Saturday, January 26, 2013

Forgiveness is NOT... (Forgiveness #3)

This is part three in a series.  It would be helpful if you review the first two before reading this.
Not Grace

Forgiveness is not overlooking, ignoring, rationalizing or justifying a wrong. 

Overlooking or ignoring a wrong is often something we confuse with forgiving.  This is what we can do when we aren't really hurt by the wrong, or when it wasn't personal. 

For example, things or people that are merely annoying, dull or clumsy – it’s easy to overlook their minor irritations.  Another example: insults from children are much easier to overlook than those from a respected opinion leader. 

In other words, the less we care – the easier it is to ‘overlook’ something … but it is not forgiveness!

"Owe me $25? No problem"
When you’re strong, it’s easy to overlook a burden, endure a struggle, etc.  Using the example of money, overlooking a debt owed is easy if you’re a billionaire and someone owes you a thousand dollars.  But if you’re unemployed and stretched thin, it’s hard to overlook it when someone owes you a thousand dollars.  In either case, overlooking the debt isn't the same thing as completely writing it off and considering it no longer owed.

When we overlook things, we face temptation to be arrogant and proud of our strength, our wealth, or our own “goodness.”  Self-righteousness was the sin of Pharisees - and most religious people today.  We stoop low to “help” others but really we don’t recognize that we’re just as guilty and poor as they are.  No, forgiveness isn't overlooking a wrong. 

This doesn't mean overlooking something or ‘letting it go’ is the bad thing to do.  In fact, when the wrong (or sin) is committed by someone who is not a fully-committed disciple of Jesus, we must overlook it.  They don’t have our Lord directing their steps, and so they don’t have to live by our high standards.  Dealing with outsiders (“the world”) is the one occasion we must overlook a wrong.  (See 1 Corinthians 5.9-13 & Matthew 5.39)

But when it comes to a fellow disciple, we must obey Jesus, and never overlook a wrong
We must rebuke the sinner, and if he repents, forgive.  If not, take it to another, then the church, and then break fellowship, if he still refuses to repent.  (I’ll write more about this process later.  For now, see Luke 17.1-4 & Matthew 18.15-20.) 
If you pay attention to this, you’ll see that the process is designed to help the sinner – not make the rebuker feel good or superior, and not to punish the sinner, but to correct him or her!  A proper rebuke is an act of love.  Overlooking a disciple’s sin is selfish and arrogant.

justifying is not forgiving
Did he steal because he was hungry?  Did you cheat because you thought everyone else did?  Did she pretend to be something she was not in order to avoid scrutiny?

This is what I did for Lance Armstrong.  All interested followers of bicycling knew that people used some kind of performance enhancing drugs.  We also know that in the Tour de France when a rider pulls along a support car for medical or mechanical support, he holds on to the car for a little bit.  Technically he’s not allowed to get a push or help from a car, but they allow a bit of it.  They allow it, but that doesn't mean it’s right.  I justified Lance by saying it isn't really cheating if you don’t get caught – it’s just clever, like an NFL lineman holding or an NBA player committing a foul that doesn't get called.  It’s just part of the game.  Right? 

“Justifying” is when we say something is right when it’s wrong.  It’s when we say it’s OK not to give your whole self to God, but only a percentage is fine.  It’s when we say it’s OK to tell a “small” lie.  It’s when we only cheat a little on taxes or resume, or when we’re only nice to friends and family and refuse to love our enemies.  It is not right, no matter who tells us otherwise.

And when we say to someone, “It’s OK, it wasn't really a big deal,” that’s when we’re justifying their sin and not forgiving it.  Consider these Proverbs:
Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—Yahweh detests them both.  (17.15)  
 There is a way that seems right to a man......but in the end it leads to death.  (14.12)

rationalizing is not forgiving
Here’s another example from Lance Armstrong.  After his cancer surgery removed a testicle, he rationalized taking testosterone because he assumed he “was running low.”  That’s how we tell ourselves a lie.  It’s what Eve did when she blamed the snake, Adam did when he blamed Eve.  It’s what we all do when we speak of irresistible temptations.  We know what we did was wrong, but we tell ourselves it’s OK “under the circumstances.”

We ought not be confused – just because you understand how a person fell for a temptation doesn't mean they didn't fall.  Forgiving requires full acknowledgement of the sin, not a watered-down version via rationalization.  How can we rationalize a sin and hate it at the same time?  Rationalizing a sin often feels like we’re being loving, but it’s not.  Read these two passages on love:
“Love without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good”  (Romans 12:9)
“Love doesn't rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6)

merely saying you forgive is not forgiveness
Forgiveness isn't something you can merely say – it’s something you do.  If you carry around a grudge, have you really forgiven the other person?  If so – then how will you feel on judgment day if you discover that God said He forgives you, but still wasn't prepared to let you enter into heaven?
"Yes, I love you, I forgive you"

The Prodigal Son’s dad saw him from a distance, ran to him, embraced him, and celebrated with him.  He felt compassion,” Jesus said, he didn't merely say, “Yeah, OK, son, come home and get to work.”  

That’s what God does for those who truly repent - He has compassion on us!  He allows us to again have a relationship with Him!  

The question is – can we really forgive?  
Can we feel compassion for the person who has wronged us?   

Jesus felt compassion for people – that’s why he healed, why he taught, why he served, and why he died on the cross (Matthew 9.36, Mark 1.41, Luke 7.13, etc.).  Compassion is a feeling, not mere words.  It’s when we genuinely want the healing of another. 

This compassion-fueled forgiveness (or mercy, or grace) is also a baffling concept for most religious people.  It was the “trick question” Jesus would ask the religious guys of his age because they could not understand this passage:
“I desire mercy (or compassion) – not sacrifice” (Hosea 6.6; Matthew 9.13, 12.7, etc.)
Forgiving someone means that we show them grace, mercy and even compassion.  Not because we rationalize or justify their sins, but because we ourselves know how hard it is to be right with God.  We can “sympathize” with their weakness, like Jesus.
For we don’t have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin!  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:15-16

partial forgiveness isn't forgiveness
Forgiveness is complete, or it’s not forgiveness.  Grace covers all of our sins, not just some of them.  We don’t work down some of our sins and only get forgiven for the ones we couldn't repay. 
“The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 6:23
When (if) I forgive you for something you've done to me – I must do so completely, if I am to be like Jesus. 

In the same way, when we ask a brother to forgive a wrong, we are asking him to accept the full brunt of the pain or debt.  A beautiful example of this is the letter from Paul to Philemon, asking him to forgive and release Onesimus (Philemon’s former slave).  Paul expects Philemon to offer full mercy, full grace – and even expects Philemon to receive Paul as a guest in his home after having done so!  May we all be like Philemon & Jesus!  

forgiveness is not stupidity, foolishness, neediness, weakness or blindness
Let’s say a husband abuses his children, and the wife knows.  But she doesn't want to do anything because she’s afraid of losing him.  That’s not forgiveness, it’s weakness & fear.  Maybe she also rationalizes that he only does it when he’s drunk, or maybe she justifies it by saying that it’s simply discipline.  But the truth is that he is sinning against her, the kids and God. 
True forgiveness is not blindly allowing sin to continue! 

A shepherd that neglects or abuses his flock is sinning (Ezekiel 34).  A person who tempts a brother or sister is putting a stumbling block in his or her path (Luke 17.1-2).  But we often overlook these kinds of wrongs and say our church is ‘basically good,’ or our family is ‘basically good,’ just with a few flaws (rationalizing) … because we’re afraid of losing something.  

Fear, affection, and ignorance move us to overlook sins, and allow them to continue and even abuse others.  But we’re scared we may lose something, and we tell ourselves that this is mercy – it’s us being ‘non-judgmental.’  Or we overlook sins because we're ignorant, and don't even know it's sin - or stay uninformed and don't know others are sinning.  Are we our brother's keeper?  

This is not forgiveness at all!  It’s a lack of faith that God’s way is better than our way.  It’s a failure of our trust that God is enough.  It’s our sin, allowing evil people to continue to be lost.  Examine yourself!  Challenge your motives – are you ‘forgiving’ people, or merely making excuses to preserve a system because you’re afraid of what would happen without it? 

In a later article we’ll cover this in great detail – we are obliged to rebuke sometimes, even though it may cost our friendship, our church, or our family.  Do not be afraid.  God is faithful. 
“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”  Luke 17:3

Forgiveness is not: overlooking, ignoring, rationalizing or justifying a wrong. 

Because of what forgiveness is not, it’s also not weakness.  Disciples have all the strength God can supply to be merciful – if they will.  Submit to God, fear Him, and the rest you can do through Him. 

Forgiveness is grace, mercy, and the power of love.  Read this passage … do you see strength or weakness in this description?  Is this person merely a doormat? 

Love is patient & kind 
It isn't arrogant, 
Doesn't seek its own, 
Doesn't take into account a wrong, 
Doesn't rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 
Bears all things, 
Believes all things, 
Hopes all things,  
Endures all things 
Love never fails 
(1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Forgiveness is strength and love combined.  
It’s part of holding one another accountable, but accepting the one whose faith is weak.  
It’s true compassion, 

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