Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness

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.

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.

02
Apr
13

EASTER AND GOD’S COURTROOM

A Bible verse that contains a great deal of comfort but one that is not that well-known is Romans 4:25.  Talking about Jesus it says, “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised to life again for our justification.”  It consists of two parallel parts which could be formatted like this:

“Who was delivered for our offences,

and was raised to life again for our justification.”

Most people quickly understand the first half.  Jesus was delivered to death, not because of anything he had done, but because of what we had done.  He was delivered for our offences, our sins.  As John wrote, “He is the propitiation for sins; not only for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”  (1 John 2:2)

But it has been my experience that people don’t as quickly see the point of the second half of this verse.  Just as Jesus was delivered because of our sins, so also he was raised for, or because, of our justification.  Just as our sins were the cause of his death, so our justification was the cause of his resurrection.  That statement gives us tremendous comfort – that statement sheds a wonderful new light on Easter.

This is so comforting because justification is nothing other than a verdict of acquittal.  Paul borrowed this term from the courtroom.  It was the term used whenever a judge formally pronounced a “not guilty” verdict.  By pronouncing that verdict, the judge was justifying the defendant.  He was not making him just, he was declaring him just.  Justification refers to God declaring us “not guilty”.

The exciting thing this verse brings out is how God’s verdict of us is tied to Easter. Note the cause and effect.  It’s not that because Jesus rose from the dead, we are justified.  No, it is the other way around.  Because God justified us acquitted us, Jesus could rise from the dead.  Therefore Easter is God’s wonderful proof that we have already been justified, acquitted, in Christ.  Our justification is a past event, not a future one.

This shows just how completely Jesus took responsibility for our sins.  He became so identified with our sins that Paul could write, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin.”  (2 Corinthians 5:21)  But this also shows how completely his payment for our sins becomes our payment for our sins.  God looked on it so thoroughly as our payment that, on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice, God justified us, acquitted us way back then – a point he dramatically makes by raising Jesus from the dead.

Thus Easter reassures us that nothing is left for us to do in order to be justified by God.  Jesus has done it all!  May you always treasure the fact that he “was raised to life again for our justification.”

 

29
Mar
13

Good Friday

Some people struggle with how Christians can call today Good Friday.  After all, today is the day Jesus died a horrible death on the cross.  Why describe such an event as good?  Why commemorate it by adorning our homes and bodies with crosses?  Isn’t that morbid?

I can see where people are coming from with those questions.  Normally I would totally agree.  Crucifixions were terrible.  They were so bad that I wonder how anybody could even witness them.

But it’s the very horror of Jesus’ crucifixion that emphasizes why today is Good Friday. Today is a good day because here we are observing the ultimate expression of God’s love for us. God the Father willingly sacrificed his Son for us.  Jesus willingly suffered all this for us!  They did this because they knew that this is the only way that we could live with them forever in heaven.  It was crystal clear to them that there was no way anybody could save themselves.  Sin had spiritually killed us all.  We were dead in sin.  And dead people can’t do anything.

Therefore they did it all for us.  That means that Jesus didn’t just have to suffer physically on the cross.  No, he had to experience the abandonment of his Father – because that was the true price for sin.  It wasn’t the nails driven into his hands that caused him the greatest pain – it was when he cried, out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  There Jesus was drinking to the full the cup – the thought of which had so terrified him in the garden.

But Jesus drank that cup down to the dregs – all for us.  We know that because he told us so.  That is the significance of those simple words, “it is finished”.  In the original Greek, that phrase consists of only one word.  It was a word that was used to mark bills paid in full.  In this striking way, Jesus declared that he had fully paid our debt of sin.

By raising Jesus gloriously from the dead on Easter, the Father dramatically showed that he accepted that payment.  If Jesus had not paid for our sins, after repeatedly saying that is what he was going to do, there would be no way that the Father would have exalted him by raising him so gloriously.  Jesus’ resurrection is our receipt proving that he truly did pay our debt.

Down through the centuries, Christians have clung tenaciously to these facts.  When voices from within or without call into question the completeness of that payment, they stand firm on the fact that, because of Jesus, they can view their debt of sin as paid in full.  There is no greater joy or relief than that.  On the cross Jesus drowned our sins in the depths of the sea.  He separated them from us as far as the east is from the west.

It is my prayer that today many people experience the great joy and relief of having a Savior who had done it all.  A Savior who gives them, as his gift, free and full salvation.  May today truly be good for you.  To Jesus be all praise and glory.

14
Feb
13

A Sobering Scripture

In his third chapter, James writes:

          “Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.  Behold also the ships, which though [they be] so great, and [are] driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.  Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

         And the tongue [is] a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

7        For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:  But the tongue can no man tame; [it is] an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

9       Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.  Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.  Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet [water] and bitter?  Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so [can] no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.”

There are fewer passages that are more sobering than that.  It vividly shows that talk is not cheap – that the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is totally wrong.  We all can think of examples of how just a few words destroyed a person.  Words are powerful – and deadly.

What is even more sobering is that when, in the last paragraph James applies this to believers, he shows that, even after people have been brought to faith, they can’t completely control their tongues.  The best we can do is an unnatural inconsistency – as we talk out of both sides of our mouths.

That is something that I can’t argue with.  It’s not difficult to think of biting words I wished I would have swallowed; unloving criticism that I have gleefully offered, teasing that went too far.  This passage does a good job of fulfilling its purpose.  It vividly shows me my sin.

What a blessing it is that seeing my sinfulness doesn’t drive me to despair but rather drives me into the arms of my Savior.  As I think about this passage, I am filled with awe with the realization that Jesus never once spoke a wrong word.  Never once did his tongue cause him to sin.  Just try to imagine that.  As a boy playing with his brothers and sisters and the other kids in Nazareth, he never once said anything wrong.  As a  carpenter, never venting about a customer.  As a teacher, always giving just the right criticism to his disciples.  Even when he was abused, he didn’t strike back with wrong words.

And then! I realize that I get all the credit for that!  This is all part of the perfect robe of his righteousness – the robe that he has freely given me – the robe that makes me perfect in God’s sight.  But not only did he cover my sins with his righteousness, he washed them away with his blood!  All those unkind words – all that biting criticism – they have been separated from me as far as the east is from the west.  Because of Jesus, and only because of him, I am a perfect saint in God’s eyes.  Because of Jesus, and only because of him, I am totally confident that I will spend all eternity with him and the Father as part of their eternal family.  To him and to him alone be all praise and glory!




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