Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 1 Study # 4
Thesis: The meaning of "forgiveness of sins" fundamentally involves the removal of a person from the domain of "Law".
Introduction: The "problem" of getting inside of a person's head so that he, or she, begins to think correctly is huge. The "problem" includes the reality that there is nothing simple in the world. Even when we think a thing is "simple", we are only revealing how little we understand the interrelationships that exist in Truth. Luke, wishing to push Theophilus in the direction of a greater enjoyment of "Life", obviously "felt" this "problem" -- why else would he write so much? He wrote 24 chapters of material regarding what Jesus "began to do and to teach" and then followed them up with 28 chapters of material regarding what Jesus "continued to do and to teach" through the apostles whom He had chosen. And, though some might wonder why I have taken more than two years to present Luke's words in just two of those chapters, I have not had to "struggle" to find enough to say each week for the last two years. In other words, it is no small thing, even for God, to get into a person's mind so that that person actually thinks what God knows. And, though we have spent more than two years in this study, there is no guarantee in that (the length of our study) that we really "understand". True understanding shows up in one way: first, in how we treat God, and, then, in how we treat men. This is why we read of John that he refused to accept verbal "professions" of understanding and demanded overt demonstrations of the "fruits" of repentance.
Some might think, on the basis of what I have just said, that the complexity is a justifiable basis for simply not making the effort. But it is not. The complexity exists for our humility, not our despair. It is not without significance that Luke's opening thesis is the grace of God -- which is a thesis of God's willing activity on our behalf to bring us to His Life -- and that his most fundamental response-thesis is the repentance of men -- which is a thesis of man's response to the grace of God. It is no accident that Luke makes "repentance" the foundation for man's entrance into that condition which is described as "forgiven". That is the reason we spent our study time last week looking into what "repentance" really is. And, it is the reason we are going to spend our study time this week looking into what "forgiveness" really is. What does it actually mean to be "forgiven"?
November 27, 2005
- I. The Most Readily Understood Aspects of "Forgiveness".
- A. On the face of it, to be "forgiven" means to be "exempted from" certain consequences of one's actions.
- 1. This issue of "certain" consequences is important.
- a. In a personal, cause/effect, universe, there are different kinds of consequences to actions taken.
- 1) There are consequences that are related to God's governance of the creation that are not directly "personal"; they are "impersonal".
- 2) There are consequences that are directly related to what "persons" do in response to actions taken by others.
- a) There are consequences that have to do with persons seeking justice.
- b) There are consequences that have to do with persons seeking peace.
- b. In the Bible, "forgiveness" does not address the issues of consequences that are driven by divine governance; it only addresses the issues involved in the consequences that are related to what "persons" do in response to actions taken.
- 1) Thus, a person can be "forgiven", but not "restored" to a pre-sin physical condition that has been brought on by "impersonal" cause/effect issues.
- 2) And, the issues of "forgiveness" are split into two distinct spheres in the "personal" realm.
- a) In the personal realm, there is the sphere of "Law" in which the persons involved are fundamentally interested in "justice". There is no "forgiveness" in this realm: Justice precludes exemptions from the demands of equity.
- b) In that same realm, there is also the sphere of "Love" in which the persons involved are fundamentally interested in "peace". This is the realm of "forgiveness": "peace" can be established even if "justice" is not done.
- 2. Matthew 18:27 illustrates the general meaning of "forgiveness" in "financial" terms: to be "forgiven" a debt means to never have to pay it back.
- 3. The majority of the uses of the word translated "forgive" in the New Testament are uses which mean "to turn away from the pursuit of a particular matter".
- a. The vast majority of the uses of this word have nothing to do with "sins". [The verb is used 146 times in the New Testament and only 47 of them were translated "forgive" by the translators of the Authorized Version.]
- b. They have, instead, a focus upon some matter that was requiring a particular focus of effort that is suddenly "dropped".
- c. The "dropping" of a matter meant that it was not going to be pursued any further.
- d. When the issue involves "forgiveness", the matter that was "dropped" was the effort involved in attempting to "rectify" a wrong committed.
- 1) "Forgiveness" is never used of "dropping" the pursuit of peace. When a person decides to forget about obtaining "peace", there is no "forgiveness" involved -- there is only estrangement of relationship (illustrated by excommunication).
- 2) "Forgiveness" is always used of "dropping" the pursuit of justice. When a person decides to forget about obtaining "justice", "forgiveness" is heavily involved if the relationship is to work in harmony.
- 4. Thus, when a person is "forgiven" the person who has been in the pursuit of rectifying a wrong suddenly ceases that pursuit.
- 5. When it is God Who is involved in the pursuit, being "forgiven" means that He drops His pursuit of the establishment of equity in terms of bringing the guilty to judgment.
- 6. So, on the face of it, to be "forgiven" means to be "exempted from the imposition of Justice"...to be free from the legal consequences of wrong behavior.
- B. On the face of it, to be "forgiven" means to have a "non-adversarial" relationship with a person against whom you have sinned.
- 1. Sin and forgiveness are altogether "relationship" terms. There is no "context" for understanding sin and forgiveness other than "relationship".
- 2. When one sins against another, "relationship" is immediately turned into conflict -- which is an adversarial "relationship."
- 3. When one "forgives" another, the "forgiver's" adversarial attitude in the relationship is "dropped" because the "offender's" adversarial attitude has been abandoned. This is why "repent" precedes "forgiveness of sins".
- 4. So, on the face of it, to be "forgiven" means to be exempted from the imposition of the Law's demands for vengeance.
- II. Some Not-So-Readily Understood Aspects of "Forgiveness".
- A. "Forgiveness" is never, and cannot be, "unilateral".
- 1. This notion has been introduced into our thinking by certain "counselors" who want to address the question of how one deals with bitterness towards others... even dead others.
- 2. But, the issue of "forgiveness" is not about "non-relationships", it is about "non-adversarial relationships". The issue of bitterness is not even biblically related to the issues involved in forgiveness.
- 3. It is impossible to have a "unilateral" non-adversarial relationship.
- 4. It is impossible to create a non-adversarial relationship with a person who does not wish to have one because the attempt is "adversarial" -- the attempt to push something on someone that they do not wish.
- 5. It is impossible to restore a relationship to a non-adversarial state without both repentance on the part of the offender and forgiveness on the part of the offended.
- B. Without repentance, there can never be the suspension of the pursuit of equity.
- 1. There are only two kinds of "relationships": adversarial and non-adversarial.
- 2. In "adversarial" relationships, conflict is not simply inescapable, it is the essence of the relationship: adversaries are only interested in one thing -- the resolution of the conflict to their satisfaction -- and nothing else matters.
- 3. In "non-adversarial" relationships, conflict is not tolerated; indeed, cannot exist.
- 4. Thus, God never suspends the pursuit of equity unless a person decides to "sue for peace" by means of repentance.
- C. The biblical injunction to refuse to take vengeance is not an injunction to "unilaterally forgive"; it is an injunction to seek God's vengeance [Note Revelation 6:9-10].
- D. The Bottom Line: "Forgiveness" is the suspension of Justice.
- 1. Every time God forgives a person, Justice is suspended.
- 2. God never forgives a person and then returns to the imposition of "Law" later on.
- a. Forgiveness is never extended by God unless true repentance has occurred (He Who sees all is never deceived by a profession of repentance that is not true), nor is the circumcision of the heart ineffectual.
- b. Forgiveness is never extended by God without bringing the repentant into the new relationship He offers; a relationship free from the Law.
- c. Forgiveness is never rescinded by God after the establishment of the new relationship. All "adversarial" issues that are generated in the new relationship are treated as disciplinary issues designed to train the repentant one in the skills of life by love. The "suspension" of "Law" is the negation of "condemnation"; not the negation of correction, nor the negation of the cause/effect reality of the universe.
- 3. Forgiveness is not the extension of privilege.
- a. Privilege is rooted in fidelity, not the suspension of Law.
- b. When a person "repents", he does so without any expectation that he will be extended any privileges that can only be his by faithfulness.
- III. John's Message.
- A. John was fundamentally announcing the willingness of God to receive any who wished to lay down their animosity toward Him without holding them legally accountable for all that they had done.
- B. John was verbalizing the divine promise of Peace to any and all who were wearied by their sins.