Tag Archives: Forgiveness

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Expecting condemnation?

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A Righteousness by Faith #32: Expecting condemnation?

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus . . . Romans 8:1

No other verse of Scripture, apart from John 3:16, has changed my life as much as this one. I was still in the early days of my transformational journey with God when Romans 8 began to become meaningful to me. Already in ministry for two years, I had been on a rollercoaster ride of trying hard to be good for God and sliding back down into the pit of despair as I failed again. I knew little to nothing about the empowering work of the Spirit. And even had I known it, I was unsure about God. Still expectant of His righteous judgment, knowing that I deserved it. Afraid that I would be publicly exposed as the failure I was.

All the false things I thought about God not only influenced how I pastored people, they kept me from becoming free. Those thoughts were like virtual reality glasses, making me think that life defined by the enemy was real.

Then one day I realized that I could not go on living a double life ‘spiritual’ on the outside and dark on the inside. In my first moment of honest humility, I prayed, “Lord, unless you take charge of my life, nothing eternal is going to come out of it.” Although I did not know where that prayer would lead me, God understood its meaning better than I. I have been on that journey now for 33 years, some of which has been very painful as God stripped away and pruned stuff out of my life that I was content to live with. At all times, God has guided me with His infinite kindness.

I found as I started on this journey I had a lot to learn about how much I needed the Spirit to empower my obedience. I was like the parachutist who kept insisting he could jump out at 3000 feet without a chute and land safely. I would jump out to do something for God or resist sin or grapple in spiritual warfare, only to crash and burn over and over again. And then I would be embarrassed.

This brings me to Romans 8:1. I would say to God, “I’m sorry. I failed again to be good for you.” And the Father would reply, “I knew you’d never succeed without my power. You’re forgiven. Go forward by trusting the Spirit.” And it was through this all too frequent conversation with God that I began to learn what Paul meant in saying that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. You see, I was raised in the church and had seen plenty of condemnation. Shame and guilt were the tools used for keeping believers on the straight and narrow. Only they didn’t work.

Study Jesus’ life. You’ll see him actively forgiving and restoring people. “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more,” to the woman caught in adultery. “Peter, do you love me more than these. Feed my sheep,” to an insider who had denied him at a crucial moment. “Father forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing,” about those nailing him to the cross.

‘No condemnation’ is about forgiveness. About how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ’s love for me. About how forgiving is the Father towards me and those who belong to Him. Consider Jesus’ exchange with Peter in Matthew 18. “How many times should I forgive someone? A (generous) seven times?” to which Jesus countered, “Not seven but seventy times seven times!” meaning every time someone asked for forgiveness, give it. Now where did Jesus come up with such a standard? —From his Father. Jesus could not have upped the ante so high if God did not practice it Himself.

We know God does practice this because we see it in Jesus while he lived as God among us. Since Jesus told us that when we see him, we see the Father, I began to get an inkling of how deep this God’s ‘no condemnation’ ran.

And it ran deeper than I thought.

More to come…

-Steve Smith


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How come the beatitudes end with persecution?

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The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #18: How come the beatitudes end with persecution?

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. –Matthew 5:10

Jesus’ concluding beatitude feels out of step with the others. Becoming peacemakers would seem like a more fitting conclusion to the blessing of the transformational gospel (the blessing which is deep change in our souls brought about by the Holy Spirit). But kingdom living is rooted in reality, not idealism. To put this another way, when Jesus got to the end of his journey, there was a cross waiting for him.

Jesus foresaw that his followers, being blessed by the gospel, would make unexpected enemies. People who once loved to hang out with them suddenly saw them in an unfavorable light. Former allies expressing disdain for what they are becoming, calling them names and spreading hurtful rumors. Personal attacks became the order of the day. Even physical threats would come.

I know lots of people who have experienced this personally. One friend had spent years in the drug culture, where he developed a community he related to while using and whom he met again in the twelve-step program rooms. As long as his life paralleled their lives, all was good. Then he began to pursue a living relationship with God. As he experienced transformation over time, his former friends began to dump on him, upset that he was no longer interested in living on the merry-go-round of using and getting clean, with its accompanying lifestyle. When he asked me why this was happening, I pointed out Peter’s warning: For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do…They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation and they heap abuse on you (1 Peter 4:3-4). It took him some time to come to grips with what was happening in his social circle.

Yet to do justice to Jesus’ teaching, it is not just the lost people who are abusive. Religious people can be the source of attacks as well. Why is this? Well, for one reason, people are hiding their own stuff. They react badly to those whose pursuit of transformation might suggest judgment on their status quo way of living out the faith. Others are using Christianity to attain some kind of social position or power, so the transformational process can be very revealing of their duplicity. Besides, the enemy is always seeking to stir up trouble. Change in one’s life with God offers loads of opportunities for Satan to create misunderstandings and plant accusations of spiritual one-upmanship in the minds of others who should know better.

This may be troubling to you when it happens, but never be surprised by it. Jesus experienced it too and laid out your response. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34). You’ll have the opportunity to practice this kind of forgiveness numerous times before you are home with the Father. Be ready.

But also be encouraged. Jesus’ disciples listened to this sermon with wide open ears. Later, after being flogged by the Jewish ruler for refusing to stop proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, they rejoiced because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name (Acts 5:41). They understood. The cost of the transforming journey is high, but the One on whose hands their names were written held them firmly until the day they were done with life. And He holds you just as securely.

Steve Smith

 

 


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The Mercy of Forgiveness

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The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #15: The Mercy of Forgiveness

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. -Matthew 5:7

Two complementary ideas can be found in Jesus’ teaching. The merciful are shown mercy. The forgivers are forgiven. These are not separate ideas in Jesus’ ministry. Showing mercy and forgiving are one in the same. As we surrender the debts that others ‘owe’ us into God’s hands, we change from people who have been wounded grudge bearers whose judgmental attitudes continue to trap us to people who are able to live in the freedom of mercy. For you who have never known the reality of this beatitude, I can tell you it is true.

As you grow towards wanting what God wants, you will find yourself also growing in compassion. Nothing will open your heart to other wounded people more than realizing how you acted when you were comforting yourself by sin in me choices. You finally see their pain too. Whereas before you were selfish, you are now seeing other’s wounds as being as important as your own.

There is a distinction between compassion and the mercy of this blessing. Lots of people care about those who are hurting, even in the midst of their own painful lives. Transformation is not an earthly prerequisite to compassionate activities. Lots of damaged people go into the field of counseling because they themselves need counseling. Many go into the ministry no healthier than those they shepherd—not that much job satisfaction comes out of this. There are many organizations advocating for the poor and oppressed that care nothing for God’s transformational process. There is more to this blessing than compassion.

Instead, this blessing is rooted in what Jesus meant by mercy. Mercy is being spared the justice one so richly deserves. Merciful people are those who are not exacting retribution from those who have earned it. What you must see in what Jesus was saying about those who are being transformed is that, as they become like him, they begin to experience the same compassion for the people who wounded them that he demonstrated towards those who crucified him.

When I tell people whom I am encouraging to launch out on this journey that one day they will be able to forgive those who hurt them, they either laugh or become angry. The last thing that will ever happen, in their minds, is that those responsible for their wounds would ever be pardoned. But this is a critical sign of progress. How do you know you are being transformed? You begin to understand the wounded souls of the ones who made your life hellish. You realize they did to you what was done previously to them, maybe not in exactly the same way or intensity, but certainly resulting in the same kind of damage.

For example, nothing will change your attitude towards having compassion for the parents whom you may hold responsible for your wounds more completely than learning their history. Finding that your grandparents were also depraved may be a surprise to you! Or learning that your parents were traumatized by life may enlighten you towards the blessing of this beatitude. Being merciful is about being able to give to others what you so truly needed yourself from God.

Remember that you will never get here in your own power. You will not become merciful and forgiving because you are supposed to. The good news of the blessed is that the Spirit will do this in you. And when he does, you will be amazed at how your heart has been changed.

-Steve Smith


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Learning from Jesus How to Be a Safe Person

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 8Learning from Jesus How to Be a Safe Person 

Another truth that Apostle John’s story shows us about being safe is that you cannot be put off by the nature of the sin the person committed. Shocking though it may seem to you, believers are more than capable of doing every destructive act in the book. The young disciple John chased (told about in a previous blog, Learning How to Be a Safe Person from John) had not merely given himself over to stealing from people. To be a robber in that day meant you killed people for their goods. You left no witnesses. This is why John kissed his right hand, a hand that had been bloodied by the deaths of his victims. If John was certain of anything, it was that Jesus would forgive even this sin.

Just as you have to challenge your hierarchy for valuing people in the church, you also have to face off any tendency to make a hierarchy of sin. All sin that has people caught in its clutches is forgivable if repentance happens. They can be restored. Engaged in homosexuality? A three-some? Murdered a child? Violence against a spouse? Incest? Robbed the elderly of their life savings and left them destitute, perhaps dying impoverished? Think of any shocking sin that you can add to this list and ask yourself, “Is anything too hard for God?”

I know. Some of you already are asking whether or not this person we are talking about is even a Christian. I’ve heard that many times before. And the answer is: “I don’t know.” BUT I do know that you have to chase that person, if for no other reason than to proclaim the gospel into his or her life. If for no other reason than to love them and fulfill the law of Christ. Even if that person walks away instead of being restored, you have acted out righteousness.

Maybe from this distance Peter’s denial of Jesus doesn’t shock you enough for you to put his sin into this category. But Jesus had taught his disciples that if they denied him before men, he would deny them in turn before the Father. For this reason, Peter’s three-time denial of Jesus at Pilate’s courtyard was a jumping-into-the-pit of the highest order. So ask yourself, what was Jesus’ first priority after his resurrection? That’s right—Peter’s restoration. And you also know who was present when Jesus was finishing Peter’s restoration—John (John 21:20-23). Can you wonder at why an aging John was not willing to let the young disciple go? John learned from the master. And if you are a disciple, you do as the master does. That is what makes you safe.

Steve Smith


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