Forgiven to move forward

Forgiveness lesson from flowers
Forgiveness lesson from flowers (Photo credit: juliejordanscott)

I am indebted to Tim Keller’s explanation in ‘The Reason for God‘ on how forgiveness “works” for the following homily given at a recent funeral for a family member. Christians often stress the need for forgiveness, but don’t always do a very good job at explaining how and why it is needed and what it achieves for us. Perhaps the following will help you the next time you talk to someone about what it means to be forgiven by God.

As we say our farewells today and recall various memories, some that are heart warming, some heart breaking. Some of these memories make us laugh, others that might cause us to feel regret or sadness or something much stronger. Let us now consider what it means for us who remain, how to move forward.

A very full life has ended and now as a result, our lives will change. Whether that change means no more hot Christmas Day lunches or no more Trifle Dessert or perhaps that change means no more regaling of childhood adventures and stories that for some seem too much to be true. How many of those stories were fictional distractions and how many really took place? That is now a mystery she has taken with her.

For some of you there is now, time and space to grieve and, I think, to rest. For some there might be lingering thoughts and feelings of things left unsaid. Or perhaps there are some regrets of things spoken in haste, that may have been best left unsaid. What closure are you offered at a time such as this? That is what I would like to consider today.

As a Christian Minister I cannot afford to play the game of pretending everything is all sweet by and by. Jesus came to give his life for sinners and offers all who trust in him forgiveness. The confidence I hold when anyone returns to God and meets him face to face (whether they be a believer or not), that the judge of all the earth, God Almighty, will do that which is good and right for his glory.

How, though, do we move forward with confidence, hope and forgiveness?

When Jesus taught the Disciples to pray:

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”

He also said,

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

When someone owes us money and we opt to forgive their debt, we are choosing to bear the cost of their debt. It requires sacrifice on our part. The debt does not magically disappear and go away. It must be borne by someone.

To bear that debt yourself and refuse to make someone else pay means you have chosen to suffer. If that debt is not merely financial but involves something where have been robbed of some happiness, your reputation, some opportunity or some freedom you could have otherwise enjoyed the suffering is much greater. Your sense of violation does not go away by someone merely saying, “I’m sorry”. To suffer in this way, means an incredible hurt that can often feel like a kind of death.

But forgiveness is a death that leads to resurrection and new life, hope and a future. Because with it, bitterness, cynicism and resentment also die because the fuel they need is removed and they subside. Only when you release the determination for the other person to get what’s coming to them will you have any chance of changing and healing. When you submit yourself to the suffering and cost of forgiveness you are expressing the greatest human act of sacrificial love to another and you will then open yourself to hope and your future.

It should not surprise us that God was determined to forgive us and not punish us for all the ways we have wronged him and each other. He went to the cross in the person of Jesus Christ and died there. He endured the greatest suffering of all to achieve forgiveness on a cosmic scale. His actual death and actual resurrection give us ultimate hope that all evil and all suffering is defeated through his forgiveness. Human forgiveness works because we unavoidably reflect the image of our creator extending forgiveness to us.

Jesus death is not some great moral lesson unless it is much more than that. It was absolutely necessary to rescue us. We had a debt to pay, but God himself paid it. We had a penalty coming, yet God himself bore it. His infinite suffering for our forgiveness means we can experience the freedom that comes from forgiving and being forgiven.

Let go of the past, things said and done, things not said and not done and having received God’s forgiveness in Jesus, forgive others and know closure and certainty of hope and future.

What is wrong shall be undone

Following my note about Where did we go wrong, I leave you stuck in the mire if I stop there.

Having looked in the mirror, we have seen the enemy and it occurs that Walt Kelly was right, at least about that. So what? That knowledge does not help or heal in itself. (Aside: this is one of the key elements of the serpents initial deception – taking and eating the fruit will bring a certain knowledge, but not the kind we thought. Rather the kind that overwhelms us with our inadequacy and drives us to compensate. Whether we do that through denial, anger, guilt or imitation and cover up is, in the end, self defeating.)

The consequence of all sin, original, occasional, habitual, natural or otherwise is death. Death not just being the absence of life, or rather the absence of physical experience via my five senses. Death is the opposite of life and life is much more than taste, touch, see, hear and smell. I’ll gladly point you again to Phillip’s ‘The World Tilting Gospel‘:

People in hell exist forever, but I can’t think of any passages that refer to their existence as “life.”

Instead, as he mentions in the footnote, it is called the second death.

The conquest of sin though is promised and provided through its destruction. The first Adam brought it in and the last Adam will take it out.

For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. ~ Romans 5:19

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. ~ 1 Corinthians 15:21-22

In the midst of God’s judgment against Adam’s sin he promises salvation – the undoing of our sin. There will be salvation through the death of a substitute and a promise of a redeemer. It is, at first, pictured tangibly when an animal is killed so that they can have clothing to protect them both from the environment and from the constant confrontation of the shame and guilt of their sin.

It is, ultimately to come through the birth of another “Adam” one who will both do what Adam did not and not do what Adam did and be victorious on all accounts. He will speak words of life, crush the serpent’s head and inaugurate the kingdom of God. Christ Alone is The True / Last Prophet, Priest & King.

Will you continue as Adam did, followed by his son Cain to constantly try to seize what God offers freely?

Will you rely on a false covering, and try to hide your sin from God through religious behaviour or moral behaviour or living the life of a so-called good person? Always be inadequate because you will always be acting independently of God?

Or, would you accept new life, be born again as Jesus once described it and die to your self, die to your schemes and plans, die to all those silly pathetic attempts you make at saving face before others and realise that God, as the author of life, is the only one who can give you life.

Don’t define your life in terms of existence or in terms of possessions or in terms of achievement.

Define your life, by experiencing life as it was meant to be, in the fullness of joy through Jesus alone.

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. ~ 1 John 5:11-12

But, when shall these things be? Ah, that is for another post, in the interim, have confidence that:

if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:17

Are you in Christ?

Where did we go wrong?

What is wrong with the world? Or this country? City? That weird guy on the bus? You?

Creation got off to a “very good” start, until a man, Adam by name, attempted to seize (usurp/takeover/stage a coup) God’s kingdom instead of receiving it as a free gift.

A 7-fold process unfolds that shows us what went wrong and how we managed to end up with the trouble and difficulties we have today in our relationships with God, others and the environment.

  1. Adam is created in the image of God and given God’s Word / Law. Gen 2:16-17
  2. Adam is divided (blood is shed, his rib removed) and Eve is constructed. Gen 2:20-21
  3. They are brought together in a covenant of marriage. Gen 2:22-25
  4. Adam, as the high priest guardian & protector of both Eve & Eden is tested. Gen 3:1-6 (note the pronouns used here are all plural indicating that both Adam & Eve are involved in the temptation).
  5. Adam acts immaturely, seizes the fruit (takes things into his own hands, literally) and tries to cover his disobedience with inadequate fig leaves. Gen 3:7
  6. God uncovers Adam’s defeat by sin & covers it via shedding the blood of an innocent animal to give them animal skins for clothes. He is cast outside the angelic veil and no longer in the Edenic (promised) land. Gen 3:8-13, 21-24
  7. Instead of entering into rest and glory, Adam’s failed dominion is inherited by his offspring. Gen 5:3

Adam as representative of all people failed the test of whether he would open God’s Word, believe it, obey it and speak it to his bride. Dan Phillips in The World Tilting Gospel helpfully points out that if you argue that you don’t want him as your representative, you are already placing yourself in opposition to God and acting independently of his judgement – which means, you’ve just failed the test also. So we are sinners both by nature and by action.

The New Testament explains it as:

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. ~ Romans 5:12

Adams failure was 3-fold:

  • Failed Priest – His job was to Guard & Protect the Garden. Instead of crushing the serpents head with his heel, he lets him by. Sin enters the world due to this failure of Adam (as high priest) to guard the kingdom.
  • Failed Prophet – He was chosen to speak the Word of God. He should have reminded Eve of God’s promise and invited her to turn away from the forbidden tree and to eat from the Tree of Life. Instead, he stands silently while the serpent negotiates with Eve.
  • Failed King – As he was created in the image of God and given dominion over the animals, he had the authority to command the serpent and extend the kingdom. He behaved passively, yielded his place and lost the battle.

Adam’s great sin was to act independently of God. He passed this proclivity to his offspring, you and I. Since then our inclination has been to continue doing the same, to the detriment and destruction of ourselves, our fellow man and the environment we were meant to manage. So, what’s wrong with the world? Take a look in the mirror.

What to do when I do not desire God

How do you fight for joy in your Christian Life? Unless you approach it from a correct understanding of the victory achieved by Christ, you are lost.

Download (& Read!) the full book by John Piper, “When I Don’t Desire God” in PDF.

Sin is NOT merely doing bad things

Christianity is not about finding a better moral code or promoting a mere superficial lifestyle of doing good. It is a recognition that sin is not defined as bad behaviour (and therefore needs to be resolved or replaced by good behaviour), rather that sin is the building and focusing my life and identity on anything other than God. That even includes a religious or church-oriented focus. Sin can’t be eradicated by increasing your dosage of religion or church attendance.

Our spiritual condition is an equivalent of someone that has died from terminal cancer. Resuscitation won’t help them as it will only make them die again from the cancer. Religion is a bit like that – it acts like a weak and temporary resuscitation that does nothing to address the root cause of the problem. We need a new life with a new identity that comes from and is centred upon God. The bible term is “born again” – i.e. given new life, regenerated (not merely resuscitated).

What should you expect when you’ve been spiritually “born again”, “regenerated” or given this new identity in Christ?

because of our new hearts, worshiping God by imaging him well through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit is exactly what we want to do in our innermost depths. Speaking of the Spirit-empowered regenerated desires of the heart Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Practically, this means that as we enjoy and delight in who God is, what he has done, and what he will do for us, our regenerated hearts share in the same desires of God. Subsequently, unlike religion, which is based on fear that forces people to do what they do not want to do, regeneration is based on love and God inviting new people to live new lives of worship, which is exactly what their new hearts want to do at the deepest level. The result is ever-growing, never-ending, ever-worshiping, passionate joy! – Driscoll & Breshears