Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Truth About Repentance

As previously noted, forgiveness is mandatory for Christians. When we talk about forgiveness, we often note that it’s really hard…but really good.  Life is beautiful on the other side of forgiveness. In the same way that forgiveness is mandatory, so is repentance:
 “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations...” (Jesus, in Luke 24:45-47) 
“They… glorified God, saying, ’God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.’” (Acts 11:18) 
“The sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation…”(2 Corinthians 7:9-10) 
'Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first...” (Revelation 2:5)
Though God uses his Word, his Holy Spirit, and sometimes his people to move us toward repentance, we must remember our limitations. Repentance is primarily the work of God. We cannot change hearts; only God can do that. Repentance ultimately comes from the Holy Spirit’s transformation.

So, what is necessary to experience genuine, healthy repentance?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Truth About Forgiveness

At the time I wrote my last letter, I was suffering terribly. My eyes were full of tears, and my heart was broken. But I didn’t want to make you feel bad. I only wanted to let you know how much I cared for you. I don’t want to be hard on you. But the man who caused all the trouble hurt you more than he hurt me. Most of you have already pointed out the wrong that person did, and that is punishment enough for what was done. When people sin, you should forgive and comfort them, so they won’t give up in despair. You should make them sure of your love for them. I also wrote because I wanted to test you and find out if you would follow my instructions. If you forgive someone, so do I. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did in the presence of Christ for your benefit. I have done this so that we may not be taken advantage of by Satan. For we are not unaware of his intentions.                                                                                                    (2 Corinthians 2:4-11)                                                                                                      
     The man to whom Paul is referring ( see 1 Corinthians 5:1-2) had damaged his relationship with God, his family, the community within the church, and the witness of the church in the city of Corinth. The church’s discipline had accomplished the purpose of humbling him and bringing him to repentance. Now, Paul gives them the ultimate goal: forgive, comfort, and keep him from the despair of a broken spirit.
   As an idea, the idea of forgiveness sounds really good.  It’s a principle that we really want other people to grasp. But what if we are the one damaged by sin?
“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”  -C.S. Lewis 
     What is Paul actually asking of Christians here? Is this "forgive and forget"? Do we have to feel really good about the perpetrator? Do we have to like them in order to forgive them? Do we have to be friends? Must we hang out? Are we supposed to move on and act like nothing happened? Let’s look at some principles of forgiveness as we see in this situation and in the rest of Scripture.

1) Forgiveness of those who repent is mandatory.  The Bible is clear that if you want to be forgiven by God, you must forgive those who wrong you.
“But if you don't forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failures.” (Matthew 6:15)“But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too." (Mark 11:25)“If a believer sins, correct him. If he changes the way he thinks and acts, forgive him.”  (Jesus, in Luke 17:3)
2) Forgiveness comes from the forgiven. Paul wrote elsewhere,
“For he [Jesus] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. “ (Colossians 1:13-14)
I was in the dominion of darkness. So were you. Jesus in his mercy paid the penalty for us so that forgiveness is available to us.  We are hardly in a position not to extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” – C.S. Lewis

3) Forgiveness requires honesty. We have to be honest about the nature and depth of the offense.   Sin leaves a mark on individuals and communities, and we minimize its true nature at our peril.  Those who harm others need to understand the price they are asking others to pay in order to forgive them.
     If someone says, “I’m sorry,” we don’t have to just say, “That’s okay. It was nothing.” It wasn't okay (though it might be eventually); if it were truly nothing, it would not need forgiveness.

4) Forgiveness does not cancel accountability. Extending forgiveness is not the same as overlooking the impact of sin. Accountability and forgiveness are not enemies.
  • After Adam and Eve sinned, God provided a means of forgiveness…but also explained what the fallout was going to look like. 
  • God forgave Moses…but Moses did not enter the promised land.
  • Jesus forgave the thief on the cross…but the thief still died that day.
      We have a tendency to think that the offended person should just get over it and move on, as if somehow the fact that our actions had consequences has now become the other person’s  problem.
     But life is not an etch-o-sketch. We can’t just shake the picture that we’ve drawn and pretend it never happened. We hurt them. It’s going to take time to draw a new and better picture. Consequences are a gift; they make our path clear.  Circumstances  may or may not adjust in connection with the forgiveness; if they don’t, it does not mean no one was forgiven.

5) Forgiveness does not delete history. Paul didn’t unwrite his first letter to the church in Corinth; I don’t get the impression that anyone in the church was trying to act as if nothing had happened. “Forgive and forget” is not a biblical command for us.  Have some survivors of the Holocaust forgiven the prison guards?  Of course. Have they ask for the Holocaust Museum to close? Absolutely not.
     Forgiveness is meant to fully bring repentant people back into fellowship with Christ and healthy fellowship in church community.  If this process requires memory loss, we will not fully appreciate the power of forgiveness and grace.

(Read Part Two, "The Truth About Repentance")

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Countering Critics

Christians have not always defended the cause of Christ in a productive manner. Yes, we are all ambassadors; no, it’s not a skill that develops automatically. As a result, we often respond poorly when our faith is attacked.

Some Christians retreat into a Christian subculture where they just stop engaging with anybody or anything outside of their comfort zone. But that’s hardly the best way to go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20).

Some Christians attack, fighting fire with fire. They get angry, defensive and hostile whenever their faith is questioned or challenged. Perhaps they remember how the disciples once asked Jesus to demolish a town because the people didn’t welcome him (Luke 9:51-56). But Jesus rebuked them, and I think He would rebuke those who have the same desire today.

Neither one of these approaches bears good fruit.  Fortunately, the Apostle Paul's letters have left a legacy that can inform how we respond to the critics of Christianity today. Though he was an apostle, Paul was often put in a place where he needed to defend himself from his detractors.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Know Pain; Know Gain (2 Corinthians 1:1-10)

“No Pain, No Gain” is a great slogan when it comes to sports. If you have ever played or trained, you know there is truth in this. You can’t relax your way to greatness. If you learn to see the pain as something that is forming you into an athlete, the pain can be a motivation. It's a sign you are pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, maybe even beyond what you think you can do. It hurts, but you are new and better on the other side of it.

I recently read a poster that said, “Pain doesn’t tell you when you ought to stop. Pain is the little voice in your head that tries to hold you back because it knows if you continue you will change.”

Physically, you won’t be transformed without commitment and sacrifice. It’s a principle embedded into the fabric of the world. No pain, no gain.  It will always cost you something to reach your goal.

The Apostle Paul begins 2 Corinthians this way:

“This letter comes to you from Paul, God’s messenger for Jesus Christ by the will of God, and from brother Timothy, and is addressed to the church of God in Corinth and all Christians throughout Achaia. May grace and peace come to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the source of all mercy and comfort. For he gives us comfort when we think there is no escape from our trials, so that we in turn may be able to give the same sort of strong sympathy to others in theirs.

Indeed, experience shows that the more we share Christ’s suffering the more we are able to give of his encouragement. This means that if we experience trouble we can pass on to you comfort and spiritual help; for if we ourselves have been comforted we know how to encourage you to endure patiently the same sort of redemptive suffering that we have ourselves endured. We are quite confident that if you have to suffer troubles as we have done, then, like us, you will find the comfort and encouragement of God.

We should like you, our brothers, to know something of what we went through in Asia. At that time we were completely overwhelmed, the burden was more than we could bear, in fact we told ourselves that this was the end – we had been sentenced to die. Yet we believe now that we had this experience so that we might learn to trust, not in ourselves, but in God who can raise the dead.”  (2 Corinthians 1:1-10)
“Trials” that bring pain here are not the death of a loved one, or a broken marriage, or poverty, or abuse. The Bible has something to say about all those things, but that’s not the focus here. Paul is referring specifically to the hardship that comes from being a follower of Christ.

If we are serving Christ, we will encounter hardships. Jesus taught his disciples that all who would come after him must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him (Mark 8:34). There is a transformation that takes place when we commit to Christ, but there is another ongoing transformation that takes place as we commit ourselves to the hard work of following Christ.