Christian Forgiveness: Conditional Or Unconditional?


The_Crucifixion001Some years ago I read a new thing about forgiveness—well, new to me. The idea popped up on a post at Spec Faith by Stephen Burnett, then expanded as I followed a link to a post by Kevin DeYoung. I respect both of these men, but I have to admit, I think they’re missing something important about Christian forgiveness.

As I understand the principle they’re presenting, they believe there are two ideas about forgiveness: one, a therapeutic forgiveness that is popular today even in the secular world, and two, a Biblical forgiveness that is dependent upon the repentance of the offender.

In his article about these two types of forgiveness, Mr. DeYoung goes to pains to explain that the second type of forgiveness in no way condones an attitude of bitterness or revenge:

We should always love our enemies. We should always fight against bitterness. We should cast all our cares on the Lord. We should learn to trust God’s providence. We should be eager to forgive those who hurt us and be reconciled to them.

The foundational thought to this idea that a Christian only forgives those who repent, is that we are to forgive like God forgives and He forgives conditionally—that condition being repentance.

Let me back up and explain “therapeutic forgiveness.” I’d not heard the term before, but I think it does describe a humanistic co-oping of a Biblical principle. The idea here is that giving forgiveness makes the person doing the forgiving feel better. There is no intent to reconcile, however. It’s just a way of escaping negative feelings like anger and bitterness.

Many Christians, influenced by Lewis Smedes and a lot of pop psychology, have a therapeutic understanding of forgiveness. They think of forgiveness as a unilateral, internal effort to get our emotions under control. (“What Is Forgiveness?”)

The Biblical view, according to Mr. DeYoung, is that forgiveness is the means to reconciliation. Hence, the Christian should always be ready to forgive, but true forgiveness only comes when both parties move toward one another, repenting and receiving or offering forgiveness as necessary.

Again the rationale behind this concept is the Scriptural statement that we are to forgive as Christ forgave us.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (ESV, Eph. 4:32)

I’ll admit, I have problems with this approach. First, I don’t think there has to be two choices: either therapeutic or Biblical conditional forgiveness. I think there can easily be a third option: Biblical unconditional forgiveness.

Part of my thinking is that some Bible scholars get tied up trying to think the way God thinks. Mr. DeYoung, then, says God’s forgiveness is conditional and therefore ours should be too, as if it’s possible for us to understand the conditional nature of God’s forgiveness.

Ah, but doesn’t Ephesians 4:32 say that’s how we are to forgive? I don’t think necessarily it does. I don’t read the verse as saying we are to forgive in the same manner that God forgives, but that we are to forgive because we received forgiveness.

Paul says essentially the same thing in Col. 3:13:

bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

The intent does not seem focused on forgiving in like manner but extending to others the forgiveness we received.

In other words, I see these verses mirroring Jesus’s instructions to forgive in response to the forgiveness we received. See, for example, the parable He told about the slave who received forgiveness for his debt only to turn around and withhold forgiveness from his fellow slave:

Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ (Matt. 18:32-33; see the entire parable in vv. 23-35)

It seems apparent to me that this “in the same way” is not talking about manner or even condition. In reality neither slave asked that their debt would be forgiven. They asked for more time to pay it off themselves. The act of forgiveness was an extension of mercy—the undeserved offer to cancel the debt.

This is what Christ did on the cross

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, 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. (Col. 2:13-14)

As I read those verses, I’m convinced that God didn’t forgive us when we had put ourselves in a position to deserve it by repenting. He went to the cross while we were yet sinners.

Consequently, I don’t believe as Mr. DeYoung does that God’s forgiveness was conditional. He gave His forgiveness to anyone and everyone, but not everyone has accepted it. When Scripture says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16), I think the words “world” and “whoever” remove conditions from God’s side of the equation.

When Paul instructed Timothy to pray for all men, he explained his reasoning this way:

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.

There are literally dozens of verses throughout the Bible that carry this same idea. But one of the most telling, for me, is 2 Thess. 2:10ff which looks at salvation and forgiveness from the side of those who do not accept it:

[the lawless one will come with all power and signs and false wonders] 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. (Emphasis added.)

These who perish did not receive, implying that they could have received. They took pleasure in wickedness, implying that they could have refrained from taking pleasure in wickedness. They did not believe the truth, implying they could have believed the truth.

All this to say, the third reason I don’t believe forgiveness for the Christian is conditional, based on the repentance of the offender, is because I don’t believe God’s forgiveness is conditional.

I understand there are believers of a different doctrinal persuasion from mine who will disagree, but maybe two out of three reasons will be enough to make the case against this idea that forgiveness needs to be earned by repentance.

This post is a revised version of one that originally appeared here in July, 2014.

Holiday Coffee Cups And Being Thankful


Starbucks cupsAs many know, Starbucks has brought out their holiday cups which do not mention which holiday we’re celebrating. A former pastor named Joshua Feuerstein, who now seems to make his living, according to the Washington Post, by making video rants and DVDs for which he accepts donations, posted his infamous complaint of this year’s cup:

Feuerstein claims that Starbucks wanted to “take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups” because, according to the caption on his video, “they hate Jesus.”

Feuerstein goes on to explain that when he visited a Starbucks store, he told the employee making his drink that his name was “Merry Christmas” so that his cup would read “Merry Christmas.” He later says “Guess what, Starbucks? Just to offend you, I made sure to wear my Jesus Christ shirt into your store (“Why #MerryChristmasStarbucks is Everything Wrong with American Christianity” by Nate Lake)

Apparently a good number of Mr. Feuerstein’s two million Facebook followers punched the “Like” button, and he, who would “stick it to Starbucks” appeared on CNN.

Sadly his complaint now stands as representative of Christians. Except, any number of believers (like Nate Lake in the article I quoted above) have taken issue with what he’s trying to accomplish, and more importantly, how he’s going about it. There’s also the push back to the idea that this rant against Starbucks is a Christian complaint.

All well and good until some people started complaining about those who were complaining about Mr. Feuerstein’s complaint.

And we haven’t even celebrated Thanksgiving yet.

In fact, I wonder if all this complaint leaves room for us to celebrate Thanksgiving. Are we Christians indeed a thankful people? Or are we an entitled lot who think a secular company owes us a holiday cup that acknowledges Jesus Christ? Or that secular media owes us a correct characterization of who Christians are and what we believe? Or who think we should, like the secularists, be guided by all that is politically correct.

It seems a little silly, but the core issue seems to be, I love Jesus and you should too, but because you don’t, I’m going to boycott you. Or rant against you. And purposefully offend you.

The counter then became, I love Jesus and you’re sullying His name by your offensive tactics and giving the media and all secularists an occasion to mock Christians.

Which then engendered, Why are you making an issue of something so trivial? Stop protesting so much.

Mr. Lake’s article, with which I agree in principle, is a call for Christians to treat those in our society who don’t believe as we do, with meekness.

I read another article by Pastor Kevin DeYoung, with which I also agree for the most part, entitled “Christmas Is Not For Cranks.” The call here is to see the light in our society and not just the dark:

The same malls that may wish to rid their public space of the most innocuously “Christian” greetings, will pump out the most blatant Christian propaganda from their loud speakers by playing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Silent Night,” and “Joy to the World.” Let’s not curse the darkness when there is still much light for which we can give thanks.

Well, yes.

But maybe we should first realize that Christmas actually is for cranks. We, cranks and offended alike, are sinners standing in need of the Savior whose coming we ostensibly are celebrating.

I think there’s one way we can check our attitude about Christmas: by first celebrating Thanksgiving. I know as a holiday here in the US it’s been reduced to a big family dinner (usually, but not always, with turkey), football, and, of late, shopping, or at least plans for shopping.

Don’t get me wrong. I love seeing my family, I love turkey dinners with all the scrumptious dishes I never make any other time of the year, and I love football (shopping less so! 😉 ). But lost in all the plans and preparation and travel and conversations and hilarity is a time of actual thanksgiving. In my family we still pray before our meal, and we do thank God for what He’s given, but when we stack up all the other things we do, thanksgiving gets a mighty small sliver.

Of course, I can’t say what others do apart from our time together. What I’m really concerned about is what I do, in my heart, as I approach Christmas and celebrate Thanksgiving. There’s a line in Psalm 84 about singing for joy to the living God. Every time I come to it, I think, I want my life to be filled with joy so that it overflows in song.

I don’t think I get there by complaining.

Not that I think we should shut our eyes to offenses. But there are ways to address offenses that aren’t offensive.

In this regard, I think Mr. Lake is right that Christ’s quality of meekness is a great guide, but I think it should apply to our treatment of the cranks as much as it should to those who ban Merry Christmas.

Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love isn’t a plastic smile on Sunday morning. Rather it causes us to listen to others, to ask God how we should respond, to put the needs of others first.

I’m speaking to myself here and feeling very convicted. But I’m also understanding something in a new way. The fruit of the Spirit, as I’ve heard before, encompasses love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These are not “fruits” but “fruit.” It’s a package deal.

In other words, my desire to have a life filled with joy can’t happen in isolation from love and love can’t happen if it’s cut off from gentleness, which in turn is connected tightly to self-control. It’s a package.

Interesting, though, that thankfulness isn’t on the list. Yet Scripture commands us to be thankful any number of times. And to rejoice.

I’m thinking now that thanksgiving should not be something we wait to incorporate on Thanksgiving Day. And yes, I’ve heard over and over the charge that everyday should be thanksgiving day. But really, there is a time to celebrate. God instituted feast days for the people of Israel. It’s good and right and proper to think specially about what God has given us for which we can be thankful.

But maybe we should have the twelve days of thanksgiving. Or the thirty days. I know some people have determined to express gratitude for something different every day of the month. I like traditions and even some ritual. Maybe this is the time to employ it, at least a little.

Maybe between now and Christmas, I’ll employ a little ritualistic thanksgiving as part of my preparation to celebrate God giving the world His only begotten Son.

Christian Forgiveness: Conditional Or Unconditional?


The_Crucifixion001I read a new thing about forgiveness today—well, new to me. The idea popped up on a post at Spec Faith by Stephen Burnett, then expanded as I followed a link to a post by Kevin DeYoung. I respect both of these men, but I have to admit, I think they’re missing something important about Christian forgiveness.

As I understand the principle they’re presenting, they believe there are two ideas about forgiveness: one, a therapeutic forgiveness that is popular today even in the secular world, and two, a Biblical forgiveness that is dependent upon the repentance of the offender.

In his article about these two types of forgiveness, Mr. DeYoung goes to pains to explain that the second type of forgiveness in no way condones an attitude of bitterness or revenge:

We should always love our enemies. We should always fight against bitterness. We should cast all our cares on the Lord. We should learn to trust God’s providence. We should be eager to forgive those who hurt us and be reconciled to them.

The foundational thought to this idea that a Christian only forgives those who repent, is that we are to forgive like God forgives and He forgives conditionally—that condition being repentance.

Let me back up and explain “therapeutic forgiveness.” I’d not heard the term before, but I think it does describe a humanistic co-oping of a Biblical principle. The idea here is that giving forgiveness makes the person doing the forgiving feel better. There is no intent to reconcile, however. It’s just a way of escaping negative feelings like anger and bitterness.

Many Christians, influenced by Lewis Smedes and a lot of pop psychology, have a therapeutic understanding of forgiveness. They think of forgiveness as a unilateral, internal effort to get our emotions under control. (“What Is Forgiveness?”)

The Biblical view, according to Mr. DeYoung, is that forgiveness is the means to reconciliation. Hence, the Christian should always be ready to forgive, but true forgiveness only comes when both parties move toward one another, repenting and receiving or offering forgiveness as necessary.

Again the rationale behind this concept is the Scriptural statement that we are to forgive as Christ forgave us.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (ESV, Eph. 4:32)

I’ll admit, I have problems with this approach. First, I don’t think there has to be two choices: either therapeutic or Biblical conditional forgiveness. I think there can easily be a third option: Biblical unconditional forgiveness.

Part of my thinking is that some Bible scholars get tied up trying to think the way God thinks. Mr. DeYoung, then, says God’s forgiveness is conditional and therefore ours should be too, as if it’s possible for us to understand the conditional nature of God’s forgiveness.

Ah, but doesn’t Ephesians 4:32 say that’s how we are to forgive? I don’t think necessarily it does. I don’t read the verse as saying we are to forgive in the same manner that God forgives, but that we are to forgive because we received forgiveness.

Paul says essentially the same thing in Col. 3:13:

bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

The intent does not seem focused on forgiving in like manner but extending to others the forgiveness we received.

In other words, I see these verses mirroring Jesus’s instructions to forgive in response to the forgiveness we received. See, for example, the parable He told about the slave who received forgiveness for his debt only to turn around and withhold forgiveness from his fellow slave:

Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ (Matt. 18:32-33; see the entire parable in vv. 23-35)

It seems apparent to me that this “in the same way” is not talking about manner or even condition. In reality neither slave asked that their debt would be forgiven. They asked for more time to pay it off themselves. The act of forgiveness was an extension of mercy—the undeserved offer to cancel the debt.

This is what Christ did on the cross

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, 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. (Col. 2:13-14)

As I read those verses, I’m convinced that God didn’t forgive us when we had put ourselves in a position to deserve it by repenting. He went to the cross while we were yet sinners.

Consequently, I don’t believe as Mr. DeYoung does that God’s forgiveness was conditional. He gave His forgiveness to anyone and everyone, but not everyone has accepted it. When Scripture says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16), I think the words “world” and “whoever” remove conditions from God’s side of the equation.

When Paul instructed Timothy to pray for all men, he explained his reasoning this way:

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.

There are literally dozens of verses throughout the Bible that carry this same idea. But one of the most telling, for me, is 2 Thess. 2:10ff which looks at salvation and forgiveness from the side of those who do not accept it:

[the lawless one will come with all power and signs and false wonders] 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. (Emphasis added.)

These who perish did not receive, implying that they could have received. They took pleasure in wickedness, implying that they could have refrained from taking pleasure in wickedness. They did not believe the truth, implying they could have believed the truth.

All this to say, the third reason I don’t believe forgiveness for the Christian is conditional, based on the repentance of the offender, is because I don’t believe God’s forgiveness is conditional.

I understand there are believers of a different doctrinal persuasion from mine who will disagree, but maybe two out of three reasons will be enough to make the case against this idea that forgiveness needs to be earned by repentance.

Heaven And Hell And The Book By Rob Bell


Love Wins: Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Has Ever Lived by Rob Bell the founding pastor of the Mars Hills Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has created a stir. Or should I say, the book’s promotional video has. Lines are being drawn, camps are being set up, all in the name of God. All we’re missing is bloodshed. People supporting Pastor Bell are sadly shaking their heads at the nay-sayers and vice versa.

One blogger at least, Rachel Held Evans, realizes that the issue is bigger than this particular controversy or the personalities involved. You see, people want to know about heaven … and to a lesser degree, about hell. I realized that again yesterday when I scanned the NY Times best-seller list and saw another “heaven” book ensconced in the top ten.

This should be no surprise. The Baby Boomers are growing old, and death has been known to follow aging. What comes after death? so many want to know.

Now, along comes Rob Bell’s book, with a subtitle that brings the questions to the surface and a promotion video slanted toward universalism, and we have a controversy over a topic virtually everyone wants to know about.

The thing that stands out most to me is what seems to be missing in Pastor Bell’s promotion. Here’s part of the transcript as provided by Kevin DeYoung in his post “Two Thoughts on the Rob Bell Brouhaha”

Will only a few select people make it to heaven? And will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell? And if that’s the case, how do you become one of the few? Is it what you believe or what you say or what you do or who you know or something that happens in your heart? Or do you need to be initiated or take a class or converted or being born again? How does one become one of these few?

The focus of his compassion seems to stem from the physical pain and suffering ascribed to hell, but the greatest loss is actually God. He is love and people going to hell will be separated from love. He is holy, and they will have no part in holiness. He is just and they will have nothing to do with justice.

Their torment will be self-inflicted to a degree, just as Scripture describes it.

Can a throne of destruction be allied with You,
One which devises mischief by decree?
They band themselves together against the life of the righteous
And condemn the innocent to death.
But the LORD has been my stronghold,
And my God the rock of my refuge.
He has brought back their wickedness upon them
And will destroy them in their evil;
The LORD our God will destroy them.
– Psalm 94:23 (emphasis mine)

Granted, this Psalm is referring to God’s intervention in this life, but I don’t see why He won’t work in a similar way in the judgment. Yes, He will punish. But in a place without His restraining hand, where wickedness is unchecked, how much worse will that punishment be?

I’m reminded of what Corrie ten Boom wrote about her imprisonment at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. The conditions were deplorable, but when her sister Betsy showed the love of Christ, she brought peace where chaos had reigned.

Hell will know no peace.

How can we accuse God of wrong doing when His absence alone would make a place hell? And who is it that suffers His absence? The wicked who reject Him.

Last point: how can anyone accuse Omniscience of getting it wrong that those He declares to be wicked, actually are?

Published in: on March 1, 2011 at 5:34 pm  Comments (10)  
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