The Tabernacle Scroll

Issue 109

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you[Eph. 4: 32, NIV, emphasis mine].

Larry Christenson, in his book The Renewed Mind, comments on how we have been conditioned to think according to this particular pattern: conviction-repentance-forgiveness. But, he suggests, has it ever occurred to us that the order could be forgiveness-repentance-cleansing? In the verse before us, for example, Paul exhorts us to forgive one another ‘just as in Christ, God forgave you’. This begs the question ‘how did God in Christ forgive us?’ The answer: “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Clearly, repentance was not a prerequisite for God’s forgiveness. But more about the place of repentance later. What I am simply saying is this: forgiveness was initiated by God (through Christ’s death), not by anything that man did to earn it.

This forgiveness in Christ is what is often termed unilateral forgiveness. The term simply means ‘one–sided’. In other words, neither a request for forgiveness nor any solicitations for reconciliation was made by man, but it was entirely of God’s undertaking. Jesus, in his life on earth, displayed this sort of forgiveness. For example, when dying on the cross Jesus said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. I am not aware of even a single case in the gospels of any person coming to Jesus who said, “Lord, forgive me”. Yet there are numerous instances of Jesus’ forgiving people. In fact, he healed many whose illnesses were connected with sin that they had not even confessed to him! Is this the sort of forgiveness that God expects us to practice? I believe it is!

Unilateral forgiveness does not come naturally. The natural man demands the offender’s repentance before he will forgive. Yet scripture tells us quite clearly that our own forgiveness depends upon our willingness to forgive others (see Luke 6:37 & Mark 11:25, for example). Quite often it means forgiving others who do not even think they need to be forgiven! But it is not our job to determine whether a person needs to be forgiven or not. We are simply to forgive, unilaterally. How the other person responds (even in a matter of serious sin) is a matter for God’s judgment.

The Theologian Karl Bath said that sin never really burns the conscience until it come under the white-hot light of forgiveness. I’m sure that’s why sinners were attracted to Jesus! It is this sort of forgiveness that brings ‘godly sorrow’ which brings repentance, leading to salvation (c.f. 2 Cor.7: 10). In short, if we ‘preach the cross’ faithfully, we will have genuine conversions!

            Devotional                                                                                                                            Preach The Word The Word with Pastor Joseph Rodrigues