Calvary Road Baptist Church

“FORGIVENESS”[1] Part 1

Ephesians 4.32 

Ray and Brad have been classmates since fifth grade. They like each other a lot, with both admitting they are a bit different. School work comes somewhat easier for Ray and sports are where Brad shines. Where they disagree is who is better looking and who is funnier. Such dynamics are common with high school boys, but this year Ray and Brad have developed a more serious problem in their friendship than they have ever faced before. It has to do with a girl, a girl neither of them will admit will be only a memory when school starts next fall. But their conflict and their unwillingness to both seek and grant forgiveness from each other will mean that their friendship will fracture and never be the same. It also means they will both have problems in the future dealing with matters related to forgiveness with their future wives, with their aging parents, and even their own children.

Graduations are being held. Summer is fast approaching. So, this morning I will delay the next message in my series of sermons on the Lord Jesus Christ’s Feast of Tabernacles to deal with a concept that is an unappreciated but important part of the subject of salvation and the Christian life, the topic of forgiveness. We are all agreed that no one can make anyone embrace Jesus Christ in a saving way. To be sure, I suppose you could force people to convert to Jesus Christ after the fashion Muslims have forced conversions to Islam, under the threat of murder or the threatened or real pressure of persecution. But that isn’t real faith in the Savior, is it?

History is full of stories in which so-called conversions to Christianity are the result of a desire for economic advantage, which is why some think Karl Marx’ parents abandoned their Jewish heritage to become Protestants in anti-Semitic Europe. Did Marx’ dad go to a Protestant church in Germany for no other reason than it afforded him better business opportunities? Then, of course, there are the sad episodes of the crypto-Jews pretending to convert to Roman Catholicism to escape the persecution of the Inquisition, such as happened to the Marranos mostly in Portugal and Spain.[2]

In our own experiences here at Calvary Road Baptist Church we have seen false professions of faith in Christ to land a prospective mate. I remember a guy named Doug attending Church here for months and completely fooling a woman named Sandra, and me, for the sole purpose of getting her to marry him. Years later, when he drove the cement truck to deliver the mud for our ramp on the North side of this building, he gleefully admitted to me that he had successfully kept her out of Church since the day he married her.

So, there is a lot of skullduggeries associated with coercion, fraud and pretense, and other methods employed in the superficial embracing of Christianity. Real Christianity, however, is neither adopted nor embraced in response to such low motives. Notwithstanding the perversions of the Christian faith that are foisted on nonbelievers, or that are sought by nonbelievers for various reasons, real Christianity involves a heart relationship with God that is secured by faith in Jesus Christ, God’s only-begotten, crucified and raised from the dead, Son.

I say all that to say this: Sometimes efforts to bring the lost to Christ goes over the line that separates the soul liberty of the sinner and the soul liberty of the Christian. Sometimes unconverted children are made to feel they are being pressured by their parents to become Christians or pressured by the pastor to convert to Christ. As well, sometimes people pretend to become Christians to get the person they want to marry or to gain an advantage in the marketplace. This is always unfortunate and mistaken when it happens.

Concerning children, parents are charged by God with rearing their children, which includes training them to think wisely and not foolishly. As well, both pastors and parents have a holy obligation to confront every sinner, even young ones, with the claims of Christ and God’s demand for obedience to the Gospel. Sometimes, however, youngsters feel that parental demands that they learn to think logically and deal with important spiritual issues are parental demands that they convert to Christ. This should not ever be the case. As well, sometimes a pastor’s attempts to persuade sinners are misconstrued as forcing a conversion to Christ. No one can actually be forced into a relationship with Jesus Christ, just as no one is ever born a Christian. Born into a Christian family? Yes. But born a Christian? Not according to the Bible.

What must be kept in mind is the thoroughly Baptist conviction that no forced conversion to Christ can be genuine, that every soul’s liberty must be recognized, yet at the same time noting that every Christian is charged with the holy obligation to engage in persuading the lost to consider Christ’s claims without forcing conversion to Christ. Keep in mind that when the Apostles preached the Gospel, the people they spoke to did not want to hear what they had to say.[3] Were the Apostles violating the soul liberty of those sinners by preaching to them what they did not want to hear? No. Despite the protests of college campus social justice warriors, a sinner’s soul liberty is not violated when he is told something he does not want to hear. However, his soul liberty is violated when an attempt is made to force him to yield to God when he does not want to.

What, then, would cause a sinner to want to become a Christian when evangelism is telling people what they do not want to hear? There are two principles at work in the thinking of a sinner who becomes a real Christian: On one hand, the sinner has come by various means to see the loveliness and glory of Jesus Christ, and he longs for Him. On the other hand, the sinner has come by various means to see the horror of his own sinfulness, and he longs for relief from his sins in the form of forgiveness. Therefore, it is my design to dwell for the next couple of weeks on developing this subject of forgiveness. Are you persuaded that you need God’s forgiveness? Have you any interest in forgiving someone who has done you wrong? Why is forgiveness a uniquely Christian concept, either not found in other religions and belief systems, or not fully developed in other religions and belief systems?

It will not be my goal to press you or to persuade you in any immediate sense. My goal this morning will be to stir your thinking, to coach you in your consideration of this important gift called forgiveness, and to show you both your own need of forgiveness and your need to be a forgiving person: 

Therefore, CONSIDER THE PAGAN AND JEWISH IDEAS OF FORGIVENESS 

Forgiveness has never been much of a pagan virtue. Examine the religions of our modern world, and you will see what I mean. In which of the world’s various non-Christian religions or belief systems do you find instructions and encouragements to forgive? None of them that I am aware of. Do you not rather find justification in pagan religions for seeking revenge instead of forgiving? Of course, you do. It is the predictable pattern of paganism to ignore or intentionally overlook man’s need for forgiveness from God and his fellow man, as well as man’s need to forgive his fellow man.

Even in the Old Testament, man’s forgiveness of his fellow man is not frequently mentioned. In every case you do find it in the Hebrew Scriptures forgiveness is found when the one asking for forgiveness is in a position of subservience and is petitioning for that to which he has no just right. 

In none of these incidents do we see a peer-to-peer relationship or a person of superior rank seeking the forgiveness of someone who is a social or political inferior.

Certain Psalms, referred to as Imprecatory Psalms for their aggressive tone, attest the fact that forgiveness of enemies was not emphasized as a virtue by Israel, in part because enemies of Israel were understood to be enemies of God.[4] Thus, pious Jews could appeal to the Law which directed them to seek neither the peace nor the prosperity of their avowed enemies, though it must be admitted neither were they to abhor them: We see this in Deuteronomy 23.6-7: 

6  Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever.

7  Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother: thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian; because thou wast a stranger in his land. 

As well, consider Ezra 9.12, concerning the Jews returning from Babylonian captivity: 

“Now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever: that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever.” 

Thus, the message seems to be “leave them be.”

The Lord Jesus Christ gave the popular summing-up of the Law and not its exact words when He said in Matthew 5.43, 

“Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.” 

So, you see, as the Jewish people understood their Scriptures, the very best relationship to be hoped for was a state of neutrality toward non-Jews, with hatred being the order of the day if any animosity existed. Where does forgiveness come into play, then? Keeping in mind that the Law commanded love toward your neighbors, with forgiveness playing a vital role in maintaining relationships with those you are supposed to love, the Lord Jesus Christ clarified who are your neighbors. In His great parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10.30-37, He was asked the question, “And who is my neighbor?” In the parable, He did not answer the question of who your neighbor is, but instead told His audience how to be a neighbor, by showing mercy and saying, “Go, and do thou likewise.” Who, then, is your enemy? This is an important question and bears directly on this matter of forgiveness. This matter of enemies also, sadly, reflects how many professing Christians have values that are essentially unchanged and unchallenged by the Savior’s and the Apostles’ teaching on the matter. Ask yourself, “Who is my enemy?” as you turn to Second Thessalonians 3.14-15: 

14  And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.

15  Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. 

No matter who the professing Christian is, if that person is clearly disobeying God’s Word, though you are directed by Paul to have nothing to do with him, you are not to count him as an enemy, but you are to admonish him the way you would a brother. Now turn to Romans 12.20: 

“Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” 

Are you beginning to get the picture? The Christian has no real enemies. We may have people we should steer clear of, to deny them the opportunity to sin against us. But real enemies? They do not exist for the Christian. There are enemies of Christ, enemies of the Gospel, those who would do us harm because of their hatred of the truth and opposition to the plan and purpose of God. But what is to be our attitude and posture toward them? Romans 12.19 is only one of five verses of Scripture with this message: 

“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” 

Why this attitude toward those we might otherwise think are our enemies? Matthew 5.44. The Lord Jesus commanded, 

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” 

This is only one of three times in the Gospels the Savior commanded us to love our enemies, which is tantamount to telling us that we do not have enemies. God has enemies. The Lord Jesus Christ has enemies. But we do not have enemies. We are to treat no man as an enemy so that no man will be beyond the reach of our efforts to reconcile sinners to God through faith in Jesus Christ. It is because sinners are not our enemies, but are instead objects of our love, and because sinners are enemies of God and our Savior, that forgiveness is so important to us. 

The reason pagans and pagan religions have little use for forgiveness is that pagans and pagan religions have only a rudimentary concept of sin. The reason they have only a rudimentary concept of sin is that they have a distorted and ignorant concept of God. But, of course, that is true of anyone who is not a Christian. Once a person gains some understanding of his sinfulness in the sight of the one true and living God that he has some understanding of, then this thing called forgiveness becomes more and more important to him. As well, once an apprehension of the nature of God is gained, it also closely follows that an appreciation of the importance of forgiving your fellow man and being forgiven by your fellow man will necessarily follow.

You see, once you grasp that each person is made in the image and likeness of God, then that person becomes important, important enough to be forgiven for Christ’s sake when he has wronged you, and important enough to seek his forgiveness when you have wronged him. Marriages do not work for husbands and wives without seeking and granting forgiveness all the time. This is a dynamic that is sorely missed in single-parent households that carry over into the next generation. As well, parent to child relationships do not work without seeking and granting forgiveness frequently. Friendships remain shallow and strained, if they remain at all, without seeking and granting forgiveness when it is needed.

Most importantly, eternity cannot properly be prepared for apart from the forgiveness that God grants only to those who are reconciled to Him through the sacrificial death of His Son on the cross. At the root of it, forgiveness is not possible apart from justice. This is why only Christianity has a fully developed concept of forgiveness since only Christianity recognizes that forgiveness means so much more than pretending nothing happened, pretending you did not sin or pretending you were not sinned against or pretending you forgive when the reality is that you do no such thing.

From God’s dealings with mankind, we understand that forgiveness only really occurs when a penalty has been paid for the crimes and offenses that have been committed. Since only Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, can and did pay the penalty for all my sins, the only forgiveness I will ever receive from God and others, as well as the only forgiveness I can truly grant to others, must be based upon the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, the Just for the unjust that He might bring us to God.[5]

Think about that on your way home this morning after Finger Food Fellowship. Discuss it with your family. How dreary and how ridiculous life is for the poor soul who can neither enjoy nor grant forgiveness because he has not been forgiven by God. He can say, “I forgive you.” He can pretend to forgive. But you cannot forgive anyone until first you have been forgiven by God.

My text this morning is Ephesians 4.32, where the Apostle Paul shows his readers the connection between being forgiven by God and being able to treat others rightly, even going so far as to forgive: 

“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

__________

[1] This series of sermons draws heavily on information found in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia article “Forgiveness”

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marrano 5/18/18

[3] Acts 5.28-29; 6.9-7.54; 13.49-50; 6.20-24; 17.1-9, 13-14

[4] Imprecatory Psalms, contained within the Book of Psalms of the Hebrew Bible, are those that invoke judgment, calamity, or curses, upon one’s enemies or those perceived as the enemies of God. Major Imprecatory Psalms include and Psalm 109, while Psalms 5, 6, 11, 12, 35, 37, 40, 52, 54, 56, 58, 79, 83, 137, 139, and 143 are also considered imprecatory.

[5] 1 Peter 3.18

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