Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Forgiveness

Why the Bible Doesn’t Make Sense

It can be both startling and surprising when I meet Christians (or engage with Christians online) who, for all their talk of Christianity, can’t seem to make sense of the Bible. How could this be?

How could it be that we would become so disoriented in our own worldview that our own book wouldn’t make sense to us?

JI Packer describes one prominent reason one reason why the Bible doesn’t make sense to people: they don’t understand sin.

iSINThe subject of sin is vital knowledge. To say that our first need in life is to learn about sin may sound strange, but in the sense intended it is profoundly true. If you have not learned about sin, you cannot understand yourself, or your fellowmen, or the world you live in, or the Christian faith. And you will not be able to make head or tail of the Bible. For the Bible is an exposition God’s answer to the problem of human sin, and unless you have that problem clearly before you, you will keep missing the point of what it says. Apart from the first two chapters of Genesis, which set the stage, the real subject of every chapter of the Bible is what God does about our sins. Lose sight of this theme, and you lose your way in the Bible at once. With that, the love of God, the meaning of salvation, and the message of the gospel will all become closed books to you; you may still these talk of things, but you will no longer know what you are talking about. It is clear, therefore, that we need to fix in our minds what our ancestors would have called “clear views of sin.” 1

‘The subject of sin is vital knowledge’ indeed. May God make us faithful to study it, know it, read the Bible, and relate to our God in light of all that he has shown us about our sin.


  1. JI Packer, God’s Words, 70.

Tough Words on Forgiveness

forgivenessIn his excellent commentary on Luke’s Gospel, David Garland spends some time thinking about forgiveness as he reflects on the Lord’s model prayer (Luke 11.1-4). He then cites C.S. Lewis on the topic of forgiveness and what Christians really believe:

We believe that God forgives us our sins; but also that He will not do so unless we forgive other people their sins against us. There is no doubt about the second part of this statement. It is in the Lord’s Prayer, it was emphatically stated by our Lord. If you don’t forgive you will not be forgiven. No exceptions to it. He doesn’t say that we are to forgive other people’s sins, provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything of that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don’t we shall be forgiven none our own. 1

Garland then continues: 2

Though most people agree that forgiveness is admirable, it is not easy. Alexander Pope’s adage, “To err is human, to forgive is divine,” may explain why human so often fail to practice this divine trait. It has been said that some bury the hatchet but leave the handle sticking out of the ground so that it is ready to grasp when they want it. Others ask, “Do I have to forgive if the offender does not repent?” It may never occur to them to ask, “Can the offender repent if I do not forgive?”


Jesus understands that forgiveness is as important for the one who has been hurt as for the one who caused the hurt. Forgiveness keeps one from being clobbered again and again when the memories resurface. Harboring a grudge opens persons up to the danger of defining their lives by how they have been hurt. Forgiveness provides release. Smedes writes, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” 3

It’s easy to understand forgiveness in theory. It’s another thing to be defined by it and display it. Forgiveness is one of the most costly things anyone can ever do. It always has been; especially at the cross. Forgiveness hurts. But it also heals.

May God give us grace to live this. Only the power of the cross can make it so.


  1. “On Forgiveness,” in The Weight of Glory (London: SPCK, 1949; repr. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001), 178.
  2. From David E. Garland, Luke, ZECNT (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 472.
  3. Garland is quoting from Lewis B. Smedes, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1984).

Is Your Jesus This Awesome?

This week someone sent me the following two excerpts from Spurgeon. My heart was blessed!

The combined effect was to freshly wow me with the wonderful thought of the bigness,  awesomeness, and merciful kindness of Jesus. I pray to God that as I grow as a Christian I would grow even more in more wonder, awe, and love for Christ.

I want to be captivated by his majesty and his intimacy, his fellowship and his forgiveness, his goodness and his glory.

What about you? Is your Jesus this awesome?

See how red your guilt is. Mark the scarlet stain. If you were to wash your soul in the Atlantic Ocean, you might incarnadine every wave that washes all its shores, and yet the crimson spots of your transgression would still remain. But plunge into the “fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins,” and in an instant you are whiter than snow. Every speck, spot, and stain of sin is gone, and gone forever.

I bear my testimony that there is no joy to be found in all this world like that of sweet communion with Christ. I would barter all else there is of heaven for that. Indeed, that is heaven. As for the harps of gold and the streets like clear glass and the songs of seraphs and the shouts of the redeemed, one could very well give all these up, counting them as a drop in a bucket, if we might forever live in fellowship and communion with Jesus.

A Hope That’s Greater Than ‘Getting Kony’

This post is taken from the ‘New Hope Uganda’ website. I hope it affects you with the same sense of true hope that it gave me. Justice is essential, but only forgiveness brings freedom in a truly broken world.

This below response video cost $0 to make. There is no kit for sale. No bracelet to wear. No poster to put up. There is no one to make famous.

Charles is a former abducted child soldier who through the grace of God has chosen to forgive his captors rather than seek revenge. We believe that the weapon that will change the issue of Kony and the many children affected by his atrocities is the releasing power of forgiveness.

You may wonder if we believe Kony should be brought to justice. Absolutely! We praise God that Invisible Children has helped bring these atrocities into the light once again, and we pray that this campaign will help end Kony’s efforts to steal, kill and destroy. But more importantly is the transformation only God can bring to the lives of the numerous children scarred by the actions of Kony and the LRA. Truthfully, if healing and forgiveness doesn’t take precedence in the hearts of these former child soldiers, then we can expect revenge and hatred to rule and Kony’s own victims to rise up in his place.


How to Love More

Last night in our small group we were talking about the ever-present problem in the Christian life of not being affected enough by the truth that we know. It’s the gap between knowing the gospel of grace and feeling the grace of the gospel. We want to be humbled by the gospel. We want to love God more. But how do we do that?

This got me thinking about a post I put up here about 4 years ago and so I decided to repost it.


Wise Words from James

Even though we’ve moved on to chapter 5 in our study on James at GFC, I’m still marvelling at many of the things my Lord has been teaching me from his word.

Preaching big passages like I’ve had to do is great for seeing the big picture and covering more of God’s word, but it necessarily means that there are lots of stones left unturned in each passage. Particularly, I’ve been thinking through James’s promise in chapter 4: ‘Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.’

One thing that amazed me the other night as I sat and thought this through is the similarity between this saying and that declaration of Jesus that the one who is forgiven most loves most. On the surface, they don’t seem that connected, but I think there is a profound connection.

Our Desire is to Love

Every Christian wants to know how to love God more. The first and greatest commandment we have is this: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.’ The reason why we still sin, why we become discouraged, or why we fall back into old patterns of living is because our love for God falls short of our love for ourselves.

Our Enemy Wants to Hinder Our Love

The devil is our enemy. His greatest goal is to stop us from achieving our greatest goal, which is love for God, resulting in joy in God. We want to love God, but he’ll do anything to stop that. Every Christian wants to love God more; but how do you practically increase your love for God?

James connects resisting the devil’s work with drawing near to God. In response to our drawing near to God, God draws near to us. What kind of drawing near does James have in mind? He clarifies for us in the next couple of sentences, where he describes radical repentance, open confession of sin and sinfulness, and proper humility. In other words, draw near to God in humility, repentance, and brokenness, acknowledging the greatness of your sin.

Connect the Dots

We can begin to connect the dots here a little with Jesus’ saying. We will love God more if we acknowledge more readily the reality of what we’ve been forgiven. But our enemy will have none of that–which is why we need to resist him. How do you resist Satan? By confessing your sins and drawing near to God.

It is the work of Satan to get you to think little of your sins. He desires that you not confess specific sins, that you not be heart-broken over the ways you’ve denied God. He wants you to just ignore sin in your life and not confess to brothers and sisters. The smaller you think your sin is, the less your love for God will grow, and the happier your enemy will be. ‘He who is forgiven little, loves little.’

If your love for God has grown cold, you can probably draw a straight line back to your lack of confession of sin in your own heart, to God, and to others. When you don’t realize what you’ve been forgiven, you don’t love.

How do you grow to love more? Draw near to God in repentance. Acknowledge how horrible and ugly your sin is, and be specific in your confession. What at the things you have rejected him for? What are the things you’ve loved more than him? What are the lies you’ve believed instead of his truth? Confess to him that you deserve death and hell. The more you draw near to him, the worse you’ll see your sin is, the more you’ll see how much you’ve been forgiven and the more you’ll love — which will overflow into a life of God-glorifying joy in obedience.

Should I Forgive Those Who Don’t Ask for Forgiveness?

This past Sunday I was blessed with the opportunity to preach Matthew 18.21-35 at Grace Fellowship Church. That is the passage where Jesus tells the parable of the Unforgiving Servant.

Naturally, in speaking about forgiveness, many questions were raised. People approached me later and asked many questions about when forgiveness is appropriate and what it looks like. One person who heard the sermon online (you can get it here) e-mailed and asked some questions as well.

Since most of the questions were generally along the same lines, I thought that posting my response here might be helpful to others. Here was the question that I was aiming to answer:

A friend said to me that as a Christian we do not have to forgive everybody. And the reason that was given was that God does not forgive everyone. God only forgives those who ask for forgiveness. Following this argument, as a Christian we would only have to forgive others who have asked us for forgiveness.

That question was followed up with another:

As a former psychology student/social worker, I’m interested in understanding more about how repetitive forgiveness looks without setting up boundaries or getting distance from a Christian who continually sins against you.

Here is my take:


Your questions are not uncommon, that is for sure — and they are good ones. Typically when I’ve encountered people who argue that we only need to forgive those who ask, I’ve discovered that they hold that position because they’ve been deeply hurt in the past by someone who may or may not have been repentant. The prospect of forgiving someone for something genuinely evil when they haven’t even sought forgiveness or admitted their wrongful actions is a scary one that can seem like death. So the much easier answer is to appeal to the reality that God only forgives those who ask.

The trouble, of course, is that whether God forgives or not is God’s prerogative (should God forgive those who die as young children, incapable of understanding the gospel and exercising repentance and faith?). There is nothing outside of himself that compels him to forgive. When we view ourselves as the ‘God’ figure in the relationship, we’re missing something. The reality is that we are servants, compelled by the mercy we’ve been shown, to forgive other (equal) servants. That’s different than God’s forgiveness. Our forgiveness displays the reality and power of God’s forgiveness, but it’s different. We are commanded to forgive; God does so of his own character. When God forgives it is a superior showing mercy on an inferior; when we forgive it is servant to servant. The connection between God forgiving us and us forgiving each other is a little more nuanced than some like to admit.

That being said, how can there be true reconciliation in relationships if the offending party doesn’t admit wrong? Offering forgiveness really means next to nothing if the offender doesn’t believe they need forgiveness in the first place.

All things considered, I think that what Christ is calling us to is a stance, a posture of forgiveness. He’s calling us to a readiness to forgive in a moment. I think he is calling us to treat people with love and mercy, with humility and compassion. He is calling us to remember that if someone has sinned against me, I should be quicker to identify with them (‘I have sinned this way too…’) than to identify with God (‘I have been offended without cause…’). When we realize that it could have just as easily been me offending as me offended, I’m much slower to hold offences against other people.

Whereas most people say ‘I don’t need to forgive because you haven’t asked for forgiveness’ in order to justify holding on to feelings of woundedness and bitterness, Christ calls us to identify with the offender and to be ready to be fully reconciled in a moment. It’s a the posture of the heart more than a specific action in that case, but it will make all the difference in the world in the way you think about, relate to, and pray for the person who has offended you.

As for the questions regarding boundaries, I’m not sure I have absolute answers for you in specific instances. Again, what Jesus is striving to portray for us is a heart that is ready and willing to be wounded again and again for the sake of love and for the sake of modelling the heart of God. But in the wisdom literature (e.g. Psalm 1) there is much to indicate that we ought not to make it our habit of making persistent sinners our close friends (for numerous reasons).

I think, in this context (Matthew 18), the difference between the sinner of verses 15-20 and the sinner of 21-22 is simply that the former refuses to repent, while the latter is genuinely repentant, and seeking to change. Each specific case will need to be dealt with according to wisdom. Some sins must be treated differently than others, and some have more lasting consequences.

But in all things, we are called to be ready and willing to forgive, and hopeful of fully reconciled relationships through repentance and forgiveness. I think that’s the bottom line.

I guess what concerns me about the position that says we forgive only those who ask is not so much that they are outright wrong, but that it seems to be asking, ‘Who can I get away with not forgiving?’ It’s the wrong question. The right question is more along the lines of ‘How can I respond to the matchless and limitless forgiveness I’ve received from God? Who can I forgive in order to display the gospel to the world?’ That seems to me to be a world of difference.

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