Salvation And The Need To Forgive


Forgiveness is two-pronged—something we need and something we need to give.

One of the parables that used to make me uncomfortable is the one Jesus told in answer to Peter’s question about how many times they needed to forgive those who sinned against them. After giving the now-familiar seventy-times-seven answer, Jesus proceeded to tell a story to illustrate his point.

As it goes, a slave owed his master an insurmountable debt. When his lord decide to sell him, his family, and his belongings to recoup some of what was owed, the slave begged for more time.

The master turned around and forgave him the debt entirely.

Such a great story. Expecting deserved punishment, the slave pleaded for mercy and found grace. Complete grace that washed away his debt in its entirety.

But the story didn’t end there. The slave, upon leaving his master, ran into a colleague who owed him a modest sum, within the man’s ability to pay. The first slave required what he deserved.

The second slave asked for mercy—just a little more time, and he would meet his obligation. But the first slave was unwilling and had the man thrown in prison. When the other slaves saw it, they told their lord.

The master brought the first slave before him again and chastised him:

“Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?”
– Matthew 18:33

I said this parable made me uncomfortable. I just didn’t understand what this meant for salvation. Was God going to take back salvation if we didn’t follow his example, at least in this area of forgiveness?

And if forgiveness is a necessary action I am required to take, how then is grace free of my works and based upon faith alone?

Recently I heard a great sermon that explained the troubling story. Yes, I’d heard sermons that explained our forgiveness of others is a sign of our right standing with God, not a condition for it. But for the life of me, though I believed that to be true, I couldn’t see that teaching in this passage.

Well, the sermon I heard, from Allister Begg, most likely or maybe my pastor, explained that the first slave, if he had understood the concept of receiving unmerited favor, if he’d understood that he truly owed more than he could ever pay, if in fact he had humbled himself and received the grace his master offered him, would have extended his own small measure of grace to the second slave. By not doing so, he demonstrated that he had never grasped the enormity of his own debt and the grace his master held out to him.

In essence, by not extending forgiveness, he proved he didn’t “get it.” Though it had been offered him, he didn’t believe himself truly in need of his master’s grace, didn’t humble himself, and didn’t appropriate what his master extended to him.

My forgiving my neighbor, then, is not the cause of my salvation, not the root from which my salvation grows. It is the fruit, the product of my rooted-ness in God’s forgiveness of me. If I in fact humble myself before God, will I not also humble myself before my neighbor? Humility, I don’t think, is a trait that should come and go. I’m humble before God but demanding of others?

By insisting others pay me my due, I show my own nature, not the one God clothes His children with. I wish I’d learned this years ago.

From the archives: this post originally appeared here in March, 2009.

Published in: on March 5, 2019 at 5:36 pm  Comments (5)  
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Certificates Of Debt


Debt is not a popular topic. The US government continues to bow under the massive debt we’ve accrued in the past few decades.

The state of California is no better. And then there is the debt of individual Americans!

The one good thing about all this insurmountable debt, I guess, is that we can more completely understand the parable Jesus told in Matthew 18 about the servant who owed so much money, his king was going to foreclose. The plan was to sell him, his family, and all of his stuff.

Jesus explained that the guy had no way of repaying his debt, implying that what he owed was far greater than what his king would receive from the sale.

A bad investment, some would conclude. The servant cost more than he was worth. Better to cut the losses and get out. And that’s precisely what the king intended to do.

Except the servant pleaded for more time.

As if!

More time was not going to change things. Five years or fifty years, the servant was not going to make enough money to pay what he owed. His situation was hopeless.

Enter the Christ of Colossians:

When you were dead in your transgressions … He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (2:13-14; emphasis mine)

This passage reminds me of Romans 8:1—“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Those certificates of debt Paul referenced in Colossians, those “decrees against us,” are the things of which I stood condemned.

And yeah, they were hostile to us—they condemned us to death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

But now they’ve been removed—taken out of the way, nailed to Christ’s cross. So it’s easy to see why there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

He didn’t forgive the debt in the same way that the king in the parable did, simply by saying the word and wiping the slate clean. Instead, Jesus Christ paid the debt.

It’s a great picture because it shows God’s justice—the debt needed to be paid—coupled with His mercy that freed us from the debt.

It also shows the impossibility of the debt coming back on us. How do you un-pay something? How do you un-remove it from where it’s been or un-nail it from the cross, the place of death?

Paul explained about the cross in more detail in the first chapter of Colossians:

For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard (vv 19-23; emphasis mine).

I love the “in order to” part of that passage. Christ has done the work, paid the debt, in order to present me blameless, beyond reproach—or specifically, beyond Satan’s reach. Simply put, all my certificates of debt are marked PAID.

This post is a a revised edition of one that first appeared here in September 2011.

Published in: on January 24, 2017 at 6:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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All In


What’s the difference between a football fan and a player, one of our pastors recently asked. Both want the team to win.

Fans might invest in some team gear, maybe paint their faces, make signs, buy tickets, give up a Saturday to go to the game, and cheer passionately.

Meanwhile, the player has his livelihood on the line. He conditions, studies, practices, and gives every ounce of physical and mental effort to succeed, week after week. His commitment isn’t a few dollars and a day or two here or there. He’s invested in the team’s success long before preseason rolls around. Essentially, he’s all in.

That’s precisely what Christ says the Christian should be. We’re to pick up our cross, even hate our family. In other words, be all in.

Jesus followed this admonition by making a couple comparisons. First, He asked, what builder starts work without being sure he has enough to complete the task? What king goes to battle without first assessing whether or not his army is strong enough for him to succeed? So too, God made the assessment that what He needs from His followers is total commitment. (See Luke 14:26-33).

None of this is new to those who have been Christians for any length of time. But I began to think about this commitment in comparison to the kind of “all in” requirement of human bondage.

Recently I read and reviewed Kay Marshall Strom’s book The Hope of Shridula. That next week, the first book in the Blessings of India series, The Faith of Ashish, was offered as a free Kindle e-book, and I snapped it up. Just last week I finished reading it.

The story is about slavery — not the kidnapping and selling of one human by another kind, but that which results from the exploitation of the needy.

It reminded me of the history I’d read about railroad towns in nineteenth century America which enslaved workers. The corporate employer created worker towns and charged inflated prices at the corporate stores, so that when it came time to pay a worker his wages, he often owed more for his rent and food than what he had earned.

This is the story played out in The Faith of Ashish and The Hope of Shridula, though the setting is India in the middle of the twentieth century. Different players, same exploitation.

In the case of the poor Indian family, they borrowed a small amount of money from a rich landlord to save their son who needed medical attention. The condition of the loan was that they move to the workers’ quarters and tend the landlord’s fields. But as time passed, their debt increased rather than dwindling because they were charged for their living quarters and food and for anything else the landlord wished to add to their account.

Essentially they became his slaves. They were unwillingly “all in.”

Their debt required it of them.

So here’s the comparison and the contrast I’m seeing. Each of us owes an insurmountable debt to God, one we cannot pay, but we are not His slaves. We are slaves to sin and guilt and the law, not to God.

However, Christ paid our debt, and asked us to go all in. Nothing else will do if He’s to write “paid” in His ledger beside our name. Essentially, he then transfers us from the dominion of darkness to Christ’s kingdom, and we then do become His slaves. We belong to our Master.

Oddly enough, we’re not all in as payment for what he gave us. He wipes our debt free of charge instead of coercing our servitude in return.

But we still belong to Him.

Yet, what a difference between the rich, greedy, exploitive landlord and our loving God. The former takes to benefit himself. God gives to us what we need. The landlord demeans and keeps his slaves in their place. God calls us friends, even His children. The landlord uses and mistreats his workers. God loves and cares for His bondslaves.

Here’s how Jesus described it in Matthew:

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matt 11:28-30)

A couple things seem clear to me. First, if we are all in for Jesus, we are free from the bondage of sin, but if we reject His payment for what we owe, we are, whether we realize it or not, ensnared — hook, line, and sinker — by sin.

Which brings up the second point — there is no part way in. There are no fans of Jesus, only followers. The people who are on the sidelines, though they might dress up and cheer, are not part of the team. To be a Christian means to be all in.

Don’t Mourn For Christ


My church, First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, provided us with a pamphlet of devotional thoughts, one for each day this week, centered on the cross. They’ve been good, but a couple things dawned on me as I read today’s meditation on Colossians 2:13-14.

First, the blood and suffering and death Christ experienced is a past event. It’s hard to work up a lot of grief for a past event. I don’t think I ever expressed sympathy, for example, to my mom for the suffering she went through at my birth. Maybe I should have, but it was past. She wasn’t suffering any more, and the only genuine emotion I felt was gladness and relief (because we both almost died — it’s a good story).

But that brings me to the second thing that dawned on me. The death of Christ was necessary. The Colossians verses give a vivid picture of Christ taking our certificate of debt — the insurmountable bill we owe that demands death — and removing it by nailing it to the cross.

Notice, it is Christ who nailed it to the cross. This is entirely His work, of which I am the beneficiary.

So my reaction is gratitude — extreme gratitude. He did what I could not. He gave what I needed most — His precious blood:

you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. (1 Peter 1:18-19)

Thankfully, Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient. His death was so perfect and complete that it is acceptable in God’s sight to pay for the sins of all who believe in Him. No ritual I do to commemorate His crucifixion will contribute in any way to His finished work. No tears I shed for Him can make me worthy of this incredible gift.

The third thing that came to mind, then, is that celebrating Good Friday as if Christ is again dying, as if I should still grieve for him, is wrong headed. Commemorating it as the day Christ nailed my certificate of debt to the cross is another story. That’s a celebration of what Christ accomplished.

Consequently I don’t mourn for Christ year after year, or even each month when I take communion. But I do mourn for my sin that necessitated His death. Remembering the cross makes me fall on my face and weep at His kindness to die for sinners.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)

Remembering His cross makes me weep at the thought of my rebellious heart and the ways I still kick against His authority. I would be like Christ, but I’m not. Not yet. And that’s cause to grieve.

Until Resurrection Day reminds me that I too will one day walk in newness of life.

    Who Will Call Him King Of Kings

    In cold despair
    They’d laid Him in the tomb
    The body of their Master fair
    Third morning came
    As they returned to pray
    Light was shining everywhere
    But Jesus’ body was not there

    And as they gazed at an empty grave
    The earth around began to shake
    And they were so afraid
    But voices of angels filled the air
    Their shouts proclaimed “He is not here”
    And you could hear them say

    Who will call Him King of kings
    Who will call Him Lord of lords
    Who will call Him Prince of Peace
    Such a wonderful counselor, Mighty God
    Who will call Him King

    Their spirits soared
    As fear was turned to joy
    Standing there before their eyes
    Jesus clothed in radiant white

    And with a voice they’d heard before
    He told me “Go and tell the world that I’m alive”
    They ran as fast as feet could fly
    “The Lord is risen” was their cry
    And you could hear them say

    We will call Him King of kings
    We Will call Him Lord of lords
    We will call Him Prince of Peace
    Such a wonderful counselor, Mighty God

    Just like He said
    He is risen from the dead
    And the people say

    I will call Him King of kings
    I will call Him Lord of lords
    I will call Him Prince of Peace
    Such a wonderful counselor, Mighty God
    I will call Him King
    I will call Him King
    I will call Him King

Recovery


Photo by Andrew Brown


As I drove home from doing an errand (taking my bills to the post office), I passed a man holding a sign: Hungry. Can you help? And yet last night on the news I heard for the second or third evening in a row that indicators point to a recovering economy here in the US.

What does economic recovery from the Great Recession look like? According to that latest news report, indicator of an improved economy is that consumer debt shot up in the month of November, more than it had in three years.

Yea! We’ve taken on more debt. What good news!

Really?

I understand the thinking. The real issue is consumer confidence. After all, if you take on a car payment, you must be reasonably sure that you’ll have the resources in six months, twelve months, twenty-four months to still be making those payments. So debt equals confidence.

But isn’t confidence a pretty shaky thing to stake economic recovery on? For one, confidence can be misplaced. All those loans that led to home foreclosures proved that point, didn’t it? Were all those folks who took out loans when they didn’t have the income to pay them back, confident that the banks would gladly adjust their payments instead of foreclosing? Or were they thinking they’d all get pay raises that would match their increased payments? Or perhaps they were confident they would win the lottery.

My guess is, however, they weren’t confident at all. They were ignorant. They wanted what they wanted and they didn’t think through what they were getting themselves into. Instead, they listened to the sales pitch that made the offer so enticing. They’d always wanted to own their own home. And the interest that first year would be so low. How could anybody pass up such an offer?

I’ve been there, though the stakes weren’t so high. Still, I listened to the sales pitch. I even “researched” and thought I was getting a worthwhile product, at a bargain that I couldn’t pass up. Except, when I went to finalize the deal, new terms were thrown at me and I had to decide at that minute or lose the opportunity. So I went for it. And the “good deal” ended up being a bad deal and the product ended up being nothing like what I’d expected. I’d been suckered.

So I know it can happen.

What I find troubling is that our economy has apparently arrived at a place where the financial experts think it’s healthy when we owe more than we can pay. It’s good for the banks, I guess.

That fact alone ought to make all us Main Streeters rise up and say, No more debt! How many times must the banks have their way with our money before we figure out we should do something different?

Not only did the banks approve unsustainable loans, they then got into the business of gambling over whether or not people would default. No wonder they were slow to re-finance.

The thing is, this whole debt culture obfuscates the teaching of Scripture about money and where our confidence should lie. Paul teaches that we should be content whether we have plenty or are in want. But our culture tells us contentment can only be had after we’ve purchased the Next Great Thing. Of course, in two months there will be a new Next Great Thing, so we are almost immediately thrust back into discontentment — unless we borrow and buy.

Scripture also says we are to let our requests be known to God, that we are to trust Him to add food and clothing while we are to seek His kingdom and His righteous. Our culture says food and clothing isn’t enough, that we deserve More. If that’s true, but God hasn’t provided More, then I must figure out a way to provide it myself.

I’ve been there, too. It’s a trap.

I don’t know how to fix the economy, clearly. It’s a knotty problem with ever widening global implications. But at some point, I believe Christians need to decide whose system we’re going to operate under — the debt-inducing one of our culture that depends on consumer confidence in hoped-for future income or the contentment-inducing one of Scripture that depends on believer confidence in the promises of God and in His character.

As for me and my house, there’s only one way that makes sense. 😉

Published in: on January 10, 2012 at 4:49 pm  Comments (1)  
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Certificates Of Debt


Debt is not a popular topic right now. The US government is shuddering under the massive debt we’ve accrued in the last decade or so. The state of California is in just as bad a circumstance, if not worse. And what amazes me is that so many of the pundits think the way out of our financial woes is to get the American people to a place where we can borrow more money.

The one good thing about all this insurmountable debt, I guess, is that we can more completely understand the parable Jesus told in Matthew 18 about the servant who owed so much money, his king was going to foreclose. The plan was to sell him, his family, and all of his stuff.

Jesus explained that the guy had no way of repaying his debt, implying that what he owed was far greater than what his king would receive from the sale.

A bad investment, some would conclude. The servant cost more than he was worth. Better to cut the losses and get out. And that’s precisely what the king intended to do.

Except the servant pleaded for more time.

As if! More time was not going to change things. Five years or fifty years, the servant was not going to make enough money to pay what he owed. His situation was hopeless.

Enter the Christ of Colossians:

When you were dead in your transgressions … He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (2:13-14; emphasis mine)

This passage reminds me of Romans 8:1 — “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Those certificates of debt Paul referenced in Colossians, those “decrees against us,” are the things of which I stood condemned.

And yeah, they were hostile to us — they condemned us to death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

But now they’ve been removed — taken out of the way, nailed to Christ’s cross. So it’s easy to see why there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

He didn’t forgive the debt in the same way that the king in the parable did, simply by saying the word and wiping the slate clean. Instead, Jesus Christ paid the debt.

It’s a great picture because it shows God’s justice — the debt needed to be paid — coupled with His mercy.

It also shows the impossibility of the debt coming back on us. How do you un-pay something? How do you un-remove it from the way or un-nail it from the cross, the place of death?

Paul explained about the cross in more detail in the first chapter of Colossians:

For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach — if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard (vv 19-23; emphasis mine).

I love the “in order to” part of that passage. Christ has done the work, paid the debt, in order to present me blameless, beyond reproach — or specifically, beyond Satan’s reach. Simply put, all my certificates of debt are marked PAID.

Published in: on September 9, 2011 at 6:50 pm  Comments (2)  
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National Debt And Where It Leaves Us


For years I knew the US government was in debt, but as I understood it, we were in debt to ourselves. Something about selling bonds. I never really paid much attention.

Then one day, I learned we were in debt to China. In deep debt to China. I’m still not sure how that happened, but I suspect China started buying up our bonds.

And now our government is debating how to raise the debt ceiling — something else I don’t really understand. It sounds as if we have to give ourselves permission to go further into debt so as not to default on the debts we already owe.

No one in government seems too concerned about all this. Ho-hum, just another trillion we owe. Now who else needs a hand out or military intervention or bureaucratic oversight?

Oh, sure, there’s been some talk — public manipulation, I think — that social security checks won’t go out unless this mess gets dealt with one way or another. Never mind that social security belongs to the people the government took it from — with the idea that government would make sure (because individual people were too incompetent to do so) the money would be there when we need it.

President Obama’s idea is that the wealthiest one or two percent of Americans ought to pay more into the federal coffers so government can continue spending on all the things they deem important. Good things, many of them. Education and defense. Until recently, space travel. After the fact, levies in New Orleans. Low income housing, unemployment, medicaid and the like.

I understand the thinking here — we have a responsibility to help our neighbors, to care for those least able to care for themselves. It’s a commendable goal.

But here’s the thing. As shown in the 2010 census, the middle class in America is shrinking. The rich are getting way richer, and the poor are multiplying.

Sadly, some of those rich make their money on the backs of the poor and middle class. As an illustration of this point, according to news reports, the executives at Borders — that would be the book chain that has just gone belly up for good — were set to receive sizable bonuses (6.6 million dollars) back in April, even as 6000 employees were out of a job. Whether those bonuses were ever paid, I don’t know, but the rationale was that without that kind of incentive, those top execs (of a failing company!) would head off to greener pastures. In other words, other companies are giving that same kind of lucrative payout to their leadership.

How can this happen?

But here’s where I’m going with this. The government, which is to be the representative of the people in a republic, is all we have in a capitalistic society to keep greedy rich people from taking advantage of those dependent on their products and services.

Clearly our government isn’t doing the job!

Instead, after letting the greedy rich people get richer by merger or by mortgage, the government wants to come along and take a bigger chunk of that money. Honestly, it seems like a protection racket on a grand scale.

Meanwhile, what are entitlements doing to the rest of us? Well, I just heard recently of another creative way some people have learned to scam the system. Others have to be sure not to work too much so they don’t lose their benefits.

So here’s what I wish our government would do — their job! Regulators should regulate so banks aren’t operating like casinos. They should stop the legalized embezzlement (what else would you call someone taking company funds for their own personal use?) in the form of executive bonuses.

But to do this, I think we’d first have to stop the legalized bribery of congressmen by lobbyists. Let’s face it. The biggest job government has right now is to clean itself up!

More bad news (or maybe not) — it’s not going to happen.

So why wouldn’t that be bad news? Because as soon as we realize that government isn’t going to get any better — beyond, perhaps, marginal changes — the sooner we can stop looking to government to be the answer for what confronts us.

Paul says in Philippians

For our citizenship is in heaven from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself (3:20-21).

Then in Colossians, Paul says

Joyously giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son (1:12-13)

Now that’s a kingdom I’m happy to be a part of.

And to think, the Father qualified me. I didn’t have to do a thing.

He rescued me. I couldn’t rescue myself.

He transferred me to the kingdom where His Son is in charge: “In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:14-15a).”

That’s the governmental leader I can trust.

Maranatha.

Published in: on July 27, 2011 at 6:24 pm  Comments (4)  
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