Tag Archives: Jesus

Forgiveness Guaranteed?

1 John 1:9 (ESV) says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We all sin. We all fall short of perfection. The solution to these sins is taking them to Jesus for forgiveness, but we often feel we don’t deserve forgiveness or that we have been too bad to forgive. This passage is a wonderful promise of forgiveness because it is tied to very important qualities of Jesus. You can be sure of forgiveness, not because Jesus is “nice” or “kind” enough to forgive. Unfortunately, this is how we often imagine it. Niceness and kindness are vague concepts. What is the nice thing to do in every situation or the kind thing to do? Sometimes being kind or nice can actually inflict discomfort—such as to teach an important lesson. This passage does tie forgiveness to Jesus’ character, but not to these vague qualities. Instead it is tied to two of the strongest qualities of our savior. Our forgiveness is tied to Jesus being faithful and just. The first part, Jesus’ faithfulness says Jesus is going to do exactly what he is supposed to do when he is supposed to do it, without reservation, hesitation or failure. This faithfulness can be scary because if the right thing to do was to exact punishment then we would be punished. But the passage isn’t so vague. It says he “is faithful [to] forgive.” This means Jesus will always (another way of saying “faithfully”) forgive. He doesn’t wait for you to feel sorry enough, or for you to do enough penance. Confess and be forgiven. Jesus forgives because that is his role as our savior. God sent him to secure forgiveness and salvation for us, and he is faithful to do the will of the Father, at all times (John 6:39f). There is no danger of Jesus refusing to forgive you because to do so would violate the will of the father and make the son unfaithful—something he can never be.

But there is another quality of Jesus mentioned here and tied to our forgiveness: justice. It says that Jesus “is just [to] forgive us our sins.” Now wait just a minute! Justice is usually to be feared when guilty of sin. It is justice that balances the scales. Justice responds to evil with punishment. When one is harmed justice forces the guilty party to make recompense. When one sins, it is justice that ensures you receive the punishment you deserve. Justice is not usually associated with forgiveness. Actually, forgiveness is the antithesis of justice. If one is forgiven, then justice was not met. If one receives their just reward, then there was no forgiveness. However, through Christ the forgiveness and cleansing of our sins has changed from unjust to just. You see we deserved death for our sins. Justice would have repaid those sins with death (Romans 6:23a) to balance the scales. But the death of Christ balanced them on our behalf and in our place. This death paid for them fully—not just past sins but all sins (past, present, future). Since the sins are already paid for, forgiveness has already been secured (Hebrews 9:26ff). To refuse to forgive would, itself, be unjust. To refuse to forgive would declare the sacrifice of Christ insufficient.

There is a huge difference between justice without Christ and justice with Christ. Before coming to Christ we were responsible to pay for our own sins. Justice demanded payment. However, once we came to Christ he paid it all and justice assures any subsequent sins are forgiven, fully.

Now, some will still demand a price for this forgiveness—a price paid by the sinner. They will point out that this passage says we will be forgiven “if we confess our sins.” It is claimed (wrongly) that one who does not confess (or fails to confess) will then not be forgiven. This is only possible if the confession is what makes the forgiveness just. To claim this would be to claim that the confession is what makes the sacrifice of Christ sufficient to pay the price, and without our confession the sacrifice of Christ would not be enough. Such a claim, in effect, is a claim of needing “Jesus plus” (it requires my actions to complete the work of Christ). This is abominable. But if you know how to look at such statements you will understand that this is not what the author is saying.

He does not say, “If you confess you will be forgiven, but if you do not confess you will not be forgiven.” No. He says, “If you confess you will be forgiven” then justifies this with the qualities of Jesus. So the first part must be taken by itself, since the latter is meant to justify (or explain) the former. Does it mean that we will only be forgiven if we confess? Of course not.

The statement is what is known in logic as a conditional statement. These take the form of “If A then B” (or in propositional logic A→B). Such statements have two parts: a sufficient clause and a necessary clause. In this case “confess” is the sufficient clause, and “will be forgiven” is the necessary clause. To understand these let’s look at the rules for each:

Sufficient Clause: “A sufficient condition for some state of affairs S is a condition that, if satisfied, guarantees that S obtains.”

Necessary Clause: “A necessary condition for some state of affairs S is a condition that must be satisfied in order for S to obtain.”

(Taken from: http://philosophy.wisc.edu/hausman/341/Skill/nec-suf.htm)

You see, logic (and language is really just a logical way of making statements) has rules for such statements. For a conditional statement to be true, the necessary statement must be true if the sufficient clause is true. In the example of A→B, if A is true, then B must be true or the statement is false. In this case, if I confess and Jesus does not forgive then the statement is false. However, the reverse (If I do not confess, I will not be forgiven) is not impled. That would be a very different statement: (A→B)&(~A→~B) which would be the equivalent of A↔B. Such would actually set confession as the equivalent to forgiveness (the two would define each other). It would ultimately be my confession that causes my forgiveness—a heretical idea. And to make confession a necessary for forgiveness, the statement would be “If you are forgiven, then you have confessed.” This is a very different statement—no longer a promise, but a simple declaration.

The statement “If you confess you will be forgiven” is saying that is you confess your sins you can be sure of being forgiven because of whom Jesus is and what he has done. However, it says nothing at all about what happens if you fail to confess or are unaware of sins and unable to confess them. Those are handled by the second statement: Jesus forgives because he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us. We can also rest assured in other promises, such as 1 Thessalonians 5:23f, which says (ESV), “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” Add to this the promise of Jesus interceding for us forever as High Priest (Hebrews 6:19f). The Spirit will bring sins to your attention for you to confess. This is not because one must confess to be forgiven—the forgiveness is already secured. The Holy Spirit does this so that you can repent of the sin and turn from it. This is part of sanctification and growth, not a requisite of forgiveness or salvation, which were already secured.

Once you have come to Christ, you are never again in danger of unforgiven sins.

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My Brother’s Keeper

Matthew 5:21-24 (LEB) says:

“You have heard that it was said to the people of old, ‘Do not commit murder,’ and ‘whoever commits murder will be subject to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry at his brother will be subject to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Stupid fool!’ will be subject to the council, and whoever says, ‘Obstinate fool!’ will be subject to fiery hell. Therefore if you present your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and first go be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your gift.”

If you give this passage a cursory reading you miss something very important. It’s easy to miss the change in concentration. In the first part, Jesus is warning that being anger is the source of murder, and a cause of judgment. It is natural to imagine verses 23f address your response to being angry at your brother. However, it says something very different.

In verse 23, Jesus says “If you remember that your brother has something against you…” This is not saying “Do this, if you remember your brother has something against you, because you are in danger of judgment.” This is actually saying, “Do this, if you remember your brother has something against you, because your actions have put your brother in danger of judgment.” Jesus is telling us to take care for our brother’s emotional condition. He is telling us to care more for our brother’s spiritual well-being than even for our religious observations: “Leave your offering at the altar and go…” In this passage it is the brother who is angry. This anger tempts the brother to sin, and puts him in danger of judgment. Jesus places responsibility upon the errant disciple to go and make things right with one he or she has angered.

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Pharisee or Disciple

phariseesAn issue often discussed is the relation of Christians to the law. In Matthew 5:19-20 (LEB), Jesus says:

“Therefore whoever abolishes one of the least of these commandments and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever keeps them and teaches them, this person will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness greatly surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

This is often interpreted as a sort of works salvation, claiming law-breaking as grounds for exclusion from the Kingdom. Verse 20, which says our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees or we “will certainly not enter the Kingdom of heaven” (NIV) is a strong contributor this this view. The phrase translated ‘certainly not’ here is a strong emphatic negative (Dana & Mantey). It is a way of saying, “In this condition, this will absolutely not happen.” So one with a righteousness not exceeding the Pharisees is out of luck for entrance to the Kingdom.

Yet, does the passage say that breaking the commands of the law, or teaching others to break them will keep one out of the Kingdom? Actually it does not. It says one must have righteousness greater than the Pharisees, but what this means is explained in the following passages when Jesus gives the commands of the law a deeper and internal meaning—anger equivalent to murder, lust equivalent to adultery, etc. Verse 19 is important to understand because it is this verse which discusses breaking commands and teaching others to break them. However, it never says such behavior is grounds for exclusion from the Kingdom. It says those who do these things “will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.” This is not a statement about how to enter the Kingdom. It is a statement of status among those who are included in the Kingdom. Jesus does not make law-keeping the basis for entrance to the Kingdom. But what about verse 20 when he says those without righteousness greater than the Pharisees will never enter the Kingdom? Since having insufficient righteousness (not greater than the Pharisees) is grounds for exclusion, but breaking the commands of the law changes one’s status within the Kingdom but does not exclude one, the two must not be synonymous terms. In this way we see that Jesus cannot be defining ‘righteousness greater than the Pharisees’ as law-keeping.

The rest of the passage explains that this righteousness is from within. It flows from being a changed person—one who does not unjustly get angry or wrongly respond in anger; one who does not look with lust upon another; one who has no need to make oaths or pledges of right behavior or truth. Such righteousness is greater than that of the Pharisees because theirs is simple rote rule-following—no interior change; no new condition. True righteousness is seen in Romans 3:21a (LEB), “But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed…” This righteousness is not a matter of law-keeping. This righteousness is a matter of being internally changed. Such a person is more righteous than the Pharisees because the behavior springs from a changed nature—one which naturally obeys God and seeks his pleasure.

This picture of the changed nature fits perfectly with Jesus’ description of true righteousness in the remainder of Matthew five. It is this righteousness which Jesus works in us. It is this change which makes us citizens of the Kingdom, not law-keeping.

“So then, the law became our guardian until Christ, in order that we could be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” Galatians 3:24f (LEB)

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The Right Direction

Do you ever worry about the right direction for your life, or the right course of action? Do you find yourself frozen out of uncertainty about what God would have you do in a situation? Though a common problem among the people of God, it is based on an erroneous understanding of God’s desire for our lives. In 1 Samuel 10:7, Samuel encourages King Saul to be confident in making decisions. The verse says, “Once you see these signs, do whatever your hands find to do, because God is with you.” The signs spoken of were the evidence that Saul had received the Holy Spirit. They were not intended to show the right course of action. It was the presence of the Holy Spirit that did that. Well, as a Christian you have the Holy Spirit in a way Saul never imagined. As such, you too can walk through life confident the Lord is with you. You can confidently choose a course of action, trusting the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide you and keep you from the sinful choice. This is God’s desire for your life.

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Success

Years ago, I was working as a salesman and one of our stores account reps stopped by my desk and saw my screen saver—this was back in the days when people still used screen savers. It was a saying of mine which said, “Success is the accomplishment of God given goals; failure is the accomplishment of godless goals.” He was quite confused and asked how the accomplishment of a goal could be called failure. The problem is that the world looks at success very differently from a follower of Christ. The worldly person only asks, “What is the goal? And have I accomplished it?” The Christian has to ask, “What should be my goal.” This is part of the problem with our tendency to wonder why God doesn’t do as we want or why he doesn’t bless our efforts. We often fail to ask whether this is where God wants our efforts expended.

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The Beatitudes

Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with a beautiful list of qualities known as the Beatitudes. The normal practice is to look at these qualities and say, “I have those; I don’t have that one…” But this is not how the list was intended. If you look at the benefits given for each quality you see they are all promises to those saved by Christ. Inheriting the Kingdom, being comforted, purity in heart and being called Sons of God, among others, are all promised to every person who calls on Christ. He doesn’t seek to simply give us a few of these qualities. Christ, through the indwelling Holy Spirit is developing each of them within you. He is working to make you a meek and merciful peacemaker, who recognizes your own spiritual poverty, who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, while mourning for a lost world. So the next time you read this amazing passage look at it, not as a list to be chosen from, but as a blueprint of the person into whom God is making you.

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