Archive for the 'forgiveness' Category

27
Nov
13

Our Forgiveness: Cause or Effect of God’s Forgiveness?

Does God forgive us because we are forgiving or are we forgiving because God forgives us?  In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus tells a parable that seems to indicate that God’s forgiveness is based on our forgiveness.  Here is the parable:

“21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. 23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.  24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. 28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. 32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? 34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”

At first glance it does look like Jesus saying that we have to earn God’s forgiveness especially when he underscores the lesson of the parable in verse 35.   Over the years many LDS members have referred to this passage to make that point to me.

But a closer look at the parable shows that this is not its message. Before anything else, the king forgives the unmerciful servant.  Also note how wonderfully he does that.  The servant doesn’t even ask him for forgiveness.  All he asks for is a time extension. Instead of granting him that wish, however, the king immediately and fully forgives his massive debt. (10,000 talents of gold was an unbelievable debt seeing that a talent was about 100 pounds.  We are talking about 50 tons of gold.)

The king’s incredible forgiveness of this massive debt comes totally out of the blue.  Nothing the servant did merited this forgiveness. At this point in the parable all we know of the servant is his failure to pay the debt. It is obvious that God did not forgive him because he was so forgiving.  God’s forgiveness came first. Our forgiveness of others flows from God’s forgiveness of us, and not vice versa.  God’s forgiveness gives us the motivation and the impetus to be forgiving ourselves.

This parable then becomes another illustration of how works, in this case our being forgiving, are an effect of being forgiven and not a cause of our being forgiven.  It brings in the added element that when the Holy Ghost creates faith in people, they are naturally changed.  They were spiritually dead.  Now they are spiritually alive.  And if that change is not evident – in this case by not being forgiving – then it is an indication that the person does not truly believe.

What an awesome God we have.  To him be all praise, glory, and honor.

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11
Jul
13

LDS Forgiveness

Recently when I was in Salt Lake City, I stopped by the LDS Church’s Distribution Center.  It has a bookstore where you can purchase all the latest church manuals and materials.  I was somewhat surprised to see a tract, first printed in 1984, still on sale.  It is entitled “Repentance Brings Forgiveness”.

The setting for the tract is a visit by a young couple to their bishop to confess having pre-marital sex.  After confessing their sin, they ask:  “Can we ever be forgiven?”  The bishop replies:  “Yes, the Lord and his church can forgive, but not easily.” The rest of the tract expands on the difficult and painful path to forgiveness.  Following are some excerpts that emphasize that point:

“When we say that the sexual sins are forgivable, this does not mean it is easy to gain forgiveness. Even though it is hard to gain forgiveness, it is something that must be done.”

“The forsaking of sin must be a permanent one.  True repentance does not permit making the same mistake again.”

“It is unthinkable that God forgives sins which are serious after just a few prayers.  He is likely to wait until there has been a long, sustained repentance as shown by a willingness to live all his commandments.”

“The Lord, in his preface to the Doctrine and Covenants, gave us the fifth and one of the most difficult requirements to forgiveness.  He says, ‘For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with least degree of allowance.  Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.’ (D&C 1:31-32).  The repenting person must start on the never-ending task of keeping the commandments of the Lord.  Obviously this can hardly be done in a day, a week, a month, or a year, but must go on all one’s life.”

“Now the phrase ‘with all his heart’ is vital.  There can be no holding back.  If the sinner neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, or fails in his prayers and other responsibilities, he is not completely repentant.  The Lord knows, as does the individual, the degree of sorrowful repentance, and his forgiveness will be as great or as little as the person deserves.”

“James indicated that each good deed, each testimony, each missionary effort, each help given to others is like a blanket over one’s own sins, or like a deposit against an overdraft in the bank.”

I don’t know about you, but all I can say is “Wow”.  As this tract not only states, but also emphasizes over and over, LDS forgiveness does not come easily.

The Bible talks about forgiveness so differently!  Yes it also often connects forgiveness with repentance but biblical repentance is not this long painful process.  Rather it is changing our mindset (the Greek word for repentance literally means a change of mind).  It is the switching from trusting in our own goodness and works to be accepted by God to trusting in Jesus’ goodness and works as the basis for being accepted by God.  And when that happens, forgiveness comes instantaneously as David experienced.  “And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord.  And Nathan said unto David, The Lord hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” (2 Samuel 12:13).  Instead of pain, that brings great joy as David said in Psalm 32:  “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” (Ps. 32:1)

It’s all about God’s grace and what Jesus has done for us.  “”In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”  “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity? (Micah 7:18)  It’s all about God’s pardoning us, not our works becoming “a blanket over one’s own sins”.   Not our works, but Jesus’ blood – that is what blankets our sins.  To Jesus be all praise and glory!

24
May
13

JESUS MY CREDITOR?

One of Mormonism’s basic manuals is a book entitled “Gospel Principles”.  Starting on p. 75 it quotes a parable given by Elder Boyd K . Packer, an LDS apostle.   It’s quite lengthy so I will summarize much of it here.  Heavenly Father is the creditor.  We are the debtors.  After awhile we realize that we can’t pay back the debt. After a discussion about justice and mercy, Jesus, the mediator, steps in. He asks the creditor if he will free the debtor from the contract, if he, the mediator, pays the entire debt. The creditor agrees. Let me pick it up there by quoting a few sentences:

“The mediator turned then to the debtor. ‘If I pay your debt, will you accept me as your creditor?’

“‘Oh yes, yes,’ cried the debtor. ‘You saved me from prison and show mercy to me.’

“‘Then’ said the benefactor, ‘you will pay the debt to me and I will set the terms. It will not be easy, but it will be posssible. I will provide a way. You need not go to prison.’”

For many Christians, this illustrates quite sharply the difference between the teachings of Mormonism and biblical Christianity.  Many Christians are genuinely horrified to hear Jesus being described as a creditor.  This goes against every grain of their being.

This horror on the part of Christians is mystifying to many Mormons.  They don’t see the problem.  They wonder what the big deal is.  To them seeing Jesus as their creditor is no big deal – it’s even natural.

For me, not only the parable itself, but then also the two differing and drastic reactions to it clearly illustrate the differences between Mormonism and Christianity.  The parable illustrates the different teaching; the differing reactions illustrate the different mindsets. As Christians talk with their Mormon friends, they need to not only remember that many times words will be defined differently between the two, but also that their mindsets will be different from that of their LDS friends.

As for me, I am so thankful that Jesus doesn’t ask me if I will accept him as my creditor.  No, he is my Savior who has paid my debt fully and buried all my sins in the depths of the sea.

19
Apr
13

What will be your defense on Judgment Day?

The sub-title for Chapter 8 of the Teachings of President Lorenzo Snow is “Righteous Latter-day Saints strive to ‘establish a character before God that could be relied upon in the hour of trial.”  This sums up well the chapter’s thrust of encouraging people to develop a good character to win God’s approval.  For example, a title of one of the sections is “If we have established a proper character, we can confidently invite God to search our hearts.”  That section then continues with this quote from President Snow.

“I am under the strongest impression, that the most valuable consideration, and that which will be of the most service when we return to the spirit world, will be that of having established a proper and well defined character as faithful and consistent Latter-day Saints in this state of probation.” (p. 119)

This emphasis on the importance of a person’s character is summed up in the last paragraph of the chapter.  “Our character, as Latter-day Saints, should be preserved inviolate, at whatever cost or sacrifice.  Character, approved of God is worth securing, even at the expense of a life-time of constant self-denial.  While thus living we may look forward. . .with full assurance that. . .we shall be crowned with the sons and daughters of God, and possess the wealth and glory of a Celestial kingdom.” (The quote contains the omissions indicated with the . . .)

Much of this chapter is based on David’s prayer in Psalm 139: 23-24:  “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” I find this reference to David’s prayer interesting for a couple of reasons.  First, David is not held up as a model of virtue in the LDS Church.  The LDS Old Testament manual says of David:  “David is still paying for his sins.” (p. 291) And again, by having Uriah killed, “David thus moved from a serious but forgivable sin to an unpardonable one.”  It further states that David will spend eternity in the lowest kingdom of heaven taught in Mormonism, the telestial kingdom.  Therefore it is striking that President Snow holds David up as a model to follow.

But this use of David is also striking because the Bible points to him as a model – not of a man who trusted in his own righteousness – but one who trusted in God’s forgiveness!  “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” (Romans 4:6-8)

It’s in that light that we need to read his prayer in Psalm 139.  As one man commented on these verses: “David closes not with pride, but with humility.  He recognizes that without forgiveness he too would fall under the wrath of a holy God.  David circles back to the beginning of the psalm and asks that the Lord would use his knowledge of David to cleanse him from every evil way which would lead him away from God.”  David never thought he would be blessed because of his own righteousness.  He knew that he would be blessed only through the forgiveness won for him by the greatest Son of David, Jesus Christ.

So when you stand before God what will you point to in your defense?  Will you point to your righteous character or Christ’s righteousness?  When it comes to being worthy and acceptable to God, the only righteousness that stands is Christ’s righteousness.  “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.  But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.“ (Romans 3:20-24)

What will be your defense?  I pray that the only evidence you will present will be Jesus’ righteousness.  Everything else, especially pointing to your character, will ruin your defense and result not in praise but condemnation.  David placed all his hope in the coming Savior.  Because of that, in spite of all his sins, he now is living and will live for all eternity in Heavenly Father’s glorious presence.  Place all your hopes in Jesus and you too will spend eternity with God.

21
Nov
12

Thanksgiving

There are so many things to thank the Lord for!  His blessings truly deserve the description of “innumerable’. They cover every aspect of life – and every moment of life.  They are so plentiful that we often take them for granted.  But every breathe we take is a blessing from God.  Every morsel of food we eat (and we eat more than just morsels!) is a gift from God.  The good weather we experience, the periods of relaxation that we enjoy, the friends and families that mean so much to us – all are blessings from God.  Literally everything we have ultimately comes from our gracious Lord.

And there are so many blessings that we don’t even see: the accident that was averted; the illness that did not touch us; the danger that passed over us.  We are often like little children – going our way blissfully unaware of how the Lord, as our loving Father, is faithfully watching over us and keeping us safe.

But towering over all these blessings is his ultimate blessing, namely, being completely forgiven and totally accepted through Jesus.  This is how the book of Hebrews puts it:  “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.  Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;” (Hebrews 10:14-20)

Just think of it!  The Lord not only forgives all our sins because of Jesus’ one sacrifice, he also forgets them.  He doesn’t ask us to pay him back.  He doesn’t remind us of them whenever we fail.  No, as the prophet Micah said, he drowns them in the depths of the sea.  They are gone!

On this Thanksgiving weekend, show God your thankfulness especially for this.  Show that thankfulness by never doubting your status with him.  See and say that you are worthy before him, not because of what you do, but because of what Jesus has done for you.  Show that thankfulness by giving Jesus every bit of credit for God accepting you.  Be thankful by being confident that you are going to live forever with Heavenly Father because of Jesus’ sacrifice and not because of any ordinances that you have done.

  Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:

Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;

Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;

Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.

He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.

He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.

10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.

12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.  (Psalm 103: 1-12)

09
Nov
12

God is good – life can be hard

Yesterday I shared some of my thoughts on Genesis 20 and how good God is.  Today I would like to share a few thoughts on Genesis 21.  This chapter records the miraculous birth of Isaac – an event that Paul expands on in both Galatians and Romans.  But the thing that struck me as I read it this morning is how there is no escaping the fact that sin often makes life difficult.

Genesis 21 tells us how Sarah laughed in joy and faith at the birth of Isaac.  (Isaac means “he laughs” a name that God gave him because both Abraham and Sarah laughed when God first told them that they would have a son.)  But then in the very next paragraph we hear how Ismael didn’t laugh, he mocked Isaac.  In fact, Paul in Galatians 4 says Ishmael was persecuting Isaac.  This reminds me of the comment made by Luther that the devil is God’s ape.  He apes the ways of God but always with a vicious twist.  Here he causes Ishmael to viciously mimic Sarah’s laughter with mockery.  Sin turns the happy picture sour.

So much so that Sarah demands that Ishmael and his mother be banished. The Bible says this distressed Abraham.  It’s not hard to see why.  After all, Ismael was his only son until Isaac was born about 15 years later.  There is no doubt he loved him.  But he probably also thought if only he wouldn’t have gone down that sinful path and tried to have a son by Hagar none of this would be happening.  He realized that his own actions had brought a lot of this grief upon himself.

This illustrates a truth that is often bitter for us to accept.  And that is that even though God forgives us our sins, he still often makes us suffer some of the earthly consequences of it.  The person who stole turns to God and is forgiven.  But he still might have to serve jail time.  The believer stumbles and gossips about his friend.  He is forgiven but he might suffer a strained or even broken relationship.  God often makes us suffer the consequences of our sins – because he loves us.  He knows that, without suffering those consequences, we might continue in that sinful action.  As Hebrews 12 makes clear, discipline is a sign of God’s love for us.  But that doesn’t make it always easy to bear.  Because of sin, life can be hard.

It was hard for Abraham.  It was hard on Hagar and Ishmael – forcing them to flee. Later in the chapter we see Abimelech coming to make a treaty with Abraham.  After he was deceived by Abraham in chapter 20, he doesn’t trust him.  That had to feel like a knife in Abraham’s chest.  Sin has consequences.  Sin makes life hard.

But throughout, God remains faithful.  He reassures Abraham when he is distressed about sending away his son Ishmael.  He provides for Hagar and Ishmael when they flee and later on as Ishmael grows up.  He is our good shepherd watching over us sheep – sheep who often act dumb and sinfully.

I needed to be reminded of the reality that, because of sin, life can be hard at times.  I needed that reminder so I’m not surprised when that happens.  I needed that reminder so that I don’t entertain any notion that I can keep my life free of problems.  We live in a sinful world.  That means we will have problems.  The worst thing is to have the illusion that God will make all our problems go away. Talk about setting ourselves up for disappointment.

But I also needed the reminder that the Lord is always there for me – even when I don’t see that.  He continues to bless me in spite of my sins.  He continues to provide for me in spite of my ingratitude.  He continues to protect me in spite of my foolishness.  And most importantly of all, he continues to promise me that I will be spending eternity in his presence, as a member of his eternal family, because Jesus has covered every inch of me with his righteousness.  What a wonderful faithful Lord we have. To God be all glory!

03
May
12

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

Of all the parables Jesus told, one of the most familiar is the Parable of the Prodigal Son recorded in Luke 15.  It is a wonderful story of God’s forgiveness as the father rushes out and welcomes home his wayward son.

But, as we place it into its context, we see that the point Jesus was really making was the joy we are to experience whenever we see a lost soul saved.  H makes that emphasis in direct response to the Pharisees’ murmuring against him.  “And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” (Luke 15:2).  In response, Jesus tells three parables about the lost – the parable of the Prodigal Son being the last of the three.  And all three emphasize the joy we are to feel when we see the lost saved.  (See Luke 15:5-7, 9-10, 22-24)

In that setting it is obvious that the complaining elder son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son represents the Pharisees.   His anger over his father throwing a feast for his brother mirrors the murmuring of the Pharisees over Jesus eating with the tax collectors and sinners.  I’m sure that the Pharisees listening to Jesus as he unfolded this parable felt as if he had hit them with a two by four over their heads!  In essence, Jesus was telling them that, instead of murmuring, they should be rejoicing that he was reaching the lost.

Therefore I found it interesting to see how Mormonism interprets this parable.  In the New Testament manual, The Life and Teachings of Jesus & His Apostles, it talks about the mercy and forgiveness of the Father.  But what I found interesting is that it talks more about the two sons than it does the father.  The point it emphasizes is that the father “did not have the younger son restored to all the privileges he had forfeited.”  He was received back but now “the farm” is gone.  “The ‘father’ himself cannot undo the effect of the foregone choice.”

In striking contrast, the older son becomes the role model.  He is described as the “more dutiful” son.  “The father consoled him with the statement: “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.”   In other words, for him “the farm” was not gone.  Unlike the younger son, he did not forfeit his privileges.  There is not one mention made of the Pharisees and their ungodly murmuring against Jesus.

A beautiful story of forgiveness is turned into a story of making choices.  “Every choice one makes either expands or contracts the area in which he can make and implement future decisions.  When one makes a choice, he irrevocably binds himself to accept the consequences of that choice.”  So much so, that “the ‘father’ cannot undo the effect of the foregone choice.”

The Bible teaches about a Heavenly Father who can undo the effects of foregone choices and has done so in Jesus Christ.  Through the saving work of Christ he has restored all the privileges that we have forfeited through sin.  Because of Jesus I’m looking forward to living eternally with Heavenly Father.




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