Wednesday, October 20, 2010

True Forgiveness

“He who covers his sins will not prosper,
but he who confesses and forsakes them shall obtain mercy.”
Proverbs 26:13

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just
to forgive us our sins,
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
1John 1:9

“If your brother sins against you, rebuke him;
and if he repents, forgive him.”
Jesus, in Matthew 18:15

To have a tender heart and to be willing and ready to forgive is the way Jesus taught us to live, but to be willing to forgive it is different from actually forgiving. No one should be hard-hearted toward those who have done wrong because God was not hard-hearted toward any of us, but true forgiveness only exists as a response to true repentance. True, healing forgiveness is never extended or experienced until the ingredient of repentance is added to the transgression.

To forgive a killer who does not sincerely regret his crime is no more than an invitation for him to kill again. The same can be said of thieves, adulterers, and so forth. The betrayed wife who “forgives” her adulterous husband without him confessing and forsaking his sinful ways cannot be said to be showing him true forgiveness him at all. Rather, through ignorance of how to forgive in a godly manner, she is rewarding him with undeserved pardon and, therefore, encouraging him, if not granting him a license, to continue with his infidelity. She is not showing him either the love or the mercy of God because God isn’t like that. He will not forgive those who do not repent.

To offer forgiveness before the guilty party repents may be "the Christian thing to do", but it is not the godly thing to do. God, who is so full of mercy that His throne is called “the mercy seat”, has never forgiven any sinner who refused His call to repentance. Christians, on the other hand, regularly demand that we forgive unconditionally, which is utter foolishness in the guise of mercy.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Cutting a Covenant

“I am meek and lowly in heart.”
Jesus, in Matthew 11:29

“He that has seen me, has seen the Father.”
Jesus, in John 14:9

If Jesus is the perfect reflection of the Father (Heb. 1:3), and if he is “meek and lowly”, then what does that reveal to us about the Father? Other than giving His Son for our sins, there can hardly be a more striking demonstration of God’s meek and humble character than what He did in Genesis 15, and yet, because our culture is so different from Abraham’s, almost no one now even realizes what happened.

In modern translations, the Old Testament phrase, “make a covenant” is only an English adaptation of the original Hebrew, which literally says, “cut a covenant”. This Hebrew phrase accurately describes what happened when a covenant was “cut” between two parties. In those times, when agreements were reached in matters of supreme import, it was the ancient custom to show one’s good faith by cutting animals into halves and then walking between the two bloody pieces. There was no need for words to be spoken. It was clear what was meant: “If I have lied, or if I fail to live up to my promise, I will surrender my life, as this animal surrendered his.” It was the most that anyone making a covenant could do to assure the other person that he would keep his word. The author of Hebrews wrote, “An oath for confirmation is an end of all strife.” In other words, if someone has offered his very life as collateral, that settled the issue.

In Genesis 15, Abraham’s faith was flagging. It had been over ten years since God called him away from all earthly security, away from his country and his protective near-kinsmen to follow the voice of God into a strange and violent country, alone. It have been over ten years since God had promised him children, and now, Abraham and his wife Sarah were growing old, and they were still childless. So, in Genesis 15, when God again visited Abraham, and repeated His promises, Abraham needed help to believe that those things could really ever happen. He pleaded with God, “How can I know it is true?”

God’s response must have astonished the troubled Abraham. He commanded Abraham to “cut a covenant”, to prepare animals for someone to make the supreme oath, the oath on His very life. Abraham knew that he had not made the promises; therefore, he could not be the one expected to pass through the bloody halves of the carcasses. Abraham cut the animals, laid them out on the ground, and waited.

As darkness fell that day, God humbled Himself to a man. He, Himself voluntarily swore on His own eternal life to His friend Abraham that He would do as He had promised. There was nothing more that Abraham could ask for confirmation. God had (technically) given to Abraham authority to take God’s life if He failed to fulfill the promises He had made. The reader of the Bible will note that Abraham never again asked God to assure him of the promises.

The author of Hebrews speaks about this incredible moment in Old Testament history. He did not explain the details to his readers as I have done for you, for they already understood what “cutting a covenant” meant, but he did refer to key elements of the event. He summed up what happened by saying that God had confirmed His word to Abraham by “two immutable things”. The first of these two things he expressly mentions; namely that God cannot lie. But the second “immutable” thing, the writer does not mention, possibly out of reverence for God and certainly because his readers already knew what that second “immutable thing” was: God cannot die.

God cannot lie, and God cannot die. He promised Abraham that He would protect and bless him, and He cannot lie; and then, He swore on His own life, and God cannot die.

Our heavenly Father wants us to rest in His promises, to trust Him so much that we are at peace. He offered Abraham His life, using the death of animals, to get the point across to Abraham. How much more, then, should we rest in His love for us when He has given us His life, using the death of His Son? Paul pointed this out in Romans 8:32: “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall He not with him also freely give us all things?”