The True Christian Forgives as Jesus Forgives – True, and False

This past week my wife and I were driving up the interstate when we saw a large billboard that said:

Real Christians Forgive Like Jesus

The sign also included a Scripture reference,

Luke 23:34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.

This is an example of not only misusing Scripture, but of dealing simplistically with a Bible doctrine that requires far more than a mere five words on a sign. And it is not harmless! Great damage is done by these kinds of foolish statements thrown out at people like cannon shots.

The pessimistic realist that I am, I suggest to you that I know what the message is that these sign preachers are throwing at us. “You don’t forgive like Jesus forgives. If you are a real Christian, then you must love your enemies (true). And this means that you must not seek justice for wrongs they have done you, you must strive to maintain relationship with them, and if you don’t do these things then you are not forgiving as Jesus forgives and it is doubtful you are a Christian at all.

Yes, Jesus prayed that His Father would forgive those who crucified Him. But a short time before He was put on the cross (see John 17) Jesus specifically said that He was praying for those the Father had given to Him, not for the whole world. Jesus knows His elect. And Jesus’ death on the cross at the hands of these people was an act of redemption and atonement for His own. Jesus, in other words, was unique. To make an across the board simplistic application of Jesus’ prayer for His enemies there on the cross to every single Christian in every single case subsequent to the cross is foolish.

But there is more.

How does Jesus forgive? Does He forgive everyone? Of course not. Check this out:

2Th 1:5-10 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering– (6) since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, (7) and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels (8) in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (9) They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, (10) when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

We could go on and on. The Lord does not forgive everyone. And yet these signboard preachers throw distortions of Bible truth at car after car motoring up the freeway, insisting that a real Christian forgives everyone no matter what. Offers the worst of them warm hugs and kisses. I ask you, is this what we see Jesus doing in the Gospels? Is this what the Apostles preached and practiced as recorded in The Acts and the Epistles? Of course not.

One final point (though I could go on and on).

Unsaved people see signs like this and do you know what they conclude? I know unsaved people. I know lots of them. Many are my friends. I know what they would have said if they were in my car when I went past that sign. “Christians are idiots and fools.” And you know what? People who claim to be Christians but who distort and pervert the Word of God like this are fools indeed!

Christians, true Christians, really do forgive as Jesus did. And more. We pray for God’s holy wrath and justice to break out upon the wicked and destroy them for their oppression of the widow and orphan. Yep –

Psa 139:21-22 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? (22) I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.

When We Believe the Wicked and Dismiss the Oppressed, We are Guilty of Cowardice

Forcing the weak to submit [to an evil oppressor] is clearly easier than confronting the strong, particularly if you have persuaded yourself that the weak deserve what is coming to them. (William Manchester)

This quote is taken from Manchester’s observations on how the English government (Chamberlain, Halifax, and crowd) put the pressure on victimized countries like Poland to submit to Hitler’s demands rather than confronting the real culprit – Hitler.

And so it is whenever wickedness is at work victimizing, using power to control and punish. It takes courage and a willingness to pay a price in order to stand with the weak and most people simply are not willing to carry the heavy weight of truth and stand for it no matter the cost. This is a huge part of the reason victims of all kinds of abuse are dismissed and minimized when they go to their churches for help. Their abusers almost always have far more resources – finances, allies, etc – than do the victims. Therefore many professing Christians treat victims as if they were lepers. It is why the normal wicked scenario in churches is that the victim is ultimately cast out while the perpetrator of the abuse is allowed to remain, the recipient of much empathy. “Poor fellow, he tried so hard, you know.”

I charge the majority of pastors and local churches with cowardice. They have convinced themselves, for their own gain and comfort, that the victims among them have whatever they get coming to them. “She wasn’t forgiving. She wasn’t merciful. She didn’t…..” – you fill in the blanks.

Many German people knew full well that the Nazis were persecuting and murdering Jews. Very few tried to do anything about it. I guess they convinced themselves that the millions of Jewish men, women, and little kids had the gas chambers coming to them. What goes around comes around, you know. Those Jews were an odd bunch anyway.

When Victims of Evil Become Evildoers Themselves

Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. (Numbers 11:4-5)

As we confront wickedness, one of the chief reasons we do what we do is for the benefit of its victims. We confront domestic abusers hiding in the church because we want their victims set free. We oppose false teachers who bring another Jesus, another gospel, and another spirit because we do not want people deceived by them. And many times we receive deep and sincere thanks from these victims.

But not always.

Over the years I have seen more than one wife of a wicked husband choose to stand with him. To be his defender. For a time it seemed that perhaps these women were starting to see the bondage they were in. A couple of them even asked for help and we poured our lives into them in an effort to confront the wickedness and get them free.

But then they made a choice.

Just like the wavering Israelites longing for “the good life” in slavery in Egypt, these victims chose to defend their own “Pharaoh” and they became very abusive themselves toward those who had tried to rescue them. “My husband is a good man. How dare you speak against him!” They chose up the side they were on and became allies of evil themselves.

This is important for all of us to understand and expect. That sometimes the very people who are targets of evil, the people we are trying to help, will turn against us and become our enemies.

Why? How can this be? I will suggest a few possible reasons:

  • They did not want to give up the material benefits they enjoyed. Some were married to wealthy men and they had grown accustomed to that wealth. To stand for truth and against evil would require them to give at least some of that up.
  • They enjoyed a widespread “reputation” as a fine Christian couple and family. The wickedness which is so often hidden and secret, behind closed doors, was something not many people knew about. The facade of saintliness had its benefits.
  • Others allowed fear to drive their choices. Certainly it is fearful to be the target of an abuser, but most often, eventually, victims will conquer that fear and go to freedom. But not all. I have known several who chose to stand on their abuser’s side, defending him against anyone who would confront him with his evil. In this way, they believed, they could remain in good graces with him and escape at least some of the abuse.

In each of these instances, the victim becomes an ally of evil and eventually exercises evil toward others herself. This decision, this change of attitude toward those who she was once warm toward and who she saw as her rescuers, can happen as quickly as you can throw a switch. One day she is your appreciative friend, perhaps having even come to you for help. The next day the warmth is gone, replaced by a cold distance, as if you had never been a friend at all. The years of friendship are over and soon fade into a distant memory until eventually it is as if you had never known one another before.

Knowing these things will provide us with wisdom. When we are working to help victims of evil, it is wise to proceed with some caution. We must realize that one day this person who is so appreciative toward us now may turn against us and choose the abuser’s side. Whatever things we have discussed or shared with such a victim in the past may well then become common knowledge to Pharaoh once she is back in Egypt.

The fact is that we simply cannot set someone free from evil if they are not willing to be free of it. Not even the angels who came to rescue Lot and his family could help Lot’s wife. She yearned for Sodom, she looked back, and she was salt. So let us be wise in these things.

 

Most Local Churches Today are Dominated by a Plague of Legalism and Taught by Legalists

Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1Ti 1:6-11)

Most local churches, though they speak much of things like mercy and grace and forgiveness, in actual practice betray the fact that they are legalists. How can we say this? Because all you need to do is watch how they deal with people who are oppressed by the wicked – domestic abusers, sexual abusers, and so on. Let me show you.

Most of you know what happens when the victim of domestic abuse goes to her pastor or church leaders for help. So often her abuser spouse is a member “in good standing” in her church. She is not believed or the wickedness against her is minimized….you know the old sick story. And what is she told? LAW (that really isn’t God’s law at all) –

  • Divorce is forbidden. You shall not divorce
  • You shall forgive your abuser
  • You shall reconcile with your abuser
  • You shall look at your own sin as a cause of this abuse
  • You shall not speak to others about the abuse
  • You shall not call the police
  • You shall…
  • You shall not….
  • And if you do not abide by these laws, you will be cursed

See it? This is law, not gospel. This is treating the victim as if she were an ungodly, lawless, disobedient, unholy, profane person rather than the spiritual new creation in Christ that she actually is. A person with God’s Law written upon her heart, indwelt by the Spirit, guided and directed, taught and led by Christ. Such pastors and church leaders and even individual members who claim to be Christians preaching the gospel are in fact, right out legalists preaching another gospel with the intent of enslaving people.

This, says Paul, is what is at the root of this evil:

desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions

I say again, most churches are actually driven by law, not by Christ and the Spirit. They believe, like the Pharisees, that unless law is brought to bear upon Christians, all hell will break loose. Everyone will run to sin. Open the floodgates and the divorce rate will skyrocket. Their remedy? Law. They treat Christians like unbelieving pagans and they handle unbelieving pagans like Christians! The latter error is carried out when such churches tell the abuser “Yes, you have sinned. But Jesus will forgive you.” Understand – the typical abuser hiding in a church is anything but repentant! No matter. He is promised divine forgiveness anyway.

Martin Luther wrote much about law and grace and how vital it is that we understand their realms and purposes. In particular, he emphasized that every person who believes they are called by God to serve the church as a preacher, must be absolutely certain of that calling. Because if a man is not called to preach or teach God’s people, if his “calling” is one of his own imagination, the inevitable result will be that his preaching will kill and destroy, not give life and build. He will enslave Christians because he does not know the proper use of the Law, and he will enable the wicked because they love to hear how they can in themselves merit God’s acceptance.

I submit to you that a primary, foundational reason local churches are abusing victims of domestic and sexual abusers and enabling the wicked is because they are teachers of law, not of gospel. Furthermore, I maintain that a chief reason for this evil is that many, many pastors and preachers and elders are not called by Christ to those positions.

So what does the gospel look like in such situations? I can tell you. When we are dealing with, for example, a Christian wife who is oppressed and abused by an evil husband, the gospel approaches her as a new creation in Christ. A person indwelt and led by the Holy Spirit. A person who has been taught by Jesus and who possesses therefore the ability to discern righteousness from unrighteousness. We do not thunder laws to her and command her to obey, “or else.” That is Sinai, not the New Jerusalem:

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
(Heb 12:18-24)

We do not fear that she will run to evil if we do not bind her with the Law. Why? Because she is a new creation. Because grace in the believer does not promote sin. In fact, it is the LAW that is the power of sin! So we pray with her. We tell her she has the right to separate from and divorce her abuser. We stand with her and tell her that we will support her in her decision. We stand ready to bring the Law of God and the law of the civil authorities to bear upon her abuser when it can be done so without violating her safety. In other words, in accordance with Scripture, we give her the freedom that is hers in Christ to heed His leading in her life. And then we pronounce God’s blessing, not his curse, upon her.

 

 

Bear One Another’s Burdens? Then Why are the Oppressed Being Told to go it Alone?

Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

When it comes to evil attacking Christ’s people (always of course in the form of agents of evil who most often disguise themselves as fellow sheep), Christ commands us to come to one another’s aid. We always did this when I was a police officer. Call for help and the whole force would come running to back you up.

For the most part I stopped experiencing this backup when I resigned from the police force on a Friday and became a pastor on Sunday. Although in these past few years now we really do back up one another in our church. We are down to the genuine core.

Wicked people like to single out their victim, getting them away from the flock and abusing, assaulting, molesting, enslaving them in secret. It’s the age old wolf tactic you know. All of us must constantly be on guard for this strategy of darkness and never be surprised when it is discovered among us.

Now, Christ tells us that we are to bear one another’s burdens. He says elsewhere through the Apostle Paul something very similar-

Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

And so I want to ask you. In these dark, dark times in the evangelical church, are we seeing churches being obedient to these marching orders of our Lord? With few exceptions, I have to give this answer:  no way. In fact what is happening is that people who are being oppressed by evil are being sent away by churches and essentially told, “go suffer for Jesus. Stay in the oppression. And don’t bother us by talking about it anymore.”

You say that is too harsh and that I am exaggerating? I can prove to you that it is not. All you have to do is read the first hand accounts of hundreds of people who testify that this is precisely how they were treated when they exposed the evil they were being assaulted by and asked their pastor, elder, fellow church member, for help. Did they experience a whole team ready to back them up, all set and prepared to shoulder their burden and do what was necessary to protect them? In a few cases, yes. But in very, very, very few.

How can anyone claim to be living out the love of Jesus Christ when their “bearing another’s burdens” is all just talk? Or worse, outright telling the “victim “it’s your cross to bear”? That is precisely the evil that James shouts at hypocrites about:

James 2:15-16 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, (16) and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

Let’s translate that so no one misses it. “If a brother or sister is being abused or sexually molested, if they have no money because their abuser refuses to provide for them, and you say ‘Go! Be quiet now. Trust Jesus. Forgive your oppressor and reconcile with him,’ when all the while you have the necessary means to stop that oppression, what good is your religion? It is worthless. It is worse than worthless.”

Where we see a habitual refusal to share the burdens of the oppressed among us, we can know that we are looking at counterfeit religion.