22 Feb

Fight, Flight, or Get Right

One of the shows that I’ve really loved over the years is Wild America with Marty Stouffer.  I love the beauty and the drama that is highlighted in basically my own back yard.  One of my favorite scenes is captured below.  Watch it as an illustration of what I’m about to say, and then read on.

If we observe nature today, it becomes apparent that God has given His creation two basic options for dealing with what might be called conflict.  It’s a mechanism biologists call Fight or Flight.  When faced with opposition, which usually amounts in the animal kingdom to something trying to eat you or take your mate, an animal will either attack the other one or will run from the other one.  We saw both responses in the clip.  The arctic hare and the red squirrel chose flight.  The lynx when attacked by the cougar chose to fight.  These are really the only two options in the natural order.

However, in the Kingdom of God, these are not the only two options.  There’s one more:  fight, flight, or get right.  In fact, in the kingdom of God, fight or flight is erased, even in the animal world.  There was no fight or flight in the Garden of Eden, and there will be none in the age to come.  We know this truth from prophecy in Isaiah 11:1-10:

  • Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear; But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist. And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze, Their young will lie down together, And the lion will eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea. Then in that day The nations will resort to the root of Jesse, Who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious.

We see the same basic erasure of fight or flight in Isaiah 65:24-25:

  • “It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain,” says the LORD.

Now, of course, this reality is still to come in the animal kingdom.  Goats and leopards are not best of buds now.  There’s not even the potential of that without miraculous intervention from God.  However, it is possible now among humanity, especially among brothers and sisters in Christ, especially among brothers and sisters in Christ in the same church.  You see, while the entire earth is not yet under the reign of the Kingdom of God, God’s children are.  Therefore, the Kingdom is not just a future reality.  It’s already here.  It’s not fully here yet, but it’s already here.  Jesus is spiritually ruling even now from heaven over the universal church and will one day physically rule over the entire earth.  The Kingdom of God is here!

Therefore, because we in the church are already in the Kingdom of God, we have a third option that isn’t available to the natural order.  I call it Getting Right.  The Bible calls it peace and unity.  1 Thessalonians 5:13 says, Live in peace with one another.  Psalm 133:1 says, Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity!  This is what I mean by Getting Right.

While all Christians have this third option, it is not often the one we choose.  You see, in order to go down the path of this third option—getting right, peace-making, unity-building—we must be led by the Spirit.  However, we are instead often led by the flesh and its wicked desires, leading us to either fight or flight

FIGHT
Let’s look at the Fight response for just a moment.  When conflict arises, we tend to go this way when we want to win at all costs.  Winning or being right is more important than preserving relationship.  On one side of the fight coin, we get loud and aggressive.  We may turn up the rhetoric, threaten, intimidate, gossip, slander, be obnoxiously skeptic, be always defensive, be overly critical and nit-picking, or get physical.

Yes, this sort of thing even happens amongst Christian brothers.  I’ll never forget the first leadership meeting I had with the youth pastors of the Hopkinsville Youth Ministry Network (HYMN) back when I was a youth pastor in 2005.  Before the meeting was over, one of the other youth pastors had invited another outside to handle their disagreement “like men.”  While the aggressive youth pastor was wrong in saying that, he was right about one thing.  He was handling the situation like sinful man instead of like Holy God.  This sort of thing happens more than we would like to admit, but it usually doesn’t get to this level.  It usually stays at something lower in the list above.

The other side of this fight coin is when we don’t become outwardly aggressive, but we become passive aggressive.  We quietly fly under the radar trying to obstruct or hinder things.  We ask pointed questions that are actually accusations.  We work secretly to gather coalitions.

We’ve all seen this sort of behavior both inside and outside the church.  Let’s be honest, we’ve probably all been guilty of this sort of behavior.  This is the enemy of peace.  It’s grieves the Spirit as Ephesians 4:29-32 teaches us:

  • Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Furthermore, fighting is anti-Holy-Spirit.  It’s a fruit of the flesh and not of the Spirit according to Galatians 5:16-21:

  • But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Fighting is really a losing situation for all involved, even for the “winner.”  The “winner” probably loses a brother and his testimony.  The “loser” is usually embittered and discouraged.  Jesus and the church are defamed.  The only one who wins when we fight amongst ourselves is the devil.  Therefore, we should strive to be ruled by the Spirit and avoid the fight response.

FLIGHT
Let’s turn our attention to the flight response now.  There are two types.  The first is to just live in denial or sweep it under the rug.  You might not be able to see dirt under the rug, but it’s still there.  It’s not properly dealt with and disposed of, and it’ll eventually come back to haunt you.

It’s sort of like how I used to clean my room sometimes when I was a kid.  I didn’t want to go through the trouble of actually putting everything in its proper place.  So, I would just open my closet, throw everything in there, and slam the door.  The only problem is that when I opened the door the next time, it would all come falling out on me.  I didn’t deal with the situation, and it came back to haunt me.

That’s what happens when we choose the flight response of denial, but there’s another type of flight in which you just leave.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going…right out the door, never to return.  How many times have we seen this response in the church?  Entire churches have been spawned on such action!  I know because I pastor one.

Just like denial, leaving solves nothing.  The problem is still there.  The two in conflict just steer clear of one another while they fume in their hearts toward each other.

I’m not saying that’s there’s never a time to leave a church, but often it’s not for good reason.  Usually it’s simply because something didn’t go “my” way.  Leaving is typically built on the following three false assumptions:

  1. The grass is greener somewhere else.  The truth is that there’ll be conflict wherever you go until Jesus returns and makes all things new.
  2. God can’t fix this.  The truth is that you don’t want to put forth the effort to fix this and are robbing God of His opportunity to bring good out of conflict.  Remember that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  That promise includes conflict.
  3. My comfort is more important than church unity.  The truth is that God doesn’t call us to comfort.  He calls us to peace, which requires us to do some very uncomfortable things.

Leaving is simply running away from the problem just like the hare ran away from the lynx in the video above.

GET RIGHT
So, neither fight nor flight is a godly option.  This leaves us with the third option, which is Get Right.  In other words, handle the situation with the goal of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  Those are the three goals of getting right with one another.

Repentance has to happen first.  The person who offended the other must turn from that sin and ask forgiveness.  However, there’s usually a precursor to this step.  While it might be that the offending person just makes this step out of a tender heart, it’s likely the case that the offended person has to point out that an offense has happened.  The person must be shown his or her sin.  Perhaps they didn’t know they had offended, or perhaps their heart was hardened in their sin and didn’t care if they offended.

It’s for this reason that Jesus’ words to us in the Gospels are so important.  In Luke 17:3, Jesus tells us, If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  Jesus realized that it often takes a rebuke—which doesn’t necessarily imply harshness—to help a person toward repentance.  Jesus points us to the same truth in Matthew 18:15, If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  We must realize that we who are offended or sinned against will often have to take the first step, which Lord willing will lead to repentance.

Once repentance is gained, then comes the step of forgiveness.  I recently defined forgiveness this way:  forgiveness, whether from God or man, is the release of the sinner from the condemnation, bitterness, and anger his or her sin deserves.  An important part of my definition is recognizing that the person’s sin deserves condemnation, bitterness, and anger.  Forgiveness doesn’t make light of sin!  Nevertheless, forgiveness releases the person from what their sin deserves.  If you’d like to know more about forgiveness, I’d encourage you to read my three part series on forgiveness:  part 1, part 2, part 3.

Once forgiveness is granted, then comes the step of reconciliation.  Reconciliation is the action of being restored to friendship or harmony.  In other words, you make peace and unity with one another.  In other other words, you Get Right with one another.

Is this hard to do?  You bet it is.  In fact, I believe that it’s impossible without the work of the Holy Spirit.  However, while it may be hard, it’s also most godly.  It’s exactly what God did with us through Jesus Christ.

May you avoid the fight and the flight, and may you instead get right!

13 Feb

Forgiveness: Pass It On

In the first post on forgiveness, I introduced our revival theme Forgiveness: Receive It and Pass It On.  In the last post, I looked at the first level of forgiveness:  Receive It.  Today, I want to take biblical look at the second level, which is captured in the phrase “Forgiveness:  Pass It On.”

This level is the horizontal man to man aspect of forgiveness.  You and I are to forgive one another.  You see, when we sin, we don’t just sin against God.  We also sin against each other.  Therefore, forgiveness must happen between people.

The sad thing is that often it’s easier to be forgiven by God that it is by people, even Christians!  Have you found that to be true?  The lost have a pretty good excuse:  THEY’RE LOST!  However, Christians have no excuse because to be a Christian means that Jesus is not just your Savior but also your Lord.  We’re to obey Him and model ourselves after Him, and we find Jesus forgiving other human beings who were committing the height of sin.  We read about it in Luke 23:34, But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.  Here is Jesus forgiving and asking the Father to forgive His murderers.  They were wrongly putting to death God the Son, the Messiah, the Christ, the King of heaven and earth.  This instance is the highest height of man to man sin.  Yet, Jesus forgave them.

If Jesus is your Lord and since He forgave so greatly and so easily, shouldn’t we strive to do the same for much lesser things?  Absolutely!  Whatever sin has been perpetrated against you is lesser because nothing compares to the Messiah being murdered.  As Jesus forgave, so should we.

We must not let the fact escape us that level 1 (God forgiving us) is connected to level 2 (us forgiving others).  In other words, God’s forgiving us is connected to our forgiving others.  First, God’s forgiveness is a positive motivation for us to forgive others.  God’s forgiveness draws us toward forgiving others.  God does this sort of thing all the time throughout Scripture.  He puts heaven, blessing, peace, and many other things in front of us to motivate us to go forward.  In relation to forgiveness, that’s what God’s forgiveness does for us.  It puts a positive model in front of us, beckoning us to become more like Him.

We see the two levels tied together as a positive motivation in the following two verses:

  • Ephesians 4:32, Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
  • Colossians 3:13,  bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

The fact that God has forgiven us is the motivation for us to forgive others, and that is a powerful motivation.

However, there’s another way the Bible ties together God’s forgiving us and our forgiving others.  In this second way, God’s unforgiveness is a negative motivation for us to forgive others.  God does this sort of thing all throughout Scripture as well.  He puts heaven, cursing, strife, and many other things behind us to motivate us to not go backward.  In relation to forgiveness, that’s what God’s threat of unforgiveness does for us.  It puts a negative incentive behind us, warning us of the consequences of disobedience.

The Scripture is full of this teaching.  Perhaps the most basic but often overlooked pieces of Scripture is found in the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus’ model prayer implies that we should ask God for forgiveness only if we are unwilling to forgive others.  It’s found in two of the synoptic gospels:

  • Matthew 6:12, And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
  • Luke 11:4, And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.

In both cases, Jesus is saying that we should ask God to forgive us in the way that we have forgiven others.  Therefore, if we are unforgiving, then we should expect God to be unforgiving.  Jesus then comments on the Lord’s prayer by saying, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions,” (Matthew 6:14-15).  That’s as straightforward as one can get!

We’re also taught this same thing elsewhere in the Scripture.  The Parable of the Wicked Slave makes this same point.  In Matthew 18:21, Peter asks Jesus, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?  Jesus responds back with that famous line in Matthew 18:22, I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.  Of course, Jesus’ answer was radical to Peter and his contemporaries—and to us as well, for that matter.  Therefore, Jesus illustrates why He answered thus through a parable found in Matthew 18:23-35:

  • For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.

The slave who had been forgiven much by the master refused to pass on the forgiveness to his fellow slave who sought to be forgiven of little.  Therefore, the master, in his righteous anger, made the wicked slave pay for his debt.  Jesus summarizes His point in telling the parable in Matthew 18:35, My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.  Unforgiveness from God is ours if we do not forgive others.  It’s important to point out also that Jesus is not just talking about lip-service forgiveness in Matthew 18:35.  He’s not just talking about saying, “I forgive you.”  He’s talking about heart-service forgiveness that totally forgives to the core of our being.  If we do not forgive others from the heart, we will not be forgiven by God.

We find another example of this link between level 1 and level 2 in Mark 11:25-26 where Jesus says, Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.

So, the Scripture clearly links our forgiving others with God’s forgiving us.  Now, some may object that this is akin to works-righteousness, but it’s not.  Forgiving others doesn’t earn salvation for us.  Rather, it’s proof that we are indeed saved.  Forgiveness is the fruit of salvation, and those who refuse to forgive others testify against their salvation.

Let me close with three rapid fire questions concerning us forgiving others:

When should we forgive?

1) We should be ready to forgive as soon as forgiveness is asked for.
Jesus tells us so in Luke 17:3-4, Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.  But, we should also notice from that verse that we shouldn’t just wait for forgiveness to be asked for.  We should confront the sinner so that they are fully aware of their sin.  That’s what Jesus means when He says, If your brother sins, rebuke him.  It’s supposed to work this way:  sin → rebuke → repentance → forgiveness.  As soon as the sinner repents, forgive him or her immediately.

2) We should forgive before we ever give an offering to God. 
Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:23-24, Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.  If we bridge Jesus’ words from their Old Covenant setting to the New Covenant setting of today’s church, you should go ask forgiveness before you drop your money in the offering plate at church.

3) We should forgive before we pray publicly.
Jesus says in Mark 11:25, Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.  I believe that Jesus has public prayer in mind at the temple.  Again, let’s bridge Jesus’ words from their Old Covenant setting to the New Covenant setting of today’s church.  We should not stand to pray publicly at church without also forgiving our transgressors.

How often should we forgive?
We should forgive as often as we are sinned against and forgiveness is asked for.  Peter asks Jesus in Matthew 18:21, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?  Jesus’ answer astounded His listeners, I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22).  Jesus does the same thing in Luke 17:3-4, Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.  Both responses from Jesus point to the limitless amount of forgiveness that we are to pass on.

Why do we not forgive?
The general answer is simply sin, but let’s get more specific.  The three sins that I believe promote unforgiveness most in our hearts are:

  1. Self-righteousness – We’ve forgotten how much we have been forgiven.  Instead we act as if we have earned God’s favor when in reality we are nothing more than beggars at the foot of God’s door.  Self-righteousness is the biggest killer of forgiveness.
  2. Power-hungriness – We like the power unforgiveness has over people.  It keeps people beholden to us, kowtowing before us.  If we forgave them, we’d lose that power over them.  We think we’re keeping them chained to us, but in fact, sin is deceiving us and enslaving us.
  3. Pride – We simply can’t believe that somebody would sin against us.  How dare they?  I don’t deserve to be sinned against.  I’m better than to have this happened to.  It’s a good thing God, who truly didn’t deserved to be sinned against, freely forgives.

In conclusion, receive forgiveness and pass it on.  By grace through faith in Jesus, find out what it is to hear God speak the sweet word forgiven to you, and then extend it to all those around you.  Don’t let forgiveness stop with you!

10 Feb

Forgiveness: Receive It

In the last post, I introduced our revival theme Forgiveness: Receive It and Pass It On.  Today, I want to take a biblical look at the first level of forgiveness, which is captured in the phrase “Forgiveness:  Receive It.”

This level is the vertical God to man aspect of forgiveness.  Beginning in Genesis 3 where Adam falls into sin, God begins working His plan of forgiveness.  We often call this God’s “Plan of Redemption,” but it could just as easily be called God’s “Plan of Forgiveness.”  God didn’t have to initiate this plan, but He wanted to because of the great love with which He loved us (Ephesians 2:4).

However, as we move forward form Genesis 3, it becomes clear God could not just forgive sins.  Because of God’s justice, sin must be punished.  To just forgive would impugn the righteousness of God and make light of sin.  Therefore, God began to prepare the way for forgiveness through substitutionary atonement.  Someone else would pay for our sins.

The way God prepared us for this path to forgiveness was through the Old Covenant sacrificial with Israel.  The book of Leviticus, which details the Law of God and the sacrificial system for Israel, talks about forgiveness more than any other Old Testament book (Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:10, 13, 16, 18; 6:7; 19:22).  That’s amazing to me!

We’ll let the first reference stand as our example.  Leviticus 4:20 says, He shall also do with the bull just as he did with the bull of the sin offering; thus he shall do with it. So the priest shall make atonement for them, and they will be forgiven. There it is!  Something was sacrificed as a substitute for the sinner.  The bull died instead of the sinner.  But, there was one major problem:  the bulls and goats and lambs who were sacrificed annually never actually took away sin.  We learn this clearly from Hebrews 10:1-4:

  • For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

So, again, the bulls and goats and lambs who were sacrificed annually never actually took away sin.  But, here’s the crucial point:  they were never supposed to.  God was simply preparing us for the once for all sacrifice in Jesus Christ, which is the crux of God’s plan of forgiveness.  Jesus Christ came to provide once and for all for our deepest need, which is forgiveness.

What sweet word that is:  forgiven!  It means that all God’s wrath toward me has been quenched.  I bear it no more because it’s paid for by Jesus Christ!

Yet, there are many in our community and even some who attend our church who have never heard those words from God because they’ve never trusted in Jesus Christ our Savior.  Unless one places his or her faith in Jesus Christ, making Him their Savior and Lord, there is no forgiveness.  Grace through faith in Jesus is the only way to be forgiven.

People need to hear this!  If they leave this life unforgiven, they will pay the penalty of their sins forevermore in Hell, but if they leave this life forgiven, they will enjoy heaven forevermore, which was paid for by Jesus.  Oh, I pray that every person will receive the forgiveness provided for them through Jesus Christ!  As our theme verse for revival states:  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

In the next post, we’ll look at the second level of forgiveness:  Pass It On.

09 Feb

Forgiveness: Receive It and Pass It On

One of the things that I often look forward to is the revival season.  We have one twice a year here at WMBC.  It’s a time of healing, a time of refreshing, a time of growth, a time of reflection, a time of motivation, a time of salvation, a time of introspection, a time of encouragement, and a time of being challenged.  It’s perhaps a bit presumptuous to just set a date for revival since revival is a movement of God, but we set the date praying for revival and all of its benefits, leaving the results up to God.  He always blesses in some marvelous way.

In terms of preparing for the revival, one of the joys I have is praying through a theme for our revivals.  I do a theme for a couple of reasons.  One, it gives us a single promotional point to the community around us.  In the past, we themed our revivals:

  • Erasing Life’s Mistakes
  • Shine
  • In Christ, There’s Treasure Beyond Measure
  • Satisfaction Guaranteed
  • Hope:  Find It Here
  • Lose Those Chains, and Be Free Indeed

These themes coupled with the promotional material are meant to catch people’s attention and inspire hope.  Many times people have shared with us how our promotional material was an encouragement.

Two, a theme gives us a single takeaway idea from the revival.  It’s basically the big idea of the week.  Not every message will be directly related to the theme, but we stress the theme all week so that we get at least this one point drilled into our heads.  That’s always a good thing!

In December, we set our Spring revival date for April 1-6, and since then, I’ve been praying about our theme.  What is it specifically that God would have this revival to be about?  Given that our Spring revival leads right into Easter, I began, with the Lord’s direction, to focus in on the thought of forgiveness.  Jesus Christ lived and died for one purpose, and that was to provide forgiveness for all who will believe on Him.  But, forgiveness doesn’t just end with us.  We don’t just need forgiveness from God.  We need forgiveness from each other.  And, as we’ll see in future posts, our forgiveness from God and our forgiving each other are actually tied together.

So, without further adieu, the theme that the Lord has led me to for our 2012 Spring Revival is “Forgiveness:  Receive It and Pass It On,” and our theme verse in 1 John 1:9, If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

What I would like to do is spend the rest of my time explaining this theme and in doing so, will basically provide a systematic theology of forgiveness.  Please read on because forgiveness both in heaven and on earth is eternally important!

Forgiveness is one of the primary threads in the Bible.  In fact, without forgiveness, there is no overarching Bible narrative.  Throughout the Scripture, we see that forgiveness is necessary on two levels.  The primary level is mankind’s great need to be forgiven by God, which is the “Receive it” part of our theme.  The other is mankind’s great need to forgive one another, which is the “Pass it on” part of our theme.

Before we get into the specifics of those two levels, we need to define what forgiveness actually is.  Here’s my best shot:  forgiveness, whether from God or man, is the release of the sinner from the condemnation, bitterness, and anger his or her sin deserves.  An important part of my definition is recognizing that the person’s sin deserves condemnation, bitterness, and anger.  Forgiveness doesn’t make light of sin!  When we truly forgive, three things happen:

  1. We acknowledge a wrong has occurred.
  2. We recognize that the wrong has created an obligation for repayment.
  3. We choose to release our offender from that obligation and to cover the loss ourselves.

That’s exactly what God did through Jesus Christ and what we should do for one another.

In the next two posts, I’ll break down the two levels.