Forgiveness That Isn’t?


Keith had seen Franklin Fastener, his great-great-great-grandfather’s company, through many trials in his tenure since taking over from his dad at the tender age of 30. The company made the best nuts and bolts in America. Which is why it pained Keith to think that he might have to close it down on his watch. Too little business coupled with too much competition from China. So when ConHugeCo asked for a bid on a massive project that would keep Franklin rolling in dough for another decade or more, Keith was ecstatic. He spent three months working hand in hand with ConHugeCo’s people to ensure the bidding went smoothly and the multinational got everything it asked for—both immediately and in spades. So it came as a terrible shock when the winning bid went to Shin Dao Manufacturing. Keith went home an hour later and cried for the first time in as long as he could remember.

Kendra first spotted Zach when he prayed for an elderly couple after the service. She was new to the church then, but it was impossible for her not to notice the tall, handsome, young man. Something clicked inside her when their eyes first met. It took Zach almost a year to ask her out, but when he did, she was convinced that this was finally The One. Zach was loved by many and could not be more respected. He had a job in banking and seemed to do no wrong. After a couple months of “by the book Christian dating,” Kendra thought she might finally hear the three words every gal longs for, but instead, Zach said he didn’t think that the relationship was working for him, and he walked away.

Rebecca had the house, the means, and the love of children to start a daycare in her home. Her husband, Rick, encouraged her to go for it, especially since many in their neighborhood were struggling to find good daycare. Though Rick has a solid job as a security specialist for a large computer company, he and Rebecca were planning to give her daycare income to some friends who were missionaries working in an orphanage in Uganda. But Rebecca’s elation and godly hope soon turned to despair. There would be no daycare in her home because the state would not license her. Why? Because in Rick’s youth he had been convicted of felony computer hacking before he turned his life around, and the state would not issue a daycare license if a convicted felon lived in the home.

Keith, Kendra, and Rebecca. Three burned people.

'Parable of the Wicked Servant' by Domenico FettiThen Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
—Matthew 18:21-35 ESV

We know well this passage about the unjust steward who received forgiveness for his massive debt but would not forgive another for a much smaller one. My pastor preached on it yesterday and talked about forgiving those who sin against you as a bedrock discipline for true disciples.

I wondered about those cases when no sin is involved, though. That comes up often enough to merit some discussion. In fact, I discussed these same cases with three friends after the service.

In the examples above, ConHugeCo simply chose another winner for their bid, while Zach decided that his relationship with Kelly was not going to lead to marriage. Keith and Kelly felt the brunt of those decisions, and ultimately felt terrible and suffered for the decisions, but again, no one sinned, so by the Bible’s standard, there was nothing or no one to forgive. In Rebecca’s situation, Rick had been forgiven years ago. And the state was just abiding by its own laws in an attempt to protect children.

In these three cases, each person feels wronged. But is forgiveness merited? And to whom?

What do you think? Why?

The Church Beyond the Cross


Sun & CrossIf you were to ask me what day in the Christian calendar grabs my attention the most, I would have to say Good Friday. Something about that day lays hold of my heart and gets me thinking about the things of Christ, even more so than Easter. (I suspect that is largely due to my upbringing.)

When I enter the online Christian world, one reality hits me time and again:  The top Christian blogs present solid cross-centered theology. In an age of Your Local Nondenominational Community Megachurch and its emphasis on showmanship and “what’s in it for me?” churchianity, that’s a good thing.

Yet at the risk of sounding heretical, I wonder if there’s a shortsighted lack associated with a focus on the cross alone.

Over at The Sola Panel, Gordon Cheng titles a post “Too Much Cross of Christ?” and calls on John Stott to help him with his answer, which is no. (HT: Challies)

That answer to the post title troubles me because it follows from a different question than the one Cheng actually addresses in his blog post, especially when he answers in light of a teaching and preaching emphasis. The question he is really asking is “Can the cross be too essential to the core of Christian theology?” That’s a solid no; obviously, much of our theology stems from an understanding of sin and the cross. The problem is that it is not the same question as Cheng asks in his blog post title.

We live in an age soft on sin. Despite this, many parts of the Church today are stuck on sin. Believers are constantly reminded that they are sinners in need of salvation. Reminding people of the necessity of the cross is a fine message, but is it the only one?

To me, some churches live as if it were always Good Friday and never Easter and Pentecost. As lamented by the inhabitants of Narnia, winter seems to have a perpetual grip on the land, unthawed by springtime and rebirth. Some preachers and teachers capably get people to the cross, but they can’t seem to get them to the empty tomb and to the assembling place where Holy Fire fell from heaven. In that light, the answer to whether we can have too much cross of Christ may very well be yes.

Without the resurrection, Paul writes that our faith is in vain and we are men most pitied (1 Cor. 15:1-22).

Without Pentecost, there is no Church and no empowering of the saints for service (see the entire book of Acts).

So it seems to me that while the Christian faith begins at Good Friday, it continues on and on in Pentecost.

Why then do our churches often fail so badly to venture beyond the cross? Why are so many of us still rooted in our identities as sinners and not in the new birth identity of saint?

Consider this passage:

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
—2 Corinthians 3:7-18

I am troubled by some denominations and Christian thought-groups that fail to teach believers that they are daily transitioning from sinners into saints. Such pew-dwellers repeatedly hear how they are mired in sin, but they never hear that as the redeemed they are being transformed from one degree of glory into another. In fact, in churches that never seem to venture beyond the cross, one must ask if they are even a New Testament church at all.

In some circles where the sinner mentality reigns, their pneumatology appears rooted more in the Old Testament than New. The radical reality of the New Testament is that the Holy Spirit of God comes to dwell inside the redeemed believer. Such was not the case with the Old Testament heroes of the faith. The Holy Spirit would fall on them for a time, but the permanent dwelling inside was reserved for the New Testament saint.

Some Christians have this tendency to continue to place God solely outside the believer. This is an Old Testament kind of thinking, though. It gives the individual believer no authority. All things supernatural that happen do so despite the believer, not because of the believer. It creates a worldview where the Church does not matter because God can do it all Himself.

There is no doubt that God can do it all Himself. The reality is that He chooses NOT to do it that way. Instead, He invest authority in believers by virtue of His own Spirit dwelling inside them. This is the exciting—and essential—truth of what it means to be in Christ!

The ramifications of this are astonishing: The lowliest New Testament saint is greater than the greatest Old Testament prophet (see Luke 7:27-28 and throughout the NT for corroboration).

When was the last time you got that sermon in church? How many Christian blogs discuss this reality at length?

If the answers to those questions trouble you, they should. This lack is largely due to the fact that we have an underdeveloped understanding of what it means to be Spirit-filled believers. And we have that lack because we are not preaching and teaching what exists beyond the cross: the resurrection, Pentecost, the transition of the sinner into sainthood, and the authority of the redeemed believer in Christ. Instead, we continue to push a theology that keeps the believer a meaningless, individual sinner and not a saint.

Consider this passage:

And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?”
—Acts 19:11-15

How is it that the demon recognized Paul? Because Paul had authority as a saint in the Kingdom of God. Consider the depth of what that means!

When that same Paul wrote to the young churches, he greeted them as fellow saints, not as fellow sinners. He talked about how they had all once been slaves to sin but were now translated into the Kingdom of God where they were now saints entrusted with the Spirit of God.

For the Church to truly rise to the calling of Christ, we need not only the cross but the resurrection and Pentecost. We need our preachers and teachers to tell the people in the seats that “sinner” is not their final identification. We need to learn what it means to have authority in Christ because He makes His home inside us. We need to know the full breadth of our birthright because of what the cross won for us, not just for the sin Christ took away from us.

We can have no pure Christian theology without the essential of the cross! But the cross is not the sole essential. Resurrection and empowerment by the Holy Spirit spring from the cross. And if we fail to teach and live what comes beyond the cross, we will fail to be the Church of Jesus Christ.

Sinners or Saints?


Driving home this evening, I got to thinking about what I’ve written here the last few days. Much of it centers around how we Christians perceive ourselves and what Christ has done for us. Saints of the Most High God!It’s the question of whether we see ourselves as sinners or saints.

The more I read the Scriptures, the more I realize we’re misunderstanding the extent of Christ’s work on the cross. And in that misunderstanding, we fall back into a grossly mistaken position.

The New Testament draws clear lines of distinction between sinners and saints. We, however, like to blur those distinctions whenever we call our post-conversion selves “sinners.” But I don’t see Paul going back to that well all the time. When he writes a letter to a church, he doesn’t say, “To all the sinners in the church of….” No, he repeatedly uses the word saints.

In truth, you and I are saints who are being changed by God through the putting off of our old sin nature. Our identities got swapped out. God doesn’t look at us as sinners, but saints because of the salvation purchased for us by Christ.

So why is it that so many of us go back to that hangdog “sinner” appellation? Aren’t we giving up what Christ did for us at the cross? If we truly are new creations in Christ, if He’s paid the penalty on our behalf, and He’s secured for us access to the Father, why do we fall back into thinking of ourselves as sinners and not saints?

If anything, the epistles drive this home:

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
—Romans 6:11

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
—Galatians 2:20

So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
—Galatians 4:7

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…
—Ephesians 2:19

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
—1 John 3:1a

If we don’t have this mentality, then we’re missing out on what it means to be alive in Christ.

We then

  • set our expectations low and don’t believe God for the impossible because we still think we’re aliens and strangers,
  • fail to appropriate what Christ has purchased for us on the cross, because we mistakenly think the sinner in us is triumphant over the saint, and
  • muddle through and lament, rather than walk in our inheritance as children of God.

I’ve got to believe that our failure to move beyond identifying primarily as sinners is one reason why our churches lack power. It explains why so much of what we attempt for the Kingdom fails. It shows why so many of us limp through our days rather than rising on wings like eagles.

Church, it’s time to step out of the sinner ghetto and walk in the sainthood Christ so dearly paid for!