Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Forgiveness of Sin

One of the most fundamental truths of the Christian faith is forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:12-14; Acts 26:18). But do we really believe it? And do we look to outsiders like we believe it? Now there is a fear that if we too easily forgive, we will appear to condone sin. Now there is a danger scripturally in condoning sin (1 Corinthians 5:9-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-14; 2 Timothy 4:1-4). But Scripture is even more emphatic that we need to be those who offer forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35; 2 Corinthians 2:6-8; Colossians 3:13). Further, Jesus was criticized for reaching out to sinners (Matthew 9:12; Luke 19:1-10; 7:36-50).  I am forced to the conclusion that while we are to avoid both, being unwilling to forgive is a more fundamental error.

The root of unforgiveness is self-righteousness. We forget that we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6) saved by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Titus 3:5,6) and start to think we are good people who deserve something from God. We can then look down on those who are not Christians or on Christians who fail. But we cannot stand before God based on our own works (Galatians 3:10-14; Romans 3:20,21; 11:6). Therefore, we must extend forgiveness to others, for we are sinners just like them.

We are told we are to approach those who are not Christians with love and concern (1 Peter 3:15; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Colossians 4:6). We are not to get up on our high horse and look down on them. We are not to excuse their sin, but must reach out to them with forgiveness, not condemnation. For this we have the example of our Lord, who reached out to those with sinful life styles not to offer judgment but forgiveness (John 4:9-26; Luke 23:39-43; 5:27,28).

But what about one of own who falls? How are we to deal with that? On this, Scripture gives clear instruction. While we are to approach the situation with caution, we are to do everything in our power to restore and forgive them (Galatians 6:1; Jude 22,23; Hebrews 12:12,13). Now this may not be possible. They may not be willing to be restored. They may refuse to repent of something they need to repent of. We may have to exercise church discipline. But even then we are not to treat them as an enemy but admonish them as a brother (2 Thessalonians 3:15). But if we will not forgive our own, how can we expect those on the outside to believe we are genuinely offering them forgiveness? Forgiveness of sins is the heart of the Gospel. We must live in such a way as to show we really believe in it. And while we should avoid both extremes, it is better to be too forgiving than to follow the Pharisees in treating others with disdain (Luke 18:9-14; Matthew 23:1-7; John 7:47-49).

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