us how to handle situations where we have been wronged.
 
Matt 18:15-18
 
15 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.
 
16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'
 
17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
 
18 "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
 
(When you have time, read the remainder of that chapter to learn even more how God wants us to learn to forgive, just as we have been forgiven.)
 
Never should we take a situation where we have been wronged or offended to a third person. The bible makes it perfectly clear that we should always deal with the offence directly with the one who has offended you first!
 
To mention it to another is nothing more than gossip, because you haven’t given any opportunity for the person causing the offence to either justify himself (because in many instances it’s simply a matter of misunderstanding) or make good the wrong he/she has committed.
 
In almost all situations, resolution and harmony is achieved by handling the matter quietly between the two of you
 
You ask, what happens if he totally refuses to acknowledge his wrong doing?
 
Things are now more serious, and this is the first instance where others become involved. You take along one or two trustworthy people who you know will not be persuaded by strength of personality or favouritism but will consider the matter without prejudice.
 
Probably 99.9% of such concerns are resolved here.
 
Failing that, the matter needs to be judged before the whole church.   Clearly the fault here would be very serious indeed, for the potential outcome is one none of us would ever want to witness!
 
However, note that in every stage of this process, the motive must always be to restore relationship, and to forgive and forget wrongdoings.
 
Even treating him as a ‘pagan’ or ‘tax collector’ would mean that he is still a person that you want to win for Christ.
 
 
 
Causing someone else offense
And if we are the one’s who have caused offence or have wronged someone, and we are aware of it, how does God expect us to handle that?
 
Again the Bible is very straightforward and helpful.
 
Matt 5:23
 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.
 
Isn’t that interesting?
 
No matter whether you have been the one who has caused the problem, or you are the one who has been hurt, in either case God requires you to do something about it!
 
Why? Because God wants us to understand the basic principles of harmonious relationship……..and one of the key principles is keeping short accounts and always seeking to put right any wrongdoing
 
It is very difficult to live without a clear conscience. That’s why Paul states this to Felix whilst being questioned following his arrest    Acts 24:16 I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.
 
 
Breaking Bread
The relationship between our physical wellbeing and harbouring unforgiveness also shows up in the way in which Paul instructs us to behave during our time of breaking bread together.
 
1 Cor 11:17-18
In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.
 
In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.
 
He then goes on to describe the passage that is so familiar to us in part, but so often we fail to include all the words that Paul instructs,
 
 
 
1 Cor 11:23-31
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread,
 
24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me."
 
25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me."
 
26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
 
27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.
 
28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.
 
29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognising the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.
 
30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.
 
31 But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.
 
The reason we fail to see the importance of this, is that we fail to recognise that we are the body of the Lord!    Yes we will never forget what Jesus has done for us….we celebrate that…….but he has now made us (Christians) his body!   That’s why it is relevant to pray for one another during breaking of bread.Yes we will never forget what Jesus has done for us….we celebrate that…….but he has now made us (Christians) his body!   That’s why it is relevant to pray for one another during breaking of bread.
 
So in breaking bread we are mindful of Him, but we also need to be mindful of each other, that is something that the church in Corinth was failing to do, and were being severely admonished for it! Some were suffering illness and even death as a result!
 
We have to take this matter of forgiveness seriously. We neglect it or ignore it at our peril! 
 
If you are not in fellowship with another within the church, how can you risk taking communion with them?
 
 
 
Praying a blessing upon our ‘enemies’
Chrissie can recall times when she has been badly treated by individuals, both inside and outside of the church, when she has felt compelled to forgive them and then pray that God will bless them!   It has achieved some remarkable and very positive outcomes……if you ask her I’m sure she will tell you.
 
 
 
The immense value of doing things God’s way
I heard this story once when I lived in America. A Christian lady had caused a friend a serious hurt (I don’t know the details). It was bad enough to have split the friendship and years had passed without her doing anything about it despite feeling ashamed. 
 
One day she saw her former friend in a supermarket and the guilt of her offense swept over her once more, something which she had tried to suppress over the years. But the Holy Spirit convicted her to the degree that she knew she had to put matters right.
 
She tentatively approached her friend who was startled to see her again. She then confessed that she had been utterly wrong in the way that she had behaved in the past…. and simply said at the conclusion …….”will you forgive me?”
 
The friend paused for a moment and with tears in her eyes replied, “What you did, knowing you were a Christian, convinced me that Christianity contained people who were hypocrites……..but what you have done today gives me hope again.  
 
You see I am now quite ill and have been told by the doctors that I haven’t long to live.  I thought I would go to the grave still holding the hurt you caused me, but you have taken all my resentment away. Thank you. Yes, I do forgive you.”
 
I don’t know what happened after that. Maybe that friend found Jesus before she died. Who knows? All I know is that clearing one’s conscience and seeking forgiveness and restoring relationship is what God requires of all of us.
 
 
Hanging on to past wrongs
Some Christians find it hard to fully believe that they have been forgiven for all their sins.
 
Some keep asking forgiveness for the same thing, over and over again, without understanding that when we humbly confess our wrongs before God, he not only forgives but considers it such that it never happened.
 
He casts it aside. It is no longer held against us.
 
If God, who cannot lie, says we are forgiven, why do we stupidly keep dwelling upon that which has been dealt with?
 
 
But if we muck up again?     1 John 1:9   If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
 
Last year Sam reminded us that we are all forgiven through what Jesus did on our behalf on the cross.
 
And to remind us of that he handed out small cotton wool balls
 
As he gave a ball to each person he reminded us that God had forgiven us, and to take that small soft ball as a symbol to confirm our forgiveness.    
 
I’ve still got mine! Every time I open my wallet, tucked away at the bottom is a flatted piece of cotton wool. When I see it I think of the heartbeat of Jesus as He suffered for me on the cross…….” I forgive you….I forgive you….I forgive you.”
 
What wonderful Saviour we have!   What a marvellous faith is ours!   What an amazing gospel!

 

Brian Foster, 14/04/2010