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Written by: C. W. Booth

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Unconditional Forgiveness

"Unconditional love." "Unconditional forgiveness." These phrases simply do not exist in the Scriptures, at least to my knowledge. Love is "conditional." That means that the ability to love, or giving away love to others, is bounded by qualifications. How so? First, we only love God and others on the condition that God loved us first.

We love, because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

Sometimes, love is granted for an explicit reason.

For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. (John 10:17)

After our salvation, God grants us the ability to love, not just love other saints, but also our neighbors and enemies. Love for all, once we have met the condition of becoming saved, is an unconditional obligation and state. Many passages indicate this, but of course, the original condition is that God loved us so much that He saved us. Once we meet the condition of being saved, love to others becomes unconditional and obligatory, or, we know we are not genuinely saved.

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. (1 John 3:14)

Similarly, "unconditional forgiveness" is not found in Scripture. God will in no way forgive the guilty unconditionally (Exodus 23:7, 34:7, Numbers 14:18, Nahum 1:3). Forgiveness requires the condition that we believe on Christ, confessing Him as Lord, and repenting of our sins.

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

Needless to say, if we are born-again (born a second time from above) then from an eternal perspective all our sins are forgiven, removed by the sacrifice of Christ. Yet, even then, our prayer fellowship with God is broken by each sin we commit until such time that we confess that sin to Him (Psalm 66:18, Proverbs 28:9, 15:29, Isaiah 59:2).

When our brothers and sisters in Christ ask for forgiveness, we are obligated to grant it to them, always.

"Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him." (Luke 17:3-4)

When you grant forgiveness, should you expect anything in return from your brother or sister in Christ? Absolutely. Forgiveness is not granted unconditionally. Forgiveness obligates the grantor and the grantee to a full restoration of fellowship in Christ. Anything less than a completely restored relationship of grace, conversant in all the things of God, is not genuine forgiveness and the continuation of hatred, anger, and bitterness are self-evident in the one who refrains from fellowship.

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree--in order not to say too much--to all of you. Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. (2 Corinthians 2:5-8)

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. (Matthew 5:22-24)

Just try to imagine what your spiritual life would be like if, when we confessed our sins to God, He replied, "Yes, I Ďforgiveí you, but I no longer like you for what you have done and have decided that we should not fellowship any longer." This is not forgiveness at all, it is hatred concealed, and only thinly concealed at that.

When we offer forgiveness we ought to have expectations. We must expect that our offer of reconciliation to restore fellowship will be accepted. If we do not have this expectation, this hope, then we do not have real love, and our very salvation is in question. Love for another requires us to believe that they will respond in Christ, just as love also compels us to hope and expect this righteous outcome from others.

[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:7)

What if our love, our forgiveness, our expectations of righteous behavior, and hope of reconciliation is met with cold indifference or even hostility? We must lift up the other person in prayer, continue to show them love, and continue to petition for reconciliation. If they are truly of the redeemed, our hope insists that we believe and expect that they will repent and return, restoring our fellowship with them and their own fellowship with the Lord.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"Change"--Christians Living in a Free Nation

What a blessing!!!! We have more personal freedoms than any other nation on Earth, or in history!!! We even get to vote to determine who will rule over our nation (yes, I know the proper word is "lead," but I have my opinions about that as well).

The clanging bell of meaningless rhetoric on the campaign trail is presently ringing the word "change." Oh yes, everyone wants "change." And we will likely elect the presidential candidate that promises us the most "change." But change from what into what? Do we know? As Christians, we ought to know exactly what profile of a presidential candidate will draw our precious votes and what type of changes are most desirable.

Sadly, most people mean, "I want to go back to the good old days, thatís the change I want." God warns us not to think that there was such a time as "the good old days." There is only "now" that has any meaning, because "now" is when we live, and we must make the most of "now."

Do not say, "Why is it that the former days were better than these?" For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this. (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)

What change do I most desire? I desire our elected officials, especially our lawmakers, to actually spend less taxpayer money this year than last year. I donít care if they promise to do so, I want them to genuinely change their present spending habits and just spend less money. That is change.

I desire our next officials to have more loyalty to Israel and more backbone against terrorists. Let us stop pressuring Israel to give away land they legitimately received by grant after World War II and begin demanding that those murderers who daily launch rocket barrages from Palestine into civilian and military areas of Israel be forcibly stopped.

Finally, I desire our judiciary to change their behavior, stop actively eroding civil rights and freedoms, and begin upholding the constitution as written. Our constitution grants us the right to exercise religion free from state restrictions, but our judiciary seems to find ways to change it into a means to protect the state from the influence of people who exercise religion.

Perhaps some things just should not change solely for the sake of change. I want no more changes that financially penalize pastors for speaking about politics from the pulpit, I desire no more restrictions that prohibit exposing children to religious speech in public places, I have no yearning for more rulings which threaten to take away privately owned churches and give them to developers just because they promise to yield higher tax revenues for the state.

Change is good when it makes the person and the community more like Christ. Change is undesirable when it hinders the cause of Christ, harms Godís children, or permits evil to prosper. Next time you hear a politician say, "Vote for me if you want change," ask him, "What kind of changes did you have in mind?"

If you want a specific change from your next elected government leaders, leave a comment on the blog and spell it out. It will not only help us understand what you want, it might even help you understand what changes you should want. Whatever else you do, go out and vote in the primary and vote in the election!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Know What You Believe

On an orthodox theology discussion forum I recently encountered something that I hope was anecdotal, but I fear is more universally true. A Christian posted that a friend of his had asked him to explain how God is three distinct persons but also one God. He took this subject of the Trinity as a point of faith, but lacked the background to demonstrate it biblically. Therefore, he posted his dilemma on the forum, asking for Bible passages that explain both truths.

The discussion ran for three pages on the forum. It was not a lively interaction of Christians sharing the numerous passages of Scripture that show the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons but one God, but more of an argument regarding the impossibility of explaining these truths. By the last few postings, the "moderators" of the forum closed the discussion, not by sharing with the forum readers the various Scriptures on the subject, but by stating that the topic is closed because we should just believe this as a matter of faith and stop questioning it. In other words, they essentially said, "Believe it, shut up, and donít look to any of us for biblical answers."

As Christians we really ought to know what we believe, and where in the Bible we have the foundations for those beliefs. With regard to the Trinity, it is true that God is beyond our comprehension. All aspects of God are beyond our ken. No human can begin to understand how it is that one being can hear, grasp, and simultaneously take instant intelligent action on the billions of secret prayers uttered silently over the vast face of an entire planet. Most humans cannot even engage in three concurrent conversations, much less millions or billions. Yet, for God, this is not difficult. Nothing about God is truly "understandable," much less His nature as three persons in one. Simply because He is greater than us in intellect, ability, power, and nature does not make Him or His capabilities invalid. It just makes us inferior by comparison.

Rather than squash such a discussion, it should be welcomed. What Bible passages do prove the reality of one God in three persons? How many Old Testament passages talk about God being only one God? Or that God knows of no other being like Himself? Or that there is only one Creator? How many passages predict that the Messiah will be that one God come to earth in human form? How many passages record conversations that take place just among and between the different persons of God as they interact with each other (e.g. "Let us create man," "shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do," "Father, take away this cup," "This is my beloved Son," etc.). How often do we read that one person of God, or another, has made decisions (e.g. given gifts to the church just as He has decided), given instructions, or sent another of the persons of God on a mission? These are the passages that should have been the content of lively dialogue regarding the Trinity.

Permit me to challenge you. If you honestly do not know how to answer a question that is basic to your Christian faith, make every effort to find the legitimate answer. One way to do this safely is to purchase a "systematic theology" book. Amazon.com sells them more cheaply than most other places. Two that I would recommend are: Dr. Norman Geislerís four volume Systematic Theology, or, Wayne Grudemís one volume Systematic Theology. Use them as reference books, or read them straight through (a little at a time). They are both written in language that is readily understood by the Christian-in-the-pew. Are you a "bad" Christian if you donít do this? No. But if you have questions about topics like the Trinity and you donít seek the answers from doctrinally sound resources, then you might wish to test your progress with regard to wisdom.

Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:15-16)



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