Tag Archives: Forgiveness

What’s Love (and Justice) Got to do with It?

Why did you get so mad? The judge said the kid was a victim of “affluenza” – too much money and not enough parental discipline.  Sure, he killed four people and injured two others.  Sure, he was driving drunk. Sure it wasn’t his first offence.   But, hey, it’s not his fault because he was too wealthy to know better, right?  No jail time; just a residential treatment facility for the very privileged few…

What makes this outrageous is that justice was not served.  We are wired to seek justice.  Justice is good; injustice makes us deeply cranky.  Animals don’t seem to care about justice.  But humans have been designed by God to reflect His being.  You already know God is love.  But God is also Just.   Consider what He told Moses:

And he [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.   Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished;…”  (Exodus 34:6-7a)

How can God be loving and forgiving, if He also must not leave the guilty unpunished?  Like a good parent, that’s how.   But these statements about God’s character become more puzzling when we consider that His justice is perfect.  Perfect  justice must equate punishment with the impact and consequence of the offence.  Pure justice demands a death penalty for causing  death.  Since sin causes spiritual death (God told Adam that on the day he disobeyed he would die), the just penalty for sin must be death.  Here’s the riddle:  How can God forgive us and love us, if first He has to kill us, to fulfill justice?

The solution to this riddle remained a mystery until 700 B.C., when Isaiah revealed how God would accomplish it.  He would send His “Son” to undergo the penalty required by perfect justice on our behalf.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  (Isaiah 53:5)

Jesus gave His life to pay our penalty.  He became the Solution to the riddle of God’s love and justice.  He went “all the way” to rescue us.  John explained that Jesus “came by water” (He identified with us in baptism) and “by blood” (He paid in death so that we could be reconciled with God).

I realize that this explanation may not fully satisfy.  We understand it somewhat, but wrestle with the idea of someone dying in our place.  If that describes how you feel, look back at “All the Way – Part 2” for more on that…

All the Way – Part 2

We’ve been chewing on something puzzling that the Apostle John said about Jesus:

“This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood.”  (1 John 5:6 a) 

NOTE – The previous post dealt what John meant about “water.”  If you haven’t read it, click on this link – All the Way – Part 1.  Hopefully, this second part about blood will make more sense.

When John said Jesus came “by water and blood,” he meant  Jesus came all the way – all the way TO you and FOR you.

Every week in the summer, out here in the Rockies, people find themselves stuck after climbing half-way up cliffs.  They cling desperately to the rock face, helplessly waiting for a rescue.  If someone came all the way down the cliff to stand next to them, they would feel so much better.  (This is the “water” part)   But feeling better wouldn’t be enough.  What they really need is for that person to do whatever is necessary to get them all the way out to safety.

That Jesus came by water means that He came all the way TO you.  That He also came by blood means He came all the way FOR you, as well – He came to do everything necessary to rescue you all the way.   Your rescue from sin, and from ultimate death, cannot be completed without blood.  His blood.

Why blood?  Why did God require a blood sacrifice before He could forgive you, wipe your slate clean forever and connect you to His Spirit?   Perhaps you have heard several explanations about why the Cross was necessary.  If you are like me, you “sort of get it,” but there are still lingering questions.  I believe those lingering questions remain because human explanations cannot completely encompass the wisdom and understanding of God.  If you ask a software engineer to describe what he or she does for a living, they will struggle to explain it to you in terms that make sense.  If you ask an advanced physicist and mathematician to explain string theory, chances are you will only have a vague notion about what they say.  Human understanding strains to comprehend such things.  God knows software and string theory like you know how to tie your shoes.

God helped his people grasp the concept – that blood is required for forgiveness and reconciliation –  by teaching them to act it out symbolically, by sacrificing an unblemished animal.  When Jesus sacrificed His own, perfect and sinless life, they “sort of got it” – some of them – but not fully.  Neither do I.

But I do get this:  Almighty God, Who is characterized by love and grace, would never have required His own Son’s blood on my behalf if there was any other way.  He told His people it was going to happen:

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  (Isaiah 53:5-6)

And Jesus made very clear that it had to happen:

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  (Luke 24:46-47)

Good enough for me.  Bottom line, Jesus came all the way; He came all the way to me in the water and He came all the way for me by His blood.  I wish I understood it completely.  For now, I “sort of get it” and that will have to do.

Stay tuned – there’s a bit more to this…

The Trouble with Penguins

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  (1 John 4:18)

The “Blues Brothers'” concept of Jesus was filtered through memories of a vicious nun (“The Penguin”) who beat them with a ruler.  Funny movie, but it too closely resembled how many people think of Jesus.  Which is also why many people don’t think of Jesus.

But Jesus said:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  (John 3:17)

Jesus openly received the worst sinners with love and acceptance.   He had harsh criticism for the “Penguins” of His day.  It’s not that He doesn’t care when we sin, but that He knows why we do, how helpless we are and how much we are hurting ourselves.  And He came to rescue us.

Remember the stray puppy you found, the one that cowered when you reached out to pet it?  Somebody had been beating that dog… You needed  a lot of patience to win his trust, even more to gradually rinse away his tendency to flinch at any sudden movement.  But now, when that pup sees you coming, he comes to life, wagging his whole body, bounding over and jumping up to greet you with great joy.  That’s because “perfect love drives out fear.”  And,  “Fear has to do with punishment.”

Jesus has to do with love.

And rescue.

He is patient.

No Doubt

I was halfway out to my car at the end of a long day.  I thought, “Did I lock the workshop?  Better go back and check.”  I knew it was locked, but I couldn’t get past the feeling of doubt that was seeping into my mind.  I went back and shook the door; it was locked (of course…).  Turned around and went back to the car.  But something inside my head was going, “Are you sure?  Maybe it just seemed locked…”  Did you ever find yourself doubting something you knew was true?  It’s okay; you don’t have to raise your hand.  I think most of us have had moments of doubt like that.

John was a man who had walked with Jesus, saw Him die, and who spoke with Him after his resurrection.  Now, perhaps as much as 40 years later, with the wisdom and perspective that only come to the elderly, he observes some troubling changes in the body of believers.  He could have scolded them, tried to lay down the law.  But John knew that if he could solidify some of the basic truths in their hearts, help them turn away from doubting things they knew to be true, that the Holy Spirit would keep them on track.  So he writes a kind of song to the believers – to the ones newest in the faith, to those who are in their most robust years of living out their faith, and to those who have grown old in the faith.

To the newest believers, he writes:

I write to you, dear children,

because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. (1 John 2:12)

When someone says, “I forgive you,” even though it is a relief, we more or less assume that they haven’t done so completely, or that if we did the same bad thing again they would “unforgive” us.  That’s why it is so hard for new believers to truly understand that God’s forgiveness doesn’t work that way.  When God forgives our sins, they have been forgiven, all of them.  It’s over!  John knows that doubting that can undermine our understanding and experience of everything else about our life in Jesus.  John knows Satan knows that, too, and loves to tempt us to doubt.  So he nails it down for the children in the faith.  You are forgiven.

A bit later, he addresses the newest Christians again:

I write to you, dear children,

because you have known the Father.  (1 John 2:13c)

John knows how essential it is for us to understand that God – Almighty God, Creator of the Universe –  is our Father.  Jesus taught us by His example to approach God as our “Abba,” our Papa, particularly in times of great distress (Mark 14:36).

John “sings” to the new believer, reminding him (or her) that God, Who is their loving Father, has completely and irrevocably forgiven them all their sins.  He has not done so capriciously, but rather has accepted full payment on their behalf in the blood of His Son, Jesus.  “…your sins have been forgiven on account of His Name.”  

Maybe you have had some doubts about those basic truths.  Let John’s “song” sing to you.

No Pushover

Try to imagine what would happen if criminals were let off, in the hope that they would learn their lesson and straighten up.  How well do you suppose that would work?  “You better not steal, because if you do, we’ll haul you into court and pronounce you innocent!”  Dumb, right?   Dumb by human logic, but elegantly effective by God’s logic.

If you haven’t read it already, go back to the previous post (“Facing the Truth About Sin“).  John writes that when followers of Jesus sin and confess, God forgives them and purifies them.  But then he writes this:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. (1 John 2:1a)

God’s strategy to help you stop sinning is to reassure you that He will forgive you and fix you.  So you won’t miss the point, the rest of that verse says this:

But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 John 2:1b)

How can that possibly work?  In human courts, leniency increases lawlessness.  But, there is a crucial difference:  In human leniency, nobody pays.  The underlying attitude is, “Oh, we’ll just pretend this didn’t happen.  You go home and try to behave…”   That’s not how it works in God’s court.   In God’s court, absolute justice is required, sin must be punished.  And Jesus pays.

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2 )

If you fully understand what verse 2 means, then you start to see why verse 1 would work.  When we understand how much it cost to forgive us with complete justice, we are less likely to do it again.

But there is another reason God’s system works.  Because Jesus has fully paid for our sin, when God purifies us (gives us a clean slate, so to speak) (1 John 1:9), He actually washes away the guilt.  Those who study addiction say that one of the most common triggers to compulsively repeating an addictive behavior is guilt.  For example, I’ve been told that people who are hopelessly in debt, wrestling with feeling guilty about it, commonly go out and buy a new car, hoping it will make them feel better.  The same pattern is observed in most addictions.  By paying for and taking on our guilt, Jesus breaks those chains.

The cross is the focal point of God’s Grace and His Truth.  In Truth you are guilty and justice demands a punishment; by Grace He forgives you and pays for you.

The Word (Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)

God truly forgives but He is no pushover.

Facing the Truth about Sin

There was no “Delete” key in the first century.  So, when John wrote: “and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 john 1:7b), he needed to clarify what he meant.  John knew people would read that and ask if he was claiming that followers of Jesus become sinless.  So he explained:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:8-9)

There are people who claim to follow Christ and also claim to be sinless.  John says those folks are deceiving themselves.  More than that, he says  “the truth is not in [them].”  It’s important to understand that John is warning such people that they have not truly begun a relationship of faith with Jesus.  How can he be sure?  Jesus gives the Holy Spirit,  the “Spirit of Truth,” to everyone who truly believes and follows Him (John 14:17).  Jesus promised his followers, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”  (John 16:13a).   Someone who is self-deceived about sin is almost certainly also self-deceived about his relationship with Jesus.

But those who have the Spirit of Truth, will experience His Truth as it pertains to their condition, whenever they sin.  They will be painfully aware that they have sinned again (and again)!

John reassures such people that, as we acknowledge our sin (confess, or agree with what the Spirit has shown us), God is faithful to forgive us.  “Faithful” means we can count on Him to do so.   God also is just.”  How can it be just for God to keep on forgiving us?  God forgives us with complete and perfect justice because “the blood of Jesus”  (v.7) has paid the full penalty for our sin.  Do you struggle to wrap your mind around that?  Me too.  But it is the truth.

And it gets better:  John says, God, Who faithfully forgives us with justice, then “purifies us from all unrighteousness.”   When you screw up and sin, don’t you feel dirty?  Don’t you feel as though you are smeared with a stain that you cannot wash away?  Despite how you feel, the truth is, God lovingly washes you clean.  He restores you and gives you a clean slate.  It is hard for us to feel clean, and yet, in truth, we are clean.  Amazing…

But, you may be wondering, how often can we expect God to keep doing that for us?  Look back to the quote above and see it for yourself:  He cleanses us from “all unrighteousness.”  The word, all, literally means “each and every one.”   More amazing…

The more the Spirit makes us aware of how often we sin, the more the message of God’s forgiveness, His justice and His washing seems.  Amazing and very, very humbling.  But true.

What Faith is For

The guy that picked me up hitchhiking told me to believe in Jesus so I could get cool stuff. He said, “See them ‘tahrs?’ They’s ‘wahd’ oval ‘tahrs’.” (I’m guessing he was from Alabama)  He said, “Ah prayed to Je-us-suhs for them ‘tahrs’ and he gave them to me. You should believe in Je-us-sus…” And on and on.

I wasn’t ready to believe in Jesus that day.  But even so, I could tell there was something fishy with his theology.  I remember thinking that even if Jesus had given him the wide oval tires, this guy has probably missed the point. Them ‘tahrs’ is probably worn out by now.  Is that what having faith is for –  so we can get cool stuff, or do cool stuff?  People get that idea reading things like this:

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea ’; and it would obey you.  (Luke 17:5-6)

At first it sounds like Jesus was saying if you have pure faith, even tiny pure faith then you can get or do cool stuff.  That’s the way it  supposedly works with the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus.  But that’s not what Jesus was implying.

If you look back in Luke, you’ll see Jesus had just taught the disciples that they should be willing to forgive someone who sins against them, apologizes but then goes and does it again – seven times in one day!  Jesus was teaching His disciples to have the faith to live by His reality, His teachings, even when they seem to be ridiculous or impossible according to the world’s notion of reality.  The world says you are a sucker to be so forgiving.  Jesus says, “Trust Me on this, it’s better to forgive.”

So their response is, “How can we increase the strength of our faith ?”  And Jesus uses an outlandish exaggeration (moving a tree with faith as small as a mustard seed) to teach them that it is not the size or strength of their faith so much as it is the Source of their faith that matters.  Faith is in God; God supplies the power to accomplish His will.

Remember, faith is given to us by God, and connects us to God. (See: “The Source of Power in Faith“) By faith, His Spirit lives within us and works to conform our thoughts and motives to His ways.  Connected with God, living in harmony with God, forgiveness extended to the repeat offender not only becomes possible but also makes sense!  Same thing if God shows you He wants a tree moved or wants  you to get a new set of ‘tahrs.’

Now You See it; Now You Don’t

My wife has a can of aerosol wonder spray that causes spots on the carpet to vanish.  No, I don’t know what it is – deliberately, so I don’t have to use it.  We each have our own gifts: my gift is putting the spots on the carpet…  Anyhow, it’s amazing stuff. You should get some.  Now you see it; now you don’t.  

In Isaiah, God said this:

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall  be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

Most of us have sins we hope nobody ever finds out about, the ones that, whenever they come to mind, cause our toes  to curl up in our shoes.  We’d like to forget them but they won’t go away.  They are like bloodstains on the carpet.   But God says He will cause those to vanish.  Not just forgive them but take them away entirely.   Literally.  Isaiah knew this from first hand experience.  When he cowered before God and confessed that he, like everybody else, was a man of “unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5) God arranged a weird, supernatural ceremony of atonement to happen:

Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.  With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)

I cannot explain all the bizarre details described there.  But God (literally His angelic beings) did something to cause Isaiah’s sin to disappear.  The Hebrew word behind the phrase “taken away” means to drag off, or cause something to vanish.  Now you see it; now you don’t.   The reason that is possible is explained in the Hebrew word behind the phrase “atoned for.”  If you wanted to purchase freedom for a slave, you would pay the going rate to his master, making atonement for him.   Jesus made that kind of payment to free us from our guilt.   If you are willing, God removes it.

In the verse we began with above, God says, in effect, “Be reasonable and I will cause your sin to disappear – not just the common ones, but the whoppers, too – the ones that seem like bloodstains on your memory.”   What does He mean by “Let us reason together?”  We see it in the next two verses:

If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.  (Isaiah 1:19-20)

Would God Forgive You?

The kidnapper in Cleveland and the bomber brothers in Boston raise an important question: Could they ever be forgiven by God?  How about you?  We have been hammering away at the meaning of Isaiah 57:15, about how the Creator of the Universe, Almighty God, Who lives beyond the dimensions of time and space, said He would live in the soul of the lowly and contrite.  If you are just joining us, go to the page listed in the menu above where the posts are listed in order.  But how about it: if the surviving bomber or the kidnapper truly became contrite and lowly, would either of them qualify?  Read what God said next in Isaiah:

I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry, for then the spirit of man would grow faint  before me— the breath of man that I have created.   I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid my face in anger, yet he kept on in his willful ways.   I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him.  (Isaiah 57:16-18)

God says He sees.  He knows.  But He is also ready to forgive.  To forgive but, even better, to restore and heal, to guide and comfort.  Who?  The lowly and contrite, the person who wakes up to the reality of Who God truly is, and by contrast, how sinful and unable to stop screwing up we humans are.  Ever watch those shows on cable where they restore old antiques?  Amazing!  Ever cut yourself badly and eventually see that it has been healed?  Imagine having the wounds of your soul healed.  Ever try to fix your computer and make it worse?  And yearn for someone who really knows to come and guide you – and restore comfort to your tangled emotions?  Read through that chunk of Isaiah again and consider those promises.

BUT, BUT, BUT!!!   If the bomber and the kidnapper get off, it just wouldn’t be right  – right?

Yes, insofar as justice is concerned.  And justice matters to God (remember: He is perfect!).  So which matters more to God – justice or forgiveness?  That question sets up a riddle about the character of God.  Here’s how God presented the riddle to Moses:

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,  maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished (Exodus 34:6-7a)

God is forgiving of wickedness, rebellion and sin but insists that the guilty be punished.  Hmmm…   How can that be?  I will forgive you, but first I have to kill you?  That riddle is solved, later in the Bible.  God gave a big hint to Isaiah.  He gave the Solution, 700 years after that.   Chew on that, and stay tuned…