Sunday, August 29, 2010

Forgiveness As A Non-negotiable Requirement

Guest blogger, Stan Nussbaum, takes us on a journey through the messianic year calendar.

Welcome to the journey of our Messiah through the year with Dr. Nussbaum.

“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters in your heart." Mt. 18:35 (NLT)

I believe we evangelicals have drifted into serious abuse of the doctrine of forgiveness, which is strange because we have defended it so well for so long. In the 16th century it divided us from Catholics and in the early 20th century it divided us from liberals. The doctrine of forgiveness is not our problem today. Our problem is the unbiblical way we have split the doctrine of forgiveness from the practice of forgiveness.

It is very widely believed among evangelicals that our forgiveness is guaranteed if we believe the right things (Jesus is the Son of God, the Bible is true, etc.) and “accept” Jesus into our lives. If we taught that we had to do anything else to get or keep forgiveness, we think we would be teaching a doctrine of salvation by works and denying that forgiveness is a free gift through Christ.

It is also believed by many that forgiveness, once granted to us, is eternal and irreversible. If we taught that it might be canceled somehow, we think we would be insecure in our relationship with God and we would be insulting his character, implying that he is fickle or even that he might double-cross us. Unthinkable!

Matthew would be very surprised to hear us reasoning like this. Have we never read the parable of the unforgiving servant? (Mt. 18:23-35) Consider how this parable of Jesus avoids the traps we think we will fall into if we teach that Jesus requires forgiven people to forgive others.

In the parable the servant whose massive debt is forgiven by his master refuses to forgive another servant who owes him a pittance. The master is furious that the forgiveness of the huge debt had no effect on the servant’s heart so he cancels the forgiveness and throws him into debtors’ prison. The conclusion:
“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters in your heart.”
(Mt. 18:35) We find the identical point once in the Lord’s Prayer and two more times right afterward. (Mt. 6:12, 14, 15)

This parable skips right over the three traps we are so worried about. First, would the forgiven servant have been able to boast about “earning” his own forgiveness if he had forgiven his fellow servant? How ridiculous! The master forgave him out of mercy before he had done anything.

Second, when he got his forgiveness, should the servant have been insecure, wondering whether the master might withdraw it? No. It was a gift, a done deal.

Third, was the master fickle? Did he double-cross the servant? Not at all. He assumed that his great mercy would engender mercy in the servant and he was shocked when it did not. Since the debt was simply between the two of them, the master was just as much within his rights to cancel the forgiveness as he had been to cancel the debt.

Through this parable our Messiah was teaching that forgiveness is not a right, even after it is granted. It is a gift of mercy. If such a staggering gift does not turn the forgiven ones into merciful people, it shows that they are refusing to enter the Messiah’s kingdom of transformation even though they are clutching the forgiveness they think will guarantee them a place in the Messiah’s kingdom of heaven. They are in for a let down. They repudiate their forgiveness by refusing to let it go to work inside them. It will be revoked, forfeited, just like the forgiveness of the servant in the parable.

Welcome: Jesus our Messiah, we welcome your gift of forgiveness, given at incredible cost to us when we deserved nothing at all. May the gift do its transforming work in us.

Affirmation: If I do not forgive people who sin against me, the Father does not forgive me for my sin no matter what creed I believe in. (see Mt. 6:14-15)



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