Here is the third of a series of blogs I will be putting out to help us prepare for the soon return of Jesus for His Bride. If you were to give a name to this series of blogs I would have to call it “The Rapture Prep” series. This isn’t so much a series on explaining the rapture and what it is or is not, but instead the focus is to help us prepare for His return. The previous two blogs of this series was called “Recalibrating Our Thoughts” and “Are You Watching?” In this blog I want to address the subject of forgiveness.
To begin with, Jesus mentioned forgiveness a number of times in the New Testament. Many try to discount them citing that they were teachings before He died and resurrected, but these are not teachings to ignore. In fact, these teachings of His were different from what we find in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament we continually read of people asking God for forgiveness, or asking for forgiveness on the behalf of others, but very little instruction was given for people to forgive others. In fact, instead we read of what many live by “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”. So, why would Jesus call people to change the way they lived in regards to forgiveness if it was going to be invalid in about three years? This doesn’t make any sense.
Jesus’ teachings actually raised the bar on how we are to live. In the Old Testament the people were judged and deemed righteous or not based on their words and actions, but Jesus took it to a new level when His focus was on the heart and its attitudes and motivations. Nowhere do we read of Jesus telling us, before or after His resurrection, to disregard any or all the commandments. What we do read is that He gave us two commandments to live by, and He further went on to say that the law is fulfilled in obeying the two He gave us. In the Old Testament, a person could hide to a point what was actually in their heart and present themselves as righteous, but in the New Testament we learn that God now looks right past our words and actions and focuses on our heart. There is no hiding from Him, and while we may be able to keep others from seeing sin in our heart or the wrong attitudes and motivations of the heart, we cannot hide these from God.
What Jesus was teaching us was definitely based on the relationship we could have with the Father after His ascension. We could never really call God Father until we had relationship with Him through Jesus, but Jesus teaches us to call God Father, something we couldn’t do before. Jesus taught a message of love and grace that we can’t really do apart from the Holy Spirit, especially towards those who hate, despise, or take advantage of us, but He also taught a message of obedience to Him and His commandments. Jesus would mention what the law would say, and then He would tell us to live it in our heart and not just in word or action. For example, He mentioned the law that says not to commit murder, but He raised the standard when He focused on our heart and that any hate we may have for another is the same thing in the eyes of God.
Having said that, we need to remember what Jesus said in regards to forgiveness. He indicated that we are to forgive others, so strongly did He make that point that He went on to say that if we don’t forgive then the Father will not forgive us. In what we know as the “Lord’s Prayer”, even then Jesus makes the statement, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others their trespasses against us”. Some argue that this does not apply to us since it was prior to Jesus’ resurrection, but that is far from the truth. Jesus was teaching us how to pray when He would no longer be with us. This is especially evident, as we indicated earlier, because He taught us to call God “our Father” in the same prayer, something we could not truly do until after the resurrection when relationship with God was made possible.
When we look at the parable of the unforgiving servant we learn something more about forgiveness. The point of a parable is to relay a truth that might not be otherwise understandable by the hearer, and Jesus is making a point in this parable that we need to learn. In this parable the king represents God, and the servants represent Christians. At a designated time the king decides to settle accounts with his servants. One of his servants owed him a VERY significant amount of money and the king was going to sell him, his wife and children, and all that he had to pay the debt. The servant begged for more time with a promise to pay back all that he owed. The king had compassion on him and forgave him his debt. This same servant went out and found a fellow servant who owed him penny’s by comparison to what the king forgave him of, and after demanding payment laid hold of that other servant and had him thrown into prison. Later word came to the king of what this servant did, and he was grieved and called for him. The king called him a wicked servant, who after being forgiven of much did not share the same compassion towards another that the king had given him, and the king then sent him to the torturers until he paid all. Jesus concludes with telling us that God will do the same for anyone who, from their heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.
Again, some argue that this doesn’t apply to us, but it does. It reinforces what Jesus has already told us, God will not forgive us if we don’t forgive others their trespasses against us. This is not typical Old Testament teachings, but instead New Testament teachings for the dispensation of grace we would soon be living in after His resurrection.
You know, something else that crossed my mind a few years ago. In the Lord’s Prayer we are told to pray, “forgive us as we forgive others their trespasses against us”. What if God were to really forgive us as we forgive others, not just in whether or not we forgive, but if we have conditions and/or requirements that must be fulfilled before we are willing to forgive? How many of us would want God to forgive us on the same basis that we forgive others? Scary thought.
One more thing. We know that Christ’s death was sufficient to pay the debt of all our sins, past, present and future, but how is that applied? Was asking God for forgiveness when we accepted Christ as our Savior sufficient to the point that we no longer have to ask for it? Some argue that since we asked for His forgiveness of our sins when we got saved, then we no longer have to worry about asking forgiveness of sins since it was already covered. This way of thinking is inconsistent with Scripture. Yes, His death was sufficient for all the sins we have or will ever commit, but that doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge sin in our life and ask for His forgiveness of it later on in life. When John, the disciple of Jesus and His Apostle wrote in 1 John, he makes the statement “if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. Did you notice anything about this? One, he says “if we confess our sins”. He is including himself when he says “we”. If we no longer have to ask for God’s forgiveness then why is John including himself in that statement? He’s not saying it as something from the past, but instead the present and the future. He also does not indicate that the sin was already forgiven, but that it would be forgiven. The forgiveness given us by God through Christ is only applied to the sin in our life that we acknowledge and ask His forgiveness of.
Also, the writer of Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 12:1, speaking to Christians and himself, that we are to “lay aside every weight, and the sin that so easily ensnares us …”. The writer here is basically telling us to get rid of the sin that we get caught up in so easily. In Romans 6 it is very clear that we as Christians are not to continue in sin even though we are under grace. The Apostle Paul tells us that as Christian’s sin does not have dominion over us since we are no longer under the law but under grace. But, he also tells us that even though we are under grace we are not to continue in sin, and that we become slaves of whatever we submit ourselves to. To repent of and ask forgiveness of sin in our life means that we are to turn from that sin and no longer continue in it. That’s what true repentance is about, to turn away from sin. This is where we return to 1 John 1:9 where we’re told if we confess our sin, which involves acknowledging it, asking forgiveness and turning from it both in our heart and actions, He is faithful and just to forgive us. We are so blessed to have that assurance.
So, in conclusion, Jesus’s death was sufficient to cover all our sins, past, present and future. While at the point of salvation all our past sins are covered, any sin we do afterwards needs to be acknowledged as sin with the understanding that we need to ask for forgiveness and no longer continue in that sin. To refuse to do so shows a prideful heart that doesn’t see the need to acknowledge it, much less turn from it. Even though we do live under grace, it is very clear in scripture that we are not to continue in sin as we will then become the slaves of it. Just because we sin does not automatically or immediately result in broken relationship with Jesus, but it is clear that if we continue in sin with a heart that says it’s okay to continue in it we run the tremendous risk of dying spiritually. Paul is clear in Romans 8 that Christians living according to the flesh will die spiritually if they continue in it. Prior to salvation we are all spiritually dead, so Paul’s words about those living according to the flesh dying is in reference to Christians who had become alive in Christ.
When I was in high school someone I know stressed something to me, and that was the fact that unlike the Old Testament that was focused on words and actions, the New Testament starting with the teachings of Jesus focuses on the heart with its motivations and attitudes. Where is your heart? This is what God is looking at. As we see the return of Jesus for His bride getting ever so close, it is now more important than ever before that we make sure we place our sins under His blood through acknowledgment and true repentance. Just because there is sin does not mean we will miss the rapture, but if our heart finds ways to justify staying in sin then we do run the risk we will be left behind. I don’t want that to happen to me or to you. Praise God for salvation which gives us the opportunity to no longer live in or be in bondage to sin! Let us live worthy of such salvation!