Friday, November 16, 2007

What came first?

Do we hold ourselves to a higher standard than we do God?

The other night at prayer meeting at one of my churches, we got to talking about forgiveness, an ever-present, ever-needed discussion. Although I wasn't leading out, it became apparent to me that a few people in the room were dealing with doubts about forgiveness in general, and God's forgiveness in particular.

Thankfully, a few of the other people wanted to assure the others in the room that if we just came to God, then He would forgive us. "We have to be repentant first, though," one said, "But God will definitely forgive us if we ask Him."

Ever-so-tactfully, I decided to interject and steer the conversation back to something Jesus did. As the Roman soldiers gambled over Jesus' garments, Luke tells us that Jesus looked down and said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

This is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the Bible, but the implications of it are incredible. Here were these men, gambling over Jesus' clothes, not the least bit repentant, yet Jesus had already forgiven them. The reality is, I told the people at prayer meeting, is that Jesus already forgives us even before we ever ask Him, or even before we are ever repentant.

This concept is scary to some people, I guess. One of the attendees, who was a visitor, seemed very uncomfortable with the idea. "No, we have to be repentant first before God can forgive us," he said. So then I asked him, along with everyone else, "Does God expect us to forgive each other, even if they don't ask for it, or are not the least bit repentant?" "Yes," came the response from everyone else, though this man didn't say anything. "Then why wouldn't we expect the same from God?"

The truth of the matter is, God's forgiveness towards us is dependent only on one thing - His cross. It is not dependent on my request, my repentance, my penance. It is only dependent on His objective accomplishment on Calvary.

Of course, you and I will never experience the power of that forgiveness until we come to a personal understanding of our wretchedness and our need for repentance. But, as Paul writes in Romans 2:4, even that repentance is a response to God's objective goodness that He has already accomplished and displayed on Calvary. "It is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance," is how he puts it.

In light of God's ever-present forgiveness, we are drawn to His bleeding side, humbled by our desperate need for His cleansing grace.


Mecro108 said...

Good thoughts, powerful message. You should submit this to a publication because this is a real issue that our members (and, dare I say it, even us sometimes?) wrestle with.
...It's like the check analogy. He's written the check for us. He's handed it to us. We only need to take it to the bank.

holamickey said...

Alright Pastor Shawn - Good thoughts. However I see you saying there is a difference between begin forgiven and experiencing forgivenes. The former being only from the cross and the later being when because of the former we are drawn to experience it. I think most people use the term "forgivenss" in the sense of the latter... we just have to understand or help them understand that is what they are talking about. Is forgiveness the removing of sin the paying for it with the blood of Jesus? If that is what Jesus was talking about while on the cross (and that applies to everyone - by the way how do we get that that is a straight across the line rule) than no one would have to every pay for their sins. Or is it just the sins that were committed in ignorance? I agree with you if you are pointing it out as a two step process- First Him and then us.

Shawn Brace said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. I appreciated them.

Mike, relating to your point: I agree with the tone of your response for the most part. However, I feel that we almost make forgiveness out to be a work when we emphasize the subjective aspect of it so much. When we don't talk about the objective realities of Christ's forgiveness, we make it sound as though our subjective experience of it is what sets it in motion.

I think that we need to talk about the objective accomplishment of Christ a lot more, and that will naturally bring people to their knees in repentance. Remember, it is the "goodness of God that leads you to repentance," not the constant nagging of an evangelist, constantly telling the audience that they need to repent if they are going to be saved.

How do we know that Christ's forgiveness applies to everyone and every sin? The Bible is full of verses that say as much. Hebrews tells us that Jesus tasted death for everyone. First John says that Christ is the propitiation for our sins - and not just our sins, but the whole world's. Isaiah - as I pointed out in a previous post - tells us that the Lord laid on Christ the iniquity of "us all" - the same "all" who have gone astray.

Secondarily, Ellen White tells us in The Desire of Ages, "That prayer of Christ for His enemies embraced the world. It took in every sinner that had lived or should live, from the beginning of the world to the end of time. Upon all rests the guilt of crucifying the Son of God. To all, forgiveness is freely offered" (p. 744).